Dear Jil, sometimes I marvel at our capacity to complicate simple things with religion. It’s exasperating.
This boyfriend-girlfriend thing: it seems so simple and straightforward! Boy meets girl. He wants to be with her, for whatever reason – her physical or non-physical attributes or both. He begins to fantasize about being married to her, imagining scenarios in his head. Boys do that. Guys think in fast forward mode. It’s why a guy wants a kiss on the very first date. He’s way past himself!
Boy tells girl I like you, I’d like for us to go out. Girl likes boy but acts coy. She can’t just say yes! It’s all a game and boy understands. Boy knows girl likes him. Girl knows boy knows she likes him. She steals gazes at him anytime they’re visually proximate and he steals gazes at her too. Virtual IVs.
Boy approaches girl once more. He’s pretty confident of a Yes. Well, almost. He’s got 2 tickets to this concert, he says. Would she like to come? (Heart is pounding). Girl says yes! (Hallelujah!) And the texts begin to fly. Sleeplessness begins! They go for concert. And the texting regime continues: Thank you for last night, he says. Had a nice time, she replies. “You looked pretty.” “Thank you, but I didn’t even have time to make up properly.” “Really?” “Was rushing… O my!” And the toast goes on ad infinitum. Of course he wasn’t texting to thank her for last night. He’s seeking future dates.
And so they go on a second date, and a third… They’re really liking each other. With each successive date they’re becoming an item. She’s falling for him, he’s falling for her. At some point the male proprietary hormone decides to put a stop to peripheral maneuvers. “Will you be my girlfriend,” he asks, directly. “Yes I’ll like that,” she responds. And they become an item, formally. That fact wards off other boys.
She’s Jack’s girlfriend now. Of course she assumes exclusivity! And so they go out together, spend time together, quarrel together – as young lovers are wont to do. Everyone assumes the relationship is serious enough though not serious enough it can’t break. It’s how it is.
Now, however you choose to religiously appellate what I’ve just laid out, it’s a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship. He’s a boy, she’s a girl; they’re in a special friendship as emotional correspondents. Boy, girl, friends: boyfriend-girlfriend! There’s nothing unspiritual about the term “boyfriend-girlfriend”. It’s just a sociological term. The problem comes when a religious order tries to upturn societal convention calling such basic relationship “engagement.” Instead of boyfriend-girlfriend do we then say engagee-engagor for spiritual differentiation?!
Engagement is a very serious term. In human convention it’s an agreement to marry. It’s a marital commitment. The fiancé can actually sue if there’s breach of promise of marriage. Many don’t know but there’s case law on it. The guy being convinced the girl he’s been dating is right for him by convention goes on his knee to propose. The genuflection is accompanied by a ring with a stone. The ring is inserted on fourth finger of left hand. If you like it put a ring on it! (Oh, Oh, Oh!). This is societal convention and it’s commonsensical.
How can you be engaged to someone you hardly know?! That you attend the same church or move in the same social circles doesn’t mean you know him! His personage as just a friend may be completely different from his personage as husband in waiting. He may begin to exhibit traits incompatible with your peace of mind. As acting husband he may be very possessive, restrictive and even oppressive. But if you spend time on dates with him you’ll have the opportunity to know him in the context of a relationship. To listen to his ideas on women, marriage, family, work, fatherhood… You will see things in luculent summation.
Religious differentiation cannot be antithetic to obvious sense. You’re not all spirit, you’re human! You have a body and you have a soul – your mind, your will, your emotions, your imagination. Let me tell you the danger of referring to boyfriend-girlfriend relationship as engagement. If you treat boyfriend-girlfriend relationship as engagement you bring unbearable pressure on yourself. You’ve essentially committed to marriage to a man you hardly know. And if while in that relationship you discover things you find anomalous, religiosity expects you to manage. Remember you’re working towards a foregone conclusion. And so your concerns are suppressed. And in that state you enter marriage.
The euphoria may last a month but the realities you ignored will show up. You’ll be stuck, unhappy, sad and depressed. You’ll feel imprisoned. All because you failed to do due diligence. In my business consulting experience I’ve never seen a merger or acquisition without homework or due diligence. Marriage is a merger. How can you go into a covenanted merger with a poor knowledge of facts?
This premature engagement thing – it’s not new. It’s old! Actually dates back 40 years to fellowships on campus. Since the “world” used the term boyfriend-girlfriend, they used “engagement” for differentiation. It was a delineation of value systems. They sought to eliminate flakiness by artificial means. It was well motivated and sincere, but it was based on a sincerely faulty reasoning. And it created problems. How do 16, 17, 18, 19year olds get engaged, no one bothered to ask! They had pubescent emotions, hardly knew themselves, or what life is all about. And they were in a protected environment. And soon the troubles began. Breakages simulated divorce. They were very traumatic.
Of course post-university most of the “engagements” didn’t end in marriage. The real world made sure. Some came out of school and realized they made a serious decision from grave ignorance. They made a choice from inchoate knowledge, they fished from a limited pool. And the incompatibles who swept things under the carpet ended up in divorce court, or worse circumstances.
Some did succeed however, as the laws of probability dictate. Some are happily married. I’m amazed the mistakes of 40 years ago are being repeated in the name of spiritual differentiation. When we seek to artificially upturn societal order we must be ready for the sociological consequences. Is spirituality a repudiation of humanity and commonsensical societal convention? Think.
Your mentor, LA.
© Leke Alder 2014