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.
For my first two years of university, I went to a community college. I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do (I still fluctuate), so I saved some money in the first couple of years…
…Which I quickly burned through in choosing to go to a private Baptist university for my final two years of undergrad.
This school had plenty of social controls, behavioral restrictions, pledges and contracts on where to go, what to do and how to act. There was no dancing, no public displays of affection, curfews…all that lovely stuff.
So, naturally there was one very strong political affinity there at the school. While there were the scant few rebel Democrats who hid in the shadows, the overwhelming culture of the vast majority of students was militant right-wing Evangelical Conservatism.
Why did I go there? Long story. Not the purpose of the post, but one I’ll be glad to share if you’d like. I’ll need a beer—maybe six.
However, back to it, I initially drank the Kool-Aid. I would listen to the sermons preached every day at chapel (we had mandatory chapel five days a week). I would hear people talk. I would watch current events unfold and hear professors weigh in. I was there during 9/11.
I was surrounded by one side of the political spectrum, isolated from all other influences. I was so far entrenched in this apparatus, that I started to think it was foolishness how anybody could even think another way.
I fell victim to confirmation bias (link). It was inconceivable that people could be against the conservative way of thinking. Conservatism was the only logical explanation for everything.
And liberals were the antithesis of logic. They were idiots. They made no sense. They were dead set against everything the freedom-loving, patriotic conservatives loved.
I’m not trying to be glib. I believed this. I didn’t even think Democrats could be Christian. How could they possibly be reading the same Bible I was? My views were so solid! There was no way—absolutely no way, any of these opposing viewpoints could be true. It wasn’t even worth looking at them. Our fortress of apologetics, our mountain of evidence on everything from the social gospel to free markets was foolproof. There was no refuting any of it.
After college, I went on to help start a film company (link) that featured a then somewhat controversial pastor named Rob Bell. We made these little vignettes called NOOMAs (link). And it was then I started to run across people who thought differently than I did.
Now I wasn’t a zealot. I had chaffed greatly under the repressive culture of my university. I was nearly expelled (that’s another six-beer story). However, I still had been girded with the foolproof armor of my conservative forebears.
And yet, I started to run across very smart people who—shockingly—didn’t agree with me at all. I won’t get into the theological points here. At this time I’m mainly speaking about political affiliations: the role of government, the concepts of laissez-faire government, regulated markets vs. free markets, and the general social responsibility of the church vs. the state.
I would saunter up to these liberals and routinely have my ass handed to me. I would toss all the fact grenades I could find. I would cite all of the supply-side economists I knew and lay out the cause of all of the conservative social commentators I could remember…and would be thoroughly dismantled in my logic and approach. Not all the time (I was a pretty good apologist), but often enough.
How could this be? How could thinking Americans disagree with what I had been brought up to believe? How could logical, smart Americans possibly be liberal? Liberals were all idiots. They were worse than idiots, they were subversive, seditious communists, bent on destroying the family and all that.
But when you actually spoke with some of these liberals, you found they often loved America. I was shocked. Again, I’m not meaning to be glib, but it was a moment in my naive, young life when I realized that not everything spoken to me up to that point was truth.
It seems ridiculous, but I finally started to learn to doubt the words of my elders. Not to disrespect them (I feel I’m taking half of this entry to qualify everything)…but to doubt what many people said.
This doubting would come in handy as I became a journalist. I was taught never to trust anyone—to always verify information with a second source (or at least we should). Only bad journalists wrote one-source stories or didn’t try to get the other side. It was doing a disservice to the audience to not portray the other side.
I learned the value of this other side. They weren’t maniacs (well, most weren’t). These people who had spent a lifetime cultivating a way of thinking opposite of mine were amazing people. As a naive middle-class white boy, it took some time to undo my prejudices and predispositions.
The Army taught me a lot as well. I served with Wiccans, Hindus, Mormons, Muslims, Buddhists, single dads, former addicts, immigrants who barely spoke English—and hell that was just in my basic training unit.
I slowly learned to appreciate the value of people and their views.
Now this self-aggrandizing has a point. And it’s hardly to ask for some sort pat on back. What I’m saying is it took me considerate effort to break away of the normal bubble I feel a lot of us grow up in.
Every day, when I read about how quickly we demonize our political, social and even spiritual opponents—how quickly Ed and Susan and Anna become “them”…and how we must stop “them” from harming “us”…when we take individual people and apply sweeping generalizations…when that happens, I’m amazed at this often unrecognized insidious divide that has separated us far from each other.
We are now so polarized, having built such magnificent defenses of our opposing ideologies, that what we love most is the lethal splendor of our intellectual armaments. We cheer when our ideological enemies impale themselves on our bulwarks. We all but erupt in song when we win an argument and we can scarcely hold faith in Creation when our righteous cause loses an election.
I think back to when I discovered, scarily late in life, my way of thinking actually had flaws! And I remember that there were smart and intelligent people who opposed me on many intellectual, ideological, political and social fronts—who yet were civil and informative and often logically sound.
I remember turning 20 and feeling like I had just turned 5.
It was liberating. And humbling. And enlightening. And it allowed me to know about what I actually did believe and to stand up for what I actually did hold to be universally true…with respect, even!
I found it was much easier to compromise and discuss differences when I showed respect and saw my opponents as people, instead of demonized caricatures.
