Romance and the Single Woman

Sometimes I honestly believe that there are no good women left in the world. I know that this isn’t true, and this isn’t a boohoo, woe is me, I’ll never find a wife kind of post.  I’m completely aware that sometimes this feeling has everything to do with me. However, I spent tonight with a bunch of college students (the vast majority of them female) watching a bollywood romance movie (I think I’ve had nightmares about this scenario). The movie was… not great. The female lead was clearly narcissistic and quite possibly a sociopath.

This womn was obsessed with ‘adventure’, by which she meant the adrenaline rush she got from lying, cheating, stealing, and generally ruining other peoples lives. The story opens with her father forcing her to marry against her will. Her answer to this problem? Take advantage of a hard-working man whom her father had cheated by forcing him to kidnap her at gun point (even though she was actually the one holding the gun) and demand an outrageous ransom. She forces/convinces him to steal for her, help her con an innocent gas station attendant out of 10,000 rupies (I think its rupies at least), break into a strangers house and set it up as their home base, and by half-way through the movie this poor man is madly in love with her… this is clearly stockholm syndrome. So, as it turns out, this man’s father is the premier kidnapper in northern India and he has both of them kidnapped to bring his son home. His son, the hard-working man, originally left home because he wanted nothing to do with his father’s business of kidnapping people. He wanted to live an honest life, which this woman has now ruined. She, however, gets along great with his family (half cheats and half decent folks… maybe) and insinuates herself into the fold, even convincing his father to raise the ransom he is demanding for her to a point that will leave her own family impoverished. When her father finally does show up with his daughter (because, what do you know, he actually loves her… can’t figure out why), the kidnapper’s family wants her to stay. The kidnapper, however, leaves the choice up to his son. He, of course, tells her to go home with her father because he wants her to be safe and happy! Of course, this will never happen with a family of thieves and kidnappers, and so she leaves in a huff, deciding that she hates him. The movie does manage to salvage a half-way decent (though non-sensical) ending with the kidnapper’s family mending their ways and the hard-working man winning her back (though why I still can’t figure out). However, it’s a movie so, what do you really expect.

My biggest problem though was not with the movie, but with the women who were watching the movie. The women who found the woman’s clearly horrific actions to be cute, endearing, and romantic. The women who saw every reason for this poor young man to fall in love. The women who were furious with the hard-working man for acting in her best interest even though it hurt him (I believe I heard one woman shout ‘I’ll punch him!’). Honestly, the woman in this movie was the kind of woman that any sensible man should run from, far and fast. She was Emma from Madame Bovary or Scarlett from Gone with the Wind. She was a selfish, childish woman with no moral compass, and no care for others, who wanted a man who would simultaneously be her slave and a dangerous bad guy. In short, she was the farthest thing from romantic, and certainly not a woman that anyone should attempt to emulate.

So, this left me ultimately frustrated. A frustration which I now vent here. Tonight has not been good for my hopes of finding a quality woman somewhere out in the world. Still, as I said at the beginning, I do know a few women of high quality, so at least they do exist.

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Questions

So, I started the year reading Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica. I’m not finished yet… obviously. However, it has inspired a few questions that I wanted to jot down before I forget them:

On the Omnipresence of God:

1) Is presence a necessary quality of sustaining power?

2) If presence is a necessary quality of sustaining power (which Aquinas seems to assume) then is God present in hell through his sustaining power (opposing the common Christian doctrine that the primary torment of hell is the absence of God) or is hell a self-sustaining entity (opposing the common Christian doctrine that God sustaining power is necessary for the maintenance of all things)?

3) Is God present in hell? If so, is the primary torment of hell not the total separation from God? If not, can God really be said to be omni-present?

On Women:

1) My niece has been trying to convince me that I’m the kind of guy every woman dreams of marrying. This strikes me as prima facie false. However, is it possible that it is true and I’m either a) pursuing the wrong women (certainly I’ve dated many of the wrong women, but the ‘right women’ simply reject me out of hand) or b) for whatever reason quality women simply overlook me, don’t give me a chance? If the latter, why? (I don’t think I’m ever likely to actually answer this question…)

2) Rousseau argues that women are incapable of true virtue (though his definition of true virtue is questionable in the first place). Wollstonecraft, on the other hand, tends to argue that women are capable of true virtue (and she generally has a stronger definition of virtue), but they must be trained in virtue in the same way that men are. I tend to agree with the latter, but this leaves me wondering why so many women seem to reject the need to be trained in virtue? I assume culture elements are primarily responsible, but is this a valid assumption?

