Saturday, 24 August 2013

All the Other Shades of Grey

No, I'm not referencing the bafflingly popular book series, instead I figured it was time to have a discussion about all those other shades of grey questions that bounce around the world of faith (to whatever degree or affiliation) minded singles.

It seems every time I sit down with my single friends (faith and non faith minded) the question seems to find its way to the issue of where do we place faith in our relationships. Is it the glue that makes marriages their best or is it something more? I am sure there would be those who argue that mutual faith is one of the determining factors to the success of a healthy relationship. However Christian divorce rates are the same as non-Christian rates. Even if faith had no factor in those divorces, what happens when a person goes through a period, season or years (whatever term makes you happy) of questioning, doubt and even silence within their relationship with God. Do they in turn silence their partner, if God is the centre and one no longer feels God's presence what happens? I realize it is more complicated than that and that is why I think there are so many shades of grey, especially in a culture where it seems many can place themselves with some degree of assurance on all sorts of other complex issues like gay marriage, abortion and even social policies, immigration and the environment.

Why is this one the murkiest of them all it seems?

I started this journey/blog for many reasons but namely because of this one issue. How is it that I still believe I need to share a common faith with my partner and yet to date the most successful relationships I have had have been with men who would label themselves some form of lapsed Catholic/agnostic or spiritual person. Is my decision being solely driven by the belief that in the hard moments I need someone to pray with - do I believe that I will be without other community in those times? Or is my decision being driven by the fear that some future ordination committee is going to reject me because I didn't fall in line with expectations? (If you're wondering that was one of the questions discussed when this issue most recently arose)

My frustrations are not unique which I am aware should be comforting and yet I feel only adds to the confusion. I have heard too many stories about Christian men with bizarre ideas of who their wife should be and the spiritually and emotionally aggressive lengths they go to (and I am fully aware that this phenomena can go the other way, sometimes I do wonder if the state of affairs in the Church is not in some way still being fuel by bizarre fantasies women have of their husband who leads the family in faith in all circumstances like a mini-Jesus or Paul). This does not mean that an agnostic partner would be less abusive or that there will be less turmoil. Nor should the decision be laid solely on these experiences or even my past experience. The question is:

When all else is great, even amazing is faith a deal breaker?

Yes, but no, but yes. Maybe oddly it has been but at the other extreme, for the last few months the extremes of evangelical faith have been a deal breaker, but in theory it should not be, I should be excited to see all these men professing the only books they have read are their Bible and Wild At Heart and yet I just feel lost, stuck in this land of grey that wants to believe that love is enough and a part of me that really just doesn't know.

So what do you think?

Photo credit

Thursday, 15 August 2013


One of the early profiles I was matched with I quickly discovered that he was looking for:

"a feminine woman who will allow me to be a male around her and who will become feminine when we are together a woman that I could take care of for the rest of her life protect, nurture defend encourage and share my love with. I have so much love to give and need someone that will be willing to receive it."

So being that I had a pretty good idea of what was being requested but unsure I wasn't reading my personal bias into it, I turned to my lovely friends on Facebook and asked for a translation on this Christianese and received everything from the purely humorous to the serious and everything in between such as:

Secret desire for evangelical Christian dominatrix, of course - best friend

The answer to this question and any other about what they mean or are looking for is pretty simple. BJs. - former almost boyfriend (and a similar response from my father)

Allow me to translate. What this means is I read some book (I can probably name the book but I'm not going to because it doesn't deserve it) a long time ago that told me that women wanted traditional men to defend them and make all their decisions for them and so if I write a bunch of crap like this in my **** profile it will make women want me and find me a nice submissive wife who will let me be what I think a man is. In other words not the guy for you. - former university classmate and presently a pastor

When I spun the question around a few weeks later after finding that 98% of the profile matches were soliciting the same dynamic, I asked "it seems every **** profile cites the need for a feminine woman to make them feel like a man, this puzzles me. Have you ever turned to man to make you feel like a woman? Or is it a uniquely Christian male issue?"

The responses were very similar to each other so I picked to of the dozen or so married women who responded:

but 'woman' is just a label, and 'feminine' is a meaningless societal construction as far as I'm concerned. I'm a woman on my own terms, but more than that, I'm a person. My man makes me feel loved and valuable, and the fact that I'm a woman is hardly even relevant. If a guy doesn't feel like a real man without a woman that acts 'feminine', then that's his problem he needs to solve on his own.

