My Secular Wedding

just married_signWedding planning proved to be far more time consuming than I ever imagined, but I’m back, happily married, and planning to return to blogging now that I have actual free time.

The wedding happened recently this summer, and it was completely nonreligious. I was still somewhat worried going in about how my family would react to the lack of religiosity. God was not mentioned even once in the ceremony, and our officiant happened to be a woman (we didn’t specifically look for a female officiant, she was just the person we happened to like best after we talked to a bunch of local officiants). We generally tried to be ourselves in every aspect of the wedding planning from food to music. We had a “first look” and took some photos before the ceremony. We also finally said “fuck it” and moved in together a few weeks before the wedding.

I have no regrets. The wedding was beautiful, and generally a good time. If you are considering getting married in a nonreligious ceremony despite having religious family and friends, my advice is, if you are out about your non-religiousness, go ahead and have whatever wedding you want.

Contrary to my fears, I’ve had no complaints about the lack of religiosity, even from the most religious people who were there. The comments we received were wholly positive. Our family and friends appreciated how personal the ceremony was, and I think it was a treat for some of them to experience a wedding outside of a church setting. We were told our ceremony was beautiful over and over again, and I think for the relatives who don’t know us as well (we had some slightly estranged folks come), the personal touch made it that much more special. One aunt actually came up to me afterward and said she loved that we were married by a woman rather than a man.

The ceremony was short and sweet. My parents both walked me down the aisle. The content was about us as a couple. Our officiant talked about how we met and said some generally pleasant things about love and marriage. She talked a little about the tradition of wedding rings, and she kept it light yet personal. My husband’s brother read a quote from Bob Marley. My cousin gave another reading about love. I’d say the ceremony took 20 minutes maybe, including the time for the procession, which I really appreciated because it didn’t drag. We didn’t have to stand for a crazy long time, and our relatives didn’t seem bored since we didn’t have to listen to an awkward homily or participate in an hour of sit-stand-kneel -communion-kneel-sit-stand as you do in a Catholic wedding.

Maybe the reason it was all received so positively is that weddings are celebrations, so our guests came expecting to have a good time. Then again, maybe people who disagreed with the way we did things just kept it to themselves. I’m fine with that too. I had a wonderful time.

For those of you who followed my posts in the past year or so, few and far between though they were, I have decided to change my last name after serious deliberation. Now I’m getting ready to start that crazy process, so there’s that.

If any of you have wedding stories, secular or religious, feel free to share them in the comments.

Happy thinking,

Nancy

 

 

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Divorce and Catholicism

Printer Paper Cut With Orange ScissorI’ve been toying with drafts of a post about divorce for a while now, but I didn’t feel like I had the material to really back up the opinion I was trying to express. Then the other day I saw this video from Adam Ruins Everything about why divorce is actually not a terrible thing. I definitely recommend checking this video out. It gets to the heart of why it’s important to have legal divorce be accessible. One fact from the video that I’d never heard before is that by some estimates, the availability of divorce reduced the female suicide rate by 20%. Considering the fact that domestic violence didn’t used to be considered grounds for divorce in many places, and that marital rape wasn’t even legally considered rape until more recently than you’d think depending on the state, the availability of divorce was definitely a source of hope for many people, especially women.

In Catholicism, however, there is simply no such thing as divorce. Marriage, in Catholicism, is permanent. This means if a Catholic couple gets a legal divorce, they are still considered married in the eyes of the church. That can be OK at first. As this Catholic website explains, legally divorced Catholics are still considered full members of the church as long as they’re in good standing (basically if they go to mass and participate in the sacraments, especially communion and confession, and generally follow church rules). They don’t begin to run into trouble until they meet someone else, and decide they’d like to get married again.

Keep in mind that to the Catholic church, a divorced person is still in their first marriage. So to the church, this is a married person asking to also marry someone else. That’s definitely not allowed! The horror! But there is an option to proceed, and it’s called annulment.

