Mortality is an admonition and invitation to love harder.

Over in my Reading Room is an introduction to a series of posts on an insightful book discussing modern romance. It is written by a comedian, but it’s proving to be an good book. Early on was a quote from an author and relationship counselor I’d never heard of, Ester Peler. A short bit of reconnaissance led to an excerpt from her book on the subject of a supposed dichotomy between passion and security which she claims is inherent in marriage.

You can find the excerpt from her book here.

Peler’s overall assertion is that the very nature of marriage is designed to short-circuit passion and connection. Most people, she notes, are just not able to stay engaged in a satisfying way over several years of marriage. She describes what happened when she dared reveal publicly, at a party, what she was writing a book about:

As often happens in a public discussion, the most complex issues tend to polarize in a flash, and nuance is replaced with caricature. Hence the division between the romantics and the realists.

The romantics refuse a life without passion; they swear that they’ll never give up on true love. They are the perennial seekers, looking for the person with whom desire will never fizzle. Every time desire does wane, they conclude that love is gone. If eros is in decline, love must be on its deathbed. They mourn the loss of excitement and fear settling down.

At the opposite extreme are the realists. They say that enduring love is more important than hot sex, and that passion makes people do stupid things. It’s dangerous, it creates havoc, and it’s a weak foundation for marriage. In the immortal words of Marge Simpson, “Passion is for teenagers and foreigners.” For the realists, maturity prevails. The initial excitement grows into something else—deep love, mutual respect, shared history, and companionship. Diminishing desire is inescapable. You are expected to tough it out and grow up.

I couldn’t identify with the extremes her two camps fell into. Why you can’t have both? You may not have both 100% of the time, but certainly you could a lot of the time. Finally there was something later in the excerpt to which I could relate:
For a lucky few, this is barely a challenge. These couples can easily integrate cleaning the garage with rubbing each other’s back.
For them, there is no dissonance between commitment and excitement, responsibility and playfulness. They can buy a home and be naughty in it, too.
They can be parents and still be lovers. In short, they’re able to seamlessly meld the ordinary and the uncanny.

While contemplating how we got to be this way (since I don’t believe it’s because I’m a perfect wife nor my husband necessarily an alpha stud), I was suddenly reminded of what Paul wrote to the Romans (chapter 15) about the things recorded from before being written for our learning.

Depending on your perspective this might seem morbid, but we have been -ever since we’ve known each other-  intimately connected to the fact of our mortality. It is said that the young don’t believe they can die, but that was not true of us. My mother died when she was 31 (I never knew her). My mother-in-law passed away at 44 (I barely knew her). My husband had a strong sense as a young man that because of where he was culturally and geographically, he was as likely to be cut down young as old.

Our kids have experienced a lot of loss as well.. This may be a part of life when you hail from very large families on both sides, but when you’re paying attention, it can inform your sense of what’s important.

It is not at all uncommon for a knock down drag out fight to be concluded swiftly with one sibling making up with another before parting ways because they don’t want to part on that note. The Dictator and I are far from perfect, but we can really piss each other off, say our peace, go right to bed, and wrap tight around each other. The next morning it’s as if nothing ever happened.

I used to think this is what most couples do: Keep short accounts, expect that your spouse will be irritating sometimes, or that mundane routine might kick in, but knowing that you’d miss all of that if it were suddenly not there anymore. This is the kind of thing that keeps you turning toward your mate with a love, energy, and gratitude that can’t help but keep a spark there.

Peler did offer an example of one couple whose marriage floated on their understanding that life is fleeting, but their understanding did not produce much in the way of good fruit, which brings me to the point of this ramble.

Embracing rather than ignoring the reality of our mortality can make all our relationships better, starting with our marriages but certainly not ending there. The fatal mistake is believing the lie that we should do whatever we feel like whenever we feel like it because “we only live once.”

Understanding that this life is not all there is provides the missing link needed to distinguish between choosing to love your mate with abandon versus choosing to shower all that “love” on yourself.

Exceptions don’t validate fat acceptance movement.

This post is mostly fresh, and partly re-warmed leftovers from a 2012 entry on my now defunct blog. The message is still relevant as the trend of forcing the national consciousness towards acceptance of what should be rejected has gained more steam over the past five years.

