Friday, January 21, 2011

Rock On... Contemporary Relationships

With about 3 1/2 weeks to go until Valentine's Day, it comes that time in the year where I reflect on the importance of intimacy and the lessons I’ve learned about women from my past relationships... until I realize that I've had none (so far).

Zero. Zilch. Nada.

What few encounters I've had were DOA, either because the girl of my interest already had a boyfriend (and kept it incognito) or thought I was too much of a friend to be taken seriously.

Swing and a miss, every time. As a result, my lifetime batting average with the opposite sex is 0.000. Even Mario Mendoza thinks I've got no game.

But before you write me off as yet another male spurned by the nuances of females taking to the Internet to blow off some steam, allow me to share with y'all the method behind my madness.

In the time I have spent musing on my singleness and observing countless couples dating around my age and older, I've noticed one common thread amongst the majority that weave the fabric of contemporary relationships: they don't know what they want from each other.

You heard me right. People fall in love for all the wrong reasons nowadays and pervert the right ones, to boot. And here's the way I see it.

I believe the idea of forming a mutual, romantic relationship with someone of the opposite sex is completely normal and what God intends for us to desire. This is why He sent Adam a spouse in the form of Eve (Gen. 2:18). Of course, times have vastly changed, and we have a much more varied selection of mates to choose from. Not only that, but we have the free will to pick out whomever we want to pursue as friends – and lovers. But from then on, there is a complete 180 degree turnaround in our quest for that special someone. We put too much stock in finding our soul mate that we forget to look inward to address our own shortcomings. We force many relationships together because the stars just happened to align them up, per se. And we justify our pursuit all in the name of what our society arbitrarily defines as "love". For this, here are the five biggest reasons I think too many people try to fit a square peg into a round hole. (No pun intended.)

1. People are Desperate
Growing up through the teen years, the one thing we all want to do is to act older than our chronological age. No kid wants to stay a kid for long; they have aspirations to be treated like an adult with adult responsibilities and decisions. Have a cell phone, drive a car, eat pizza and ice cream for every meal. Unfortunately, they soon realize that being independent takes a lot of hard work, and even then, it's not enough sometimes to do everything alone. One way of easing stress is to have a boyfriend/girlfriend in the future. Not only do two people have someone to enjoy their company, they've also got a confidant to rely on when they're going through tough times. But why the rush? The problem is that there is a very fine line between having someone complement or define you during the teenaged and twenty-something years, and I think many couples who fit the bill cross that line. Plus, it's inane that relationships are viewed today as a measure of self-worth, as if not having a girlfriend makes me any less of a man. Look, just because other people around you are in relationships doesn’t give you the right to throw up the white flag and cave in. Remember, we came into this world alone and we will all die as individuals. Please, I beg of you, do not get involved because you feel lonely. Guess what? We all feel lonely, from time to time. In fact, that’s why most people cheat on their loved one: because they feel alone in their current relationship. You first gotta be content with living on your own before you can begin to imagine life as part of any couple.

I’m also amazed by older women who fear menopause will be the death of them and so desire a relationship just to have the possibility of reproducing. It’s an even bigger slap in the face when they go after the reserved, compassionate, financially stable men – i.e., the exact same men they’ve shown no prior interest in during the past several years because these men were "boring". Listen, ladies, if you didn’t want to date nice guys in your teens, twenties, and heading into your thirties, what magnanimous reason is there that makes them suddenly attractive and worthy of your love? Is it because you (finally) realized that you spent the sexual prime of your life looking for something that isn’t there? Or is it because your own mother knew who was best for you, and you finally decided to listen to her hogwash? And to think girls mature faster than guys.

Speaking of us guys, I think the prime reason we get desperate to fall in love is because we want someone to take to bed every night. A queen-sized bed gets pretty lonely sometimes, and the only way to liven up the bedroom is to take a "queen" in between the sheets. But even then, sex is only one part of the equation to finding true love, not the solution.

