Today, my friend Sanna Haynes shares the importance of thinking for oneself , especially when considering “Christianese”: Christian cultural beliefs that has little basis in scripture, or has taken truth found in the Bible to an unhealthy extreme. She dispels three “truths” about how marriage “should” work and instead shows how she and her husband have shaped their marriage together.
Remembering to examine accepted ideas and cliches is pertinent to discuss this month, the month of “love.” I have been discovering that the ways relationships work or are started today are on a case by case basis instead by the a set of unspoken ideas or by rules that can be considered to be unrealistic and archaic in our fast world.
Read more of Sanna’s work, check out Tall Girl and the Cricket videos and keep up with her acting career here . And follow her on Twitter @SannaHaynes.
I was 19 years old when I got married. Fast forward to today, many people who meet me do not immediately consider me to be “the marrying type.” I will admit that I changed quite a bit over the past seven years. Many of my secondary beliefs have been challenged and replaced based on my experiences and reexaminations. However, the core of who I am has remained the same; I am still the same person at heart.
And, I still love my husband.
When I married Matt, I remember being very influenced by etiquette. I was very concerned about how to treat our guests on our micro-budget wedding. I consulted family members, friends, and loved ones in order to make sure I was doing “the right thing” for every aspect of our wedding. I remember freaking out over the fact our homemade invitations did not have the customary piece of tissue to separate all the parts of a traditional wedding invite. Today, websites like Pinterest can deem all of my worries to be completely irrational — traditional wedding etiquette seems to be less and less a valid concern, as creativity is the dominant force in weddings. Not to mention that the wedding industry preys upon the dreams of women to make a buck — or a few hundred thousand. But, I digress.
My wedding planning story serves as a very clear indication of the kind of person I was when I was nineteen. I was affected by the core beliefs of others, taking them on as my own (even though I very often did not try them on to see if they were practical or realistic). The purity of this tale resides in the fact that I fell in love when I was young (some used to say “too young”), and even though we have been through some tough times, I am still in love with my best friend.
Just like my wedding, there were many other aspects of “getting married” and “staying married” in which old wives tales, scripture taken out of context, or even strange extreme ideas about gender identity were preached at me by good-willed friends and family members. Some of these notions were spawned by years of functioning adequately by adhering to them, and others were brought to my attention out of bitter and broken spirits. Here are a few that I was (very) happy to find out did not work for us:
1. “Extreme Modesty for everyone else except your husband. Be a slut for him.”
Ok, before you get all weird on me, I am not suggesting that anyone should be publicly indecent or dress in a way that could get you arrested. Nor am I suggesting that you shouldn’t try to do your very best for your husband(or wife) in the bedroom. Having said that, the modesty/purity movement in the Christian church seems to have gotten a bit out of hand. I think it may come out of a desire to control — by indoctrination of sorts — our men and women by stifling our sexual natures. Don’t get me wrong. I signed the “contract thingy” when I was sixteen, got a purity ring, yadayadayada. Do I think it added anything to my marriage? No. In fact, I think it merely taught me to stifle that side of my life. And modesty? Don’t get me started on that one.
Ok, so I have never exactly been a target of the modesty police. Even after I — um, developed, I still had the figure of an eight year old boy. Or a bean pole… whichever is more straight up and down. The modesty movement in the church always seemed to target girls who couldn’t help their sex appeal. If you have double D’s, that is going to be evident even if you wear a turtleneck. Most of my beef with the modesty movement is for my sisters who are more well endowed.You’re telling me that they can’t dress like a normal human being because God has created them with curves? Even with my “bean pole” figure, I remember the one time when I distinctly felt this prejudice — oddly enough from a male friend.
It was the first day in a long time when warmer weather had appeared after a cold(ish) winter(what can I say? I always pick warm climates for where I live). I thought it would be cute to emulate my favorite actress, Audrey Hepburn, in my outfit that particular day. Audrey is someone who is not revered for her sex appeal — rather her grace, beauty, and striking fashion. No problem, right?
I walked into my University student council office wearing a pair of cute black shorts, minimalistic ballet flats, and a button up top(which was buttoned to nearly the top button). A male peer looked me up and down and said coyly, “wow, you are looking summery” — implying what he meant only from the tone of his voice. It was the first time I felt a direct criticism from a Christian male — obviously nitpicking at my black shorts(which were far from being anything resembling “booty shorts”). And, strangely, it felt different from any man ogling me in a public place. I can deal with that. Douche bags will be douche bags. But a friend, whom I trusted?