 I don't think about feeling "like a woman" much at all, so I don't expect someone else to evoke such feelings! What's interesting to me is what they mean by "a woman who makes me feel like a man" - code for what exactly? And what could make them feel not like a man? I have a hard time picturing this to be a good thing.

In that moment I was so thankful that the Facebook hive-mind had come together and validated the feelings I had about this whole issue of being feminine so that I can exist only as a binary marker for my future spouse to mark himself against. Again the language of evangelical gender relations was not of woman as a whole but rather as only defined in relation, as though it doesn't exist without man. But there is the rub, at its extreme this dynamic also suggests that men cease to exist unless interacting with women. And all these roles and interactions do not even consider that gender is a construct and that cis men and women (and that does not even include trans men and women - not that they're not important to this discussion but rather it is a topic for another time and space) can abide on a spectrum. I might be able to bake a pie and scrub a floor but I also can also hang cabinets, use power tools and assemble furniture but none of those abilities/activities are a result of my uterus/sex. These are not intrinsic to what it means to be a woman or being feminine. 

And yet...

The message continues. 

We continue to tell women that they are only feminine if they are soft spoken and meek, not too educated and super excited by the prospect of having a huge family (see:Dugger's/quiver-full communities) and we tell men, just like these two cases that they are only men if they conquer (do but don't Google Douglas Wilson and conquer if you want to know details) or are "wild at heart" (thanks Eldridges). We eliminate all the shades of grey - all the beautiful complexity that is being human, wherever you place yourself on the gender spectrum and whoever you love. 

Lastly while I would love to offer a musical reference at this moment it seems in digging around the musical interwebs that there has been a lot of discussion for the idea of a woman needing a "manly" man - yes I'm looking at you Shania, Aretha and well actually the whole of music it seems. But I was able to find this song which condenses in some way the expectation of women in the Evangelical church - Stand still and look pretty

Monday, 12 August 2013

I See Dead Things

Every morning when I open my account to assess the damage I expect to see dead things. It might be the area of the world I live in or the Christian population from whence my matches are being pulled but it seems that these men feel it imperative to inform me in their photos that they can kill small animals and fish or in the extreme, wrestle a sedated tiger in Guam. I find this an interesting phenomena where Christian culture has deemed killing of small animals as a sign of manhood, while at the same time secular entertainment like Criminal Minds continually remind us that this is can be a pathological behaviour. Frankly I do not need any convincing that it is a pathological behaviour.

While yes we can joke, as my brother did, that this is a good sign, it means that if there is an apocalypse we'll survive. That does throw a little theological wrench in the system, as after all, should we really be so paranoid about the "end times" that we start living our lives out of that fear? Don't answer that - it will take you all sorts of places we do not have time for. So if we throw the end of the world to the side, I only have the massive evangelical conglomerate knows as gender roles via the Eldridge et al contingent to hold accountable.

Now I realise that there might be women out there swooning over the idea of a man perched behind the carcasses of a dozen birds or fish, or even smiling while play wrestling a tiger, but for myself I find it problematic. For one, yes while I do eat meat and I support the ethical treatment of animals in life and death, it is something that can easily altered for sport. Furthermore for myself, I worry when a man has certain activities so deeply integrated with his understanding of masculinity. A person is not a man because he kills things, drives a pickup truck or grunts at the TV, they are a man because of who they define themselves as and how they carry themselves. Which I realize places everything into shades of grey, but just as I do not want to conversely be held to a standard which sees women as barefoot and pregnant or just plain weak and meek.

But I do feel I must also confess that the undercurrent to my distaste is also while I appreciate the forest and the serenity that my male classmates claim they find when they're in a frigid Colorado river which a cigar in their mouth and a fly fishing rod in their hand, they would likely find that pole lodged elsewhere if one ever insisted I come along. I don't do the woods like that. I will happily glamp (glamour camping) with my martini and a good book, a little Bonhoeffer seems appropriate to the climate, but I draw, more so dig and erect a wall there.