3) Why in the world do women obsess over clothing… especially accessories?

On School:

1) Is God finally calling me back to school? He seems to be, and things seem to be falling into place, but I find myself feeling very cynical and assuming that it will all fall apart before long.

2) Can I actually make the grade? I assume that this will be answered in time if God is calling me back to school.

I’m also writing again. This, I think, is a good thing. Although I’m working on a story that I’ve tried to write several times before. We’ll see if I can manage to finish it this time.

Solitude

I often consider living on top of a mountain somewhere, or joining a monastery, or finding an island someplace where no one will bother me. In his play No Exit (Huis Clos), Jean Paul Sartre presents several excellent points. Sartre was by no means a Christian, but in No Exit he shows a particular insight into the human condition that I rather enjoy. Two particular quotes stand out, one of which Sartre is quite famous for. No Exit is about three people, Garcin, Ines, and Estelle, who are trapped together in a room in hell. As the play develops the three reveal their true natures to one another, hoping that these revelations will help them come to terms with their situation. However, in actuality, the revelations instead cause the three to hate on another all the more. The resolution of the play, Sartre’s thesis statement as it were, comes in Garcin’s realization that “Hell is other people”, which is the quote Sartre is famous for. However, another excellent point in the play is Ines’ declaration that “we are our lives and nothing else”. Plenty of atheist principles could be read into this latter statement, but for the moment I’m going to choose to take the line at face value.

I’ve spoken before about the cyclical nature of life that is portrayed in the competing standards of Taoism and Confucianism. Taoism essentially argues that if I am right internally (right being), then I will do the right things (right action). Confucianism, on the other hand, argues that if I do the right things, I will become right internally. These are both true and both false. Because of the imperfection of man (i.e. natural sin) no matter how deeply I cultivate my being, I will still be prone to wrong actions, and no matter how many right things I do, I may still do them from wrong motives. However, the opposite is true. If I truly cultivate a right spirit, then I will be more prone to right actions, and in pursuing right actions, I will encourage the rightness of my spirit. Thus, both right actions and right being are necessary for a right life. However, Ines’ claim is, on the surface, true. I am my life. Whether I am judged by men for my actions or judged by God for my heart, both are formed through the life that I choose to live. I cannot be ‘essentially a good person’ if I cultivate neither right being nor right actions. If God is not in my heart, and if my actions are not focused on his glory and the well-being of my fellow man, then my life is without value. I have nothing to offer to either God or man beyond my life.

However, my life is far from perfect. As is yours (don’t get cocky). We are all fallen people, prone to inflict immense amounts of pain upon one another. We are all selfish, even at the best of times, careless, and cruel. Even when we have the best of intentions we still manage to hurt one another, and so when our intentions (as is so often the case) are less than the best, we become for others the very hell that we fear. Please, don’t take me wrongly, I am not denying the existence of a literal hell (though I find more references in scripture to ‘outer darkness’ than to ‘fire and brimstone’. Nor am I denying that the torments of hell will far surpass the pains of this world. What I am saying is that the closest we will ever come to knowing hell during our lives is in the community of others. Similarly, the closest we will ever come to knowing heaven during our lives is in the community of others.

Tonight, a couple of friends and I were bitching about women. Specifically about the repetitive cowardice, dishonesty, and truly perverse expectations/desires that we see in most of the women who populate our city. Specifically the Christian women who populate our city. There are times when some (not all) of these women have shown a true depth of compassion, grace, and love. However, there are also times when each of them have shown a callousness and cruelty that, to this day, I find astounding. Women who have lost much of our respect through their actions towards ourselves and others (we kept the conversation very general so as to avoid gossiping about anyone in particular). Women whose lives, and thus whose selves, have inevitably been tainted by the stain of sin.

I live in a culture that often presents women as ‘innocent’, ‘pure’, ‘chaste’, or ‘virtuous’. I live in a culture that essentially says to women ‘you’re already morally perfect, so you don’t need to try, focus on your looks instead’. I cannot express how utterly devastating this culture is to American women. Forget the focus on looks. Forget the extreme dieting. Forget the size zero obsession. None of these even begin to compare to the incredible lack in moral quality that this attitude has encouraged in women. Instead of developing their hearts and minds too many American women have focused on career, appearance, relationships, etc to find their identity and virtue. The problem is that none of these things actually develops either identity or virtue. Instead, Christian women should be focusing on developing a strong relationship with God and learning the moral qualities that exemplify that relationship. This is where true identity and virtue lies, regardless of gender.

