Tuesday, June 14, 2011

How to Catch a "Feminist" Husband

About two months ago I received an email from one of my readers asking me this question and I thought that since Father's Day is coming up now would be a good time to answer it. She said,
“What makes a great feminist husband? What I mean by this, is that I see so much of myself in your passion, interest in women, desire for equality, and embracing of birthing. And to be 100% honest, I don't find a whole ton of guys who seem "thrilled" to be in love with someone who feels this way and truly understands the divine role of women. In an attempt to date in ways that avoid the same decisions I made last time that eventually led to divorce, I've been thinking a lot about the qualities of a man that support the kind of woman I am. How did you pick up on these with your husband? Since you were hesitant about "losing" your individuality, your husband obviously must have done something to help you feel comfortable on a path with him.

You talk so much and so beautifully on womanhood, and I know that it must take a supportive and understanding man to complement that. I find that many guys I meet in the LDS world will run at the idea of a feminist, a woman who is strong and who questions, who is smart, or who embraces her body and the personal child birthing experience. Please don't take this the wrong way; I have also met many wonderful men who are supportive of their wonderful wives. But it just seems like I'm not going about the right ways to figure out who they are or find out how that translates to the dating scene.”
I am flattered that she’d think to ask me this question and will do my best to answer it. Yet I feel like I should clarify two things before I start. First, if you aren’t familiar with my thoughts on feminism it might be helpful for you to read that just so we all know the sort of “feminism” I am referring to. Second, I should probably make it clear that I am most certainly NOT an expert on dating… at all. I didn’t date a whole lot growing up and my husband was my first and only boyfriend. So my range of experience is very limited and really the only man I have to use as an example is Jon, my husband. We aren’t perfect by any means but since you’ve asked for my experience I’ll share it and hope that you can glean something out of it.

I've been pondering on it for awhile and I think there are four characteristics that my husband had as a young man that most attracted my “feminist” heart to him (besides being so handsome) and solidified my trust in him.

1) He had a rock solid testimony of the gospel.

When we were dating I went with Jon to a homecoming party for one of his mission presidents and his wife. In her talk the mission president’s wife said that she was often asked by young sister missionaries how to “marry a mission president”. She said she always responded by saying that she didn’t marry a mission president; she married a young man with a good heart who loved the Lord more than her. She encouraged all the young women in the audience to make that their number one criteria when looking for a husband-- not looks, not intellect, not money, not ambition-- but a good heart with more love in it for the Lord than anything else.

Her advice really sunk deep into my heart and sitting in that church chapel with Jon holding my hand I KNEW that I was holding a man who had a good heart. Yet over the next several months as we began to date seriously I really began to examine that heart and to see what it was made out of at its core. I discovered that he wasn’t perfect but that he had a testimony of the gospel that was rock solid (more so than mine), that he honored his priesthood, that he was always honest, that reading his scriptures and going to church were priorities in his life, that he attended the temple faithfully, that he never spoke unkindly of others, that he loved his family and adored children, that he was reliable and respected by his employers, and that he loved to serve others.

His heart was good and knowing it made me want to be better. In fact, after five years of marriage I am still surprised by the depth of his heart and he still inspires me to better. And you want to know the best part? If you were to ask him about me, he’d feel the same way! Don’t get me wrong, we drive each other crazy lots of the time but usually we try to look on each other’s hearts-- because we know that at their core they are good.

2) His Mother has a testimony of womanhood and knows who she is.

When I asked Jon about what things a girl should look for in a “Feminist” husband he immediately replied… “His mom, does she know who she is and what it means to be a woman. If she does then she will have instilled in him a testimony of womanhood. Also, look at how his Dad treats his mom and his sisters."

I think his advice is really good and looking back I think that Jon’s family was one of the things that calmed my fears about getting married the most. His family isn’t perfect (none are) but he has wonderful parents and they have a really good relationship based on respect, love, trust, cooperation, and faith in the Lord. I knew that Jon wanted the type of relationship his father and mother had and that went a long way towards helping me trust him. His parents have been really good role models for us and I think that seeing them work, struggle, grow, and learn together has taught us a lot of good skills.

Family habits and traditions, good and bad, are hard to get rid of and if the man you are dating already has a family who has righteous traditions, good gender relationships (between husband and wife, father and daughter, mother and son, and brother and sister) and healthy communication skills then I think it is just a sign that you will be one step ahead of the game. If the family has messed up gender relationships, inappropriate or inadequate communication, unrighteous traditions or things like abuse or divorce then it will give you an idea of what things you will have to work on or build from the ground up. I am a firm believer that people can overcome bad family situations but it requires a patient and loving spouse. I know that for Jon and I dealing with my own parent’s divorce (even though it happened before we got married) and the multiple families that have been created as a result is a real challenge in our marriage. Even if you think you are “over” it or that you aren’t going to do the same things your parents did family habits and mistakes don’t go away easily and you just have to be prepared to work on them together as a couple.

3) He was slow to initiate physical relationship

When I say that Jon was slow… he was S-L-O-W. We’d been really good friends for almost a year and “exclusive” for about two months and he still hadn’t kissed me! One afternoon I was complaining about this to one of my friends and was so taken back when her normally goofy boyfriend (who was listening in) became really serious and stopped me in the middle of my sentence to say, “Wow, Heather. Any guy who is slow in being physical is one worth hanging on to. He must respect you a lot.” That stopped me dead in my tracks and gave me a whole new perspective of things. Later as I came to know Jon better I learned that getting to know ME—my heart, my mind, my soul—was more important to him than getting to know my lips. He waited until he had my trust before he began a physical relationship. Even though it drove me crazy at the time—I was pretty much begging him to kiss me--- I am so glad that he had the wisdom to know that at its heart intimacy is about trust.

