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Archive for April, 2010

Disclaimer: I discuss my political beliefs in this post more than usual. I’m not trying to argue any of them, I’m just using them as examples and illustrations and, as always, you are all totally free to disagree with me.

This is one of the few posts that I wrote for my personal blog that, after it was published, I thought, “Hey, I should share this with more people.”

If you’ve read my sometimes-sensical ramblings for a significant length of time, you know that I’ve waffled over the will-I-won’t-I get married, or do-I-don’t-I-even-want-to. After several church sermons, some prayer, and reading How to Avoid Falling in Love With a Jerk, I’ve decided that I do want to get married … eventually. Not next week, obviously. Not even next year. But definitely some day in the however-distant future.

This has had an interesting effect on my prayer life, how I see guys, how I see myself, my spiritual desires, and what I think I’m looking for in a life partner.

For one thing, after mentally rejecting a guy who is my polar opposite when it comes to politics (and economics), I began to wonder, Am I being too picky if I reject guys who significantly differ from me when it comes to politics?

I’ve casually mentioned before that I am really into politics and economics (especially the theoretical/principle side), and I have always been especially attracted to guys who share my libertarian ideas. And if they’re libertarian Christians, then hooooo boy—instant chemistry!

Now, I am particularly extreme in my libertarian ideas, and many of my beliefs are rare in general, and especially so for a Christ-follower. So if a guy who is extremely different from me when it comes to economics is still interested in me, should I just shrug off such differences and say “Well, we can agree to disagree?”

After thinking about this for a while, I came to several conclusions.

First of all, let it be known that I do not expect to marry someone who is as extreme as I am. I know that such people are relatively rare, and I’m completely reconciled to the idea that I’m not going to marry someone who agrees with me 100% when it comes to politics/economics. I’m not saying it’s impossible, I just know it’s improbable enough not to expect it. (Also, I’m not trying to be like, LOOK AT ME AND WHAT A SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE I AM! I HAVE NO EQUAL! BWA HA HA! Well, I mean, in a way that’s true, but … look, I’m just not trying to brag about it.)

I also know that a lot of people aren’t that interested in politics and/or economics. Which is also fine. And there are people who ARE interested, but not in a way that affects how they see the world. I am perfectly willing to concede that two people with vastly different political beliefs could create a very happy marriage, depending on how deeply those beliefs run.

However, my political and economic beliefs are right up there with my faith in shaping how I view the world and how I live.  Therefore, I can’t imagine being happy with someone who significantly differs from me when it comes to those things, because it affects so much about me—how I take in the news, how I perceive society, what I consider a social right/wrong, how I like to spend my time. This is one of those things where a little difference is well and good, but a lot of difference makes for complete incompatibility.

Allow me to excessively drive my point home by creating a secular, hypothetical example. Let’s say we have a casual vegetarian—maybe for her health or simply for taste preferences. That person is more likely to tolerate a common omnivore than, say, a strict vegan who is so because of her beliefs regarding animal rights. The strict vegan may cultivate a lasting relationship with someone who is a casual vegetarian, but she probably wouldn’t be able to marry, say, a hunter. They could say that they’ll “agree to disagree,” but ultimately these differing beliefs affect so much of their lives—not only what they eat, but what they wear, how they see the world around them, and how they spend their time. It’s unlikely that they can be easily reconciled. The more casual vegetarian, however, may be perfectly willing to accept hunting and meat-eating, because their “brand” of vegetarianism is not a deep-seated part of who they are.

Let’s say, metaphorically speaking, that I’m the meat-eating hunter—I may be able to forge a lasting relationship with a casual vegetarian, but any further differences beyond that is probably just not going to work, based on my set of values.

Maybe Hypothetical Future Husband Guy believes that government should be tiny, but should still have more powers than I think it should. Maybe he likes Sarah Palin way more than I do (read: at all). Maybe he believes in a Fair Tax, or that certain people should be restricted from owning firearms, or that some drugs should not be legalized. As long as we can agree on major things—smaller government = better, and free-market capitalism is the best economic system available—even if he’s not as enthusiastic as I am, that’s a better recipe for success than someone who subscribes to Keynesian economics and believes in high corporate taxes and strict gun control.

