Taking a break from figuring out the world to lend a blog post about figuring out each other.
In my time I’ve been privy to seeing a lot of relationships. Most of us have. It’s just that since I was younger, my friends usually came to me for advice. Over the years (and decades), I’ve had my hand at talking my guy and girl friends through relationship drama in middle/high school, college, the military and now I guess, in the normal world.
Drama abounds, insecurity abounds. In many ways it’s the same now as it was in the sixth grade. Well…adulthood means the stakes are higher. Being told “nope” when asking someone to prom is a bit easier to deal with than finding out a spouse of 10 years is cheating or that swinging isn’t fixing that need for variety.
Regardless, people need a friend and confidant to check their perceptions of how things are going or get feedback on how to proceed. And, as such a friend, business as an amateur relationship counselor is as booming as ever.
I do think it’s interesting that most of my time listening and giving advice comes from a lack of personal experience. I’ve been single for all but a few scant months of my 33 years. But I’ve seen a hundred wonderful and terrible relationships. I’m happy to act as a sounding board.
And I’m not all together. My friends pour into me quite a bit too as I’ve had my go of things. I’m hardly someone with all the right answers, but I try to listen and grow.
One thing that has been coming up a lot recently with several friends, all in or at the cusp of significant relationships, is this idea of pacing. “Are things moving too fast/slow?” “Will I be able to keep the person’s interest?” “Am I scaring the person off?” That sort of stuff.
There are a lot of books and a general perception in culture about what is a good amount of time for certain milestones. The first/second/third date, long phone talks, first kiss, meeting the folks, meeting the kids, who pays, cooking over, sleeping over; there’s a cadence of cascading intimacy to this stuff. I talk with a lot of people or listen to podcasts. They give me timelines and formulas on when/how these things are supposed to take place.
Which adds stress to the already stressful enterprise of relationships. It also gives way to this sort of game that we play. Do I play hard to get? Does this make me seem too interested? Too clingy? How long should I wait before XYZ? Adding to the stress are the wildly different ranges of time for these things.
Yeah, screw that.
What I’m starting to discover is it’s more important to know yourself and define boundaries than it is to worry about the pacing. It’s more important to make sure you have a bucket to catch the water than to worry about how fast the water is pouring.
Now, there’s a lot of personal searching that needs to happen in defining this bucket (or “container,” whatever…relationships take on many shapes). Am I looking for someone to marry or just casually date? What are my views on sex at various stages of the relationship? What character traits do I need in my significant other? Where are my boundaries concerning respect, making time for the other person, being open, etc.?
All of these things help me figure out what I’m going to accept or reject as I interface with another person. It all helps shape my container and where water is going to land as it starts pouring. I might be flexible on some things, but the personal searching helps me see where I am and am not.
There are entire books about this sort of thing, so enough about all of that. The point is, when I have this idea of the sort of relationship I am ready for, let the water start. I believe whether it’s a trickle or a rush of water, that doesn’t so much matter as if it’s landing in or out of the container.
Make sense? I’ve met couples who rush through the relationship milestones and I’ve met couples who took the better part of a decade to get to the point where they make things permanent. Regardless of pacing, the couples who took the time to be themselves and stay true to what they wanted, lasted. The couples who didn’t have boundaries or expectations tended to fail, regardless of how slow or fast they took things.
So that’s my Dr. Phil moment, I suppose. Don’t be too worried about moving too slow or fast. Be worried about not compromising you. If you’re both pouring into each other in healthy ways that respect the other person, don’t be too stressed about timing.
Valentines Day brings some nastiness in people, depending on who you’re around.
I’m actually a fan of Valentines Day. Any chance to stop and celebrate a special someone in your life is pretty damned awesome, in my book. I’m a flowers guy. I’m a handwritten note, guy. I’m a “yes I was listening when you said you liked this” guy.
But not all people are this way. I’ve come to learn that Valentines Day is a pretty volatile holiday, full of all sorts of flare-ups and outbursts from smoldering grievances, in addition to the normal happy gushy stuff.
