Assertiveness or Courage

I can’t say that I read a lot of blogs. I don’t actually read any religiously. However, I do read occasional posts from a variety of relatively random authors. A lot of the posts I do read then to be about dating and relationships (big surprise there), and I never quite know what to make of them. Everyone has an opinion. Period. Everyone has an opinion. Some people say one thing and some people say something completely different, and someone else says a third thing that has nothing to do with the other two. For instance, some people say that ‘a real man is assertive and he goes for what he wants’, other people say ‘a real man understands that no means no and he knows when to leave things alone’. I’m three-quarters of the way through a series of posts on what it means to be a ‘real’ man, and you may have noticed that I have said nothing about assertiveness or aggressiveness. This is because I am convinced that it doesn’t matter.

We often confuse assertiveness with courage, and they are not the same thing. When I finally get around to writing a post on character’s involvement in manhood (and I will), I’m going to point out that courage is one of the characteristics a man has. A man does not run from what scares him. He doesn’t hide in the corner, he doesn’t beg someone else to do it for him. However, this doesn’t mean that he is ‘assertive’ necessarily. Assertiveness is often essentially selfish. Today I read a post that said: ‘A real man knows what he wants and he goes for it’. This is a good example of assertiveness. However, this example also only takes into account the emotions and desires of the man himself.

A man is not free from fear, nor is he above fear. At the moment I have set the goal to have my application to Southeastern submitted by the end of the month. This is utterly and completely terrifying to me. I honestly can’t express how frightened I am. Simply in filling out the main application I almost broke down three separate times, overwhelmed by fear and doubt. I was convinced that I would be rejected, and that even if I wasn’t rejected that I’d fail miserably, and that even if I didn’t fail miserably that it wouldn’t matter in the long run. This process is more than uncomfortable. It is more than frightening. Honestly, I’m not entirely sure that I can do it again. However, I’m going to.

However, this does not mean that a man (that I) simply ‘know what I want and go for it’. Assertiveness on it’s own is not a good quality. War is assertive, rape is assertive, burglary is assertive, in fact there are many assertive actions that are fundamentally bad. A man can be assertive when it is necessary. He is not bound by fear and cowardice. However, a man is also respectful. Rudyard Kipling’s poem If here also has an excellent passage that is very helpful:

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools

And see the things you gave your life to broken

And stoop, and build’em up with worn out tools

And also:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it all on one turn of pitch and toss

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breath a word about your loss

One of the most important aspects of real manhood is the willingness to persevere. This is not an insane, reckless optimism that simply says ‘it’ll work, it’ll work, it’ll work’. This is not a pestering or stalkish nature that says ‘maybe if I just ask her one more time’. A man knows when to stop, when to let well enough alone, and when to walk away (and when to run :P). However, a man holds within himself the enduring will to keep going. A man does not give up on the things that are truly important, but at the same time he lets those things that are not important fall to the wayside.

A man is wise and courageous. He may be assertive when it is needed, but he is also able to tell when assertiveness is not needed. That’s something I’m still working on.

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And Advice to Men

Being that I am a man, not a woman (or at least I keep telling myself that), I figured that it was only right for me to follow up my advice to women with some advice to men. Some of my advice for both groups is the same, but a lot of it isn’t.

1) Read Rudyard Kipling’s If: I’ve referred to this poem several times in the past, and I honestly think that it is one of the best short guides to manhood ever written. Kipling’s poem strikes at the core of existence, and of what it means to actually be a man, instead of being a boy pretending he’s a man. Read the poem, memorize the poem, live the poem. This is also good advice for Psalm 1.

2) Stop Looking for Easy Fixes: We all want to find the easy way out. Water follows the path of least resistance and people tend to do the same. However, the easy option often isn’t the best option. Roll of your sleeves and get yourself ready for some hard work, because life is a dirty business and it doesn’t play fair. For that matter, stop worrying about what’s fair and start worrying about what is. In the long run it really doesn’t matter why you didn’t get the job or why the girl turned you down, it happened. Learn what you can from it, get back on your feet, and start moving forwards.