My conclusion: While “agreeing to disagree” on politics is the best approach when it comes to coworkers, friends, and family members, I don’t think it’s the proper stance for me when seeking a future life partner.

So no, I’m not being too picky. Well, I am, but reasonably so.

So what about you? Are there any non-negotiables or barely-negotiables that sound superficial but may actually be fundamental for a future relationship? Think about what’s really important to you—in a godly way.

I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who have real-life examples that would shoot down my inexperienced theories. I’m just waiting to hear someone comment with, “Actually, my uncle is a meat-eating hunter who runs down roadkill for fun and his wife is a raw-food vegan who doesn’t wear leather and they’ve been happily married for 30 years.” If you know of a couple like that, please share. I would love to hear that story.

Additional disclaimer: Just so we’re clear, I’m only talking about non-salvation related issues that truly are a matter of opinion, biblically speaking. Obviously there are things that the Bible makes perfectly clear are non-negotiable, such as the Christ-follower’s calling to marry only another believer and not be “unequally yoked.” I’m not talking about anything quite that serious and deep-seated. This is just good, clean, hypothetical fun.

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The second (very long) section of this book begins with an in-depth discussion of what it means to know another person, how important that is in spotting the jerks/non-jerks, and why it takes much longer than we really think.

Dr. Epp warns against judging too soon whether you really know someone or not. Significant patterns in a person’s behavior are usually not even obvious until much later in a relationship—the third month, not the third date. We begin to bond with someone as we get to know them (not merely after), so it’s important that we’re getting as much correct information as possible, so we’re not bonding with the wrong person. We tend to feel a bond with someone about whom we know a great deal—even if all our information is false! But even if all the information we have is true, we may not really know a person just because we can recite a pile of facts like height, favorite color, and where they went to college.

I love the part where Epp says (emphasis mine):

Romantic relationships often begin in a whirlwind of excitement and passion. You see your heartthrob across a crowded room, you make that first connection when your eyes meet, and you feel electrified with the slightest touch. But the process of getting to know the person takes just as long as it would if there had been no connection at all. Once again, there are no shortcuts!

I’ve said before that I relate very much to Marianne Dashwood of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. In the film version, after meeting Mr. Willoughby, the Dashing Man of Her Dreams, she says, “Time alone does not determine intimacy. Seven years could be insufficient to make some people acquainted with one another, and seven days could be more than enough for others.”

When her sister Elinor dryly responds, “Or seven hours, in this case,” Marianne argues, “I feel that I know Mr. Willoughby already.”

Dr. Epp likes to use films sometimes to illustrate his points, but he doesn’t use S&S, much to my disappointment. Marianne and Willoughby’s relationship is a perfect example of bonding too quickly with someone before really knowing them, only to be brokenhearted and disappointed and realizing that too much trust was initiated too quickly.

While it’s true that time alone doesn’t determine intimacy, it’s a very, VERY important part.

So what’s the long-cut? Dr. Epp recommends a formula in which Intimacy equals Talk, Togetherness, and Time. This is the only proven successful combination, he says, to really know a person. I haven’t finished the book yet, but from what I’ve read so far, all the rest of his advice is based on that formula, though he may not refer to it specifically. But in every aspect of dating and of life, he reinforces the need for time to get to know a person, talking and self-disclosure, and spending time together in a variety of situations and activities. This will give a more well-rounded picture of the person one is dating.

(When you think about it, this formula, like a lot of his advice, is based on conventional wisdom.)

Now for my favorite part. Epp reveals a “dating disclaimer” that I learned all too well from the relationships of friends and family, and from being a child of divorce and subsequent blended families. Buckle up kids, because this one is a bit of a blow: The good doesn’t always last, and the bad usually gets worse. If you’re following along at home, it’s page 65 in my edition.

What he is saying is NOT 1.) the good will never return, or 2.) it’s no use to even bother with a relationship. What he says is that how a person treats his/her significant other while dating reflects how he/she will do so in marriage. This sounds like a “Duh” moment, but he explains it further. If a couple shares interests, common beliefs, effective communication, and if they feel a strong, bonding friendship with each other besides romantic affection, then their marriage has a good foundation. Although it’s not easy to “stay” in love, such a couple will definitely find it possible, even as certain feelings come and go, and conflicts will arise.

