Book Review – “Get Married: What Women Can Do to Help it Happen”

Get Married
Overview:
(From GoodReads): Is it okay to want to be married? Is there anything a woman who has never been married can do to make marriage more likely? Candice Watters gives women permission to want Christian marriage, encourages them to believe it’s possible, and supplies the tools to get there despite our post-marriage culture. Get Married includes the author’s personal journey from singleness to marriage as well as a biblical perspective on marriage. It shows how living intentionally is the key to marrying well. Get Married is a fresh and hopeful perspective that empowers single women to pray not only for their friends, parents, and churches, but the men who are (or could be) part of their lives.

My Take: First, a quick disclaimer:
1. This is a very long review. I didn’t meant it to be, but there is a lot I wanted to cover so as to present a fair picture of this book’s driving arguments and major issues.

2. All opinions here are my own, and I acknowledge that opinions are subjective.

3. I’m a Christian who happens to (presently) be single, so please don’t take my comments to mean I disliked this book for its religious views; and

4. I bring up Watters’ name a lot but it’s not in a spirit of disrespect – I’m simply attributing her statements to herself as she was the source of them.

So with that out of the way, on with the review/rant! 🙂

Get Married caused me to have more distaste than love towards it as what it ultimately advocates deeply disturbs and angers me. Initially, Watters’ thesis is to live like you’re going to marry, starting with a Biblical view of marriage, dismissing cliches that erroneously elevate singleness to a higher spiritual state, and encouraging women to live a God-honoring life (granted most of this is not new information). She also points out that some Christian women think they can live any way they want and still expect God to bless them, which is untrue and I concur. Lastly, she indicates that our feminist society has neutered the desire for marriage in many women, so a desire for a husband is seen as a mark of weakness, and with this I also agree. Thus, early on, she’s fairly on-point with her discussion and observations. Then I kept reading.

In a nutshell, this book advocates a form of legalism where getting married is all about you and what you do and who you know, and God consumes a mere fraction of that equation. For starters, Watters is clearly writing for twenty-something women as she makes less-than-flattering remarks towards single ladies in their 30s and beyond. Hence, her thinly veiled opinion is that women need to marry before age 30 or their chances go nearly kaput. But this driving claim fails to note that women marry at all ages. Marrying and having children while you’re in your 20s doesn’t guarantee a long-lasting, God-honoring marriage and/or healthy children. (In fact, research has proven the opposite as one 2013 article in the Los Angeles Times observed, “The older couples are when they get married, the more mature and financially secure they are, two factors that translate into a lower risk of divorce” [1].)

Watters states if you’re unmarried by age 28, “learning patience should not be your goal,” which again fails to recognize that sometimes it just takes longer for couples to meet. Her belief, then, is that if you’re exiting your 30s and are still unmarried, then: (a). you have been too focused on a career and/or your education, (b). you must have sinned, or (c). you haven’t exhausted all of your resources to be around marriageable men.

So let’s break down Watters’ argument and claims.

First, I doubt being career or education-minded would cause a woman to forever lose the chance of getting married. There is simply no consistent proof, paradigms, or even logical reasoning to support this. Perhaps a woman wishes to establish a resume or build up her bank account before she feels comfortable getting married. Perhaps she wants to finish her education rather than juggle completing a degree with raising a family. Personally, I think those are wise choices but Watters doesn’t entirely embrace this in her book.

Secondly, I agree that God will not honor us living in sin; however, He is capable of forgiving and forgetting our transgressions and encourages us to “go and sin no more.” While this isn’t an excuse to live in a way that deliberately goes against God’s Word, it doesn’t eternally doom us either if we seek His forgiveness. Similarly, we can make bad choices that aren’t sins per se but are less than wise. Can this put our chances of getting married in a bind? Perhaps, but it comes down to the individual, so it’s unfair to make general assumptions like what Watters does here. Personally, I don’t believe there is a mistake so big that God cannot redeem a life, which is what the Bible shows time and again but what Watters seems to dismiss when it comes to chances for marriage.