It can be kind of tragic. What sometimes gets me about Valentines Day is all of the anger, loneliness and lamented emptiness that seems to come out around this time. It takes many forms, but altogether, it’s especially hard to see relational hurt in ourselves and others on a day that’s supposed to celebrate relationships. In some ways, it’s worse than being alone on Christmas, or not having a place to go on Thanksgiving. Valentines Day can be a bummer because it calls out that old-school realization that even God noticed, “It is not good for man to be alone.”
But there’s something to be said for a little dose of solidarity. As I see all of the pro-Valentines and anti-Valentines Day rants on FB and elsewhere, it might be good to take a minute or two and see what’s up.
So, let’s examine some of the Valentines Day detractors in an effort to understand where they’re coming from and, perhaps, how we can still give ‘em a hug, despite the holiday hate. “Come’ere, you grouchy jerk!”
Several groups of Valentines haters exist. We would do well to notice the differences. Now, this isn’t a comprehensive list (feel free to add more types in the comments below), but it’s a good place to begin.
“I hate everything.”
Starting off, we have the people who hate romance. They hate sappiness. They hate it when others show their love publicly. Of course “hate” is pretty hyperbolic, but we know what I’m getting at. These people just generally get all Grinch-y when around lovey-dovey stuff.
To reach these people, we don’t necessarily need to agree with them. These cats are usually best left alone. Give them their space. Yes, it’s too bad they are too buttoned up to let themselves go and make a card, write a poem or whatever, but some people aren’t wired for that sort of thing.
And we can understand at certain levels, right? We’ve all been around THAT couple who gets a little too into each other in public. Spit noises during make-outs at a restaurant? The guy’s hand down his girl’s jeans late night on the D.C. Metro? See? Solidarity. We know where these types of detractors are coming from. So ease off a bit around these types.
“I hate that you have it.”
Another group of people rage or resist against the romance, but it’s a response to the fact they don’t have anyone. I tend toward this group, if I’m being honest. With all of the swings and misses, it can be difficult to see the millions of my friends who have someone (nay—the BILLIONS of my friends). I still think open hostility toward the holiday is the wrong way to go, but I do feel a bit put off sometimes, sure.
People in this category, if they’re ranting, just need to rant. They may try and pop balloons and rain on parades, but when it’s time for them to have a Valentine, they’ll be fine. They’ll come around.
“I hate the idea of having it at all.”
Then there are the people who rage against the holiday because of the commercialization of things. I personally find these rants pretty funny. The people in this group have a bevy of righteous anger toward the monetization of romance—standing tall against the need to purchase things for their S.O. and generally railing against the whole idea of Valentines Day. “Resist, you sheep! Don’t be brainwashed! Boycott Valentines Day!”
But seriously, I suppose most can decide how they want to respond to these types of Valentines Day haters. I usually try and remind them that, as capitalists, I’m surprised they have a problem with the monetization of anything. Yes, we’re programmed to buy a bunch of stuff we don’t need on this holiday under the guise of love. See also doing so under the guise of giving thanks or Jesus being born. It’s what we do.
Well, come to think of it, that probably won’t win over any of these types of people. So, maybe throw a “USA USA USA” chant in there at the end? It’s Olympic season, after all.
So, go forth and love the hell out of these people who hate Valentines Day. And above all, lighten up. Be happy for your friends who are happy, and be there for your friends who aren’t. You know…like most days.
I believe in a Creator. A lot of people of various faiths and backgrounds do. I am of the Judeo-Christian tradition in that I believe that humans were created in the image of the Creator.
That doesn’t mean that God has a body with 10 fingers and 10 toes, but this “image” can be thought of as one of make-up or overarching disposition. Specifically, one way we bear God’s image is we yearn to create.
Humans create. We build things. We develop tools. We construct buildings. We write music. We write poetry. We knit. We cook. We run races. We create and give awards. We celebrate accomplishments—creating memorials and days of remembrance.
And this is all well and wonderful. But you will notice a subtle change when actually examining artists, musicians and artisans as they create. Human creators, when speaking about their work, are often tortured souls. There is a tension and sense of sacrifice when an artist gives birth to a creation—and even that analogy—giving birth—brings up images of pain and blood in the ushering in of new life into the world.
Sometimes, when listening to artists as they describe their projects, I’ll hear phrases like, “I poured my soul into it” or “I gave it everything I had.”
Is this healthy? Should we creators feel so connected to what we create?
