Go Together Like a Horse and Carriage
This spring, I was all about God; the God of the late-adolescent Evangelical variety. First, I read “God’s Harvard” written by a political journalist who spent two years embedded at Patrick Henry College which fancies itself the Christian equivalent of the Ivy League. Having partaken of a world where a visible bra strap brings a warning email and drinking can get one expelled, I was fascinated and craved more. Luckily, there was “The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University,” written by a college student who took a semester off from Brown University to attend Liberty University, founded by Jerry Falwell. Like Patrick Henry, this is a place of modest clothing and more modest behavior. I was raised pretty conservatively in many ways but I also grew up in a city which, along with San Francisco and New York, stands in for Sodom and/or Gomorrah for many of the people I was now reading about. I know Christians. I know Evangelical Christians. But I don’t know these kinds of Evangelical Christians.
More, I demanded! Give me more!
Having no other books about the colleges, I delved into source material. I read websites about modest dress for women and stared in fascination at modest bathing suits. Consort glanced over my shoulder at the pictures of young women smiling into the camera, up to their knees in the surf, their hair in waist-length braids, their bathing suits covering everything but their forearms. He looked at the screen and then at me. “Is there something I should know?”
Which is, of course, absurd because he knows how I feel about the beach.
And then there’s dating. Dating. Evangelical teenagers of this particular stripe don’t date like their peers date. They don’t date like Gen-Xers dated. They don’t date like their grandparents dated. They date like characters in Jane Austen novels dated. They court. And they only do that when they are ready to find a marriage partner. There’s a book which is very influential among this group (I’d call it a Bible for them but, well, you know). It's called “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.” Once I read about this book I simply had to have it, to finish my set as it were. I got it out of the library and snuck it into the house because I suspected this was going to be the tipping point into Consort’s suggesting I needed to go outside and see actual people.
For those of you who haven’t read "I Kissed Dating Goodbye", let me summarize: The young man who wrote the book, Joshua Harris, says that it’s best not to date because when you date without expectations of marriage, you will eventually hurt someone or get hurt, thus hardening your heart against the true love to come. Harris says dating is ultimately about premarital sex which, do we even need to say, is a huge “Oh, I don’t THINK so” for Evangelicals. He also says that dating in the modern sense -- of hanging-out with benefits -- gives a person very little sense of what being married to this other person would actually be like. So, unless you are prepared to consciously court this person with an eye towards marriage, don’t even start down the path.
I finished a chapter and set down the book. I had just reached my favorite phase of the delving into the utterly-unlike-me-person’s life, the moment of dim recognition. It’s safe to say Mr. Harris and I probably won’t be hosting a panel together anytime soon but he and I can agree on one thing: dating has very little to do with marriage. No wonder we’ve all had friends who spent the first two years of their marriage getting over the disappointment that life wasn’t turning out to be a Nora Ephron romantic comedy. In fact, the dating personality is stuffed in the back of the closet within a week of getting married. After five years of marriage, your spouse’s dating personality only comes out at dinner parties when he or she is sitting next to someone toned and younger than themself. You stare across the table at your mate, all sparkling and witty, and think, “I got five sentences out of you today. Three were about the septic tank.” And you are sad and justifiably angry, because this wasn’t what you were promised when you dated.
So, in the interest of building marriages to last, I have developed a program. It’s called the Quinn Cummings Marriage Marathon. Unlike Mr. Harris, I have no opinion on your dating life before you feel ready to settle down. But if you meet someone and think here might be the other parent to your future children, you begin the process. Don’t worry about their political leanings, their sense of humor, their hobbies and interests. We’re going to get all the information we need.
First, you two are going to take a two-day road trip. Each person will bring what they consider to be appropriate road food, good road-trip music and a reasonable amount of luggage. People have been known to pretend to prefer classical music and a locovore diet for a dinner or two, but the thought of four hundred miles in a car brings out the Slim Jims and the Lynyrd Skynyrd mix tape. You might find that charming. You might find that maddening. You might find it charmingly maddening, or maddeningly charming. You’re still getting in that car.
But not until you pack the trunk with your three suitcases and his plastic bag which contains a toothbrush, one change of underwear and a single sock. And if you complain about this being too hard, we’ll hand you a two year-old child who only likes Radio Disney and is coming down with an ear infection. Be grateful we’re just giving you a car which will make a possibly alarming noise only one of you can hear.
Now, drive. Drive and talk. Drive and don’t talk. Learn about each other. Does she share her dried fruit? Does he read signs out loud?
[Consort unconsciously does that. I love him very, very much, but I still kind of wish I had known that ahead of time.]
Does he fart and laugh? Does she fart and laugh?
[Consort pointedly wants my readers to know he doesn't do that.]
[Which means I now have to say I don't do it, either.]
Does he insist the fuel economy is improved by keeping the air conditioner off and the sun roof open? Does she talk during the more important drum solos? Again, none of these behaviors might be a dealbreaker but the average American lifespan is now in the high seventies. You need to know what you're in for.
After an hour or so, a cell-phone will ring. It will be the most high-maintenance relative this person has. As part of the exercise we will put this conversation on speakerphone and you will listen to an arms-length domestic problem for up to forty-five minutes. Maybe a younger-sister whining about her roommate or a cousin trying to raise money for a llama farm. It might be a father with a computer problem and a theory about the IRS he wants to discuss. While one person must deal with this relative, the "date" can think things like I will have to see this person at Thanksgiving, possibly for many decades and I wonder if this personality quirk is genetic.
After the family crisis is resolved, the other person’s exhausting family member will call. If it's the woman's turn, the call will be from her mother because men, you really need to know how that relationship goes. Once again, that’s not something which comes up in regular dating but the Quinn Cummings Marriage Marathon aims to keep the divorce rate low, one pair of opened eyes at a time.
After the calls, both people in the car will have to agree where to eat lunch. The only options will be a dubious-looking roadside stand offering fish tacos hundreds of miles from the sea and a Howard Johnson. Within minutes, you will know all you need to know about the other person’s risk-taking tendencies; and possibly, intestinal fortitude. After lunch, we will hand one of you a map. Oh, and while you were out of the car, we took out the road-music and switched the station to talk-radio. You must get yourselves to a wine-tasting room whose address we have scrawled on a slip of paper. It’s either 212 Elms Lane or 712 Alms Lane. Neither is on your map, although there seems to be an Ulmsford Drive. The wine-tasting room closes in an hour. You must either talk about the directions or listen to talk-radio. In this way, you will learn how you each handle conflict.
Having arrived at Aspen Lane with four minutes to spare, you are allowed to taste the wines of your choosing for three minutes. Typical dating means carefully regulating how much the other person sees you drink in order to make the best impression and to not say or do something you will regret. This is not dating. If the other person tries to forget the last hour driving up and down endless rows of identical vines by drinking the fruits of every single one of these vines, remind yourself that this might be due to stress. Of course, one day you’ll be at Thanksgiving with this person and that idiot cousin will be going on about llama farming and stress will need to be relieved but you'll be the one staying sober so someone can drive your family home before the llama-farm brochures get handed out.
Again, I’m not saying it’s a dealbreaker, but it’s something you should know.
This is getting long so I'm going to let my hapless victims sober up before I finish them off. Next week " The Quinn Cummings Marriage Marathon" Part II.