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I remember reading the Anne of Green Gables series, how well it taught the lesson.  Anne turned down a silly farmer who asked her to marry him via his sister.  She said no to Gilbert who’d been her rival all through school.  She was disappointed when her best friend agreed to marry the ordinary local, Fred.  But maybe her friend Diana was onto something.  Maybe Anne’s tall, dark, handsome, charming ideal wasn’t what Anne really needed.  As fiction conveniently wends its way, Anne met with such a man at college.  They courted for months.  And in the final breathless moment when he asked her to be his wife, she realized that she’d been wrong.  Her girlhood husband list had been dreamy and foolish.  There was nothing so wrong with this man.  But her heart wasn’t in it.  The truth was, she had been meant for Gil all along, only her stubborn fantasies had kept her from accepting it.

Having a list seemed to help me when I was in high school.  It reminded me that love and marriage were about choice, not just feelings.  I still like my lists, even if only for self-knowledge.  In my case I was over 20 years old when I realized that a man doesn’t have to have a career plan for the rest of his life to make a good husband.  Many of the men I have ever respected (including my own dad) have been hard workers, caring for others, but trying different things, or whatever work they could find.  In a changing world, myself even desiring a bit of adventure, how could I demand stability? So my list has been modified.  As I’ve gained humility about my own certainty of how the world should be, I’ve grown a bit more relaxed about some of the things.

Never mind the unforeseen and unknown; what selfish attitude is it that tells me that I can decide what I want and demand that I get that or else?  How was that affecting my relationships with men?  Is that what marriage is about?  Is that what life is about?

I know lots of examples of people digressing from their lists as they matured:

A friend said she’d never marry someone in the military.  Then she met her husband on a military base in Japan, and she changed her mind.

Another friend said her husband would have to own a top hat.  Would she really turn down an otherwise perfect match because he didn’t own the ideal accessory?  (The answer was “no”, she wouldn’t turn him down!)

Some friends wrestled with more serious questions.  Could they marry someone who was not a virgin?  What if his views on finances (debt, saving, spending) was different from hers?  If God was calling her to ministry, could she marry someone who didn’t have that same calling?

I suppose it goes both ways.  No doubt men have their own hang-ups.  One man I know struggled because his family owned many animals and the woman he was interested in had severe allergies.  I’ve heard that many men planning to be missionaries look only for women who are pursuing the same goal.

Some of these things are generally good wisdom.  A pastor I know counsels people to marry only if they’re physically attracted to one another (successful legacy of arranged marriages notwithstanding).  I know couples who were not attracted at first, but as they proceeded with their relationships, gained such feelings.  I myself would rather not marry someone in the military because of the demands on time and loyalty.  It’s a good idea to be unified about things like money and children and ministry.  But they’re not essential.  And sometimes, especially when we’re young, we don’t know what we need.  One artist friend knew God would provide her with an artist-husband, whose soul could understand hers.  Another artist friend has been married for decades to a man who’s good with numbers instead.

Still other friends now happily married look back and think their “lists” or ideas were lacking some significant points, like respect for parents.

In our society we barely know what marriage is really about, let alone what makes for a good one.  Sometimes parents and mentors advise us.  Sometimes they’re just taking a guess and pioneering new territory they never ventured on in their own relationships. Some of it is good advice, general wisdom.  A lot of it is promoting self-interest.  Some of it is universally-useful advice about trusting God and loving others.

Are there legitimate deal-breakers?  Is it wrong to have a list of things we’re looking for?  What guiding principles are there for deciding to get married?  What is marriage?  What contributes to a good marriage?  If you choose rashly at first, is there hope for a good marriage in the end?

But the fuss we make about who to choose…

~ Miss Austen Regrets

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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There is a popular marriage book called Love and Respect.  All my dear married friends talk about the subject.  Women need love.  Men need respect.  Respect is more than words.  A wife wants to hear her husband say “I love you,” (and men don’t mind hearing their wives say it, I suspect).  She also needs his love to be demonstrated.  Likewise respect must be lived out. 

Respect is an attitude.  It’s how a woman talks about a man, or her attitude when he’s talking to her.  Things she refrains from saying or doing can be as important to demonstrating respect as what she says.  Even when he isn’t there, a wife can respect her husband by the things she tells about him and the way she tells them to her girlfriends or children.  Respect is important to a man, just like being cherished is important to a woman. 

For example, a counselor (author of the book?) once heard a wife tell him that she loved her husband, but couldn’t respect him.  He reversed the question and asked how she would feel if her husband confessed that he respects her, but just doesn’t love her.  Obviously she would be devastated.  The implication is that a man is equally devastated to hear that his wife doesn’t respect him. 

