Tag Archives: Sex

Should we only blame boys for the highly-sexualized culture?

Man helping a woman with proper handgun marksmanship
Man helping a woman with proper handgun marksmanship

If you wanted to read just one article that summarizes a lot of my views on radical feminism and the Sexual Revolution, based on my experiences with young women in high school, college and the workplace, this article from The Federalist would be a good choice.

I am going to excerpt a piece of this for my post, but you really need to click through and read the whole thing.

Excerpt:

Let’s build on that foundation and ask why porn is driving expectations for young women.

As with the prevalence of porn among boys, the answer to this question has two parts. The victimization half of the answer is that we’ve deliberately avoided giving girls any other kinds of expectations. Think about it for a moment: Why should it be so hard to tell a guy “no,” as girls reported in the survey? Why should she think it’s mean?

Feminists would have you believe that all girls are shrinking violets who never learned how to lean in, but the far better answer is that these girls don’t really know of any good reason to say no. “I don’t want to” is a reason, but it’s the kind of reason one must weigh against others’ desires in any kind of voluntary relationship.

Chastity, which is the view that relationships work better when sex is confined to exclusive, permanent marital commitments, is out of favor in our society, thanks to feminism. In place of chastity, feminism encourages young people to have recreational sex outside of marriage.

What happened next?

If sex is just meaningless fun without any moral or spiritual dimension, and if youth is just a time for sexual adventures without any thought to actually forging a lasting relationship—as we are all taught these days—then surely it would indeed be mean to arbitrarily withhold that meaningless fun from someone she is fond of.

In a sexually amoral context, having sex with him so he’ll watch a movie with her is a decision with no more gravitas than watching “American Ninja Warrior” with him so he’ll watch “The Bachelorette” with her. Without bringing chastity back into the conversation, there’s no meaningful objection. The only expectation is that the boy and girl work out their different wants together, and they have already done so.

In the past, sexual expectations were founded in marriage and family—that sex is part of a permanent and exclusive partnership rooted in a mutual commitment to one another’s well-being and the promise of future children to whom that commitment is extended. Those are the expectations girls were taught, and they generally navigated relationships according to them. They provided a foundation to undergird their refusals.

Unfortunately, feminists found such expectations restrictive and demeaning, and over a generation successfully uprooted them only to replace them with… nothing of substance. It’s only natural that media depictions of sex—porn included—would fill that void and create new expectations.

[…]We cannot meaningfully condemn this situation unless we venture back into the world of sexual morality. After all, if our only concerns are for the desires of those involved, nothing proves the girls’ desire for emotional connection without providing sexual gratification is any better than the boys’ desire for sexual gratification without providing emotional connection.If this is the extent of our concern, then our response should not be the horror we feel in the pit of our collective stomach, but rather pride that these two different groups were able to negotiate terms by which both sides can get something they want. It would be like the end of a children’s program where everyone learned to compromise and work together.

If girls in general want a deal with terms more favorable to them, there’s always collective bargaining with the boys. Nevertheless, it’s difficult to see how the results would substantially differ from traditional sexual morality. After all, most girls would need to withhold sexual access until granted a commitment more meaningful than “I promise not to sleep with anyone else until I want to be done sleeping with you.” Accordingly, the “scabs” (to borrow union terminology) who give away access for less would have to be treated with less respect than those who maintain the bargaining position.

Meanwhile, the other side’s interests would need to be taken into account or they would have no incentive to come to the table. The popular boys are already getting what they want, and the rest are already going their own way. Providing sex couldn’t be held off for decades while education and career take a front seat.

Plus the long-term commitments boys offer as they become men could not be so one-sided that the woman could unilaterally dissolve these at any time and simultaneously claim a man’s home, children, and future income. In other words, any mutually beneficial bargain would have to restore chastity, slut-shaming, and early marriage while ending no-fault divorce. What collective bargaining will never achieve is the feminist pipe dream that boys be dutifully subject to feminine whim. They have no incentive for that.

And this part further down is really good too:

Is it really safe to assume these girls have hooked up with a completely random and evenly distributed sample of boys their age?