Annulment is a process by which Catholics who are legally divorced (or who would like to be) can appeal to a church tribunal (basically a church court) to get a declaration of nullity, stating that one of the major requirements for  valid marriage wasn’t present on the day of the ceremony. These are the requirements for a valid Catholic marriage that would be examined for an annulment:

For a Catholic marriage to be valid, it is required that: (1) the spouses are free to marry; (2) they are capable of giving their consent to marry; (3) they freely exchange their consent; (4) in consenting to marry, they have the intention to marry for life, to be faithful to one another and be open to children; (5) they intend the good of each other; and (6) their consent is given in the presence of two witnesses and before a properly authorized Church minister. Exceptions to the last requirement must be approved by Church authority.

This list comes from an FAQ page on this website about annulments. Feel free to check it out for more information.

The thing that strikes me the most about this list is that if these are the criteria that the tribunal looks at to determine if the marriage can be annulled, why don’t they include any details from the actual marriage itself? The relationship after the wedding. A wedding is just a big party with some vows and a contract. That’s not the meat of the relationship. What if it’s an abusive marriage? What if even though both partners genuinely mean to be faithful when they say their vows, there is cheating down the road? What if they just grow apart? Find themselves coming to incompatible conclusions about life and the world around them that put a painful strain on their relationship? It can and does happen. I think those are all valid reasons for couple to consider divorce. But according to the church, only the events of the wedding itself and the intentions of the couple on that date are supposed to be examined.

I have been assured by my Catholic parents that of course the church would never force a couple to stay in an abusive marriage, and would gladly grant an annulment. I would like to believe them, and I imagine that in most cases the tribunal would take that into account. But if that is the case, why doesn’t this site say the tribunal will look into anything about the relationship after the wedding day? In that vein, one particular frequently asked question on the same web page about annulment makes me uneasy:

How can a couple married for many years present a case?

The tribunal process examines the events leading up to, and at the time of, the wedding ceremony, in an effort to determine whether what was required for a valid marriage was ever brought about. The length of common life is not proof of validity but a long marriage does provide evidence that a couple had some capacity for a life-long commitment. It does not prove or disprove the existence of a valid marriage bond. [Italics mine]

I’m concerned about how they will define a long marriage. Is two years long? Twenty?  Long isn’t a very specific word. Also, it’s not uncommon for people to stay in abusive relationships for a pretty long time, even though they know it’s dangerous. The psychology of abuse is complicated, and abusers are often very sweet and loving in between spurts of hurtful language or violence, making victims question whether their abusers are really that bad, only for the cycle to occur again.

I’d like to see the church change its position on divorce. I’d like to see the long annulment process completely eliminated. If the church wants to do a divorce ceremony that’s up to them, but the current legality of divorce is an important right that may be saving the lives of some women. The antiquated view the church has on divorce only creates social stigma, which can erode the support system a struggling person might need to get back on their feet after such  split. The Catholic church is very good at creating stigma, at making certain things taboo. I’d like to see that change.

What are your thoughts on divorce, annulment, and Catholicism? Do you have any experience with the Catholic annulment process? I’d love to hear your story. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

Nancy

Gender Roles and Chores: Reading Recommendation

A friend of mine shared this post on Facebook, and it really reflected my own experiences in my family, so I couldn’t wait to share it with you. The title is a bit weird, but don’t be put off by it. It’s actually a post expanding on a previous article by the same writer, which you can read here if you’re interested, but you can get the idea from the quotes in the first link. It’s about relationships, chores, and gender roles, and the author makes some points that I think help to explain at least some of the contributing factors to the fact that my mother runs my family’s house with little to no assistance unless she begs us to help her. And that’s not healthy for family life.

When people in a long term relationship–like a marriage–live together, they have to keep the magic alive. But they also have to go about their routines, and look after their home, and take care of the kids. This person argues that the way we unevenly split the duties of taking care of a household, leaving the woman (or to not be heteronormative, one partner) with most of the tasks, eventually drains the relationship. This is because essentially one person ends up managing all of the household chores and deciding when they will get done, leading to them having to nag the other person to help out, just like our moms did when we were kids.

