Where Logic Meets Love

Blog Comment Carnival: April 2012

Monday, April 30, 2012

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Blog Comment Carnival: April 2012 | Faith Permeating Life

This month brought some amazingly awesome discussions to the blog comments! I had way too many selected for this month's comment carnival and had to go back and weed them down. Definitely check out the posts linked here for even more perspectives on these topics!

On the post How I Got Engaged on Holy Thursday, Cathi wrote:
That's so sweet :) Happy sort of anniversary!

Holy Thursday holds a special place in my heart for similar reasons. I'm not Catholic, but Alex is, and I went to Holy Thursday mass with him last year. It was as I heard the Servant Song for the first time, holding hands with Alex, feeling surrounded by love and feeling like family, that I was hit with the lightning bolt of "I'm so totally ready to marry this guy". Your story makes me feel like less of a weirdo that a somewhat somber Catholic tradition makes me feel so schmoopy.

On the post How I Began to Understand Jesus' Sacrifice, 'Becca wrote:
Great article! I agree, there is too much emphasis on Jesus' physical suffering and death, too little on his teachings and his point that this life is not the important thing and his example of self-sacrifice in the sense of letting himself be reviled.

I realized this Easter that the Carly Simon song "Be With Me", which I've loved for 30 years, is really expressing what I feel God through Jesus says to us. Here are the lyrics, which don't look like much; it's a simple little song, but it just croons love and warmth and acceptance of us in our right relation to everything else--"feel as big and as small as you are."

In church yesterday I was struck again by the Gospel in which Mary Magdalene meets the resurrected Jesus but doesn't recognize him until he says her name. I think many of us, often, are looking for a different Jesus than the one who is right there with us.

There were a ton of responses to my question, Tell Me: Why Do People Manage Money So Badly? Here are just a few of the insightful comments that gave me a new perspective:

Missy said:
I struggle with this, but in a different way. I work with a lot of families who live on a fixed income (e.g., Medicare, disability, other kinds of public aid), some because they have to, but many because they choose not to work. They could make more money if they work, but in all honesty, some people are lazy and would rather live in poverty if it means they can get a check at the beginning of every month after not working. It's these families that I struggle to understand, because they complain, "I can't pay for my child's COURT-ORDERED counseling, not even $10 a week," but come to their weekly appointment carrying a full meal from McDonalds and a new pack of cigarettes. Or the family who doesn't have transportation, but when they save up a few hundred dollars so that they could buy a used van, they go and get new tattoos instead. What I (and my coworkers) have decided is that these people NEVER learned the value of saving, prioritizing spending, or thinking ahead - they just go day-to-day, and if their electricity gets turned off halfway through the month because they chose to go get a tattoo instead, so be it. It's pretty frustrating, but some people are just that way. Remember that we learned responsible money habits from our parents -- and these people likely learned their money habits from their parents. I'm seeing the children of these people grow up with a sense of entitlement - not entitlement to own the newest Ipod, but a sense of "Why should I have to work?"

[Note: I want to be clear that I'm NOT talking about people who want to work but can't obtain a job, or who work but don't make enough money to support their families because they were forced to drop out of high school and now their employment options are limited to minimum-wage jobs, or single parents who rely on public aid because they NEED it to provide for their families.]

Those are my thoughts. :)

Gina added:
It's actually a bunch of things. Usually they weren't taught good spending habits, or weren't really taught self-control growing up. They really, genuinely can't control themselves. Of course, once they are adults, they need to take responsibility and figure out how to fix their impulse problems, but that's difficult, and usually requires them to get in way over their head before they realize what's wrong.

Plus, our society makes it soooooooo easy to do. Credit at the drop of a hat, finance everything under the sun, incentives to do so (rack up frequent flier miles at the mall!). Add in the fact that we have a distorted idea of what money *should* be able to buy us, that we don't realize what it is *actually* capable of buying us. We tend to think, "I'm making $60K a year, I should be able to buy a Mercedes!" when in reality, that's nowhere near enough money to support a Mercedes-type of lifestyle.

I also think media plays a big part in this distortion. Look at shows like "Friends:" Rachel was a waitress, Phoebe was a sometimes-employed masseuse, Monica was a chef at mediocre restaurants (in the early episodes) but they ate out all the time, had fabulous clothes and hair, and lived in a roomy apartment in a cool neighborhood. I'm sorry, but those jobs are scrapping-by-to-live kind of jobs, but it's easy to be fooled into thinking otherwise.

And Melissa said:
It's interesting because there was a point in my life where I would spend my entire paycheck on makeup and clothing even though I had bills to pay. And at that point my husband was worried about marrying me because of how easily I would spend cash. Then we worked on it together and it all changed. Anyways for me it was a happiness thing. Instead of going to the root of whatever was making me unhappy I would shop. Then of course because I was shopping to quickly fix how I felt I would constantly feel shoppers guilt.

Now a days I find it difficult to even get a coffee at starbucks. I tend to save spending for whenever I get birthday money or something like that. And even then I would rather find a way to save then pay full price. Half the time I will sit and figure out a way to make what I want instead of just spending cash. I think seeing bills rack up just kinda made me realize that it was time to grow up.

Finally, there was a great discussion in the comments of Spreading the Good News about Natural Family Planning!

Katie @ NFP and Me said:
I couldn't agree more. When I started using NFP I was using it because I am Catholic but begrudgingly so. But actually using it is what has changed my viewpoint on it. I think a lot of people could come to appreciate it too if it were just taught to them in a way that was practical for them (health reasons, complications with the pill, being green, etc.) In fact I just wrote about this (in response to all the backlash from that WaPo article.) Here's another post you may like that has these themes by my friend Sarah! :)

http://fumblingtowardgrace.com/2012/04/19/catholic-birth-control/

Charcoal Renderings said:
Thanks for talking about this topic. And honestly, I don't feel like one major religion should have a monopoly on something that encourages health and conscious family planning decisions for couples. I don't think it has to stay married to the Catholic theology at all---it can be mentioned, certainly, and if the listener is interested in pursuing more of that background, then that is a spiritual decision for them that I can't make for them. But for all practical uses, I should be able to utilize NFP as a non-Catholic and not have that diminish the standing of my own personal beliefs.

I also think it's just a good way to learn about our bodies! That's another thing that pills and condoms don't allow us to do-I'm all for these contraception methods, but a lot of younger women are coming out of their schooling thinking that their only option is to get on birth control, which may or may be something they can afford or want (since I do know a lot of ladies who get sick from it). Immediately going on the pill because it "seems like the only option" available to women takes away the unique process of trying something like NFP, which teaches us about our cycles and how to understand the ways our bodies naturally work to reproduce. And if resisting those "oops" urges is really so difficult... then a backup method could certainly be used. But I think educating our girls about their bodies sooner is ALWAYS a win, since too many teens are acting on their hormones and winding up pregnant and not understanding how it happened in the first place. Great topic!