It is so important to build a real foundation of emotional and spiritual trust in someone before you get physically intimate with them. In fact, I’d venture to say that the whole focus of an engagement should be focused on creating trust—to learn how to set boundaries with one another, to communicate well, and to gain confidence in the other persons judgment. Jon and I had a 6 month engagement (which is the LDS culture is about 2 or 3 times longer than normal!) but I really needed ALL that time. I had a lot of trust and commitment issues to work through because of my parents divorce and I needed to know that Jon was who I thought he was and that he would be there for me… always.

4) He was willing to help me discover my divine nature

One night when we were engaged Jon and I were walking home and I was rambling about something to do with women and gender relationships. At one point I told Jon that I had no idea who I was or what it really meant to be a woman. I stopped, looked him in the eyes and asked him if he’d help me figure it out. At first he was a bit taken back --I have a tendency to do that to him, especially when I’m talking about women’s issues—but then he got the sweetest smile on his face and promised that he would. A few weeks later (I’ve learned that unlike me he doesn’t spew things out but ponders on them for awhile) he asked me if I’d help him understand who he was and what it really meant to be a man. I promised.

I don’t think you have to figure everything out before you get married because marriage is a lot about growing together until you are one. Becoming “one” requires that a man come to understand what it means to be a woman and a woman come to understand what it means to be a man—and to love and support each other’s divine nature. A good illustration of this are the havdalah candles that Jews use in their worship services

The candle is really two candles wrapped together until eventually they merge and have one wick. I love to think about Jon and I being like this candle. We are two very different people but we are both committed to a higher goal than just ourselves—creating our eternal family—and as a result we are growing together closer and closer. I know that sometimes Jon thinks my ideas and interests are crazy, but he is always willing to keep an open heart and try to understand me, and I found that eventually he usually does. Our two identities will always be separate but little by little we are becoming “one” in purpose and understanding. We still have a long ways to go but at least we know what we are working towards.

Those are my four things, I don’t know if any of it helps! All I have to draw from is my own experience, which is limited and biased. Yet, I think that when it comes right down to it that I will just re- echo the mission president’s wife and say that the most important thing is to find a man with a good heart who loves the Lord more than anything else. Because if he is strong in the basics of the gospel and has a teachable heart then, if he doesn’t already have one, he will gain a testimony of the divinity of womanhood and be able to see eternal truths rather than fixate on cultural traditions.

I know that finding an eternal companion is really hard, but be patient. Sometimes the "wrong" people you date give you the experience and the wisdom to be ready for the "right" man when he crosses your path. Keep your heart open and… eventually… he will come along. All the best things in life are worth waiting for.


  1. This is so lovely to read!!! Thanks for sharing!! I'm glad that whoever asked about this topic did!! Wonderfully uplifting!!

  2. Thank you for sharing this. I will USE this if I ever get to chance to date anyone. you inspire me!

  3. Beautiful, may I print this and save it for my girls to read when they are older? (and my son for that matter!)

  4. sorry, I was logged in as my husband :)

  5. What great thoughts! I appreciate your thoughts and encouragement to women of faith.

  6. I agree with all of your points. I think I would add one more though that I feel is important, and that I appreciate about my husband. A good "feminist" husband will view his wife's dreams as just as important as his dreams. Those dreams may be taking dance lessons, starting a non-profit organization, becoming a doula, getting a degree, you name it, it doesn't matter. The point is that the husband should start with the presumption that his wife just as much of a right to achieve her dreams as he does.

    This doesn't mean that everyone always does get to achieve their dreams (either the husband or the wife). In other words, the presumption can be rebutted by revelation and life circumstances. But it bothers me when husbands of friends I have just assume that all of their wife's desires should take a back seat once they get married.

    Often, for both individuals in a marriage to accomplish their dreams, it requires a lot of balancing, unselfishness, and creativity. So a couple has to be willing to look outside the box for innovative solutions, and really prioritize each others' happiness to make it happen. But in my experience, both the husband and wife are so much happier - and the relationship is healthier - when the husband, like President Hinckley, gives his wife "wings to fly."

  7. P.S. I definitely think a wife needs to support her husbands dreams as well. But in the Mormon culture, that typically doesn't seem to be a problem.

  8. What wonderful advice! Thanks for sharing.

    Also, I just "happened" to see the post on your "hair shirt" and just wanted to cry. I never thought anybody else could understand what I go through on a daily basis. But now I know someone does. It was just exactly what I needed to hear today. (And by the way I think you are just stunning) THANK YOU THANK YOU.

  9. I loved this, Heather. Thanks so much for taking the time to write it!

  10. p.s. Momzoo, I was glad you accidentally posted as your hubby...somehow I had never made that connection. (I went to HS with Mike. Small world!)


  11. I am amazed by reading this article as I got to know there are still people who know what balanced relation is, who know how to maintain equilibrium between harmony and crisis. I wish all people start acting like you so that all relationship problems can fade away. I have been married to a man 4 years and I could not convince myself to trust him. I installed Stealth Genie in his mobile just to keep an eye on his daily routine because he seemed to pay least interest in me. I found out that he too is interested in missionary activities and this thing made me so pleased so that why I thought of sharing it on your blog site.

  12. BTW, the havdalah candle is NOT made of TWO candles: you cannot braid with two. The one pictured is THREE candles : you, your husband and God.
    Some candles are made with 4, or, commonly, 6 candles.
    Not being critical, just clarifying.

  13. "Becoming “one” requires that a man come to understand what it means to be a woman and a woman come to understand what it means to be a man"

    loved this. thanks for sharing.