For about two years, Mychael and I had a blog called “The Courtship Pledge.” The site went down in early 2015 because the host server crashed and all of the content was lost. I had no backup, and it was not retrievable. At the time it went down, the site had just started to generate interest and traffic, but I was so discouraged by the loss of the material, I just did not have the heart to try and recreate it all.
The purpose of the site was simple enough. I had looked around at the modern mate-selection process known as “dating” and saw it for the utter failure it was. By failure, I mean — it was not producing life long, Christian marriages that sustained and perpetuated values and culture into the future. This is the purpose of marriage, in a nutshell. (There is also an intergenerational weatlh/property transfer component to it, but that is not the biblical part). I had envisioned a site where married couples with children of all ages were willing to at least discuss the possibility of introducing an alternative path to marriage to their children. No guarantees, no commitments. I imagined that these couples would contact each other on their own for the possibility of doing nothing more than introducing their kids to each other–simply exposing their children to other kids their age being brought up the same way. Just put them in the same room together and see what happens. What I got was almost pure resistance.
And so I sit here this evening, at an airport where my 2 hour layover has turned into a 6 hour one, and I was invited to join a closed Facebook group called “Orthodox Christian Arranged Marriage.” This post is primarily for that audience, but I am going to leave it open–no password protection. I think it may be a good contemplation of what was learned at that site. With some time passed to process what happened, and an opportunity to talk about it with like minded folks, I will try to get it all out here.
In no particular order, this is what I remember:
My research revealed that over ten thousand years of recorded history, the norm in every culture was to have at least some level of parental involvement in the mate selection process.
This was true whether it was an arranged marriage between aristocracy and nobility for political reasons, or just plain old down to earth folks. The parents have always had a say, until very recently.
The very first “date” probably occurred some time in the early to mid-20th century, with a “date” being described like this: A boy gets in his vehicle and drives to a girls house for a pre-arranged outing to somewhere else, totally unsupervised by adults, and then brings her back to her home later that evening. Maybe they just watched a movie, maybe she’s pregnant? Who knows?
Right away, you can see that a “date” is modern innovation that requires certain technological advances to be realized. Like, for example, cars. We look back with nostalgia at the soda shops, hot rods, wearing your boyfriends letterman sweater because you are “going steady” and so on, as if this is some kind of wholesome, tradition from a bygone era. But the modern date was the result of the perfect storm of cultural and technological advances–some of which were not necessarily good for humanity.
Cute, right? But is this form of mate selection compatible with Christian principles?
And Americans absolutely love this image. It is damn near impossible to erect an argument in opposition to this as a sound way to find a potential mate. This entire perspective on mate selection is based on the idea that romantic love sanctifies and purifies marriage. Which is also related, in an indirect way, to why women initiate the vast majority of divorces today. Because they are seen as the divining rod, the enlightened “true love” detectors, and when the love goes away, the marriage is no longer valid. Which brings me to the next point.
Marriage provides the moral context for the pursuit of romantic love, not the other way around.
The hat tip here goes to protestant blogger Dalrock who clarified this for me like a lighting bolt as I read his posts on the topic. This culture takes the above principle and turns it on its head, with devastating consequences. If romantic love legitimizes marriage, then there is no standard for what makes it a successful marriage outside of the subjective feelings of the individuals involved. My wife and I are bonkers for each other–like a couple of teenagers–but we have worked through some really rough times to get there. Because divorce has not ever been an option, we were forced to recognize that this marriage is the place to “pursue” each other romantically, and have all the fun in the world doing it. The problem is that the idea of being struck by cupids arrow first and above all other considerations is so ingrained in our thinking that no one even notices anymore.
In the final analysis, the only way you can “know” if it was true love is when one of you dies. That may sound harsh, but when someone says “aw, it must be true love” I can’t help but comment “but you’re not done yet. You’ll know it was true love when you are lying there on your death bed, surrounded by your children and grandchildren and your husband/wife and close your eyes for the last time. At that point you will have perfected your love for each other. You finished the journey of actively loving each other all the way to the end.
