Passion and Purity: Me, Lord? Single?
We’re almost done with chapter 1! Here, Elliot brings it all together:
The reason my roommates and I believed that singleness was synonymous with virginity was not that we were college students a hundred years ago when everybody believed that. It was not that we didn’t know any better. It was not that we were too naive to have heard that people have been committing fornication and adultery for millennia. It was not that we were not yet liberated or even that we were just plain stupid. The reason was that we were Christians. We believed in the sanctity of sex.
I like this. She has anticipated negative reactions to her opinion and addressed them in a succinct way, although my previous criticism of this chapter still stands. She still seems to think that no one else values sex like Christians do. There are plenty of non-Christian cultures and religions that prize virginity. And there are plenty of Christians (and non-Christians) who believe that sex is sacred but don’t necessarily think it must be within the confines of a one-man + one-woman marriage. She can’t address all these complaints, though, and overall I think this is an effective paragraph.
I knew the kind of man I wanted. He would have to prize virginity — his own as well as mine–as much as I did.
It’s good to think about what you value in a relationship. It’s good to think about deal-breakers. I assume that Elliot also wanted a man with other qualities besides virginity (and I hope she’ll talk about those later in the book…?) However, she doesn’t mention those qualities here. On the one hand, I get it–she’s focusing on virginity and how few people really believe that sex is sacred. It’s absolutely her prerogative to want a man who prizes virginity and if thats important to you, by all means, make it a priority in your dating relationships.
There are many other things that make relationships work. If you won’t consider anyone who’s not a virgin, you could be overlooking someone wonderful, someone virtuous and intelligent and thoughtful and good and funny. Or you might consider someone who’s a lout…but at least he’s a virgin.
The problem here is not that virginity is an inherently bad thing to look for. The problem is that the audience for this book already knows that they ought to be looking for virginity. They’ve already been told time and time again that virginity is what matters in a dating relationship. The focus is so overwhelmingly on virginity/purity that many young people in this subculture don’t really know what else to look for.
“Does she respect my boundaries?” and “Can I truly be myself around him?” and even “Does he make me laugh?” are important questions when you’re dating someone. But for all the sermons I heard about dating, for all the Christian dating books I read, I did not know really know what else to look for. Part of that was because I was young and inexperienced and, hey, everyone’s a little stupid when they start out. But part of it was that no one ever really talked about anything else. These young, anxious, impressionable, inexperienced Christians need more information than “Virginity!” They need to know about consent, abuse, communication, and how to recognize a temporary bad situation from a permanent one.
A narrow focus on virginity does none of this; in fact, too often, all those important topics are wrapped up in one message: Just get married–then you will figure it all out together! I know I didn’t hear about consent until I was well into my 20s, and I certainly didn’t learn about it from the church. (And I was lucky–I was never in a situation where my consent was ignored.) Abuse simply wasn’t discussed, particularly in dating relationships, which are often considered sort of Relationship Lite, when everyone’s on their best behavior and we don’t need to worry about anything like finances or divorce. Open and honest communication was something that came up in youth group, etc, but mostly in terms of friendships and evangelism. It was assumed that you’d figure out communication with your spouse when you had to — ideally in premarital counseling.
Skills to handle communication, consent, boundaries, and abuse are valuable throughout life, not only in dating/marriage relationships.
So I’m always disappointed when influential dating advice books stop at virginity. They have a willing and attentive audience hungry for advice, anxious for self-improvement. Young adult readers especially are often at a time in their lives where relationship life skills would be really useful — college dorms, for instance. Instead of being introduced to comprehensive relationship skills, though, they’re often just reminded (again) that no one will buy the cow if they get the milk for free. In light of all the day-to-day life skills these books are overlooking in order to focus on cows and milk, this is a shame.
It can be worse, too: if you only ever hear about virginity, you might start to think that’s actually the only thing that matters. You might be in a relationship that’s otherwise terrible, but you can’t tell because you’re spending all your energies on staying pure. If you see red flags in a relationship, you might attribute them to sexuality: either because you’ve had sex and are convinced that your purity is sullied and this and future relationships are doomed, or because you haven’t had sex and have difficulty differentiating between sexuality and (in)compatibility. This, obviously, can be a recipe for disaster.
So I wish Elliot had mentioned something else she wanted in a husband.