Sharing the Lead
Now that we’ve sufficiently wrapped up the girl’s side of the love story (lesson: don’t have sex before you meet your husband, and if you do, be prepared to grovel), it’s time to look on the guy’s side. No surprise, it’s vastly different, and not necessarily in a good way.
I’m doing this in order to highlight the double standard between men and women – instead of blanket statements asking for purity from both men and women, Miller reflects a lot of common church teaching in that having sex outside marriage contains much bigger consequences for the woman over and above the man. In addition, Miller focuses on the "leadership" role of the man, encouraging women to be passive and silent in writing their own stories.
Miller has only one list for the guys, and it goes into a bit more detail than the “instructions” for women – it reads much more like advice and is considerably less shame inducing. But it still manages to make me have some rage moments when reading, one of which I’ll cover today.
He opens by talking about stories in general, mirroring the women’s side of the discussion. But here, the elements of a love story differ. He puts them as a sentence broken up into bullet points, so, a general [sic] over this whole thing, as usual:
Any great story contains the following elements: a person (or group of people) / that wants something. / And are willing to overcome conflict. / To get it.
Okay. After parsing that grammatical mess, what one comes away with is the idea that for a love story, the “it” in the sentence is whatever the main character is striving for - in the case of a love story, it's a woman. Miller writes, “In a love story, a guy, wants a girl, and is willing to fight the dragon, to get her. Or at least some variation on this theme.” (I remind you, a general [sic] over all of this).
A lot of people probably agree with that sentiment – I don’t, but that should be obvious by now. But I’ll allow Miller to expound a bit more before I jump all over it. So here’s the next half a page of what he wrote.
That said, though, men were designed by God to live a great love story.
But there’s a difference between men and women, here. Men were not designed to have love stories ‘happen to them’ as much as they were designed to ‘make a love story happen to a woman.’ Do you understand. You’re the writer of the story. You’re the guy who initiates and has the character to follow through. You’re the one responsible for how the love story turns out.
I think we all agree that we live in a culture of guys who couldn’t write a love story to save their lives. Honestly, American love stories suck. If you want a girl to be crazy about you, you’ve got so little competition that it’s easier than ever.
The only thing is, it looks nothing like the sappy stuff Hollywood is selling to our current culture of women who are, perhaps, lost in fantasy. Those kinds of stories have men stuttering about feeding women’s egos by falling all over themselves and practically peeing their pants. [Editor’s note: What does that even mean?] In real life, women think those guys are losers. A woman wants a man who is confident, who knows where he is going, and knows exactly where she fits into his life. Her preference, of course, is that she fits into his life as a best friend, love, wife and the mother of their children. At lest that’s the case in the love stories I want to talk about in this blog. [emphasis mine]
I’d like to add a couple of things to what Rachel already said:
I am a partner in my own love story. I am an active participant in everything that is going on in my relationship. I am not passively waiting for him to act but am making an effort to work with him on our relationship.
A love story comprises an us. If both people in the relationship are not equally committed, are not following the same path, hand in hand, together, it will not be a great love story. If one insists on being active while the other passively waits for things to happen, it will not be a great love story.
Miller’s thesis here is advice for a disaster. It sets up women to be passive when it comes to their own life; it is in conflict with Biblical teaching. Jesus does not tell us to sit and wait for God to act. He does not say that we should be passive in what we do. He does not command that we sit by and wait for our life stories to happen – indeed, we should be active participants in the gospel story, we should actively go forth on what we know of God and work to bring the Kingdom closer. And the love stories in our individual lives are a part of that larger story. Miller effectively encourages an imbalance between activity and passivity in a love relationship, which is sure to bleed into other portions of a person’s life.
Let me take this a bit personally for a moment: the two sentences “A woman wants a man who is confident, who knows where he is going, and knows exactly where she fits into his life. Her preference, of course, is that she fits into his life as a best friend, love, wife and the mother of their children” could not be more wrong for me.
A few friends and I were having a long, ongoing discussion about marriage over the weekend, and I expressed a distaste for the idea that I am somehow required to fit into my future husband’s life, as though he gets to be the one who remains stable and unchanging while the world molds around him. In a relationship, both people’s lives change (and hopefully do so for the better), but for some reason it is almost expected that the woman’s life will be the one to change more – whether it be through giving up a career to have children, changing the last name to the husband’s, or whatever.
I get the message, not just from the church, but from society in general, that I am the one who needs to “fit into his life,” which could not be any clearer than how Miller stated it here. I’m not comfortable with that.
At 25, I am starting my career. I am making a name for myself. I, frankly, have a lot of stuff on my plate. To imply that I should give up that so I can fit into the life of my [future] husband is just ever so slightly sexist. And by ever so slightly, I mean a lot. In my view, it makes much more sense for both people’s lives to change to fit together, in a co-equal partnership.
I expect that my husband’s life will change. I expect that my life will change. But it will happen in a partnership, with as much effort as possible to make sure that both of us are able to be as happy with our careers outside the home as with what is happening inside the home. I am a career woman – what I do is just as important to me as who I am. As a writer, I can’t NOT write every day – I know that I am depressed and not myself when I am not itching to pull out my computer and write write write for at least some part of the day. It is as much a part of me as the fingers I use to type.
To imply that it is I who should give up more, that I should fit into my husband’s life rather than both of us fitting together, is to imply that my dreams are worth less, that I am, by being the passive one in the love story, less important.
My love story does not happen to me. It happens with me.
I know this is likely not what Miller meant, but if he is starting from the thesis that it is the man who is writing the love story, that the man, by virtue of being the one with a penis in the relationship, is the one in control, he is setting up for a disastrous and dangerous perspective on relationships. It encourages an imbalance of activity and passivity, and encourages one person in the relationship to have control over the other, which is a dangerous recipe.
And for points of clarification: what I am not saying is that men shouldn’t do the asking out, that men shouldn’t, when they like a girl, sometimes take the lead and go for it. In my own experience, sometimes the guy does have to step up and say something, but that’s mainly because I can be quite dense sometimes. But the guy taking the lead in asking out/letting the girl know that there’s interest depends on each relationship, and each couple – it’s different for everyone. I really don't care either way – I’m fine with a girl doing the asking, and I’m fine with a guy doing the asking. What I do object to is the implication that a guy should be the one to take the lead at all times, and be the one guiding the girl through the love story, as though a girl is somehow incapable of directing her own life.
I do not require a guide in my own love story; I require a partner.
I do not want a leader in my relationship; I want a friend who listens and discusses and compromises.
I do not want to fit into his life; I want us to fit together and create a new life.
I am not passive in my own life; I am an active participant in the story God is telling through us and to us.
I am not a me being led and taught by him; I am one half of an us. It is we, not he leading me.
After all, no one wants to read a story about a passive minor character who does nothing. How boring would that be!