And finally, Alice said:
Admittedly, until recently, I've felt that NFP was very much a Catholic thing. Every time I can think of that I was exposed to the concept, it was hand in hand with Catholic doctrine. Not being Catholic, I listened respectfully, but couldn't quite get behind it. It seemed like a lot of work when I could take care of birth control with much easier means.

I really didn't think about it again until I was forced to become aware of my body. Figuring out the signals my body was giving me became a lot easier when I started using the NFP method. I now have a system at my disposal that inherently gives me a plethora of information to take to the doctor. I can give very detailed information as opposed to guesses and estimates. I think both my doctor and I can agree that this is helping us along.

Not being sexually active, however, gives me some wiggle room as well. Since I am not having sex,nailing down my fertility window isn't as big of a deal as I imagine it would be for a woman who is sexually active. I have some time play with the method, if you will, before deciding if I want to use it with my partner.

Long story short, I agree that is definitely worth exposing young people to independent of the Catholic doctrine. It might not be their cup of tea as far as birth control goes, but it is a good source of information. Ignorance and sex are a horrible combination, so the more people have to work with, the better off they are going to be in the end.

Thanks so much to all of you who take the time to share your thoughts! And remember that I almost always reply, so be sure to check back so we can keep the conversation going!


The Trouble with Knowing Everything

Friday, April 27, 2012

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The Trouble with Knowing Everything | Faith Permeating Life

I've had several conversations lately that have caused me to think about truth. Or more specifically, how adhering to a single source of Ultimate Truth can make it very difficult to come to any sort of understanding with someone who believes different things.

For example, there are many people that believe that the Bible is the end-all, be-all source of Truth, despite its contradictions and multitude of possible interpretations. This means everything is measured up against Scripture (or at least, their interpretation of Scripture) to determine what is true. If science says the Earth is millions of years old and that humans evolved from less complex organisms, but the Bible only accounts for several thousand years and says humans were created directly by God, then obviously the Bible is right, because it is the Truth.

Other people don't interpret the Bible literally but regard the Catholic Church as the highest authority when it comes to what the correct interpretations of Scripture are, and for direction on any other issue that isn't directly covered in Scripture. These are the people who, when they discover that I don't agree 100% with Church teaching on some matter, want me to show them where in Church teaching it says that I'm allowed to disagree with Church teaching. And if I point to the doctrine on personal conscience, they want to know where in Church teaching it says that I can apply that doctrine to this particular situation. And so on. Any belief I have must somehow be wrapped up and accounted for in Church teaching or it obviously cannot be true.

But this isn't limited to religious folks. Some people believe firmly that concrete, physical evidence is the only source of Truth. Believing in something that cannot be or has not been proven throughout the scientific method is just nonsense to them. If you didn't make enough gift bags on your mission trip but there were somehow more than enough to hand out, then obviously you miscounted because science tells us that you can't create something out of nothing and inanimate objects don't spontaneously multiply. Miracles are by definition impossible because there is no place for them in this singular worldview.

The always-awesome Rachel Held Evans pointed me to the website Your Logical Fallacy Is, and I immediately found several fallacies related to this idea of a single source of Ultimate Truth.
  • There's the Appeal to Authority -- assuming something is true because a source you consider an authority, such as the Catholic Church, says it's so, regardless of evidence to the contrary.
  • There's Begging the Question -- we know everything in the Bible is true because it says, right here in the Bible, that all Scripture is from God, and therefore it's true.
  • There's even Personal Incredulity, that just because you don't know how something works you assume it's false.
All of these logical fallacies stem from the same type of situation -- relying on a single source of Truth.

I've found it incredibly difficult to hold conversations about my beliefs with people who adhere this single-mindedly to one source of Truth. Their need for a Bible verse, a Catechism citation, or physical evidence means that all other attempts at explanation become fruitless.

The way I see it is this: Every person in the world believes something different. There may be vast amounts of overlap in two people's beliefs, but there will always be some way that their understanding or their interpretations or their manifestations of those interpretations differ in how they live their lives. So what are the chances that every single thing in your unique belief system is 100% accurate?

What frustrates me most when I have conversations with people who adhere to a single existing belief system is that my own ability to seek truth is discounted. When I strive to live in a way and believe those things that are in accordance with everything I know and have experienced, people see me as wishy-washy, cherry-picking, or simply ignorant. Why? Because I can't point to a single, coherent belief system that I follow and instead am foolishly thinking *I* could know better than what Scripture says, what the Church says, or what science says.

Never mind that not one of those sources of Truth is coherent, comprehensive, and contradiction-free. It must be better than whatever I could come up with because it's older, or it was determined by a lot of people a lot more educated than I am, or it's the word of God, dammit. And therefore I need to set aside everything I will ever experience that does not fit neatly into that belief system.

For those who point to a religious belief system as the source of all Truth, I ask, is God so very limited that it is impossible He would reveal Himself in new ways? Does He care so little for me that it is impossible for the Holy Spirit to be guiding my heart?

I reject the notion that all Truth is already known, revealed, understood, and explained in a singular belief system. This is why I think of myself as a Truth-seeker and not a Truth-knower. Because I know that I will always be operating on incomplete information and that I need to be open to new knowledge and new revelation. I need to continually re-evaluate my beliefs in light of not only my own experiences but those of everyone I know, and as I re-read the Bible, and as science discovers new things.

To my mind, I can never get closer to Truth and to living the life that God wants me to lead if I think that I already have all the answers and I ignore everything that doesn't fit with those beliefs.

So the next question is: Will I ever be able to talk about my beliefs with those people who believe they have all the answers already?

Spreading the Good News about Natural Family Planning

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

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Spreading the Good News about Natural Family Planning | Faith Permeating Life

Question: Why don't more people know about Natural Family Planning?

And of those who know about it, why don't more people use it?

I think there are a lot of possible answers to those questions. I'll touch on a few, but I think there's one large reason that no one is talking about.

Many doctors don't trust it or recommend it because they've seen too many couples unable to successfully avoid pregnancy when they wanted to. It doesn't matter that the couples weren't practicing it correctly -- easier to throw out the whole method than try to get people to do it right. (I could write a whole post on an angry conversation I had with a doctor about this.)

Without many doctors talking about it, it doesn't get incorporated into public school sex ed curriculum, which is where many people find out about their options for avoiding pregnancy -- and since we're teaching teenagers, we generally only teach them how to avoid pregnancy, not how to get pregnant, which NFP can also help with.

And if people never encounter NFP, or at least not until well into their adult life when they have a regular birth control routine established, then they're probably not going to provide information to their own kids about it.

Now, I'm mainly talking about non-Catholics here. A Catholic kid growing up is far more likely to encounter NFP at some point, either from their parents or Catholic school. I first found out about it while reading my mom's Catholic Digest in high school, and then I went off to a Catholic university where all the kids who had gone to Catholic high schools could fill me in on the details. That's not to say all Catholics know about it, but that the knowledge is largely contained within the Catholic community.

