For instance, take complementarianism--Aimee Byrd has had a guest post this week from a woman pointing out that complementarianism is kind of ... useless for the unmarried woman.
... . In their most recent podcast on the Sexual Revolution, the MOS team summed up our culture’s immense pressure toward sexual identity. Christine Colon takes it one step further in her book Singled Out – culture tells us that virgins are immature and emotionally stunted neurotics whose only escape is in having sex. Christian singles hear this from culture and from the church that sex outside marriage is wrong. The result is that the slightest nudge toward marriage from a well-meaning believer comes across to the single like another reminder that we are immature and emotionally stunted and our only hope for happiness is marriage.
The cultural norm that presupposes that anyone who isn't already married and, by extension, having sex knows nothing at all about meaningful social interaction or adult responsibility was one of the single most pervasive cultural norms at the culture formerly known as Mars Hill. So, yeah, that, er, resonates. It's not just that your only hope for happiness is presented as marriage it's more like the only real evidence that you're even an adult at all is that you've successfully negotiated a sexual partnership.
The conundrum of how to arrive at adulthood when sexual activity has no intrinsic bearing on the traditional milestones isn't just a complementarian concern, though.
Over the course of his research on this, Jensen Arnett has zeroed in on what he calls “the Big Three” criteria for becoming an adult, the things people rank as what they most need to be a grown-up: taking responsibility for yourself, making independent decisions, and becoming financially independent. [emphasis added] These three criteria have been ranked highly not just in the U.S., but in many other countries as well, including China, Greece, Israel, India, and Argentina. But some cultures add their own values to the list. In China, for example, people highly valued being able to financially support their parents, and in India people valued the ability to keep their family physically safe.
Of the Big Three, two are internal, subjective markers. You can measure financial independence, but are you otherwise independent and responsible? That’s something you have to decide for yourself. When the developmental psychologist Erik Erikson outlined his influential stages of psychosocial development, each had its own central question to be (hopefully) answered during that time period. In adolescence, the question is one of identity—discovering the true self and where it fits into the world. In young adulthood, Erikson says, attention turns to intimacy and the development of friendships and romantic relationships.
Havighurst developed his theory during the ‘40s and ‘50s, and in his selection of these tasks, he was truly a product of his time. The economic boom that came after World War II made Leave It to Beaver adulthood more attainable than it had ever been. Even for very young adults. There were enough jobs available for young men, Mintz writes, that they sometimes didn’t need a high-school diploma to get a job that could support a family. And social mores of the time strongly favored marriage over unmarried cohabitation hence: job, spouse, house, kids.
But this was a historical anomaly. “Except for the brief period following World War II, it was unusual for the young to achieve the markers of full adult status before their mid- or late twenties,” Mintz writes. [emphasis added] As we saw with young Henry Thoreau, successful adults were often floundering minnows first. The past wasn’t populated by uber-responsible adults who roamed the moors wearing three-piece suits, looking over their spectacles and saying “Hm, yes, quite,” at some tax returns until today’s youths killed them off through laziness and slang. Young men would seek their fortunes, fail, and come back home; young women migrated to cities looking for work at even higher rates than men did in the 19th century. And in order to get married, some men used to have to wait for their fathers to die first, so they could get their inheritance. At least today’s delayed marriages are for less morbid reasons.
One of the things that may separate American evangelicalism from the rest of American culture is that in the evangelical taxonomy of "the Big Three" it's not considered socially desirable or acceptable to obtain those big three independently of married life. We don't need to recite too many names in the world of evangelicalism who are worried that the youngsters these days aren't getting married and aren't moving out of the parents' house.
According to 2014 data from the Census Bureau, median earnings for young adults who were working full-time were only about $34,000 for Millennials. That’s less than what their parents would’ve made in the 1980s, after adjusting for inflation. And that’s for Millennials who have found full-time work. According to Census data, only 65 percent of Millennials were employed as of 2014, compared to about 70 percent in the three decades prior. Those figures may help explain why nearly 20 percent of Millennials have wound up living in poverty—that’s more than five percentage points higher than the poverty rate of young adults in 1980—despite being the most educated cohort of young people in history.
Still, it’s not all about the economy. One of the main reasons that Millennials are staying at home is because they are delaying marriage until later in life, Pew researchers found. That makes sense, since two incomes can certainly make it easier to afford rapidly climbing rent prices, student-loan payments, and the host of other financial responsibilities that come with leaving the nest. But that choice, too, is divided among racial and economic lines: Richer Americans are more likely to get married than poorer ones, and white Americans are more likely be married than minorities. These again increase the chances that poorer and minority Millennials will live at home in higher numbers, and for longer. ...
Contentment is difficult for singles because from our perspective, both the believing and unbelieving world seem to agree that happiness in celibacy is impossible. In both worlds, sex/marriage has become a defining threshold between childhood and adulthood. We are children, teenagers, college-age, single, then married. When we pass 30 or 40 and are still celibate, everyone (literally) thinks something’s gone wrong.
Even popular scientific theories like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs classes the need for sex at the same level as food, water and air. If the church does not answer, is it any wonder that Christian singles sometimes conclude that masturbation is not wrong and that pornography is at least better than the alternative? Essentially, we come to believe that God has given us “everything pertaining to life and godliness” except a spouse.
One self-help book on marriage by a moderately famous celebrity Christian couple had it worded that sex is almost a real physical need for a guy.
Mark and Grace Driscoll
Copyright (c) 2012 by On Mission, LLC
ISBN 978-1-4041-8352-0 (IE)
When we got married, I (Grace) didn't understand the physical and emotional aspects of sex for men. It seemed with his high sex drive that was all Mark wanted from me and that he didn't appreciate anything else I did. His drive seemed to get stronger the less we had sex, and I wondered if it was an idol to him or if that was normal for me. I later realized it was partially a real physical need [emphasis added], not an obsession, since he wasn't masturbating or getting relief some other way, which I am thank for. I read somewhere that if you have sex more, it actually decreases the necessity for frequent sex over time for most men. I tried that but it didn't seem to change anything for Mark. ...
and, as would be abundantly clear for anyone who is familiar with the sum of Driscoll's teaching, the "physician heal thyself" path was not on the table, even though the Driscolls explicitly consider it an option other Christians could consider during unusually long separations such as military deployment.
Kilgore's comment about how there are theories of being that put sex on a need comparable to the human need for water, food and air can be shown to not come from nowhere. When the Driscolls' book formulates that sex is partially a real physical need (but only for already married men! Not singles!) the proverbial horns of the dilemma can be easier to see.
If there's a detail about the contemporary scene complementarians seem most eager to ignore is that the selection process is in many practical ways egalitarian even for those who self-identify as complementarian. Assortive pairing selection and status-vetting processes don't just vanish into the ether, even a self-described complementarian may pursue a "courtship" that is a dating relationship that would look identical to a pair of egalitarians in a dating relationship who are contemplating marriage. And, to make the point even more severe, you can put yourself "on the market" but that doesn't mean anyone has any obligation to buy what you're selling.