No Rain, No Flowers

I’ve been planning and saving money to go visit Malta for two years before I was able to afford the adventure. Most people will tell you that anticipation is half the fun of the adventure, and they’re usually right. I was mentally on vacation each time I checked out a rental, or planned which sites to visit, museums to frequent, food I had to eat, wineries I needed to stop by. In my head the vacation was already epic.

If I tell you the trip peaked in the executive Delta lounge at the Seattle airport, you should know I’m only half joking.

Sidenote: Honestly, the executive Delta lounge is a dream lounge. If you know someone who has a lot of air miles under their belt, travel with them just for this privilege. It felt exactly like being a wealthy snob in an 80s movie. That is to say it felt like the kind of rich indulgence that middle class people imagine goes on in exclusive places. They piped in classical music, the seats were spacious, leather, and private. An attendant walked around with a tray of freshly made complimentary smoothies. The water was infused. I spent about an hour giggling because I’d seen The Blues Brothers the night before and just wanted to turn to an old man and say, “sell me your children.” Seriously, watch the clip.

Fast forward to Malta and my friend trying to roll a bag broken by impatient handlers through several parking lots in weather about ten degrees warmer and a billion times more humid than anticipated. And it started to feel like another kind of 80s movie. Things went from sweaty to unfortunate after a glass-shattering misunderstanding at our rental, a canceled reservation for the last leg of our trip in London, and a busybody landlady.

We were only on day two.

The fourth day we were bound and determined to go out and be tourists. Come sweat or high water. I was walking down a flight of stairs and I stepped wrong. I don’t know how exactly, but I fell down about five or six stone steps, bruised my arm, hip, and lightly sprained my knee.

When you’re lying in bed, knee swelling, it’s very difficult not to get ahead of yourself.

Mentally I was trying to figure out how I was going to walk down the two flights of stairs to leave the rental. How was I going to sit in a car if I couldn’t bend my leg? The plane? Go to London? Would my friends have to carry me everywhere? What kind of vacation is that for any of us?

And of course, all the money I spent to get here and I would be spending the bulk of that time…in bed. In bed! I could have just done this at home for a lot cheaper and with less inconvenience. Why hadn’t I just stayed home?

Self recriminations follow once you have enough guilt built-up. I’d know the stairs would be tricky, had already had that conversation with myself once in the previous days. Why had I gotten so cocky as to think I could take stairs like a regular person?? Once you work yourself into a fine state of panic it’s very hard to come back down.

Thankfully I’ve had enough accidents of minorly crippling proportion to look back on to remind myself that premature panic is useful for nothing. It mostly worked. Maltese Netflix also did wonders (one of my guilty pleasures when traveling is experiencing shows and movies that aren’t streaming in the U.S. Who cares about seeing the sights when you can catch up on Brooklyn 99 abroad, right?)

It wasn’t the vacation I’d planned, and not remotely the vacation I’d wanted. But I’m a firm believer that God’s got a sense of humor. So I’m taking the proverb painted on the stairs outside our rental as a sign of that divine mirth that has become a sort of life hallmark; and perennial encouragement: no rain, no flowers.

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Enter Malta: Stage Left

Flying a quarter of the way around the world was more exhausting than I anticipated. I crashed fairly hard when we got to our vacation rental. I woke up just in time to catch my friend headed for bed and in the midst of enjoying a midnight snack I heard explosions echoing off the old rock and stone buildings of Kalkara, Malta.

It occured to me that I’d been fairly out of touch with the happenings of the world, and having no context and no concept of time or, frankly reality, and remembering that Malta used to be a highly fortified island of strategic value my second thought was “Malta’s being bombed.” (My first thought was “explosions are normal right? I hear them a lot out in the county — wait, Malta’s not out in the county…”)

I googled “Malta explosions” immediately. Because if this was a planned thing they’d have a page for that. And if it wasn’t there’d be a news article, right? Unless they were bombing the news offices first!!

There were a few more explosions — that unfortunately woke up my friend — and I think at about this time I looked out our balcony door and saw fireworks. No one’s yet bombed a country with gorgeous colorful displays on purpose, as far as I know.

Fireworks. On a Tuesday. A regular Tuesday evening. They happened again the following morning and evening and became a pattern over the next several days and nights. Which contributed further to my disorientation. I felt like we were closing out the nights at Disneyland, watching the show before dragging our tired selves back home after a full day of visual delights.

This odd displaced feeling was compounded by our walks around the city, each street felt like a fabricated blast from the past. How could it be that real people lived behind such incredible facades?

