Religion and SpiritualitySkepticism

Sex Ed with James Dobson: 10 Things you Didn’t Know about True Love

It’s been some time, but I have finally brought myself to read more condescending advice on how to be a good Christian teenager from an upper middle class American family that conforms to outdated stereotypes. This chapter, “I think I’ve Fallen in Love” is in the form of a quiz, with Dobson helpfully telling us what the answers are.  This would have been so much better as a buzzfeed quiz with a click bait title. I’ll do what I can, but I’m not as flashy or smarmy as a buzzfeed author.  We have 10 statements, and it is up to us to determine whether the statement is true or false.

1. I believe that “love at first sight” occurs between some people.

The observant reader will note the unnecessary quotation marks and conclude that this statement is false.  Dobson started to explain that we teens are confused by popular song lyrics about love at first sight, and I got bored and skipped ahead.  Christians of Dobson’s stripe seldom have anything interesting to say about pop culture, and only go on about how terrible it is.  Maybe if Dobson had something to say about the preservation of courtly love tropes, I would be interested, but he only wants to tell us which song he thinks is “the dumbest lyrics of the century,” so I’m not.

2. I believe that it’s easy to distinguish real love from infatuation.

I don’t think Dobson has a high opinion of our ability to do anything, much less do anything easily, and I’m correct, this is false!  Dobson explains to us that it is easy to become infatuated, and gives us chatty anecdotes of how he self-centeredly fell in love with someone anyone as soon as school started every year.  Sure, emotions are hard, but at least we now actually have a definition for love, it’s not self-centered.  Though given my knowledge of Christians and the role of women in marriage, I can’t even entirely agree with that.  We do deserve things for ourselves and to make ourselves happy, or at least not abused, with regards to love.

3. I believe that people who sincerely love each other will not argue and fight.

Dobson says we may be surprised to learn this is false, but not to worry because “the average person misses at least three or four of these ten questions about love.” I wonder if he actually has data to back that.  I’m not sure why, even as a good Christian girl, I would have gotten this wrong since the most common (sort of maybe and maybe not) joke was about husbands being jerks or slobs and wives being nagging or violent in “keeping husbands in line.”  However, we have the good Dr. Dobson explaining to us a common scenario that would cause conflict:

The father drives home from a bad day at the office.  He parks his car in the driveway and walks wearily into the house. His wife meets him at the doorway, and she is equally tired. The children have been wearing on her nerves all day. She tells her husband the washing machines is broken and there is water all over the floor and everything has gone wrong.  On their desk is a big stack of bills that the family is unable to pay.
Would anyone like to play count the stereotypes and assumptions in this paragraph?  It’s almost as if Dobson doesn’t realize there is a vast amount of variation in family structure and living arrangements.
Dobson also tells us that the first year of marriage is a time of adjustment when we have to decide “who will spend your money and where you will go on vacation.  These issues may heat your emotions and set of some pretty serious conflicts in your home”
I would think the all wise Dobson might be inclined to give us some advice like at least discussing financial arrangements before marriage but in this book he is just trying to get us to not marry too quickly.  He has other books to sell if we want advice on marriage.
 4. I believe that God selects one particular person for each of us to marry, and that He will guide us together. 

Randall Munroe explains why this scenario would be a nightmare, though I suppose believers might regard god as the magic solution to statistical impossibilities.  I actually don’t know what Dobson thinks, since how much god micromanages one’s life depends on which believer you ask.  Fortunately, here we are coming down on the side of false, with one of the more  clever Christian rationalizations to back it up, that is, we should always pray to god, but if we think he is a divine matchmaker, we risk thinking infatuation is god’s will. Therefore, god has a plan, or at least a will, for us all in marriage, but if you do it wrong, it’s still totally our own fault.

5. I believe that if a man and woman genuinely love each other, then hardships and troubles will have little or no effect on their relationship.

 Same as question 3.  Same answer, but now love is a delicate flower that must be protected.

6. I believe that it’s better to marry the wrong person than to remain single and lonely throughout life.

Holy false dichotomy, Batman!  Interestingly, one of the marriage proposals I received while I lived in Tanzania (which was via email, romantically enough), also subscribed to this false dichotomy.  When I replied to that email in the negative, I was then asked why, and given options to pick from, one of which was that my plan was to remain lonely.  Interestingly enough, I am currently not married, and I do not consider myself lonely.  Will Dobson support me in the conclusion that marriage might be nice (though I am not convinced there is any actual benefit to it) a lack thereof is not equated with lonelines? Almost!  “I think it is much better to still be looking for the right person than to be involved in a bad marriage, even though being single may mean being lonely.”

 7. I believe that it’s not harmful or sinful to have sexual intercourse before marriage if the couple has a meaningful relationship. 
Obviously, it’s Dobson, and he’s just going to tell us it is false, with much pearl clutching about how people these days say society has changed and morality has changed too!  Rather than recognizing that, yes, demonstrably, moral zeitgest does change, he asserts that god’s rules never change.  We can only conclude that he is therefore obligated to either defend slavery and genocide, or go in for convoluted rationalizations.  Probably the latter.  There is also much Bible quoting from proverbs, which is mostly telling young men about the evils of slutty women.

8. I believe that if a couple is genuinely in love, that condition is permanent and will last a lifetime.

 This is a rephrasing of questions three and five.  This quiz needs editing.

9. I believe that short courtships, six months or less, are best. 

This answer, like all those before it, is false.  The points made with regard to question two are reiterated.

10. I believe that teenagers are more capable of genuine love than are older people.

As should not be surprising by now, this is false. If, however, you think Dobson might take the opportunity to address ageism, you would be wrong.  Older people in his world are obviously more capable of whatever specifically he thinks genuine love is because us young people can’t figure out our emotions.  See questions 2 and 9.

Things we have not learned from this quiz include: any sort of helpful definition or guide to recognition of Dobson’s genuine love, or any acknowledgment that love is a flexible concept that changes with culture and time period.  And, of course, Dobson’s god forbid that we get any acknowledgment that people aren’t always the same or in the same circumstances.  Different people work better with different dating lengths, marriage isn’t for everyone, and optimal timing of sex with regard to marriage is different for different people.

That all being said, I am actually pleasantly surprised on the emphasis of not rushing into marriage.  Even though I completely disagree with the obvious assumption he makes that marriage is the main goal of life, marrying young at the expense of education and health (pregnancy is the second leading cause of death globally for girls between 15 and 19, and one of the WHO’s girls is to reduce marriage before the age of 18 and reduce pregnancy before the age of 20, early marriage) is a major part of Christian culture. Child marriage is a problem, and perfectly legal, in the U.S. I will welcome even Dobson with his bigotedly exclusive heteronormativity in standing against child marriage, because Dobson’s is the voice that might actually be heard by Christians who endorse and practice child marriage. I could wish he would address the issue in terms that didn’t implicitly blame those in child marriages for being teenagers unable to discern genuine emotion and also led astray by this terrible society these days with its song lyrics, but I’ll take what I can get.

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Elizabeth is a professional belly dancer, a flaky computer scientist, and a returned Peace Corps volunteer. She lives in Georgia (the state of the U.S., not the country) but is nonetheless somehow not a combination of stereotypes from Gone with the Wind and Deliverance. Her personal blog is Coffeefied. Operafied. Fluffified. Beglittered.

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