As he explains,

…no matter how many times you sarcastically remind your wife that she’s not your mother and you wish she’d stop acting like it, she often feels like your mother.

This is bad for your sex life.

I think the reasoning behind this idea is pretty obvious, but his understanding of this issue goes much deeper than “making your wife feel like your parent is gross and stupid.” It is. But it’s also lazy, irresponsible, and not what you do in an equal relationship.

He goes on to write about how he would always tell his wife to ask him to help her when she needed it, never taking initiative himself to learn the regular activities that are necessary for the house to function and help do them as needed. If these were tasks he’d been assigned at work, he would figure out when to do them on his own, but at home? Never. He expected her to plan out when these things would need to get done, leaving her to manage everything from the chores to the schedules for everyone in the household, which is a lot for one person to manage. He writes:

I remember my wife often saying how exhausting it was for her to have to tell me what to do all the time. It’s why the sexiest thing a man can say to his partner is “I got this,” and then take care of whatever needs taken care of.

I always reasoned: “If you just tell me what you want me to do, I’ll gladly do it.”

But she didn’t want to be my mother.

She wanted to be my partner, and she wanted me to apply all of my intelligence and learning capabilities to the logistics of managing our lives and household.

She wanted me to figure out all of the things that need done, and devise my own method of task management.

I wish I could remember what seemed so unreasonable to me about that at the time.

 

I’m not gonna lie guys. I’m very guilty of this at home myself. Most days I don’t want to do chores, and as much as I love my mom, I have to really push myself to do them.

But here’s the thing. If I see dishes that are dirty, or a dishwasher full of clean dishes, I don’t need to be told “wash the dishes” or “empty the dishwasher.” I just need to kick myself in the pants and go do it.

Most of my family members–and by that I mean the 3 males in my family–are not like that. My dad literally asks my mom (and me now, for some reason) for step by step instructions on how to do simple everyday tasks like cooking pasta or reheating chicken from two days ago. It actually drives me crazy, because I’m in my early twenties. If anything, he’s way better at all of this than I am. But I have a vagina, so I need to be prepared to run a household someday, right?

I need to be prepared to delegate chores, and manage everyone’s schedule by myself, like my mom does, right?

I seriously hope not.

I’ve never known anyone more overwhelmed than she often is. She technically works 4 jobs (part time), 3 of which involve significant preparation beforehand (teaching music and being a musician). She is no longer physically capable of keeping the house tidy AND working all her jobs. She’s just too busy all the fucking time. And nobody helps her. Because my family’s very old fashioned. And a bit patriarchal. So it’s my mother’s job to tell everyone else what their jobs are. We’re all adults here (all except my youngest brother, who’s a high school sophomore. Where did the time go?) We’re all capable of pitching in without being told. So why is it so hard?

Maybe we take my mom for granted. Maybe we don’t respect her enough. Maybe she’s stuck between the lives of different generations, having the career that women today can have, but also juggling the tasks of a full time homemaker. She’s also the one who makes sure the bills get paid each month. (Apparently when they were just married, my mom had my dad pay the bills one month, and NOTHING GOT PAID. So she took over.)

Just as she took over the dishes when they didn’t get washed. And cleaning the bathrooms and the floors and dusting and de-cluttering the house. Our house is a fucking mess, I’m not going to lie to you. My family’s relationship with chores is not a healthy one. I’m part of the problem. But I’m the second most productive chore-doer in the house. There’s a pretty clear correlation between gender and chore-doing in this family. I try not to let it bother me, but it really does. I don’t know how long it will take, but I’m looking forward to moving out, to getting married, and to having a place with my fiance, in whatever order that occurs. It’ll be nice for us to work out our own system of divying up the chores fairly. I hope we can avoid settling into the roles my parents have assumed. I want us to be co breadwinners and co homemakers. I don’t think that’s a ridiculous thing to want. But we both grew up in a very gendered world. We’ll see with time how successful we can be at defying those old expectations.