It would be more accurate to say that the boys who are popular with the girls are generally like this. After all, it seems rates of teen girls’ sexual activity are actually somewhat higher than those of their male peers—a gap particularly pronounced among whites. The disparity is probably even greater since other studies have shown that men are prone to exaggerating their sexual activity while women are prone to minimizing it.

All of this suggests that a larger pool of girls is competing for the attentions of a smaller pool of boys. Many anecdotal accounts reinforce this, suggesting a version of the 80/20 rule is at work in hookup culture (i.e., that 80 percent of the girls are sleeping with 20 percent of the guys). That particular proportion is almost certainly an exaggeration, but the disparity is there.

Most likely, the sexually inactive majority of boys aren’t receiving sex acts in exchange for their attention, just as the sexually inactive girls aren’t providing any. Plenty of boys are left out in the cold who would happily adopt a measure of chastity and provide emotional intimacy if it meant access to romantic relationships. The girls are simply choosing not to enter relationships with those boys. So why are the girls going for the boys who make the demands they reportedly despise?

I just don’t see how you can do better than that. This is a very conservative view, because it respects traditional morality, but it is not one that is championed by most “conservatives”, who want to just blame men for refusing to put out after feminism has re-made the culture.

In the old days, many men expected women to give them something physically if they spent money on dinner and movie. In the present day, fake man-blaming “conservatives” expect men to put out marriage for women who have done nothing at all to prepare themselves for it. In a world where chastity has been replaced by radical feminist hook-ups, and marriage has been replaced by no-fault divorce, there is no incentive for men to engage. Trying to get them to engage by attacking their manhood is just plain stupid, but unfortunately, most “man up” pastors and “conservatives” ARE just plain stupid.

What do college students achieve by participating in the hook-up culture?

Even one non-husband premarital sex partner raises risk of divorce
Even one non-husband premarital sex partner raises risk of divorce

Stuart Schneiderman linked to a balanced article from the New York Times Magazine which offers scary insights into the hook-up culture at one of our elite universities.

First, feminism is definitely a driver of the hook-up culture, and women are voluntarily choosing it:

At 11 on a weeknight earlier this year, her work finished, a slim, pretty junior at the University of Pennsylvania did what she often does when she has a little free time. She texted her regular hookup — the guy she is sleeping with but not dating. What was he up to? He texted back: Come over. So she did. They watched a little TV, had sex and went to sleep.

Their relationship, she noted, is not about the meeting of two souls.

“We don’t really like each other in person, sober,” she said, adding that “we literally can’t sit down and have coffee.”

Ask her why she hasn’t had a relationship at Penn, and she won’t complain about the death of courtship or men who won’t commit. Instead, she’ll talk about “cost-benefit” analyses and the “low risk and low investment costs” of hooking up.

“I positioned myself in college in such a way that I can’t have a meaningful romantic relationship, because I’m always busy and the people that I am interested in are always busy, too,” she said.

“And I know everyone says, ‘Make time, make time,’ ” said the woman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity but agreed to be identified by her middle initial, which is A. “But there are so many other things going on in my life that I find so important that I just, like, can’t make time, and I don’t want to make time.”

It is by now pretty well understood that traditional dating in college has mostly gone the way of the landline, replaced by “hooking up” — an ambiguous term that can signify anything from making out to oral sex to intercourse — without the emotional entanglement of a relationship.

Until recently, those who studied the rise of hookup culture had generally assumed that it was driven by men, and that women were reluctant participants, more interested in romance than in casual sexual encounters. But there is an increasing realization that young women are propelling it, too.

Hanna Rosin, in her recent book, “The End of Men,” argues that hooking up is a functional strategy for today’s hard-charging and ambitious young women, allowing them to have enjoyable sex lives while focusing most of their energy on academic and professional goals.

And a bit more about “A”:

For A., college is an endless series of competitions: to get into student clubs, some of which demand multiple rounds of interviews; to be selected for special research projects and the choicest internships; and, in the end, to land the most elite job offers.

As A. explained her schedule, “If I’m sober, I’m working.”

In such an overburdened college life, she said, it was rare for her and her friends to find a relationship worth investing time in, and many people avoided commitment because they assumed that someone better would always come along.

