On Gender Relations Post 9: What to Look For (Tobias)

On Thursday I mentioned that sometimes Alayna is a saint for putting up with me, and this is absolutely and entirely true. As anyone who’s been reading for long has probably discerned, I can have a… difficult personality. Honestly, before Alayna came along I’d pretty much given up on the idea of finding someone and was on the path towards distinctly confirming my bachelorhood. I am stubborn, arrogant, uncouth, and generally disinterested in the opinions of others on my behavior or beliefs. Beyond that, I can be a perfectionist, have particular interests, and am not shy about telling people when they are boring, foolish, or just plain wrong. Actually… I’m generally not shy in telling people what I think about them at all. I may have been described as ‘overly honestly’ and ‘wanting in tact.’ It’s something that I’m working on. That’s just the beginning, and I’m guessing that you’re already picking up the fact that I can be a chore at times. So, needless to say that I am somewhat amazed that a woman of Alayna’s caliber would actually deign to pursue further acquaintance with me (not the least because I actually talk like this on a not infrequent basis). So, today I just want to tell you a little bit about Alayna that you might not have picked up yet from our posts.

Back when I was actively looking for someone to spend my life with, I developed a list of seven things that I wanted in a potential spouse: 1) A woman who is devoted to God. 2) A woman who is intelligent. 3) A woman who is compassionate and cares about people. 4) A woman who makes family a priority. 5) A woman who is strong. 6) A woman who is willing to follow me. 7) A woman who is personally and physically beautiful. Alayna fits all of these, and often in ways that I couldn’t have imagined when I made that list.

So, first of all Alayna is a devoted Christian woman who lives out her faith (often better than I do). I tend toward the contemplative side of Christianity. I want to know and understand God, the spiritual world, and how they relate to the Christian life. I am a theologian, a philosopher, and an academic at heart. Alayna is not. Often theological conversation and contemplation are fairly boring to her, but she is able to follow my conversations (more on this later), and she actively chooses to join me in them, even though they aren’t always her interest. Alayna is a doer at heart. She wants to take care of people, to advocate for victims, to take part in the world and live out her beliefs by actually helping me… I often forget to consider actually helping people. In this area she is not only a woman who is devoted to God, but she is a woman who lives out that devotion in areas and ways where I am at my weakest. Drop me into the middle of an argument about the objectivity of truth and the existence of God and I am at home. Drop me into a situation where someone needs to be rescued, healed, protected, or provided for and I struggle. In many ways, Alayna is the opposite. She not only highlights for me my weaknesses and the areas where I most need to improve (which I think is a good thing), but she also helps to fill in those areas.

Second, Alayna is a very intelligent woman. She is, actually, in many ways exactly what I needed and wanted (even if it sometimes drives me crazy). Where I am intelligent and very theoretically inclined, Alayna is intelligent and very practically inclined. Where I am bookish, she is prone to action. Alayna can absolutely follow along and contribute even in academically difficult conversations. She may sometimes need unfamiliar terminology explained, but once the tools are in place she has no trouble understanding and critiquing the underlying concepts. On top of that, she brings an orientation of thought that is not natural for me. This is true both because she is a woman and because she is much more concerned with practical applications than with theoretical structures. Where I want to systematize, organize, and understand, Alayna wants to put into practice, and this is something that is incredibly good for me and that I thoroughly appreciate.

Third, Alayna, loves to take care of people. It’s literally what she does for a living (and she makes significantly more money than I do without seeing that as in any way relating to my worth… …education does not pay well at the moment). Not only this, but she cares about people over caring about her job. Not so long ago Alayna was asked to leave a job because she did the right thing. I honestly cannot explain how proud of her I was when this happened. She put the interests of the person in her care above the request of a superior. I might add that the way she handled this situation is also a part of why she has the job she does now (which is actually a better job in, as far as I can tell, every way). Often, Alayna cares more than I think I really comprehend, and this is something that I find not only very attractive, but also very respectable. Even if we weren’t engaged I would be honored to have the chance to know her. She is, ultimately, a woman of high moral caliber.

Fourth, Alayna is thoroughly devoted to her friends and family. She is, without doubt, the most loyal person that I have ever met. Again, this is not only something that I value, but something that complements me well and pulls me back to center. I tend to be more generally universal, and often prone to universalizing love. Lest I be misunderstood in what I am about to say, I do not mean to say that Alayna only cares about her family and close friends. Obviously, from what I just said above, this is not true. However, she has a very strong sense of priorities and whenever I am prone to ‘love the neighbor’ to abstraction and attempt to say that Christians should love everyone equally and in the same way (which is neither theologically true nor practically possible) she pulls me back to center. She points out that God comes first, family comes second, friends third, community fourth, and strangers come after that in order of association; as opposed to God first, everyone else second on an equal footing. This means that I can and should prioritize the people nearest to me who I can and should love best rather than trying to fix poverty in Africa (which I know relatively little about and can have at best small impact upon) to the exclusion of my family.