On Gozo we stayed in just such a house. It looks exactly like a set from a play and I had a strong desire to write a comedic love story during our stay there.

fantasy home

Geoffrey enters stage left from the living room’s french doors, Bianca, nervous about a chance meeting, quickly ducks down as she’s running up the stairs, Gillian, comes out of the bedroom reading and, not looking where she’s going falls into the pool.

Walter hears the splash from above and appears on the balcony, leaping into the water below and her rescue. Rose, stealing the feed from the satellite dish on the roof pops her head over the ledge to enjoy the proceedings. By the end of the scene she’s swung her legs over the ledge and begun enjoying the life show before her.

Geoffrey races toward the stairs to grab a towel for her, trips over Bianca and the pair tumble down tucked innocently and accidentally into each others arms, primed for a romantic kiss except Rufus, the dog, has come bounding out of the kitchen with Bianca’s half eaten sandwich clamped in his jaws and decides to join the fray.

Milton blithely continues showering in the small bathroom just around the corner from the kitchen, loudly singing Ave Maria, very off-key.

It’s disconcerting to find yourself in a place that appears perfectly fabricated. Particularly if you’re sweating heavily. You feel kind of like the audience at a play, you may enjoy the delights before you, but you don’t fit the time period or the style or the atmosphere. Vacations always tend to feel a bit like expensive shows to me, for the simple fact that they’re always so far outside my normal experiences. Even when I’m experiencing the normal routine of island life — the fireworks that signal the beginning of celebrations for Victory in Malta Day — it’s surreal to me. Fireworks on a Tuesday.

There’s a relief then in coming home and sinking back into your familiar role, an active actor in your life’s production. At least here I understand where the explosions are coming from, somewhere out in a field, stage right.

Historical Perspective

America’s a funny place to be from. We don’t really prize or value history, our own being so colorful and horrific. The history we do hold onto isn’t very old. Goes, back a couple generations, maybe but not a lot.

I think it’s probably a very American concept to demolish the old to make way for the new – raze to raise up. And it’s not a bad working concept really, there’s something to be said for flaunting tradition and creating new paths and methods for society.

But I traveled to the country of Malta recently and for the first time in my life I actually stood in a place that’s been standing for several thousand years. To be as specific as possible, 3,000+ years. The Ġgantija temples have been in their spot on the island of Gozo for lifetimes upon lifetimes.

And what struck me when I first saw the ruins was that, well let’s be honest, it’s not that impressive. It’s a few walls of rock. I could say that to you, and that thought certainly crossed my mind, but briefly.

Because I’m standing in a place that people have stood in, all through history, either for religious purposes, or after it fell into disuse, for accidental purposes, or for tourist purposes.

temple 2

And, a quick aside about other tourists. Back when this place was becoming a tourist destination again, in the 1800s or so, people carved their initials into the rock to commemorate their time at the oldest religious site on earth. In their defense, selfies didn’t exist, but also, let’s not defend these monsters who defaced the oldest known religious site in the world. Anyway.

There’s not a lot I can tell you about the temples that wouldn’t be true of other ancient ruins. What people know about thousand year old history is understandably pretty limited, but you can’t quite deny the truly humbling nature of being around something that had a far greater lasting impact than probably anyone could have anticipated.

Certainly, a greater lasting impact than any modern person thinks of leaving behind. I don’t know. Maybe the ancients had a different view. Clearly based on their use of stone and the size of the stone they intended things to be built to last and to matter. But standing there inside Ġgantija, which means “giant” there is a sense of proportion to be felt, a historical humbling. And you do feel small. How can you not? Next to the ambitions and passion of a people with an enduring vision.

Of course, you leave the temple and you’re back on the street and around the corner looking for an ATM next to a Chinese food restaurant. And sure, these are in old stone and rock buildings that have probably been around for a few centuries too, but it’s nothing next to the thousand year old structure you just visited. But that restaurant wasn’t always for Chinese food, that spot in the wall didn’t always hold an ATM, and people didn’t use to visit that temple to get their picture inside of it.

History is transforming all around us, and it’s people that are transforming this world we live in, shaping the places we visit, giving them meaning, giving them purpose, making them beautiful, making them useful, making them work, or tearing them down to make way for something new, something that builds on the old and makes it stronger and more lasting.

Or at least I hope that’s what we’re doing.

 

Guest Post: Child-Free By Choice

Guest post today from a dear friend with a good open heart. Leigh Vander Woude has a voice worth listening to. — Katrina

Spoiler alert: I’m married.

