Forgive me for this ramble. I know it can be tiresome to read about this kind of thing, but I am working through it, and that’s the sort of thing this blog exists for. Some of this, at least, is relevant to people in general.
I’ve seen a lot of relationships over the years. I’ve seen the good, the bad, the dull, and the disastrous. I’ve watched possibly surmountable problems collapse into avalanches, I’ve watched people drift apart and give up, and I’ve watched people make bad, bad choices in their desperation to be loved.
Our society tells a lot of lies.
There’s the lie, ever-relevant to people like me, that if you aren’t in a romantic relationship, if you aren’t loved by someone in the “eros” sense of the word, then there is something wrong with you. As a woman who has been single for a long time, I can bear witness that many women treat me as a broken thing that needs fixing. If I could say just one thing to them, and really have them hear it, it would be this: I am a whole person as I am. Don’t treat me as if I am deficient or incomplete.
There’s the lie that what Lewis, in the Screwtape Letters, calls “the storm of emotion” attendant to falling in love IS actually love rather than just a stage of love. There’s the accompanying lie that when things get hard, that love is over and it’s time to move on. I’ve seen a lot of lonely people who buy into this one. They’re lonely because they move from relationship to relationship seeking a permanence that does not exist.
A related lie is the idea that love is something that happens TO us, and that it is irresistible. Attraction may be involuntary, but whether or not we feed that attraction and act on it, is our choice. I have a hard time sympathizing with those who use this excuse to justify loving foolishly, or committing adultery. Especially adultery. Loving foolishly happens, and while I may be frustrated by patterns, such as someone who constantly pursues abusive relationships because they are attracted to a “type,” I can empathize with that pain. But justifying injuring another person by cheating on them because you buy into some concept of “irresistible love” only angers me.
There are lies about sex that range from misrepresentations of normalcy, to downplaying its significance in our emotional and spiritual lives. This causes no end of harm, but it’s harm we rarely talk about because few want to be labeled as “puritanical” by pointing out the damage caused by a culture that desperately wants sex to be “no big deal” while simultaneously idolizing romantic love with the lies mentioned above.
For the most part, I know where I stand on all of these. I also know where I stand in terms of what I will and won’t accept from a partner, and what I am looking for.
- I won’t change who I am, or pretend to be someone I am not, in order to find a mate – It seems to me that this would be self-defeating, anyway, because I’d only end up attracting a partner who wants whatever I am pretending to be instead of me.
- I need someone who shares my faith – I’ve seen cross-faith partnerships work, but I know how hard they can be. I also know myself well enough to know I need that spiritual support. I also need them to share at least most of my moral outlook.
- I need an intellectual equal – I’ve seen the consequences when there’s a disparity. Either one partner ends up parenting the other, or they constantly frustrate each other because they are incapable of being on the same page. By the same token, I need someone who is at least close to my maturity level. I need to be able to trust them to be an adult when necessary, but I also need them not to judge me when I’m being kid-like. Sometimes a woman wants to play video games and eat cookies for dinner, and sometimes she wants to run around the park with her arms spread out like an airplane, or cosplay for a Star Wars movie, and the last thing she wants is a partner who looks at her like she’s insane or who gets frustrated at her for doing these things.
- I need someone I can trust – Loyalty means almost everything to me. I trust slowly, if ever, and I give my loyalty with care. Because when someone has my loyalty, they have it. I need the same from my partner. I don’t think I’m the sort who can forgive infidelity. I also need someone who won’t back out of a commitment, but who will work with me to solve the problems that will inevitably come.
- I need someone who knows how to communicate – This is, unfortunately, a little nebulous. But I also know it is important. The ability to listen, and to articulate, and to work through problems are vital in any lasting relationship, including friendships and family ties.
I won’t accept abuse. I hate being manipulated, and I have enough self-worth not to take crap from people. This is an advantage I have, not a strength, a gift, not an achievement. Too many people are riddled with insecurities, body dysphoria, and feelings of low self-worth that make them think they aren’t worthy of love, or not worthy of being treated well by those they love. I’ve seen women, especially, but men, too, “settle” for what they think they can get in an effort not to be alone. It’s depressing to see, and it always seems to end with one, or both, partners being badly hurt, and that’s not even considering children being involved.