Fifth, Alayna is an incredibly strong woman. She is as stubborn and willful as I am. This means that when we come to loggerheads it can go on for quite some time. However, it also means that I cannot simply run her over (which I have a bad habit of doing to people accidentally), and it means that I have to actually consider her perspective, which is often beneficial for me. Further, this means that I can trust her to handle things well. Already, I’ve seen Alayna handle some incredibly difficult situations. I’ve seen her struggle, I’ve seen her fight, and I’ve seen her break. We all break sometimes, but I tend to describe people as either hard or malleable. There are people who are easy to break and easy to fix, people who change easily. These people are often very easy to steer back to the right course when they get off it, but they are also very easy to steer off of it, and sometimes they can’t handle much. Then there are people that are hard. They don’t change direction easily. They struggle, fight, and trying to steer them onto a different course is generally like trying to fight a hurricane. It can be very hard or even impossible to get these people back onto the right course if they go astray. However, once on the right course its very difficult to get them off of it. Alayna is definitely the latter, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Sixth, I know, and have seen several times now, that as strong as Alayna is, when it comes down to brass tacks she’ll follow me. She can see when I’ve come to the end of my rope, and inevitably when I am she stops fighting. I’m not going to say that this always has or always will be good for her. I am far from perfect, and my leadership isn’t always well-considered. However, ultimately I know that Alayna trusts me, and that’s what it comes down to. The more stringently she fights about something, the more important I know it is. Sometimes she’s right and sometimes she’s wrong, and the same is true for me. However, her willingness to submit consistently amazes me and sometimes confounds me. I am impressed by the strength she shows and her willingness to fight for what she thinks is best, and I am humbled by the way that she trusts me and is willing to follow my decisions even when she doesn’t agree with them. Further, I’m blessed by her willingness to be gracious when I am wrong and should have heeded her wisdom.

Seventh, I know you’ve never seen a picture of her, but Alayna is a very beautiful woman. She has a beautiful, engaging personality, and beyond that she has a very… let’s say culturally suitable physique. Honestly, I’m not going to try to describe her because I never do her justice, but if you follow this link she’s somewhere between the supermodel type (1980s) and the post-modern type (2000s). This is actually probably going to embarrass her, but my point is this: I thought I’d be alone… or at best wind up with a cutish woman. Alayna is a beautiful woman.

So, I’ve no doubt that you have a list of your own. This is the best advice that I can give you: keep it simple, keep it short, and keep it focused on qualities of character rather than on specifics. I know too many people whose lists include things like ‘big muscles’, ‘likes How I Met Your Mother (or insert similar interest)’, ‘has a porsche’, ‘thinks dead baby jokes are funny’, ‘blonde’, or ‘[blank] breast size’. These are stupid ways to pick someone to spend the rest of your life with. Over the next thirty years your interests will change, your appearance will change (probably drastically), you sense of humor will change, your social status will change, your possessions with change, etc, etc, etc. Pick someone with similar beliefs, similar goals, similar priorities, and a high quality of character. Further, pick someone who compliments you, who fills in your weaknesses, or who accentuates your strengths. Ultimately, pick someone who makes you a better person, and who you make a better person – and don’t settle for only one of the two.

On Gender Relations Post 8: Disagreement (Alayna)

Alright, it’s time for another post from Alayna, and I have to say that I think this one is pretty great! She definitely took a step up from my post on disagreements last week. I think she’s got some great points here:

Once Tobias was telling me about a friend of his who told him that he couldn’t remember he and his new wife ever disagreeing. I wasn’t jealous at all. In fact, I cringed and told him I was a little worried about how their first fight (cuz they’ll inevitably have one) would go, and remarked that I was glad we had gotten our first couple thousand out of the way before we tie the knot (you’d think I was exaggerating, but I’m not…very much). As Tobias pointed out last week, the way we disagree matters. There are actually more important things than arriving at an agreement as speedily as possible. Here are some ways that have helped me keep perspective when I’m in the middle of an argument with my fiancé.

1: Keep the focus on solving the issue rather than on the issue itself. I like to have a mental picture of me and Tobias at a crossroad trying to figure out which way to go, rather than me screaming at him across a median trying to convince him to join me on my side of the highway. This encourages a team approach rather than me vs him. I’ve found that it can be helpful if things are rapidly escalating emotionally, to take a step back and remind Tobias that we’re going to figure this out. This gives me a chance to gain perspective and it might help him occasionally, too. Do everything possible to ensure that you and your significant other are prioritizing the relationship and each other above the current disagreement.

2: Keep small issues small. There will be enough big issues people can fight over, that we don’t need to escalate small ones into bigger issues. I’d like to say I am really good at this, but many times I’ll find myself in the middle of an argument with Tobias and I’ll realize that I’ve completely lost track of the severity (or lack thereof) of the issue we’ve been fighting about. What I have found to be helpful is pausing the argument to remind both of us that it’s not a big issue. Make sure to say this in a way that doesn’t minimize the other person’s opinion.

3: Compromise. Contrary to what some people think, compromising is not a sign of weakness. It is not a way of saying that someone has lost faith in their opinion, so they’re willing to meet halfway. I have a friend who told me she was too worried to even discuss compromising with her fiancé because she was worried he would see the middle ground as her new opinion and let her continually compromise until she had reached his side. That relationship didn’t make it to the altar. Make sure you’re with someone who values you over the disagreement and compromising shouldn’t be an issue. The goal of compromising isn’t necessarily to meet halfway. Divide opinions into big preferences and small preferences. And then when compromising, do as much as possible to have each person get as much of their big preferences as possible and let the others fall where they will.

4: Don’t be afraid to not always compromise. Not everything is equally important to both people (note big and small preferences from above). I remember once about a month into our relationship, Tobias and I had a disagreement about what kind of entertainment was acceptable. I felt very strongly that a certain type wasn’t, and Tobias disagreed. For me, this was a big deal and it was a smaller deal to him, so I requested that we not compromise on this issue. He agreed. A couple months later, he told me that he had since changed his mind on the issue and was now mostly agreeing with me, but for a couple months he was respecting that something was a bigger deal to me than it was to him, and was willing to make the necessary adjustment. We’ve since had another disagreement where it was a bigger deal to him than it was to me, so I gave it to him. The key here again is to do everything possible to ensure that people’s ‘big deals’ get met. I will add that it is easier to agree to completely give up a small deal to ensure that someone else gets their big deal if people have already made compromising a habit and are not prone to manipulate others. Something can’t magically be a ‘big deal’ just because you’re tired of fighting or you think the other person won last time.

