Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Compatibility and gender role robots (ADD)

Normally, I do not do posts regarding relationship issues. After all, what does a single man who has never been in a serious relationship with any girl know about relationships? I prefer to stay in areas I know and am comfortable with, and relationships are not one of them.

Recently, a fellow seminarian and friend who is from the same batch as me, Anna Smith, has responded to an article by CBMW (Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood) president Owen Stratchen that plays down the notion of complementarity. I am not an avid reader of TGC stuff, so I have to check out the original piece after reading her aticle, but I think that what Stratchen says is correct. Anna however disagrees. According to her, disregarding complementarity reduces men and women to mere gender role robots, which is the main thrust of her critique.

Now, I do think that Stratchen probably overdid things when he gave the impression in his article that being sinners means that no two sinners are compatible. Now, that said, there is in a sense that being sinners, no two sinners are compatible, and there is another sense in which they are not. In the sense that sinners look for compatibility as looking for one's soul mate who is absolutely perfectly compatible in every way, that is an unrealistic goal which cannot happen because both parties are sinners. But if one is not looking for absolute compatibility but relative compatibility, then of course two sinners can be compatible with each other. The problem here is that Stretchen gave the impression in the immediate paragraph that sin means any type of compatibility is impossible. It is only in the context of the entire article that we know what he actually is driving at. In other words, I think Stratchen could be more careful in his wording.

Nevertheless, I do think Stretchn is right about compatibility in the sense that the modern quest for compatibility in the finding of an absolute ideal fit, one's "soul mate" if you will, is problematic on many counts. Anna's critique here lies in a misunderstanding of what Stratchen is driving at. This can be seen in what she thinks Stratchen is saying a person is:

Person = sinner + socioeconomic status + physical attractiveness + commitment to biblical gender roles (he thinks that the first obliterates all hope of true compatibility and the next two aren’t stable, so the last one is your only hope)

The thing is I just do not see Stretchen reducing all people to such reductionistic equations. Rather, what I perceive him to be doing is to hit back against the idea that worships compatibility as being the esse (the essence) of any true loving relationship. Since part of such compatibility would lie in a person's socio-economic status and physical attractiveness, and these two are mutable, couples who start off "compatible" might become "incompatible" if either of these changes, and thus they might claim "incompatibility" as a supposed cause of their marital breakdown.

So why do I think compatibility is way over-rated? We note here that this idea of compatibility is a very modern concept. The ancients do not have the luxury of looking for "compatibility." Whether it is arranged marriages or marrying the first person you fall in love with, the issue of compatibility is seldom taken into consideration. After all, survival is what is important, the bearing and transmitting of the family name to children who can help out in the fields is important, the creating of business and political alliances is important. Romantic love itself is quite a modern concept. To the ancients, you love who you marry, not you marry who you love.

And if one is looking for a "soul mate," then one normally expands one's criteria in order to sieve out and discover this creature that will somehow complete her. The seeking of romance and absolute compatibility becomes all-encompassing in the quest to finding the almost-perfect spouse. Sure, for a Christian, she definitely knows her spouse will not be perfect and does at times sin against her, but she has the expectations that such will be relatively minor infractions, and that she will feel the same feelings of love towards him everyday as in the day they first confessed their love for each other.

This quest for this kind of compatibility harms true biblical marriage, and it is at this place that I think Stratchen says that the acting out of gender roles is more important. It is far more important that husbands and wives can honor and love God and love each other in the ways prescribed by God, than in trying to feel the glow of compatibility. It is far better EVEN in marriages that God be honored, than whether we feel loved and completed. If God is to be honored in the wife patiently bearing up and praying for her husband's neglect of her, rather than claim incompatibility over such neglect and thus file for divorce, then the wife is to patiently bear this burden up.

So no, we are not gender role robots, but then nobody is making such a claim. But we are not followers of Eros the god of love either. Yes, it is good if one can "click" with the other person, and generally one looks for such an emotional connection with a prospective spouse. But such should not be made the final arbiter for marriages. Rather than pining over the seeming lack of compatibility and looking for one's soul mate for years upon years, it is I think more biblical if one settles for more practical criteria rather than sticking to an all-too-likely unattainable ideal. And then when one's soul mate does not arrive after years of searching, they whine to Kevin Deyoung to attack single men for not dating them.

ADD: Anna has done a follow up to her piece. You can read it here.

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