For some reason, Katrina and Jana have entrusted me to host this blog for a post. I’m going to try to share some of my thoughts and feelings on a subject that I think relates to what many of you singles feel. But I’m also very self-conscious of the fact that I am most definitely not single. So I beg for grace from you, awesome single people, as I do this. (I will also try to stop saying “single” so much. I think I’m going to replace “single people” with “awesomely independent folks” instead from here on out.)

So here’s my story.

I have always been a quite traditional and conventional woman. Even stereotypical. I grew up loving Barbies and Disney princesses (and if I’m honest, I still love Disney more than I dare admit). I also love romantic love. I ate up romantic stories in books and movies. I’ve wanted to be married for as long as I can remember. I can’t tell you how many boys I liked growing up, because since the age of 10, I seriously wondered with every single one I met, “is he ‘The One’???”

For basically just as long as I’ve wanted to be married, I’ve loved God. Loving God and loving His plan came pretty naturally for me. It felt natural. I wanted to love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. I also very much wanted to be married to one person for as long as I lived.

I never wanted kids.

But there’s one stereotype I sidestepped… I never wanted kids. Ever. In fact, even when I think back to the Barbie days, I cannot recall ever playing with baby dolls. I mean, even Skipper was a downgrade. Kids have never been my thing. Playing make-believe always included true love, but never a “mommy” and a “daddy”. I just had no interest in it.

Now let me explain why this is strange, beyond just the fact that I am so otherwise traditionally feminine. It’s strange because I love taking care of people. I love to be there when my people are hurting so I can pick them up and help them feel loved and safe and brave to go after their lives. I even love helping them feel cared for when they’re sick. I once stayed by my sister’s bed when I was 10 for who knows how long, because she had broken her leg and simultaneously gotten the worst case of hives anyone’s ever seen. I laid on the floor next to her bed and got things for her, even feeding her at times, because moving her arms would make the hives break out worse. And you know what? I weirdly love that memory.

Taking care of people is my jam.

Taking care of people is my jam. But actually creating humans and then caring for them? No thank you. When I “finally” met my husband at the ripe old age of 21 (I really had been aiming to be married by 20, not kidding), and we started dating, the dreaded question came up quickly.

“How many kids do you want?” He asked me during a car ride.

“Um… I don’t know. Maybe 1?” I replied tentatively, not wanting to scare him off by telling the truth boldly. I mean, most people want kids. Especially Christians. So I figured he would probably want at least one, too. And he was pretty great, so maybe I could compromise?

“Wait, do you not want any?” He said with a smile. “I didn’t even realize that was an option!”

And that was that. We agreed that we’d leave it open to God, but unless our hearts changed, we weren’t going to have kids. This, of course, did not sit well with either of our mothers and a lot of other people we talked to. I was assured by many that I would change my mind eventually. “Just wait,” they’d tell me with a smirk and a knowing glance. And I would reply with something like, “Okay” and we’d move on. I mean, no use arguing about it. Maybe we would change our minds.

But as of this coming September, Ben and I will have been married for 12 years. I’m 34 and he’s 33. While there’s still plenty of time for us to have kids, neither of us has had the slightest change of heart and we don’t see that changing. I’m fairly certain both our mothers aren’t waiting for us to change our minds anymore, either.

Meanwhile, in the rest of the Christian world around me (and the non-Christian world, too), almost all my friends have gotten married and begun having babies. I have some friends who stopped at one and I have some with four or more that aren’t sure if they’re done yet. Most of those children are under 10, usually closer to 2. And the lives of my friends are, understandably, consumed by their child(ren). Especially at the ages their children are at, parenting is not just a full-time job. It is 24 hours a day, every single day. If your spouse can’t stay home with them, you literally have to pay someone to get a break.

I am the odd woman out.

With this child-consumed lifestyle comes child-consumed conversations. My friends who are moms, when gathered together in a group, rarely talk about much else. Diapers and feedings and school choosing and no sleep and praise God they have daycare at the gym. That’s what they talk about, because that’s what their life consists of. It makes sense. They have playdates with other moms and they go to MOPS. I am the odd woman out. Listening and sympathizing, but never relating. And it’s killing me.