What do you think about these articles? Have any of you had experiences relating to gender and chore completion in your lives? Feel free to leave a comment. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

Nancy

 

Breaking Engagement Traditions

Image courtesy of Graeme Weatherston at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Graeme Weatherston at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When we got engaged, my fiance and I skipped some traditions. In this post, I’ll go over what we skipped and why.

First of all, my engagement ring is not a diamond. I believe the stone is aquamarine but I’m not positive. It’s light blue. (I’m the weirdest girl ever. I couldn’t be bothered to remember a thing about jewelry.)

I love it, and I’m actually relieved my fiance didn’t waste a fortune getting me a diamond, because not only do I know and understand that diamond engagement rings are way overpriced, I also think it’s ridiculous to spend a fortune on a one-time purchase that isn’t a necessary item. My mother refused to even be given an engagement ring at all, and I was really happy to learn that about her.

As requested, here’s a picture of my engagement ring:

engagement ring

For more on why diamond engagement rings are a scam (and really just the result of what was perhaps the most successful ad campaign ever) check out this video from CollegeHumor:

Engagement rings are a minor tradition as far as I’m concerned though, and we didn’t really skip it, just alter it. The big deal tradition that we skipped–the one my dad gave us some crap over–was asking the father’s permission.

My fiance and I had talked about getting married long before he asked me to marry him. It was something we both wanted to do, and we both felt this relationship would eventually be ready for that big step. We also feel that the decision to get married is completely up to the two of us–the members of the couple–and not our parents’ decision. So the question about whether or not my father’s permission needed to be obtained was not about whether nor not we could get married, but rather about whether or not skipping that tradition would offend my father. In the process of that discussion, I did something that offended my father even though it shouldn’t: I asked my fiance not to ask his permission. Because seriously, if what he says doesn’t really matter, why go through the motions of asking?

The way I see it, that tradition isn’t a matter of respect. It’s the remnant of a patriarchal culture in which women were the property of their fathers until they were married, when they became the property of their husbands. I’m not anyone’s property. I’m a person. So I said no; don’t ask him. We toyed with the idea of telling him ahead of time somehow, while simultaneously letting him know that we didn’t want permission. The idea reminded me a bit of this scene in Fiddler on the Roof, in which Perchik and Hodel (the couple) ask Tevye (the father) for his blessing on their engagement rather than his permission.

Spoiler: Tevye doesn’t take this well at first, but eventually agrees. In a half-baked attempt to take back his role as the patriarch, he says, “I’ve decided to give you my blessing AND my permission.”

But why go through that trouble at all for a silly tradition? Why partake in it? Why continue the patriarchal nonsense?

So we didn’t ask him. And when we went to my house to announce our engagement, my parents were shocked. My father, dumbfounded, started rattling off all the things he had done before proposing to my mother:  making sure he could provide for her financially, asking her father’s permission, etc. I had to remind him that my generation is coming of age in the worst economic times since the great depression, and that a lack of financial autonomy (and massive student loan debt) is the reality for the majority of us (average student loan debt is currently $30,000). If we waited until we were as financially stable as my parents were when they got engaged, we’d be well into our thirties. Then I explained my beef with the permission tradition. He never gave me any inkling that he understood, or that he respected our decision.

Which didn’t surprise me. My relationship with my father is rocky at best. He had an outburst today that nearly lead to a post, but I’m trying to give things time before posting about them–which is why I’m writing about this now, months after it happened. I don’t want to say mean spirited things because I’m angry.

What do you think about the engagement tradition of asking the father’s permission, or any other wedding or engagement tradition for that matter? Did any of you break traditions when you became engaged or got married? Feel free to leave a comment. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful to other people and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

-Nancy

What’s in a Name?

Image courtesy of Rosen Georgiev at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Rosen Georgiev at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

My boyfriend and I are talking very seriously about marriage, and recently the topic of name changing came up. Now, I’ve never liked that it’s automatically assumed that when people get married, the woman changes her last name to her husband’s, end of discussion. If true gender equality is to exist, then a name change should be up to the couple to decide–and legally it is, but socially, it’s a bit more complicated than that.