I want none of that. I don’t want to settle, and I don’t want anyone to settle for me. I would rather be single my whole life than settle for someone or have them settle for me.
But. And here is where things start to go sideways. We are fallen humanity. I am by no means perfect, and neither is anyone else. So any partner I find will have their own imperfections, just as I have mine, and there will be strife and pain even in the best of terrestrial circumstances.
My best friend recently said to me that I need to have lines, and I need to know where those lines are. The above lines are good, so far as they go, but when it comes to specifics, some of them get harder to evaluate, especially when I know I am emotionally compromised.
Some answers come easily. If my significant other cheats on me, we’re done. If he starts behaving in a manner that’s abusive, we’re done. Both are things I deem highly unlikely, but I’m too wary of the world to put anything out of the realm of possibility. But for the other lines… it’s harder. For one thing, the future is unknowable, people make mistakes that are either patterns, or mistakes that they correct. Some patterns I think I can live with, while others I can’t, but how can one know if a mistake will be corrected or whether or not it is a warning sign?
I have watched so many friends ignore warning signs.
In evaluating my friends’ significant others, I look for patterns. Part of this is just time. I remind myself constantly to take my time. I am well aware, however, that I am not as hard on my own significant other as I would be on those of my friends. I’m biased in his favor, and I know that’s dangerous. But at the same time, it seems right. I love him, and loving someone does mean being biased in their favor. I also know that I cannot expect him to be perfect any more than I am.
So what is and isn’t acceptable? Am I seeing what is truly there? Are the qualities in him that I find wonderful enough? Are his failings things I can accept if they never change? Are there things I see now, that aren’t problems, that will become problems for me eventually? And how do all of these questions play out from his side when applied to me? My communication with my s.o. is good, as far as I can tell, and so I know he worries about different aspects of our relationship than I do more often than not.
I begin to understand more and more that, eventually, it will just come down to a choice. And once that choice is made, one way or another, I will have to accept the consequences, good and bad. At present, I worry, but I also pray, and I am trying to listen to those around me, both my s.o., my family, and my friends.
October 24th, 2017 at 12:28 pm
I agree with all of this 100%. As a woman who has also been single for a long time, I can understand how hard it is to live in a culture that seems to worship the physical act of sex and the idea of romantic love. And it’s not particularly easy to be a single woman in my early 30’s in my church either since the singles tend to be much younger and my peers are mostly married with children. But I can’t settle. To settle for marriage with a man I did not love and respect would be disastrous in so many ways.
October 24th, 2017 at 12:33 pm
Exactly. I think church communities are either particularly bad about this, or at the very least, they should know/do better than they do. I think it may be less about there not being Christian singles in their 30s and older, but more that churches don’t make a place for them or support them as they should.
Also, hi! It’s been way too long! How are you?
October 24th, 2017 at 1:26 pm
I’ve been going to the same church since I was 8 so my knowledge on the way churches act toward older singles might be too narrow but from the beginning my church has been focused on small children and young families. And that’s fine, because they do an excellent job with both. And there is a great young adult group that specifically does not call itself a “singles” group, which I appreciated when I attended it because there were several other large churches in the area with designated “singles” groups and they were essentially meat markets and I heard too many horror stories about the male predators that would bounce from group to group looking for lonely women. It’s a hard area for churches to deal with I guess and they don’t seem too interested in finding solutions, unfortunately.
Anyways. It has been too long! I’m doing well. Haven’t been writing too much recently and while I thought not having a computer or internet access at home would open up more time and remove distractions for writing more, all it seems to have done is opened up space for more different distractions…
How are you doing?
October 24th, 2017 at 1:40 pm
Yeah, I’ve seen the meat-market thing happen, and it’s terrible. My own church had the silliness of “young adults” age cutoff at 30. They’ve since corrected that mistake, but for a while it did make me and many others feel set adrift.
I’m glad you’re well! But yeah, distractions… the only way I know to fight them is forceably turning your back on them, but that’s easier said than done.
On the whole, I’m well. Busy and stressed, but otherwise good. My health is good, my family are all well. My above-mentioned relationship is stressful, wonderful, and unnerving all at once, and is long distance, which has both good and bad aspects to it.