This couple’s photo and story, along with glowing commentary on how this husband proves that love and sexual attraction are much more about what’s on the inside than the outside, is another boon to the fat acceptance movement. It comes when many women are working out harder to look good in bikinis and tank tops as summer kicks into high gear.

This hoopla is an attempt to do two things. The first is discouraging women from exercising self-control and taking charge of their health. The second is to denigrate natural, healthy male sexuality by implying that men who prefer fit women are evil, mean and shallow creatures who value a woman’s appearance over her character.

The problem with this is that our outer life is usually a decent gauge of our inner life. In other words, a few extra pounds as we age or after the birth of a baby are one thing. It’s easy to see how this can happen when we do not make the necessary adjustments to mitigate the natural changes which come with aging or child birth. Perpetually carrying around an extra 50 or more pounds for years on end, however, may indicate an issue with self-control that will rear its head in other areas of life as well.

To use a woman who has earned the love and devotion of a man over several years, has given him two young children so far ( this is a young couple),  as an example to indicate that any chubby chick can reasonably expect to land a hot guy is ridiculous on its face. Does it happen occasionally? It does, but exceptions don’t create new rules. Rather, they highlight the opposite tendency of most people.

I seem -perpetually- to be losing (and gaining) 20-25 pounds so this isn’t body shaming. I am also, despite the extra weight which makes me painfully average among American women my age, married to a man who is above average in looks and indisputably conventionally handsome. He is not rocking abs anymore like that guy, but I digress.

Like the husband in the Yahoo story, mine is virtually blind to what I view as the disparity in our presentation, roundly dismissing with incredulity any assertion on my part that he is the better looking half of this duo. Gratitude doesn’t begin to summarize my response, but I’ve also had nearly 25 years to rack up the track record that led to his love blindness. I was also pretty fit when he first laid eyes on me.

There is a bigger problem here though, no pun intended. I was discussing this with a friend and she pointed out that we (the larger culture) have reduced this subject to black and white, when there is plenty of room for gray.

We have relegated “fit” almost entirely to the realm of emaciated models or world class athletes. Normal healthy ladies who aren’t obese yet also without muscled arms and bikini worthy abs lament their lack of fitness. So you’re either a total health nut or you eat donuts and Doritos, without much middle ground in between.

For those women who can’t or don’t want to get to super fit, they give up on just trying to be a normal healthy human weight. It would be good for us to accept that normal human doesn’t usually look like an athlete or a model, but nor does normal healthy human equal obese. We’ve fallen into the ditches of extremes.

As I thought about her words, I was reminded of a trip I recently took with our girls into an Under Armor outlet store, drawn in by the desire to take a closer look at a very large Incredible Hulk statue they had placed there. Instead of being shirtless, as the Hulk is normally seen, he was wearing an Under Armor shirt.

The store was a picture of the extremes my friend mentioned, with the super fit perusing the racks alongside those who clearly seemed to view the clothing as athleisure rather than something to get sweaty in. Since I don’t fall into the former category, I voiced my concern that I looked like I belong in the latter category. Our daughter looked at me and assured me that I am not what anyone has in mind when they think “fat people”. In other words, I’ve allowed my mind to be trapped in the thinking of extreme dichotomies when considering what it means to be healthy. And I know better.

Even though I find this love story romantic and sweet, it’s a bad idea in these cases to celebrate exceptions. Especially at the expense of encouraging the greater population to do their best to be as healthy as possible. It is not only foolish. For many women, this is downright deadly.

Feeling Used and Unrealistic Expectations

This post was ripped in its entirety from the blog Lindsay’s Logic:

I hear from women fairly often that they don’t like sex because they feel their husband just wants their body and they feel used. There are women out there who have really selfish or abusive husbands, but many times when women have this feeling, the problem isn’t the husband being awful. It’s the wife having unrealistic expectations.

For one thing, men don’t have quite the expectations about sex that women have. In many cases, men want the sex itself while women want everything around the sex like feeling close. And while women like to integrate everything, men tend to think of things separately. Women tend to multitask, but men tend to focus. While a woman is wanting sex to be everything about their relationship all rolled into one, with appreciation for minds, emotions, bodies, and abilities as part of the experience of sex, men are usually just wanting to focus on the physical at the moment. So when that happens, women might think they’re only being appreciated for their bodies and they get offended. But it’s not that they’re only being appreciated for their bodies. It’s just that appreciating her body is what the man is focused on at that time.