5: Find a way to deal with issues where you can’t compromise because you have to either choose one option or another. We use a 1-10 scale that allows us to rate how important something is to us. We then go with whoever has the higher number. Yes, this does take honesty and respect and love for each other. If Tobias tells me something is a 6 to him, and I know it is only a 4 to me, I could say it’s a 7 so I win. But since I love him and want him to be happy, I don’t. He does the same to me. We’ve only had to use this twice that I can remember and we’ve both come out on top once. This does only work if you have a trusting and mutually loving relationship, but then if you don’t, you probably shouldn’t be in it anyway. This has also been extremely insightful for us because we’ve gotten to see how issues that one of us didn’t think was that important, was much more important to the other. Through these discussions, Tobias and I have both learned a couple things that are important to the other and have done what we can to ensure that these needs are being met. It’s helped with quite a few disagreements since. If you and your significant other have a different way to deal with these issues, that’s great, but it really does help to have something in place before a disagreement occurs. The first time we did this, my number was higher and I actually felt bad about that cuz I felt like I was making him lose. Tobias had to remind me that we had agreed previously to use that system and we weren’t going to back out then.

6: Keep the end game in mind. On one of my favorite shows (and I’m far too embarrassed to state which one it actually is), I’ve seen the same couple break up and reconnect over and over again. In this last episode, they had an issue that they might break up over and, while I like them as a couple, it didn’t faze me at all cuz I’m pretty sure that when the final episode of that show eventually airs, they’ll be together. This works the same for disagreements. And I’m not actually referring to remembering that the relationship is more important than the issue (although that is true and it does help). For me and Tobias, we take a more complementarian approach to our relationship (which you may recall from the original presuppositions post we did a few weeks back). This means that when it comes to bigger life decisions, Tobias does have the final say. Before you get offended, keep in mind that he has yet to abuse this and I have yet to feel like I can’t state my opinion or have a wish be granted because of this. This actually makes it easier for us, because Tobias is more likely to listen and consider what I have to say if he knows that I’m not going to take a ‘my way or the highway’ approach to it. He can focus more on what I’m saying and less on defending his position, because he knows that if he still thinks his way is best, we’ll go that way, and then he has all the time in the world to explain why he feels that is important. This recently came up when we were arguing over apartment complexes. I’m very thrifty and was attracted to the cheaper prices that downtown living offered. Tobias was a little more worried about safety and wanted to stick with apartment complexes that were a little more expensive that were in a safer area of town. I agreed, but didn’t fully give up on the downtown life idea. When we got to the more expensive complex (which is definitely how I was referring to it in my mind), he pointed out that the 2-bedroom apartments weren’t that much more expensive than the 1-bedroom apartment and it might be the better buy. I felt like he was quickly and carelessly adding a lot of “not much more expensive” to the point that it was adding up fast, which got me focused on the downtown apartments again. I got so wrapped up in getting my own way that I completely lost sight of supporting Tobias, and he in turn got so wrapped up in trying to convince me that safety was important, that it felt like he wasn’t actually listening to my financial concerns. While driving down the highway, it suddenly hit me how off-track I was and I requested that he pull off into a parking lot cuz I had something important to tell him. He did, and I told him that I would go with the apartment complex that he wanted, I just wanted him to consider a couple of my issues before he fell in love with a certain complex. That calmed both of us down to the point that he was able to admit that he might not have been prioritizing finances as high as he should. He agreed to stick with the one-bedroom apartment and to do his best to cut costs where possible. We accomplished more in the next 60 seconds of conversation than we had in the previous hour.

My Conclusion:

Disagreements will always happen and will always be hard. But they can also be good. Prioritize people over issues, don’t blow small issues into bigger issues, and find a way to compromise and deal with situations where you can’t. It won’t look the same for each couple, but it can help all of them. Then, instead of dreading your first disagreement, you can learn and actually thrive through disagreements.

On Gender Relations Post 6: Disagreement (Tobias)

Great minds think alike… except when they don’t. You really never realize how much you disagree with someone until you talk to them every day about pretty much everything. Needless to say, Alayna and I agree on pretty much all of the big things (you know… God, the objective nature of reality, whether kids are in the future, etc). However, we disagree on a lot of other things. Honestly, we disagree on a lot of other things. We generally like different foods, different hobbies, different television shows, etc. I read a ton, but she doesn’t read much. She’s a saver and I am… … …not a saver…it’s true, I’m not perfect. So, we’ve had to work through a lot of disagreements ranging from interpretations of Game of Thrones to interpretations of scripture, from what words mean to when we can start thinking about kids, from the best way to be happy to how often it’s okay to eat out… you get the picture. Lately the disagreements have been about whether a mystical (i.e. experiential) relationship with God is an important part of the Christian life, or if it’s just a blessing that God gives to some people.

