Week 29 in the year of our Lord 2021

Marriage & courtship

12 minutes to read

Here are 18 short reflections on marriage, on the occasion of Michael’s 18th wedding anniversary:

  1. Marry for demonstrated potential: catch them on their way up.
  2. Marry as young as reasonable, so you develop your tastes and habits as a couple.
  3. Children are infinitely better than pets. Don’t delay having them.
  4. Have frank discussions about sexual expectations with your spouse, and have as much sex as you both can.
  5. When arguing, stop and say, “Hey, I love you. We are on the same side. Let’s work this out together.”
  6. Pray together every day, and share the things you’re learning from God’s Word.
  7. Take responsibility for your sins and failures by saying, “I was wrong. There is no excuse. Please forgive me.”
  8. Set a budget, and times to talk openly about finances.
  9. Make five-year plans, with one-year benchmarks.
  10. Go to church every Sunday, even when on vacation.
  11. Never have close opposite-sex friends. Friends as a couple is okay, but not as individuals.
  12. Never let your kids play you against each other, even if you agree with them. Work it out behind closed doors.
  13. Wives shouldn’t nag; husbands should follow through on promises.
  14. If you forgave them, never bring it up again in an argument.
  15. Don’t let her coddle the kids; don’t let him exasperate them.
  16. Don’t overload your life with activities. Maintain margin so you can work from rest.
  17. Sometimes, maybe even often, expressing the willingness to fix the problem is more important than figuring out who is to blame.
  18. In the long run, divorce is almost always worse than a difficult marriage. Work on, and fight for, your marriage every single day.

P.S. Psalm 127:1.

If you’re a young man, or a father with teenaged children, you will find that you need to think through the courtship model. While there are good principles in it, the concept as a whole is exceedingly difficult to implement when:

  1. Many families are broken;
  2. Fathers are absent (in reality or just functionally);
  3. Parents have ungodly goals for their children;
  4. Delayed maturation has greatly decreased the availability of good spousal candidates.

This fourth issue makes younger marriage difficult. You either have to choose from the available candidates, or delay marriage until you can find a more suitable one. Hence, even those pursuing a young marriage can find themselves marrying much later than they hoped. For this reason alone, it is rare that either men or women today are teens when they enter relationships for the purpose of marriage—including those who are pro marrying as soon as possible. They have cars, careers/jobs, and even their own apartments/houses. These are 20+ year olds with a ton of freedom.

There is a weird disconnect from reality here with some Christians. They are imagining teenagers getting to know each other on the front porch swings of their parents’ houses, where they still live. This can still happen, but it simply is not the norm, even for those who want it.

Doug Wilson writes:

Sane people who date are better off than courtship nerds. Absolutely. But courting couples are better off than a lust monkey who has made out with 13 girls, your daughters being two of them, before exiting junior high. Wisdom matters more than the model — but the model still matters.

Most (not all) modern forms of courtship fail to produce strong marriages because many fathers are more interested in using the “courtship” as an opportunity to posture their toughness as a man, than building low-key relationships with potential suitors. For instance, if you clean your gun when he shows up, you’re an effeminate idiot who is setting your daughter’s marriage up to fail. Same deal if you think a tee-shirt like this is a good idea, or share such lists with other self-congratulatory fathers:

The only guys who are generally willing to stick around and endure this are weak, needy men with few options. All the high-quality guys have plenty of options, so they don’t have to put up with “little men” fathers trying to control the relationship or force their daughters onto pedestals.

Even when such shenanigans aren’t taking place, the courtship model often has a negative effect on the power equilibrium of the relationship—and thus the woman’s perception of her suitor’s gravitas and worthiness as a man. When the woman has all the power—whether directly, or by proxy through her father—the young man is in a very difficult position. It inverts the setup of the relationship from the very beginning, which puts it onto an unbiblical trajectory that is hard to correct later. The suitor is usually forced into an exclusive commitment to courting her when it is still premature (again, something he will only do if he has few options, or she greatly exceeds the others. And once that commitment is made, he is at the mercy of her father for it to continue, under whatever conditions he imposes. This means that often the relationship is extremely artificial, and the young man is is likely to do what psychologists call preference falsification. Needless to say, such a psychological straitjacket is the opposite of maintaining frame, showing command presence, or building basic gravitas—things necessary to establishing a healthy relationship that can serve as a foundation for marriage. The woman’s own attraction to and respect for her suitor is therefore likely to be severely attenuated—and, more disturbingly, mediated through her father—which makes a shaky foundation for him becoming her husband.

There are also other reasons to be cautious of trying to apply a straight courtship model, but these factors alone cause massive issues in marriages birthed from courtship. We know because every week we deal with men who have gone through it.