Thirdly, Watters believes getting married is all up to you; therefore, if you’re single by age 30 or beyond, you must not have tried hard enough. But what constitutes as “enough” and how do you know when you’ve done “enough”? What if you’ve done “enough” and are still single? Should a woman constantly be moving, changing jobs and churches, registering for online dating sites, globetrotting, and filling up her social calendar? Does that constitute as “enough”? Or what if you do “enough,” meet someone, get married, but later divorce? In retrospect, had you not done “enough”? Seeing as Watters never defines where that mystical line of “enough” begins and ends, it’s open to interpretation by default.

But my biggest question is – where is God in all of this? And this is where Watter’s legalism kicks in: we must be “intentional” in our search for marriage and do everything we possibly can to meet someone. To me, this doesn’t sound like a joyful search but a torturous quest. Granted, I think most married couples would say the path to marriage was riddled with heartache, disappointment, and frustration, yet the end result was worth the wait, however long it took. What Watters is teaching here though is that getting married is entirely in our hands and God is a disinterested bystander. But I strongly disagree. Do singles need to venture from their homes and out into their community? Yes. Yet I fail to see how bloating your social calendar or perpetually globe-trekking is supposed to help other than wear one down and/or speed up the onset of defeatism that Watters subtly offers to older singles as an odd means of encouragement.

The happily married couples I know didn’t meet after a long, arduous search like that Watters proposes. They met in unexpected, unassuming ways – they didn’t travel the world, move to a new city every few years, or go on countless dates with strangers they met online. Yet other folks I’ve known have worn themselves ragged and tried everything Watters suggests yet they remain single. Watters at times likens the search for a spouse to a search for a job; so, in her view, just as you would exhaust all your resources into landing a job, so you must do the same to find a spouse. But that’s a faulty comparison as, other than the two things being “searches,” they share nothing else in common (much like the textbook example of comparing a federal budget to a family budget – their only common ground is that they’re both called “budgets”).

As far as why some Christian ladies struggle to meet men, Watters correctly recognizes that some women behave carelessly, intentionally living in sin, or are around toxic people. But what about women who aren’t doing these things? Watters doesn’t offer much advice to that effect as there is always an undercurrent that your relationship status is somehow your fault. Case in point: she states that claiming the men at your church are not “marriage material” might mean you’re too picky. Though she fails to acknowledge that some churchgoing single men are “pew pimps,” poor stewards, or lazy and immature and not ready for marriage now or ever. She almost entirely ignores this issue and pins blame upon women as being blind to the men around them rather than acknowledge that there can be a poor quality of men in a body of believers.

(Oddly enough, Watters often negates her own advice. On her website, Boundless.org, Watters once answered a woman who asked, “Should I change churches for the sake of meeting more singles?” by encouraging her to stay at her church, claiming boldly that God’s arm isn’t too short to bring a spouse [2]. Yet Watters’ advice in her book is quite the opposite.

If I may veer off-track for a moment, it’s worth noting that Boundless.org is rife with contradictions and bad advice that further cement Watters’ philosophy in Get Married, such as: claiming that being 37 and single is “your” fault and you must do everything in your power to find someone [3]; purporting that online dating is essential to meeting a spouse, even condoning habitual dating where no dates lead to marriage or even a second date [4]; encouraging singles to take a “dating sabbatical,” which, according to other articles on the site, is akin to future marriage suicide [5]; presenting a veiled agnostic view where God takes a disconnected stance in our lives [6]; encouraging singles age 36 and older to substitute the phrase “when I get married” with “if I get married” and embrace the notion of lifelong singleness as marriage “may never come” [7]; and encouraging singles to trust God with their love lives though often later backpedaling to present a Watters-esque “marriage is great and you should strive for it but don’t hope for it too hard because God probably wants you single” type of mentality [8] [9]. Hence, the website’s advice teeter-totters, offering encouragement in one breath while snatching it away in the next, very much like Watters’ book.

Hence, I strongly discourage Christian singles, especially those prone to despondency, to avoid Boundless.org because they will find as much comfort there as they will among the pages of Get Married, which is to say none. To be fair, Watters isn’t the author of most posts but she serves as one of the site’s editors and contributors and her governing philosophy, which is spelled out in this book, is keenly felt. Okay, sidebar over.)