2. People are Weak
One of the inherent, fallible qualities of our human nature is that we are not as great as we think we are. Sure, our parents told us growing up that we could be anything we want, but we have limitations with regards to our capabilities. We cannot single-handedly fix this economy, or find cures for cancer, or resolve tensions in the Middle East. However, we cannot go through life thinking that men and women were built for each other and that not pursuing the opposite sex is a cardinal sin. In other words, it's okay to have a partner. Again, the problem lies in the value we place upon said partner. Usually, people who elevate their significant other onto a pedestal has little to contribute to the relationship and less confidence in their capabilities to maintain a healthy, constructive union. These are the kinds of people that'll do anything to please the other, keep conflicts to a bare minimum, then go all John Boehner with sentimental pleas to keep this "relationship" afloat. Last I checked, it takes two to tango, and if you're too scared to speak your mind, then you're not in a mature, fulfilling relationship. At the very least, have enough courage to get out now before the other person (inevitably) takes advantage of you and resistance becomes futile.

What makes love work is that someone chooses to be with you, rather than you just choosing them. I can make every effort in my power to woo a girl that I fancy, but it'll be all for naught if she doesn't reciprocate my feelings or – at the very least – show some interest in me, as well. However, I realize that if someone turns me down, there's a lot of other females shopping for free agents. Disheartening, yes, but it's certainly not a dead end. After all, I'm looking to find one girl to spend the rest of my life with, not thirty seven.

3. People are Stubborn
It’s disparaging when people will find one quality about another person that they deem is not worthy to be loved, especially when they're the one casting judgment. For instance, I tip the scale somewhat on the heavy side (though I’m not obese), and I would be distraught if I knew a woman liked me, but thought,
"Y’know, he’s very intelligent, classy, and charming... but he’s got a little bit of a spare tire I certainly don’t need. Next!"

(I don’t think women would be that shallow, but I could be wrong.)

Listen, if you like a person and they like you, don’t go around making excuses for why a relationship between y’all can’t work. In fact, coming up with reasons why the two of you wouldn't be compatible proves that you really don't love him or her because you've now established conditions which he or she has to clear in order to satisfy your agenda. It's just like eating a bag of potato chips. Once you start, you just can't stop.

Again, the irony of this is that men and women have completely different views about each other. For instance, if a man were to meet 80% of a woman’s wants and needs, she’d consider him a stretch for marriage. But if a woman met 80% of a man’s expectations, he’d marry her in a heartbeat. Can you see how this discrepancy causes strife? This means that a man is more likely to settle, and a woman is more likely to shoot for the moon and pass up on landing amongst the stars. Either way, no one would be genuinely happy with whomever they choose in this fashion. Both got to be "perfect" for each other.

4. People are Pretentious
Remember way back when when you had Show & Tell day at school, and you were so excited to share whatever item you brought to class? Well, that hasn't changed a bit. This time, instead of toys or homemade crafts, it's a boyfriend/girlfriend.

I believe that most relationships between the ages of 14 and 21 are a façade. They are less about finding out if someone else is suitable for marriage, and more of going through the motions and discovering how the opposite sex functions in close proximity. This is most evident in high school, where the vast majority of relationships are established because both people belong to a certain clique. E.g., athletes dating athletes, drama buffs dating drama buffs, band mates dating band mates. You don't find a whole lot of parity at the high school level. That's especially true because, in all fairness, what can two high schoolers really do together? Have lunch in a crowd of hundreds, if not thousands, of their peers during school hours? Go to the movies – with their parents transporting them? Exactly. But once people start going to college (or heading off into the "real world"), the dating scene becomes more liberal, in the sense that both people realize it takes more than just appearances to make a relationship work. Sure, couples can still form from callow measures during this influential transition in life, but there should at least be a consensus over the roles each person is willing to assume once together.

Technically, I think relationships can never truly flourish until at least age 25, because even after college (or grad school) and into the first few years working for a paycheck, people still want to play the field and – in some instances – play with other people's emotions. (Is monogamous dating a completely foreign concept?) These experiences are then translated into water cooler talk back at the office after the weekend, where colleagues swap stories about awkward first dates or more kinkier affairs. That makes me ill because a relationship is meant to be between two people, not two people with the whole world in on every moment. Nobody has to know what you did last night together. In fact, I think it’s better not to tell people every little thing you and your boyfriend/girlfriend did because it’ll reiterate that whatever you choose not to disclose is no one else’s business, thereby enhancing the intimacy of the relationship. However, I do think it’s important that two people who are in a relationship focus on “us” and view each other as a couple when together. But just because you’re dating doesn’t mean you should cut off all contact with the opposite sex. Be accessible, but set boundaries and, please, inform – or imply – new people you meet in social settings that you're no longer available (for now). That'll save people (like me) a lot of heartache. Many thanks!