What I've been thinking about is why the practice of NFP hasn't spread out farther from Catholic circles. I know a lot of Catholics who would tell me that it's because non-Catholics are part of a "culture of death" (I sincerely hate that phrase) that accepts birth control and abortion as normal. But I don't think it's that simple. There are plenty of women who don't want to be on the Pill, either because they embrace a more "natural" lifestyle generally or because it has horrible side effects for them, but who want a way of preventing pregnancy that is more reliable than barrier methods.

And this is where I think the disconnect happens. Why hasn't NFP spread to more non-Catholics? Because the Catholics who are most vocal about it don't want to promote it as just another way to prevent pregnancy.

I started thinking about this after reading Jen Fulwiler's post about an article on NFP that, to her way of thinking, completely missed the point about NFP because the writer saw it through a "contraceptive worldview."

Now, if you ascribe to the Catholic Church's view of NFP (and therefore, their views about sex and contraception generally), everything Jen wrote makes a lot of sense. NFP isn't just another method for avoiding pregnancy, it's an entirely different philosophy about sex and childbearing than what the modern world teaches.

Except that it is. It is a method for avoiding pregnancy. It can be connected to Catholic philosophies and beliefs about God's intentions for our bodies. But the literal practice of charting your fertility does not require adhering to those beliefs.

However, in my experience, the vast majority of people teaching / publicly talking about NFP believe that it does. And that, I think, is one very large reason it hasn't spread.

Some would consider me heretical -- or, more nicely, misguided -- for teaching people about NFP without ever mentioning, or at least not going into great detail about, the entire Catholic philosophy behind it. Because theoretically, they are inseparable. But practically, they're not.

This is what I would call the "all in" fallacy. I talked about this in my post on the problem with labels, referencing the strange notion that it's somehow better to be a straight-up carnivore than being a semi-vegetarian who eats meat occasionally. Is it really somehow better to have someone continue to use artificial contraception than to persuade them to try NFP even if they don't ascribe to the entire philosophy behind it?

Note that I don't personally believe artificial contraception is evil, so I'm not saying we need to get everyone to stop using it any way we can. What I'm saying is that I think there are a lot of great things about NFP, and I believe more people should be introduced to it, in such a way that they're most likely to believe it is a reasonable possibility for them. When it's introduced as inseparable from Catholic teaching about the proper use of NFP, then I think that is more likely to turn people off who aren't ready to completely revolutionize their mindset about sex and openness to children.

And who knows? Maybe practicing NFP and thus becoming more aware of and connected with one's own bodily cycles, and necessarily communicating with one's spouse about one's current fertility level, would actually lead more people to shift their thoughts about sex, marriage, and children. Maybe if Catholics stopped trying to first convince people about the importance of the Theology of the Body in order to introduce Natural Family Planning, and instead focused on sharing the practical benefits of NFP, they'd end up shifting more people's beliefs in the end.

Having said all this, I want to introduce one potential caveat and then see what you think.

Natural Family Planning is difficult. There's no doubt that it requires some level of sacrifice if you are used to having intercourse whenever you feel like it. Whenever I talk to people about it, I caution them that they would potentially have to broaden their mind about what constitutes sex, and recognize that intercourse is just one way to be intimate with their partner. (Here I have already strayed from Catholic teaching.)

Here's the issue: NFP works extremely well at avoiding pregnancy if you don't have intercourse when you're fertile. And the question is whether a couple is prepared to deal with those moments when they are fertile and have a strong desire for intercourse. What I see in some Catholic circles is that people rarely want to admit that they failed at practicing NFP correctly because they got too horny; instead, they write it off as "God's calling" and see their child as an uequivocal blessing. I would imagine this is a lot easier to do when you are entrenched in Catholic teaching.

So from that perspective, I can see that there might be a fear that divorcing NFP from its Catholic philosophy would potentially lead to more abortions as a result of these "oops"/horny moments. But that idea chooses to ignore the fact that, in the absence of NFP, this same couple would most likely be using some form of artificial birth control and could also have an unintended pregnancy as a result of a broken condom or failed Pill. The difference with NFP is that the couple has definitively made a choice to open themselves to the possibility of pregnancy by having intercourse during a fertile period, and I would have to imagine that that has some positive effect on how that couple reacts to the pregnancy compared to "we did everything we could to prevent this!"

OK, I've talked enough. I want to know what you think. I'm already aware that my viewpoint is not the viewpoint of the Catholic Church, so you don't need to waste any time informing me of that.

Can and should Natural Family Planning be taught independent of the Catholic philosophy behind it? What would you say are the pros and cons of such an approach?

What Marriage Means to Me: Karen (Queen of Carrots)

Monday, April 23, 2012

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I can't even tell you how excited I am to share today's What Marriage Means to Me post! I don't know how I originally stumbled across The Duchy of Burgundy Carrots, but I've been a reader for quite a while and only recently found out that Karen (aka "the Queen of Carrots") reads FPL. She tackles the question I've been wrestling with since I started this series: If I can understand other people's reasons for not getting married, or for getting divorced, why do I still believe marriage is so important?

~~~

I live at the intersection of two different worlds. One is my family and the friends I grew up among. In that world, I'm a daughter and a wife and a homeschooling mom. Here, marriage is accepted without question. It's permanent. It's necessary. It generates children, preferably a lot of them. And usually, it's happy.

My grandparents have been devoted to each other for sixty years. My parents were married for thirty-five years, and then after my mother's death my father married a widow who had cared for her severely injured husband for years. These are people who mean it when they say, "'till death do us part."

In the other world, I'm a lawyer, married to a lawyer, socializing with other lawyers. Lawyers aren't cynical by coincidence. No happy endings walk into a lawyer's office. In a courtroom, the divorce rate is 100%.

I've read enough files to know that there are often very good reasons for those divorces. But surely not for all. Not enough to explain why weddings have become nothing more than a really expensive party thrown at the midway point in a relationship. If everybody is really as selfish and irresponsible as their exes claim, the modern world wouldn't be able to function.

One evening an older attorney rhetorically questioned: Why even have marriage as a permanent institution at all? We don't have to sign a lease on office space forever. Why not just make it, legally, a temporary arrangement, with an option to renew?

I've thought a lot about that question since. I know why I, personally, want to stay married, but why does marriage matter as an institution? Does it matter? I also know that I no longer believe everything about the way I was brought up to view marriage and family life and the "roles" of men and women. But what do I still believe in enough tell my children about it?

I still believe marriage matters, to those outside it as well as within it. Marriage matters because people create and interact differently in a stable place than in a precarious place. Leased office spaces are all drearily alike; homes long in the same family are all unique (some gloriously so, some hideously so). A world of temporary housing is a duller world, and a world of temporary romance is a duller world.

Grownups as well as children need people they know they can trust. Relationships they know they can count on. It frees the mind and energy to know who you're going home with tonight, and next year, and next decade.

Monogamy is a powerful force for social growth, because it frees up most of adult life for things besides hunting for a mate. And at the same time, it's a crazy, dangerous, wild adventure, because people change. It's something you promise once, and something you have to choose all over again every day.

For me, marriage has meant getting to be with my best friend forever, the one whose opinion I always want to hear, the one who always makes me laugh and think and gives me the courage to be myself. It also means living with and helping someone who struggles to breathe and walk every day, on top of the work of a house and four children. It's really good and it's really hard.

And through the difficulty, the outside, the institution, shelters the inside, the relationship. Marriage is about us, but it's not just about us. It's about our parents and our children and our neighbors and our friends. If we crack, the brokenness spreads to them. If we stand together, we strengthen them. And they strengthen us.

Sometimes, of course, none of it is enough. Marriage is an ideal and an institution. It's not something we always live up to or succeed at. But it's worth trying for. It's even worth failing at.

That's something I still believe in enough to tell my children. Marriage matters, and waiting for marriage matters, because there is something irreplaceable about having someone that you genuinely trust with your whole life. You can't really trust someone with your whole body until you can trust them with your whole life. And if you do trust and love someone like that, then you won't be afraid to say so right out in front of God and everybody. The expensive party doesn't matter, the fancy flowers don't matter. But the promise does matter. And so does keeping it.