Waiting, Still

I hope that you caught the play on words in the title of this post. I finally told flowergirl that I have feelings for her. This wasn’t a romantic confession and I didn’t ask her out, it was just something that came up in a conversation. We had a nice little chat about the fact that she thinks I’m really great, but just not what she’s looking for, which wasn’t in any way a surprise. I have to admit that, even though I’ve know this for a while and generally come to terms with it, I’m still a little disappointed. Nonetheless, I am still striving to reach a place in which I can simultaneously strive for those things that I desire, and those desires that I believe God has put on my heart, and trust in him for their timing. I’m generally good at doing one or the other, but I’m really not good at doing both.

That being said, flowergirl said something to me that I’ve heard all too often. Something that I find is very common in women, and increasingly common in men. When I asked her what she was looking for her response was: ‘I don’t know, a feeling I guess’. She didn’t elaborate much, and I didn’t ask her to. However, I’m guessing that I know what that feeling is, even though she doesn’t. American culture has built a view of ‘love’ that is focused entirely on romance, or on feelings of passion. I hear people commonly say that ‘you know you love someone when you get those butterflies in your stomach’ or ‘I want to just be swept away by love’. Here’s the problem with these ideas: while they are commonly portrayed in the media, and while ‘love at first sight’ is a real thing (I can say this from experience) it is also incredibly stupid. I’m not saying that it’s stupid to believe in love at first sight, or that its stupid to follow those feelings (though I will argue that it generally is), but that this form of love is, in and of itself, stupid. To be swept away by feelings of passion for someone is a good thing… when that someone is a person who you can be confident cares for you, values you, respects you, and will put your best interests first. To be swept away by feelings of passion for someone you’ve known for five and a half minutes is a very bad idea. ‘Love at first sight’ is based entirely on an initial feeling of passion that cannot take into account the kind of person the passion is focused on. It can’t take this into account because it can’t know the person in any real or meaningful way.

The thing that the movies repeatedly leave out is that healthy passion is something that you build in a relationship. It comes from time invested with the person. It comes from repeatedly seeing that person actively care for you and put you first. To follow passion is an act of absolute trust in the person towards who that passion is directed, and to be healthy that trust must be both given freely and given carefully. If this following of passion is forced on you by another person, whether through emotional manipulation, charismatic charm, etc, it is not freely given and extremely unhealthy. Similarly, if this following of passion is not given carefully, then it is unhealthy because it cannot take into account the nature and personality of the other person. This passion is similar to handing over everything you own to a stranger. He might be a philanthropist, but he might also be a thief. You have no way of knowing.

Similarly, healthy passion is something that you create and something that you control. By choosing to repeatedly to act towards another in love, you create that passion for them in your own heart. Love is, first and foremost, something that you choose to do towards others, not something that you feel. Honestly, I think that many of use know quite well how to say this, but have no actual concept concerning how to do it. Something that flowergirl told me yesterday, and that I’ve heard before, is that I work harder to love others than anyone she’s ever met. This didn’t used to be true, but it is something that I have put a lot of effort into developing. God loved me through some very difficult times, and now I try to always choose to love others, even when it is difficult. Sometimes I have to work hard not to be swept away with passion for the people (well… the women) that I work hard to love because I know that they do not love me in return. However, this is how I know that repeatedly choosing to love someone creates a passion for that person.

What I am trying to say here is that chasing after passion as the foundation of a relationship is similar to buying a bachelors degree and assuming that you’ll do the work to build a necessary knowledge base later. 1) You haven’t done anything to earn it, 2) since you already have it, you aren’t going to bother putting in the effort to earn it, and 3) just like the bought degree, this passion is meaningless and fickle. As soon as any real pressure is put upon it the passion will fall apart, and shortly after the relationship will also fall apart. There was a young woman several years ago who broke my heart (gave me a heart attack actually). I’ve mentioned this before. While I am not seeking after a romantic relationship with her (primarily because of some things that she did during the years when she wasn’t speaking to me), I still love her with all of my heart. My love for her was not built on a feeling, it was built on a series of choices, and the passion with which I feel that love may have changed its focus, but it has not dimmed in any way. This is what we should be looking for, but I’m afraid that the majority of us have forgotten that.

What Does it Mean to be a Man?