5. People are Naïve
Arguably the biggest lie we've all bought into at some point in our lives is the idea that love is a panacea. (For those of you who haven't picked up a dictionary in a while, a panacea is a cure-all solution for any problems.) In that regard, I think love is more like a wad of gum someone takes out of their mouth to stop a tiny leak on a dam. Sure, it patches up whatever problems are happening but, soon enough, those repressed feelings we think we have buried as a result of love are gonna burst through – and with greater force. It's not that I don't believe in the power of love to provide a lifetime of happiness, but in the idea that love equates a lifetime of happiness. Talk to any couple married for a long time, preferably twenty five years and beyond, and they’ll tell you that a successful marriage relies on both partners doing a lot of hard work to put their spouse ahead of themselves. Remember, the only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary. If you want an everlasting love, you gotta commit yourself to having the other person's happiness be your prime concern – no matter what.

So, what can be done to curtail countless cases of anguish and betrayal? I propose three things for y'all to ponder if you're having some doubts about your current relationship status, or if someone you know is in a similar situation.

1. Love Yourself First
By love yourself, I mean be accepting of who you are and what characteristics make you uniquely you. What are your passions that drive you in life? Don’t be ashamed. Do you like to read, or cook, or play softball on the weekend? Never forget to do what you love and love what you do because no one knows you better than yourself. Where I think the “love yourself” mantra presents a quandary is if you’re a Christian, because the main antithesis of Christianity is to “love yourself”. Instead, you’re supposed to praise God, love Jesus, and do not even think highly of yourself. But how else are Christians, or anyone else for that matter, to be productive members of society if they have no self-esteem? Simple, it’s just not possible. Small wonder, then, that colleges and prospective employers want highly motivated individuals. Even Leo Buscaglia, the renowned "Dr. Love" who tragically passed away of a heart attack in 1998, spoke often about the virtue of accepting yourself for who you are and embracing yourself as the one and only you – then, now, and forevermore. He did so for good reason. If you can't even love yourself, how in the world do you expect others to love you back? It all starts with you.

2. Be Open Minded
In the sense that the person you may be looking for is the last thing you anticipated. Perhaps it's that friend you've been talking to for a while. Or maybe it’s that shy girl or guy you see from time to time at school or in a place you frequent. Whenever your gut feeling tells you something within social and moral boundaries, it's typically right. Of course, you gotta like the person in return. Accepting (or admitting) yourself into a one-sided relationship is a train wreck waiting to happen (see “People are Weak”). And don't worry about planning any kind of future with whomever you initially date. Worst case scenario is that you (or your date) decides a romantic relationship is just not in the cards. If a mutual commitment is made, go into your newfound venture without prejudice. Remember, people are like a puzzle. They have many pieces you gotta persistently put together in order to complete the picture of their personality, so don't be frustrated if the first several pieces have no apparent link. If you persevere, you're gonna treasure the end product you've labored so long for.

3. Don't Force Anything
Sometimes, I think the hardest part of finding true love is in waiting for that special someone to share the rest of your life with. The problem, of course, is that we like to exaggerate every little sign we get from the opposite sex as a big billboard proclaiming their affection for us. What we don't see is the true handwriting on the wall, the one that says, "Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting." We ignore this proverb as teenagers and young adults because we believe we're the exception to the rule. We don't want to wait because we are sexual creatures whose ultimate function is to procreate. In addition, many of us narcissistically believe (at some point in time) we can have all the pleasure and none of the pain that love entails. Yeah, yeah, I know that having a physical attraction towards someone else is practically a requirement for dating in today's Western society. But what we often fail to realize is that we do, inevitably, change. Those perky breasts guys salivate over will soon be sagging like three-day old balloons. That tight midsection girls crave for may let itself go and find it's way hidden under tens of pounds of burgers and fries. And other times, we don't change. When people have known each other for the longest time, inside and out, they tend to hold nothing back, no matter how egregious. From picking their nose in public to mysteriously forgetting their wallet when the check comes at a fancy restaurant to not flushing the toilet after every use, our true colors will eventually show when we let our guard down to those we feel most comfortable with. Being together with the same person for an extended period of time easily becomes a tedious lifestyle, especially when libido loses its potency. Only then, if you haven't wisely learned from this post or through prior experience, will you realize true love comes not in loving someone physically, but in loving them mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. That's something you can't fabricate and only comes in time to those with patience.

I leave y'all with a (cheesy) Michael Bolton track to play me off. Enjoy...

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