With all of this disagreement, it’s pretty easy to lose track of each other at times. We get focused on the disagreement or on the hurtful things that someone said that weren’t actually intended to be hurtful in any way. It can be hard to disagree with someone this much, especially when you expect them to agree, and it’s really easy for disagreements to turn into fights. Alayna and I (as I’m sure is true for the vast majority of couples) think in wildly different ways. Yesterday morning we were actually discussing the Foundationalism/Coherentism problem that I used for yesterday’s philosophical story challenge. I think that this is an interesting, relatively important issue, and very complicated issue, but Alayna thought it had an obvious answer and just wasn’t really that big of a deal. Does this mean that I’m somehow a deep, complicated person and she’s shallow? Does it mean that she’s a philosophical genius and I really just can’t see past the nose on my face? Honestly, I’m not entirely sure that it isn’t possible to answer ‘yes’ to both of those questions, but I don’t that either of them are particularly valid. Alayna thinks the answer is obvious because she approaches the question differently than I do. She doesn’t think it’s that big a deal because she has different priorities than I do.

So, set in the context of what we’ve discussed in previous posts (especially in the first post about the nature of creation), this obviously means that one of us has to be wrong, doesn’t it? There’s a creator, so there must be one right answer to everything, right? Again, I don’t think so. Certainly there is one right answer to some questions (i.e. is the Earth spherical? Does God exist? Is Jesus the only way to heaven? Is a human embryo actually a person? Etc). However, there are other questions for which there is obviously not one right answer (what flavor of ice cream is your favorite? Which girls do you find most attractive? Who’s your favorite actor? Etc). As do whether the Foundationalism/Coherentism debate is objectively important… honestly, I have no idea. I think that it could be, but that doesn’t mean that it is. This is an issue where there is actually room in reality for more than one opinion. That doesn’t make all opinions right, or even equal, but it does mean that there isn’t one right position and everyone else is wrong.
So, how do we actually deal with this in practice? Well, I have a few rules that I try (and try is the key word here, because I fail a lot) to apply whenever we disagree.

1) Stay Calm: Whatever the disagreement is, staying calm and collected is the best way to move forward and solve it. If I get frustrated and angry over little disagreements, then I just add to the chaos and am more likely to hurt her in the process. (… …I think that I’m pretty bad at this one… Alayna apparently thinks differently :P).

2) Don’t Take Things Personally: Even when it sounds like she’s accusing me of something, she probably isn’t. This is especially true when she actually says ‘Now when I say this I don’t mean you…’ So, instead of taking things personally and letting myself be hurt by things that she didn’t mean to be hurtful, stay somewhat detached and stay objective. (… again, I’m not that great at this one either).

3) Take Her Seriously: This is, I think, one of my most important rules. If I don’t take Alayna seriously, if I just blow her off, or make it seem like I’m obviously right and she’s obviously wrong, then it blows the disagreement way out of proportion. It’s a sign of arrogance on my part, and a sign of a lack of respect for her as well. So, the problem then becomes, how do I take her seriously when I think it is obvious that I’m right and she’s wrong? That’s where this becomes very difficult because then I have to accept the fact that I could actually be wrong about this. This is the great horror of taking other positions seriously: it means accepting that I could potentially be wrong. In most of our disagreements I don’t think I struggle with this all that much, but when I do struggle with it (and I have a few times) I struggle hard.

4) Listen… Actually, listen: Again, this one is very important. It’s easy to just kind of half listen to Alayna’s side of the argument and then repeat my case all over again. However, this doesn’t do either of us any good. My job isn’t to convince Alayna that I’m right (which I find myself trying to do too often), but to understand where she’s coming from. That’s hard to do a lot of the time.

5) Be careful how I phrase things: I try to be clear, and we still have plenty of misunderstandings. Sometimes it’s because I’m failing miserably. Sometimes it’s just because we’re coming from two very different foundational viewpoints. However, in all of this it’s still very important to make sure that I am being clear.

6) If it doesn’t need to be said, don’t say it: There are lots of times that I think of something that I could say to make a point really hit home. Generally these things are clearly hurtful and often they aren’t either necessary or likely to help resolve the disagreement. However, it is still easy to think of things that I could say. One of my rules, and this is one that I’m generally good about keeping, is that I don’t say these things. If there is something that needs to be said because I love Alayna and I’m convinced that she needs to hear it then I will say it. However, if it’s something that I want to say because it will help me win then I always try to avoid saying it. Alayna actually pointed out, as we were writing this, that she can’t remember a time when I’ve broken this rule. I’m pretty sure that there have been a couple, but she is generous with her forgiveness.

On Gender Relations Post 5: Great (or not so great) Expectations (Tobias

Have you ever heard of the book Good to Great? I have to be honest and say that I haven’t read it. I can’t actually tell you whether it’s a good book or not. I do know that one of the primary principles of the book is a teaching of Voltaire that ‘Good is the enemy of great,’ or that when we settle for what is good we somehow miss out on what is great. Consider the saying ‘Shoot for the moon. If you miss, at least you’ll hit the stars.’ Honestly, American culture is generally replete with sayings like this. We believe that everything can be the best all the time. We generally ignore the fact that missing the moon generally leaves you floating dead in empty space, not frolicking among the stars.

Something that I’ve been thinking quite a bit about lately is the idea of that which is good enough. We often connect ‘good enough’ with ‘mediocre’, ‘lazy’, or ‘really not good enough.’ However, I think this is a profound mistake. We have this idea that something has to be the best in order to be good enough. However, this isn’t (in fact it can’t be) true. Something that I drill into my martial arts students is that they will never be the best. There is always someone better: someone stronger, faster, more skilled, more experienced, luckier, etc.

This actually reminds me of one of my favorite movies, Three Idiots. This movie actually does a great job of illustrating what ‘good enough’ looks like. One of the themes of the movie is ‘pursue excellence and success will follow.’ This doesn’t mean that if you aim at being the best, you will be. It means that if you aim at being your best, you can be satisfied with it. Being the best and doing my best are two completely different things. When I do my best I generally hit ‘good enough’, and I can be satisfied with the result. When I focus on being the best, I generally fail miserably and don’t even reach ‘good enough’. This is important because when I say ‘good enough’, what I actually mean is good enough, or enough to be considered good, enough that I can be satisfied that I’ve done the best I can.