In modern America we have no clear concept of manhood. There are a thousand different voices shouting from a thousand different directions about what they think manhood should be. There are people who think that a boy becomes a man when he can grow a beard. There are people who think a boy becomes a man when he makes his first million. There are people who think that having sex makes a boy into a man. There are people who think that having a large penis is the real mark of manhood. There are people who think that taking another human life makes a boy into a man. There are people who think that a first job makes a boy a man. All of these point to the desire for a rite of passage. A clear marker of the shift from childhood into adulthood (and lets be honest here, simply saying that a child becomes an adult at 18 is both arbitrary and ridiculous).

However, even if we accept any one of these rites of passage, there is still no clear idea of what manhood is or what it means to actually be a man. American culture of the mid 20th century argued that manhood meant a desire to acquire and possess a modest amount of meaningful things (this is exemplified in the entertainment of the day which focuses strongly on the ‘desire of a man’ to own his own home). Of course, if we run the clock back a hundred years then the mark of a man was not owning a home, but owning land and buidling his own home upon it. However, ownership of anything seems ridiculous as a mark of manhood. Ownership of land, a home, a car, etc says nothing about who the person actually is or of what he is capable. Ancient rites of passage emphasized a trial of ability instead of a test of means.

This can be seen in the rites of many tribal groups which provide a task of some kind for the boy to complete. He may have to hunt and kill a bear, build a canoe to escape a deserted island and return to his home island, or survive in the wilderness on his own for a period of time. This is certainly a better mark of manhood. These tests of ability also show some degree of the character of the individual. Hunting a bear requires great courage. Building a canoe requires patience. Surviving in the wilderness requires endurance and determination. These trials both test the individuals ability to be a positive addition to the tribe and aspects of his character that are important in each particular culture.

This is a part of the problem we have in America. Every voice shouting about manhood has a different idea about what aspects of character are important. Some of them emphasize wildness, some emphasize greed, some emphasize brutality, etc. Some of them really say nothing about the character of the individual (i.e. getting your first job). The problem is that we don’t have any clear idea concerning what a man is, and thus we don’t have any clear idea concerning how to identify a man. Hopefully, over the next few days, I can codify my own thoughts on this and at least have some clear idea of what I see as manly and why.

Strange Days, Rest, and Decision Making

Well, I’ve spent the entire day sitting in a medical facility with a blood catheter in my arm. This is all part and parcel with the drug trial that I mentioned yesterday, but it’s still been a strange kind of day. Both odd, because I’ll have 27 vials of blood drawn by the end of the day (which is a freakin lot of blood), and oddly familiar, because I’ve been sitting in the facility doing my job all day long. I have to admit that I truly love the ability to take my job with me pretty much anywhere. However, it’s both a blessing and a curse because this ability also means that it is very hard to stop doing my job. For a long time (and still every now and then) I found myself working at all hours. I would be up at 3 am grading papers, I would work seven days a week and just never stop. Obviously, this isn’t the healthiest thing in the world. However, I got over a quarter of my week’s grading done today, which is great. Both yesterday and today have been extremely productive, which I am very, thoroughly glad about. I’m hoping to get everything done by Thursday so that I can take most of this weekend off to spend some time with my nephews.

Rest is extremely important in our lives, and I usually take Tuesdays off, so I haven’t had a really thorough day of rest in a while. I think that in America, and even more so in Japan and Korea, we don’t recognize the importance of rest enough. I know that I was raised to assume that taking time to rest was simply being lazy. It was wrong to relax, to just sit down and do nothing important, because in that moment I wasn’t being productive. Now I make sure to take time to rest (time that seems sufficient to me) and I still have a lot of friends who think that I’m working myself to death.

Here’s the thing that I’ve learned. No matter what I believe or choose to do, someone will think that I’m wrong, and somebody will be disappointed. This part sucks. Some people are going to tell me that I need to slow down, to relax, to rest more, and let myself heal, but others are going to tell me that I’m a lazy bum and that’s why I’m poor. What I’ve learned the hard way is that no matter what you do, someone is going to think that you’re wrong. This is always true. However, this is why Kipling encouraged us to trust ourselves even when everyone doubts us. The key is to not simply trust ourselves, but to be willing to listen seriously to the doubts of others. When it comes to rest, jobs, marriage… anything really, we have to be willing to listen to the advice of others, and then make our own decisions. If I simply do what everyone else tells me to do (which is all to often the case with me when it comes to women), then I will be lost in a maze of conflicting opinions and advice from which there is no escape.

