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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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I recently went through my journals from when I first started dating Ben.  I have kept a journal basically ever since I could write, and they provide a lot of entertainment.  But this time I was specifically looking for insights for this blog.

While reading through my journals, I also spent some time reflecting on what I was reading and writing down some of my thoughts.  I originally meant to build on all the different topics that I came up with, but I’m kind of lazy.  So for now, I’ve just made a list of random insights that I gained from re-reading that time in my life.

1. I fell in love with an illusion.  But that’s OK.  I still love the real Ben.

It’s really hilarious to go back and read all the stuff I wrote when I was falling in love with Ben because I was totally wrong about so many things about him.  For example: at the time, Ben struck me as an intellectual.  I thought he was a scholar-type who spent all his time reading books and learning new words, because he knew a few words I didn’t know and had read a few books I hadn’t read.  I was crazy about that.  It turns out Ben is actually more of a tradesman.  He had actually only really read the dozen or so books that he referenced within our first few dates.  In reality, he’s really good with his hands and he’s really practical.  He builds stuff.  He repairs stuff.  And I’m really crazy about all that.  He does read, and quite often, which is cool; but he can only read for about fifteen minutes and then he has to go work on his truck engine or install a light fixture.  And that’s awesome.  I love it because it’s so masculine.  Now I love the real Ben, although he is nothing like the imaginary Ben I first fell for.  Good thing the real Ben turned out to be so much cooler than the one I thought I had fallen in love with.

I’ve come to see, then, that it’s OK if your partner changes or your perceptions of him change so much that he becomes a different person from the one you first fell in love with.  Because the real one could turn out to be even better than the one you thought you wanted.

2. I expected our relationship to get boring a long time ago. But it still hasn’t happened.

It’s funny how after three months of dating I was surprised to find that I still found Ben exciting.  Our relationship was so old already, so familiar, I thought; and yet I got the jitters every time I heard him ring my doorbell or saw his car pull up to pick me up from school.  How was I not bored of him yet?  I thought this was miraculous.

This is hysterical to me now, after having been with him almost seven years and married to him for over four years, because I still find him so fun to be around.  I never tire of him.  We can go on a two-week vacation together, and see no one else but each other the whole time, and be perfectly content.  I don’t get sick of him.  He’s always fresh, new, and interesting to me.  After four years of marriage!  I can’t believe that way back then, after three months, I already thought we had been together a long time.  Three months was nothing.  And in a few decades I will probably be saying that four years of marriage was nothing – it was just the beginning. That’s pretty rad.

3. Before we were married, I was incessantly writing notes to Ben.  Long, long letters trying to explain my feelings.  I tried to clarify things that I had said in earlier conversation, and explain why I had said them, and explain why I was writing this note, etc.

It felt like I was explaining myself all the time.  Trying to explain who I was, and who I used to be, and who I wanted to be, and how I was a different person when I was apart from him, and on and on and on.  It was exhausting work, trying to get him to see who I really was.

It’s so great that I don’t have to waste all my time on that anymore.  He already knows me.  He lives with me.  He knows what I mean when I say stuff (most of the time); I don’t have to explain every little thing.  It’s so much better now.  Thank goodness for marriage.

4. Most of what I wrote as a lovesick teenager is totally lame. But here is one cool thought that I included in my journal:

“Falling in love is terrifying. The hugeness of it all; the sudden loss of control of your own emotions; the sudden vulnerability as you place your heart in the care of another.  Sometimes you become so afraid and overwhelmed that all you want to do is run . . . . And then you realize the only place you want to run is into that person’s arms.”

Awwwwww.  Wasn’t I just poetic?

5. I cannot even believe I was willing to go through all that for the guy. When I first started dating Ben he was struggling through a really severe bout of depression.  He was a real pain in the butt, to be honest.  He was über-dark and dramatic.  And he didn’t appreciate my attempts to help him.  He was always ignoring all my words of comfort, wanting to be alone all the time, talking about wanting to die.  He talked about his “destiny” to be alone – he felt he was called to be a lone, sad ranger sacrificing himself to God somehow.  By being a bum or something.  And he didn’t want my help.  He wanted to be miserable.  It was terrible.  And after six months of being with him, I was unhappier than I ever had been in my life.  And yet I was constantly declaring things like the following: “I have already decided to love you forever.  Do what you will, but you cannot change that.  You can either try to fight my love, or you can make it easier on both of us by letting me love you.” This was an actual quote from one of my notes to him.  I know: pretty intense, right?