This is especially important when it comes to my relationship with Alayna. I’ve found that there are two significant struggles in which understanding this difference is key: appearance and romance. We live in a nation that is steeped in false notions of both. Between movies, super-models, and pornography, Americans have a garbage dump full of ideas about what their significant other is supposed to look like, act like, be like, and what they themselves are supposed to feel, want, desire.

I’d like to tackle these in order: appearance first. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that Alayna is, objectively speaking, the most beautiful woman to ever walk the planet. She is a very attractive woman (I actually told her she could be a porn star once… …that did not go over well at all…), but there are women who better fit the American model of beauty. Of course, the American model of beauty is rather insane in the first place. Consider that not even super-models actually look like super-models. Watch this video if you don’t believe me. So, what I’m saying is that it is important for men to be satisfied with a woman who doesn’t look like ‘the ideal’ or even like ‘that other lady.’ Alayna is beautiful, not just because she looks good normally, but because she 1) tries to look good, and 2) tries to look good specifically for me. My point here is that Alayna’s appearance isn’t ‘the best in the world’, but that she makes the effort to look the best that she can, and that she her looks are easily good enough. She can be satisfied in her appearance, and I should be satisfied in her appearance. If I’m not, it’s my fault, not hers.

Further, pornography itself is incredibly destructive to the American view of what a woman should look and act like. It leads us to objectify women (problem one) seeing them as collections of parts that either meet or don’t meet standard, rather than as people who are worthy of love and respect. Further, extreme overuse of pornography can lead to an assortment of erectile related medical problems that no guy actually wants to deal with. Most destructively, pornography teaches us to expect things that, were we thinking rationally, we would never expect.

Amazingly enough, I’ve never opened the door to find a busty blond naked on my doorstep and ready to go. I’m not going to say that it’s completely inconceivable that this could ever happen… just that it doesn’t. Women generally don’t act like this, and generally don’t look like what we see in movies. The thing is… that’s a good thing. Heck, I don’t want Alayna showing up naked on some other guy’s doorstep. Nor do I want her to look like someone who isn’t real… or someone who couldn’t actually stand up straight (honestly… imagine the back problems some of these poor women have). Models and porn-stars often have to trade actual health for an ‘ideal’ appearance. Honestly, I’d rather Alayna be around to take care of me when I’m eighty than look like some movie vixen now. This doesn’t even begin to go into the addiction problems, the feelings of betrayal and unworthiness, etc. that use of pornography can create. However, while I am away of the damage that pornography does to relationships both before and during the relationship. It actually hasn’t been the most significant problem that I’ve had to overcome in my relationship with Alayna.

Since the start of our relationship it’s been the American culture of romance that has been the source of my most pernicious struggles. As Alayna said last week I’ve never been obsessed with her. I’ve never chased her through an airport, nor have I pined after her, and I struggle with feeling like I should. I struggle with fear born out of the fact that I don’t feel overwhelming passion that blinds me to all of her flaws and makes my heart sob with grief when I’ve been away from her for five minutes. I struggle with the fact that nothing about her makes me feel like I’m falling through space or have completely lost control. I’m afraid that this absence means that she’s ‘not the one’: which is a total pile of horse hockey because I don’t even believe in ‘the one.’ This is not to say that I believe that I could be ‘as happy’ with anyone else, or that Alayna won’t make me happy. What I mean is that I don’t believe that there is one and only one woman in all the universe who I was fated to be with, and that if Alayna isn’t that woman that my life will be miserable. I believe that I could be happy as a single man. I also believe that I could make a relationship with someone else work, and I believe if (God forbid) Alayna dies young I probably will eventually be able to move on and find someone else. I also believe that I have chosen to tie my life to hers, and that we can be happy together regardless of anything else. All of this to say: I chose Alayna. I decided that I wanted to tie my life to hers in particular. I didn’t do this because I thought that no one else would have me, or that there was no other possible choice. I did this because I decided that she was the person that I wanted more than anyone else.

Still, that fear remains. It remains because culture inundates us with this kind of uber-romantic gibberish that leads us to believe that ‘real love’ is about immediate passion, uncontrolled feeling, and the rejection of all that is rational, rather than about consistency, willingness to work on yourself, and willingness to love a broken person who needs to work on him/herself as well.

For years I’ve preached against this same kind of uber-romanticism, and yet I find myself falling into it. I’m afraid that I don’t love her enough. That I’m going to let her down, hurt her, ruin her life… you get the picture. Ultimately, I’m afraid that this is going to be a real relationship that takes work, effort, patience, and forgiveness; not a fantasy relationship where I get to be the hero, she always adores me, we burn with passion, and never disagree. You can ask her, I’ve struggled to move past these fears, and the expectations that engender them, from the very beginning. I like to think that I’m succeeding, but the fact that I’m not madly obsessed with my fiancée still scares me sometimes.