I have to trust myself, and really I can only trust myself if I am willing to trust God. My goal, my quest, my responsibility, is to seek God in everything, and rely on him to guide me through my life. So, what I have to do is discern, trust, and follow. Which winds up being a whole lot harder than it sounds. Still, I think it’s worth the effort.

Media Influences and Satisfaction

Sometimes the media makes me feel worthless. I was watching an episode of the sitcom New Girl today and the entire focus of the episode seemed to revolve around the idea that money is what makes us worthwhile. Having money means being an adult, and if you aren’t doing something that the world considers worthwhile, then you’re just a child. Of course, to emphasize this point a rich, successful older man is contrasted with two ‘boys’ in their thirties who spend their time partying, drinking, and trying to have sex with twenty year old women. The idea that these boys represent those who haven’t grown up is quite strong, because they haven’t grown up. In the episode they act like children. However, the idea that growing up means being rich isn’t quite right either.

I am currently playing a bit part in the stage version of It’s a Wonderful Life, and much as I hate the movie, I have to admit that it has a good point. Unlike what modern media tells us, and unlike what my generation grew up hearing, life doesn’t have to be special to be worthwhile. The truth is that I appreciate the movie more now than I ever have in the past. It’s still chalk full of horrible theology, but the overarching point of the movie is about satisfaction. George wants to kill himself (tries to kill himself) because he isn’t satisfied with his life. He feels worthless because he hasn’t accomplished any of the things that he set out to accomplish. Instead he got stuck in his hometown, running his father’s business, and his life has been thoroughly small. Honestly, while I don’t think I’d want to run a building and loan, George’s life has always seemed pretty good to me. He has a beautiful wife, loving friends and family, and a fairly stable business. He’s always seemed like a bit of a pussy for wanting to kill himself. At the same time, I’ve been suicidal, and I have no doubt that (if that story were made into a movie) there would be a lot of people out there thinking that I seemed like a pussy. So, I suppose I have no place to judge.

However, all of the theology and complaints about George aside, the movie is really about being satisfied with what you have. George worked hard, cared for others, lived up to his responsibilities to family and community, and through the movie he comes to see how much value that has had in his life. The episode of New Girl did exactly the opposite, and I see this in a lot of modern media. Where It’s a Wonderful Life encouraged us to embrace the lives that we’ve been given and learn to be satisfied where we are and with what we have, a lot of modern media encourages us to want more, to always be looking for what comes next, and to never be satisfied with where we are.

It strikes me that this is an extremely unhealthy message that perfectly fits the attitude of my generation. We grew up easy (financially at least) and were promised that everything we did would be amazing. We weren’t told that we had to be satisfied. We weren’t told that we had to work hard. We weren’t told that we might not get what we want, or that we might not be good enough. Well… a lot of us weren’t anyway. Those of us that were told these things were generally told that no matter how hard we worked we would fail, or that we would never be good enough for anything. In other words, most of us weren’t raised with any in-between space. We weren’t raised to understand that we have to work hard, try our best, and be satisfied with the results.

This isn’t to blame my parents, or parents in general for failing in their duty. Certainly they did fail us, but the culture as a whole failed them. I don’t think this is an issue for which any particular party can bear the blame. We are all at fault, and especially those of my generation because all to often we haven’t done anything. We look around at our friends on facebook, twitter, linked-in, etc and the amazing careers that they post online, and fail to realize that, on-line, most of our careers look equally amazing. Simply put, instead of going out and doing something about our dissatisfaction, we puff ourselves up in an attempt to compete with the images we see. We lie about our lives because we think everyone else is being honest about their’s, and we all remain dissatisfied.

A few day ago my roommate’s girlfriend said something that took me by surprise. She’s young (20 something I think… maybe 19) and works at a local fast food establishment. I was sitting in my favorite recliner (… well, really it’s the only recliner in the apartment that actually works…) grading papers when, on her way out the door she looked at my computer to see what I was doing. In passing she commented, “This is what you do all day? Man, I wish I had your job, that would be awesome!” This girl knows how much I make (or at least I’ve told her), and she is still envious of my job. I’ve said many times here that I love my job, and her comment brought to mind a simple thought: My life isn’t that bad.

There are things that I want, and only a few of them have anything to do with what media pushes on us, but all in all, I have been greatly blessed. I spent a good fifteen minutes today just thanking God for the life that he’s given me, and that isn’t something that I used to do.

So, if you’ve managed to read this far into my ramblings, take a moment and think about your life from someone else’s perspective. It’s probably pretty good.