There’s a scene in the old Cary Grant movie Arsenic and Old Lace where Cary Grant’s character, Mortimer, has just eloped and he takes his brand new wife back to her house to pack her things for their honeymoon trip. He’s chasing her around a tree in the yard, hinting at how much he’s looking forward to that night, and tells her she’s so beautiful. She responds by saying “But Mortimer, you’re going to love me for my mind, too.” He says cavalierly, “One thing at a time!” He’s focused on just one thing at the moment, and it’s not her mind.

There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s okay for men to have that urge and fulfill it within marriage. It’s okay for a man to appreciate his wife’s body without also paying homage to her mind every time. People used to understand this. The movie came out in 1944. Today, it would be called sexist. But you can’t change human nature. It’s okay to focus on just the physical sometimes. It doesn’t always have to happen on the woman’s more emotional turf, where she is most comfortable. It doesn’t have to be all candles and going slow. It can be raw and needy and gritty and crazy too sometimes.

If you get your ideas about sex today from Hollywood or pretty much any kind of media, they depict sex as both man and woman crazed for each other and can’t keep their hands off each other and it just happens. And it’s usually so romantic. Candle-light and soft music, staring into one another’s eyes, etc, etc. The problem is, this is not real life.

I’m not saying sex can’t be romantic. Only that it isn’t always romantic, and it doesn’t have to be. And you don’t have to both start out equally passionate. It’s okay to start and then get warmed up as you go. It’s okay to not be in the mood, but engage anyway and let yourself get carried away.

When you’re married, you’re not the only one who matters any more. You’re one with someone else. And if they have a need, you have a need too, even if you don’t feel it. Meeting that need might take some sacrifice sometimes.

It’s okay for sex to sometimes be about meeting a need or giving to the other person and not about romance. That’s not being used. That’s being unselfish.

Being used is when you have sex outside God’s plan – outside marriage. Those people in the movies who have all the candles and music and can’t keep their hands off each other, but aren’t married? They’re using each other. It looks like romance, and our society tells us that’s the proper context for all sex – some feeling of love and passion. But without a marriage, they’re using one another. They wake up in the morning and they have no commitment to one another. They walk away, not giving of themselves, but thinking about what they got from one another. A feeling. For a little while.

In marriage, it’s different. In marriage, you belong to one another, so there’s no taking from one another. You’re not being used. You’re fulfilling the vows you spoke to one another. You’re doing what you’re supposed to do together.

Ladies, embrace your husband wanting your body and revel in his appreciation of it. There are times for appreciating minds and times to just be physical together. Learn to love the way you can both drive your man crazy and satisfy him too. God made you to do this. It’s not bad to embrace the physical side of your relationship, and that side isn’t less important than the emotional or mental side. Your marriage needs both.

If you need to make some changes to make it feel better or to add some romance, that’s fine too. But don’t fall for the world’s idea that sex without romance is necessarily bad or being used. When you belong to one another, giving freely to your spouse is a gift to yourself as well.

 I would much rather have you offer agreement and encouragement for these thoughts over at Lindsay’s Logic. 

My familiarity with Lindsay doesn’t go much beyond this post, but she did a commendable here and I agree with her post in its entirety.

Tending my own garden curbs the desire to tend others’.

I’ve thought a great deal about our culture’s tendency to formalize things which best happen organically. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t be intentional about the way we live, nor that formalization has no purpose (the Bible clearly references the need for corporate worship, for instance). However in the absence of familial and social infrastructures, we seem to have determined that the only way to insure certain things are done is to do them in a formal capacity.

Play dates. Bible studies.  Marriage conferences. Mommy and me classes.Titus 2 mentoring blogs, books and websites. Exercise classes. I could probably list at least twenty more with very little mental exertion, but I think you follow. I am not saying that these things in and of themselves are bad things. I do some of them myself as this is the postmodern way of life. Without them, many of us would never connect with anyone. However the proliferation of formal connections at the expense of organic connections is bad, especially since they don’t seem to be doing much to make life better on the main.

