Meghan Trainor’s song Dear Future Husband goes, “Dear future husband, here’s a few things you’ll need to know if you wanna be my one and only all my life. Dear future husband, if you wanna get that special loving tell me I’m beautiful each and every night.” Overall, the song is about a woman writing a letter to her future husband of all the things she wants him to be and do. However, this kind of thought process is considered by the blogosphere as a byproduct of “Future Husband Culture” (Beverage, 2015).
We want to state upfront that we neither disregard nor push FHC. Rather, this article is meant to look at both sides of the debate with an analytical eye.
Future Husband Culture, or FHC, is characterized by writing lists of quality traits you want your future spouse to have, praying for your future spouse, and writing letters to your future spouse. Another aspect of FHC is courting over dating.
In the book Boy Meets Girl: Say Hello to Courtship by Joshua Harris (2000), Harris reintroduced to society the concept of courtship. In general, Harris says, courtship is when two people stay friends before they begin dating. (Conversely, according to Harris, typical dating is characterized as asking someone out that you just met.) In courting, there is always a chaperone on dates, little to no physical intimacy of any kind before marriage, and no emotional attachment until engagement.
Michelle Duggar of the former TLC show 19 Kids and Counting explains why she and her husband force their children to have chaperones on dates, “Before you get emotionally attached, you want to know who they are deep inside. That’s easier when you have more eyes looking out for you. There are a lot of things you can learn from not pairing off alone.” (Varma-White, 2014)
Courtship pushes the idea that there is one person out there for each person. It says that the future spouse is God’s absolute best, and one must simply wait until God brings that person along. Joshua Harris explains that he did not tell his wife that he loved her until he had proposed, because those words were too sacred for the pre-engagement period (p. 85).
Yet, before one can understand the problems with FHC, one must look at the shift between courtship to dating to courtship again. According to Elizabeth Maurer, in colonial American times, “…Most men…waited until they had completed their education and attained some financial security before proposing marriage. Marriage was the next logical step in life as they sought marriage partners who could support their economic efforts while running their households and raising their children” (Maurer, 1997).
Yet, even in the 1790s, says Maurer, courtship was still dictated by the parents. By the Civil War period, courting had taken a more independent shape. Christopher W. Wells (2001) explains, “On a woman’s invitation, men conducted formal ‘calls’ to her home, during which couples might converse, read aloud, play parlor games, or give a piano recital” (p. 162). At this point, Wells says, couples were decreasingly watched by their parents, but given more freedom by their families.
Bailey & Myers (2013) explain in their podcast Wandering Toward the Altar: The Decline of American Courtship , that beginning in the 1920s, American teenagers valued “promiscuous popularity,” as in the amount of dates a person could accept, even simultaneously. Yet, dating was not about sex or marriage. Rather, it was a “competitive game,” to prove one’s popularity. Sociologist Willard Waller (1937) called this the campus rating complex. Ken Myers concludes, “You had to rate in order to date, to date in order to rate. By successfully maintaining this cycle, you became popular. To stay popular, you competed.”
One sociologist wrote in a July 1953 New York Times Magazine article that each boy and girl ideally should date 25 to 50 eligible marriage partners before making his or her final decision (Barclay, 1953, p. 53). For example, in a 1950 short educational film titled Choosing for Happiness, a college woman listens to her friend’s recent relationship escapades (Bahadur, 2013). At the end of the film, the college woman considers the different men her friend has dated, and how ultimately, all of those experiences let her friend better understand herself. The film’s message is to date a variety of people, in order to know yourself better and what you desire in a spouse.
In her book, From Front Porch to Back Seat: Courtship in Twentieth Century America, Beth Bailey (2013) explains this phenomenon by saying, “Few steady couples expected to marry each other, but for the duration of the relationship, acted as if they were married. Going steady had become a sort of play-marriage, a mimicry of actual marriage” (p. 49).