~~~

Karen lives in the Northwest with her husband, Ron. They're better known as the Queen of Carrots and the Duke of Burgundy over at The Duchy of Burgundy Carrots. They have been married for eight years, four kids, seven moves, four career changes, and a partridge in a pear tree. (OK, scratch the pear tree, although we do have some raspberry bushes.) She has an unnatural fear of street grates, and she loves getting lost in the woods. She homeschools her kids, tries to practice law, and wishes she were writing.

Tell Me: Why Do People Manage Money So Badly?

Friday, April 20, 2012

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Tell Me: Why Do People Manage Money So Badly? | Faith Permeating Life

Looking for advice on managing money? Try these book recommendations.

I tend to consider myself a pretty non-judgmental person, and you all have told me that you get the same sense from this blog. I accept that different people have different values and ways of living that work best for them, and I'm not one to tell others that their approach to life is wrong if it is making them and the people around them happy.

However, I recently realized that there is one major area where I tend to judge other people: How they manage their money.

I say "manage" rather than "spend" because I have accepted the fact that people have different priorities than I do. If having a smartphone and buying a latte every morning make your life happy, then I won't begrudge you your decision to spend money on those things, even though I don't. You probably aren't saving up money to buy a bunch of land and adopt a bunch of kids, so of course we have different spending patterns and priorities. If you have the money to buy those things, who am I to tell you not to buy them?

It's when people have no savings accounts and go into massive credit card debt buying tons of non-essentials that my inner critic starts yelling, "WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU???"

What I've learned from my past experience and my observations of others is that judgment is usually an outcropping of ignorance, i.e., a lack of understanding or experience. So for example, I think it's difficult to be good friends with a lot of gay people and still strongly hold the belief that all gay people are child molesters. Unless you just happen to be friends with a lot of child molesters generally... which would be really weird.

Anyway.

I feel like it's been drilled into me my entire life to having an emergency fund, not spend more than I bring in, plan for the future, etc. So that makes it extremely difficult for me to get inside the head of someone who consistently spends more than they bring in. The whole idea of doing that is so foreign to me.

I hear a lot of general things about "the culture" and the pressure to "keep up with the Joneses," but as someone who places little (probably too little) emphasis on what others think of me, this is difficult for me to conceptualize at an individual level. I get that there is this "cultural pressure" to live a certain way and own certain things, but I don't think people are that rational that they're thinking, "I don't have the money to afford this, but it is worth to me the debt that I will have to pay off on this purchase in order to have the social status that this purchase will gain me." So... what are people thinking?

This is a serious question. I want to understand the mentality here. I don't want to just write people off as complete idiots for putting themselves into debt buying what I consider to be luxury items.

Where I'm especially baffled/frustrated/judgmental is when people I know talk about how broke they are and complain about how they're having to make major life changes like getting a second job or moving back in with their parents, and yet they continue to post pictures all over Facebook of their new electronics, manicures, fancy dinners out, etc.

I ask myself a series of questions:
  • Do they consider these things essential items to their life?
  • Are they somehow unable to make the connection between spending money and not having enough money?
  • Are they trying to impress some people with their purchases, yet commiserate with other people about their lack of money, and I am somehow in the position to witness both?
  • Do they have an addiction to shopping?

So I ask you, my dear readers. Are you one of these people who goes or has gone into debt buying things you didn't really need? Or do you have some insight I don't have into people you know who do this?

Or are you as baffled as I am?

(On a related note, here's an amazing story of a couple who saved aggressively to get out of debt, build up an emergency fund, and pay for their wedding and honeymoon.)

Should Getting Married Completely Change You?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

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Should Getting Married Completely Change You? | Faith Permeating Life

This past weekend I attended a friend's church in Dayton (more on my crazy travel-filled month in a later post), and the priest said something that both of us thought was completely inaccurate.

The priest asked whether our lives were different because of Easter, because of Jesus' resurrection, and argued that if they aren't different, then we don't fully understand Easter. In an attempt to draw an analogy, he mentioned that a couple had been married in that church the day before.

"If you don't feel different the day after your wedding," he said, "if getting married doesn't completely transform your life, then perhaps you don't fully understand what you've done."

He went on to say that in both cases, we had not an option but an obligation to live differently because of what had happened.

Leaving aside the discussion about Easter, let's talk about this perspective on marriage.

The friend whose church it was said she thought the priest was a bit biased because he's not married, and she may be right. How could he know what it's like to wake up the morning after your wedding? He understands marriage from a sacramental/theological view, sure, but in terms of talking about how it should make you "feel" to be married?

I'm not trying to downplay the importance of the marital commitment (which I realize means different things to different people). As you may know, my own wedding day marked for me a commitment of unconditional love for Mike, and it drew a clear demarcation for the physical aspects of our relationship.

But I've said before that I think it's dangerous to emphasize the wedding day too much, and I still believe that's true. Mike and I had been together almost five years by our wedding day, and I think the majority of the things that make us "us" were established by that point. I woke up the next morning still happy, still in love -- maybe slightly relieved that the wedding planning process was finally over, but not radically and fundamentally different. And yet this priest would have you believe that that's a problem -- that that means I didn't fully grasp what I had done.

In contrast, I think that if your wedding day constitutes a seismic shift in your life such that you feel completely and utterly different the day after than you did the day before, then I think there may be a problem.