All that being said, someone asked me on Wednesday how I knew that Alayna was the woman I wanted to marry. The answer was easy: the easy things can be hard, but the hard things are always easy. Alayna and I will fight tooth and nail over the what the bible says about divorce or whether Drago and Danni’s relationship was, in the beginning, non-consensual (i.e. repeated rape) or consensual but still painful and unwanted. However, when it comes to making big decisions (like whether I’m going to move up to where her new job is so that we can get married; or whether to get up early and drive 2.5 hours just to go to a doctor’s appointment with her, and then drive 2.5 hours back to make it to my class on time), the answer is just obvious. Sometimes I really struggle to say the things that Alayna wants to hear, mostly because I’m afraid that they might not be true and I might hurt her by building up false expectations. Actually, not too long ago, Alayna asked me who I loved more than anyone else in the world. I stopped. I was thinking, ‘I love God more than anyone else, and I love my family, there are many friends that I love… oh my goodness, what if I don’t actually love her enough?! I can’t say what she wants me to say! What do I do? What do I do?!’ (… …I don’t overthink things… what are you talking about…) I did finally calm down, and with some help from Alayna I finally stopped over-thinking and was able to tell her what she wanted to hear. On top of that, Alayna is the person that I want to tie my life to. I do love God more than her, and He is my first priority. However, if I had to choose between friends and family or her, I would choose her. Thankfully she isn’t going to ask me to make this choice, but it is the choice that I would make.

When it comes to doing things to express my love for her, I tend to do much better. Honestly, there aren’t many things that I wouldn’t do. I won’t lie for her to cover up something she’s done wrong. I wouldn’t kill someone just because she didn’t like him/her (though there have been a few times when someone actually hurt her that I’ve considered it). But if I can do something to make her happy that isn’t flat out wrong, even if it’s hard… well, that’s just an easy decision to make.

Story Challenge of the Week

Well, I went to my first professional NHL game yesterday. Alayna is a fairly big fan of the Capitals, and she got tickets for a double date with her brother and his girlfriend as a Christmas present for all of us. It was fun, the Caps won by one and the game was fairly exciting as a whole. I hope that all of you enjoyed Alayna’s post yesterday. I’ll be posting one of my own this coming Sunday. However, until then I have a story challenge, and it’s time for my favorite story challenge. I’m going to give you a series of criteria including genre, theme, some character archtypes, etc. Your job is to write a story that includes all of the features required in the challenge. If you intend to post it here, please keep it short. However, the complexity of this challenge often requires a longer story.

Theme: Romance

Genre: Modern Fiction, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Science Fiction

Setting: Your choice of general genre, but this should be a romantic setting of some kind (a wedding, a date, etc.)

Character Archetypes:

1) The Lover (male partner)

2) The Beloved (female partner)

3) A Drunk Clown (or village idiot, etc)

4) A Lost or Abandoned Child

Items:

1) A Cord of Silken Rope

2) A ‘Skeleton Key’ (this could be a hacker’s tool, a wand that can open any lock, etc)

3) A Torch

On Gender Relations Post 4: Great (or not so great) Expectations (Alayna)

Welcome everyone! I hope that you’re having a wonderful Sunday. As you all know, Alayna and I have been working on a series of posts lately dealing with some of the things that we’ve struggled with and some problems that we see in the culture. As I’ve said in earlier posts, we both hope that those of you who read this find in helpful, but the primary purpose for writing these has actually been for us, not for you. We’re working to get ourselves on the same page, work through some disagreements, and effectively express our concerns, beliefs, positions, and fears so that we can better understand one another first and foremost. So, this week’s post is from Alayna, and I personally think that she did a great job of expressing some real issues in American society as a whole:

While preparing a post about what marriage means and what it’s meant to accomplish, I kept getting hung up on exactly what it means to be loved and how people allow that love to die. This necessitated that the marriage post be postponed a few weeks so Tobias and I can wrestle through a major issue that helps sour multiple marriages. This issue is one of harmful expectations. And just like we did with dating, this post is directed to women and next week Tobias will address the men.

While the coffin for a marriage is always ready (as part of living in a sinful and imperfect world), couples put the nails in and hammer them through with repeated mistakes. The nail of harmful expectations is often firmly in place long before rings are exchanged or ‘I do’s’ are said. This of course means that even before a marriage begins, its demise has already been started. This demise comes to you straight from Hollywood (and the like). From the comfort of our couches or theater seats, we see heroes who possess a perfect hairstyle, physique, and fashion. He locks eyes with the heroine and instantly his life (and our’s) is changed. She consumes his every waking moment and is in his dreams at night. He knows when she will have a bad day before it happens and always shows up with the perfect remedy. He chases her through airports so they can share one last-last (since the last one was in the car seconds previously) kiss or embrace. He wows her with lines like “you have bewitched me body and soul” (Pride and Prejudice). He obsesses over her (in a romantic way of course) and moves heaven and earth to save her and be with her. And all this in only a couple hours…think what we can fit into our entire lives!!! While watching these scenes play out, our heart skips a beat and our breathing quickens (or momentarily stops…depending on how one processes romantic thrills). And then the moment is over and we have a desperate yearning to live it out again…the next time, however, we fully intend to play the role of the heroine. We walk out of the theater with a subconscious but fully planted expectation of what it looks like to be loved by a man.

When our real-life hero walks into our lives, we notice him and fall in love with him, but there is nearly always some level of discontent. Something is missing. Most women walk into marriage with either a ‘husband improvement plan’ in the back of their minds, or with the expectation that he will magically change himself and become the beloved Hollywood man we’ve pined away for. While these women imagined love being like a torrential downpour preceded by roaring thunder and flashing lightning, most love is like a small rainstorm. Constant, pleasant, and allows the sun to shine through. But it lacks the drama and intensity that we women can crave. I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with grand gestures or making some days (like important anniversaries) extra-special. But women often condition themselves to miss the gentle rain because they’re too busy desiring the giant storms and think that that’s the only way to show real love. Men claim that these expectations are unrealistic, but how hard can it be to chase someone through an airport, we ask ourselves. Ultimately, it’s not that these expectations are unrealistic, it’s that they’re misguided. Is it possible that while focusing on what our man is not, we’ve lost sight of what he is?