I understand the logistical reasons why making both members of a couple (and potential future children) have the same last name makes life a lot easier, and that’s why I think I’ll most likely be changing my name when I get married–but now that it’s looming closer (quite possibly within the next few years), I’m having trouble with the idea of letting go of my name.

I’m a writer. The first time I got published, it was under my name (which, in case you’re curious, is not my blog name.) I’ve held editorial positions at school, and my last name is listed with my work there as well. If I change my name, I have to continuously tell people to look me up under two different names. It splits me between my pre-married self and my married self, and I don’t like that.

Name changing fits well with the ancient practice of considering women the property of men. From birth to marriage, a woman used to be the property of her father, so she had his last name. When that property was essentially sold to the husband, she’d take the husband’s name. In a culture like that, this name change was like a brand on a cow. It meant, “She’s my property now. I bought her fair and square.” My boyfriend is not the sort who would think that way at all–but the tradition really does remind me of that time period.

Name changing also stinks a little bit of religion to me. In Christianity, a name change signifies a change in a person. That’s why babies are baptized with a middle name, formerly called a “Christian” name, and at confirmation, thirteen-year-olds choose yet another name, symbolizing their step into Christian adulthood. It’s why, in the Bible, Saul becomes Paul, and Simon becomes Peter as they each take on their new leadership roles in the faith.

Am I changing as a person by getting married? I’m changing my habits. I’m making a lifelong commitment. Maybe I’ll change over time, but I somehow doubt that at the moment I tie the knot, I’ll be permanently a different person from my single self. I’ll still be Nancy, I just won’t be single.

I know the other options to name changing: don’t change it at all, convince him to take YOUR name, or hyphenate. Each of these presents its own problems. I haven’t asked him what he would think about taking my last name. But to be honest, I don’t really want him to have that last name. I associate that name with my extremely flawed, deeply religious, conservative family, and I don’t want that to be his. At the same time, I don’t want to permanently change something that has been part of who I am since the day I was born.

Why do we put women through this? Why do we expect them to change their identity as soon as they get married? Would divorce rates drop, or would marriage rates increase, if women were allowed to just be themselves permanently?

This whole crisis was floating around in the back of my mind, but it came to the forefront today, because I just learned that my state requires a shit ton of paperwork and hoops to jump through if you want to do anything more complicated than replace your maiden name with your married one. I had hoped to tack my married name on to the end of my current one, and simply have an extra name without losing my old one completely. I’m not going to lie–I was kind of banking on that as a way to subtly maintain my identity. And now that I know that I probably can’t do that because my state is absolutely fucking ridiculous, I’m kind of freaking out. I’m not even at the point where I need to be dealing with this stuff, I’m just trying to get through the last finals week of my undergraduate education, but I’m pretty upset right now.

What do you guys think about the whole name changing thing? Feel free to leave a comment.

All opinions are welcome, just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

-Nancy

Monitored Visitation: The Shackles of Courtship

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Imagine being restricted to monitored phone calls, and visitation during specified hours, with guests who must go through a detailed security screening. Sounds like prison, right? What if dating worked that way?

While this does not reflect how many people experience dating, it is the reality for some, who participate in a form of dating commonly used and promoted by the deeply religious:  courting. Courting is often defined as dating with marriage as the ultimate goal. Despite it being a fairly accepted definition in my experience, I find it to not be a very clear one. There are plenty of people who consider what they do “dating,” not “courting,” for whom marriage is still the ultimate goal. I consider myself to be one of those people. True, dating can be casual, but many people enter long-term relationships prior to marriage with the intention of finding a spouse or life partner, and those relationships should not be discounted as less serious just because those involved do not label themselves as “courting.”

