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Posts Tagged ‘Love’

If you’ve been sticking with me for the last week or so, I’ve been exploring the purposes of marriage. So far, I’ve explained that I think they are (a) not to achieve happiness; (b) to grow us up; and (c) to teach us about God.  Another purpose of marriage, I believe, is (d) to teach us what it means to be human.

Let me explain.

# 1. Being human is about acknowledging and balancing our “composite nature” – in other words, the fact that we are both material and spiritual.

I, along with the majority of humanity throughout history, believe that human beings are somehow both earthly and celestial; both mortal and immortal; both carnal and divine. Aristotle called human beings “rational animals,” highlighting our paradoxical nature. Philip Yancey elegantly describes us as “angels wallowing in mud, mammals attempting to fly”[i]. He elaborates: “Although our cells may carry traces of stardust, we also bear the image of the God who made those stars”[ii]. We are a mysterious blend of earth and heaven.

I believe that marriage allows us to see this fact most clearly.

The sexual union which takes place in marriage is both the most animalistic and the most transcendent of human experiences. On the one hand it is merely biological – the meeting of organs and bodily fluids. It is an act we share in common with toads, cats and antelope. But on the other hand, it is one of the most personal and intimate of acts between two people.  In human sexual expression, souls touch.

We know that sex is different for humans than it is for animals because no other species on the planet makes such a big deal out of sex. No other creature seeks privacy in copulation. No other animal seeks exclusivity so intensely, and expresses such rage and sorrow at having that exclusivity intruded upon (Just think of how passionate lovers feel when they find out their partners have had an affair). No other species makes jokes and feels embarrassed about sex, as if it were somehow unnatural. Only humans recognize that there is something profound and otherworldly about sex.

No other act makes humans more aware that they are a strange and mysterious blend of the earthly and the divine.

Moreover, the experience of purposefully spending a lifetime with a single human being also teaches us how paradoxical we are, as we must take care of one another’s most basic, physical necessities at the same that we must consider each other’s highest emotional needs. We are an odd species indeed.

#2. Being human is about living in community and learning that we need one another.

Homo sapiens are a communal species. We are social by nature. Yet, we are eternally plagued by a desire to be selfish, to serve our own needs at the expense of others, and to pull away from one another when we experience conflict.  A part of us wants to be individual, to be special, to be above one another. In these times, we fight against our nature, as we fight to be separate from and better than one another.

Life by ourselves makes us less human. Life with other people makes us more human.

One of the most basic and natural ways in which we humans forge community is through marriage – through falling in love, making commitments to one another, living together, and creating families.

One of the most natural pulls we humans have to one another is that of sexual attraction and desire. That attraction and desire brings us to do all kinds of unnatural (or, one might say, transcendental) things, like swearing to remain loyal to a single human being for the rest of our lives. That powerful, instinctive drive for a sexual partner ensures that we seek out communion with another human being, even when we would often not choose to.  The instinct for marriage draws us into community.

The instinct for marriage, in short, keeps us human.

#3. Being human is about making sacrifices for one another and finding out that we’re better off for having done it.

Commenters on my previous posts have already pointed out that marriage creates an atmosphere where you need to make sacrifices to one another, and in doing so you become more like the person God wants you to be. Jesus and experience teach us that when we willingly sacrifice ourselves to others, instead of losing ourselves we actually gain.

Again, I think that no relationship exemplifies this fact like marriage. We have to surrender our time, our comfort, our desires, and our energy to make our relationship work – day after day after day.  And in the end, we win. In the process we get a constant lifelong companion who makes all kinds of personal sacrifices for our sakes, too.

As C. S. Lewis puts it, “one of the first things Eros [which he defines as “being in love”] does is to obliterate the distinction between giving and receiving”[iii]. When you are in love, giving and receiving become identical. When in love, you delight in giving good things to your beloved so much that it is like giving yourself a gift.

The same is with sex: when you give your body to your beloved an act of supreme vulnerability, you win.

Marriage, then, teaches us the truth about giving and about the nature of humanity.

In these ways, then, I believe marriage teaches us what it means to be human.

What do you think? Do you think marriage helps us to understand what being human is all about? Does my second point, especially the last part, even make sense to you? (My husband wasn’t so sure). Am I overlooking any other very important aspects of being human, or marriage?