I don’t know what made Ben so worthwhile to me at the time.  Honestly, I can’t put my finger on any particular quality or characteristic that made him worth the suffering.  He was mopey, insecure, antisocial, indecisive, self-absorbed, and rather pathetic, as depressed people generally are.  But oh – how I loved him!  I wanted to be with him always.  It’s quite inexplicable to me.

I’m glad I did it, though, because Ben turned out to be a pretty fantastic person when he got through his depression.  Luckily, he has gotten so much better since then.  And I’ve realized that I have to give him some slack: he was a teenager.  Teenagers are idiots.  They are all melodramatic like that . . . or at least I was.  So he’s allowed to have been a royal pain – that’s what teenagers do.  I just don’t know why I put up with it.  But I’m glad I did.

 

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#4. His Courage. Honestly, this was one of the most important characteristics for me when I first met Ben. It’s what separated him from all the other boys. In fact, it’s what made him a man in my eyes. Ben was nineteen when he stepped into my life and “swept me off my feet” (as the saying goes) before I knew what was happening to me. My heart was his before I even made a conscious decision to give it to him.

I hardly even knew Ben when he asked me to accompany him to the church’s Young Adults Christmas banquet. He was new to my church and we had hardly spoken. I was still in high school and in the church youth group while he was already working full time and attending the young adults’ Bible study. We’d only had one casual conversation at a birthday party, in which I had given Ben my email address. We exchanged one or two friendly emails and then out of nowhere he called me on my cell phone – he’d gotten my number from a mutual friend – and asked me on a date. At the banquet he told me I was pretty and gave me a flower he’d purchased for me. Three dates later he asked me to be his girlfriend. I was utterly smitten.

This was a big deal coming from a community that tended to wait eight years before dating. All the other boys I knew dilly-dallied with friendships and feeble flirtation for months on end. They never got around to asking me or any of the other girls out. I think it’s pretty common in conservative Christian circles: young people think they have to be friends for a decade or two before they can date. It takes guys forever to finally feel right about asking a girl out. And girls think they are absolutely prohibited against making the first move so they sit around and wait for three eternities. It’s pretty lame if you ask me. I hated it.

In many Christian circles, a lot of young people think they need to be mature enough in their “walk with God” before they can ask out the guy or girl they like. They believe they need to get audible confirmation from God that they ought to be with the person. They feel they need to be absolutely certain that the guy or girl they like is the one they are going to marry before they can date. They need to know the other person thoroughly and on a friend level before they can even see a movie together.

Also, I find that a lot of Christian guys are a teensy bit wussy. At least the guys I knew back then were. They always had to be absolutely certain that the girl would say yes before they would ask. They had no sense of gallantry. They just waited and waited and waited, hoping to slowly “friend” their way into their ladies’ hearts. Maybe they were hoping that they would slowly become their beloved’s boyfriend without her realizing what was happening. They seemed to believe that if they sat next to the right girl enough times at youth group she would eventually become his girlfriend. At any rate, there was very little risk-taking going on and a whole lot of waiting. It was exhausting to be pursued by a guy. It was often a two-year-plus enterprise.

But not for Ben. He didn’t wait around to find out from someone else whether or not I would accept his advances. He didn’t sit around until I knew him like a brother before asking me if he could be my boyfriend. He just went for it. He took a risk. He was courageous. And I fell hard.

Even now, I love Ben’s bold, go-get-’em attitude. He’s not reckless or irresponsible – he always thinks through his decisions before he makes them – but he also doesn’t dawdle unnecessarily, either. He doesn’t sit around and worry. When he found the house he thought was right for us, he went ahead and bought it. When he decides he wants to pursue a friendship with another guy at church, Ben gives him a call. When he decides he would like to learn about something, he signs up for a course at the college. He doesn’t waste time fretting over whether or not he’ll be able to pull it off, or worrying what others will think. He acts.

This is such an attractive quality for someone as indecisive and timid as me. He’s so daring and brave in comparison. I love it. It’s such a masculine quality and it just makes me wild.

I’m not sure if “courage” is the most accurate word for this — perhaps you have a better suggestion? — but “valour” seemed a little archaic and over-dramatic.  So there you have it.  My courageous Ben.

