Adventure in shifting focus and the Christian relationship

I spent 17 years in Christian schools. Kindergarten through college. I would estimate that of the 58 other people with whom I graduated high school that 60 percent of them are now married. Another 20 percent would consider themselves to be in committed relationships. The other 20 percent, the rest of us, a generous guess with 20 percent, we remain unattached.

Personally, I’m glad. Huntington University, as Dr. Ruthi has mentioned, cultivated in the campus this need to be in a relationship. This need to be married. It continues to cultivate that idea. I recently attended a wedding, two HU grads. The pastor said in his little sermon that if you aren’t married you aren’t fulfilling God’s will for your life. Well…damn.

Well, it’s all really started me thinking. Because until quite recently I did not have the typical onslaught of lady hormones most women have. It turns out that annoying thing in women that makes them boy crazy and absolute idiots about wanting to be in a relationship, that actually has a lot to do with chemistry. This has put in me that basic need, something I previously scoffed at. I’d watch my friends go nuts over some guy or any guy for that matter and just think, “Ladies, you’re just…this is why people think we’re dumb.”

I’d see kids my age, at the time 18 or even 22, getting married. As an 18-year-old I thought Wicked was the crowning glory of musical theatre. Relient K was the best of all music. Scarves counted as winter coats. Steak n Shake was a treat. I thought I never wanted to get married. I thought children were annoying. And I thought God was calling me to theatre.

As it turns out the world of musical theatre is not only for anyone, but me, but it also offers a bounty of shows outside of Wicked. (Thank God for Jason Robert Brown) Relient K, while awesome, is not the end all be all of music. Scarves, ok that one might still be true. Steak n Shake is midnight food only. I some day might actually like to get married, and some kids aren’t so bad.

My point is I didn’t know myself well enough to think I could know the kind of man I should marry. I hardly know myself now.

In discussions with Dr. Ruthi, a few current HU girls and an old friend from the university I think our biggest failing in this pursuit for relationships is our selfishness. Not in the relationship, but in wanting one. We pursue them and desire them for our own benefit.

I’m lonely. A boyfriend would be nice to have. I’m sad. A boyfriend would be nice to have. But we aren’t called into relationships exclusively for our benefit. Yes, God created Eve so Adam would not be alone, to make life easier. But it remains that we were created for God’s glory. The instant our focus becomes anything other than God things start to go to hell.

We get shaken by our loneliness and turn to people rather than the one we know is always there. Yes, people are physical. We can receive a hug and know they’re there. But perhaps that’s where we lose it. That’s where it becomes about us. Is a relationship benefiting the Kingdom? That’s the question I have to ask myself. How can we as a team better serve the Kingdom than we could apart?

My heart breaks as I watch these girls being hurt by gossip and their own stupidity. If you kiss a boy people will talk, especially if you aren’t in a committed relationship with him. Especially, if you’re on a small Christian campus. Kiss several boys, you just became the town trollop. And people are going to talk about it, because that’s what we do. It’s easier to hurt other people than to look at our own failings. BUT it’s also easier to be hurt by people than look at our own failings. Because, as it turns out, gossip can often be so hurtful because it has a tendency to be true. If people are using choice words like “whore” to describe you, maybe stop making out with every boy who’s nice to you. Shift your focus, because you’re using that boy aren’t you? To fulfill a need or desire in your.

We let our relationships define us. We all do. Don’t let the overwhelming desire for a relationship define you. In I Corinthians 7 Paul suggests it’s better to be single if you can handle yourself. However, if your sexual need becomes so great that you can’t control yourself then, yeah, get married.

Which brings up another interesting point. Because that then implies that a sexual drive becomes a higher focus and priority than the Kingdom. One would think if you can redirect your focus then it would be less of an issue. And yet that is the basis on which many young Christian marriages are formed. “We want to have sex. We currently love each other. We will be married.” I hold that there is still a lack of focus. And it’s sad, because it results in a lot of broken marriages for all the wrong reasons. (for those counting there aren’t that many biblically sound reasons for divorce) Because that focus is still not quite centered.

“Jesus. Yes, important. But look at my dress!” But how do you tell someone they’re getting married too young, to the wrong person or for the wrong reasons?

It raises another interesting question that infuriates a lot of people. Why date if you have no intention of marrying in the future at all or that particular person? “I’m bored.” “He’s convenient.” “He makes me feel good about myself.” Well, aren’t you really just hurting a relationship? Couldn’t you do more for the Kingdom as friends? So that later when that relationship falls apart, you aren’t just like the rest of the world. And you haven’t hurt each other and you have made for a hard situation in social circumstances. Think of how much better we could do carrying each other in community as brothers and sisters instead of boyfriend and girlfriend for the sake of it.