Here are some possible radical attitude changes as a result of marriage that I don't think are all that great:
  • "Now everything is perfect!" This is the infamous "honeymoon period." Now that you're married, all problems have vanished and you are so in love that nothing can touch you. God has sanctified your union and you are now untouchable, unbreakable. If you wake up the day after your wedding thinking you will never be unhappy again now that you're married... you have some rough times ahead.
  • "Now he/she will change!" Making a promise to stay together doesn't make you or your partner into a perfect person, nor is it the magic bullet to get your partner to commit to make changes in their life. If you think that your messy, perpetually late, chain-smoking partner is going to become a neat, punctual non-smoker because "now we're married and everything's going to be different," you will more than likely be sorely disappointed. Change takes time; even if getting married does strengthen your partner's resolve to change (and there's no guarantee it will, or even that they'll feel they need to change), it will be one step in a much larger process.
  • "Oh sh*t, what have I done?" This is pretty much the antithesis to the other types of "radical changes." This is essentially waking up the day after your wedding feeling radically different because making a permanent commitment to the person next to you has suddenly made you see them for who they are. The giddiness of courtship had blinded you, and now that you've got a ring on your finger, harsh reality is setting in. Or maybe your partner does change as a result of getting married, but for the worse -- dropping the "charade" of wooing you and instead becoming rude or even abusive. That certainly isn't what this priest meant about your wedding transforming your life.

I like what Monday's What Marriage Means to Me contributor said: "I see getting married as a roadstop rather than a destination in two people's journey as Partners for life." Even if your wedding day is a big, flashy, massively important roadstop, it's still just one piece of the journey. And if you have a healthy, loving relationship before and after reaching that particular milestone, I see no reason that passing through it has to fundamentally change you or your life for it to be meaningful.

What do you think? For those of you who are married, did you feel radically different after your wedding? For those of you who aren't, do you think getting married would make you feel completely different?

What Marriage Means to Me: Mollie

Monday, April 16, 2012

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Today's contributor, who asked to go by "Mollie," has been a faithful follower of FPL for some time. She occasionally e-mails me thoughtful questions and sends me links to articles she thinks I would like, which I always greatly appreciate! I was very happy when she asked to contribute to the What Marriage Means to Me series, as I knew she would have an insightful and unique view. Here she shares her "Thoughts on marriage from another single lady," talking about the three components she believes make up a good Partner.

~~~

Let me put this out there right away: I'm not trying to get married.

I'm not out to find a husband. But I definitely hope to find a Partner with whom I can share my life. And I do want a wedding to happen somewhere on our road together. But I see getting married as a roadstop rather than a destination in two people's journey as Partners for life. This may sound completely obvious to you, but personally, I get frustrated with all the people who focus on the event of the start of a marriage instead of everything that the long-term relationship will need to survive.

(Wait, so why does this lady capitalize "Partner?")

I've come to the conclusion that the Partner I want to share my life with has to be able to fill the three roles of lover, friend, and partner for me. How I see it is that a Partner makes up all three of those roles, whereas the component of being partner is about wanting similar things out of life and being able to help one another with the stuff that needs to get done every day that isn't particularly sexy or fun. I've known guys who I would love to have as a partner but who were missing other Partner components for me. I've also known guys who were great lovers and friends but didn't have the partner qualities that fit with me. We would have never worked out in the end. (If you come up with better, less-confusing vocabulary to distinguish Partner from partner, please comment!)

I look at couples who I view as successful. I don't know the inner workings of the relationship, but it's usually easy to see outwardly that they simply fit together. They have great admiration and respect for one another. They care about the good of the other person. They definitely seem to fit as friends, lovers, and partners. I suppose I've done a lot of lot of observing of other couples because I don't feel like I learned about successful relationships at home. My parents have been married for 40+ years--which is certainly an accomplishment!--but theirs is not a relationship I want for myself. Looking back, they were role models of partners who work together for the family but not the kind of Partners who work well as friends or lovers to each other.

I think Partnership is about service. It's about the commitment to want the good of the other person. To be there through the sucky times and the good ones. To travel together through whatever unexpected twists and turns life takes the two of you on. To make the choice to keep working on your relationship together. I think that this kind of service and commitment should be a choice that two people make together, but it doesn't start the day you get married. In my eyes, that should simply be the day that promise--that covenant--is proclaimed publicly.

As a single lady, it bothers me quite a lot when people try to tell me that I am an incomplete person without a significant other in my life. To them I say, every one of us is a complete person. There are pieces of myself that I do not get to show as a single person (such as the part of me that can show romantic love for another person), but there will also be pieces of me that I will not be able to show as a Partnered person (such as the part of me that definitely enjoys not having to take anyone else into consideration in how I spend my time). I don't think anyone gets to show their whole self at any one time. Are you the same person you are at work as at home? Are you the same with your parents as with your friends?

I truly hope that somewhere out there is a Partner for me, but I also have to do my best to accept the reality that there might not be. I don't believe finding someone to spend your life with is in the cards for everyone. Sometimes, I wish I knew why. I'm definitely not as okay with this possibility as I'd like to be, but I do my best to enjoy exactly where my life is at every day.

To me, marriage means a continuation of the journey with the lover, friend, and partner you'd most like to be stuck with for the long haul. It's a journey I hope I have the chance to travel someday.

~~~

When she's not writing about Partnership for FPL, Mollie can be found sprint triathlon training, singing, and trying to be a better person to all the wonderful people in her life.

My Plan: Do More and Feel Better

Friday, April 13, 2012

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My Plan: Do More and Feel Better | Faith Permeating Life

Lately I've been feeling tired and stressed out. I have goals and things I want to accomplish, but I've been trying to get more sleep and that has crunched the time I have in the evening even more. My weekends seem to be full of errands and loose ends, such that it seems like I'll never have a chance to do any of the big things I want to do.

So I finally came up with a solution: Sign up for more things.

You probably think I have lost my mind, but the more I think about this, the better I feel.

Last week I was at a work conference for three days, and on the third morning of the conference a colleague and I were talking about how tired we were and trying to figure out why conferences were so exhausting. We figured it was because we spend the entire day listening to people and taking notes, which is like being back in high school, and we remembered that we were always tired in high school too.

What I realized is that throughout my entire life I've had varying levels of energy. There were many periods of time in high school and college where I remember being tired, but I still got sh*t done, and a lot of it. I've gotten not enough sleep and too much sleep and I've lived through mono, but I've always managed to get things done when I was motivated. If I really cared about a project I was working on, I would do whatever it took to move that project forward.

Here's what my life looks like right now:
  • At work I'm bored too much of the time because our school is going through a potentially large reorganization, so no one wants to evaluate their program without knowing if their program is going to exist two months from now. I've established previously that I get exhausted when I'm not challenged enough and when I'm spending too much time trying to come up with new things to work on, which is exactly where I am right now.
  • At home I'm trying to keep my priorities straight (this prioritization method has helped a lot), but I've found that I will still fill whatever time I have available with Things To Do. So maybe that check doesn't need to go to the bank today and maybe I could send Mike to the grocery store tonight, but hey, it's Saturday, let's knock some errands out of the way! I'll feel better! Then I never get around to doing big things, like actually getting my job coaching business off the ground, because ugggh I'm tired and Mike will be home in less than an hour and I'm just going to send these e-mails and then go on Facebook.

So it's not surprising that I'm tired and stressed! I'm spending the vast majority of my time on tasks that are not challenging and are not meaningful to me.