3) Do Something!: In a fight the worst thing you can possibly do is stand there and think. If you are doing something, then you’re losing the fight. Life is the same way. What you do might not be the best thing, it might not even be the second best thing, but its not the worst thing. The worst thing you can do is absolutely nothing.

4) Be Willing to Wait: This isn’t actually contradictory to the last point. You should be doing something, but know when you need to go and do something else. Sometimes there is nothing you can do in a given situation. This means that you have to wait, so you need to wait. Go do something else for a while. Apply to a school, get a job, write a novel, whatever, but fill your time waiting with something, even if it’s just relaxing.

5) Be a Gentleman: I know that it gets you nowhere. I know that women don’t appreciate it, and some of them even get mad at you for it. I understand that being kind, courteous, respectful, and thoughtful isn’t the way to get laid or to get rich. Do it anyway. Do it because it’s right. Do it because, even if she doesn’t thank you for it, you will make her feel better about herself by treating her with gentility and respect. Do it because you want to make her happy, not because you want to get something from her. This is a big part of being a man: stop thinking about yourself.

6) Get Your Priorities Straight: We live in a culture that doesn’t value men. We are taught day in and day out that men are either pathetic wimps or mindless thugs. We’re taught that men are evil and need to be civilized. We’re taught that what makes you a man is the size of your dick, the scope of your fame, of the contents of your wallet. None of this is true. Real men aren’t brutes. They are gentle, kind, and care about others. However, they aren’t wimps either. They will stand up for the people they care about, even when they wouldn’t stand up for themselves. Real men are defined by their understanding of themselves. They aren’t goaded, don’t need to prove themselves, and think highly of others. Focus less of what you have and more on what you are.

7) Commit: I don’t care if its to the girl you’re dating, the career you’re pursuing, the church you’re attending, etc. Commit to something, and make a habit of commitment throughout your life. Don’t be afraid to leave if you have to, but don’t leave just because you want to, or because you’re afraid. Commit to something in life, and keep committing to things.

8) Stop Looking for Perfect: Chances are you’re not going to marry a supermodel. Stop looking for the perfect girl and start looking for the girl who is there. This isn’t to say that you should date/marry someone you don’t like or aren’t attracted to. I’ve done that, it doesn’t end well. However, stop obsessing over little things that don’t matter. Find that women in your life who you do get along with and who are attractive and pay attention to them. Give them a chance before you go back to mooning over… whoever, I don’t really follow modeling. Heidi Klum… she’s still hot, right? Stop mooning over Heidi Klum. She’s probably married anyway.

9) Deal with Porn: You probably look at porn. If you don’t yet, then don’t start. Run far, run fast, and never look back. If you do, you might be struggling with porn or you might just enjoy porn, either way you’re not doing yourself any favors. Understand that it’s wrong, just like any other sin. Don’t defend it, don’t excuse it: hate it. Hate porn with everything that’s in you and fight to get away from it. However, understand that it is a struggle, just like any other struggle. It’s not okay to fall, but you probably will. When you do, get back up, ask forgiveness from whoever you need it from, and start the fight all over again.

10) Treat Her Well: If you have a special lady in your life, then treat her well. Treat her like she’s the queen of the world. Heck, either treat her like you love her, or break up with her so she can find someone who will. I don’t care if you don’t see much reciprocation from her. Do it anyway.

11) Turn Off You’re Damn iPod: This goes for everyone. The world is filled with more lonely, hurting people than at any point in history. Turn off your iPod, take out your headphones, close up your computer, and say hi to a stranger. We tell children not to talk to strangers, but you’re not a child anymore. Grow up and act like a human being instead of a cyborg. Introduce yourself, talk to people, make friends, and act like you give a fuck about someone else.

12) If She Runs, Don’t Chase Her: There’s a difference between a girl who’s letting you chase her, and a girl who’s trying to get away. Learn that difference, it’s really important. If a girl’s letting you chase her, then chase her until you catch her. However, if a girl’s running away, then let her run and don’t expect her to come back.