Now let me stop here and say that I think all my parent friends are freakin’ superheroes and I tell them that on the regular. These people give up so much to raise babies. I literally do not know how they do it. But part of that is because to me, there is no upside to their situation. I don’t want kids. So paying the price for them seems unfathomable to me. But to them, they are blessed beyond measure by these gorgeous children. They are God’s gift to them, even when they’re stealing their sleep or peeing on their couches. Because they’re also taking their first steps and saying their first words and giggling in the precious way that only 2 year olds can. They are pure joy to these parents and totally worth the price tag.

But for me, I feel… frustrated. And lonely. And left-out. And constantly combating the idea that I’m selfish because I chose not to do what everyone else seemed made to do.

Ben and I have done some serious soul searching on the kids front since we got married. We have prayed and searched the Scriptures, doing all we could to make sure that kids really were just a blessing and not a requirement. There are plenty of people in the Christian world who would look at our choice and call it “sin”. And while I won’t go into a defensive stance and reflect on all the reasons why I believe that those people are wrong; I do believe they’re wrong. I also believe that God can change my mind and that I truly believe He will if He wants something different from me than the life I’ve chosen based on my (not sinful) desires. After all, that’s exactly what my friends with kids did. They didn’t have kids because they were mandated to or to be more holy. They had them because they WANTED THEM. When people say that it’s selfishness that leads me to not having kids, I really want to say that it’s selfishness on the part of parents for having them. It’s not like anyone has kids because they’re looking to work on their selfishness, for pete’s sake.

So here’s the thing I’ve realized for a long time but been afraid to say out loud: I want a friend who has a life like mine. And today was the first time I really believed that it was okay to ask for it. After all, there are MOPS groups and singles groups. There are even groups for women struggling with infertility. But somehow the CFBC (childfree by choice) group doesn’t exist. And here’s the other thing: I would feel rude, unholy or selfish asking for such a group. Because God-forbid I want to hang out with someone like me… who’s hardcore, sold-out, crazy-in-love with Jesus and wants to give Him her whole life, but also simultaneously doesn’t want to be a mom.

I’d love to be able to go out to dinner with a friend and talk about life things and not feel like I’m condemning my friend’s husband to babysitting duty after a long day of work (I’m sorry, parents, but you do make it feel that way… like your husband can pay the price of watching the children because you’ve paid your dues for the day and it’s his turn to deal with the chaos). I’d also love to be able to go out to dinner with a couple and not feel terrible knowing they had to pay $50 for a babysitter (seriously, what is with babysitting prices these days?!?). Not to mention, most of the time, I feel less-than-useless to my mom friends. I mean, I can sympathize with you that you don’t know what daycare to send little Sally to or that she’s had the same cold off and on for 3 weeks, but ultimately, all I am is really sorry for you and even more sure of my own choices. Which basically makes me feel like a bad friend AND like a selfish jerk. But the truth is I’m ill-equipped to relate on these things and that makes friendship hard at times.

I crave friendship from someone who gets where I’m coming from.

It’s still totally worth it to me, don’t get me wrong, but I crave friendship from someone who gets where I’m coming from. I try very hard to validate the lives of the moms and dads I know, but I rarely get that same validation in return. I would guess that’s mostly because it probably feels a bit like a third world person trying to validate the economic struggles of an American. I’m the one taking naps and sleeping in on weekends and spending our extra funds on things like vacations, while they’re getting four hours of sleep that’s constantly interrupted by things like bodily fluids that need to be cleaned up.

Mybe what I’m asking for is too much. I mean, even just because there may not be another couple at our church who wants a similar life to ours. But if I could possibly just have one friend where we could meet for coffee without it taking a scheduling miracle, I really would love that.

Here’s where I’m hoping it’s relevant for you, awesomely independent folks. I do get what it’s like to feel like the odd man out. I know what it’s like to feel stuck in conversations that have nothing to do with things I relate to currently or will relate to in the future. I understand what it’s like to have no one in your age group who seems to be where you are or who wants to be where you are. I know what it’s like to have people looking at your life and assuming you’re missing out on the best parts of it.

And can I just say, from all us dumb married people, thank you for putting up with our idiocy if you’ve ever felt us looking down on your current state of romantic involvement. The truth is, your relationship status/title (mom/dad, wife/husband, girlfriend/boyfriend, etc.) has zero effect on your worth as a person or the fullness of your life. You are valuable just for being the spectacularly made-by-God you that you are. Anyone who assumes something is missing in your life because you’re single (even if that person is you) is just plain wrong.

I would also like to say that if you happen to know any couples that are childfree by choice, it is very likely that one or both of the people in said couple are very excited to have you awesomely independent people in their lives. I often take it for granted, but my friendship with Katrina is one of my all-time favorites (mostly just because she’s awesome, but it’s also super nice to just get to be adults without children to think about).

