297. cultivating "pearls"
Pastor: Huh? Okay…what?
QSW: A visitor…
Pastor: [laughing] That’s cold.
And I thought it was hilarious and so did some other people. But then something interesting happened. In the comments section, his innocent post touched off a flurry of discussion centered loosely around the topic of dating. It didn’t take long for another QSW (not the one that told the “cute guy” joke) to put up her own blog entry in response which then got referenced in yet another post back on my pastor’s blog which also garnered a ton of comments.
It’s been quite an interesting and entertaining couple of days in the Quest blogosphere.
And since the topic is dating and relationships and church…well, of course I have to throw my hat in the ring.
Thing is, most of the comments (left by men and women) basically made the point that men should man up, grow some balls, and start asking out some of the amazing single women who call Quest their church home. And for the most part, they’re right.
But for some guys it’s not that simple.
Take, oh…let’s say, me as an example.
In the last few years of high school and the first few years of college, I was involved in a para-church organization that took a pretty hard line stance when it came to dating. Basically, their message was, “don’t date because you can’t control your emotions and your hormones. If you start dating now you’re inevitably going to do something stupid like having unprotected sex (because we’re certainly not going to teach you anything about contraception) and you’ll probably get your girlfriend pregnant. You’re going to stop going to church and fall away from Christ because you’re too busy to go with your two minimum wage jobs (the only jobs you could get because you didn’t finish high school/college) and so your kid will grow up outside a nice christian home and he/she will hang out with the wrong crowd and start taking drugs which will lead to him/her stealing items from your home which they will pawn off to support their habit. In the end, you’ll die a miserable old man who never got to accomplish anything meaningful in life. All because you started dating before you were old enough to handle it.”
You think I’m joking about this? Well, yeah, I’m exaggerating a bit but honestly, not by much. During camps and retreats, they’d often have a segment where they’d separate the guys from the girls and they’d give THE TALK, not entirely unlike what I wrote above. And they did more than talk. If a dating couple made the mistake of attending one of these camps, the counselors would do everything they could think of to try to break them up through the course of the retreat. They’d make sure the one couldn’t see the other during free time. At every opportunity, the women counselors would talk to the girl and the male counselors would talk to the guy, explaining in no uncertain terms why they were too young and unprepared to be in a relationship. Their tactics were quite effective. Lots of couples either left halfway through camp, unwilling to put up with the bullying tactics, or left camp no longer dating.
Now you might be thinking, that’s so screwed up – why did you put up with that kind of teaching? Why did you stay with that group?
Well, yeah, looking back now I can see how screwed up that all was, but at the time I didn’t know any better. I mean I wasn’t learning about dating and relationships at home. I love my parents and all but I never saw them modeling any kind of healthy interaction, let alone intimacy (despite the eww factor). And back in the day, I wasn’t one of the cool, with-it kids. I was one of the nerds back when being a nerd was still a bad thing. No one in my circle of friends knew anything about how to get dates let alone what to say or do if we somehow went on one. So when I started going to these camps and hanging out with these smart, hip christian leaders who talked about how great their marriages were, why wouldn’t I listen to what they had to say?
And here’s another thing. Despite the fact that I now see that their views on dating were fracked up (I’ve been watching BSG oh hulu), they really did have some solid teaching and discipleship. I learned a lot from them and I might not be the christian I am today were it not for some of the values they instilled in me. I mention this because their being on point in most areas of christianity made it that much harder for me to dismiss their take on dating even if it seemed a bit odd to me.
Now at the same time, as I was growing up, men were being mocked and ridiculed on television, in movies, and certainly in the stand-up comedy routines of female comedians. Take a movie like When Harry Met Sally. Billy Crystal’s character is basically a jerk. Not just that, he gives Sally (Meg Ryan) multiple lectures on how men are pigs who only have one thing on their mind when they’re around women.
Or take a look at this bit from a song by Jimmy Webb titled, What Does A Woman See In A Man which ends with this bit:
And yet, dreaming of orgies in Vegas or Cannes
He preens and strikes poses Olympian
While she shoulders the cross
And lets him play boss
His nurse and long-suffering Samaritan
He brags about knocking the world on its ass
But oh when the shit hits the fan
She’ll bail him out
She’s the one with the clout
Only she knows how humankind ever began
Tell me what does a woman see in a man?
(complete lyrics here)
The song came out in the early nineties but in its own hyperbolic way, it kind of captures the man-bad-woman-good vibe that kind of emerged out of the eighties.