Another problem I have with that definition is that it says nothing about how it differs from dating in practice, only how the two differ in intent. In my experience, the main difference in the way the two are practiced is who is in control. In dating, the people making the decisions are typically the people who are dating each other. While a dating couple may choose to involve their families by introducing each other to them and asking for their advice, that isn’t typically the be-all, end-all. Dating partners are free to make their own decisions, with or without their parents’ approval. Courtship, in my experience, is the complete opposite. In courtship, the parents of the couple (especially the girl’s parents) tend to have at at least a fifty percent say in every decision–sometimes more. It is usually the father who has the most power, as the man and head of the household. He often maintains complete veto power over any and all decisions. As one girl explains, “my parents were firmly entrenched in the values of courtship, and any potential relationship would be controlled completely by my father.” (Check out her story about rebelling against her patriarchal family here.) In courtship, the parents are with the couple every step of the way, sometimes in ways that are downright invasive, and excessive. This control is the main issue I take with the practice.

At one of my homeschooling co-ops back in high school, there was a young couple (seniors) I suspected would be getting together soon. They were always side by side at co-op, and had chemistry so thick that the air practically dripped with their excitement to be with each other. I soon discovered that they were together in a sense, however, they were expected to court. I don’t know much about their courting experience because we weren’t close, but I did hear one startling thing:  when it came to communication over distances, they were required to limit themselves to infrequent phone calls–every other week. Furthermore, each and every one of those phone calls had to be monitored by their parents. I realize this sounds bizarre. What parent tells his or her daughter “Oh, you two want to talk? You can call him next Thursday. But I have to be on the other line.” It’s ridiculous. I used to make excuses for it. They’re teenagers, I said. Their parents want what’s best for them. Maybe their parents don’t trust them to date, so they’re taking extra precautions. This kind of parental monitoring doesn’t end when children turn 18, though. In families that practice courting, this level of parental control is expected, no matter what age the children are when they begin to look for a future spouse. You may have laughed when you saw 30-year-old Toula Portokalos in the beginning of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, living with no freedom at the mercy of her father’s control, but there are real people in the United States living this antiquated life.

Fast forward four years. I’m now a senior in college, and during the fall semester, one of the student organizations I’m part of planned a mandatory, 2-day retreat for its leaders. As annoyed as I was for having to attend something at a time when I had a great deal of assignments due, I had a good time and really got to know the other members of the group. In a brief dull moment though, I did a head count, and realized someone was missing. Someone who had attended every meeting. On the way back, one of the attendees told me why. The missing student is Indian. (Meaning, she’s from India. I wish I didn’t have to explain this, but there was this idiot called Columbus.)  Her family is very strict, and as a rule, they do not permit her to spend the night anywhere other than home without her parents. No slumber parties. No retreats. Nothing. If she were under 18, I wouldn’t make a big deal about this, but she’s an adult college student with a job. Legally, she’s autonomous, but in her family, she isn’t. While this particular example isn’t overtly part of the culture of courting, I suspect that it stems from a similar source. This type of precaution, like the excessive monitoring of potential suitors, is often presented by conservative families as a way of protecting the girl’s purity–her virginity. The father ensures it by keeping his eye on her. I do not know if this is the case for her family, but a fair number of Indian families practice arranged marriage. It is still common in their culture, and I have known a young man who was nearly forced into one. Excessive parental control works well with a culture that promotes parents’ choice over the couple’s. The more I learn about courting, the more I see how it can become dangerously close to arranged marriage.

Why is courting even popular when it is so controlling? Like many things in the conservative world, the popularity of courting is largely due to a negative attitude toward pre-marital sex. It is the perfect way for parents to do their darnedest to prevent that awful deed. During my strict religious upbringing, the idea that pre-marital sex can ruin relationships was presented to me frequently. Supposedly, couples who have sex before marriage do not get to know each other as individuals, just as objects to fuck. This makes their relationships doomed to fail. Also, God doesn’t like it, therefore courting is the Godly thing to do. The important thing, as usual, is keeping people “pure.”

Maybe there’s a way to do it right, but based on what I’ve seen of it, it sucks. If anything, courting actually prevents couples from getting to know each other thoroughly enough to commit to marriage, thanks to the constant chaperoning and excessive parental involvement. The more I think about it, the more I worry about people like that aforementioned couple I knew, and the Duggar daughters of 19 Kids and Counting, who also believe in courtship rather than dating.