*Note: For my next post, I think I’m going to take a break from all this heavy philosophizing and tell you a dumb story about my husband, and what he said to my friends to make me wish he had a mute button. It is a teensy bit very scandalous.

Then I want to finish my series with What is the Point of Marriage? Part 5: To Fulfill Basic Human Needs

Also: Yes, that’s me and my husband on our wedding day in the photo. Is it cheesy to post my own wedding pics on my blog?? I’m nervous about taking other ones from the internet and inadvertently breaking the law.


[i] Yancey, Philip. Rumours of Another World. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003. 38.

[ii] ibid., 39.

[iii] Lewis, C. S. The Four Loves. London: Geoffrey Bles, 1960.

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So I’ve been explaining what I think is the purpose of marriage in my previous two posts – the first point I made was that the purpose is not happiness, and the second was that it’s designed to grow us up. Now I want to move on to more theological considerations.

I am no theologian but I have spent a good portion of my life seriously thinking about these things. I know I have readers who come from Christian backgrounds, like me, and others who do not, so I’ll do my best to speak to everyone.

I believe that marriage reveals things to us about the nature of God.

I believe that all earthly experiences and all learning endeavors can teach us about God. Since God invented everything, the more we learn about things – all things – the better we are able to understand the nature of the One who created them. I think all education is essentially about Him, though not everyone realizes it.

But some things in life teach us more vividly or more essentially about his nature than other things do. I think marriage is one of those things. Here’s why.

1. Marriage teaches us about masculinity and femininity, which are both important attributes of God.

I intend to explore the issue of gender more deeply in a future post, but for now I just want to say this: God is both masculine and feminine. I refer to God with masculine pronouns, in accordance with the longstanding Judeo-Christian tradition (as I believe there are good reasons for this tradition), but I truly believe that God is equally masculine and feminine. God is both Father and Mother. God created male and female to express both sides of the spectrum of his nature; a part of God’s nature is revealed in woman and a part is revealed in man.

When the two are unified, as in marriage, I believe we get a slightly fuller picture of God.

2. Marriage helps us to understand God’s relationship to us.

I believe that God invented marriage in part so that we could get a better understanding of His relationship to us.

How does marriage do this? First of all, when a man or a woman falls in love, he or she gets a small taste of what God feels for us. When someone falls in love, she begins to understand what it feels like to be completely selfless towards another human being. Her beloved’s desires become her own; she begins to desire his happiness as much as she desires her own.

In the book of Isaiah, God says, “As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you” (62:5). In short, then, the depth of wild, selfless, desperate love that I feel for my beloved, and that he feels for me, is a tiny picture of God’s love for his beloved: us.

The Bible often figures God’s people – first Israel, later the Church – as a woman to whom God is betrothed. This woman is often figured as being unfaithful, and God is a brokenhearted lover (cf. Isaiah 57:7-8; Hosea 2). But someday the bride and groom will be married. The day that Jesus returns to reclaim his people will be the wedding day (Revelation 19:7). “‘In that day,’ declares the Lord, ‘you will call me ‘my husband’” (Hosea 2:16).

On the one hand, you could argue that God uses the earthly imagery of a wedding to help us mortals to understand his unfathomable love for us. However, I think it’s possible that he actually designed marriage to reflect and imitate his relationship to us. I think he had the Great Wedding in mind when he thought up marriage, saying “This will help them understand how I feel and how I am going to bring them back to me.”

3. Marriage helps us to understand the relational nature of God.

As a Christian, I accept the doctrine of the Trinity, which teaches that God is one but exists as three persons. This is a complicated and mysterious doctrine, and I don’t want to get into too much detail here, but essentially the doctrine of the Trinity teaches us that God lives eternally in relationship within his Triune nature. Throughout eternity God has existed in relationship between the Father, the Son, and The Holy Spirit. God’s essence, therefore, is relational.

I said earlier that all learning leads us to a deeper understanding of God. But learning about and experiencing relationship is especially important, since God’s very essence is relational. The more we learn about what it’s like to live in relationship, the better we understand God’s nature.

Just as all relationships enable us to grow up, so do all relationships teach us about God’s relational nature; but marriage is special because of the unique way it unites two individuals, both in body and in spirit.  The Bible says marriage makes us “one flesh,” and no other relationship between two people is simultaneously as intentional and as permanent as marriage.  Marriage brings together bodily union (sex), emotional union (romance, friendship), and commitment. Marriage is – or ought to be – the most intimate relationship a person can ever experiences. As we experience this level of intimacy, we begin to get at the very heart of God’s nature.