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(This is the conclusion of my Sex Education series.  Continued from Part Four: The Party. The whole thing began here, in Part One.)

For your own sake, I am not going to tell you about our wedding night.  That would just be cruel. I don’t want to do to you what others did to me.  Before I was married I had one friend tell me about her orgasms and it made me wish my brain would spontaneously combust.

Also, you may not mind hearing about my experiences while I’m a twenty-three year old grad student, but inevitably I will eventually become somebody’s weird mom.  I’m already kind of dorky now; there’s no telling how lame I could get in twenty or thirty years.  And then everything will be different.  I will in all likelihood become the stodgy, out-of-shape middle-aged woman using obsolete slang that you see wearing tacky makeup and jogging pants up town.  And Ben will probably grow some kind of unfashionable facial hair in his forties to counteract the loss of hair on his head and will continue to insist on wearing shoes that don’t go with his pants.  You might know us personally or see pictures of us at that time, and then you will most certainly not want to hear about me and Ben on our wedding night, or on any night for that matter.  So I will spare you.  Instead, I will speak broadly and abstractly on the subject so you can imagine it has nothing to do with my personal experience.

First, though, I must say that everything worked out just fine and none of my sex-talk-induced fears were at all justified.  I don’t know what was wrong with those two women who filled my head with all those ridiculous, scary ideas.  They must have both been working through some major mid-life issues at that time or something.  Indeed, many women I’ve talked to seem feel “discomfort” at first.  You have to take it slow to begin and prepare for some awkwardness and lots of talking.  For anyone reading this who actually does have really high expectations for the wedding night, I want to make it clear that it can be pretty uncomfortable and awkward for a while.  But as far as I know, there is probably one couple in every thousand that has the problem where the man absolutely does not fit inside the woman: that was a totally freak occurrence and so if you are a virgin you have nothing to worry about at all.  Oh – except for the doctor’s exam.  That, on the other hand, is every bit as nightmarish as I had anticipated.  I went in for one about a year after I got married and have never been back (The horror!).  I had to take the rest of the day off to recuperate – to just shudder for a couple of hours.   Of course, there are plenty of women out there who feel differently about it and talk about their gynecologists like they talk about their dentists.  But these women for obvious reasons are not my friends.

Secondly, the young pastor couple was right: sex in a married context can be fun.  All kinds of hilarious possibilities open up when you get that comfortable with another person’s body.  For one thing, I get to terrorize Ben with all kinds of horrible night clothes.

Here’s the story: right now I really like going to bed in a long-sleeved cotton nightgown with stripy tights underneath.  It’s cozy, it’s hip, and I think it’s a rather cute ensemble.  I go to bed looking like a quirky but comfy young punk-rocker.  But only when the two pieces are worn together.  Once, after a couple of years of being married, when changing into this outfit before bed, I unthinkingly put on the tights first and then removed my top, so that for a few moments I was standing there in just a blue bra and my stripy tights, chatting with Ben about my day while he reclined in bed.  Suddenly, he looked up at me from his book, and a look of horror crossed his face.

“What are you wearing?”

I looked down at my stretchy, hip-hugging, knee-length, black-and-white pants.  Without the little mini-dress over top they looked absolutely absurd.  They reminded me of elf-tights.

“What, you don’t like them?” I asked, bending my knees a couple of times to give him the full effect.

“Oh, stop!” he said, putting out his hand to block out the disturbing vision with his palm.

“What – You don’t like my tights?  You don’t like my dancing?”

I began to perform a jig for him – or at least, what I vaguely understood to be a jig – in the spirit of my leprechaun pants.  It involved the kicking-up of heels and elaborate flourishing of arms.  Kind of a mix between Riverdance and The Urkel.  It was very racy.

“Stop, oh stop!” he cried, covering his eyes in desperation.  “I never want to see that again!”

Of course, this means that Ben now gets special striped-tights dance performances on quite a regular basis.  I totally have the body for it.  It’s very intimate.

As a married couple I am also free now to pat his butt whenever I am so inclined, and it happens to be often.  He calls it molestation, and we have a running joke about how I routinely molest him.  Sometimes I follow him up the steep stairway in our house with my hands on his butt and there is nothing he can do about it.  See what I mean?  Being married is awesome.  We also have plenty of other bedroom jokes but I am not going to share them with you.

