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Friday, July 18, 2008

Are We Bitter?

Today my friend Jonas and I discussed our desires for better jobs and compared our dating war wounds. Jonas was a witness to my most shining hour in Love Is Helping Drunk People. He's been teasing me about singing my heart out while tipsy ever since. Jonas called his most recent flame a "bitch" for not phoning him when she returned from vacation. He said he withheld affection because he was concerned that he had been too affectionate in the past and that caused women to walk all over him. He said he counted every handhold, every caress and every kiss. We didn't do this in our twenties. Are we bitter?

Our late teens and early twenties were a time of great hope and optimism. We could change the world then. It was before we were disappointed in our jobs, financial portfolios, marriages, friends and children or lack thereof. We can't seem to connect with people in the way that we hoped--like we did in our teens and early twenties. Then we thought love should last forever. Today we can't seem to find those who are willing to bend into a relationship. And it's all of us? Have we been hurt too many times? Have we given our hearts too many times? Have we slept with too many people or not enough? Are there rules, magic tricks, tips or potions that might help? Special prayers? Incantations? Positive thinking? Have we tried it all and still come up with nothing? Are once tender hearts too hard? How is it that we fail to love and be loved?

We may be too harsh with ourselves. Authors 100 years ago wrote of unhappy, unfulfilling marriages. Just have a read of almost any Edith Wharton novel. I also recently read The Pastor's Wife where a woman unwisely marries a man she hardly knows--a pastor in East Prussia. She becomes ill from 6 pregnancies. Back then there was no birth control and she was ignored. She was tempted to run away with an artist who seemed to want to love her in the way she had hoped. Instead, she returned to a man who hardly missed her. Sounds miserable.

I also recently read Thuderstruck--a novelized true incident which served as the basis for Hitchcock's Rear Window. A quiet Englishman and his loud spend-thrift actress wife finally ended things. He poisoned her, deboned her and hid her skin in the cellar. They never found a single bone. He said she had moved away to America. He moved his secretary/mistress into the house and paraded around town with her. They would have gotten away to America with her disguised as a boy had it not been for Marconi's obsession with perfecting cross-Atlantic wireless communication. They were recognized. She was proven innocent, he was sooooo guilty in a time when divorce would have been an equally great scandal. All this before the Titanic sank.

People once complained about bad marriages, now we refuse to settle for them. Are we now commitmentphobic ? Are we bitter finding ourselves single again after ending bad marriages? Anger and rage seem commonplace. I was slowing to turn into a parking lot today and was cursed at by a man driving a truck for a uniform delivery service. I followed to where his delivery was and called the company to report him. Do we not realize how difficult we truly are? Sure, we live in high-pressure times with bank forclosures threatening to hail in yet another Great Depression, but is that any excuse?

I wonder, though, if most marriages were good enough. We all have our quirks, maybe we just need to learn how to live with each other's quirks. Sometimes it seems like everyone is just about the same but the outside changes. Blond, brunette, brown, bald, silver...Our real saving grace is to take a hard look before we leap. Make sure the person we want to trust with our hearts is truly capable of taking care of it. Take it slowly, but not too slowly. Do things you both enjoy. Look for signs of emotional health and willingness to communicate. Honestly, that's been a key issue in my situations. I've been willing to give things a shot but the other person wasn't. And some have thought me foolish for some of the situations I tried to make work. Maybe a little... Some guys became critical and abusive when they didn't get their way. Some became disrespectful when I shared something that was important to me. (table manners and personal hygiene issues. Sorry, dirty fingernails and slurping food is really not sexy, nor is becoming angry when asked to be aware or pressuring me to have sex before I am ready.) Some were immature and incapable of a relationship. I know I'm not commitment-phobic.

Commitment-phobia is running away from a good thing. Self-preservation is running from a bad thing--someone who shows signs of anger, disrespect, instability or immaturity (relative to their age) or some other character flaw. Wisdom is also walking away from a situation which will bring you unhappiness in the future--don't enter into a relationship with someone who "warns" you that they don't believe in marriage or don't want children and you do. Sticking with someone who doesn't seem to like you that much in hopes of bringing them around is unwise. Hoping someone will change this about themselves is a sure path to bitterness.

Bitterness can be avoided. Of course, if you give in to it, there are some helpful guides out there:
The Bitter Man's Guide to Dating or
The Bitter Woman's Guide to Dating


I read up on him...he seems to be a nice guy who plays with jazz bands. I sing jazz. Maybe there will be two less bitter people in the world. Who knows!! I'll friend him on myspace. ;)


13 comments:

Amir Larijani said...