But a couple that constantly battles with trust issues, miscommunication, minimal chemistry, or any other possible relationship problems will not see these issues improve just because they’re married. In fact, they will probably get worse. Their premarital relationship wasn’t so great before, so there’s no reason to believe that marriage will set the bar any higher. Relationships have to have good communication, varied shared experiences, and oodles of time before you really know a person, and before you even know whether it will last.

That was my summary of just one chapter, but I won’t cover them all in such depth. I went on about this one at length because it establishes a foundation for the rest of the book. Plus I don’t want to tell you everything! You need to experience the book yourself!

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Wait. Hold up. Slow down, my fellow grammar Nazis.

Yes, I used the word “alot,” which remains incorrect despite its widespread use.

Why did I use it?

You’ll have to go here to find out.

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I received an incredible tidbit of insight from the Holy Spirit earlier. Reading my assignment for small group—we’re talking about true beauty, and currently discussing dating relationships and proper boundaries—I decided to take a closer look at one verse using blueletterbible.org.

I Corinthians 10:12: Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.

On the surface, a simple caution against becoming prideful and too comfy in our “holiness.” But the Spirit prompted me to look closer.

Among many definitions or synonyms for “stands” I found: kept intact, upheld, unharmed, immovable, and escape in safety, which I found very interesting. Escaping seems to convey running away, which doesn’t fit very well with the idea of standing firm. I like to think of one who stands as one who does not change, who constantly faces every challenge head-on with the same readiness and resolve.

But this cannot always be the case.

I Corinthians 6:18: Flee from sexual immorality. …

Flee. Such a small word conveys so much. A lot of things come to mind when I think of fleeing. For example, think of all those Discovery Channel documentaries where the antelope is fleeing a lion (or a panther, or a cheetah). You can almost see the fear in the antelope’s eyes and imagine the racing heart, the pounding hooves, the surge of adrenaline as it attempts to escape. It is clearly not standing firm as we think of it—if it did, the lion would very easily overpower the antelope, probably laughing at it for being so stupid. But if the antelope’s flight is (miraculously) successful, what happens? It is unharmed, it is kept intact. It is still standing.

Sometimes when standing with God, we do need to hold our ground and be immovable, such as when making a correct but difficult decision. But sometimes, standing involves fleeing temptation that would otherwise devour us, so that we can escape in safety.

Because what happens otherwise? What if someone does not “take heed that he does not fall”?

I also looked up definitions and synonyms for “fall,” and found: come under judgment, condemnation, overcome by terror, perish, descend from a higher place, be cast down from prosperity, fail to participate in or miss a share in.

Most of these weren’t surprising, until the definition cast down from prosperity then led to fail to participate in. After a little bit of thought, these two definitions actually go together. Even when Christians sin, as all humans do, we are covered by the blood of Jesus and therefore protected from God’s judgment and condemnation. But God does not remove the consequences for our sins, whatever they may be. Therefore, by sinning, we may lose out on blessings and good things in our lives. A man may lose his wife after the sin of adultery. A woman may lose a friendship after one too many hurtful words. God will not judge us for these sins, but we may still fail to participate in or miss a share in blessings that we might have had if we had stood and not … fallen.

Thank goodness it’s not up to just us and our own power.

I Corinthians 10:13: No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.

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I hope that my future posts aren’t all about this book until I finish it. Some of the political blogs I read have done that, and I hate it.

I’ll try to keep this brief-ish.

How to Avoid Falling in Love With a Jerk by John Van Epp, PhD, is quite good so far. After buying it and beginning to read it, I was surprised that it had been in my church bookstore, since it is not written from a strictly Christian viewpoint, and definitely not targeted specifically to Christians. But based on what I’ve read, it seems full of common sense, smack-yourself-on-the-forehead insight, and suggestions for alternate ways of thinking about life and love. There is a lot of information based on scientific studies (but not presented too dryly) and on the author’s own anecdotes from his experiences in counseling.