I’m not saying there should be no connection, but perhaps less? Naturally, God feels some connection to his creation—he gave his son at great sacrifice to reconcile it and loves us immeasurably. That’s another topic entirely. But have you ever considered that God is not defined by his creation? Love it as he may (and does), God’s identity is not bound to creation. When creation succeeds or fails in terms of expressing the larger good, God is still God, regardless. Our acceptance or rejection of him doesn’t make him lose sleep. Our failure to treat others with justice and compassion doesn’t make him less just or compassionate.
So, as amateur creators (amateur in compared to the Almighty), should we, as we create, feel as connected to our work as we often do? As I write this blog, or work on a novel, or pen an essay…should I allow myself to feel such elation or utter defeat when it is praised or denounced in public reception?
Because, let me tell you, one of the hardest things I had to do as a teacher of journalism was to instill in my students the idea that my rejection of their stories was not a rejection of their person. I can’t tell you how many times I saw students deflated and beaten down when I had to tear apart their work. I did it out of love—an editor who needed to correct the grammar and structure of a burgeoning writer’s first steps. Correcting spelling and grammar was necessary for success in their careers. However, it was very surprising how personally most of my students took my criticism.
They put too much of their identity in their work. They lived and died by the praise or criticism of their teacher. And I don’t think that’s healthy. That’s my point. I don’t think it’s good that we “pour our soul” into things or “lose ourselves” in things. It’s too much. What we make doesn’t define who we are.
As a journalist, I had to develop thick skin. Editors hated my work. Readers hated my work. Hell, I was called and cursed out by dozens of parents of high-school athletes, commanders of misquoted units, organizers of misrepresented events. On and on, there seems no end to the vitriol in responses to stories I’ve written. At a certain point, I had to distance myself from the things I created. So much so, that now when I run into rejection, be it romantic, social or professional, I’m much faster in my recovery, because I try to cultivate a distance between what I make and who I am.
I think that creation is sacred. I believe that when we create, be it a love letter for our significant other, a house as a part of our job, or a blog post—I believe any of those things are ways we express our being made in the image of God. I believe it’s really awesome when we make stuff and when we can join together in celebrating others when they make stuff.
But, I think we should be careful to not tie ourselves to our creations overmuch. What we create shouldn’t define our identity. And in keeping that distance, we actually liberate ourselves to create more freely, more naturally, more consistently.
And it’s a good thing, because if this first book I’m writing ends up terrible, I need to feel good about myself, afterwards!
After basic training, soldiers go on to attend advanced individual training. There, they learn the skills necessary for their chosen jobs. Mechanics go learn to be mechanics, infantry learn infantry stuff…that sort of thing.
Lo’ and behold, I was attending my AIT, trying to become the least embarrassing writer I could in the span of three months. One of our little rituals was walking to and from class in formation—that is, all orderly, neat and with called cadence and marching. Since clutching an armful of books, pens and binders didn’t exactly contribute to the ‘orderly’ part, most of us went to the local base exchange (store) and purchased an all-black backpack. All black being the only real approved color of bag to carry while in uniform.
The base exchange of course carried the no-logo, no-show stitching, completely boring backpacks. I think they all ran about $10.
I still have mine, and it is a complete badass.
I’ve carried this thing all over the world. Not only did it assist me during AIT in becoming the prose-flinging orangoutang you see before you, but it has been through more life and hard living in the last 10 years than some people experience in their entire lives.
It went on vacations to see the folks on the West Coast, friends up in the Midwest, New England, the south; spending time in the cold confines of airline luggage bays. It was lashed to military pallets, carried by Chinooks and Blackhawks to war-torn corners of the world. I would stretch out the straps and toss it on top of my ruck while deployed—as a little secondary pack. It was tied to the outside of humvees, sat with me in the gun turrets of trucks on mission. It has endured smoke, dust, paint, CS gas—even got some blood on it from unarmed combatives training and a not-so-fun time while deployed.
The thing was shot at, shoved, crammed, yanked, attacked by animals (feral dogs in Iraq are no joke). It was dropped off boats, left in the blistering sun on tarmacs and bored to death under my cots during unending field problems.