“We are very aware of cost-benefit issues and trading up and trading down, so no one wants to be too tied to someone that, you know, may not be the person they want to be with in a couple of months,” she said.

Instead, she enjoyed casual sex on her terms — often late at night, after a few drinks, and never at her place, she noted, because then she would have to wash the sheets.

[…]“‘I’ve always heard this phrase, ‘Oh, marriage is great, or relationships are great — you get to go on this journey of change together,’ ” she said. “That sounds terrible.

“I don’t want to go through those changes with you. I want you to have changed and become enough of your own person so that when you meet me, we can have a stable life and be very happy.”

In the meantime, from A.’s perspective, she was in charge of her own sexuality.

“I definitely wouldn’t say I’ve regretted any of my one-night stands,” she said.

“I’m a true feminist,” she added. “I’m a strong woman. I know what I want.”

At the same time, she didn’t want the number of people she had slept with printed, and she said it was important to her to keep her sexual life separate from her image as a leader at Penn.

“Ten years from now, no one will remember — I will not remember — who I have slept with,” A. said. “But I will remember, like, my transcript, because it’s still there. I will remember what I did. I will remember my accomplishments and places my name is hung on campus.”

These high-powered feminist students are having sex with strangers because they are “hot”, not because they have made the man prove his intention and ability to commit by waiting until marriage.

I think the key point about this is that these women think that they are actually on a path to marriage by focusing on themselves and their careers. Their alcohol abuse is a path to marriage. Their promiscuity with bad boy men who have no interest in marriage is a path to marriage. Their career and selfishness is a path to marriage. This despite the fact that research clearly shows that the number of sexual partners that a woman has before marrying directly impacts her ability to perform in a relationship. Premarital sex with bad boys raises her estimation of her own value in relationships. When she is older and has to settle for what she can get, she will be dissatisfied and ungrateful. This is where divorce comes from.

Nothing that these women are doing is preparation for actual commitment and support. They can’t even converse with men, much less do the duties of a wife. Their ability to choose a man who can perform actual husband/father duties is not being formed by study or courtship. There is no wisdom. There is no self-sacrifice. There is no chastity. There is no support. There is no communication. These women are pro-abortion – that’s their view of  the rights and dignity of children. They are pro-gay marriage – that’s their view of providing for children’s relationship needs. These are literally the worst women in the world to marry. Their ignorance of what they must do to be good wives and mothers, and their messed up criteria for choosing men who can be husband and fathers makes them the worst women in the world to marry.

Read this carefully:

Some women went to college wanting a relationship, but when that seemed unlikely, they embraced hooking up as the best alternative. M., an athletic freshman with long legs and a button nose, arrived at college a virgin and planned to wait to have sex until she had her first boyfriend, something she expected to happen in college. But over the course of the fall, as she saw very few students forming relationships, she began to lose hope about finding a boyfriend and to see her virginity as a hindrance.

“I could be here for four years and not date anyone,” she said she realized. “Sometimes you are out, and there’s a guy you really are attracted to, and you kind of want to go back home with him, but you kind of have that underlying, ‘I can’t, because I can’t just lose my V-card to some random guy.’ ”

At a party in the spring semester, she was taking a break from dancing when she ran into a guy she had had a class with in the fall. They started talking, then danced until the party was over. M. went back to his room, where they talked some more and then started making out.

By this time, she said, “I wasn’t very drunk — I was close to sober,” which made her believe she could make a considered decision.

“I’m like, ‘O.K., I could do this now,’ ” she recalled thinking. “ ‘He’s superhot, I like him, he’s nice. But I’m not going to expect anything out of it, either.’ ”

The alternative, she said, was that “I could take the chance that one night I get really drunk and sleep with someone that I don’t want to sleep with, which probably is what would have ended up happening.”

So she had sex with him. In the morning, he walked her home.

“Honestly, all of my friends, they’re super envious, because I came back with the biggest smile on my face,” M. said. As she had expected, she and the guy remained friendly but nothing more. Yet she was still happy with her decision.

“All of my friends are jealous, because I had such a great first experience,” she added. Over spring break, she slept with someone else.

In general, she said, she thought that guys at Penn controlled the hookup culture. But women played a role as well.