I don’t have any solutions to offer here, for my situation or for the awesomely independent folks who feel like they can’t relate. Honestly, I wrote all of this because I just needed to write it down and get it out of my head. There was a weed of bitterness that was taking root and I think this was my attempt to pull it out before it choked the friendship flowers.

I will say that when I stop and look at the big picture, as frustrating as it is not to have someone in the exact same place in life as I am, the truth is there is so much value in being friends with people who aren’t like me. Whether the difference is their relationship status or their parenthood status or their race or their denominational preference. I see different sides of God in the variety around me and I’m so thankful for that.

But I’m still going to ask God for just one friend that gets where I’m coming from. We’ll see what He does with the request.

Word Games

If you’ve been reading this blog for a length of time or know me personally you’ll have gathered I’m not athletic. Never have been, have no plans to be. I like sedentary pursuits. Reading. Sleeping. Being left alone. Doing crossword puzzles alone.

I used to be under the illusion that I liked board games, but have been cured of this belief over the past decade. I think I hate them. This doesn’t exactly leave a large window of group activities, which I find to be telling but I think my friends would probably term “boring”.

While I’m passable at conversations there’s a mistaken notion that I’m word-gifted. Probably encouraging this inaccuracy is my tendency to use words that even I don’t properly understand. But honestly if you say anything confidently enough it sounds incongruous.

In that spirit a friend of mine introduced me to a word game, clearly under the illusion that words are a game to be played. It’s so not true, if anything taught me that it was my sister chastising me for not knowing what “sputnik” was when I was twelve and we were playing Taboo. Don’t worry, sister, I know what the Russian satellite from 1957 is now. #neverforgetsputnik

At any rate, the way this “game” is played is two people, presumably friends (at least at the start of the game) say one word at the same time and then keep saying new words concurrently until they land on the same word.

Once the game was explained to me I was filled with an entirely unnatural and absolutely paralyzing mental blank.

“Pick a word”, they said.

A word?? One?? How do you pick one word?? Do you even know how many words are out there??

“Is it just nouns?” I asked.

“No, it can be any word.” My friend replied, clearly unaware that nothing could increase my tension more.

ANY WORD?? Just think of adjectives ALONE. We were going to be here ALL NIGHT.

Internally as I was aware that this was herculean task I also realized that a child would have absolutely no trouble at all with this game, happily and readily picking a word and not needing roughly five minutes to prepare themselves to choose a word.

But I knew I was going to pick the wrong word. I knew it. I can’t explain this to you. Especially as the game is a team game with no adversary and let’s be honest, no stakes. Either we both won or we both lost. Which is perhaps where some of the anxiety comes from and why golf is my preferred sport if I must sport. Solo activity. If I’m taking the whole ship down then it’s still just me, no one else gets upset.

So after mentally preparing myself to fail at picking a word, I desperately stared at my bookcase for inspiration and came up with “binder”, which of the paper related words is easily the most boring. Not that it matters. Not that my word needed to be scintillating, but honestly BINDER. Ugh.

My friend said “pineapple” and I thought “we’re doomed.” That’s it. Just pack it in, end friendship, say good night, it was a good friendship while it lasted, but we’re clearly on two totally different planes of existence. It’s just not worth it trying to meet in the middle.

After significant coaching and what I definitely consider cheating, we finally got to the same word. (Apparently there are no wrong words? It feels wrong even typing it.)

Friends, it was exhausting.

I know it’s a crazy thing to stress about, an absurd situation to feel anxiety over, and that secretly if I’m being honest, I found it kind of fun, probably, but it was one of those teaching moments of life.

I’m sure you’ve got a word or two here for this kind of life lesson. I’m sure you’re thinking “connection” or “communication”. Perhaps even “trust” or “listening”. All excellent choices. And well done you for taking such a positive message from my train-wreck of social interaction.

But I don’t have one word to end this with.

I’ve tried.

I’ve been sitting here for a good ten minutes trying to think of one, but I’ve got nothing. One word. I mean honestly who can think of ONLY ONE WORD? What is this, prison??

What kind of game puts limits on your vocabulary? Why are we self-censoring??

Whew. Deep breath.

In. Sputnik.

Out. Diploma.

 

I Think I Wanna Marry You?

“How did he propose?” Is one of the most popular questions you ask an engaged couple.  And it ranks up there with stories guaranteed to get couples smiling and reminiscing. That is unless you ask someone from a generation or farther back.