Also, I've been using RescueTime at work and home to pinpoint where I'm wasting time, but what I finally realized was that eliminating distractions and cutting out time-wasters wasn't going to get me far if I didn't have something readily available to fill that void with. On the other hand, if I have more pressing things I want or need to get done, I will make the time. I always do. I need to have these bigger things already on my plate before I can prioritize them.

So here's what I'm doing:
  • Volunteering. I've signed up to volunteer for a non-profit organization that has a social justice focus, meaning they've pinpointed communities that need the most help and they're offering free program evaluation services to help the community leverage its strengths and make improvements. This is awesome because it uses my existing skills but I will get to see the impact of my work more directly than at my full-time job, and I will also be learning more about program evaluation in case I decide to move out of higher ed evaluation into a non-profit (which is a definite possibility).
  • Regular exercise. I've been slacking a bit on my weekly exercise routine because I've let it get pushed around by everything else I Have to Do. I saw our park district is offering a 2-hour Saturday morning cardio and strength training class this summer, so I'm signing up to do that. It will ensure that I'm devoting time to exercise, which will hopefully give me some more energy, and it will get me out of bed earlier on Saturday, which always makes my day better.
  • Job search coaching. I've been talking about this for months now and still haven't kicked it off the ground. My excuses are completely stupid and contradictory, like, "What if no one wants my help?" and "What if I don't have enough time?" I can always adjust my approach and/or my pricing if I can't attract clients, and I can always turn down new clients if I'm too busy. I keep reminding myself that this is completely within my control, and all I have to do at this point is start and then adjust as I go. So I'm making a commitment to start taking clients by the end of the month.

My hope -- which I believe to be true -- is that when I am busier doing things that are truly interesting and meaningful to me, I will spend less time being tired and listless. And when I have truly important projects on my to-do list, it will make it easier to recognize and postpone or eliminate those tasks that are not as important and are just "spinning my wheels."

So that's my plan! I will let you all know how it goes. Thanks for being there to hold me accountable :)

How do you keep yourself energized and challenged? Have you found a balance between overcommitting and undercommitting?

Is the Easter Bunny Stealing Jesus' Thunder?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

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Is the Easter Bunny Stealing Jesus' Thunder? | Faith Permeating Life

On St. Patrick's Day this year, I didn't do anything in particular to commemorate the day, but I did go to a friend's bridal shower with my mom. As we drove through the downtown area of the town where the shower was, I saw people up and down the streets, wearing green, out enjoying the freakishly nice weather.

At one point, a group of women ran across the street, laughing. They were totally decked out in St. Patrick's Day decorated shirts, wearing giant shamrock headbands, just a completely tacky display of holiday cheer.

And it made me smile.

There's some refreshing about choosing to wholeheartedly and joyfully celebrate a holiday. About choosing to be trusting, not skeptical. Or to be earnest, instead of cynical.

I thought about this moment this past weekend, seeing the mixture of Easter-related tweets and Facebook statuses talking about chocolate candy, Jesus' resurrection, and the Easter bunny.

Easter is about joy. In the Catholic church, we sing "Alleluia!" loud and proud after not hearing the word for six weeks. We proclaim that our God's love is greater than even death, and we celebrate.

And so it saddens me when I see Christians stomping on others' Easter joy with admonishments to remember that Easter is about Jesus, not chocolate, and bemoaning the secularization and commercialization of the holiday.

Because honestly? I don't think those "This is what Easter is really about" comments lead anyone to Jesus.

There are so many terrible things in this world -- disease, hunger, war -- that we could be focusing our efforts on eradicating. Why focus on eliminating things that make other people happy?

It's the same with Christmas. In my family, Christmas is a time for family to come together, to eat deliciously fattening food, to listen to overplayed holiday songs, and to give each other presents.

Technically none of these things have to do with Jesus' birth. But are they really detracting from "the reason for the season"? Those of us who are Christian still go to church on Christmas Eve and still take the time to reflect on God becoming man. Those who are not, don't, but they still participate in our joyful Christmas celebration as a family.

In my department at work, we had a holiday party where we all brought in food and gifts and went around telling each other "happy holidays." It was such a fun and happy event, and I couldn't help but feel that it better captured the "spirit of Christmas" than if there'd been an event for only those who believed in Jesus, who told each other "Merry Christmas," and who didn't speak about Santa or other "commercial" aspects of the season.

Isn't a joyful holiday better celebrated with as much joy as possible?

Maybe there is a real danger posed by secularization and commercialization, that all of us Christians are going to forget why we commemorate these dates in the first place, but I just don't see it. I feel like expanding religious holiday celebrations to be inclusive of many more people, even in weird and funny ways, is a better way to bear witness to the love of Jesus than to keep them narrowly and exclusively focused.

But that's just me. What do you think?

How I Got Engaged on Holy Thursday

Friday, April 6, 2012

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How I Got Engaged on Holy Thursday | Faith Permeating Life

Holy Week -- that is, the week leading up to Easter -- is special to me not just from a spiritual perspective but also from a marital one. That's because Mike proposed to me on Holy Thursday.

He chose the date purposefully, as a way of representing how serving each other in marriage would be an intimate representation of Jesus' directive to us to be servants.

I haven't previously shared the whole story of Mike's proposal (except briefly in this guest post), so I thought this would be a good time to do it.

But first, for those who are as not familiar with the Bible, here's the passage traditionally read on Holy Thursday:
Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. And during supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper, laid aside his garments, and girded himself with a towel.

Then he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded. He came to Simon Peter; and Peter said to him, "Lord, do you wash my feet?" Jesus answered him, "What I am doing you do not know now, but afterward you will understand." Peter said to him, "You shall never wash my feet." Jesus answered him, "If I do not wash you, you have no part in me." Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" Jesus said to him, "He who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but he is clean all over; and you are clean, but not every one of you." For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, "You are not all clean."

When he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and resumed his place, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example that you also should do as I have done to you." (John 13:1-15)

The week before Easter 2008 was our spring break from college, and we'd decided to spend the week visiting Mike's grandparents down in Florida. It was a fabulously relaxing vacation with beautiful weather. I read a bunch of books, Mike helped his grandpa make repairs on the house, and we played a lot of Scrabble with his grandma.

Unlike most of the old folks in their little community of homes, Mike's grandparents don't go to bed at 8 or 9pm. Most nights we were up past midnight with them.

On the Wednesday night in question we played two back-to-back games of Scrabble with his grandma. By the time we wrapped up, it was around 1 o'clock Thursday morning. I was exhausted, but Mike figured out that if he waited until the next evening it would probably be Friday by the time we were ready for bed, and that would completely ruin the whole plan to propose on Holy Thursday.

Mike's grandma and I both went off to get ready for bed, while Mike stood around anxiously because his grandpa was still up watching boxing. I got into bed and Mike came into my room and asked if I would come out and sit with him on the porch. I had an inkling that he might be planning to propose, but I was so tired I just groaned and said, "Can't we do this tomorrow?" (Poor Mike!)