Apparently he has developed a program called PICK a Partner, which includes the Relationship Attachment Model (RAM). The first section of the book, which I’ve now finished, consists of introductions to how he came up with his ideas for the program and why you might need it. If you’ve had problems with becoming attached to “jerks” (a term that he defines, pointing out that they can be male or female), then you’ll probably spend the first chapter of the book nodding or thinking, “Hmm, yes, so true…” He emphasizes the need to use both your head and your heart when dating and choosing a partner. This may cause you to react with some form of, “Well, duh,” but if you read this book, you might end up reading a lot that you already know, or what seems like common sense—but presented in a different and straightforward way that makes it eye-opening. At least, that’s been my experience so far.

The second chapter is when he describes RAM, and because I’m crazy about analogies, I found it to be AWESOME. Getting involved with jerks, he says, often comes from prematurely accelerating a relationship. A relationship should follow a pattern based on five dynamics, in the following order: Know, Trust, Rely, Commit, and Touch. Basically, don’t trust someone more than you know them, don’t rely on them more than you trust them, etc. etc. The analogy part is when he describes the balance of these five dynamics as a sound enhancer, in that when you rachet one quality up too far, or turn one down too low, the sound (i.e., the relationship) is out of balance, and something goes wrong.

The third chapter (the final chapter in Part One) discusses the need for emotional and mental health before an individual can be involved in a lasting relationship. Basically, fix yourself, because a relationship won’t. (Obviously this book, being secular, doesn’t discuss our completion in Christ and the gradual healing from the Holy Spirit. Those are important topics, but are not discussed in this book and must be found elsewhere.) Relationships cannot fix problems such as daddy issues, unhealthy emotional extremes, projection, and unrealistic idealism.  These things, in fact, can inflict further damage, and cause relationship history to repeat itself until such issues are addressed and dealt with in a healthy manner.

There. That’s my summary/opinion of Part One. Based on what I’ve read so far (admittedly a small fraction of the book), I definitely recommend it. We’ll see how/if my opinion changes as I progress.

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It’s been, oh, about 7 months since I wrote the fourth and penultimate segment in my “Woman’s Guide to ‘A Girl’s Guide'” series. I was bored with the whole thing, and then convinced I didn’t want to get married at all, so I didn’t have to bother reading it, and then forgot about it, and then lost my notes, and then found them again and was bored still…

Finally I decided that I just needed to finish what I started—better late than never, you know. I’m going to try to keep this short(er…ish) because there’s something else I want to talk about afterwards.

(And if you’re a newer reader, just do a search on this site for “girl’s guide” and you should easily find the past entries.)

I have just a few things, really, to stay about the rest of the chapter on Christian Compatibility.

First of all, they give some hints on staying objective when you’re dating and awash with emotion. Any attempt to stay objective in a new, exciting relationship is pretty much a good idea. I’m all for having a ready crew of friends and family who will be both willing and able to basically pull you aside and say “Hey, look, I’ve noticed some warning signs you should be careful about.” This could be the guy you’re dating, or the way you’re conducting yourself in the relationship, or a number of other issues. But the Boundless authors seem to think that this will make you stop and think rationally and objectively, and immediately put on hold all future plans for this relationship. I think—in fact, I know—that there are people fully capable of doing this. But not everyone–including me. My advice? Never stop praying for the relationship, and make sure you have friends willing to harangue you repeatedly for your own good.

The section on what “good guys” are looking for really had me chuckling. As in many areas, the authors have some good ideas and make good points, but they’re often a little off-track or unclear in their wording. The authors of Boundless generally hold to the traditional dating approach where men pursue women. I have no problem with that. But the part of “A Girl’s Guide” that talks about “good guys” and what they want is almost contradictory. I must give them credit for having a man write this part, but he doesn’t seem to be quite on Planet Earth. I will explain.

First, he discusses what guys are looking for: a woman who is authentic, secure in who she is, honest and humble, and has an adventuresome faith that is willing to follow God wherever He leads. Hey, this girl sounds awesome! And then he adds,

When a girl is willing to love the unlovely and give without thought of receiving anything in return, guys take notice.