In these three ways, I believe that marriage teaches us about God.

What do you think? Are there more/different ways that marriage might teach us about God? Do you think I’m wrong? Of course, if you don’t believe in God, none of this will make any sense to you.

In my next post, I plan to explore how marriage teaches us what it means to be human.

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As I mentioned in my last post, Corey Allan of Simple Marriage argues that the purpose of marriage is to make us more grown up. It is not a tool designed to make us happy, but rather to make us more refined, more emotionally mature.

I couldn’t agree more.

But what exactly does maturity look like?

Corey paints a pretty clear picture of maturity, explaining that growing up “involves balancing two fundamental life forces: the drive for separateness and the drive for togetherness.” You should read his article on the subject to learn more.

Here are some additional things that I think characterize maturity:

  • A capacity for bigger-picture thinking. Before sleeping with someone, a mature person thinks, “Will this be good for my future and overall well-being?” Before totally giving up on school, a mature person asks, “Will it be worth it for me to quit now or will it pay off in the long run?” A mature person can postpone gratification for the sake of the bigger picture.
  • The ability to look past other people’s short-comings because you recognize your own. This might mean saying, “Man, my husband is an insensitive jerk when it comes to my fear of childlessness, but then again, I’m kind of a knob when it comes to his fear of job failure. I guess I should give him a break.”
  • A less demanding mind-set, because you know you can take care of yourself. This might mean saying, “I don’t need my wife to fill my every emotional need because I’m a self-sufficient and resilient individual.”
  • The ability to admit that you need other people in your life, even though you’re a self-sufficient and resilient individual. This might mean saying, “I could totally walk out of this relationship right now. But in the end, I still need to be loved, and I may never find love anywhere else. Plus, I totally can’t cook. I would starve if I left him.”
  • The ability to eventually shrug off the stupid things that other people do and say. This might mean saying, “Yeah, he totally shouldn’t have said that. That was unbelievably heartless. But . . . Meh. I’m over it. I have better things to do than cry about his emotional constipation.” (Of course, you want to help your spouse become less emotionally-constipated and less heartless, but sometimes you will also just have to get over the stupid things he says. He’s never going to be perfect.)
  • A willingness to make sacrifices for someone else. This might mean saying, “She totally doesn’t deserve this. I don’t have the time or resources to do this for her. . . . I’ll do it for her anyway.”

But how, exactly, does marriage make us more like this?

Basically, I think marriage forces us to foster the characteristics I’ve listed above. You have to start thinking bigger-picture, and to start sacrificing of yourself, or your marriage is never going to work. Your spouse is going to drive you crazy unless you start embracing these characteristics. You’re going to kill one another if you don’t start growing up.

Marriage throws challenges your way every day, and you have to learn to deal with them. Your spouse will be lazy, unkind, manic-depressive, forgetful, unsupportive and annoying. And you will be too. And you both have to learn to deal with that or go nuts. You both have to become bigger, better people.

Marriage teaches you that you’re not the center of the universe. It teaches you that you are a flawed human being, just like your spouse, but you are willing to live together anyway because you know you need each other.

You also learn that the choices you make affect other people, and they in turn affect you, so you better make good choices.

If you live on your own, you don’t have to face these challenges as much. You might become tempted to think you’re the most important person in the world. You might forget that you need other people.

Of course, all relationships allow for the developments I’ve talked about here – relationships with parents, siblings, girlfriends, roommates, coworkers, classmates. But I think marriage does this to a greater degree because it’s lifelong and daily.

With other relationships, you get to go your separate ways at the end of the day or at the end of the semester or whatever. When your lab partner or your cubicle buddy challenges your life by being unreasonable, irritating, or downright evil, you have plenty of opportunities to become more mature. But you can also get out of it by saying, “At least I’ll be graduating soon and then I never have to see him again!” or “At least she’ll be on mat leave soon and then I’ll get a break!”

Not so with marriage. When you’re married you have to learn to overcome emotional obstacles because you are stuck together for life. There’s no getting around it. You have to deal with your conflicts.