I also want to pass on some fabulous advice that my youth pastor gave me when we had our chat about sex.  He said, “Everything that you think you know about sex from TV: forget it.”  And he was right.  Sex just does not happen like that.  The first couple of times do take some careful planning and in-depth verbal communication.  It’s some pretty complicated stuff and you do have to talk about it.  Also nightgowns never just slip off effortlessly, and there’s a good chance that elbows and knees and hair will get in the way.  I elbowed Ben in the eye at least three times within the first month, and he still has a way of pinning me down by my hair any time I get close to him.  In addition, you will be self-conscious about garlic-breath and hairy legs and bumping noses and an infinite number of other things you can’t possibly anticipate beforehand.  But all of that is just fine because you love each other and know you have a lifetime to figure it all out together.

And that leads me to my last thought: I’m only talking here about sex within marriage.  I can’t tell you anything about sex outside of marriage since I’ve never experienced it.  And I really don’t think I’m missing out.  I’m sure it’s got its positive sides too but ultimately I believed that married sex is infinitely sexier, more beautiful and more romantic.  In fact it’s downright poetic.  You’re uniting your body with a person who has committed his entire life to you.  He has promised to stay with you for life, protecting you and caring for you and listening to you until you die.  He has chosen you above all others and has promised to never touch or love or look at another person in that special way as long as he lives.  It melts my heart just thinking about it.

Here’s something I wrote about sex shortly after I got married, when I was still about twenty, addressing those people who seem to think that married life is dull and conventional and unexciting.  It’s a little bit sentimental, but hey, I was young.  Nothing really has changed; I just wanted you to know that I was still a fresh, sappy, dewy-eyed newlywed when I wrote it:

You just don’t understand – don’t understand what you’re missing. You can’t understand why God would have commanded that we do it this way because you’ve never experienced it.

You’ve never known what it’s like to see your beloved cast down his eyes at the sight of another disrobed on the television screen, because he is saving his eyes for only you.

You’ve never known what it’s like to see his innocent face focus on yours, wide-eyed, as you explain what a woman’s body is like, because he’s never known one before.

You’ve never known what it’s like to press your mouth against lips that have only felt the curves of your own against them.  Not because they couldn’t or didn’t sometimes want to, but because he wanted to share that sensation with no one but you.  You don’t know how sweet these innocent kisses are.

Raw and untouched, our tender skins kiss warmly against each other so that soul mixes with soul.  When we separate I carry a blend of him.  Only him.  Were miles of earth or the divide of death to stand between us, that imprint of love would remain, would never fade.

Nakedness, for us, is inextricably bound up with love.  By love, I don’t mean powerful feelings of excitement or adoration, or temporary fits of passion.  I mean the devotion that makes you swear that you will never abandon or give up on the other – not under pain of death or the intoxication of infatuation.

I will never, ever forsake you.  I will never, ever choose another over you.  I will never take my eyes off you.  I will never leave you stranded.

Nakedness, for us, is a symbol of forever.

*     *     *     *

So, here are a couple of really beautiful experiences I want to share with you that can’t possibly make you gag.  They’re nice, I promise.  And I think they’re all the sweeter because we’re married.

My absolute favourite kisses are the ones he steals when I’m still half asleep.  In fact, nothing in all of my experience compares to this sensation.  In that instant I am suddenly awakened to the vague consciousness that my sweet beloved is right there – touching my lips with his own.  His kisses are warm and fragrant with just the right amount of tickle . . . warm little pillows touch my face, and my whole being is tenderly nudged into the awareness that I am wholly beloved.  In these moments I cannot reciprocate – I am barely crossing the misty borders of consciousness – but I know I’m not expected to.  The kiss was freely given, with no anticipation of any kind of return.  That, to me, is love.

Another supremely romantic moment for me is when we hold hands in bed.  It happens every so often that we are both tucked under the warmth of our blankets, our minds each in their own little universes, winding down, slipping into sleep; when suddenly, his hand slides gently between the sheets, touches mine, and slowly folds over it.  We lie there, motionless, wordless, in the dark, holding hands like adoring teenagers on a first date, and fall asleep like that.   I couldn’t possibly wish for more in life.  These are the reasons God invented marriage and sex.

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