And after returning to civilian life, it was with me as I traveled to Europe, enjoying the sun on leisurely drives up and down mountains. It stuck with me on my quest for Incan ruins as I huffed it in the Andes during not-so-leisurely climbs up and down washed out paths and harrowing drop-offs.
Scuba diving? Yup. Its black fabric was encrusted with salt from the spray and splashing of both the Atlantic and Pacific. The thing tagged along when I learned to surf in Nicaragua and almost made a trip to Japan for snowboarding, but its owner had to be a jerk and cancel. Whoops.
And it still works like a boss—zippers zip and all that. I joke about how attached I am to the thing, and in writing this all down, it is sort of crazy.
But, be that as it may, that was the best damned $10 I ever spent on a bag. Keep on keepin’ on, little buddy.
Well well, look at that…2014. Going to take me a few months to get used to writing the new number.
I remember back in 1997-1999, I was a little punk kid (ok maybe not THAT punk of a kid for reasons stated after this parenthetical) who was overly concerned with the Y2K bug (see…science/tech geeks have limited punk appeal). I was honestly and significantly worried that society was about to collapse—or that, at the very least, our economy was about to take a tumble.
I had read lots of articles and coincidentally started learning the art of the informed diatribe—something I’ve stumbled into on many subjects in the subsequent decade. Whether it was in front of family members, friends or parents of friends, I would often get the ear of an interested adult and enrapture them in 5-15 minutes of impassioned conversation about the impending end of the world when the clock struck 1/1/2000.
I had enough wherewithal and actual data to seem like I knew what the hell I was talking about—all of us Y2K believers did. It just made sense, right?
And it turned out to be total bupkis. That was the end of that.
I even remember a TV movie that tried to cash in on the paranoia. Jennifer Lopez had a video where the power went out for a few seconds, but then reconnected to a flurry of oomp-oomp-oomp-oomp dance beats.
In my thousand years on this earth, I’ve seen a lot of New Years. People get ramped up about this or that, someone has a kid, someone gets a divorce, there’s a new car, new something else…whatever. There’s plenty to get wrapped up over. Mostly it turns out to be nothing.
Sometimes people make resolutions at New Years. Sometimes people don’t (and lob a long explanation of why resolutions are terrible). Mostly, though, people go on living.
And so, that’s what I’m looking forward to—the whole living thing. I’m going to enjoy life more. Truth be told, I already am. God loves me, the folks love me, and I have a group of friends that grow me into a better man. So I’m good. More than good. I’m fantastic—especially considering that every year after Y2K has been a bonus, right?
So happy New Year! I get the feeling 2014 is going to be pretty awesome.
I made it to the West Coast to see the folks a couple of weeks ago.
My father is from Kentucky and my mother is from Oregon. They met at a holiday picnic in San Diego while they were both in the Navy. They’ve ended up in Oregon after long last and I get the chance to see them as I can. Being the crazy world traveler myself, there are often spans of time when I’m away.
This time it was two years since I’d been back—longer than I had anticipated. The last couple of years have been a bit tricky, from a workload perspective. The good news is, as many know, I’ve been making strides to take being a workaholic off my priorities. That should let me get back to more regular connections.
What I noticed in the days leading up to visiting, though, was how immediate my memories were of my parent’s house. While I was packing and getting ready to leave Texas, I thought back—two years ago, and remembered things about my parent’s house like I had just been there.
Funny how our mind does that, isn’t it? Some memories are immediate—seemingly hard coded into who we are, able to be brought to the forefront despite time and space. I thought back to the recent year I spent in North Carolina, with all the meetings and deadlines and late nights at the office, trade shows and dramatic competitive developments…I thought back to all that and they didn’t seem as vivid as the things remembered from my parent’s house.
I spent far more time in the halls of my office rather than those of my folks’ house, but I could still remember the detail of some of the lighthouse miniatures, the way the photos were hung in the computer room, the glossy leaves of the bonsai tree in the kitchen.
Some memories are towering monuments of our lives, standing tall and in vivid detail, despite their passing years or decades ago. Some are put away and forgotten, despite how important they may have been.
It doesn’t fall along “things I want to remember” lines. There are often times I wish I remembered more about high school or my day-to-day in Iraq that I simply don’t.
I just think it’s interesting how the mind’s archives coalesce.