That’s the way it’s supposed to work, anyways. Many people don’t let their marriages shape them into bigger people, and in those cases the marriage fails. Many people duck out of marriage through divorce, too, but then marriage isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do, either.

The other major difference with marriage is that you love each deeply other and have invested a lot of time and emotion into your relationship, so you’re more willing to make it work. Out of love. With your coworkers or roommates, you have less motivation to work on becoming a better person because you don’t have that profound emotional bond that you have with your spouse. With your wife or husband, it’s a different story.

In this way, love motivates maturity. Because you love each other so much, you learn to grow up, for the sake of your spouse.

So that’s how and why I think marriage helps us to grow up. I know I’m not a psychologist or anything, these are just opinions from experience. What do you think? What other things characterize maturity? How else might marriage foster this?

Next: What is the Point of Marriage? Part 3: To teach us about God.

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Another reason I love Ben:

He puts up with my taste for kitsch.

See, Ben appreciates sophistication. He likes to sip expensive coffees from tall mugs, and scotch from short glass tumblers. He likes homes that are clean and modern. He likes fancy cars. He’s always dreamed about working in a high-rise building, wearing a suit, surrounded by framed architectural drawings on the walls. He appreciates leather couches and classy jazz music.

So when I found a gold Christmas tree on discount during Boxing Week when we were engaged, I thought for sure he wouldn’t go for it.

I have a soft spot for kitschy stuff. I actually didn’t even know what the word “kitsch” meant until recently, when I looked it up on Wikipedia. The first thing I saw pictured on the page was a garden gnome, presented as a prime example of kitsch. And I thought to myself, “Ahh . . . so that’s the name for the stuff I like.”

I don’t know why, but I’ve always had a thing for tacky stuff. Like my gnome collection, or my oversized, sombrero-wearing, stuffed frog Helen. That kind of stuff just gives me the jollies. In moderation, of course.

Helen

I think I was about twelve when I first saw a silver Christmas tree, featured on Family Matters. I decided at that very moment that I would someday have a silver Christmas tree. When I got older I started to doubt whether I’d ever come across such a rare marvel. And then I stumbled upon the “auburn wonder,” six feet tall, on sale for only $40 at Sears. I had to have it. I had to have a gold Christmas tree. But I was scared to bring it up with Ben.

When I did, he just said, “Sure. Where can you get it from?”

We drove to the mall and picked it up that weekend. We also came across some other mind-blowingly awesome accessories, the purchasing of which Ben wholeheartedly supported.

I don’t know why he agreed to it. It’s totally not his style. But he could see how important it was to me, so he just let it slide. In fact, he lets me get away with almost all my decorating fancies. He let me paint our living room “lively lime” (yes, that’s the actual name of the paint colour).  He lets me put up a miniature gold tree up downstairs for the gnomes. He occasionally lets me bring Helen out of her closet. OK, so he’s not totally accepting of Helen. But he hasn’t burned her in the fire pit yet like he keeps threatening, so that’s something.

I appreciate that he’s willing to make those kinds of sacrifices for me. Because he knows they’re important to me.

Every year, now, instead of having to dread the supremely frustrating and rather pointless tradition  of putting up a Christmas tree, I have something to look forward to. I still dislike the process of stringing the lights and getting the ribbon to go around it nicely, but I do it anyway out of my passionate love for the “evergold.”  We have the rock-awesomest Christmas tree in the world, I’m pretty sure. To allow you the full effect, I will now present to you a video of the Seventh Wonder of the World: the Quiring Residence Golden Christmas Tree.

[OK, crap. You may have noticed that that’s not a video. I can’t seem to upload my video footage no matter what I do. So I’ll have to just describe it to you. *Sigh.* The tree has a special base, into which we can plug the lights. It comes with a Santa-shaped remote. With the press of a button on the remote, you can control the lights – on or off. Another button makes the tree slowly rotate. And a third button plays an ear-shattering medley of pingy-sounding Christmas songs, from “Jingle Bells” to “Deck the Halls.” It is a wonder to behold. It is a shame I couldn’t share it here.]

What kinds of idiosyncracies does you spouse tolerate from you just to keep the peace? Or, if you’re not married, what kinds of things do you hope your spouse will tolerate? What kinds of junk do you put up with  for the sake of love?