Related to this, you can put yourself in a similar straitjacket even if you are dating. There is an underlying truth to the idea that men should pursue women, but in the modern day it has been twisted beyond recognition. “Pursuit” has been turned into following: men follow the women they want, allowing them to set the pace, boundaries, and goals of the relationship.

This is not good. A man must show leadership in every stage of the relationship. Modern practices, especially within the church, emasculate a man from the get-go.

We prefer the language of “drawing” or “attracting” a woman. A man is better off working at being masculine than chasing women. If he is manly, he will be attractive to women. Like a growing planet, his gravitational force will increasingly draw women into his orbit.

As we say in Mission, then marriage, “chase excellence, not women.”

Part of normal social functioning is a feedback loop of checks that we run on other people. We do this all the time in various ways, basically to make sure that both we and our companions are still “up to date” on reality, and that reality itself is as it should be. Some of these checks are ritualized as greetings—“Hey, how are you?”—while some are spontaneous in response to aberrant behavior—“What’s gotten into you?” Some are very short and straightforward—“Are you OK?” while others are complex and multilayered—e.g., the banter and body language between long-time companions.

Men have their own unique social checks that women can have a hard time understanding, since they often take the form of mild abuse. Men are made to both compete for position in a hierarchy, and then to cooperate with each other in exercising dominion over the world. Subsequently, they frequently test each other for resilience, frame, and cognizance by issuing pseudo-challenges which they expect the other man to deflect, parry or counter. The tendency of men to invent offensive nicknames for each other, insult each other, and put each other through hazing rituals, are all examples of this kind of masculine social check.

Notice, especially, that men don’t typically think about these things in terms of “I am performing a social check,” or, “I am being socially checked.” It is intuitive, and happens on an almost subconscious level.

This is important because women, too, have social checks that men can find confusing. These are often the cause of a great deal of marital strife, because husbands don’t necessarily recognize that they are checks at all—and subsequently respond in ways that are quite opposite to the implicitly expected response. Because feminine social checks are no more consciously-performed than masculine ones, women often become frustrated and upset when their husbands fail to pass them, without developing a clear conscious awareness of why.

As we said last time, when men become aware of these tests, they often assume that they are sinful challenges. This can be true, but in general it is not. As with all kinds of social checks, they are usually just procedures built into the feminine psyche to help them navigate their social world and check that everything is as it should be. Thus, when their husbands don’t pass these checks as they subconsciously desire, it triggers a sense of unease and alarm.

There are at least four major categories of tests that women run on men. It can be very helpful to understand the basic things these are checking for, and why—and in a future email we will explain them in more detail. But it is even more important to understand the fundamental concern a woman has, which underlie them all: and that is simply that you have a command of, and a command over, her world. In one way or another, all feminine tests tend to boil down to this, so passing them all is as simple as maintaining frame and remaining her center of gravity.

How you do that will obviously differ depending on the check and the circumstance. But knowing this principle is much more important than over-analyzing her behavior and obsessing about how to best respond.

From Tyrannus Hall: #

[Anon 1]
I’ve been studying dating for a few months now because I’ve been frustrated with my lack of success with women. From what I’ve learned, the guys that have the best success with women are the ones who just do their own thing, are content in themselves, and have a ton of fun. Women end up pursuing them. I think a guy should initiate with the woman and allow her to respond, but if he has to try hard to get her to respond positively, it’s probably not meant to be.

Michael Foster
My advice for the first couple dates is always “have a real good time.”
Or: “just have fun.”
It sounds simple but it makes all the difference in the world.

[Anon 2]
If you’re like me, you’ll need to learn to have a good time. Especially us Reformed guys who tend to be very logical, we need to learn to take ourselves less seriously and be okay with looking like an idiot. As long as you’re concerned with what others think about you, you can’t be the guy that has the most fun and you won’t be the guy that attracts women easily.

We have these kinds of frank discussions all the time, with simple and actionable advice based on real-world experience. If you’d like to become a member, head on over to https://members.itsgoodtobeaman.com.

Notable: #

In the news: #

A lot of hay has been made over popular megachurch pastors like Ed Litton and J.D. Greear plagiarizing sermons. Turns out there is a whole industry around sermon-production. So shady.

But in hindsight, this is not hard to predict. Everything about these men’s ministries is built on glamor and performance. If you know anything about how the world works, you know that megachurches are modeled after worldly entertainment, and if you know anything about how worldly entertainment works, you don’t expect entertainers to write their own lines. Not that they never do, but if you learn of a singer who writes his own songs, you are pleasantly surprised. If you discover an actor wrote the script for a movie he starred in, you’re often impressed that he has more than one skillset.

Our default presumption should be that entertainers are talented at turning other people’s words into a compelling act. Why should that change when the performance happens to be religious?

Wisdom is pattern recognition. Professional pretenders are professional pretenders, regardless of the specific act.

Talk again next week,

Bnonn & Michael

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