“A man who finds a wife, finds a good thing” (Proverbs 18:22). I’ve heard that verse my whole life. I hear it when a couple announces their marriage on instagram, I hear it when youth pastors are trying to convince teenagers to wait for marriage. Recently that’s taken a turn and people have said that a woman needs to become a wife before she is a wife.
People on Facebook (where good ideas go to die) use it to promote their “wife schools” where women can learn how to become a wife. From my research this includes learning to submit, learning how to manage a household and learning how to keep the spice alive (one said that you should not give up “girlfiend” to be a wife).
I first heard this when someone shared a sermon from Pastor John Gray in the sermon he says something along the lines of “The Bible says a man who finds a wife finds a good thing… you must first be a wife… some of you are walking around with a girlfriend mentality.” The women in the audience screamed at clap as if something had finally clicked. It was as if this was the advice they had been waiting for. I paused the sermon and wondered why do we let men speak at women’s conferences anyway?
When I was 12, two women sat me and my friends down to give us a talk. I was homeschooled and these women were other moms in our homeschool group but I knew they were different from my mom. These women were wifely in a way I couldn’t put my finger on. They talked about their husbands constantly, always mentioned them when they made plans and never seemed to be unhappy with their marriages.
They sat us down and said that some things that we want to do in our bodies aren’t good for our spirit. They said that women respond to touch while men respond to looks so we should be sure to cover up if we don’t want men looking at us. I thought, briefly, about how much I liked to rub my hands up and down my arms when I felt lonely, something about the sweet touch felt calming, as if someone was holding me sweetly. I craved intimate affection, not sex, but forehead kisses and linked arms. I wondered if that desire was bad for my spirit.
At the end of middle school, my church had a cotillion. I told my mom I didn’t want to be a part, something about the dresses and white gloves made me feel a bit claustrophobic. Even today, the idea of wearing white for a prolonged period of time gives me a mild panic attack. My mother insisted that I at least attend the classes. The church now calls that cotillion something like “love can wait gala” and while I don’t believe it was explicit before, it was still largely understood to be a way to promote purity.
We learned a lot about ways the world wants us to be sexual, especially sexual deviants. We learned about how men and women are different, especially that men are visual learners so women should learn to dress accordingly. We learned that music gets into our spirit and if we wanted to fight lust we should just listen to Hillsong 24/7. My father was expected to dance a waltz with me at the event; he was so appalled by the whole thing he told my mom he wouldn’t be a part of it. I was spared.
Until I was 15 I only wore jeans. I wore jeans even in the summer. People would ask me “aren’t you hot?” But I didn’t notice. I knew my legs were weird, hairier, I thought, than others. The skin on my legs was shiny and I didn’t want to bring attention to them. My friends who wore shorts were always yelled at by men on the street.
Once, we went to a chinese food place in the middle of our homeschool group and a man got out of his car to hit on my friend. We had to lie to him and say she’s 12 for him to go away, under his breath he muttered “they make 12 year olds different now.” When I bought a pair of shorts in high school, I noticed my legs were small, the shorts drowned them and I was worried they would look baggy, almost masculine on my legs. I put them away.
Walking down the streets in my jeans, I heard a man call out at me from his car. Suddenly my jeans felt very hot.
It rained for two weeks straight in Oklahoma, then two days before my cousin’s wedding it stopped. It felt like the modern version of God reaching down at Jesus’ baptism saying he was well pleased. My family, though related by blood, was not quite the same as her family. My parents were newly separated and my dad was (is) an atheist and right before coming to her wedding I slept with my ex-boyfriend because he gave me a note that said “you’re wifey material.”
Yet there was something about my cousin that made everyone drawn to her there was no question that we would travel across the country to see her wedding. Everyone who spoke about her called her a princess, they were right, she had a regal air that made you want to pamper her. Her fiancee smiled so much my cheeks hurt just looking at him.
One of her friends stood up and said “I knew she was going to be the first to be married because at Bible Study she had to leave early so she took the first white powdered donut, after that I told everyone ‘guys, we need to pray for her because I think she’s going to be the first to get married!’” Though it sounded like the most absurd thing, I mentally made a note to find a Bible Study and maybe learn to develop a taste for white powdered donuts.
On the day of her wedding I was asked, sweetly, if I could go through the field and make sure there was no poop where she would be walking. I laughed quietly while closely inspecting the ground for dirt, thinking maybe one day someone would have to do the same for me.