What has gotten into me that I am even contemplating posting this?! This ain't even a little like me. Maybe Milly's and Andreia's encouragement is wearing me down. It must be a good thing. :-)
One of the implications of my first relationships post was that average men don't seek out relationships with other men. Normal men seek out worthwhile work, and then become friends with the men who join them in it.
Ah, but average men do actively seek out relationships with women. Everything is completely different in that realm.
With this post, I want to explore a recent revelation I had on this difference. I feel like I just discovered fire. This revelation feels that significant. The discovery of fire was a turning point for mankind in Greek myth, and it feels like that huge a turning point for me.
Only it would have been so much easier if I had noticed that fire had already been discovered millenia ago.
Discovering fire is not that big a deal when all your buddies have been using it their whole lives, and even have neat little stoves, heaters and hot water tanks to make it for them on demand. Kind of makes the whole discovery experience a little anti-climactic.
You see, when I say that I feel like I have discovered fire, I don't mean that I have found something ya'll need to know. Au contraire. I am realizing that I have exhausted half my given years without the most basic of knowledge, without wisdom every other 7th grader picked up by osmosis and experience. Imagine making it to middle age in America without ever seeing or using fire. Now you know what kind of a deprived idiot I feel like right now.
But, better late than never.
So, why am I posting about being an idiot? Frankly, this is the kind of thing I usually cover up assiduously. Well, really, I'm posting this because I got into this mess by covering up my problems assiduously. (Did you notice that "assiduously" sounds a lot like "insidiously?" I did. That's why I keep using the word. It's meaning is perfectly innocent, but its tone conveys the self-destructive secrecy of my perfectionism.) I am posting to shed light and get input, and because saying things out loud seems to be helping me these days.
It was on Tuesday a week ago that I got my first inkling that there might be a reason to really be friends with an eligible woman.
Queue laughter/offended reactions, but please be merciful.
I didn't think that it was wrong to be friends with a woman, but my thoughts seem to have been bringing up the caboose. With my mind I affirmed the truth, but the law of sin working in my members..., and all that. Let me tell my actions, instead of my thoughts. They're more revealing. I doubt I would have condoned my actions - but I sure did do them.
+ Respect a woman? Learn from a woman? Absolutely. I did so all the time.
+ Enjoy activities with a woman? Well, sure, I guess. Why not? But really, our interests were always completely different, so why?
+ Share deep thoughts and feelings with a woman? Not if marriage were a possibility.
... Not if marriage were a possibility.
In my mind girls were shunted into one of two categories: "Maybe she's the one," and "No, she's not the one." I shunned the No's for fear of confusing either party. From the Maybe's I hid all signs of weakness or imperfection. My lack of a social life made both these errors breathtakingly simple to fall into, of course, but I'd have done it anywhere.
And I was proud of myself.
Divorce has done this one thing for me. It has forced me to face what a complete failure I was at 7th grade. It was my second year of straight A's, and I actually thought those A's mattered. I wasn't happy, but that did not make me doubt myself. The voices in my head were pretty sure that being happy was a sign of sin, so my depression was invisibly reinterpretted as another glorious victory. There was no happiness, so I must be doing well.
We live and learn eventually.
3 decades later, I found me watching myself muddle through life using the same tactics and strategies that brought me here, and it dawned on me. Maybe I could try something different?
But trying something different means forcibly displacing what's already there.
How many times did I hear the story? My father looked at my mother and said, "I'm going to marry you." She laughed, but a couple years later she became the happiest woman on earth. Was there ever a movie that was not a variation on that story? I'm sure there are many, but my selective ears only heard the ones that reinforced my training.
It's amazing how trying something different still feels like sin. Even with obvious evidence of my need for change, I still cling to disproven strengths and strategies. I still fear the same hopes, and still hope to open my eyes and find everything I've always believed is true. My father and his father before him did the things I did. My church condoned the things I did. Good culture condoned the things I did, and bad culture rejected the things I did. It feels like sin to walk away from these things that have served me so poorly, for so long.
Over the years, I must admit that people gently probed that maybe I should try having more women for friends. When that happened, I gave them my friendliest look of blank confusion. It was the same look I would have given had they suggested that I try breathing "in" more. It was a quizzical, "I see your lips moving, but there's no sign of brain activity," look. Having lots of women for friends was sinful (because it was not what my father's father did) therefore I was obviously virtuous. And the fact that I had no clue where to begin getting such friends, if I had I even wanted to, must be my final, strongest proof.
Of course, that's just me. If you tell me how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I will botch the job completely. I'm preternaturally gifted at botching instructions. If you can tell me why to make that pb&j, though, you usually don't need to tell me how. I'm pretty bright, and can achieve goals with the best of them. It's just getting me to reorient my goals that can be a mite touchy.
On Tuesday, I finally faced all this with a brother.
He said the simplest thing. "You're friends with my wife, and you don't look at her that way."
One might think that could have occurred to me somewhere over preceding decades, but... Well. Um. No. No, it didn't.
I have always had a number of ineligible women as friends. And why not? They were fun, and they offered an interesting counter-point to the opinions of my brothers. That was even part of the fun of being married. When I made those vows, I made every woman ineligible, and life became vastly more simple.
It was only eligible women that gave me fits.
And, of course, it wasn't the eligible women who gave me the fits. It was me creating all my own problems from thin air. All I might have to do is change my categories to change everything. It took about 2 minutes for me to weigh the pros and cons, and come up with the right answer. Projected benefits to this new approach to life flooded my simple little head. If I changed, I could have twice as many friends overnight. Of course, I might have to face the sin of being happier, but grace might even cover happiness with a little finagling.
Mostly, though, I might not make the same mistake of marrying the wrong girl based on what was really just a poor, uninformed guess.
For decades, I've wondered how to be friends with a woman who would never be my wife but was yet eligible to be.
For decades, I have been asking the wrong question.
On Tuesday I was asking why I would hesitate to be friends with people of acknowledged high quality?
Answer': Get off your butt, and do what you have to do to overcome that fear.
With a whole week under my belt of getting to know the world in this new way, I won't claim to know how to do it yet, but it sure seems possible. It seems that if I just recategorize a formerly "eligible woman" as a "person," the problem vanishes. Now that I see, "why," I figure I can do it. Actually, I already do it every time a woman gets married, even in my current addled state. A year or two from now, I trust I will have found numerous improvements on this initial foray into normalcy, and even have grown a little more normal. But for now, I hope it's valuable to mark this day while it's still a work in its infancy.
I just wish I could have discovered fire a few decades ago.
And to all the friends out there I've missed, I express my deepest regrets and sincerest apologies.