13) Hygiene: Take a shower. Wear deodorant. Change your underwear. Don’t spend an hour fixing your hair. Stop getting mani-pedis. Clip your nails. Get some exercise. This isn’t hard people. Wearing a suit everyday doesn’t make you a man. However, neither does being a stinky brute covered in animal skins. Take care of yourself and do you best to present a pleasing appearance.

Again, that’s it for now. Hopefully some of this will sink in.

Waiting…

In his poem If Rudyard Kipling expresses what makes a man. The poem as a while is incredibly powerful, and his opening lines are deeply evocative, especially the line ‘If you can wait and not be tired by waiting’. This is something that I’ve never been particularly good at. I’m an impatient man, especially when it comes to interpersonal relationships, and this is something that has caused me many problems, especially since I tend to fall for women who aren’t really ready for a relationship. This year has been all about waiting. It started in the spring when God put returning to school on my heart, but told me to wait until the fall to apply… for the next fall. I would have been perfectly happy to put in an application last spring and be starting now, but that wasn’t the plan. Although, considering that it took me a full month to actually fill out the application in the first place (I started it September 1st and finished it September 30th… haven’t put it in yet), it isn’t really surprising that God told me to wait. He’s also had me in a time of enforced singleness, my own choice up through about June, and after that… well, you’ve all read about my cringe inducing romantic escapades. Today I found out that the young lady to whom I sent flowers (go read a few posts back) simply isn’t ready for a relationship. She didn’t tell me this herself (though I have a feeling she’s recognized my interest, though I haven’t formally acknowledged it and don’t plan to for a while), but a friend of hers told me. I had kind of figured it out for myself though. She’s seemed completely neutral to my approaches so far, blundering as they may be. She hasn’t discouraged me in any way, but she hasn’t encouraged me either. I take this to mean that she has some interest, but doesn’t actually want to be pursued at the moment. So, I’m back to waiting.

Of course, in my prayers, God has been confirming this for some time. Every time that I’ve prayed about this woman God has told me ‘just love her well’. Of course, I want him to tell me ‘yes, she’s the one for you’ or ‘she’s going to fall hard for you’ or ‘you’re already in her heart’, but what he tells me instead is ‘just love her well’. So, this is exactly what I plan to do. I am going to love her as well as I possibly can, and trust God with whatever the outcome might be. At the moment I am coming to terms with the idea that it is very possible that nothing will ever happen, and that this is alright. My job, my only job, is to be her friend and make her smile as much as I can. At the moment I’m actually pursuing other women, although this is (at least in part) to keep myself from pursuing her. I know myself, and I know that if I ‘wait’ for her then I won’t be waiting at all, I’ll be pushing. I don’t honestly expect anything to happen with any of the other women that I’m talking to, but if something does I’m certainly not opposed to it.

I’ve asked her roommate to help keep me accountable in this as well. Hopefully she’ll be able to keep me in line and to keep me from doing anything stupid. However, I suppose we’ll see what happens. Today I was asked to briefly describe my ideal woman by one of the other women I’m talking to. The following was my response:

My ideal woman? Honestly I’m not sure I believe in ideal people at this point. She would have to be spiritually and emotionally mature; confident and strong, but vulnerable and actively wanting to submit; desiring to love, support, and cherish me as thoroughly as I will her; willing to initiate things (I don’t mean ask me out or propose here, but once I’ve made the first step she would have to be willing and able to pursue me); intelligent and nerdy (capable of holding her own in conversation); kind; gentle; beautiful (this includes physical appearance, but I think that beautiful refers to the entire person, not just looks); caring for others and someone who will sharpen me spiritually; and probably has a fairly good income and benefits (my career path, unfortunately, is not the most lucrative) though this last would really just be a nice plus if it was the case.

Honestly, I think this is a solid description of the core of what I’m looking for. I’m just not convinced that she exists… We’ll see though. I know that God has a plan, and I trust that he’ll bring the right woman into my life at the right time. I just wish that time was right now.