I once asked two couples who had been married for sixty years – on the same day in a joint ceremony – how the proposals happened and they looked at each other, shrugged and said, “we just decided to get married.”

In my parents generation the conversations are much the same. Practical, efficient, no fuss. My older sister’s engagement happened in a similar fashion, privately, quietly, and without fanfare.

I can still remember the first time I watched an engagement video. It was a guy walking down the street singing a song to his girlfriend as a whole cast of friends and family members entered the scene for cameo breaks in their slow, choreographed parade down the street.

“Cute”, I thought. “That’s certainly different.”

And then it wasn’t different. All of a sudden everywhere you looked couples were inventing new and elaborate ways to get engaged. Now asking about the proposal story was to ask about a key element in a relationship. There were photos, videos, staged settings, choreographed entrances, costumes, for heaven’s sake. A real theatrical.

And then of course posting those small movies online and hoping they’d go viral, and so many of them did. I remember vividly gagging at one that was synced to “Marry You” by Bruno Mars (and if you’re thinking “what a charming song!”, please give it another listen before deciding this is the kind of inspiration you want guiding a major life choice).

Obviously not everyone gets engaged this way, and just as obviously the people you see get engaged publicly seem to enjoy the spectacle. It’s the next better thing to a jumbotron screen popping the question for you in a stadium of eager voyeurs.

I’m probably old, and unsentimental, and hopelessly unromantic, and a complete robot, but the sheer herculean task of a memorable proposal would put me right off the idea of a wedding. I mean the wedding itself is usually a gong show, so I don’t understand why you need to have that kind of madcap chaos happen more than once.

Isn’t one public and expensive declaration of your love and commitment sufficient? Do you really need to do a show opener to get people to come? Because I got news for you, if the opening band is more exciting than the headliner, you’re going to leave people feeling like they didn’t get their dinner’s worth out of the whole experience.

Maybe I just don’t understand love, I mean that’s a real possibility here, but I always kind of figured that just getting up the nerve to propose was the biggest obstacle but can you imagine having to work on a lip sync too? And what if you don’t know her well enough and she hates that song. Or maybe you didn’t time the airplanes to fly over at the right moment. Or you did but your dog holding the ring got startled and swallowed the diamond? How can anyone think of starting a preliminary commitment under that much pressure?

When is it all supposed to get easier? Doesn’t this just feel like you’ve not only hit the ground running, but that you’ve hit it at a breakneck speed and you’ve got whiplash till the wedding? And then the wedding and oh dear God when does the circus ever end?

But of course it does and your love story fades into the tepid background of everyone else’s experience with you and suddenly you’re no longer viral, no longer headliners, no longer stars in a romantic drama.

I guess what I’m saying is how can you be sure your love story is going to last through the tedious quiet everyday nights if you’ve only ever experienced the fireworks with friends and family – and complete strangers online?

Like I said, I don’t really know anything about love. And maybe what we’re all just trying to do is save up memorable and important stories. And maybe engagements are the only chance for the couple to express themselves given how much weddings become odes to the parents of the bride and groom.

All that’s possible. But on the whole, it seems a very American thing to take a nice quiet idea and turn it into a big explosive competition where we measure love by the size of the bill and height of the balloon arch.

But I could be wrong about this.

Wanted: Listless Heroine

I recently accidentally read the plot summary of a book whose title is not worth remembering. It was in the teenage angst genre which is a sub-genre of young adult fiction (this is not a real sub-genre, but it definitely could be)

It chronicled one girl’s journey to her identity via a challenging choice between two attractive, wealthy, callous – but deep, non-human males. Also half her family had died.

Would that this was a rarity in fantasy fiction.I believe fantasy is a great genre for exposing real world issues. But the fantasy of orphanhood setting you free to be independent while two supernatural humans being are attracted to one average girl is something we need to get past. Not only because it’s absurd, but because it creates in women a feeling that “average” is something to settle for, or as it’s showcased, aspire to.

Specially Average

In fad terms average is the new “unique”. Don’t misunderstand me, everyone is unique. Sometimes so unique that it comes full circle back to being common, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less important to find out what’s special about you and make it your own.

Don’t let what makes you unique be your ability to emulate a blank slate. Don’t settle for being the woman things happen to. Be the event maker, the doer, the person of interest in the room. And for goodness sake, don’t expect interesting, sensitive, intelligent, sexy men to find your dull, listless, expressionless self, interesting.