Because they are in the public eye, the Duggars are an excellent example of courtship that can be examined in detail. An article I found, called “The Duggars’ 7 Rules of Courtship” sums up some of their courtship rules. Much like that young couple I knew, the Duggar children are somewhat restricted to monitored correspondence. Their parents expect their text messages to each other to all come in the form of group texts that go out to the Duggar parents too. The article describes how that works, and quotes the father of the family, Jim Bob, on the subject:

“It’s neat to see their conversations,” says Jim Bob, adding that the couple texts about everything from scripture to their future as a family and ideas on parenting. For the most part, Jim Bob and Michelle don’t chime in. But occasionally they do.

I’ve seen conservative parents comment on their children’s Facebook pages, actively getting in the way of their children expressing opinions that differ from theirs. Because of that, I find it hard to believe that Jim Bob and Michelle don’t chime in much, and don’t influence the conversation much with their presence. Even if they exercise restraint and really do only comment “occasionally,” the fact that they are included in the conversation means that every text is carefully constructed; it is a performance. The daughter must uphold the image of absolute purity that the parents expect, and the man must tread carefully, choosing subjects of conversation that are fit for the dinner table. If they really do have conversations about their future and ideas on parenting, I doubt they do so using their real opinions and observations because of the possibility of offending the ever-watching Duggar parents.

What kind of relationship are they building? I was relieved that shortly after that quote, it says that the couple is permitted private phone conversations for one hour per night. That’s a step in the right direction–but only a step. How private is a phone conversation in a family with 19 kids who share bedrooms (which is the case for them)? Where does the couple go to find privacy? What if they want to have a conversation about sex? If you’re serious about marriage, you need to (at some point) have open dialogue about sex, about your expectations, hopes, fears, and to clear up any confusion you have about how it works before you–you know–start. I realize they believe in waiting until marriage, but imagine going into your wedding night having never had the chance to talk to your spouse about what’s going to happen that night? That conversation is important, and with mommy, daddy, and 18 siblings wandering around, it’s not likely to occur.

I’d complain about their “no kissing, no hand holding” rules, which I’ve always considered to be extraordinarily excessive, (I know people who set similar boundaries), but really, it’s up to the couple to decide what physical boundaries are right for them. For some people, the boundary is “no butt stuff.” For others, it’s “clothes stay on.” I’m fine with that. I’m a little concerned, though, that the parents had too much say in this decision. While I understand that the parents want their children to practice the kind of pure relationship building that their religious beliefs mandate, as I’ve stated in my post about purity pledging, it works a heck of a lot better when the couple chooses it for themselves, setting boundaries that they think are important. If a couple says “We’re not kissing before marriage” because their parents want them to, but that doesn’t fit what they want as a couple (or as individuals), they’re probably going to end up kissing before marriage. I say this as someone who practiced “purity” because my parents believed kissing should be the furthest one goes before marriage, and watched my line get redrawn further and further and further until finally I literally said “fuck it,” and did just that. I wasn’t making a purity pledge for myself. I was making it for them, for my religion, and for the people around me who said it was the right thing to do. As those reasons melted away, so did my sexual boundaries. I’m not the only one who’s experienced this phenomenon either. It’s an 8-part story, but this girl promised she wouldn’t kiss before marriage as part of her courting experience, and in short, that’s not what happened.

Ultimately, in any form of romantic relationship building, the actual members of the relationship are the important ones. They need to form a bond with each other. They need to find common ground. They need to understand and appreciate their differences. They need to learn how to talk about subjects they wouldn’t discuss in front of their parents, because those subjects will all become part of their lives if they get married. I’m completely fine with “dating with marriage as the ultimate goal.” What I’m not fine with, is two adults dating under the constant watch of daddy and mommy, with daddy getting the final say in any and all decisions. An adult should be able to have a private conversation with his or her significant other without their parents’ knowledge or permission. An adult should be able to make his or her own decisions.

Happy thinking!

-Nancy