The simple truth is that, while your man may be missing some of the characteristics that Mr. Hollywood possesses, it is emphatically true that this works both ways. Mr. Hollywood is also missing characteristics that your man possesses. The key here is refocusing our attention so that we notice what our men do to show their love for us. And then we can prioritize and maybe come to the conclusion that the constant gentle rainstorm might actually be preferable to the occasional downpour.

The following are ways that Tobias loves me in his own way rather than Hollywood’s style. While I appreciate the opportunity to publicly brag about him, I’m guessing some of these are true for a lot of men (maybe even your man?). So ask yourself, what is really important?

-Tobias has never chased me through an airport (and in all likelihood never will). But he has pursued my heart through his own loving gestures (flowers, quality time together, hugs, making contact throughout the day (calls, texts, messages, etc.)

-Tobias has never talked like Mr. Darcy. But he has told me that he loves me.

-Tobias has never been obsessed with me or been overwhelmed by a need for me. But he has deliberately chosen to prioritize me in his life and has shown that by repeatedly setting aside time in his busy schedule to make sure my needs are met and to spend time with me.

-Tobias has never been awestruck by me. But he has loved me regardless of what I’m wearing, how my hair looks, or what my make-up regimen was (or wasn’t) that morning.

-Tobias has never felt desperately lost or alone while living 4 hours away from me (our current situation). But he has re-arranged his schedule (when he can) to make time together happen. And he has been faithful to me through the distance.

-Tobias does not find his life purpose in me; nor does he claim that I am the only important part of his life or the only receiver of his attention. But he has made me his highest priority (other than God) and has trusted me to be a help to his other projects rather than a hindrance.

So how does Tobias (and most men) score on the Hollywood test? Fairly low probably. The adoration, worship, and all-consuming nature of the love that Hollywood shows is polar opposite to what many women receive each day. But they receive that love day in and day out. Year after year. And isn’t that more important?

Conclusion

Men are human, too. It can be difficult for them to do small things for us over and over if they go repeatedly un-noticed or seem unwanted. Like us, they want recognition for their efforts, and a response that shows we notice and appreciate them. Cultivate a spirit of thankfulness rather than discontent. You will be happier, and your man will be as well. Start today and find 5 ways your man has shown you love in small ways in the last couple days. Then go find him and thank him for them. Looking for a new year’s resolution? Look no further.

On Gender Relations Post 2: Dating Part 1 (Alayna)

Alright everyone! As you know, my lovely lady (and she is lovely) and I are writing a series of Sunday posts on gender issues. The goal here is both to understand and appreciate one another better, and to address some issues that we see as being important and problematic in society. So, this week Alayna put together a post on some common issues in dating from and for a woman’s perspective. Next week I’ll be writing a post on the same topic aimed at men. Enjoy:

If you have ever looked at your relationship (or not-quite-yet-relationship) and thought that you were having problems with your man, know that you are not alone. Your man is most likely also having problems with you. This becomes infinitely more complicated if the attraction is one-sided (which while unfortunate, happens all too often). If you’ve ever pined away for a guy who didn’t ask you out, avoided a guy because you were scared he would ask you out and you wouldn’t know how to handle it, or acted towards guys in ways you’re not proud of, then you can join me and probably every other woman in America. Unfortunately there is no paved road to marital bliss, but certain truths (or the exposure of certain lies) can help make the feeling of being dragged over the rocks slightly easier.

The biggest lie society tells us when it comes to relationships, is that the first priority is doing whatever makes us happy. The priority instead should be on ensuring that our behavior and attitudes are pleasing to God. This doesn’t mean that we need to get stuck in relationships we don’t want to be in, but it will ensure that we treat men (and really, people in general) with respect and human decency (two traits that America in general is losing sight of). This means that sometimes the solution that is easiest and least awkward for us might not be the best one to choose. Yes blocking someone on Facebook, giving fake phone numbers, or telling convenient white lies can be easy ways out, but these are cowardly and people generally can find better methods. This is an area that I have failed pretty miserably at in the past, and it’s an easy trap to fall into. Getting the focus off of us and onto God and other people is key. This isn’t to say that it’s necessarily wrong to block someone on Facebook, but to do so simply because it’s easier for us definitely is. The responsibility here is to respect others and treat them well.

Another lie is the lie that everyone deserves to be given a chance. A lack of attraction or general disinterest in the person are completely legitimate reasons to reject an invitation for a date (side note: this is Tobias and while I generally agree with everything in this post, I think this is a particularly important point). This isn’t to say that people should make decisions solely on first impressions, and some people truly do need time to bloom, but ignoring issues like those are likely to only cause future and more serious problems in the relationship. One of the main pressures my female friends and I felt when it came to college dating was the idea that a date should only be refused if there are strong and tangible reasons for it (normally only legitimate if the guy had a serious character flaw). I heard guys discuss women in very unkind terms for refusing dates. This led to some of the issues discussed previously (Facebook blocking, fake phone numbers etc.) since we felt there was no good way to say no, but we also didn’t want to say yes. Once, a guy and I were talking with the goal of maybe slowly moving into a relationship. It didn’t take me long to realize that I didn’t have feelings for this guy, and that he was falling for me very quickly. Realizing that I didn’t have a concrete reason for not wanting to date him, and that I simply wasn’t attracted to him, I blocked him on Facebook so he could figure out my lack of interest without my needing to initiate and participate in an awkward conversation. I’m not proud of it, but I do know what it’s like to feel stuck and the bad choices that can come from it. This isn’t to excuse poor choices, but feeling trapped in a non-existent relationship (or in an actual relationship) is never a good thing.