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Adventure in Stop Marrying so Young if You’re Going to Keep Your Head Up Your Ass

The saga continues with more insight from the astonishing Dr. Ruthi. How long can I drag this out? There really is no knowing, but I imagine the answer is forever. If you have any questions you’d like to add to the conversation please feel free to let me know. We’ll get them worked in.

Hayley,

Young people are going through puberty at earlier ages than ever before in history, but they are waiting a very long time after puberty before they get married (mid-20s for women and late 20s for men).  So, it’s probably more difficult to avoid premarital sex than ever before.  Of course, men have always had socially tolerated options for premarital sex (prostitutes, family servants, slaves, etc.), but “nice” women generally have married soon after reaching puberty, thus lowering the risk of premarital sex.  Today, a woman is likely to become physically mature while in middle school (if not before!), but she probably will wait until age 25 or so before marrying.  The availability of birth control makes premarital sex relatively low risk, so it’s not surprising that so many people opt for the sex before the marriage.  And, I agree with you that couples who marry hastily because they want to have sex are playing a very dangerous game.  Perhaps people shouldn’t even enter serious dating relationships until they are at a point in their lives where they are ready to think about settling into marriage,  but that’s a tough goal to pursue, especially when one’s peers all seem to be in serious dating relationships by  the time they are 14 or 16.  Besides, how can one select an appropriate spouse if one avoids serious dating relationships?  I’m sometimes frightened by couples who tell me that they started dating each other at age 12 (or some ridiculously early age) and that they have never dated anyone else.  So, they get married when they are 18 or 20.  Some of them do live happily ever after, but a lot of them don’t.  I haven’t seen any statistics on the phenomenon, but it seems to me that an increasing percentage of HU students are getting married before graduating.  Maybe that’s the best way for them to avoid premarital sex, but I think they miss out on a lot of the college experience by getting married so young.

Just when you are ready to give up on relationships and to have all males exiled to Antarctica, a high quality male will come along and sweep you off your feet (probably!).  Wouldn’t life be simpler if we had arranged marriages?!?           

Mary Ruthi, Ph.D.

Dr. Ruthi,
 
Gosh, arranged marriages. I think about how much better that would be all the time. As someone who sees love as a choice and less of a dopey feeling I think that it just seems more logical. If love weren’t something we did and not something we felt we wouldn’t be told to do it.

I’m very much of the mind that the dating game is a silly thing to get mixed up in, if one isn’t ready for a more serious and lasting commitment. I find myself horrified with you for those who get married having never really encountered anyone but the person they’ve dated since high school…or middle school. (Middle schoolers dating. I can’t handle it)

On a personal level, I can’t imagine knowing myself well enough, even now, let alone at 18 or even 20 to say, “yes, this is clearly the exact sort of man I’d like to spend the rest of my life with and who will best build me up in Christ and live my life with me. And whom I will best benefit.” That isn’t to say some people don’t know themselves well enough for that, but most of the 18 or 20-year-olds I’ve ever met hardly know what they want for breakfast. (perhaps in part because they don’t wake up for it) I can’t imagine them making more important life decisions with discernment.
 
And I’m sure to many I sound like some stuffy prude or a heinous and jaded woman with no place to speak to the subject of relationships. Maybe that’s true, but I’ve seen enough people make stupid, life-altering mistakes to want to be a part of those statistics. That isn’t to say I shall never pursue a serious relationship, but it definitely has me thinking more carefully than I see a lot of my peers who are just happy to have that attention of another. Which is understandable, but the instant that begins to be the reason we start relationships we find ourselves on a slippery slope. That leads to sex and more approval or using each other for our own benefit. We begin to find our self-worth in someone else. In a person who will inevitably let us down. Because people do that, whether they mean to or not. It’s scary that that’s a game anyone would want to play with their self-esteem, heart or mind.
 
But what do I know?!
Hayley

Adventure in E-mailing Dr. Mary Ruthi

Recently I had been discussing sociological things with a friend. We did not come to a conclusion, so I posed our questions to my favorite sociology professor, former employer and hero.

Here is our informative exchange. You’re welcome. But also, women, I’m sorry.

Well, hello!
Mary Ruthi is to Hayley Johnson as Jerry Smith is to Brett Jenkins-Braun.
 