As Orthodox, we believe the marriage is made valid through the sacrament of matrimony. That sacrament might as well be voodoo magic to the secular world. This is why, what the state now calls “marriage” is of absolutely no value to us today. The advent of “same sex marriage” and all the permutations of ridiculousness that actually started with “no fault” and birth control is just the logical conclusion to everything that was ever “traditional” about marriage, including the way you chose a mate to begin with. We Orthodox are (supposed to be) aloof to the culture. The sexual dystopia we are experiencing now is one of the reasons we need to be particularly disengaged from it.
Most people pine for the aesthetic of days gone by, but not the actual values that the aesthetic was based on.
Even if you can argue that those old images are “good” and compatible with Christian values, it must be in the context of understanding why the rituals existed. Picture a boy on a door step, he has just knocked on the door, behind his back are some flowers.
Who is going to answer the door? In a moral, sane and rational world, it would be the dad. The boy is waiting/hoping to make the grade with dad before he lets him near her. This is because neither the boy nor the girl are trusted to make these kinds of decisions by themselves. In patriarchal cultures, the girl is literally the fathers property and responsibility that he must take care and not give away to just anyone.
Got that? Yeah right. Boy on the porch with flowers? Check. Girl must have permission from her dad to speak to the boy? Misogyny!
I don’t know if we need to go that far back, but I do think there are ways to provide at least an atmosphere where she might actually listen to us (mom and dad) before proceeding.
Expectation management is important, and in this culture still might not work.
In just about any context, I can imagine a use for expectation management. Have you heard the phrase “under promise, over deliver?” Of course you have, and that is a form of expectation management. You literally say to the person. “I will probably have this done by Friday.” And when you get it done by Wednesday, the customer thinks you are a magician.
It is absolutely imperative that you explain to your children what is most likely going to happen in this regard, thereby priming them for the best possible outcome. Talk to your kids TODAY about all the things you will do to help them find the best possible mate. Do not offer it as an alternative, but the way things are going to go, all things considered. You explain it to them as the way this is done in this family.
You will have to do extreme heavy lifting against the ambient culture for this to work. They are bombarded with romantic love uber alles. Every. Single. Day.
And for God’s sake, show it to them. Me an Mychael are very “lovey” in front of the kids. We are not gross, or inappropriate, but we pursue each other romantically, in the moral context of marriage, all the time. Our kids learn that this is the way married people behave. They learn stability. They learn that mommies and daddies are in love with each other, all the time. They will not settle for less later.
Several things have made the pool of likely suitors seem invisible.
In your search for suitable mates for your kids, how restrictive are you going to be? Let me tell you, if you have narrowed it down to “only traditionalist Orthodox from an intact Orthodox home, with no divorces within a 5 square mile area,” good luck with that. And that’s fine, but be ready to put your money where your mouth is. Be willing to make friends and take long expensive trips to see people all over the country.
We are a mobile nation of people who are totally drenched with individualism. Unless you have the means to start a deliberate community like the Amish, (and you can fill that community with fantastically fertile women in their 40s like my wife) you are are going to have to compromise on some of your must haves. I won’t tell you where, that’s your business.
All of those friends you have at homeschool co-op, piano lessons and American Heritage girls, as “conservative” as they think they are, belive you are crazy for even trying to introduce something like this to your kids. They have drunk the “dating” cool-ade. After all that’s how they met! So it must work, right?
Another development that contributes to the invisibility of good mate prospects is that open hypergamy is now enshrined in western culture. If you don’t understand that the absolute worst of female nature is encouraged (while maintaining all the harshest restrictions on male nature) you will not be able to see what is going on. You will have to read about that elsewhere. But this development has created a bottleneck of sorts where many good, hard working, loyal Christian men with favorable manly attributes have zero chance at meeting and marrying a sweet, kind, Christian girl. They are invisible because there is a great disturbance–an artificial confound–that has been introduced to the natural formula for assortive mating processes.
All of the above–and more–have conspired to make large, committed, Christian, stable families for longevity a very low probability. And none of them are an excuse to stop trying.
And remember, I am not even advocating for arranged marriages, or anything like that. I have always simply asked “what can we do to get our kids to voluntarily include us in the most important decision they will every make?” and my idea was crushed under the weight of “YOU CAN’T CONTROL WHO YOUR KIDS FALL IN LOVE WITH!!!!”
I hope this will bring to life the discussion that I thought was dead.
Take care, Scott.