Don’t misunderstand. If you’re quiet, shy, an introvert, this does not make you dull. A lot of research on introversion has shown that many introverts are deep wells of interest. Regardless of your introversion, your extroversion, your sense of humor, your intelligence level, your ability to get things done, you can still be a person “of” something. Be a person of thought, of feeling, of passion, of focus, of dreams, of intent, but be a person of SOMETHING. Not everyone may find it interesting, but that’s their loss. You’re looking for the gems that find you interesting because you ARE INTERESTING.

If you’re reading a book or a watching a movie ask yourself this question “Why do they love each other?” If the answer is “he’s hot” and “she’s human” consider whether this is really a relationship you wish to emulate.

Teenage Drama

In addition to a silly heroine with no discernible judgment, this is a story set to revolve around two boys with our heroine’s deceased family functioning as background plot device.

What?

Right there in the synopsis you find that half her family has died. I don’t know how big her family is, but half of anything is a lot. And yet, it only sets the drama for the romantic tale to ensue.

You know how it is. You family dies and a cute guy or two comes around. Let’s focus on that instead. This, in counseling circles, would be thought of as a poor coping mechanism. It’s certainly not reflective of the mourning cycle of most average teen girls.

In reality, your family is one of the largest single factors in what makes you, you. This influence, or the loss of it is in no way shape or form glancing, or easily resolved with eye candy. And to imply to teenage girls that life is more interesting because of romance than because of complex familial relationships is a tragedy that can only pave the way for disappointment in all future relationships.

Competitive Worth

By far the most grievous offense that teen romance lit has thrust upon us is the idea that a love triangle is common in life. It’s not. It’s really, really not. And a woman’s self worth is not to be found in the quantity nor quality of men competing for her person.

You are not a bride to be bought with camels, and you are not a valuable human because two men desire you. You’re valuable because you’re you. In your desires, your dreams, your hopes, your ambitions, your aspirations, in who you are as a person, the history that has shaped you, the adversity you have faced, the obstacles you have handled, you are valuable.

It’s long time that women put to rest the idea that our interest, our uniqueness, our worth is found in what men may think of us sexually. That couldn’t possibly be farther from the truth, and in this regard, perhaps its perfect home is in the fantasy genre, the best place for unreality.

Terminally Ill Romances Make Me Sick (Part II)

I’ve known a few people going through terrible times in life. Sometimes they’ve been young, sometimes they’ve been old. Very rarely have they been on the cusp of a romance.

Generally speaking, there’s something about illness that doesn’t lend itself to the dramatic. I think mostly it’s exhaustion. Who has the energy for the “do they like me” and other extremes of emotions when basic surviving is at stake?

Which is why romance films centered around sick people makes me sick. It’s definitely a Hollywood disease to to give romance a disproportionate role in someone’s life. Romance, according to the movies, is the thing that brings you back to life, renews your energy, gives you faith in beauty again, gives you hope, a future, etc, etc, etc. Romance has a exalted status in our society, it’s the high ideal we believe worth striving for. A sense of togetherness and communion that we think can only be achieved by a successful romance. It’s what gives life meaning and purpose: to be loved extravagantly by one other human. But it’s missing the point, and it’s a horrible standard by which to measure your own life.

It’s an especially poor standard to give sick people. Sure, they may have a supportive family, a loving family, a mother that dotes, a sister that sacrifices, a brother that entertains, a father that carries them, but do they have a boyfriend/girlfriend? They’re probably missing out if they don’t. At least that’s what I’ve learned from terminally ill romances.

Deifying romance is dangerous under the best of circumstances. Pitting illness against romantic love is abhorrent. It’s bad enough to be sick, let alone having to feel like your life is missing yet another component because you’re not dateable or marriageable because of something you can’t control.

Sure, romances for the terminally ill sounds like a nice idea in theory, the fluffy notion that “love strikes at any time!” And the staunch romanticism of “everyone should be loved!” Both of which are true axioms, but their placement in these situations only serves to add glamor to love and to signify that without it, you’re, well, without love.

But this is far from reality in many situations. Truth is that there can be advantages to being sick. It brings those who were close in closer and those who only wanted to pretend intimacy to go away all together. It makes moments with those you love that much sweeter. And it may be surprising to discover how many people you can love when you’re not caught in a romance movie trope. Which is why this trope is so very harmful. Instead of applauding the myriad of non-sexual relationships in someone’s life, relationships that are sweetened by loss and adversity, it creates a situation that drives home the point that meaning and purpose and happiness in life can only be found in a romantic situation. Souring an already sour situation.