Bitter? Nah. I'd say both sexes are just being rational and prudent. The overall risk of divorce has gone up for both sexes in the last 40 years, and the husband, in the event of a divorce, will lose more today than he would have 40 years ago.

(Some will say that the latter fact is an advancement for equality--and it may very well be--but don't ever discount the Law of Unintended Consequences: more risk means fewer overall marriages.)

I've blogged no small amount about the relationships I've had that went south. Only one of them would I say was my doing, and even that one ended almost Providentially (she died of breast cancer many years later, after refusing all medical treatment--the very stubbornness that drove us apart ended up getting her killed).

One went bipolar; one played footsie with other guys on the side, eventually marrying a nonbeliever; one was bulimic and ended up self-destructing, ditching me for a non-believer, getting pregnant with him, and then marrying him. And those were the women who were in my church, in my age bracket, and who were available.

Those types of experiences leave me not bitter but definitely more risk-averse. At 41, the impact of a divorce would be far greater than it would be if I were only 30.

I have a friend of mine whose wife left him about 10 years ago. I knew both him and his ex-wife while they were married. She refused to accept her Ephesians 5 responsibilities; he did, but not to her satisfaction; and her domineering side really tore him down. She left him, and refused all Biblical counsel about it. She tried to warm up to me, but I shot her down.

He recently married a Mexican gal. When I told him about my blogospheric ruminations, he was 100% in my camp, and even suggested that I was way too mild.

"Stay away from American women!" he told me. "The women from Mexico have all the values that our grandparents had. American women--even the Christian ones--are way too feminist!"

I told him that I've seen much of what he is seeing, but that I cannot share his degree of cynicism. "Trust me, Amir...it's much worse than you think.You're way too soft on this matter. My cynicism is well-justified!"

I'm not saying this is all on the women; on the other hand, when Christian women wake up, smell the napalm, and realize he extent to which the feminists have wrecked it for them, we will start seeing a revolution and a return to traditional values.

That means more marriages, earlier marriages, more children, and women and men acting like grownups with respect to marriage.

As for complaints about marriage in previous generations, keep in mind that--in literature--good marriages rarely sell. Woe-is-me stories tend to get more coverage than the good ones. Ergo, I would not take the literary coverages as any statistical portrayal of what marriages were like at the time.

Most of the couples I've known from the WWII-Great Depression generation were quite happy in their marriages. Most Christian couples I know are fairly happy in theirs, although not quite as much so as the couples of prior generations.

Fact is, a man or woman will always have a reason to be unhappy in a marriage. If a woman thinks that a good Christian man will always treat her right, with perfect attentiveness and sensitivity, then she is smoking crack.

If a man thinks a good Christian gal will always be perfectly submissive, affectionate, non-contentious, and always ready to meet his every need, then he, too, is smoking something that I wish were legal.

The cup is half full of something I don't like said...

I've been with my wife for 14 years now (including dating). We have had some great times. We have had some rough times. Through it all I knew we would stick together because there is no way I will ever rejoin the dating scene. It's either marriage or monk for me.

Antone said...

Wow thanks for the link. Very cool !! I thank you very much for writing and putting up the cover. Nice work! You're good at this stuff huh? If you listen to the song I have on My Space you can hear me talking at the end. I wrote it, produced it and played drums on it. (I didn't sing on it.)
I guess I'll have you sing on the next Bitter Song...ha! Tomorrow I go to see Jerry...I hope I get to meet him...say a prayer for me!

I hope you have a great day and weekend! Antone

SavvyD said...

I disagree with you friend. I think many of us American ladies are getting overlooked. I'm very sweet to my dates and I wouldn't do anything of the kind that you have mentioned of your relationships. I should be bitter for being so sweet honestly, but I'm not. I just get out before anything bad happens--which is how I stay sweet.

Amir Larijani said...

Savvy: "Sweet" has nothing to do with it. The issue is values, not whether you are "nice".

I dated such a one. She turned my marriage proposal down, and put the best spiritual face on it. ("God told me no.")

She started shacking up with her abusive ex--who had remarried--and got pregnant with him. She had an abortion. I'll bet God told her to do that, too.

Two days after Christmas, she attempted suicide by overdose. I'll bet God told her to do that, too.

Three years later, she shacked up with a nonbeliever, had a baby with him, and attempted suicide. I guess God told her to do that, too.