Yet our society considers love a prerequisite for marriage, and so judges a man who doesn’t love his wife.  Respect is often something a wife never considered.  She didn’t know she was failing.  She thought she was respectful, taking literally the phrase, “all due respect.”  If her husband was communicative, he may have mentioned his desire for respect, at which point she got defensive, and considered him most unfair.  If he wanted respect, maybe he married the wrong woman.  After all, he is the same man who (insert ridiculous quirk or character flaw here). 

What does a wife do if she cannot respect the man because he is not respectable?  There are many testimonies to the change wrought in a man, even after years of marriage, when a woman chooses to respect him.  Picking the things that are admirable in his character, she praised that to him and to others.  She prioritized her life around the things that were important to him.  In Wives and Daughters, the soon to be Mrs. Gibson asks Molly to tell her all her father’s little likes and dislikes, so that she can be a pleasing wife.  The first thing Molly tells her, however, is something that Mrs. Gibson sets out to “cure.”  Her behavior did not show respect.  The villain in Wives and Daughters, a very human and almost pitiable Mr. Preston, is by no means a respectable man, but Molly appeals to him as though he were, and goads him on to more honorable behavior. 

I think this dilemma of being married to a man you don’t respect is a symptom of our dating culture.  Our paths to marriage have been all about falling in love.  How many girls fall in love with someone and feel like the dad on Stepmom, that marriage is the next step?  The hurting son in the movie asks his dad if, since a husband and wife can ‘fall out of love,’ can a parent can fall out of love with his kids?  Love is a choice.  I believe that, and think the dad was wrong to divorce his wife. 

What if he had “fallen” in respect with his wife?  Think of a man sitting in a field plucking petals: she respects me, she respects me not…  However, respect is more obviously a choice. 

Our modernized fairy tales are full of falling in love.  I’m a romantic, and I appreciate Disney’s animated fairy tales.  But don’t they have more resemblance to Sir Walter Scott than to Grimm’s?  Think about the original versions of fairy tales you know. 

Take Sleeping Beauty.  A man risks everything for her, and she without even really knowing him delights to be his bride.  Why? 

Cinderella knows the prince’s character, and they share a romantic enchantment for a few hours one night before he scours the kingdom to claim her.  Aside from the obvious appeal of a maid marrying a prince, why would she do that?  If she were a romantic, would an evening’s dance be sufficient? 

Beauty – is she won over by the love of the Beast in the original tale?  What about Snow White – seemingly romantic, singing someday my prince will come – ultimately married to a man whose fascination with her beauty jolts her into life again – literally. 

Snow White and Rose Red is perhaps the most romantic fairy tale, its hero repeating the plea, “Snow White, Rose Red! Will you beat your lover dead?”  Even in that story the chosen bride is not apparent, and the second sister is married to the hero’s previously unmentioned brother. 

Yet the hype of every movie and story popular today is falling in love or the misery in marriage if you don’t. 

In fact respect before marriage is a concept often trampled by the rush to feed and give in to love.  Instead, respect marriage and respect the other person.  Value them more than the relationship, more than the attraction.  Purity, modesty, submission, counsel, and a long-term focus are ways to express respect for each other before marriage.  They are also characteristic of the courtship movement.  (Allow me to interject that as I thought about this topic, I followed it to this place; this is not designed as a defense of courtship.) 

Whereas the dating culture is all about flowers, butterflies, and the kiss that tells you he’s the one; courtship has a focus on boundaries, on matching emotion and expression to the level of commitment.  And I suppose that’s all I really want out of calling a relationship a courtship: not a strict set of rules and prohibitive encounters, but intentionality in building respect even as you grow in love.  The idea is not only to more accurately find a spouse with less regrets (at giving away your heart or more), but to prepare for married life. 

“Intentional” could speak to the willful direction of a relationship.  Historically, a suitor came to the father (and thereby to the lady) to make his intentions known.  That factor alone could make a world of difference in dating relationships.  If each would regularly express their intentions for the relationship, or at least begin by honestly telling each other what the goal is, dating would be less complicated and harmful. 

Being intentional in either aspect, and preparing for marriage, could explain the tendencies to short courtships.  Practicing love, respect, submission, confidence, and preference is hard to do without wanting to move right into the real deal.  Or courtships could be short because they’re begun only after at least one party is willing to consider marriage.  Part of the important observation and decision-making is done before the first date. 

Coincidentally, I think that “respect” is the less hated buzz-word translating the Greek hupotasso, usually translated in the Bible as “submit” or “be obedient.”  In Ephesians 5, women were not told to make sure they didn’t usurp their husbands any more than the men were forbidden from hating their wives.  Love is a positive thing.  Women should embrace submission.  All along the Bible has had the instructions for successful marriages. 

Colossians 3:18, “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.”

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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