I was baffled, and honestly, pretty angry when I read this, taking it to mean that women should be willing to love the unlovely guy who may be interested in her. Pastors, writers, comedians, etc. will often refer to their wives as their “better half” and make jokes about how much nicer, more attractive, etc. she is than he. But this is ridiculous and just completely unfair. Is he actually saying that the girl should be fabulous and willing to overlook the fact that the guy interested in her is completely not?

Upon the 50th reading, I realize that he might just be referring to a woman who loves the unlovely around her, caring for things that many people don’t, but should—perhaps making friends with the girl nobody else likes, or defending someone else’s opinion, or cheerfully giving up an hour of her time to help out when she might rather spend it elsewhere. The “unlovely” may not actually refer to the guy who is “taking notice” of her. But man, as I said, the wording is a little unfortunate.

But then, maybe my first interpretation was correct, since the author also pleads with women to be patient with men. They are works in progress, after all, and the culture is fighting against them to keep them from growing up and becoming men of God.

That’s definitely a good thing to keep in mind. Unfortunately, women don’t get such a free pass, at least in this guide. I haven’t seen any mention of how society teaches us that we have to play a number of roles to get guys’ attention–the skank, the foul-mouthed “one of the boys,” the damsel in distress, the independent woman who needs nothing, the disinterested ice princess, the fawning needy chick, the sexy nerd, or the future housewife. Even if somehow we defeat these stereotypes, we too are God’s creation, and imperfect, and still learning about ourselves, our lives, and our relationship with God. Guys need to remember that too.

The author adds,

The good guy can be like the great restaurant that only locals know about. The tourists miss it because they fall for the “traps” of the neon sign and convenient location of the franchise, not realizing that the best is tucked away just a few blocks over. The good guy is more a discovery, finding him can take more effort because you have to work your way past all the flash of the franchise guy. He could be working in the cubicle next to you, or sitting just a few rows over in class, or playing guitar in your church small group.

This is kind of the basis for my favorite fictional love story, that of Colonel Brandon and Marianne Dashwood in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. For a while, Marianne ignores the Colonel, essentially because he’s not her “type,” when he’s exactly the sort of man she needs. So, I’m completely sympathetic and open to the idea that I’m overlooking a worthwhile guy, or setting aside petty prejudices to give Love a chance.

But if this guy is so great and so overlooked, why isn’t he making a move? If he’s not demonstrating any interest, why should I? There’s a difference between blowing off a guy who is at least initially worthy of my time, and passing over a man who doesn’t seem interested in me. Marianne Dashwood doesn’t doubt the Colonel’s interest in her—she just doesn’t like it. And how do we “find” such a guy if the girls aren’t supposed to be doing the pursuing? HMMM? If this “great restaurant” hasn’t built up a customer base from word-of-mouth, then it needs to improve its advertising or rethink its business model. Because if no one is saying good things about you, if there’s no sign saying BEST FISH & CHIPS IN TOWN!!!, and if you’re huddled behind a thick wooden door in a dark alley, why should anyone choose you?

Whoa, sorry, my capitalistic side just went crazy for a sec.

That’s really all I had left to say regarding Boundless‘ “Girl’s Guide to Marrying Well.” It’s definitely an interesting read, and you should check it out. You may have a different opinion than I do. But take both the guide and my opinion with a grain of salt.

Now, on to the other thing that I wanted to talk about.

Seriously, this part WILL be brief. I wanted to talk to Bethany about this beforehand, but it’ll have to be a surprise for her, as well, since she went on a retreat this weekend and I don’t know when she’ll be back.

I bought this book at the church bookstore yesterday, and I’m going to blog about it (hopefully with greater success than the “Girl’s Guide”). The title, which is what caught my eye, is How to Avoid Falling in Love With a Jerk, by John Van Epp (PhD!). I’d never heard of this book before I saw it yesterday, but it’s something I know I need to read, sadly. I’ll save a full introduction and description for later, but I wanted to give you guys a little notice about what’s coming up. I’m quite excited about this one.

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He is risen!

Matthew 28:5-6: The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; He has risen, just as He said.”

Ephesians 1:7: In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.

Happy Easter!

(More updates this week; I promise.)

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