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!
A couple of weeks ago I started a post on Facebook, asking people to give me some possible blog topics.
The responses ranged from unicorns to the national debt to murder. In fact, the friend of mine who suggested murder simply wrote it. Murder. There in the list of other serious and funny suggestions.
Don’t know why it stood out, but it did. So this will be a post about murder. Macabre, I know, but let’s see how it goes.
It’s not going to be a post about guns…or video games…or certain countries and their propensities for violence.
No, this post is going to try and speak to the core of ourselves, our purpose and why murder is so damned destructive.
As many of you know (or don’t), I’m a Christian guy. My thinking springs from this background and heritage, both the good and the bad, and the ongoing story of humanity as one of love and reconciliation between God and man. I believe in truth, justice and love.
As it is, I believe that a higher power that created us. I believe we are created beings…attach millions, hundred thousands, thousands of years to that overall process–let’s not get into that here. But there’s the persistent idea for me that we are created beings.
The Hebrew and Christian scriptures talk about how we were created in God’s image. This is a topic of great discussion and is the basis for much of the urgings for us to treat others with respect and kindness. As we are each cast in the image of the creator, we should strive to respect and defend the lives of others. But being an image of God is not just physical, it speaks to who we are and how we are made up.
We were born with the biological ability to create. We can make more. We can add to the world. In fact, we were asked to do this. We were asked to participate in the ongoing creation of Creation. We can fill the Earth with others like ourselves. We are created beings who can create.
This yearning to create doesn’t stop with procreation. What separates us from nearly all animals is our ability to create other things as well. We can make tools like some other animals, sure, but also sonnets, poetry, buildings, statues, canvases. We celebrate artists and musicians, architects and builders–men and women who create and carve and sculpt. We are created beings, made in the image of the creator, who want to create.
But the world has evil, which corrupts and detracts from the goodness that is there. We can see it in the earliest examples of family. The first brothers, Cain and Abel, killed each other. The first family was dysfunctional. The very first. Killing and violence has been with us from nearly the beginning.
Killing itself is deconstruction. It is the ending of life. It is the termination of the ongoing creative process of the cells, thoughts and experiences of an organism. Killing is a violent and disruptive act.
However, murder is worse. It is the insidious evil intent that drives a thought-filled being to willfully conduct violence to end another’s life.
It is the opposite reason we were made. It is more than an act. Murder is the willful rejection of every purpose set in our hearts by God. It is a fusing of our minds and souls with violent hate–the most “unnatural” of mindsets. Remember, we were made in love, our souls forged from the wellspring of Godly love. We were carried and birthed into the world with great pain and sacrifice by our mothers. In living out our purpose, we create.
No wonder war is so damaging to the psyche. No wonder it fractures and ravages the mind. Have you ever thought about it?
It is because in order to conduct war (unfortunately necessary as it might be), those who would throw themselves into the maw of violence must steel themselves and kill off portions of their heart. Those who serve in uniform must take the natural divinely inspired respectful regard for other humans and replace it with an non-human image of those people.
In examining battle reports after WWII, it was discovered that roughly half of soldiers involved in combat never fired their rifles. They trained by shooting at circle targets, but when faced with the image of another human, they froze. They couldn’t bring themselves to kill. As a response, human-shaped silhouettes were later used, desensitizing soldiers to the idea of shooting someone in their (and God’s) image.
We talk about “them” in hateful terms. We stir anger and hatred in our hearts, cultivate it, nurture it, spread it. After a while, we are less uncomfortable with killing others.
In the end you have those “rough men who stand ready to do violence on their behalf” as George Orwell said. And we celebrate those men and women for their sacrifice to safeguard us all. But it sheds some light as to why so many are haunted by what they’ve experienced. Coping with this season of violence and death is, at its core, the antithesis for how we were created to live. It is why these men and women need our support even as they leave those chapters of their lives behind.
However, this process of becoming more comfortable with the destruction of others is not just something that happens in war or by deranged lunatics in our midst. This process of degrading someone’s humanity can happen within us every day.
From pangs of hate cultivated through our conversations come racism, oppression…anything that allows us to greet our brothers and sisters not with compassion and respect, but with disdain.
“They” are good for nothing. “They” take our jobs. “They” don’t believe what I believe. “They” do things that I don’t like.
Never mind God loves “them.” Every one of them. Never mind that, right?
We can choose to either build others up or, through malicious talk, work toward the end goal of reducing another person to a non-human. People often say “you shouldn’t use bad words…it’s in the Bible.” Sort of. The admonition against saying words in anger to curse (and thus make worthless) other humans is in the Bible. Those curses and angry words usually involve profane words. However the spirit behind this command is not to keep us from saying naughty words. It is the urging for us to not tear each other down in what we say–to not degrade the humanity of others by de-valuing them.
In small ways every day, we move away from the ideals of compassion and toward murderous intent. We may not think we’re cultivating murderous intent, but the movements are subtle.
Instead of rushing to the aid of those hurting, we grow complacent to let them suffer. Eventually we say we’d be better off without them. And if someone shipped them off…or shot them, that’d be fine too for all we’re concerned.
I think we can choose to see people as people. Bums, immigrants, people of other faiths, of other orientations. They are people. They are created in the image of God to create. They are loved.
Truth should not be compromised. And neither should love.
Don’t cultivate murderous intent, no matter how small.