Skip Burzumato (2007), rector of St. Andrew’s Reformed Episcopal Church, argues that this ideology leads to “mini divorces.” He argues, “Every time a steady couple ‘breaks up,’ something like a mini divorce occurs, complete with a divorce settlement and custody dispute — a dividing up of the assets, property and other persons involved.” In a 1953 short educational film Social-Sex Attitudes in Adolescence, a teen boy named Bobby talks to his friend on the phone about his recent breakup with his girlfriend. Bobby laughs the whole thing off, and says he will make his ex-girlfriend jealous by his new date. The narrator then says, “Girl, girls, girls – every night!” The film normalized the breakup experience, and how two partners should seek to ‘get back at each other’ for personal gain.
The 1960s and 1970s introduced the most freedom teenagers had ever experienced: sexual freedom. At this point, teenagers were able to have a variety of sexual partners without having to hide it or be embarrassed about it. Christopher W. Wells (2001) says, “The social norms governing sexuality fractured, with no unifying set of rules filling the void” (p. 162). Wells also explains that online dating, single’s clubs, and premarital cohabitation have their origins in this time period. Wells concludes, “Couples conducted courting on their own terms, as both men and women assumed more individual responsibility and initiative in finding a mate than at any previous time, while also exercising greater freedom in the process” (p. 162).
Future Husband Culture is a response to this dating culture. Joshua Harris (1997) explains his own experiences with dating by writing, “In the past, the starting point of my relationships was what I wanted instead of what God wanted. I looked out for my needs and fit others into my agenda. Did I find fulfillment? No, I found only compromise and heartache. I not only hurt others; I also hurt myself, and most seriously, I sinned against God” (p. 21).
Dr. Don Raunikar (2006) writes, “Dating creates more problems than it solves: broken hearts, illegitimate children, abortions, sexually transmitted diseases, and feelings of guilt or shame that can last a lifetime” (p. 14).
Finally, Leslie Ludy (1999) argues, “Too many women…are hungry for attention and affection, so they settle for guys who don’t know the first thing about how to treat a woman. …They give themselves to men who really aren’t worth a second glance. …Likewise, too many men stop waiting for a truly set-apart young woman. Few girls in today’s world could be a characterized as a princess of purity” (p. 171-172). Thus, modern courtship was introduced to respond to these issues in society.
FHC is mainly promoted by conservative evangelical Christian communities. Brad Wilcox (2014), director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, found as he studied marriage rates among young people that “women who married younger usually ‘are more religious and have a more domestic and child-centered orientation to their lives than their peers who are getting married later and have a different approach to family life and marriage’” (Hales, 2014). Thus, according to these statistics, Christian women tend to focus more on who they will marry than much else, like careers, financial security, traveling, etc. FHC is a result of this focus.
For the Future Husband Culture, its constraints modify the relationship experience to be more purposeful and pure. It seeks to renew the courtship rituals of old. Dating, this subculture says, has made people selfish and noncommittal. Leon Kass (1997) says that nowadays “for the great majority, the way to the altar is uncharted territory: It’s every couple on its own bottom, without a compass, often without a goal. Those who reach the altar seem to have stumbled on it by accident” (p. 40). FHC, then, wants to make marriage an intentional process by both individuals. Joshua Harris (1997) calls it ‘dating with a purpose’ (p. 32). Therefore, FHC’s main constraints are hands-off relationships, little emotional intimacy, and only God-given partners.
By marking a divide between modern dating and historical courtship, and arguing that this division is really about those who follow what God says and those who do not, FHC causes an us-versus-them mentality. Authors of FHC books purport “a thinly veiled struggle against what they perceive as a sexualized, secular culture. This cultural context has helped to establish these values as the meaningful source of ‘Christianity’ because … these beliefs serve to distinguish between Christians and non-Christians” (Irby, 2013, p. 10).