Being ill is not easy, it’s not nice, it’s not good. And it’s not a fairy tale that needs to be sold with romance to support life having meaning. People are so much more than their illness or their romantic relationships.

Terminally Ill Romances Make Me Sick (Part I)

Movies can fetishize a lot of things that in real life are less fun: klutzes, jumbotrons, romantic stalking, etc, but by far one of the most horrific fetishized tropes is sick people.

There’s a huge market for romances where someone dies of cancer, a bad (see “broken”) heart, or perhaps a terribly obscure incurable disease. The common storyline is that our sick person is eccentric, well-loved, and coming to terms with death (in an offbeat, adorable way). Their healthy love interest is at a loss, perhaps listless, uncertain of the future, and timid. Alternatively, they could be wealthy, preoccupied with status and their own self-importance achieved through busyness and technology. Through loving each other they are able to blah, blah, blah, (s)he dies at the end.

Rarely, if ever does this trope really work in a way that brings dignity to those who suffer with chronic illness without making them a strict moralizing influence for the sake of the bored and healthy.

For film story structure, it’s the equivalent of a poor kid from the wrong side of the tracks who meets a wealthy snob. The poverty-stricken is the unblemished sacrifice so the wealthy can gain a soul. In a cancer movie, it’s just more mortally revolting.

There’s a good deal of adventure to be had along the way as the healthy person assists in last wishes of the sick and falls in love with their life, their spirit while simultaneously feeling jealous because they just can’t manage to live their own life to the full.

Also at several points along the way our sick hero(ine) will have any number of profound phrases to bestow on our life-novice who’s just now figured out that perhaps it’s time to take living seriously. But how could anyone be expected to figure that out without the assistance of the dying?

Equally disgusting is the way we’ve glamorized visuals of cancer with fashionable baldness that never seems to stunt the eyelashes nor make a dint in the eyebrows. Similarly, they may be wasting away to nothing, but in an enviable way. Is cancer all it takes to get thin? Who said that anorexia isn’t a fetching in the right environment. Cancer pale is the new heroin chic, too. The sick look just sick enough to appear otherworldly and enlightened but never sick enough to dull the romance of their mission to rescue the healthy.

Watching these movies gives the watcher a kind of feeling that they wish they too could suffer in an important way  and through their sacrifice bring some (wo)man to redemption. But suffering isn’t a romantic prop, and it’s not a ministry to the well. The healthy should perhaps expend a little more of their own energy on discovering how to live life to the full and stop leaning the full weight of the importance of life on the already weakened.

The Nicest Guy

There’s a lot of negative things that have been said about so-called “nice guys”. And there’s been some assertions that nice guys don’t actually really exist at all. It’s just a ruse to lure women into a false sense of security. I have one thing to say to that, and honestly it probably helps support the assertion.

Bill Pullman.

Or should I say Jack?

Of all the celebrated lovers of the screen, few are more fondly regarded and longed for than Jack of While You Were Sleeping.

If you need an education in the psyche of romance, this movie hits a lot of the right notes. It destroys most female notions of “the perfect guy” and supplants it with the “right” guy.  Jack is nice. He’s responsible, he’s mature, he’s protective, he’s considerate, he’s quiet. And yet he’s never boring. I know, unfair comparison. Next to a comatose man anyone looks interesting.

Here’s the kicker. Did Lucy start out by falling in love with Jack? No. She thought she loved Peter. Boy, was she wrong. He looked like everything she wanted and she couldn’t have been luckier that he never noticed her at all.

This can happen in life all too frequently, to women AND men. You like what you like until you realize what you thought you liked isn’t anything like what you really like. Sometimes we want the ideal, not a person. It’s why so many “nice” people get missed.

Yes, Nice Guys. Some women don’t get it right off the bat. Some women think they like the shiny successful, super attractive, confident jerks. And some women…actually DO like these types (we’re weird that way, in that we’re all very different from each other).

But honestly, women are looking for Jacks. Someone who cares about them, listens to their dreams, walks them home across an icy sidewalk, protects them from “the lean”, and knows old fashioned methods for moving sofas (“push it really hard”).

In fact, the only downfall in the entire movie that Jack has, is not owning up to what he wants. He’s too nice. One of the fundamental problems with being nice is that you’re afraid to make waves, too afraid to brave disappointment. Niceness risks nothing. It settles.

So realize with Jack that sometimes it’s okay to say, “you suck”. Even if you’re not sure if it’s the person or the outfit that sucks.