“It’s kind of like a spiral,” she said. “The girls adapt a little bit, because they stop expecting that they’re going to get a boyfriend — because if that’s all you’re trying to do, you’re going to be miserable. But at the same time, they want to, like, have contact with guys.” So they hook up and “try not to get attached.”

Now, she said, she and her best friend had changed their romantic goals, from finding boyfriends to finding “hookup buddies,” which she described as “a guy that we don’t actually really like his personality, but we think is really attractive and hot and good in bed.”

I think I would really like everyone reading this to just read that last part over a few times, and let that sink in. You have a minority of good looking athletic men having sex with most of the women on campus, while the majority of men who opt-out of the hook-up culture and want to court and marry are left wondering where all the women went. And many of those will reinvent themselves as “bad boys” in order to at least get some contact with women, so that there are even fewer chaste, marriage-enabled men.

I really recommend reading some of Dr. Schneiderman’s comments on this article. He is really not happy about it, and he puts the blame squarely on feminists. As do I. Radical feminism is the ideology that gave us abortion, fatherlessness and divorce. We should call it what it is: selfish and destructive.

Feminist explains how she chose to drink alcohol before recreational sex

College students puking in toilet
College students puking in toilet

Guess where I’m linking today? To a radical feminist web site named Jezebel, to an article written by a radical feminist who writes for the radically leftist Slate.

No, I’m not crazy. Just read it:

Much of the conversation around alcohol and sex has focused on assault—the line at which intoxication becomes incapacitation, for instance—but what we fail to mention is how haunted people can be by the sex they actually, technically consented to.

[…]I wonder what my sex life would even look like if alcohol hadn’t been there. Alcohol gave me comfort in my own body, and it allowed me to turn my erotic curiosity and hunger for experience into an action plan. I was tired of being the stuttering girl sucking in her stomach after the lights went out. I wanted to be the woman who roamed wild and free.

Alcohol also helped me cut the girlish strings on my heart, an action my college years demanded. Three months into my freshman year, I split a six pack with a dashing sophomore, and we wound up partially clothed on his bed, my bare legs wrapped around his waist, my hands around his neck. I pulled back slightly and asked him the question, the naive question of a girl who does not yet understand her fate: “What does this mean?”

He looked past me, into his studio apartment, and then back into my eyes. “It means that I’m a 19-year-old boy, and we’re having fun.”

What is interesting is that she didn’t see this man’s using her for fun after getting her drunk as any disqualification for a serious relationship. On the contrary, she believes that a serious relationship built on self-sacrificial love and commitment that lasts through difficulties can be found in a man who uses her for fun sex:

I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy that night with the dashing sophomore. I’m saying the fun part for me might have been turning our physical intimacy into a sustained attachment.

Amazing. She wasn’t looking for men with good educations, good jobs, lots of savings, who were sober and chaste – they would have made her unhappy with their bossy leading, and strict plans about courting and marriage. Nope, she wanted the drunken slut who didn’t ask her any questions or have any plan for her to develop into a wife and mother. That’s who she wanted. He was hawt! And he was free, easy and fun.

She is 35 now, and still single. I’m sure if you ask her, she would like to be married “some day”, but who could look at 20 years of drunken sex and say that this is good preparation for the challenges of marriage? Marriage is about self-sacrificial love, and endurance. To prepare for it, you learn self-denial and self-control. You learn how to accept expectations, obligations and responsibilities.

Anyway, back to the article by the drunken, promiscuous feminist. The point that I wanted to make is that she chose the alcohol herself, and that she did it for a very specific reason:

I wanted to have fun, too. And alcohol evened the score. I cared less about everything when I was drinking: What you thought of me, what I looked like in this dress, whether that taco was warm or cold when I stuffed it in my mouth. I don’t want to make it sound like I drank in order to have sex. I drank for a million reasons.

[…]Booze downshifted my intense body consciousness, and it revved up my bravado. Sex was scary—but alcohol made me feel safe.