October 26th, 2017 at 3:37 pm
I’m glad to hear you’re well!
I keep thinking, as soon as I finish this stack of books, or finish that tv show, or whatever else, then, THEN I will start focusing on writing. But then I check out another stack of books, or discover another tv show, or find something else to focus on. I’m currently trying to finish a stack of sci-fi/fantasy books because I’m trying to get a book club off the ground at work and, well, I need to be familiar with the material right??
October 24th, 2017 at 4:41 pm
Thank you for pointing out those lies! They’re so damaging. I think there’s also a common lie about sex which exaggerates its significance, as though it is the be-all and end-all of human existence (possibly not helped by those who claim that all of human behaviour has evolved as ways to increase the likelihood of passing on one’s genetic material). There is so much more to life than that. There is so much more to love than that, and we’re losing the depth and richness of so many loves by treating them as poor substitutes for the “real thing” rather than recognizing them as real things themselves.
It’s ironic how some churches treat the adult (as opposed to young adult) unmarried – would they have been busy trying to set Jesus up with someone?
October 24th, 2017 at 6:11 pm
You are absolutely right, that is another of the great lies. So great that I actually had a friend, once, who was confused when she realized she loved me and that the love wasn’t sexual. I had to explain to her that that was normal and wonderful. She had only been told that non-sexual love was normal between family members. Deep philia wasn’t something she knew existed.
There are many people who don’t even desire eros, and many more who discover the richness of the other kinds of love, and even those who do find and enjoy eros need the other forms of love in their lives as well in order to be healthy and as whole as humans can be. We emphasize eros like an idol, and make ourselves miserable on so many levels by doing so.
You know, I bet some of them would have been. :/
October 26th, 2017 at 2:31 am
Thank you so much for sharing this with your readers. There can be no rule book for our relationships because you are uniquely you as is the one who has come into your life. To write such a book would be like trying to write one for the Holy Spirit but the wind blows where it chooses and refuses to cooperate with the rule book writers.
Dante ends his Divine Comedy by declaring that it is amor/eros that moves the sun and the stars. Maybe one day we won’t be so scared of this divine energy but perhaps we are wise to open ourselves to it with humility. We have a lot of growing to do before we can safely plunge ourselves into its flow. But, oh the joy when it catches us taking us far beyond where we feel safe.
God bless you and bring you safe to the other side of the sea.
October 26th, 2017 at 7:07 am
Thank you. I need words of encouragement sometimes, as it’s my nature to hold back and take no risks. But I’ve come to realize that sometimes not taking risks is far more dangerous.
October 26th, 2017 at 7:38 am
God bless you 😊
November 1st, 2017 at 10:08 am
Proud of this ramble. <3
November 1st, 2017 at 10:23 am
November 1st, 2017 at 10:12 am
This is so good. Can you find out if Austin and sara read it?
November 1st, 2017 at 10:24 am
Only by asking them, or if Sara leaves a “like” while logged into her blog.
November 1st, 2017 at 2:44 pm
[…] of me wonders if that misunderstanding is fostered by the lie mentioned in my previous post about the irresistible nature of love. That if I am really in love, I will leap and damn the […]
November 13th, 2017 at 1:21 am
Definitely one of the hardest things to gauge about the human condition and I’m inclined to agree with at least the list you’ve made and that the rest can be startlingly nebulous.
The hardest part to reconcile in my mind is that not all patterns are always readily apparent, sometimes they are familial ones that surface only after a point in life or some behaviours that get triggered or show up only when a relationship has crossed a certain time + yes, there is the always problematic “people can change over time”.
Truth is there is an element of faith involved in getting into a relationship – romantic or otherwise. The same applies to friends, and I mean the people you really get close and under the skin and who learn the things you don’t share with the world. There are occassions where one of those might fail/hurt/betray you, but when you start out, something makes you feel they’re worth at least taking the leap.
I suppose the same at a level applies to romance.
Life is indeed a complicated run-around.
Nicely written post.
November 13th, 2017 at 11:34 am
Thank you! Yes, I have been pretty badly burned in friendships. And yes to the rest of what you’ve said as well. There is a quote from C.S. Lewis’s “The Four Loves” that is apropos: “Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
Gah! Why is this so complicated and so hard!