He talked me into going out there, but then he went back into the house and told me to wait out there for him. At this point his grandpa had stopped watching TV but had gone into the (only) bathroom to get ready for bed, so Mike again stood around anxiously waiting.

Meanwhile, I lay down on the patio seat and figured he'd wake me up whenever he got done with whatever he was doing.

Finally he came out on the porch with a bowl of water and a towel. He said that because it was Holy Thursday, he wanted to wash my feet. As he started to do so, he asked, "What's that song we always sing at church?"

I started to sing it -- "The Servant Song" (lyrics and music here) -- and he sang it with me. The first four verses, at least, as that's as far as he'd been able to memorize -- which, if you know Mike, is no small feat :)

When we finished singing and he'd finished washing my feet, he started talking about how Jesus knew He was going to die that night but that He wanted to show how serving one another is the most important thing we could do. Mike said he wanted us to serve each other in love for the rest of our lives. Then he pulled out the engagement ring and asked me to marry him.

I'm pretty sure I was already happy-crying at this point, and there was much hugging and loving words, plus me saying, "I can't believe you finally proposed." (Yes, I had some really romantic lines that night, haha.) I had been expecting it for some time at that point and had had several false "Is this it?" moments, so the fact that he had finally proposed was a bit surreal for me.

At this point it was around 2am and we had to be quiet so as not to wake anyone up, but I had to tell someone. I called my BFF because I knew he was always up super-late. He immediately guessed why I was calling and started screaming with excitement. I will forever remember that moment: 2am, 70 degrees outside, dancing in my socks in the street while my best friend screamed with all the joy that I felt but couldn't express.

It's been four years since that night, and I'm happy to say that I still feel just as loved and served by my husband as I did then. Our solid foundation of faith has kept us grounded throughout the years and, I believe, will carry us through the years to come.

Every Holy Week, for me, is an opportunity to reflect on how my life is serving my God and my husband. Even if this week doesn't have this kind of personal meaning for you, I hope you will still know how loved you are.

3BoT Vol. 7: Three Great Books About Marriage as an Institution

Thursday, April 5, 2012

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3BoT Vol. 7: Three Great Books About Marriage as an Institution | Faith Permeating Life

The first Thursday of every month, I share three related book recommendations with you. You are invited to link up at the end of the post with three recommendations of your own! Click here for more info about Three Books on Thursday.

I am loving the contributions I've received so far for the What Marriage Means to Me series (and I'm always accepting new submissions!). But personal stories and perspectives, even a collection of wonderfully varied views like I'm building here, can only ever tell part of the story. As long as people continue to talk about "how marriage has always been" and "changing the definition of marriage," I think it's important to be fluent in the history and the statistics around the institution of marriage.

These are certainly not the only books on marriage as an institution, but they are three that I enjoyed for their thoroughness and/or clarity on the subject. (I'd love to get your recommendations in the comments!) Also, I'm recommending them for different reasons, and I think that, taken together, they give you a pretty comprehensive view of the institution of marriage.



Marriage, A History
#1: Marriage, A History by Stephanie Coontz
If you start doing any research into the history of marriage, you're going to run into Stephanie Coontz's name rather quickly. This book is an overview of marriage throughout the centuries, from ancient times to the Middle Ages to the 1950s family unit so often called "traditional" today. She explores various cultures' attitudes toward divorce, same-sex relationships, and sex outside of marriage at different periods in time and what influenced changes in those attitudes. I found the chapter "How the Other 95 Percent Wed: Marriage Among the Common Folk of the Middle Ages" particularly interesting; although the nobility had to get permission from the Church for a divorce, the Church was really uninvolved in the creation and dissolution of most marriages for more than 700 years. The book is heavily sourced but a very accessible read nonetheless.





Committed
#2: Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage by Elizabeth Gilbert
This book has been called a sequel to Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love, but it has a very different tone and structure to it. Gilbert finds herself frantically trying to arrange a wedding with the Brazilian man she loves but never planned to marry (thanks to both having had messy divorces previously) until the American government said she had to marry him if he were ever going to be allowed back in the United States again. In the meantime, they spend a year traveling around Southeast Asia, and she decides to investigate what marriage means to different cultures and across time. It's part memoir, part scholarly treatise, part personal reflections and insight. If you have any illusions about marriage being one unchangeable, definable thing, she will dispel that notion in no time, and give you a lot to think about besides.






For Better
#3: For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage by Tara Parker-Pope
You may recognize this title from my post on why the 50% divorce rate is a myth. Whereas Coontz will tell you about marriage throughout history, and Gilbert will tell you about marriage across cultures, Parker-Pope gives you an overview of the scientific research relevant to the institution of marriage. For example, are lobsters actually monogamous? (No.) What evidence do we have that humans are suited for sexual and social monogamy? What kind of communication patterns more often lead to divorce? How does having children typically affect marriages? She does a nice job of presenting and explaining research without drawing broad conclusions from it about all marriages. Instead, it's more like an answer to the questions, "Are we 'normal'?" and "What might make our marriage even better?"


So if you're looking to get a better grasp on the whole idea of marriage, these three books are a great place to start. If you have other recommendations in this same vein, please leave a comment below or write up a post and link up!

Click here for other 3BoT posts!

Please note that this post contains Amazon Affiliate links. If you click on a book cover and make any purchase at Amazon (including but not limited to the books suggested here), your purchase will be supporting Faith Permeating Life. Thanks!

Are You Gullible or Skeptical?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

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Are You Gullible or Skeptical? | Faith Permeating Life

Sunday was April Fool's Day, my least favorite day of the year.

Why? Because I am a very gullible person.

Although I prefer to say I'm trusting.

It's frustrating to me that, if someone is trying to pull a prank on you or joke around with you, you "win" if you don't fall for it. This means you decide to doubt what they're saying to you, even if it's someone you normally trust, or you suspiciously pay close attention to everywhere you're walking and sitting and everything you're eating.

But I don't want to be that way. I prefer to put faith in other people as a general rule and to trust that they're not going to purposely lie to my face.

I mean, I get that it's a good idea to have a healthy skepticism if people say things that are totally nonsensical. I am a big proponent of fact-checking and all that. But I'm talking about people saying things to me that sound somewhat plausible, and then it's turns out they're just "pulling my leg."

The worst is when I'm in a new situation, like at a new place with people I don't know very well, like maybe at a coworker's party or visiting a friend's extended family or trying some experience for the very first time.

If someone says something that seems odd, I have to quickly decide if it's worse to make a Type I or Type II error. (Forgive the statistics talk -- it will make sense in a second.)

For example, here's the kind of conversation that happens all the time in movies:
Character 1: "So next we're going to [do this strange thing]."
Character 2: "Hahahahaha that's funny... wait, you're serious."
That's being overly skeptical.