For example, Leslie Ludy (1999) writes, “Remember the infamous question…How far is too far? This question is really a code for asking, ‘How much can I get away with and not make God mad?’ It’s not even a question a devoted follower of Christ should be asking in the first place. Rather, we should be motivated by an entirely different question: ‘How far can I possibly go to bring joy to the heart of my heavenly Father in this area of my life?’” (p. 65). Ludy goes on to describe courtship as the answer to that question. Thus, Ludy’s argument purports that anyone who dates and engages in physical activity of any kind are not serious Christians.
Leslie Ludy (1999) describes courtship as giving “God the pen to write [your] love story” (p. 56). Those who have not “given the pen to God”, by picking dating over courtship, are thus inexplicitly described as people who are not “all in” for God. Bitzer, a communication rhetorician, names this as a ‘fitting response’ to the rhetoric, as in what the message makers prescribe as the correct action or ideas to the message (Herrick, 2013, p. 213). For example, when Ludy asked her Christian male friends how they felt about women who engaged in physical activity, described as ‘easy’, her guy friends responded: “It’s disgusting.” “A turnoff.” “Totally unattractive” (p. 121). These terms can be damaging for those females who do enjoy engaging in physical activity, not because they want to disrespect their bodies, but because they enjoy the expression of touch to their partners.
Ultimately, FHC can be damaging to future relationships, because both people come into it with high expectations. For example, many books who purport courting encourage their readers to create lists of all the qualities they desire in a spouse. However, blogger Christina Beverage (2015) warns, “It is important to pray for your future husband. …But know this…there is a danger in creating a list of qualities that you expect Prince Charming to already possess perfectly and without fault the moment he walks into your life.” Even if God tells a person who he should marry, he may find himself disappointed that his soulmate did not meet ‘the List.’ Thus, FHC sets people up with too high expectations, expecting their future partners to be God, rather than godly.
Future Husband Culture is not a horrible idea, nor do we think it is useless and wrong. Premarital sex is a sin according to the Bible (Hebrews 13:4), and if courting helps certain individuals have more self-control, then so be it. Courtship also emphasizes God’s involvement in relationships, which is largely lacking in the Christian community. FHC strives to know what God’s will is for both people, by waiting upon Him for a ‘green light’ for them to move forward in courtship.
Here’s the thing: Yes, I have written letters to my future husband. Yes, I do keep a prayer journal where I write prayers for my future husband, even describing to God what exact traits I want in my future husband. Yes, I do believe in purity before marriage. And most of all, I do not believe in “dating around” or dating whoever I think is cute in the moment. I’ve made the personal decision to only date someone who the Lord gives the green light. End of story. I know for many people these stances are old-fashioned and ridiculous. That’s OK. My story is not your story. I have my personal reasons for why I’ve decided to live my life this way.
I just want to be super careful about how I judge other people for their dating decisions, and not make any blanket statements to identify their behavior. To me, a lot of people who advocate courting especially are judgmental and prejudice. I grew up in a conservative, Christian homeschooling environment where it was either courting or perpetual singlehood. I’ve learned since then that the world just does not function like that.
Ultimately, followers of FHC just need to be super careful that they are not bringing high expectations to a relationship. Even though God does have someone in mind for you, it does not necessarily mean that that person is perfect. It’s also important to bring grace into any romantic relationship – not just for the other person, but for yourself, too. Don’t have high expectations about how you will handle certain aspects, like the physical, in a relationship. You may surprise yourself.
Also, let’s not judge one another for how we each decide to go about romantic relationships. As long as Jesus is the center, does it matter if we label it “courting” or “dating”? Don’t get legalistic – especially because a lot of the restraints placed on courting and dating are not biblical. They are man-made, not God-made.
Perhaps Meghan Trainor’s song Dear Future Husband would have most benefitted her audience if she had simply sung, “I will accept you as you are, not what I want you to be.”
What do you think? Do you engage in any Future Husband Culture practices? Or are you more about dating freely to figure out what you like? Tell us in the comments to continue the conversation.
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