I know I’ve written about this before, but in light of recent events, I thought it was worth saying again.
As some of you know, I wasn’t the biggest fan of President Bush. I didn’t like his wars, I felt that his tax cuts cost the country more than they stimulated in growth, and I thought he came across as a goof.
I wrote snarky FB updates, shared snarky FB posts, laughed at his expense, called him names, etc. I was younger and dumber.
I had the chance to see him when he visited Fort Hood in 2005. His visit sparked all sorts of security craziness on the base. Roads were closed, vehicular traffic around the speaking venue was prohibited, and we soldiers had to be thoroughly searched upon entering the cordoned off area.
It was quite a production, actually. We had to be around our headquarters building at 0300, so we could be in formation and counted ‘all present’ by 0400, so we could march the 3-4 miles to the venue by 0530, so the thousands of us could be searched and processed through the gates, so we could fill the outside venue (a military parade field) by 0800, so we could be ready to hear him when he arrived by 0930. That meant I was awake by 0130 to get on the congested roads by 0215 (most of Fort Hood was involved in the visit). He was late, not showing up until 1030-ish (hey, he’s the president…). We had to hear about an hour long speech, then wait for him to leave—like in the chopper and out, leave. Then we had to march back and were dismissed in the late afternoon. Long day.
It was kind of the crowning “uggh” toward a president I wasn’t the most enthusiastic about, anyway.
But you know what? When I saw him, I clapped. And I meant it. When I saw him relatively close up, I cheered. And I meant it. The anticipation, the influence and fame the man had as a result of his office…it’s intoxicating for someone first experiencing it. And there’s something else going on there, something that has been written about monarchs and the presidency for centuries—a general reverence of authority and a love of country.
All the grumbling and name calling and things said in quiet inbetweens go out the window when you are face-to-face with the subtle majesty that comes with physically meeting the elected leader of the free world. I realized that he is a supremely accomplished man of power and prestige.
I shut my mouth and showed some respect.
Later in 2010-ish, I was traveling through Houston, in the George W Bush Airport. I came upon a crowd of people as I was going from one terminal to another. The commotion was from the airport’s namesake and former first lady, who had come to welcome the day’s freedom bird, the chartered airliner carrying uniformed soldiers back from deployment.
Again, people all around were ecstatic to see Mr. and Mrs. Bush. I was too. Because when push comes to shove, you shut your mouth and show some respect.
Later I was working at USAA. One of my duties was to serve public relation functions. USAA sponsors the Army Navy football game every year. It’s this big thing where all the friendly rivalry between the two services (and all of the DoD, really), comes to a head. It’s a very easily likable game.
Anyway, President Obama was going to be there. Cue a few of my nay-sayer coworkers: “Oh if I see that guy, I’m gonna…” “Man, I really hate that guy, he’s so…” “That scum-sucking piece of sh*t!” “What a coward. If I ever got a chance to, I’d…” “That Muslim SOB. Not even an American…”
I rolled my eyes.
Sure enough, when the game was still building up, when the cadets and the midshipmen were filing the stands, the president and his entourage arrived on the field to shake hands and pose for pictures. I got close enough to snap the pic at the top of this post (link)
And you know what? When they saw him, the nay-sayers clapped, and they meant it. They cheered and they meant it. All the grumblings and name calling and things said went out the window.
Afterward, so many of them were showing the pictures they snapped. They were swapping stories about seeing him and the rushes they felt. You could see the excitement in their eyes.
Because he was the president. And you should respect the president.
Look, you can disagree with a man—strongly disagree with a man, but it’s pathetic how we feel we have to emphasize our points with vehement hyperbole.
We can’t just say we disagree, we have to say the current president is the worst. Worse than the Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. Worse than Kony and the LRA. Worse than Ariel Castro. THE WORST EVARRRRR! We start talking about him being un-American, we call him a coward, we list the thousand talking points Fox News gave us as to why he’s about to usher us into a 1,000 years of darkness (link).
You know how some people wish for the ‘good old days’ even though they probably weren’t as good as people think they remember? How maybe they romanticize aspects of those days and long for those idealized notions?
Well I’ll do that too, for a minute. I wish for the ‘good old days’ when a man might get shot in the face if he called someone a coward. When breaking your word was seen as a major deal. Because all I see these days are champions of keyboard courage—people who will attack through emails and messages or, worse yet, through anonymous comments. (And yes, I realize the irony of pointing out the flaccidity of keyboard courage from behind a keyboard.)
Nevertheless, I wish we didn’t give so much credence to insults flung by talk show pundits and through Facebook comments.
Because just like in actual fistfights, it’s normal for people to talk a big game until they are actually facing someone who is about to rearrange their face. Then all that smack talk gets deflated. All that hate and consternation gets replaced with the realization that words and actions have actual consequences.
Actual consequences. Amazing.
So disagree away. VOTE. Write your Congressmen. Hell, record a video of your objections with whatever story is in the headlines for that day. Build support. RUN FOR OFFICE YOURSELF!
But mean what you say and say what you mean. Have facts to cite, not just emotions and hate-filled rants that veer toward the absurd.
Let’s freely disagree, but ultimately show some respect to our elected leadership. We might just discover the maturity and decency of yesteryear we often pine for.