Puzzlement at Pence: How the World Lost Intimacy and Doesn’t Know It

Initials on a tree

Last week, the Washington Post reported that vice president Mike Pence avoids dining one-on-one with women other than his wife, and the internet erupted. Pence’s policy was puritanical, silly, sexist. It might, in fact, be “rape culture at work” according to one writer, because it shows “we still live in a culture that produces vice-presidents who ardently believe women are a wellspring of possible sin.”

The obvious rebuttals are, well, obvious. There’s the fact that Pence might possibly be avoiding extended social time alone with other women not because he believes women are the root of all evil but because, of the two genders, only one of them can offer any temptation to compromise his marriage. (If an influential woman avoided dining alone with other men, would that be sexism against men?) Then there’s the cynical amusement of listening to 20-something singles earnestly pontificate about healthy relationship boundaries. And there’s the hypocrisy angle: Apparently Bill’s serial adultery is no one’s business but the Clintons’, but Pence’s attempt to avoid adultery is a threat to the republic which demands endless think pieces.

But as I perused the flood of commentary which followed the revelation of what was dubbed “the Pence Rule,” I was struck by something else: the amount of sheer puzzlement over why such a self-imposed restriction might be needed or helpful. One journalist wondered whether “social conservatives actually have higher libidos on average, hence the greater perceived need to control sexual desire.”

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Stop Worrying and Pick Something

Happily Ever After sign

I had a conversation recently with a young woman who was agonizing over whether to go out with a fellow who she felt was likely to ask her on a date soon. She was pretty sure she wasn’t interested in him, but she was concerned: What if she said no, but he was actually The One?

Her look of concern mirrored the one I’ve often seen on high school students and their parents whom I’ve advised as they made college plans. What if they don’t get into the right school? Or don’t even apply there? Or don’t even know about it?

Making wise and informed decisions is important, of course, but our preoccupation with selecting the right option, whether we’re talking about a spouse, a school, a career, or any other important life choice, is the unhelpful product of bad theology. It misunderstands both God’s role and ours in our decision-making and it misdirects our focus, treating the lead-up to a decision as more important than its aftermath, when in reality it’s usually just the opposite.

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Romantic Pagans, True Religion, and True Love

Whitney Houston album cover

“I have nothing, nothing, nothing
If I don’t have you…”

I was listening to the radio the other evening when Whitney Houston’s 1993 hit “I Have Nothing” came on. I would gladly listen to Whitney Houston sing “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” so I always smile to hear her voice come through the speaker, but I could not help being struck as the singer’s amazing voice soared out the chorus, “I have nothing, nothing, nothing / If I don’t have you…”

It’s a line that could have come from a million different songs, movies, and books in a world where romance is one of our favorite idols. How many movies have you watched where the essential struggle and the key to lasting happiness is whether he ends up with she? How many songs mourn lost love, celebrate new love, or narrate the search for love?

Now, a good romantic story is a wonderful thing, but even a good thing can turn unhealthy. The lines in Whitney Houston’s ballad caught me because they hint at the sad, cold side of Hollywood-style romance: I have nothing if I don’t have you. I don’t want to read too much into a lyric that does capture well the breathless and passionate single-mindedness of being in love, but I wonder if the songwriter didn’t accidentally capture something else too—the grey emptiness of being out of love when romance is your god.

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Working to Make Space for Delight

Hands forming a heart

I’m whisking my wife away to an undisclosed location for a few days before the school year starts, so I was all set to write a brief post explaining that my usual Thursday article would not be forthcoming. Then that brief explanation grew somewhat less brief and it appears we have something of a Thursday article after all. (This is one of the hazards of being a writer.)

With our rare and long-awaited weekend getaway fast approaching, I’ve been thinking about marriage and the kind of work that goes into cultivating delight. It seems like every stage of a marriage throws up some different barrier to staying in love. Leah and I are still in a relatively easy stage, but we have already discovered that the premarital advice was true and we do need to work to tend the spark which flared so naturally when we were dating. So we work at it. Which may not sound especially romantic—and frankly, it’s not. Planning and scheduling and prioritizing aren’t exactly the stuff of poetry, but then they aren’t supposed to be. They are about preparation, not poetry.

