Just Like Romeo and Juliet...wait, what?
Before I left for Michigan, I printed off Donald Miller’s posts on “How To Live a Great Love Story.” There were two posts – one for the girls and one for the guys.
Now, I definitely didn’t print off these posts because I thought I could use some advice on my new relationship. Far from it – if I want advice, Don Miller is the last place I’m going. And these two posts proved why. Miller has, of course, since removed the posts and apologized in a sort of non-apology (we’re good at that, aren’t we?) saying that he didn’t intend to hurt anyone and that he needs to think better before he punches something out on a keyboard and posts it.
The “duh” to the latter part of that statement is heavily implied.
I am quite glad that Miller is at least reconsidering his views, if not completely recanting. But the amount of comments I read (while the posts were still up) that agreed with him lead me to believe (and I have yet to receive evidence to the contrary) that there exists a large group of people within the church who have no problems with his views or how he chose to express them.
And that, to me, is very scary and needs to be addressed.
As Miller has since taken down the posts, I unfortunately cannot link to them in order for you to read the argument for itself. I will do my best to sum up the argument and the tone without straw-manning – and I will quote directly as often as possible. Edit: My favorite Kiwi, Kimberley, pointed me to Hemant Mehta's blog, Friendly Atheist, which has links to the Google-cache of the posts (his criticism is also quite nice). Thanks, Kimber!
But I have to make this general comment before we start: Donald Miller is 40 years old. Within the last year, he got engaged for the first time, though this series of blog posts indicates that he has had a number of serious girlfriends in the past, none of whom (clearly) worked out. Why we are taking marriage/love story advice from a man who is in the middle of his life and has just now “figured out” love is beyond me. It’s like looking to a Catholic priest for advice on how to have good sex – it just wouldn’t be my first source.
And I have to add, by way of disclaimer, that I am ALSO the last person you should be taking marriage advice from – I am 25 and I have been with my first boyfriend for a month. I can only tell you what I know from experience and caution you to work out your own relationship in your own way because every relationship is different. It would have been nice if Miller’s posts contained the same disclaimer, but, alas and alack, they didn’t. Thus my response(s).
The first of Miller’s pieces is entitled “How to Live a Great Love Story – Part 1 (For the Girls).” The disarming part of Miller’s premise is that he starts with something most people can agree with: a good relationship is not winning the lottery, but working for a paycheck (30 points to anyone who gets the musical reference there). Life is not a Taylor Swift song – which is a sentiment I can get behind.
And then he blows it.
He looks to the narratives told in movies and books, as though these are the examples of love stories we should follow, and says that they all follow a certain plotline (this is a direct quote):
- Boy meets girl.
- Boy falls in love with girl.
- Girl is a bit hesitant knowing her heart is tender and could get hurt.
- Boy proves himself strong enough to handle and defend her heart.
- Girl trusts boy and they live happily ever after.
When I first read this, I wasn’t entirely sure how to respond. Miller goes on to cite three different examples of “great love stories,” only one of which is a life I would actually want to follow – and that love story doesn’t follow Miller’s premise at all. He cites Romeo and Juliet (um, spoilers: they die at the end…it is a tragedy.). He cites Twilight (um, hello, abusive relationship x100, anyone? [language in that link]). And he cites Nicolas Sparks’ The Notebook.
As much as it pains me to say it, The Notebook is the only one of those three examples that actually fits Miller’s idea of a “great love story” – only if you ignore the details of it being off and on again for years, her almost marrying another man, and the loads of premarital sex. But, yeah, sure, it’s a love story.
So his entire opening sequence left me saying, “Huh?”
In addition to the overall strange-ness of citing Romeo and Juliet as lovers to emulate (the play is a tragedy for a reason, people), I’d like you take another look at Miller’s “plotline.” Notice anything?
Look at the subjects in each sentence.
In three of the five, the girl is the direct object of the verb, the object being acted upon by the main subject – the boy.
Hey ladies, according to Donald Miller, you aren’t even the subject of your own love story! Congratulations!
Seriously, though, it’s a little weird to think of myself as the object in my own love story. Don’t I get to play a role beyond, y’know, being coy and shy and needing protection and just trusting that the guy knows what he's doing?
We need to stop perpetuating this myth that a girl’s heart is somehow more fragile than a man’s, that a girl needs protection in the department of romance, that a man somehow, by virtue of being the man in the relationship, has the magical ability to “protect and defend,” which implies that they never need the same. This is dangerous because it teaches women that the way to behave in a relationship is to seek protection from the man, to depend on him to guard her heart, and that he doesn’t need the same defending.
With as many times I’ve comforted guy friends after a break-up, I can tell you that a man’s heart is just as breakable and tender and vulnerable as a woman’s. And sometimes, a woman’s heart is the harder one – the one that is strong, more confident, more willing to go for it while the man is hesitant. To declare a universal in this respect – especially a universal based on crappy chick flicks that everyone and their moms recognize as unrealistic – is to tell sensitive men that they are failing as men and to tell confident women that they are failing as women.
And that’s really dangerous.
Girls, it’s okay to be the actor in your own love story. All of it depends on you and the guy – and if he’s not okay with you being a confident woman, then he’s probably not the right guy for you. And it’s fine if you like to be pursued and are hesitant to move forward – we all have different reasons for moving different ways and at different paces in relationships. But guess what? That’s all stuff that you work out with the man in question. That’s not something you can be told about previous to a relationship by some author who doesn’t know you from Eve (or Adam).
So how do you live a great love story? Together. Period.
Tomorrow: Addressing the slut-tastic double standard and how, apparently, if I have sex before marriage, my future husband will have to forgive me for it and may even see me as a charity case! Stay tuned!
Also: A small rant/disclaimer/thing that I have nowhere to put but here: I recognize that the Christian/religious conversation about relationships often ignores and erases our homosexual brothers and sisters. When put in the context of that sort of romantic relationship, Miller’s (and the church’s) general conception about relationships and gender roles becomes patently absurd. Because of the context in which I am speaking, I feel the need to apologize to my gay readers for the heteronormativity of the conversation. I wish I could do more to address the imbalance of the heteronormative context, but the content and audience restrains me, so please forgive me for not doing so. In the sidebar are linked some blogs that address the issue a bit more - I recommend my friend Grace's "Are Women Human?" for a start.