This is probably not the last time we take a dance with this topic but that being said:

Is there something that you see on a profile and it causes the opposite response in you than intended?

Photo credit

Friday, 9 August 2013

I Do Not Get the Maybe Part...*

I have every intention of continuing with the understanding the language of evangelical dating, but providence has arranged a detour for the moment. Mary is My Homegirl posted a gif response to the wonders or horrible wonders of flirting in graduate school, which of course ended up on my Facebook wall and launched a discussion about the state of affairs, or lack there of in Christian graduate circles or just evangelical circles in general.

I am certain that I cannot flirt to save my life despite all the lady magazines I spent my teen and young adult years reading. Actually that is not entirely true - I can flirt when I do not actually like the person or I am on an Amtrak train for four days by myself and decide it is a good time to test out that eye contact article from a lady magazine I had read repeatedly in my boredom (which FYI worked, too well actually). Thankfully for my more adult-lack-of-flirting-skill-self I have stumbled into a community where flirting is more or less limited to hushed requests to watch your stuff in the library, while you likely go to the washroom. Which when you think about it is a little odd and a little too forward as you are introducing someone to the rhythm of your bodily functions.

I know that my lack of flirting skill is not unique in the evangelical world. I have found in my experience with men that most seem to oscillate between being far too aggressive or too passive and routinely swing between the extremes rather than trying find some sort of middle ground. The whiplash between the two extremes does happen in the non-evangelical world, however, as friend pointed out on Facebook the lack of flirting "game" is linked to the culture.

For evangelical men or even men who have spent any duration of time in the evangelical culture flirting is challenging. They are on one extreme told to be "masculine," to stake their claim and ensure that there is no possibility that the woman they are interested is going to lead in any way and on the other they are routinely shamed for their own understanding of masculinity or their sexual desires. They have not been offered a way in which they can with respect and appropriate timing and speed approach a woman they like, treat her like a human and not a piece of land to be claimed and in turn handle either the acceptance or the rejection well. I have found in my experience that 90% of men chose the passive approach via the friend zone. They hope that they can hang around long enough that eventually they can slide into the boyfriend zone. Pseudo dating is a blight on all decent men and needs to be stomped out with a vengeance... but that is another issue to be discussed at a later date. The remaining 10% I have found go to the other extreme. For example, I was at a house party a few years ago and might have become a little intoxicated, but that is beside the point. I awoke the next morning to a message in my Facebook inbox asking for my number and a date and I honestly could not remember anything about this guy. If he'd been flirting with me he'd been doing it wrong, all wrong. I did for the record go on a date with him which turned out to be the worst and longest date of my life.

In addition to these extremes I have found that most male-female interactions where there is some sort of attraction seems to be stunted at the level of playground antics. This can look like a classmate who insulted me in our first interaction and then fled, only to continue to act bizarrely around me for the last two years to a friend of mine who believed the best way to interact with me was to antagonise me, questioning predominately my theology. I have absolutely no problem discussing theology because that is the field I am in right now, but I do have a huge issue when the only way you can convey you like me is through petty arguments that you do not actually have any interest in. It's the equivalent of poking me until I give in to your advancements, all in the hopes you'll just stop. Both you and I are not going to win if I give up.

For evangelical women, I think the binaries are just as extreme. We have to negotiate the heroic virgin (see Regnerus) paradigm in evangelical circles which spans all sorts of shenanigans like Purity Balls and other shaming rituals to keep young women nonsexual by shaming them about their sexuality to the other side which is the I give up, you think I'm a sl*t so I guess I'll own it. For the record one of my male classmates did call me a sl*t because I use birth control. While it is cliche, the Madonna/Whore binary seems to skew every aspect of our interactions with the world.

So do I flirt now? I might if you have a few G&T's in me because that is about the only time I'm going to be flirting at the extreme where it is completely undeniable and I will make a complete and utter fool of myself. I do not blame the lady mags for that failure and to some extent I do not even blame the evangelical world for my issues with flirting. Rather I think I've come to the point where I cannot stand having to switch my brain off to get myself attention, and when I have tried it in recent years and it always comes up against a wall which I have chosen to interpret as both he's not interested and don't waste your time. This philosophy simplifies my life but it has also completely killed off my dating pool.