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Yes, the Bible does condemn homosexuality

In general, Christians will encounter two types of arguments in favor of homosexuality. The first simply casts the Bible aside as irrelevant, rejecting its authority, but the second kind of argument engages the Christian on scriptural grounds and argues that the Bible is actually not opposed to all same-sex intercourse. I recently came across a good example of this second kind of argument in “The Bible does not condemn ‘homosexuality.’ Seriously, it doesn’t.” Written by Adam Nicholas Phillips, a pastor in Portland, Oregon, it is a pretty characteristic summary of the main arguments that are offered for acceptance of homosexuality by Bible-believing Christians, so I decided to offer a point-by-point response in hopes that it would be helpful to those who have encountered arguments like this.

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Searching, and searching, for the perfect match

Every so often someone writes an article about the plight of singles in America. It seems everyone wants to be married; they just don’t want to be married to anyone they know. It’s interesting to hear the issue discussed in both Christian and secular circles. While the specific diagnoses and proposed solutions differ, there does seem to be general agreement that an unprecedented number of singles in their 20’s and 30’s would like to be getting married but, for one reason or another, aren’t.

Of course, there are many reasons for this phenomenon, but one root cause that’s often mentioned is the never-ending quest to find The One: the perfect match, the one who completes you like two strands of music that run together in a perfect harmony. I’m male, so I picture it in geometrical terms: two equations so perfectly matched that their graphs will run together, no matter how far the line extends. (What did guys do for pickup lines before Euclid?) On the most popular dating websites, eager members fill out batteries of questions that dwarf most psychological tests, all carefully analyzed by computer algorithms to find your perfect match! We’re so committed to finding the right person that we demand no less than Google as our Yenta.

My point here is not to argue that we ought to swing to the other extreme and immediately dive into marriage with the nearest breathing organism that loves Jesus and has human DNA and a complementary pair of X or Y chromosomes. Nor is it to suggest exactly what balance should be struck between being too picky on the one hand, and being discerning and careful in our choice of the person with whom we pledge to spend the rest of our lives, on the other. If we stipulate, however, at least that it seems American culture in general has swung too far in the direction of “overly picky,” I wonder to what extent such a tendency is generated or reinforced by a lack of confidence in our ability to make marriage work.

If I’m buying a vehicle to take with me to a desert island and I have none of the mechanical knowledge necessary to maintain or fix it, it suddenly becomes tremendously important that I buy one that will never break down. If I take marriage seriously, and really mean it when I say “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part,” but simultaneously realize that on a very basic level I truly don’t know how to maintain or fix the life-long relationship I’m embarking upon, I’d better find the girl who’s such a perfect fit that my marriage will never break down. If those two lines on the graph start to diverge; if the tune falls out of harmony, and I don’t know what to do, that’s it. It’s over.

And so we continue our dogged hunt for something that does not exist, unwilling to accept the truth that no human hands can draw two perfect graphs or play a ceaseless harmony without error. Cinematic romances end with the ride off into the sunset because even the most brilliant screenwriter would struggle to maintain the alchemic fiction that promises lifelong happiness to those who can just find the right ingredients.

In reality, of course, the most important moment for securing the health of any marriage is this one, not some past point when the lucky pair each found their soulmate in the other. We must learn to bend the graphs, to blend the parts into harmony; to become soulmates more and more. If that knowledge has slipped from our cultural store, though–if we are no longer confident in our ability to make marriage work–then it’s not hard to understand those young singles who are reluctant to accept what must appear to be a gamble with nearly impossible odds.

Brain scans suggest that love doesn’t always fade


Stony Brook University researchers looked at the brains of Bernstein and 16 other people who had been married an average of 20 years and claimed to be still intensely in love. They found that their MRIs showed activity in the same regions of the brain as those who had just fallen in love.

“It’s always been assumed that passionate love inevitably declines over time,” said Arthur Aron, a social psychologist at Stony Brook University and one of four authors of the study, presented in November at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

“But in survey after survey we always have these people who have been together a long time and say they are intensely in love. It was always chalked up to self-deception or trying to make a good impression,” he said.

This study suggests that’s not the case, said Bianca Acevedo.