LINK: Via Emily Hale, I saw an essay by Harvey Mansfield on the hook-up culture at colleges, about which I don't have very much to say. However, it deals, in part, with the 'purity culture' established at a number of Christian schools (and that finds an outpost in evangelical protestant youth culture more generally), about which I have much to say.

One observation: as Mansfield notes, the primary effect of the contemporary evangelical approach to relationships is to raise the stakes of marriage to the point it becomes a kind of single-minded obsession. As a matter of logic, the approach will lead to more early marriages, and there's nothing wrong with that; but it should also delay a lot of people in their decision to marry, because it changes the decision-making calculus. To marry is, at the bottom, to make a guess about your compatibility over a long period of time; when you make the decision, you have a lot of information about compatibility now, and, at best, speculation about the future. Nothing complicated there: people make decisive, life-altering decisions every day (going to grad school, for example). But catch this up with the (sometimes unrealistic) expectations of romance when wooing/being wooed, the emphasis on marriage that makes being single into one's mid-20s a sign of personality defect (evangelical culture has but refuses to muster the resources that could lessen the casual shame that attaches to the single*), and the infrequency of male-female relationships at differing levels of intimacy**, and it's enough to make a person neurotic.

*I love almost everything about my church, but the invisibility of being single is maddening.

**I can envision an approach to dating that takes some of the good parts of courtship culture (making sure, early on, both sides have the same general opinions about marriage and family) while avoiding some of the bad parts (the assumption that one does not date unless one realistically anticipates marrying the other person in the relationship, should all go well), that would make it possible to recognize, early on, that if the relationship does not work out, it won't be the end of the world, and that some male-female pairings are better off as friends, even close friends, than as a relationship (and some male-female pairings are even better in a relationship than as friends), while not stamping out the possibility that the person you're dating is someone good to share a life with, which is, ostensibly, the reason why people like me spend any time at all thinking about dating, courtship, or marriage.

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