One of the harder truths when it comes to dating is that it isn’t easy and it isn’t non-awkward. Sometimes the right guy (or who we think is the right guy) isn’t going to start pursuing right away. Other times, the wrong guy will. Sometimes it’s an unfortunate mix of the two. However, the right thing must always be done, no matter how hard it is in the moment (and it will be hard…no sugarcoating this one). Honesty is good. If you’re not interested in a guy, say it. It’s not embarrassing, and it’s not wrong. If you can think of something good about the guy, mention it. It will help him feel like he’s not a total failure (Tobias will be addressing this male misconception next week). If nothing else, you can always thank him for being brave enough to approach you and state his interest.

Conclusion

Being a woman in relationships is hard. There’s often a degree of uncertainty and the feeling that a lot of the responsibility for the relationship unfairly rests on you. However, to recap, there are things we can do to improve the way we interact with men and to make us better women as a result.

1: Be honest.

2: Don’t fake or force interest. You don’t owe anybody a date. If you like the man’s character and think that you could grow to care for him, than by all means give it a try. But if there’s just no chance at all, accept that and own it.

3: Be nice. Realize that it can be hard for a guy to state interest and the rejection is going to hurt a little. You can say things that will lessen the sting like thanking him for his interest, or pointing our positive aspects of his character.

4: Don’t accept responsibility for his actions or reactions. If he gets upset, that’s on him. It’s our job to be polite and honest. We are responsible for our actions and our actions alone. As long as we are doing what is right, we don’t need to feel responsible for any immaturity on his part.

Philosophical Story Challenge of the Week

first-date-questions3So, ever since Alayna and I started dating, I’ve been encouraging her to write. She’s actually a very good writer, and my post tomorrow will actually be her work. It just dawned on me that I finding a topic she was truly passionate about was the way to get her inspired about writing. Live and learn, right? I’m still reading Aquinas… what can I say, he’s brilliantly kicking by brain in the backside. Did you like the alliteration there? I’m a fan. Anyway, going with last week’s theme, I have a question for you that has to do with Alayna’s post tomorrow. You know the rules: I give you a question to think about, and you write a story of 1000 words answering that question and defending your answer.

So, your question is this: what is a date? Is it just a way to get to know someone? Is it the start of a relationship? Is it a commitment in and of itself? Is it just a fun way to kill some time?

I’ve talked to people with a wide variety of views on this question, ranging from ‘dates are just meaningless fun’ to ‘a date must be seen as the first step in the marriage process and thus as a powerful and sacred thing.’ So, no its your turn.

Not A Sunday Picture Post

So, you know that we generally take Sunday’s off here at the Art of Writing. However, this week my girlfriend found these two articles and sent them to me (Article 1 and Article 2). We were both fairly incensed by Forney’s view of women and his advice to men. I’m not going to write an entire refutation of these articles for a few reasons: 1) I don’t have the time at the moment and 2) I don’t honestly think any healthy, moral person needs these views to be thoroughly refuted, and I doubt that a thorough refutation would have any affect on those who share Forney’s view. Forney’s view of women is prima facie wrong, and his claims that ‘real men’ use systematic physical and emotional abuse to gain compliance from the women in their lives is obviously unhealthy.

An excellent example of this is actually my girlfriend, who does love me passionately (though we have not engaged in any physically intimate activities, nor will we until within the bounds of marriage) and who does choose to submit to me on a regular basis. I use the word choose here intentionally. My girlfriend is one of the strongest, most stubborn women I’ve ever met. She does not submit to me because I have mistreated her (if I did I have little doubt that she would not put up with it), trained her, or forced her in any way. Instead, she submits to me because she trusts me, because I love her and treat her well, and because she loves me and wants me to be happy. Further, she isn’t afraid to disagree with me, to fight with me, to tell me when she thinks I’m wrong, or to try to convince me to change my point of view. Sometimes she does convince me that I’m wrong. Sometimes she doesn’t, but I probably should have listened to her. And sometimes I convince her that she is wrong. Sometimes I don’t, but she probably should have listened to me. Sometimes we have to simply agree to disagree. This is the nature of healthy, functioning relationships. However, regardless of how this plays out, I do everything in my power to love her well, and she does everything in her power to love me well.

She actually pointed out to me the other day that I can come across as somewhat misogynistic at times, so if I have, please don’t lose sight of my primary point. If I am a little misogynistic, even I can see that Forney’s opinion is both dead wrong, and fundamentally damaging to the men who decide to follow him and to the women they engage with. His views might lead to good sex (I have no idea and I’m not honestly interested in venturing an opinion) or a lot of sex (same here), but they will not lead to healthy, happy, or lasting relationships. Further, they will do lasting emotional and psychological damage to the women involved with such men (and in some cases possibly lasting physical damage). They do not represent the views of anything that could reasonably be called ‘real manhood’, nor the views of anything that could truly be called Christianity.

Story Challenge of the Week

19er4kk5px22cjpgRelationships can be difficult. They take a lot of work, and sometimes they can be very painful. Honestly, I think that this is something that we all know, but knowing it and experiencing it are two very different things. This is what I want you to write about in your story challenge today. Not the fact that relationships are hard work, though if you want to use that as a topic feel free to do so, but the idea that knowing something is very different from experiencing it. So, you know the rules. Take your subject and run with it. Write me a story of 1000 words or less and stay on topic.

Your Challenge: The difference between knowledge and experience