Ellen Burkhardt’s refreshingly candid look at dating in Salon, “When Guys Find Out I’m a Virgin,” has provoked quite a conversation. Her story led to a televised interview with WCCO (The CBS affiliate for Minnesota) that was picked up by Yahoo! and is now being discussed internationally (in the UK’s Daily Mail, Brazil’s Globo.com, and an unnamed paper in Lagos, Nigeria). It’s encouraging to see someone deal honestly with the difficulty of premarital celibacy in today’s world, and decide to stick with it anyway.
As I was reading about Burkhardt’s experiences with dating (and before I got to her Boy Number 3), I found myself wondering: “Why doesn’t she date otherwise-attractive guys who might actually agree with her stance on waiting for marriage?” A brief review of my own situation prompted the conclusion: they are probably pretty hard to find.
Now, Burkhardt should date whomever she chooses. But being unable to find a potential spouse who allows for or even agrees with one’s Christian sexual mores is not at all an unknown trial.
Everyone Else Is Having Premarital Sex
Almost no one in the United States waits until marriage to have sex. The statistics are ridiculously lopsided—from 2006-2010, 86.4 percent of married women and 90.6 percent of married men had sexual relations prior to marriage, according to the Centers for Disease Control—but probably don’t surprise anyone who is actively seeking a spouse while trying to remain faithfully celibate until their wedding night.
I spent the summer of last year working in Boston. I had found a place to stay through a friend who had been a fraternity member at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and every couple of weekends I made the six-hour drive to Rochester, New York to visit a young lady, to whom I was quite attached.
One evening late in the summer, my flatmates and I went out to see the Pacific Rim and stopped for dinner afterwards. Over dinner, I casually mentioned some difficulties with my lodging arrangements in Rochester. “Wait, you aren’t staying at her place?” came the confused response. “No,” I said, then, seeing the confusion in my flatmate’s face, added “We’re Christians. We wouldn’t think that was appropriate.” “Huh,” was his only response. The conversation then turned to back matters that we as guys could all agree were appropriate: giant robots punching giant aliens.
I’m Doing My Best, Here
A few weeks ago, this wonderful young lady and I decided we should remain simply friends, and are not a potential husband and wife. I’m grateful to her for the time we spent together, and the many things I learned from her.
I’m also back to square one in my search for a wife.
As a 24-year-old, single, somewhat (okay, very) geeky, Christian man, I’ve had many conversations with female acquaintances about worldviews and life goals. Knowing that I have a tendency to get attached somewhat quickly, I try my best to understand a young lady’s viewpoints on several things before allowing myself to be romantically interested in her.
First of all, of course, how interested is she in marriage? It’s not necessary that marriage is the first thing on her agenda (as undergraduates we called this “ring by spring”), but many young ladies simply don’t think of marriage as more important or even equally important as their career goals. “I would like to get married…eventually.” What about children? There’s a tendency for some conservative Christian circles (and some conservative Christian guys, like Burkhardt’s Boy Number 3), to view women as “mere” baby-making machines. The opposing viewpoint is that women have so much else to contribute, so why should they take on the incredible burden of bearing children?
Many Women Object to Marriage Because It Suggests Children
The flaw in the first viewpoint is two-fold. For one, it really does objectify the woman as a means to the object of children. But it also puts the man in the position of possessing that means. As the oldest of eight children, I was privileged to watch my mother raise my seven siblings (myself, too, but my perspective on that is necessarily more subjective). Any man who can come out of that experience with anything other than awe for his mother and for women is an ingrate. A married man ought not to see himself in possession of a means of having children, but as a servant to the only person in the world who can accomplish this most important task.
The flaw in the second viewpoint is that it promotes a false duality. “You are either a woman and a person OR you are a mother.” It is true that bearing and raising children diverts massive amounts of time and energy that women without children are free to invest in other pursuits. It’s not at all clear that this is an argument against having children.
A woman is not “merely” a means to children. The point of marriage, however, certainly is to provide a woman with a devoted husband for her and father for her children. And for that reason, it makes little sense to me to marry a woman who is not open to children.
Unfortunately, not many young women today seem to have any interest in getting married and having children. Other issues—is she okay with having guns in the house? Does she want to send the kids to public school, or is she open to homeschooling? Does she think that men who don’t follow the LGBT or feminist party lines are bigots?—narrow the chances of finding a potential spouse yet further.
Online Dating Isn’t a Great Solution
So how should I go about finding a wife? The answer is “I don’t know.” I do, however, think that Christian and conservative cultures should pay more attention to helping its single members meet and explore the possibility of life together.
One solution that’s often brought up for this problem is online dating. I’ve looked at a few dating sites (never going so far as to put any personal information in a profile) and concluded that, like the broader secular culture, they are not going to be that helpful. For one, the experience of browsing a dating site is rather like shopping Amazon. Apply some filters, browse the items by pictures and descriptions that may or may not be representative, and pick some that look interesting.
This might explain the second issue with dating sites: even on sites purportedly targeted at Christians, it’s not at all obvious that the girls I would meet would be any more open to marriage and children. Of course, in a culture that consistently objectifies women in one way or another, it’s not surprising that women who share my viewpoint on marriage and children are unwilling to list themselves for casual perusal.
Does this mean the Internet is useless? Hardly! I know two happily married couples who met through the Internet (although not through dating sites). We need a different approach to meeting potential dates online.
Conservative and Religious Communities Should Help People Reach Marriage
Leah Libresco from the Patheos Catholic channel posited a much-improved system for online dating where, rather than browsing people, you input some personal information, things you would like in a potential spouse, and dealbreakers. The service would then set up group dates of three to five people for service projects, with the idea that at least one person was compatible with you, but you wouldn’t know which. After the group date, you would be asked if you found any of your companions interesting, and if the feeling was mutual, you would be put in touch.
It would also be nice if there was an established, non-creepy protocol for obtaining an introduction to someone online. I joked with Burkhardt on Twitter, asking for the over/under on the number of tweeted marriage proposals. Asking someone for a date in a public online forum (Twitter, for instance) has approximately the creep coefficient of an anonymous phone call with heavy breathing. But it stands to reason that the Christian and conservative Twitter communities contain many single people who are actively looking for spouses. A moderated system for obtaining introductions, possibly resulting in group dates similar to the system proposed above, would not be unwelcome.
In the local and offline sphere, churches and families should be actively involved in connecting singles. I’m on my way into the Catholic church, which teaches that permanent celibacy is a vocation, and one the Church works hard to promote and support. Marriage is also a vocation, and while the Church works hard to teach what marriage is, and to support those who have found marriage to be their vocation, it ought not be taboo to help connect singles with this vocation with other singles. (It may be that many parishes, and even my own parish, in fact do a great job of this. I am too new to the Church to know.)
Families and friends, too, should be shameless about matchmaking and setting up singles for dates. None of this should come with the pressure or expectation that a particular meeting will lead to marriage, but all should be done in the happy hope that, just maybe, it could.