I have a secret shame and it’s called 19 Kids and Counting.
I’m a big fan of the show. There is something so intriguing about the private life of a family with 19 children, and even more so now that the older daughters have started courting and marrying young gentlemen. I find myself waiting impatiently for the next episodes to come out because Jill’s courtship with Derick and Jessa’s with Ben are so adorably sweet. They side-hug. They go out on dates. There are candlelit tables and jacketed dinners. There are flowers and invitations and hats off for the women. It’s all very romantic, even in spite of the fact that there is always a chaperone (the couple is never really alone together before they are married).
Despite my slight discomfort with a few of their ideologies, I find their way of navigating the highs and lows of love and marriage counter-cultural and refreshing. You might laugh but it seems like the Duggar ladies are the only ladies these days that have REAL relationships, at least within pop culture. There are beginnings and ends to each stage of their relationships—usually accompanied by a conversation with Jim-Bob and Michelle (the parents)—and then appropriate changes in behaviours from the couples themselves. “Getting to know one another,” means the ladies get to talk more often with one man than they might with others. “Courting” means side-hugs, chaperoned dates, and more talk time. “Engagement,” for Jill and Derick, meant they could add holding hands to the mix. And marriage means everything else. There is no ambiguity or doubt as to what the lady or gentleman thinks or “where they’re at” in the relationship. He states an interest to her father. If she complies, they move forward. If she doesn’t, they don’t. It’s straightforward, simple, and it takes the angst out of getting to know someone so that you can—you know—actually get to know someone.
Yet the world at large has a real hatred for the Duggars. Even a preliminary look at major news site com-boxes turns up a surprising amount of hostility and malice for the family and their life choices. And there’s a special disdain for their “antiquated and archaic” approach to dating. Which is not surprising. Since love has become synonymous with lust, there is no longer a need to get to know someone—to date or court or romance a lady. Why bother? If jumping into bed with them is all the knowledge you need, dates and romance are unnecessary, redundant, and expensive. I imagine that to the untrained eye, watching a couple like Jill and Derick putting the sexual aside during their time of courtship must be like trying to communicate a happy feeling to a Japanese monkey in German: foreign and ridiculous.
But unfortunately the idea that romance is unnecessary is a prevalent one—and it’s not doing women (or men) any favours. In fact, I’m noticing now that Generation Y (millenials, or those born between about 1980 and 2000) is beginning to bemoan the consequences of their lot in life. The worst part is that they’re not even sure why they’re so darned unhappy; they just know that something’s amiss. This woman especially can’t figure out why there’s no more romance. There aren’t dates or dinner jackets. There’s no door holding or handholding or invitations or flowers or courtship. There’s little more than a “Hey baby, wanna hook up?” Romantic, eh? She laments the fact that men don’t ever take the initiative, that they care very little for the women they’re interested in, and that they believe women to be replaceable and utterly forgettable. Dating, in this scenario, means the women must do everything the man demands of her or he will simply move on to the next woman who’s willing and able (and the writer implies that there is a large pool of women from which every man can draw). Of course, she blames men (and their mothers)—who wouldn’t—or the pitiable situation in which she finds herself and then ends her thoughts by citing a study from the UK, implying that men are immature little jerks that couldn’t approach (or respect) a woman “with half a brain” if they spent their whole life trying.
I don’t think she could be more wrong. The blame cannot possibly belong to men entirely. Masculinity and femininity are so interconnected that if one is failing, the other is sure to be close behind. Fulton Sheen once said that the “level of any civilization is the level of its womanhood.” In other words, “the nobler a woman is, the nobler man will have to be to deserving of [her] love.” If men are messing up, in one sense we women have only ourselves to blame. Women have the cosmic ability (and responsibility) to set the standard for relationships. I’m not talking about controlling a man’s life but rather about calling a man on (or back) to higher morals and principals, to the transcendent truths that should be on his mind but, for whatever reason, aren’t. Women are beautiful to behold, even mesmerizing, and that beauty is hopefully joined with a sense of propriety and morality that we must hold on to and cultivate—and then help our men to understand. Perhaps we won’t change the culture at large by saying no to one guy, but that one guy might remember that one no amid a hundred yes’s, and begin to wonder. Perhaps that wonder will grow into intrigue and a desire to get to know a woman. And if the man has a healthy dose of humility, that wonder can grow further into respect for a woman, if good explanations are given and unwavering boundaries are set. A woman is no longer replaceable or forgettable, but becomes much beloved and admired.
Is it really surprising that men don’t take the initiative? Feminism has done it’s worst in the realm of masculinity and femininity and has beaten down and ridiculed any man that puts himself forward as chivalrous or noble. This attitude is much more pervasive than you might think. At the school at which I work the young 19 and 20-something ladies often refuse to be walked home when a young gentleman asks them, even in the dark. The feeling that men with their strength and chivalry are unneeded and superfluous is prevalent, even amongst Catholic young adults. And after a certain number of rejections, the guys just stop asking. Men get tired of putting themselves out there and going unnoticed and un-thanked, yet women still expect men to continue to do so. In other words, women do not want men to be men, yet they still want men to be men. Hmm. Tricky. Our culture has had a big hand in this line of thinking. Watch just about any sitcom that was put out in the last 30 years, shows like Three’s Company and The Cosby Show all the way up to Mike and Molly and beyond. Men are the machismo buffoons, tripping and lying their way through life with their chests thrown out and tough expressions on their faces. Women are the all-knowing, all-seeing, patient, forbearing monsters that trick the men into thinking they get their own way and then pounce on them the moment they screw up. It’s awful really. I dislike the caricatures intensely. But it’s the steady diet we’ve all grown up with, and unless we’re vigilant about nipping the ideal in the bud, it’s easy to grow up thinking women rule and boys drool.
I have no idea if Jill Duggar (now Dillard) and her new husband Derick are actually happy, or whether their marriage will last, or whether the way they courted and got to know each other was the “right” way. What I do know is that their relationship was brimming with respect for one another, romance, fun, surprises, family and interesting dates. More importantly they made concerted efforts to delight and show love to one another—despite the difficulty that must have encountered at times. I can just imagine how scared Derick must have been. Having to approach Mr. Duggar to talk about Jill is one thing, but having to do it while surrounded by tv cameras? That would take a bit of courage, but he must have believed Jill to be worth the trouble. It just goes to show that there really are a few good men left in this world—they’re “still makin’ them like they used to,” Ms. Martin. The question is, would you recognize a good man if you saw him?
Edmund Leighton [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.