Whereas I'm more likely to find myself in one of these situations:
Person I Just Met: "So next we're going to [do this strange thing]."
Me: "Oh... OK."
Person I Just Met: "Hahahahaha I'm just kidding! Hahahahaha!"
That's me. The gullible one.

When did being trusting or agreeable become something to mock?

The other problem is that when I do make the first kind of error -- let's say I'm talking with someone who I know jokes around a lot and they suggest something that sounds like a joke -- I don't usually respond by laughing. If I think they're pulling my leg, I usually make a sarcastic comment like, "Oh yeah, that would go over really well." And then I look like an idiot when I have to backpedal because I realize they weren't joking.

So I prefer to just trust people and get laughed at when I take them seriously. Maybe this makes me a gullible loser, but I like that version of myself better than the distrustful, sarcastic skeptic.

Where do you fall on the gullible-skeptical spectrum?

What Marriage Means to Me: Alice

Monday, April 2, 2012

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I continue to be amazed by the fantastic submissions sent to me for the What Marriage Means to Me series. Today's contributor goes by "Alice" and is one of my good friends from Twitter. I am guessing many of you can relate to her description here of how she grew up with a very traditional view of marriage but found that her life experiences slowly poked holes in everything she'd been taught. Enjoy, and leave her some comment love if it resonates with you!

~~~

Growing up, I had a super-traditional view of dating and marriage. I was raised in a very conservative Christian environment and was sent to parochial school my entire life. Traditional views on dating and marriage were the norm, and I never really questioned any of it until much later in life.

Dating was only for the purpose of marriage.

Sex was only for marriage.

Having a child before marriage was the most scandalous thing ever.

All of those messages simply assimilated into my mentality because there was no reason to think otherwise. My parents were together, my maternal grandparents were together, and my paternal grandmother was a widow. All of my aunts and uncles were still married to their first spouse. All of my cousins were conceived within marriage. None of my friends had divorced parents. Even when I got to high school, only one of my friends had parents who were divorced.

And so I went around in my little traditional marriage bubble throughout childhood.

There was a little "blip" when I was nine or ten and my uncle lived with my aunt before they were married, but it didn't really register with me. I only remember asking about it because Dr. Laura, whom my mother listened to on a daily basis as she picked my brother and I up from school, said it was wrong. I really liked my soon-to-be aunt, so I didn't think it could be too wrong, because I wouldn't like her if she was doing something naughty. I forget how my mother explained it away, but I was satisfied enough and didn't think of it until later.

A year or two later, I heard James Dobson speak on Christian marriage, and I became terrified. It sounded like the most awful thing ever, and because I was going to grow up into a woman, it made it even more terrible than if I were going to grow up to be a man. There seemed to be a never-ending list of things that I had to do and an equally long list of things that I couldn't do by virtue of being a woman. I lay in bed and cried and cried, horrified at the prospect that I had to grow up. I couldn't believe that was going to be my life, because of course I wanted a good Christian husband. Marriage seemed like the end of the world.

The first time I started to really question this whole uber-traditional model was when my best friend started dating. We were fifteen. She did all sorts of things with her boyfriends, and I was in awe. She was dating them for fun, not in order to get married. I was afraid to even mention a boy at home, and she was telling me all about what could be done. In a household where sex was a forbidden topic, it was almost surreal to know someone who was having sex and wasn't married.

I questioned the model more and more as other friends started to have sex with their boyfriends. I loved these girls -- they weren't the horrible nasty sluts that I had been led to believe all girls who did things with boys were.

Still, I held some exclusivity, if only for myself. I was a virgin, a good girl, pure, and exactly what I should be on my wedding night. I expected that of my future husband as well. After all, fair is fair. I didn't buy into that double standard. If I had to sit on my ever-growing sex drive, so did he.

That went to hell in a hand basket when I fell for a guy in college. He wasn't a virgin, and that rocked my little world. There I was, all "I'd have sex with him" and he wasn't a virgin and I didn't care. It didn't matter to me. All of those charts I'd been scared with, about how many people you're actually sleeping with, became irrelevant. It didn't change who he was or what he was. And with that went the whole "come hell or high water I'll be a virgin until I get married" mentality. It's caring about someone that matters, not if they have ever been with someone else.

After that, it seemed as if I was forced to reevaluate what marriage meant at a staggering rate.

The first major catalyst was realizing that my parents' marriage was basically over. Who knows how long it had been, or if I was old enough to pick up on it happening as it crumbled. However, they won't divorce because divorce is against the rules, and my mother would never be able to support herself. I realized they still had that piece of paper that made everything okay, but really... nothing was okay anymore. Playing by the rules didn't guarantee anything.

The second catalyst was much more powerful. I became friends with a gay couple. Here were these two men who were "married" in a church, having everything but a piece of paper. These two men were absolutely devoted to each other. They were two men who made a life together. They actively loved each other and stood by each other in the face of massive opposition. They were kind and warm and loving to others. That was the last blow holding tight to traditional marriage as the only legitimate way. Here were two men, men who by virtue of being gay were not suitable for me to know, much less associate with, and they had a more stable marriage than my parents.

Around this time, my best friend moved in with her boyfriend. Her family was upset, and I still haven't had the courage to tell my family. She is married to him in every sense but that piece of paper. At first I was a little upset, and then I asked myself "Why?" After realizing that I couldn't come up with a compelling reason, I let it go. We've often talked about why they aren't married, or engaged for that matter. I completely understand her reasoning.

The same went for my cousin. While she didn't live with her boyfriend, they were sleeping together for years before they got married. I was a little bit upset when I first figured it out, but again, why? They were very much in love, very much cared for each other, and respected each other. It was everything that I could possibly want for myself, so why begrudge it to those people I love?

While I was in school, I earned a degree in women and gender studies. In addition to my personal thoughts on marriage, I studied it academically. I read books and case studies approaching the topic from several different angles. I became aware of the history of marriage in American culture, all of its twists and turns and shifts. This added a whole new dimension to my awakening. I was gaining a language and a forum to articulate what I was thinking and feeling. It was liberating.

This would probably be the time to mention that for all of this reevaluating of dating and marriage, I'm a virgin. In fact, I am twenty-five years old, have never had a boyfriend, and have never been kissed.

Only once have I had enough courage to kiss someone, but I was very drunk and the tiny sober part of my brain yelled at me that I wasn't going to have my first kiss while fall-down drunk in a loud club. I am well aware that I am a walking anomaly, and while it would be a lie to say I'm completely at peace with this fact, I'm mostly okay with it.

Now I really think marriage is what you make of it. What makes it legitimate is completely up to the couple. I've seen too much to think that it only has to be the way I was taught as a child. I don't see how I can nullify others' experiences because they don't fall in line with how I was raised. What I'm doing currently works for me, and I want to extend that to others. Life is challenging enough on its own without breaking each other down over something that was meant to build us up.

~~~

Alice is a Yankee transplant to the South trying to find her way down the Rabbit Hole of Dating. You can find her at therabbitholeofalice.blogspot.com or follow her on Twitter @therabbitalice.
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