But hey...she was "nice". She was always "sweet". People at the church always said how they wished everyone in their church was as wonderful as Echo Kilo. She never uttered a profanity. (Not like that that badass Amir Larijani.)

No...the older I get, the less "nice" matters.

SavvyD said...

You're not bitter at all, Amir. Sweet and nice do have something to do with it, so do morals--which I actually have. That EK obviously had some deep-seated problems. But your friend specifically mentioned liking Mexican girls and that was my response. Other churches have really decent girls near your age bracket who are available.

Amir Larijani said...

Other churches have really decent girls near your age bracket who are available.

Thank you for telling me what is in my venue.

To me, available means Christian, single (not divorced), stable, mature, and wants to be married.

When I find one--it's not like I've been out of church--I'll let you know.

Amir Larijani said...

You're not bitter at all, Amir. Sweet and nice do have something to do with it, so do morals--which I actually have.

"Sweet" and "nice"--in and of themselves--tell me nothing about your character. I've seen my share of passive-aggressive backstabbers who are "sweet" and "nice".

And you are failing to draw a distinction between morals and values. They are not always the same thing.

After all, I would hope that (a) whatever your past issues are, your next sex partner will be your husband on your wedding night, (b) you're not going to abort when you get pregnant, and (c) you're not going to play footsie (or worse) with other guys.

But values go farther than that. I'm talking about someone who has evidence of Christian maturity, has a track record of stability--staying the course when life gets nasty--and not turning to vices when things go south. Someone who does not talk about wanting to die every time something goes wrong. Someone who believes in a Biblical model of marriage, which means accepting her Ephesians 5 responsibilities.

She can fit those criteria and still have a spunky, even badass streak.

But experience tells me that if she is overly nice, it's almost always evidence of a passive-aggressive streak.

SavvyD said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SavvyD said...

So, wait, why did your friend marry a Mexican girl? Was it for her spiritual maturity? that's not what you said. I also didn't say those ladies were in your area, but they are in church somewhere. I knew lots of them when I was in New York especially. And out here in California I met a really wonderful woman who isn't married and is an assitant pastor in the presbyterian church. She's very pretty, very sweet, very mature in her faith and very single. I'm sorry you've been treated badly, but not all women are like that.

Amir Larijani said...

Savvy says:

So, wait, why did your friend marry a Mexican girl? Was it for her spiritual maturity? that's not what you said.

Actually, it was. His implication is that American women are spiritually immature, as they have bought tacitly into feminism whereas the Mexican women have more traditional values.

The gal he met had come to the States on a mission trip for migrant workers who were here. She was part of a group of missionaries that his church had put up, and he met her through that.

I also didn't say those ladies were in your area, but they are in church somewhere. I knew lots of them when I was in New York especially. And out here in California I met a really wonderful woman who isn't married and is an assitant pastor in the presbyterian church. She's very pretty, very sweet, very mature in her faith and very single. I'm sorry you've been treated badly, but not all women are like that.

Didn't say they were. All I'm saying is that "nice" and "sweet" might only get your foot in the door. Even then, they might be red flags. Almost every time, those qualities are evidence of a passive-aggressive streak that she is using to cover something up.

BTW: I'm not suggesting that you are like that. I'm only saying that "nice" and "sweet" aren't the be-all/end-all.

SavvyD said...

So not being a feminist = spiritually mature??? Riiight. A woman can be very serious about Eph 5 responsibilities and not have much faith at all. I have extremely traditional values and I have to say that I'm mostly lost in today's culture because I have to take care of myself. I also feel lost at church. Singles are the new lost generation.

Amir Larijani said...

Savvy says:

So not being a feminist = spiritually mature???

No; on the other hand, being a feminist is ample proof of a lack of spiritual maturity.

Riiight. A woman can be very serious about Eph 5 responsibilities and not have much faith at all.

True; after all, the Pharisees had nice doctrine on paper.

That said, if she minimizes--or negates--Ephesians 5, she is telling me that she could care less about the things of God.

I have extremely traditional values and I have to say that I'm mostly lost in today's culture because I have to take care of myself. I also feel lost at church. Singles are the new lost generation.

Depends on what you mean by "lost". If by that you mean "disregarded by the Church", then I agree. On the other hand, if you mean "spiritually dead", then you could not be more wrong.

Moreover, I still refuse to avoid the church. A dysfunctional Body is still better than no Body.