She drank in order to have sex. Got it? She chose to get drunk in order to have sex. This is the part that permissive parents and pious pastors need to understand about their darling daughters. Many young women think that recreational sex with hot guys is a pathway to marriage. They drink in order to make progress towards the marriage they want – the marriage to the man who is fun. Not the man who is serious. They don’t want the serious man who makes plans and expects them to behave responsibly and honor obligations. They want the fun, hot man – the bad boy – and they expect to change him into a faithful, sober, responsible provider through the magical power of vagina. And if that doesn’t work, by threatening him with divorce.

Why are millenials acting like children into adulthood?
Why are millenials acting like children into adulthood?

This reminds me of the Institute for American Values study. Despite their name, it is not a conservative organization

Look at this citation from p. 15:

A number of students noted that being drunk could later serve as your excuse for the hook up.

A Yale University student said, “Some people like hook up because they’re drunk or use being drunk as an excuse to hook up.”

A New York University student observed, “[Alcohol is] just part of an excuse, so that you can say, oh, well, I was drinking.”

A Rutgers University student commented, “If you’re drinking a lot it’s easier to hook up with someone… [and] drugs, it’s kind of like a bonding thing… and then if you hook up with them and you don’t want to speak to them again, you can always blame it on the drinking or the drugs.”

[…]A University of Chicago junior observed, “One of my best friends… sometimes that’s her goal when we go out. Like she wants to get drunk so I guess she doesn’t have to feel guilty about [hooking up].”

I think at this point you should assume that if your daughter is not passionate about chastity, natural marriage and pro-life, then she is probably somewhere on this drinking – recreational sex – cohabitation – abortion – no-fault divorce path. The more fun-loving and emotional a woman is, the more likely she is to fall into it, and some of them just work it together with Christianity. Once woman I know was living with a non-Christian man and praying fervently for God to make her career take off. God is there for hope and comfort, not to impose any sort of moral boundaries. And parents and pastors are oblivious – they just want to let women do whatever they want, and then blame men for not making it “work out”. Parents and pastors are not doing the job of explaining to women what their lives will really be like from age 40 to 90, and urging women to make a plan that provides lasting love and and security even as they experience declining youth, declining beauty, and declining fertility.

I hope that many of the men out there who refuse to hold women accountable for their own desires start to understand that not everything a woman wants is good, and not every plan a woman makes will work. Sometimes, you need to calmly and constructively challenge them about their priorities, plans and actions. It’s for their own good.

Does more relationship experience lead to better relationship success?

Published in the Journal of Marriage and Family
Published in the Journal of Marriage and Family

Consider this article from the Institute for Family Studies.

It says:

In most areas of life, having more experience is good. Want to be great in your chosen field? Sustained experience is essential. Want to be great at a sport? There’s no substitute for practice. And anyone who runs a business can tell you that their best employees are those who have been in the job long enough to have learned how to handle the normal well and the unexpected with wisdom.

While more experience is often beneficial in life, the story looks different when it comes to some types of experience before marriage. For example, in our Before “I Do” report, we surveyed a national longitudinal sample of young adults about their love lives prior to marriage to examine factors associated with future marital quality. We found that having more sexual and cohabiting partners before marriage is associated with lower relationship quality once married. In particular, having only ever lived with or had sex with one’s spouse was associated with higher marital quality. Our findings are consistent with other studies showing that cohabiting with more partners before marriage is associated with greater likelihood of divorce1 and that a higher number of sexual partners before marriage is associated with lower marital quality and greater likelihood of divorce.2 As we noted, what happens in Vegas may not always stay in Vegas. But why?

There are many reasons why having more romantic partners before marriage may put one at higher risk of difficulties in marriage. One of the most important explanations comes under the heading of what some call selection effects. For many people, an elevated risk of difficulties in marriage was present before they had their first relationship experience. Background characteristics such as parental divorce, low education, and economic disadvantage are associated both with having more sexual and cohabiting partners and also with lower marital quality and/or divorce.3So it may not be that having more sexual or cohabiting partners causes further risk because a lot of risk was already in motion. Selection is a big part of how relationships unfold, but is it the whole story? We believe that, in addition to selection, behavior matters and has plausible connections to marital outcomes. We are going to explain four reasons why having more relationship experience before tying the knot might make it harder to succeed in marriage.

