Is Chick Lit Hurting Your Marriage?
By Shawnee Randolph
Curled up in my large papasan chair, with a warm French roast blend coffee, I opened the first page of a book I recently purchased. Earlier when I walked into the Christian bookstore to browse for books, I hoped to find something that would make my marriage seem better. Perhaps a nonfiction story about a dying and corrupted marriage, a marriage a hundred times worse than my own, would help.
I walked past the Christian living section, past the row of women’s books, farther and farther away from the devotional aisle. I was inextricably drawn to the beautiful display of fiction books. I paused. My hand seemed to move on its own, reaching for the green, pink, and white book, a cartoon of a woman clearly on a shopping spree on the cover.
I looked over my shoulder. Could it be possible? Christian chick lit? I felt like a teenager going to Starbucks for the first time and ordering a caramel Frappuccino. Like the youth who didn’t know coffee could taste like candy, I didn’t realize chick lit could be Christian.
I sipped my coffee as I read my new book. With each page I turned, I found that the characters’ problems were identifiable and the relationship interactions, relatable. Throughout the book the main character was on a major spiritual journey of finding out who she really was and her purpose in life.
However, reading between the lines, I found the book to be eerily like the secular chick lit books many women enjoy. An underlying theme in both Christian and secular chick lit is at least one central character’s obsession with finding the perfect male-female relationship. The heroines search for the dramatic romance story that makes the heart want to somersault right out of the chest. In secular books, the character’s sole purpose is to unearth their worth in a man in order to feel power or security; and doing so often means sleeping with any willing guy. Even though the Christian novel was whitewashed and shined to perfection, the heroine was so desperate to find the right man that she ended up in the arms of the wrong one.
I reflected on my own life: feelings of inadequacy plus all those years when I felt only a man could make my life complete.
My husband and I married young. Going into it I heard all the warnings, “Marriage is a team sport.” I embraced the challenge. I was willing to fight for a marriage that would last decades. What I didn’t realize, however, is that not everyone has a perfect proposal, an exquisite engagement, or a year-long, blindingly-blissful honeymoon period. That is of course what I learned from fairy tales: My dashing prince would woo me for several months while we courted; declare his love for me so all the world could hear; swoop me onto his wild steed, and we’d ride into the bright orange sunset while the narrator read, “and they lived happily ever after.”
Unfortunately, that time period for us wasn’t Hollywood’s prescription for perfect. My husband’s proposal was sweet, but no airplane message in the sky. Our engagement was an exhausting time of family members making wedding plans for us, while we tried to figure out where we’d live. We had an amazing honeymoon, but once we got home we were thrust into full- time ministry. On top of that, we both had part-time jobs and I was still in college. We were so burnt out from our first year of marriage and ministry that we packed up all our belongings and moved two hours south, just to get away from it all.
Not long after moving, my two best friends came to visit me. At Starbucks, my supermodel of a friend, Brittany, shared the details of her adventure in finding love – flawless love it seemed. She exuberated happiness. My other gorgeous, yet more cynical friend, Michelle, and I listened enviously. Then out came the pictures. Britt and Steve were cuddly, smoochy, and gazed at each other with stars in their eyes.
Brittany paused to take a sip of her venti perfection. I started babbling about what my life lacked, how my husband wasn’t romantic, and didn’t pick his socks up off the floor, and how he watched sports. If Brittany could have her love story, then why couldn’t I? She then gave me some of the most naïve advice ever, “Just go home and give him a big hug and a kiss and tell him that you love him.”
After meditating on seasons of Starbucks past, feelings of insufficiency invaded my mind. I again picked up my book and took refuge in the pages of the desirable love story. In the final chapters, the heroine got her happily-ever-after kiss on the beach. He may not have been Prince Charming, but he was a man and that was all she wanted. The only life lesson she seemed to learn is that overly used saying designated for desperate people, “Beggars can’t be choosers.”
I couldn’t believe what I had just read. The novel was clean, and the character did grow spiritually in that she learned to settle for a not-so-perfect human being, but the author still placed a strong emphasis on the importance of a romantic love relationship. It seemed as though the author, perhaps unintentionally, was telling the audience, “Only a man and a perfect relationship will make your life complete.”
Putting the book down, I realized much of the hurt I had been feeling about my marriage was one part young and tired, and another part unrealistic expectations brought on by media and culture. I found Brittany’s advice wasn’t as naïve as I had thought. When I stepped back to take a look at my life, I came to the understanding that most of my problems with my husband were my problems. I am not romantic. I tend to leave my shoes and towels and dirty clothes as well. And I may not watch sports, but I have my shows that must go uninterrupted. Brittany was right; I needed to let go for a moment and focus on what really matters. I love my husband, and he loves me.
Although books, movies, and culture tell me I am only as good as the man in my life or as the romance story I do or don’t live, they’re lying. I love and adore my husband to the best of my human capabilities, but only Jesus Christ will complete my life. When I feel my marriage doesn’t measure up to fairy tale status, chick lit (Christian or secular) won’t steam my milk. I left my papasan chair and grabbed my dusty Bible. I should not run into the arms of fiction, but to the Lord.
As I read God’s Word I found this invaluable truth: “As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you” (Isa. 62:6). My Savior doesn’t just love and adore me; He rejoices over me – this is my romance novel.
Sometimes we need a safe place to hide in order to get away from expectations of having a perfect life. When we’ve had enough and can’t take the pressure any longer, it’s time to get a godly perspective on our relationships and marriages. Instead of turning to worldly escapes like fiction or movies, it is best to turn to the Lord for guidance and comfort. I love this passage: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). What a love story! Jesus Christ gave up his life, suffered on the cross, and bore the weight of all our sins, just because He loves us.
Now, as I start each morning with a cup of coffee, with the Lord’s help, I am making it a habit to not compare my marriage to others or to the characters in books. Instead, I am trying to compare my character to God’s Word. Revitalizing the soul is the best lit this chick will turn to.
If you feel as if you’ve been turning to other sources of comfort rather than to Jesus, pray this prayer with me:
Lord Jesus, give me the strength I need to turn to you when I feel like comparing my life to others. Lord, help me realize that all lives and marriages are different and that no relationship can even compare to the one I have with You. Jesus, You are my Knight in Shining Armor. Thank You for loving me enough to die for me. Father, I know I can find my worth and value in Your eyes. Praise Your precious name for all You’ve done in my life. Amen.