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“Here, practice with this,” said Ben, crossing the kitchen with the blue crazy-straw in his hand. He had just retrieved it from the silverware drawer and was handing it to me.

“Um,” I said, but he didn’t notice. He put his pipe back into his mouth.

“I don’t want you to accidentally inhale any of the smoke because you don’t know how to do it. You don’t want to get any smoke in your lungs. Now do like me.”

I followed his lead, slipping the straight end of the crazy straw between my lips.

“So you’re creating a vacuum with your mouth, sucking in the smoke not with your breath but using your cheeks and tongue, like when you suck on a straw. Then you just let it out of your mouth without breathing.” He demonstrated a few puffs for me, releasing the smoke dramatically each time. “See? No breathing.”

He had already demonstrated how to pack a pipe, which he had only learned himself that afternoon from YouTube.

I don’t know when I became interested in learning how to smoke a pipe: one day I thought it was a vile form of recreation, and the next day I wanted to be like C. S. Lewis. I had always known C. S. Lewis smoked a pipe, and I had always wanted to be like him, but this was the first time I wanted to be like him by learning how to smoke a pipe. And Ben had reassured me that pipe smoke was never inhaled, so it didn’t sound so bad. I puffed away on the crazy straw while he puffed away on his pipe – the one he had bought in an outdoor market in Leeds for ₤2 when we were there last fall.

So there I sat, bare-foot and cross-legged atop our kitchen table, with my husband in front of me on a chair. I had a blue crazy-straw between my lips, grasped lightly between my forefinger and  middle finger the way I had seen adults hold cigarettes in my childhood. I scraped at the aquamarine nail polish on my toes with my fingernail absently. It was very late – the kitchen window that opened onto the back yard was a rectangle of black. Sweet, woody-smelling smoke curled like dancing ghosts between us as he showed me how to hold it in your mouth for a few seconds before blowing it out.

And I became conscious all of a sudden that I had never imagined a scene even remotely close to this when I had envisioned marriage before our wedding day. There was no place in my imagination for such bizarre and unexpected fancies. This was my marriage in real life: learning to smoke a pipe in the kitchen with my husband, on a loopy blue plastic straw. How could I have foreseen that married life could be so . . . peculiar?

Once he felt satisfied with my performance on the straw, I graduated to the real thing. I put the stem of the pipe between my teeth and sucked as I had practiced. I was delighted as my mouth filled with thick, musty warmth.

“Awesome,” I said, releasing a gray cloud from my mouth; but in speaking I felt some of the smoke slip down my throat. “Oh, crap!” I said, slapping my hand over my mouth.

“Don’t breathe in!” he warned.

It took me a while to get the hang of it: despite the formal practice I kept letting the smoke into my body. Each time, I clapped my mouth and yelled, “Oops – crap!”

We took turns with the pipe, showing off our newly-acquired skills, until I started to notice the awful dirty taste in my mouth. It had been OK at first but now it was starting to get gross.

“I’m done. My mouth tastes like old man,” I announced.

“Yeah, let’s go brush our teeth. It’s late,” he said.

“OK,” I said, slipping off the table onto my feet to follow him into the bathroom. “But first I want to see how I look smoking a pipe.”

“You look cute,” he said.

“Thanks,” I replied, sincerely touched.

How about you? Have you had any of those moments where you thought, “I can’t believe this is marriage?” or “I can’t believe this is my marriage?”

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I really hate hearing about how awesome and special other people’s marriages are. I find it really gag-provoking.

I hate when married couples make a point of letting us know that they are spending special time alone together. They refuse an invitation to hang out with the group because they’ve set the night aside as a date night for the two of them. Puh-LEEZE, I always think. Make it another night. Or morning. Or afternoon. You guys live together, for goodness sake; the possibilities are endless. There are only two of you; it can’t be so hard to coordinate a night between the two of your schedules! Make it a breakfast date for tomorrow morning.

Maybe there’s just something wrong with me. I also get annoyed seeing parents look gaga-eyed at their own offspring, particularly if the child isn’t a particularly attractive specimen. Get a room, I think.

I roll my eyes when I hear the lilting words “I gotta get home to my hubby!” at the end of a girls’ night, or reading “I have the most wonderful husband in the world!” on some woman’s Facebook status. For some reason, I find their expressions of affection irritating. The worst is when husbands and wives address each other directly on a public forum like Facebook, writing on each other’s walls, “Have a wonderful day, honey! I love you! You are wonderful!” Excuse me while I shove a finger down my own throat. Couldn’t you guys have said that in, like, a face-to-face encounter? In private? In your home?