Here are the 4 reasons:

  1. More Awareness of Alternatives
  2. Changed Expectations: The Perfect Sexual Lover (in Your Mind)
  3. More Experience Breaking It Off
  4. Babies

I have to quote the one that I’ve personally encountered in my mentoring – number three: more experience breaking it off. I’ve seen this commitmentphobia in two women who had “wild” periods in their past who had broken up with cohabitating boyfriends.

It says:

Cohabitation has characteristics that seem paradoxical. Living with a partner makes it harder to break up than dating, all other things being equal, and often now comes at a time in relationship development where people have not really chosen each other for the future.8 And yet, cohabiting couples frequently break up, and they are more likely than any other time in history not to end up marrying.9

These days, cohabitation has become more a part of the dating scene than a lead-up to marriage. Let’s call the phenomenon cohabidating. In this context, some people are getting a lot of experience at leaving serious relationships (or surviving being left). Just as with our prior point, that does not sound bad in one way—at least insofar as people are breaking off relationships that had no future. But it’s also true that people tend to get good at things they have a lot of experience doing. People can get good at moving out and moving on.

How does that impact marriage? Some people probably so deeply learn that they can survive leaving a relationship when they are unhappy with it that they leave reasonably good marriages that would have given them and their children the best outcomes in life. They bail too quickly.

Obviously, many others leave very poor or even dangerous marriages only after a lot of agonizing and effort. We’re not suggesting divorce is ever easy or that it is not sometimes the best course. But in a day and age when people get so much experience moving out and moving on, we think many may learn to do so too rapidly, and to their detriment.

If you want to get good at relationships, experience may not be the answer. Reading good studies like this, and making decisions that line up with the research is much wiser. As always, never follow your heart. Always follow rational arguments and evidence, and keep connected to a good panel of advisors who have had long-term relationships success. That’s the best way to avoid disaster.

People ask me how to learn how to do relationships well if your parents are divorced and the culture is a cesspool. The answer is to go back in time to before radical feminism, to the time when men and women had distinct roles, and had to attract each other without using sex. Men had to prove their feelings to women with actions, and when women chose men for the roles of husband and father. Parents were consulted to give advice about courtship and marriage. Where can you find this today? Well, books by Christian authors like Jane Austen are very helpful. If you like DVDs, go out and get yourself the BBC production of “North and South”, which is based on the book by Christian author Elizabeth Gaskell. My favorite romance is Edmund Rostand’s “Cyrano de Bergerac”, just make sure you get the Brian Hooker translation if you are reading it in English. Although the best version is the original French. Shakespeare is also good – I got my rule of saving the first kiss for the proposal / engagement from Henry V.

You have to dig if you are going to get away from a culture that trains people to fail to prepare for marriage. You have to fight to develop and maintain your ability to love another person well, in a Christ-like way. The culture says to treat the opposite sex like a commodity, but you should instead think of them as something designed to be presented to God. Never treat them in a way that causes damage to that vertical relationship, that’s the most important thing about them – how they see God.

The meaning of marriage: a lecture at Google by Tim Keller

Painting: "Courtship", by Edmund Blair Leighton (1888)
Painting: “Courtship”, by Edmund Blair Leighton (1888)

Disclaimer: I have reservations about Tim Keller. I consider him to be too liberal for my tastes, especially on scientific (intelligent design) and political/economic issues. However, I think he did a good job explaining marriage in the lecture below.

Here’s the the video:

Details:

Timothy Keller visits Google’s New York, NY office to discuss his book “The Meaning of Marriage.” This event took place on November 14, 2011, as part of the Authors@Google series.

Timothy J. Keller is an American author, speaker, preacher, and the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. He is the author of several books, including “The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism.”

“The Meaning of Marriage” touches on topics that all readers can relate to, starting with the role of marriage in our culture, its history and the pessimism that is often associated with it. The Kellers also discuss the feelings of and acts of love, romantic relationships, gender roles, singleness, and the role of sex in a marriage.