But then God

It’s easy to focus on the things that suck. Rejection is… memorable, and pain rather demands attention. The empty places in our lives stand out like gaping potholes in the middle of the road. The street might be 90% fine, but that one pothole is still hard to miss. Even if you don’t see it, you’ll definitely notice when you drive over it. It’s easy to notice the potholes, and it’s easy to notice only the potholes. The fact that the rest of the street is in pristine condition is relatively unimportant as the car bounces through that frustrating little pit. Life is often the same way. Most of life can be going quite well, but it’s still the potholes that we notice. The things that we don’t have, the things that aren’t going the way we want, aren’t things that we have to look for. They stand out and demand our attention, often with jabbing blades of intractable pain and frustration. Repeatedly I come back to the unwavering truth of Proverbs 13:12 “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but desire granted is a tree of life.”

I am quite sure that anyone who has spent much time reading this journal can guess what my deferred hope is. Well, there are a few, honestly, but one that seems to always rise to the surface. It’s also easy to say that I trust God. It’s easy to mouth the words, to play the game, to say that I’m alright with it, or that I’m getting used to it, or that it doesn’t matter that much. Unless you are utterly and completely broken it’s pretty easy to fake comfort and spiritual wholeness. To fake a relationship with God.

Do hard things. I really love that maxim. We have to do the hard things because those are the things that really make life worthwhile, and confronting our own dissatisfaction, our pain, our despair, our foolish pride and hopeless frustration is hard. It’s hard to let those things go and actually trust God. It’s hard to live day to day and honestly believe that God will fill in the potholes, even though he hasn’t yet. It’s hard to have hope, and it’s hard to trust him, and it’s hard to wait.

Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem titled IF. The poem as a whole is about what it means to be a man, but first stanza points out the difficulty of waiting:

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

It is hard to wait. Hard to maintain that hope and trust in the absence of desire-specific evidence. It’s hard not to give up, but it’s equally as hard to give up. I’ve tried and failed multiple times, and this is the crux of the problem. If I could just give up and move on with my life, viewing my singleness as a blessing in my life (which I’m sure it often has been), or if I could find a woman to love and who would love me in return, then this particular hole could be filled. That isn’t where God has brought me though. He has put me in a place of waiting, of hope deferred, and that is very hard.

That being said, being in this place of waiting has also taught me a lot about God, and his relationship with me. In the Old Testament God repeatedly presents himself as the jilted bridegroom, waiting for his bride to be a loyal, loving wife. Waiting for her to come around, to stop running to other men for comfort and satiation. Hosea probably presents the best picture of this, but it is a theme that runs throughout the Old Testament.

My life of hope deferred gives me some little microcosm of understanding. I can’t imagine the pain, the grief, the sorrow that fills God every time I run to something other than him, or every time the Israelites ran to something other than him, or every time any believer chooses something else over him (and we all do). However, I can understand that pain of waiting, of hope deferred, of repeated rejection, and that understanding lets me see just a little bit of the character of God. A character that led him to pursue the nation of Israel for over almost four thousand years. A character that led him to pursue the church for two thousand years. A character that led him to work in the lives of generations of believers and unbelievers, drawing them to him, loving them, forgiving them, despite the repeated wanderings and rejections this love incurred.

It is a love of which I stand in awe. A love that I cannot reflect, much as I wish I could. The forgiveness that God has shown me is immense. The forgiveness that he has shown the church Catholic is inconceivable. It is simply and entirely beyond me, and I don’t think that we can begin to understand the kind of thanks that we should have for that forgiveness. I mean that literally. I honestly believe that the kind of gratitude that love deserves is beyond the collective comprehension of the human race. It is something so incredible that it defies any and all attempts to imagine or explain it.

We live in a world that is full of problems, and we live lives that are full of potholes that constantly demand our attention. Our pains, unfulfilled desires, derailed ambitions, and forgotten dreams fill our minds with regret, and this is something from which we can’t escape. There is a reason that those things demand our attention, and honestly they deserve attention. However, when those things obscure the incredible blessings that God has showered upon us on a daily basis, then we lose the best part of life. We lose that unending gratitude that he deserves. Instead of letting pain defeat us and lead us to misery, we must let pain remind us of how much more he has suffered, and lead us back to that place of thanksgiving. Back to an unending gratitude for love.