What Watters fails to mention is that delayed marriage isn’t always the result of personal choices, sin, or a failure to “get out there.” Ironically, the entire point of her book is to encourage women to marry well. Yet her implied notion is to marry well while you’re in your 20s, but older singles need to hurry up to “make it happen” before it’s “too late.” Thus, Watters’ thesis is that women should not rush to be wed but need to wed “soon” before they lose their physical attractiveness and/or ability to bear children. Yet logic and common sense dictate that rushing into things is the quickest way to ensure they don’t last.

If I could sum up her views, it would be this: if you’re 18 to 27 years old, don’t rush into things. Pray, follow God, “get out there,” marry well, and have children. But if you’re 28 or older, forget waiting on God: you need to do as much as you can – change jobs, change churches, date online, move, travel, mingle, and hurry up(!) – before you lose your luster and your fertility, but still try to marry well.

In continuation with this issue, here is an example of some of the book’s “proof” for marrying young: “God designed us to marry and start having children in our 20s. Our biology, fertility, sexuality, energy and beauty all reinforce that fact.” Yet Watters never provides specific references (from the Bible, scientific and/or sociological research, case studies, etc.) to support this claim. Granted, there is a verse in Proverbs about enjoying the wife of “your youth” but this is a relative statement as no specific age or age range is presented as an example of what the speaker meant by the word “youth.” Rarely does the Bible focus on the numerical age of a couple. (Abraham and Sarah are the only exception I can think of along with the Genesis genealogies. Interestingly, in the Genesis 11 genealogy, the youngest age listed for one of the fathers is 29! Wouldn’t that make Watters’ toes curl? Forgive me – I’m being snarky but I can’t help it.)

Collectively, Watters’ logic is unsound because she incorporates generic observations rather than concrete proofs as “facts” to support her arguments. For starters, everyone is different. Biology and energy levels are different. Young couples are not immune to having conception or sexual problems. And dismissing the 30s as all but useless for starting a family is disrespectful. Lastly, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so who says the 20s are the high point of physical attraction? Not me and probably not other people, I’d venture to guess.

Watters similarly misses the mark when it comes to failing to address other topics that come into play regarding a person’s marriageability. What about emotional, mental, and spiritual maturity? Do those things truly culminate in the 20s? What about economic stability? Can a 22-year-old man fresh out of college and without a stable job reasonably be able to support a family better than a 32-year-old or a 42-year-old man who has been working for a decade or two? These are critical questions, yet Watters disregards them in favor of external/physical reasons why she thinks people should wed young. Granted, she shows no tolerance for lazy, indecisive, immature men, and rightly so; but her primary concerns seem more wrapped up in external “youth” than inner maturity.

Another area of concern for me was Watters’ focus on women finding a spiritual mentor. In my opinion, a woman’s “life coach” should, first and foremost, be a female family member. Granted, not all women have their families intact and some don’t come from Christian homes or have strong family ties; hence, those women need to seek godly female friends. Yet Watters pushes for establishing close ties with an older woman mainly to try to meet men (she calls this “networking” to further drive home the “spouse search = job search” comparison). Rather than focus on the quality of people you’re around, Watters pushes for quantity (provided this quantity is comprised of quality people).

In my opinion, this whole “life coach” idea, which is in vogue with Christian self-help literature at the moment, should be traversed carefully and cautiously. As someone who was once friends with a person 15 years older than me, I can speak from experience that close relationships with people older than you (who are not family) can become imbalanced as the relationship may turn into a parent-child dynamic or a controlling/manipulative pairing. I’m not talking about being around persons older than you in a group setting as the Bible encourages sharing wisdom and respecting your elders, but it never urges you to pal around one-on-one with someone who is 20+ years older than you.