I saw a lot of things in his lecture that echo my own views. One point where we agree is on not just looking for traits and virtues in the other person, but in seeing how they handle conflict and solve problems with you.  You have to give the other person things to do and see if they make progress and work cooperatively with you. The most important thing to look for is someone who sees potential in you and is committed to helping you realize it. You want someone who won’t give up on you, no matter how hard things get. There are fun and happy times in a marriage, but those come naturally – the real question is how well two people stick together to get things done when it’s hard. I definitely recommend Keller’s book on marriage, it’s such a good vision of what marriage could be.

Here’s an article entitled “You Never Marry the Right Person“, that discusses one of the points in the lecture.

Excerpt:

In generations past, there was far less talk about “compatibility” and finding the ideal soul-mate. Today we are looking for someone who accepts us as we are and fulfills our desires, and this creates an unrealistic set of expectations that frustrates both the searchers and the searched for.

[…]The Bible explains why the quest for compatibility seems to be so impossible. As a pastor I have spoken to thousands of couples, some working on marriage-seeking, some working on marriage-sustaining and some working on marriage-saving. I’ve heard them say over and over, “Love shouldn’t be this hard, it should come naturally.” In response I always say something like: “Why believe that? Would someone who wants to play professional baseball say, ‘It shouldn’t be so hard to hit a fastball’? Would someone who wants to write the greatest American novel of her generation say, ‘It shouldn’t be hard to create believable characters and compelling narrative’?” The understandable retort is: “But this is not baseball or literature. This is love. Love should just come naturally if two people are compatible, if they are truly soul-mates. “

The Christian answer to this is that no two people are compatible. Duke University Ethics professor Stanley Hauerwas has famously made this point:

Destructive to marriage is the self-fulfillment ethic that assumes marriage and the family are primarily institutions of personal fulfillment, necessary for us to become “whole” and happy. The assumption is that there is someone just right for us to marry and that if we look closely enough we will find the right person. This moral assumption overlooks a crucial aspect to marriage. It fails to appreciate the fact that we always marry the wrong person.We never know whom we marry; we just think we do. Or even if we first marry the right person, just give it a while and he or she will change. For marriage, being [the enormous thing it is] means we are not the same person after we have entered it. The primary challenge of marriage is learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married.

Hauerwas gives us the first reason that no two people are compatible for marriage, namely, that marriage profoundly changes us. But there is another reason. Any two people who enter into marriage are spiritually broken by sin, which among other things means to be self-centered—living lifeincurvatus in se. As author Denis de Rougemont said, “Why should neurotic, selfish, immature people suddenly become angels when they fall in love … ?” That is why a good marriage is more painfully hard to achieve than athletic or artistic prowess. Raw, natural talent does not enable you to play baseball as a pro or write great literature without enduring discipline and enormous work. Why would it be easy to live lovingly and well with another human being in light of what is profoundly wrong within our human nature? Indeed, many people who have mastered athletics and art have failed miserably at marriage. So the biblical doctrine of sin explains why marriage—more than anything else that is good and important in this fallen world—is so painful and hard.

When you are courting, don’t worry about appearances and feelings and passion so much, because that is all subject to change over time, and those things won’t help you with the real challenges you’ll face in a marriage. Worry about whether they are the kind of person who can make commitments and love other people self-sacrificially – even if they are unlovable. In the long run, their ability to read and understand issues, to care for others and serve them, to keep promises, to be respectful and supportive, to argue respectfully and reasonably, and to solve problems constructively, will all be far more important than appearances and feelings and passion.

During the courtship, give the other person things to do that challenge them and see how they handle being given responsibilities – giving a person hard things to do is a much better way to test a person than recreational nights out with recreational drinking, recreational dancing and recreational sex. Marriage means commitment and hard work, not recreation. And that’s what you should test for – the ability to work hard at the relationship and to keep promises and commitments and to communicate reasonably and to work through difficulties fairly. The most dangerous thing you want to avoid is self-centeredness. You don’t want someone who is primarily interested in minimizing your feelings, and then getting her friends to agree with her that this is legitimate for whatever reasons. You want a person who has had a hard enough life that responsibilities and obligations are natural to her, and who doesn’t try to wiggle out of self-sacrificial acts of love when she doesn’t feel like doing it. Each person needs to invest in the other, so that both can have fuel to do their job in the relationship.