So on that note:


Tuesday, 6 August 2013

So What is REALLY Going On...

The prodding question, "so what is really..." is quickly rising in the ranks of one of the most hated questions. It has already surpassed the questions about when are you going to graduate or how's the ex... 

But I should back things up just a small amount here. My father got remarried this weekend. He is now a father to six kids, all of them unmarried, ranging from 31-15. So being that I am that 31 year old, it seems only fair that I was the one bombarded with the most aggressive of questions about my life. I respect that I have opened myself to the questions as I have been posting my horror stories from my current dating site on Facebook in a combination of misery likes company/see, it is really hard.

Here in lies the issue, why is it difficult?

I am not sure.

I could blame my singleness on all the problems with the Evangelical dating gauntlet; however, in my moments of introspection I have my worries that the problems at the end remain within me. I want to blame the misogynist men - those threatened by my "calling" or just my extensive education (thanks subsidised education system) or my few apologies approach to how I have directed and conducted myself over the last few years.

It would be easier if I could find the blame in me.

If I could blame my choices, my love of high heels or reading choices...the list could go on and on and on for all the reasons from my education to my waist size, the former being a never ending problem, not made any easier by the surge in the "smokin' hot wife" dialogue in the Church, then my life would be easier.

The problem is in moments like this past Saturday it is hard to even in those moments to say well maybe it is me and have it be heard and understood, that what I am saying is not that I'm broken or that I'm a lesbian or that I as a feminist I hate men. It is not any of those, but rather the acknowledgement that may be despite my desire for there to be a simple reason, it is really complicated and thus why I'm writing these posts. It might be the covert misogyny or it might be an issue in me or it might just not be the right time.

It does not make the answer to the question any easier when your aunt leans over to ask you at dinner, with your tired looking satin bridesmaid dress on and Spanx peeking out the bottom edge, what is really, really going on. I normally oscillate between these two responses:

Thursday, 1 August 2013

That is What You Want, What You Really Want?

Today I witnessed an event that I expected would not come for some time or at all. I was really, really praying never. I can handle the language of submission as they appear on profiles as: "servant-hearted, grace-filled, humble, meek, quiet and gentle." I know that it is all the new evangelical candy coated speak for the now passe term "submissive." That is not to say the idea has somehow become passe. No it's still en vogue, if not more so now than it was a generation ago, these men just do not have the chutzpah to come out and ask for it (how ironic). However, today when someone posted they wanted a "patient, faithful, submissive wife," initially I laughed a little or vomited a little in my mouth, let's just say combined it was a moment of reflux and then all my emotions could be summarised as:

Yes apparently by that sentiment I am not the woman he is looking for to marry. However, I do not think any human is, although there are many mammals living at the local animal shelter who would fit the bill. There might be differing opinions on the roles of women and what the ideal dynamic is for marriage; the problem I have is that there is this belief that submission is necessary as if that is the only way, a colonial conquering rather than any type of mutual agreement. This belief is perpetuated by the belief that a woman is not a full human; she is only the extension of man. I'm not going to trod down the theological road on this one other than to clarify that humanity (both man and woman) in one flesh was created first, thus end of the whole dance around who got there first.

So why am I all ruffled about this? Because of dating advice like this (OFFENSIVE CONTENT) that reaffirms beliefs that a woman is little more than a child you can have sex with complete with the need for discipline (that is a sentence I never wanted to write or will write again). Submission and all its other forms are only models of conquering or oppression and can only be maintained when a person is stripped of the fullness of their personhood. This is not to say that complementarian relationships are the same as relationships that are founded solely on submission. A woman can subscribe to the suggested traditional roles of motherhood and still maintain her whole selfhood and live out of that wholeness, but I believe only when that is her whole choice and not the demand of the male in her life.

Yes that is a little detour and it really did not need to be said, but as my ex-boyfriend said after he and I had a conversation about this issue, "where did you find these misogynist jerks," it made me sad. I was a little sad that I had to have the conversation with him but even more so because this is what we're creating in Evangelical circles, we are teaching men that the only way they can be men is by making women less. It is the same structure that reinforced colonialism, racism and classist behaviours around the world and it reflects nothing of the Gospel.

*Yes, I did quote the Spice Girls and it was intentional.