The Duggar family inhabits a specific sort of celebrity that permeates the boundary between fringe and mainstream. On the one hand, the large, religious family has made its living as a reality show subject: to many, they're the friendly-looking bunch with all those kids with J names. On the other hand, the family is active — politically and spiritually — in a cloistered Christian community that prompts them to homeschool their many children, and to remove themselves as much as possible from the world that made them famous.
That, in part, explains the curious juxtapositions of the new book, between the repetition that the Duggars are just like you and me, and the particulars of their religious beliefs. Speaking by phone in March, Jill did most of the talking for her sisters, with their father Jim-Bob Duggar in the room. The women are in different stages of courtship, meaning that their relationship advice (in the broadest sense) is a mix of their experiences and what they've been taught. On this issue of romantic relationships, that's more or less the latter. Jessa, 20, is in the middle of a courtship right now with Ben Seewald. Or possibly engaged to him, if this exchange with the Wire is any indication:
J: Yes ma'am.
W: And you are not engaged.
J: N....[laughter] Tune into next season to find out!
The next season, of course, refers to their ongoing family reality show 19 Kids and Counting. It premieres tonight on TLC. In the past, the family has promoted upcoming seasons by teasing major events, such as an engagement or a new pregnancy. Yesterday, the Duggar clan revealed that Jill, 22, is also in courtship with Derick Dillard.
As the older female Duggar children, Jill, Jessa, Jinger, and Jana have occasionally captured the imagination of viewers who don't necessarily share their beliefs. The internet is filled with speculation on whether one of them, usually Jinger, will rebel and leave the tight-knit family circle. That fantasy sees Jinger becoming a high-profile celebrity for watchdog groups who believe the conservative "Quiverfull" movement harms the children it raises, someone who could confirm what they've always suspected about the family and others like it. But if the book, and their interview with us, is any indication, the older Duggar women have instead grown up into polished, mature, likeable spokespeople for the family business.
The best common ground between the Duggars and the rest of us, strangely, may be found in some of the characteristics the Duggar women believe sets them apart. In the Duggar family, those who date to build relationships are often just "having fun," as opposed to looking for a serious partner. "There's really no permanent commitment there," Jill told The Wire about modern dating. She added that the women hoped readers of their book would learn about what's at the "heart" of how human beings engage with the opposite sex: the"character" and "thoughts" that lead to sexual behavior. In the book and on the phone, the Duggars put dating in opposition to their courtship practices, which focus on "character." Dating is of the world. It's temptation, low self-worth, and peer pressure. Courtship is about long-term prospects.