They speak to our inability or unwillingness to do the work required to achieve the ends these things are designed to produce: greater community, real and deep friendships, and most important, the accountability needed to motivate us to do the right things as we are inspired by these connections. Formalization makes it easier to disconnect from people. Heart connections don’t allow this as easily because when we love someone or something, it’s harder to drop them and walk off. Our practice today is to be just close enough for social connections but distant enough to be unencumbered.

These equidistant relations makes it easy for us to feign duty to others -by way of self-proclaimed authority- with little knowledge or appreciation of the fallout. It is this danger which gives me pause about being so quick to offer prescriptions for someone else’s life. Bible quotes sans relationship can give the erroneous impression that I got my spit together through stellar obedience when in reality my life is what it is due to heaping amounts of Grace, no small amount of good fortune, and the love and protection of excellent men. It’s easier to offer my thoughts when asked,  be succinct, and get back to minding my own affairs unless I’m dealing with people who know me well enough to filter what I say through the lens of knowing me up close and personal. And to whom I am close enough that I don’t disrespect her heart or trials with pat answers.

Despite every earnest attempt to walk out my “mind my own business” approach to life and family, we frequently find ourselves in situations where it feels like I should say something rather than nothing. I am sorely tempted to call every married woman I know and ask, “Please tell me you regularly find yourself in a position to share your philosophy on marriage! This I am told, is NOT normal and I would rather not live in the Twilight Zone if I can help it.” One told me”it must be God” and that’s not what I really want to hear.

Even more puzzling is that these opportunities present with people I barely know or don’t know at all. I pray thus: “Lord, when these things happen, give me the words to say that are most appropriate and will bear the most fruit.”

Benevolent Dictator takes these things, as he does most things, in stride but  I find my apprehension rising when they occur. I frequently wonder, “What is is about us in particular, that people feel comfortable approaching us with such statements and questions, even in jest?” Case in point:

We are doing some decorative updates to our home since we haven’t done that in a while. We went to one of the big box stores over the weekend to buy paint. I’ll spare you the back story but when I am picking out paints it is very helpful to have the Dictator around. I tend to look at the big picture and miss the details. He sees the details in relation to the big picture. To that end, he was asking me (ever so politely) to consider certain aspects of our house, walls, lighting, etc. as I was choosing the color.

We were having a good time, laughing with the paint guy about something, as my husband is usually having a good time no matter what he’s doing.  Another couple, about a decade older than us, walked by. The wife stopped and told my husband, “No matter what she chooses, just tell her she’s right and everything will be fine.” Her husband concurred in a less jovial manner, to which my husband laughed and replied, “We don’t really do it that way but thanks.” That should have been it.

But the other husband continued,  adding that as my husband gets older (he seemed to think we were younger than we are), he’ll find out this is “how the game is played”. [Sigh.] “Nah, we don’t play that game”, my husband replied. [omg what is happening here!!??] The man persisted, “You may say you don’t play it, but you play it.” [sigh]  I should say something.

Finally, I said, “No, we’ve been married a long time and we really don’t do it like that. I don’t need that kind of pressure in my life, to always be right? I gladly let him have it.”

The wife looked as if she had heard something revolutionary and you could almost see the light bulb come on. The whole thing lasted about a minute, and unless life causes our paths to cross, I will probably never see that woman again, but I know I unwittingly planted a seed that will hopefully grow into food for thought. Which brings me to the point of this winding road of commentary.

I contemplate what it is I’m doing here in this space, what the end game is. I am loathe to declare it a teaching tool. I feel deeply that mentoring is best done in the flesh and I invite anyone who reads here to try and make that your reality. When I sit down or stand at my counter top and start typing, I am more interested in a conversation with other people (particularly women) of like faith about myriad thoughts that I may not get to hash out with a real life friend over coffee for two weeks or a month.

I want my girls to be able to come back here and contemplate the lessons we’ve gone over together and the conversations we’ve had that have touched on all of those subjects at some point.  To the extent that something I jot down here helps someone figure out some tangle of thoughts and emotions they are dealing with, I am eternally grateful. But these are seeds of thought, not pills offered as prescription.

It would be all super spiritual of me use a Bible quote if I were going to end with a quote at all, but I like this one, which I think applies to the faith journey as much as any other:

Perhaps the secret to living well is not in having all the answers, but in pursuing unanswerable questions in good company.