So I was discussing boys with L today and a question came up. Now I remember you saying that we pursue those of equal attractiveness to ourselves. I know because I said “No one wants to be the group ugo.” But L said someone else told her that women pursue men on their level or under, but men pursue women on a higher level of attractiveness. I’m not saying either is necessarily wrong, but I just wondered what it was you exactly taught us.
Obviously we’re both disgusted by all men anyway.
Hayley

Hayley,

I think that being disgusted by men is the main message!  No, I’m just joking!!

Physical attractiveness seems to be valued more highly by men than by women.  Women (having more sense, of course!) attach somewhat more value to men’s personalities and social standing.  This is probably why ugly (but rich and/or charming) men often end up with cute chickies.  It may also explain part of the “trophy wife” phenomenon.  A guy who becomes an economic success in mid-life or even later can use that as a bargaining chip in seeking a more attractive woman to replace an aging and decreasingly attractive wife.  However, as more and more women achieve high educations and good jobs, it’s not unheard of for those women to look for “trophy husbands.”  So, the differences between men and women may have as much (or more) to do with gender roles than with biology.  But, I digress! 

Mary Ruthi, Ph.D.

Dr. Ruthi,
This has been most helpful.
It raises a few other questions for us.
Namely, what’s wrong with us? Or which of us is more ridiculous? Because when L sees a mismatched couple she thinks “How’d a guy like THAT get her?” While I think, “How’d she get him?”
And do you think it more likely for women to pursue relationships with men they see on their level because of insecurities? We’ve been talking about this for a while, obviously.

Hayley

Hayley, There’s nothing wrong with either of you.  It’s true that women tend to have lower self-esteem than men.  So, women might be more likely to date below their actual levels of attractiveness because they think that more attractive guys would never be interested in them.  Guys tend to assume that they are God’s gifts to the world, so they probably are more likely to go after women who ought to be out of their league.  Besides, women may worry more about hurting men’s feelings by rejecting the men’s overtures, so some women “waste” time by dating men who don’t really interest them.

Also, the whole dating/marriage system creates some serious problems for women.  The reality is that sex outside of marriage is so common that men feel almost no pressure to get married.  It’s easy for an average guy to find lots of women who will have sex with him and who will even cohabit with him (and who will have children with him, for that matter).  So, why should the guy bother with marriage, especially since guys tend to be commitment-phobic?!?  Maybe by the time the guy is 40 or 50 years old, he will decide to settle down and get married.  But, women who want to have children can’t really afford to wait until they are 40 or 50 to find those guys who want to get married.  Besides, those 40 and 50-year-old guys will be going after the 25 or 30-year-old women.  Yes, I’m sounding cynical.  Imagine that!  Women are confronted with pressure to have sex early in dating relationships.  They worry that refusing to have sex may mean that they will be rejected by men whom they find attractive, but, on the other hand,  having sex may reduce the men’s eagerness for marriage.  More conservative Christian guys who aren’t sexually active before marriage tend to get married young (about age 3 or 4, I believe……well, I exaggerate a bit) so that they can begin having sex.  You ladies are victims of social dynamics over which you have little control.  

I’m not sure what’s the solution.  Perhaps you should make a concerted effort to get involved in activities that would attract more males than females (volunteer in a political campaign, join a coed softball league, take up whitewater rafting, hang around farm supply stores, etc.).  Personally, I find the Chicago airport a good place to meet men.  Eeeeek!        

Mary Ruthi, Ph.D.

Adventure in the People in Your Neighborhood

Part of my job involves me meeting lots of new people. Many of them the lovely receptionists. Today I met a wonderful woman who gave me her life story starting at the age of 17 willingly. She graduated high school at 17 in 1956. All of the girls in her class except her got married right out of school. She got a job at 20. And as she worked there five years her boss said she’d never get married. So he signed her up for two classes at the university; bookkeeping and comp. At 26 she joined the young democrats. She was going to go to the JFK victory dance, but didn’t want to go without a date. So one of her married friends found her a date. He was the treasurer of the young democrats though so he couldn’t pick her up and could only dance once in a while. So they agreed to just the slow dances. And when the first slow song came on he walked across the room to her and she said, “Shirley. That’s him. That’s the one.” They were married 15 years, before he passed away.

We both cried as she told me.

“You’ll know. Don’t rush to get married. When you meet him you’ll just know. Just like that. And a girl like you he’ll be a good one.”

Some days I love it.