There is a two-fold danger here that Watters doesn’t fully address. First, anyone you let into your innermost circle must be a mature, responsible, genuinely godly person lest you fall prey to a bad influence. Watters discusses this but not thoroughly enough. Rather than stress that single ladies need their family as their primary supporters, Watters asserts every woman needs to/must land herself an older female mentor who can teach her about life and introduce her to men lest the younger woman miss her chance to get married (as if having a mentor is the the only means by which to meet eligible men). Secondly, these sorts of relationships can turn sour if the younger woman is emotionally blackmailed, mentally abused, or introduced to questionable lifestyles thanks to the “mentor” leading the younger woman astray. Watters would have done well to warn of this. Instead, her belief is more along the lines of: “You don’t have a mentor? Well, go get one!” It’s as simple as picking fruit from a tree. (But didn’t Adam and Eve do that and it didn’t bode so well?)

Yet another sticking point for me was Watters’ remarks about outer beauty (including her assumptions about how the 20s are the culmination of attractiveness). I agree with her that women need to care for their bodies in ways that honor God and to avoid obsessive eating or exercise habits. But Watters states that part of staying attractive means not being “overweight,” a term she never defines but tends to associate (intentionally or not) with slovenliness as she emphasizes maintaining a thin, athletic build. Furthermore, her language was off-putting, asserting that some men like a “rounder, more hugable woman.” But what did she mean by that?

Was it this?
Big Style Miss Piggy

Or more like “Baby Got Back?”
baby-got-back-o
In either case, the language needed to be revised as it seemed to contradict Watters’ previous usage of being “overweight” as unattractive and a sign of laziness. Granted, she concludes by saying men have a wide range of what they consider attractive, which is true, but her choice of words, as well as her logic, could have been vastly improved.

I also thought the chapter on prayer was far too brief and didn’t cover any new ground. In fact, a major component missing from her overall discussion is trusting God. And that was my ultimate issue with this book. So much of the focus is on a legalistic approach where you do 100% of the work (hence the subtitle What Women Can Do to Help it Happen, I suppose). So when you stand at the altar, you can claim in the sight of God and others how you worked so hard and exhausted all of your options to land a husband, how you met your husband through your means, how you orchestrated your circumstances, and how you made all of this possible (cue “Oh Lord, it’s Hard to Be Humble When You’re as Great as Me”).

This isn’t a labor of love, if you ask me, but a labor for love, and such an approach lacks a focus on God’s role, relegating Him to the backseat of our love lives (because the passenger seat might be too generous and the driver’s seat…well, this search is all about you after all!). Watters drops a ton of Bible verses but uses them to support her points rather than the other way around. For instance, one chapter examines the book of Ruth, but rather than analyze the Biblical text, Watters prooftexts it, using it to fit her ideas of how women need to show more aggression in landing a husband. The segments on prayer and trusting God are sparse at best and should have served as the book’s core as opposed to being tossed in sporadically or given a barely-there chapter just because.

Thus, what Watters offers is a legalistic approach where the end result of marriage rests entirely on our shoulders, our past and present circumstances cement our fate, our age is our enemy, and God is a mildly interested bystander whose sovereignty is sorely in question. Granted, she never openly says any of these things but that’s the book’s undercurrent and it’s the most discouraging and damaging message she sells.

Overall, when you break it down, Get Married is simply another product of the Christian self-help market as it has its share of Bible, prayer, and Jesus references so it moves copies to unsuspecting singles. While Watters’ advice to women in their 20s is full of hope and encouragement, her advice to women in their 30s and beyond is more along the lines of “encouraging” you to grit your teeth and accept a state of unwanted lifelong singleness. That’s not helpful; instead, it’s deeply discouraging, dismissive, and even disrespectful.

In closing, I want to add that Candice Watters’ story is exactly that – her story. She married before age 30, so naturally she assumes that should be the norm. But her story doesn’t dictate everyone else’s life. Thus, this book isn’t a road map of how your personal love story will unfold – it’s a pitfall that will only condemn you for not doing “enough.”

Inaudible rage critic angry upset frustrated
Okay, book review rant over! 🙂

Notes:
1. goo.gl/er6TiA
2. goo.gl/u41YNk
3. goo.gl/Vm8xWB
4. goo.gl/MFNwpD
5. goo.gl/t3Atl0
6. goo.gl/hAL2M4
7. goo.gl/2tzvOp (List Item No. 4 in particular)
8. goo.gl/NHKLhK
9. goo.gl/Zmg4j7

 

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