Being Real

There are two kinds of bloggers I hate.

The perfect ones–

and the perfectly awful ones.

The former never have a problem, float through life, always seem perfectly in control, always have a perfectly spiritual answer to everything that comes up.

The latter have lives composed of nothing but problems–they go where they’re thrown by circumstances. They emote directly into their posts and never self-edit. Their blogs are full of disappointment and venom and angst.

I have too much pride (and desire to stay employed) to be the latter, so I choose to self-edit. I write about my frustrations, but not in my frustration. I try to be wise with what details I share. I wait until I’ve cooled down to write.

But as a result, I fear my blog occasionally gives the impression that I’m the former–that I’ve got it all together. Sure, I talk about problems, but always in the past tense. I fear I’m like one of the small group members John Acuff lampoons on Stuff Christians Like for confessing “safe sins”:

“Someone will say, “I need to be honest with everyone tonight. I need to have full disclosure and submit myself in honesty. Like ODB from the Wu-Tang Clan, I need to give it to you raw!” So you brace yourself for this crazy moment of authenticity and the person takes a deep breath and says

“I haven’t been reading my Bible enough.”

So, just in case I haven’t been real enough, I’m ready to share a less-stellar, but really real incident that occurred about a week ago.

I intended to set up my computer, enter some grades, then go to sleep. Two hours later I couldn’t get connected to the internet, whatever I did. It felt like the end of the world.

I’d been doing some reupholstering of my computer chair since my computer was taking forever trying to connect to the internet–but one thing kept going wrong after another. The axle slipped from my hand and left a grease stain on my carpet. I was tacking in the new fabric and repeatedly hammered my finger and thumb. Then I couldn’t get the newly upholstered piece back into place. My screwdriver slipped and I gouged my hand. I was alone and I yelled my “ARGGH!” through clenched teeth into the empty house.

Now I’m crying again, bawling with anger, snot running down my face.

It’s not fair, I tell myself, the world, God, anyone who might be listening. It’s not right. Why does life have to be so hard? Why can’t anything go right.

I can’t handle it, I say, enumerating what must be done. Grading to finish and grades to enter–except, oops, my computer won’t connect to the internet. A lab practical to write and study tips to give my students. A shopping trip to complete, an angel food cake to bake, a lecture and a quiz to write. Don’t know how I’m gonna get that all done, seems how I don’t have the internet on the computer that has all my class files.

And then there’s the work I still need to finish up at my other job–sometime before I leave for Lincoln. I can’t work from home just now, since I can’t get internet on that computer. And there’s the matter of the house I have to get clean before Wednesday–the house I’ll now be cleaning with bruised and bloodied hands.


My self-pity goes further–I dredge up all the unfairness of this last year, of the choices that others have made that have impacted me greatly, of the hopes raised just to be dashed.

I write in my journal that I quit.

I can’t do it. I can’t. I really, really can’t. It’s too much. I can’t handle it. I need a break, I need some sleep. I need life to stop being so stinkin’ unfair–Yeah right. I don’t see that happening. You know that old saying, “Life isn’t always fair?” It doesn’t go far enough. Life’s never fair.

I hate it.

I really wish I could quit.

But I can’t. URGGHHHHH!

That was after I’d cooled down considerably, by the way.

A Dose of Cold, Hard Reality

“There is no such thing as a perfect man,” Evan basically tells her, “and if there was, he wouldn’t marry you.”

Lori Gottlieb was on her way to a new way of looking at dating and marriage–thanks to a dose of cold, hard reality.

She shares her journey in Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough. (See my review here.)

Along the way, she provides a dose of reality for her readers–and I couldn’t stop noting down fantastic quotes.

“Clampitt matches people like this: ‘Number one,’ she said, ‘I look at whether the two people have common relationship goals. Number two, I look at values. Things like independence, family, religion, loyalty. Number three, what are the key qualities this person needs? You get no more than five. Things like, he has to be very intelligent. Number four, I look at shared interests. Interests are great because it’s bonding and stimulating and fun to share those, but the other things are more important for the long-term. I put shared interests last for that reason.”

My dad said something similar when I was reeling from a breakup with a guy with whom I shared a lot of interests. Dad, of course, was saying it as an “other fish in the sea” type comment. But the fact remains, shared interests are only one aspect of a happy marital relationship–and a small aspect at that.

“Ferman says she took immediate physical chemistry off her list when she realized that, given a certain level of attraction, she could find someone very attractive over time.”

I tried to explain this concept to a friend. It took a while, but I think she eventually got it. At least for women, physical attraction is about a lot more than the physical. Physical attraction is just as much a function of shared values, experiences, thoughts, emotions.

You say you won’t date someone you’re not attracted to, I ask how you know you’re not attracted to him. Do you know him well enough to know that, really?