I’m sure there are much better examples of what I’m trying to get across which is the idea that I grew up in a time when the habits and attitudes of men were belittled in the media. Oh, and I just remembered a quote from a movie called Mindwalk that went something like, “you men have been in charge for so long and look at what a mess you’ve made of things. Maybe it’s time for women to take the lead.”
And one last item before I (finally) get to the point I’m trying to get across.
I suppose I just have the worst luck when it comes to women because despite all the dysfunctional instruction I received, I did manage to start sort of seeing this girl while I was in college. And it was stupendous, thrilling, bountiful and beautiful. It’s like we were best friends from the start – we had similar interests, we finished each other’s sentences. We felt instantly at ease around the other and found ourselves sharing things even our best friends didn’t know.
But we were just friends and when I suggested maybe we be a bit more than friends, she freaked out. She said I was betraying our friendship and she couldn’t believe I would want to ruin something so special.
Now let me be clear here that it’s not like I was suggesting we begin regular ma
ke out sessions in the back of my car. All I wanted was for us to see one another more regularly, to not date other people, to be able to tell our friends that we were seeing each other.
But she didn’t want it. Any of it.
Don’t ask me to explain. Her friends didn’t get it either – they thought we would’ve made a smashing couple. Everyone saw that she and I seeing one another would have been the obvious, perfect thing. Well, everyone but her.
I’ll spare you the gory (and I mean Stephen King/Clive Barker/GWAR gory) details but it went from amazingly beautiful to brutal and ugly almost overnight. I was a mess and she started seeing some guy who everyone thought was obviously wrong for her.
I guess this is all a VERY long, cumbersome way to respond to what some people said in the comments section of my pastor’s blog posts which was basically, “hey guys, stop being spineless, safe, and weak and start asking girls out!” To which I respond, “it’s not that easy for everyone.”
I don’t know if it was the batty teaching on dating I got from those camps or the fact that my parents didn’t model a healthy relationship for me or if it was all the men-are-bad vibe I was getting from the media or if it was the brutal crash and burn of that early almost-relationship with that girl. I suppose it’s all of the above, but add it all up and I guess you can see that dating doesn’t come easily to me.
The amount I don’t know about dating and relationships could fill a black hole and turn it back into a star again.
In the comments section to one of my pastor’s posts I asked why women didn’t do some of the initiating. One person responded that women do initiate by putting out signals.
Maybe I’ve never been signaled, maybe I haven’t seen the Rosetta Stone and don’t know how to interpret their hieroglyphics. Maybe I have so little confidence in the dating process that I refuse to see them. I mean if a woman came up to me with a sign stuck to her forehead that read, “hey, ask me out,” I’d probably think she was just being ironic.
See, it’s not like there’s a school out there offering degrees in Lloyd Dobler. And yeah, there are books out there like Dating For Dummies and The Mack Within and The Game, but they all basically say the same thing which is “be confident – confidence is attractive.” And I’m sure that’s true but in the rare occasion that I do try and ask someone out, while my mind is telling me, “I’m the man, I’m a great catch, I’m so money I don’t even know it,” the thing that comes out of my mouth is, “so…um…don’t feel pressured or anything because it’s not really a big deal so feel free to say no because you won’t hurt my feelings and I hope I’m not putting you in an awkward position because…oh, you know what? I just remembered that I need to buy bread so I’ll be going now. Have a nice day.”
Look, here’s the deal. I don’t write all of this because I want people to feel sorry for me. On any given day, I’m 99 percent content and happy and secure as a single man. And even on my most needy days, I’d say I’m still up around the 85-90 percentile. For the most part, I
like love being single. My life is simple, my money is my own, I don’t have to clear my schedule with anyone. I’m not saying my life is all diamonds and pearls but it’s like Jay-Z says, “I got 99 problems but a b#$^# ain’t one.”
I put my story up to make the point that “man up, grow some balls, stop being a wimp” is pretty empty advice.
I don’t know how many men can relate to anything I’ve shared but I’ll bet they don’t want to talk about it because who wants to admit that they don’t have the first idea about how to date – something eighth graders know how to do? Because how much more unattractive will they feel they are to women by making such an admission?
And so I’ll speak for them because I have nothing at stake. I love being single.
(Am I missing out on a beautiful part of what it is to be alive and human? Probably. Am I going to do anything about that? Not right now.)
The most sublime description of the modern dating scene that I’ve ever heard came from one of my college Political Science teachers (Chad Blair) who said, “some people are getting it, some people aren’t.” And I’d add that those who aren’t are either too ashamed to admit they need help or have no idea where to get help even if they wanted it.
I don’t know what the solution for this is. I don’t know how to make men better, more whole, more confident. But sometimes the suggestion, “be a man,” is about as useful as telling a drowning person, “learn how to swim.”