There is something wrong with us. Something wrong with me. Something wrong with her.
We had been married for a few months. Somehow, we ended up on different pages. Out of sync.
We sat in silence, trying to figure out what we had done wrong to lead to the fight…or was it even a fight? We didn’t know.
I just thought marriage would be different.
A couple years earlier, at the beginning of our relationship, I was studying theology as a sophomore in college. I had read and listened to plenty of stuff on what it means to be a “biblical” man. Kelly had just started reading a book for women. We were learning how to be what our genders programmed us to be. What God programmed us to be.
Gender is identity.
Men need respect.
Women need love.
Men need sex.
Women need intimacy.
Gender is personality and calling.
Man is a warrior. Loud and victorious. Bearded outdoorsman. He sweats. Eats red meat. Hunts. Watches football. Climbs mountains. Shoots guns. Works on trucks. Builds things. Works outside the home (because stay-at-home dads are worse than unbelievers).
Woman is gentle. Quiet and caring. In need of protection. She cooks. Cleans. Sews. Has babies and raises them at home. She is a follower. Her only calling is to support her husband’s calling as a submissive wife and caring mother.
Gender is business.
In marriage, we barter with one another based on our gender.
Men give love to get sex. Women give sex to get love.
Far from being a marginal view, the emphasis on masculinity and femininity is echoed in the most influential Christian media—Christianity Today, Desiring God, The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Focus on the Family, The Resurgence, pastors, bloggers, and books, books, and more books…
It sounded reasonable enough at the time. Indeed, it was all I heard at the time. So, I did my best to be the masculine man and tried make my girlfriend into the most feminine woman.
I had become enslaved to someone else’s model of “manhood”—constantly measuring myself against that model. Even worse, I constantly measured Kelly to someone else’s model of “womanhood.” I distinctly remember one phone conversation in which I rambled on and on about how God had made her different from me so that she could follow my lead. Looking back, I am astonished that I was blind to my own efforts at manipulation.
By God’s grace, as our relationship continued, the gender roles we had learned about started to make less and less sense, biblically or practically. After deep study and many conversations, we came to the conclusion that we couldn’t accept what we had been taught about gender.
We were free to simply be ourselves.
Little did I know that, deep down, those old ideas still had a hold on me two years later when I got married (and still do, more than two years after that). A lifetime of indoctrination doesn’t just go away at the flip of a switch. I realized that I would have to work hard to exorcise my stereotypes. I would have to teach myself to see my wife as a unique individual rather than a machine programmed to behave a certain way.
You see, despite my convictions against these dehumanizing stereotypes, I still projected them onto my wife. I expected her to conform to a specific idea of what it means to be a wife. I expected myself to fit a specific idea of what it means to be a husband. I expected our relationship to be a flawless exchange of goods—a well-oiled, capitalistic machine. I would present her with the right amount of love and intimacy; she would pay me with the right amount of sex and respect.
She wasn’t fitting into the mold very well…but neither was I.
She hates to cook. I like to cook.
I hate sports. She hates wearing dresses.
I took up knitting as a hobby.
I have baby fever. She isn’t ready to be a mother (at least not to human babies…she is mother to our two cats).
She likes to wear t-shirts and snuggle up at home. I like to dress up and go out.
I long for intimacy much more than she does.
I can’t grow a beard.
I like shopping. She hates it—in fact, I usually have to tell her whether her outfit works.
She has low self-esteem (her words), so she desires more respect than I do. She needs to be affirmed—to be told that she is strong and courageous.
In other ways, we fit the stereotypes…
I like to work with my hands and build things. She looks at Pinterest.
I watch sci-fi and zombie shows. She watches animal shows and TLC.
I eat red meat. The only meat she likes is chicken.
She genuinely enjoys cleaning the house. I enjoy reading comics.
I enjoy camping and hiking. She hates the outdoors.
There is nothing wrong with us. Nothing wrong with me. Nothing wrong with her.
It wasn’t immediate, but eventually I began to see where we got separated. We both expected her to be something she wasn’t. I felt disappointed. She felt inadequate. We still had remnants of those old rules gnawing at our heels. We still felt enslaved to other people’s ideas about what it means to be “man” and “woman.”
Had we not gone through those theological changes early in our relationship, our marriage would have been a nightmare. We could never have a so-called “biblical marriage” without sacrificing the personalities, passions, and desires that had drawn us together in the first place.
Of course, no one has a problem with men like Ron Swanson. No one has a problem with women like June Cleaver. The problem arises when these stereotypes are demanded of all men and women. The bigger problem arises when the Bible is used to do so.
So, I stopped expecting her to be a “biblical woman” and started appreciating her for who she is.
In these early years of marriage I am learning that to “love” my wife means adapting to her and learning what she needs rather than fitting into some antiquated mold of what it means to be a proper man and woman. Our problems didn’t come from the lack of conformity to those gender roles. Our problems came from the presumption that those roles had to be filled in the first place.
If we are going to obey Eph 5:21 and submit to one another, then we need to be ourselves and then give ourselves to one another—to express our love for each other in ways that match our personalities and gifts.
I don’t want a cookie cutter female. I want Kelly.