I saw a friend do this again recently – gush to her husband over Facebook about how awesome he is – and I immediately went back to my blog to delete any mushy stuff that may have occurred on it between me and Ben. (I am happy to report that I only had to delete one thing). I don’t want to be that couple, that is constantly broadcasting their love for one another.

It’s not that I don’t want people to have happy, romantic marriages – I do. That’s part of the reason I started this blog in the first place. And it’s not that I’m jealous of these couples – I’m not. Ben and I are very happy together. It’s just that  . . . I generally loathe hearing about other people’s matrimonial bliss. Maybe I’m a Love Grinch or something.

It makes me think of Algernon from Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, who complains about being seated next to a married woman at dinner who always flirts with her own husband. “It’s not pleasant,” he says. “Indeed, it is not even decent . . . The amount of women in London who flirt with their own husbands is perfectly scandalous. It looks so bad. It is simply washing one’s clean linen in public” (Act I).

How true, Algy, how true.

As a consequence of my sudden impulse to delete any and all mushy stuff between me and Ben, I later prohibited Ben against leaving any more comments on here.  It actually hurt his feelings, to tell you the truth, and I feel bad about it. “You don’t want me to engage your writing any more?” he asked. “Are you embarrassed of me?”

Oh maaaaaaan!

I had to explain that I love it when he responds to my writing. It fills me up with warm fuzzies when my hunny-buns leaves insightful comments on my blog.  But I’m afraid of being gross and “washing our clean linen in public.” I told him that maybe he should just respond to me in private, since we live together and all. I said I was afraid that his comments might look like PDA’s to other people – like making out in public. Ewies.

What do you guys think, though? Do you like witnessing other couples’ love, or do you find it gag-inducing, too? Does it make a difference, do you think, if you’re single or if you’re in a relationship?  And does the format influence your reaction to it? (Like, if the couple is self-conscious and funny about it, does that make it OK? Or is it more romantic if the couple is completely unaware that anyone can see them?). If you’re married or in a serious relationship, do you try to avoid public displays of affection, or do you let them fly like clean white linen flapping in the breeze? Why or why not?

Also: am I a complete jerk? Should I not have told Ben to hold off on the comments??

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Changes: Me and Affection

(Continued from Ch-ch-ch-changes . . . )

Growing up, I was never big into hugs.  As a teenager, I grew to rather dislike them.  And by the time I was a young woman I positively dreaded them.  I just didn’t like touching people.  Human bodies are all so warm and moist and mushy, especially women’s bodies.  To me, human bodies feel like overgrown, sentient, animate mushrooms.  Skin is doughy and disconcertingly balmy, and the fabric that we humans use to cover it gives me the shivers when it touches me, all warmed by another person’s body heat.  All stiff and pulled tight over the round bulks of mushy flesh: yugh.  No thanks.  Every time girl friends would make their rounds with hugs as they said goodbye after a night out would I would stiffen.  Oh crap: hug time.  We were suddenly going from being abstract generators of words to living bodies of flesh that were going to touch each other: YIKES.  I would back away from the group slowly, looking around casually to avoid notice, in the hopes that they’d overlook me.  I wouldn’t have cared if I had never gotten a hug in my life.  In fact, I probably would have been happy to arrange that.  Oh bliss: to be left alone!  I had only ever had one boyfriend before, and we had broken up partly because I couldn’t stand his touch.

I don’t know how I got this way: my parents were always affectionate and hugged me and my siblings quite regularly throughout my lifetime; no one ever did anything to make it weird for me.  I was never abused or anything.  When I was a teenager my mom would cry and ask what she’d done wrong to make us that way – for my sister was the same as me.  We never touched one another even though we were best friends and even shared a bed.  We never, ever hugged.  If we both wore sleeveless shirts and had to sit in the back seat of a car together we would put a sweater between us so our skin wouldn’t touch.  At least we understood each other.  But I don’t know how we got that way.