No, I’m not saying you should marry someone you’re not physically attracted to. But I am saying that there is a very real sense in which someone you are not attracted to initially becomes very attractive as you get to know them. And I’m not talking about “He has a beautiful mind–so what if I can’t stand his body?” I’m talking about real, honest to goodness physical attraction–but physical attraction that doesn’t exist until other connections have been made.

“So when these matchmakers ask their clients to consider the guy who is too-this or not-that-enough, they’re actually saying something quite simple: You can have rigid expectations and try to find someone who meets them, or you can let go of preconceived notions and find someone you’ll fall in love with.”

I’ve seen the lists a mile high, with dozens of non-negotiables. It’s the Goldilocks phenomenon, except that there’s no “just right” to be found. The problem is, these lists might be lists of what we want, but they’re only occasionally lists of what we need. In the quest for the fantasy man, women are not even giving a first glance to the many real men who might be around–and just might be “Mr. Right”–but who fail to live up to the standards of the non-existent fantasy man.

“Dr. Broder says he sees a heightened sense of entitlement that previous generations didn’t have. Our mothers might have wished, but certainly didn’t expect, that their husbands would constantly want to please them, be attracted to them, entertain them, enjoy sharing all their interests, and be the most charming person in the room. Instead, they knew that marriage involved failing health, aging, boredom, periods of stress and disconnection, annoying habits, issues with children, and hardships and misunderstandings of all sorts. But many women today seem to be looking for an idealized spiritual union instead of a realistic marital partnership.”

Have I ever mentioned that I’m a big fan of Gary Thomas’s book Sacred Marriage? Well, I am. The major question that book asks is “What if God intended marriage not to make us happy, but to make us holy?”

If you’re looking for a marriage in which you can continue living as you please without having to make adjustments, without having to be sanctified, without having to love sacrificially, you’re sadly mistaken about the reality of married life. Marriage requires you to learn selfless love, to lay down your life for and submit to your spouse. The quest for the “perfect” man belies this truth–and sets up marriages for failure. Because even if you manage to find the “perfect man”–and he decides to marry you, marriage is still going to be a challenge, it’s still going to be a process of sanctification.

“If this sounds unromantic, when I look at my friends’ marriages, with their routine day-to-dayness, they actually seem far more romantic than any dating relationship might be. Dating seems romantic, but for the most part it’s an extended audition. Marriage seems boring, but for the most part it’s a state of comfort and acceptance. Dating is about grand romantic gestures that mean little over the long term. Marriage is about small acts of kindness that bond you over a lifetime. It’s quietly romantic.

Compared to the “dream world” of chick flicks and romance novels, reality can seem pretty cold, pretty hard. But compared to the reality that living in the dream world creates, facing reality is a lot more pleasant.

Incurable Romantic

Romantic: imaginative but impractical; visionary; not based on fact; imaginary or fictitious

There is no doubt about it. I am a romantic. I’ve always been one with my nose in a book, living my life through the idealistic lens of the fictional world.

Romanticism has served me well for many years. It influences my perception of foods, of cultural items, of the entire world around me. I choose in advance what I like and what I don’t based on my romantic ideals.

I said to myself–“Beer is for loudmouthed slobs, cocktails are for silly socialites, hard liquor is for men behind doors with their cigars. Wine, wine is the only truly beautiful alcoholic drink. It is the ideal.” And so, I drink wine and enjoy it. I don’t enjoy cocktails half as much. And I’ve never tried beer or hard liquor. Romanticism shapes and tempers my taste for alcoholic beverages.

In the same way, my romantic nature has declared opera to be a superb art form, jazz to be a delicious musical genre, ballet to be beautiful. And I swooned over my first opera, listen to jazz on the radio, and delight over ballet. But all of this was determined before I every heard or saw any of these. My idealism told me my preferences and preferences willingly followed suit.

And so I walk through the world with ideas from majestic to mundane. I have ideals for myself–what I will wear, do, become. What is my list of goals but a romantic to-do list meant to mold me into my ideal? I have ideals for girl-guy flirtations. I have ideals about places, foods, activities, people.

And that is where romanticism fails me. No matter how hard I try, I cannot fit people into my idealistic world. Because people wear sweatpants and aren’t always polite to wait staff. People aren’t always intellectual and willing to relate the way I want them to. People, relationships, require work. They require a frank look at reality.

The ideal of an ethereal home filled with friends who constantly encourage one another falls short of reality. Reality is that we’re all busy and some days will pass that we won’t even speak to one another. A roommate will be loud just as we’re trying to sleep. Chores will be done differently than we’re used to, lights will be left on when no one’s in the room.

Reality and ideals collide and I must choose. Will I cling to my ideals and grow bitter toward the people in my life, or will I see reality for what it is? Will I lay down my desire for a perfect world in order to live with and love imperfect people? Or will I live the cold ideal–beautiful, but like an iceberg–sterile, serene, uninhabitable?