The Marriage-Myth

It’s 1997. I am 17, ridiculously hormonal, lonely and aching for a relationship. Fed on a steady diet of rom-coms and R&B, I twirl around the kitchen (alone), slow-dancing with my imaginary boyfriend to All 4 One’s rendition of “I Swear.” I regularly weep over Sleepless in Seattle, spend entire slumber parties with girlfriends predicting who among us will be the first to get married, and imagine all my problems evaporating when I finally meet my man.

That same year, Joshua Harris publishes a book that takes Christian culture by storm. It’s called I Kissed Dating Goodbye and it teases out the pitfalls of casual dating. The book proposes a more biblical, marriage-centric and God-honoring alternative to dating. It’s called “courtship.”

The book’s release was timely for me. In many ways it corrected me, comforted me, and became a guiding beacon for the way that I dealt with relationships and with my longings — at least theoretically. Four years, one university degree, a dozen crossed boundaries and a trail of broken hearts later, I turned 21. I somehow found myself at the altar, a starry-eyed bride who somehow collided with the man of her dreams. My 21-year-old self swore by Joshua Harris’ principles  — and I still think that if some of those principles were taken seriously, God might just honour good intentions and they’d find themselves conveniently married in no time.

Fast forward to 2013. I am 33. I still think that Joshua Harris’ book spouts oodles of wisdom. But I also have a more nuanced view of marriage and dating.

1. Marriage is not the end.

Cinderella and Prince Charming riding off into the sunset does not equal happily ever after. The end of every Jane Austen novel is not really the end. Lifelong companionship and mutual commitment are beautiful, and marriage can enhance your quality of life. But marriage won’t fill the hollow ache in the pit of your stomach that yearns for something better. Marriage is hard work. It makes you holy, but not always happy. Because learning to be selfless will always, always be hard — honeymoon feelings are bound to SNAP and dissolve.

2. Spiritual status does not equal marital status.

Amazing, godly people come in every colour, shape and size. These people are single, late-marrieds, early-marrieds, divorcées, victims of train-wreck relationships, widowers, high-school sweethearts and ‘missionary’ daters. I know singles who are achingly attractive, selfless and God-loving, dealing with a barrage of poor decisions (not always their own). I also know people who got married because of poor decisions (usually their own) and are paying the price now.

3. Focus on God, not on ideals.

Ideals are beautiful. But when we focus too much on them, we start to get unbalanced, and we unwittingly fixate on methods. I Kissed Dating Goodbye gives helpful tips for relationships, but with this type of methodology, it’s all too easy to fall into the “judgement seat” trap. Don’t get me wrong: I will always believe ideals are right and good, but God Himself is the source of all rightness and goodness. Not methods. Not plans. Not ideals.

Ten years from now, ask me again about my views on marriage and dating. Hopefully, they’ll be more mature, more nuanced. But in the meantime, go ahead and read I Kissed Dating Goodbye. But when you do, don’t be like 17-year-old me. Take it with a grain of salt.

Flickr photo by liss j