It was around this time that I stopped caring about what my bible believing peers think about modesty. Of course, I still will glance at myself in the mirror to make sure I look decent, but I don’t stress about the amount of inches my neckline lies below my collarbone, anymore. I enjoy fashion. I love it for the art that it is — silhouettes and beautiful lines, clothing made for girls with gorgeous curves, or straight lines like me.
“But, you are causing your brothers in Christ to stumble.” For any man–Christian or not– to pin his sexual failings on the way a woman is dressed — or worse, inherently built — is tragic. For anyone to blame a woman for a man taking advantage of her, is, at best, a barbaric argument. It is also an argument that represents the dark side of the modesty debate.
Thankfully, My husband has always supported the way I choose to dress. In times when I have become anxious in regards to peer judgment, Matt has always reassured me that there I have never harmed anyone by wearing normal clothing such as a v-neck t-shirt or skinny jeans. I am so glad that Matt has served as a voice of reason for me, when my self confidence has been damaged.
2. “Take time to ‘cleave’ to your husband.”
I understand the basic sentiment behind this argument. The premise lies behind the scripture in Genesis 2:24 — “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” I agree! However, I disagree with a misuse of the scripture.
When Matt and I got married, many people told us to “cleave” to each other. On one hand, yup, we did some, uh, “cleaving.” We had an awesome honeymoon and really enjoyed spending time arranging our house together. Being married is fun!
On the other hand, many people found it strange that, after we returned from our honeymoon, we immediately wanted to see our friends. A couple people in our life suggested that we should possibly spend more time with each other, and less time with others. However, we wanted to spend time with our friends and share our new life with them. To this day, we still spend a lot of time with friends. We dislike the notion that a married couple should stick to themselves. Ironically, many of our friends are single — only because it is so damn difficult to get marrieds to come hang out!
Yes, of course, we spent time alone. We even moved away from our families, as opportunity knocked for us soon after getting married. Moving away from family was one of the healthiest ways that we could “cleave.” We learned how to operate our own way — without large amounts of advice many like to endow upon young marrieds.
Regardless, close friends have enriched our lives. We intend to continue being “enriched” by our cool diverse group of friends (located all over the world) — marriage will never make us “too busy” for that. End of story.
3. “Men need respect. Women need love.”
This one is a hot topic. Not to mention, it seems to be so brashly unopposed in the evangelical Christian community, that it is difficult to get a theological word in edgewise.
The basic idea of this statement is rooted in those couple scriptures in the New Testament. “22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing[a] her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies.” (Ephesians 5:22-28) The “love & respect” argument is merely a more “modern” way to rephrase the submission argument in terms a twenty-first century audience can stomach.
There’s the key — this was not a 21st century group of people. In fact, each epistle was intended for a certain group of folks. In that particular day and age, women were a step above slaves. Men also married women decades younger than them — many of the women barely old enough to be considered a teenager.
However, even though I do consider myself an egalitarian (and my husband would also tell you he believes in equality, not hierarchy), I feel like there are many other bloggers out there who do a much better job arguing this subject from a theological stance. Rachel Held Evans, in particular, is a good place to start. I, on the other hand, am going to go about this by way of personal experience.
Yes, I am a woman. Heck yes, I need love from my man. However, I am very aware of when I feel disrespected by my husband. And, my husband would also tell you he is very hurt when he feels unloved by me. I personally believe that these aspects of human emotion, of human decency, are not distinctive to gender — unless, of course, your husband is your ruler. Then, yeah — lack of respect would throw things off, now wouldn’t it?
When we got married, we both accepted what we thought a “biblical” model of marriage should look like. Matt would be the boss, I submit to his . . . boss-ness.
However, as we went on, we found that we just didn’t operate that way. We naturally gravitated towards that of a team effort — not a hierarchical household. Over the course of this time, I discovered my love for my career, and Matt played with the idea of possibly someday becoming a stay-at-home Dad for little while. Do these things make us less of a woman or man? On the contrary. In my opinion, femininity and masculinity are not defined by what society deems worthy or true. I can be a feminine career woman, and Matt can be a masculine stay-at-home Dad.
And then, I remember Jesus. How he talked to women in public (*gasp*) even though that was scandalous in greco-roman and Jewish culture. How he created friendships with women and saw them as equals. Jesus was redefining the gender roles (of his day) all over the place!
To sum it all up.
Marriage is a process, and regardless of what people will tell you, there are many different sides of marriage that you need to discover for yourself. Asking “why” whenever anyone tries clumsily to give you marriage or relationship advice will serve you well. Asking “why” helped me learn more about being a woman, about body image, and gender roles. And, if we didn’t ask “why,” our marriage may have not made it this far.