So with all this inside of me, I knew I faced a dilemma when I started dating Ben.  On our first few dates, we had hardly touched – we just exchanged quick goodbye hugs at my front door when he dropped me off, and we were wearing winter jackets and gloves when we did it.  That hardly counts.  Then, when he asked me to be his girlfriend and I accepted, he soon wanted to know what I was comfortable with physically.  Surprisingly I hadn’t really thought that far yet.  Up until then I had only been concerned with showing him that I liked all the right songs and had read all the right books.

“Um . . . I’m okay with holding hands in public and stuff,” I answered lamely.  I realized even then that this was rather pathetic.  This was my boyfriend.  Holding hands probably wasn’t going to cut it.  But what was I supposed to say?  “I’m not crazy about hugs and I think kissing is gross”?  I don’t think that would have gone over too well.

Fortunately he was bolder and more impatient than I expected and ended up plowing through all my boundaries rather quickly.  In the first few days he took the liberty of holding my hand often, and touching my knee tenderly whenever his gear shifter bumped into my leg when we were driving in his car.  He kissed me after only two weeks of being together – an appallingly short time span for me – and it rather upset me.  Soon he was coaxing me to lean on his chest when we watched a movie together in his room and putting his hand on my waist when we walked together.  Every new advance always made me uncomfortable, but thankfully I found it a little exciting as well.  And I liked his gentle words and his sweet little love notes and his quirky ideas about science and politics so much that I let him do all these things to me.

It didn’t come naturally to me, but with time, I slowly warmed up to these things – kissing, snuggling, hugging.  Eventually I even learned to like them.  He smelled exceptionally nice, and with time his skin and clothes and arms and lips didn’t feel gross anymore.  In fact they felt nice.  His body was warm and comfy.  With time I found it felt less mutant-mushroom-y, and more electric blanket-y, or comforting like bread fresh from the oven.  Cozy, soothing, homey.  I felt protected and cared for when he put his hand on my shoulder.  I felt loved when he played with my hair.

It took conscious effort on my part to show affection back to him: I had to decide to put my hand on his back when he leaned forward beside me during a movie.  It took me a rather long time.  But I got better and better with time.

I was still not super-affectionate by the time we got married, but I was more or less like a normal human being.   I liked to put my cheek against his and smell his fabulous leather-and-fabric-softener smell.  But ever since we’ve been married I’ve developed something new:  I actually crave his affection.  I long for his embrace when I’m not with him.  I’ll watch him while he talks sometimes and stop paying attention to his words, becoming distracted by how nice his lips look for kissing.  I prefer to watch movies right next to him so I can feel his body right next to mine the whole time.  After four years of marriage I hunger for it more than ever.  I’ve come to the point where I ask him half a dozen times a day to hug me, and to let me sit on is lap while we look at something together on the computer.  I need his touch.  I need those kisses and hugs and caresses.  They’ve become like food – I need them every so often in order to survive.

I know that in some ways this sounds like a bad thing – like I’ve gone backwards, from being independent to becoming deeply dependent.  I was fine without affection before, but now I’m addicted to it.  When I say it like that, it seems wrong in every way.  But I think this new weakness is actually a strength.

For one, it has made me more sympathetic to the rest of humanity who needs affection.  I understand a little better now why people do the crazy things they do for love.  And now that I’ve come to appreciate affection, I can more easily offer it to others who need it – like my future children.

And for another thing, I think it has made me more fully human.  As social animals, it is pat of our very humanity to want, share and offer physical affection.  Before, when I hated touching, I was something unnatural, unhuman.  Now, I’m a more complete human being, more fully alive.

Even though it makes me needier, I believe that I am better off needing affection than not knowing what I’m missing.  I needed to become dependent on someone.  I needed to become more fully human.  So change turned out to be a good thing.

As a side note, I still hate hugs from girls – those big mushy breasts all squishing up against my own (. . . yugh!) – but at least I’ve made some progress.  I don’t sneak out of the room when the girls start giving each other hugs — I can endure them without flinching.  I once hugged a friend when she told me she was pregnant.  If I try really hard, I can imagine how someone might find a girl-hug enjoyable.  I’ve even voluntarily hugged a couple of babies in the last year or so, something I never imagined I would do, which would probably make my mother weep for joy if she knew.  I’m getting there.

So I admit – marriage did change me.  But it wasn’t an immediate change.  It was a slow, imperceptible change that eventually made me a wider, deeper, and healthier human being.  I’m glad it happened to me.

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