Modern practice and ancient principles aren’t mutually exclusive…

…but they are differently applied. Expecting the lifestyle of a suburban Christian family of 2017 to look like the lifestyle of a family who lived in 1900 -or even 1950- is an invitation to all kinds of battiness and heading off the rails.

I’ve considering several different takes on the subject of the Proverbs 31 wife and how she translates in our current era. Depending on where you look and what you listen to you, can find countless books, commentaries, and discussions on the topic. For example, here and here.

Many debates, in my opinion, miss the point of the “ideal woman” vignette and it’s too bad, because there is a lot to be learned from it, and most of that has little to do with the practical matter of how one keeps house. That matters, but too much criticism and too little thought are given to the strains of postmodern homemaking because a lot of the physical demands have been mitigated by modern technology.

Life today offers many opportunities for leisure and with that the attendant mischiefs. I often think about Maslow’s hierarchy and how perfectly his pyramid applies to postmodern life.

maslow-pyramid

In the absence of a need to focus on survival, we fall prey to distractions, some of which seem good, but are their own form of mischief. One of the ways this manifests is in our insistence that the solution to today’s problems is to live life exactly the way it was lived when the struggle for survival occupied the majority of people’s time and thoughts. And so wives are advised:

  • We should sew our clothing even though it’s often far less expensive to buy comparable clothing ready to wear.
  • We should grow large portions of our food even if we live in areas or climates which again, can make this difficult and expensive compared to buying produce.
  • We should eat the cheapest food available to save money even though we know that many of those processed foods are not nutritious or good for our long-term health.
  • We should have one car while having many children despite living in areas where public transportation is inconvenient to nonexistent.
  • We should spend all our time at home, with little contact or support from other believers. Even though this is not how families and mothers lived 100 years ago when multi-generational and woman to woman support was a significant part of family life.

This is far from an exhaustive list, but as I contemplated it I remembered something written a few years ago by a prolific blogging friend of mine, and she pretty well captured a lot of the inherent problems with trying to pretend that we can live a simplistic, 19th-century lifestyle in the context of the isolated, atomized 21st century with its complicated economy, proliferations of choice, and higher expectations and standards which most all of us embrace:

We are incredibly mobile now, and getting my children in and out of the car is so stressful that we need 30 minutes head-start in order to get everyone buckled in without a meltdown. There is one day in the week where we undergo that particular torture 4 times, and by the end of the day, I’m exhausted even though I haven’t really done anything. I’m increasingly purchasing with local businesses, many of whom will deliver for a small fee, in order to spare myself a bit of that pain.

Visiting friends and relatives is equally grueling, as everyone lives at least 15 minutes drive away. We visit grandma at least once per week, and it’s a 1.5-hour drive in each direction, longer if there’s traffic. And there’s usually traffic. In my MIL’s homemaking days, everyone lived in the same neighborhood and visiting her sister entailed walking two blocks down the street. She was also never in the position of caring for her children while nursing a fever, or alternating making them snacks and vomiting up her own lunch.

I’m lucky that my husband supports me letting the children play outside, and that our house is small and sparse enough that cleaning it is short work, but other women aren’t so lucky. I know women who clean four bathrooms twice a week, as opposed to my 1.5 baths, and cleaning the floors takes them hours and involves lugging a vacuum cleaner up and down stairs to clean their wall-to-wall carpeting. The truth is, anyone who had a house larger than mine “back in the day” also had a cleaning lady or shared the house with other women who could help her.

Yes, you have a washing machine in your basement, but you used to only have three changes of clothes per person, and many had their laundry washed for them. I know this for certain, as my aunt’s family used to run a laundry service and she swears that her family washed the laundry for the entire urban neighborhood. Women bought washing machines, which killed the washerwoman business, but then everyone’s wardrobes grew exponentially.

For all of the talk of “pioneer women”, they were a small minority of women and tended to all be dead before they hit 50. Most women 100 years ago were doing a similar level of housework and homeschooling as I am, but they didn’t have to take on the additional chauffeuring duties, they weren’t as isolated, and they weren’t expected to look like a lingerie model and turn tricks in the bedroom that would put some prostitutes to shame. The workdays were also shorter before cheap electric lighting and most people got more sleep.

So spare me the rewriting of the past. Spare me the rewriting of the present, as well. Far from the “Desperate Housewives” meme, the majority of homemakers are in the lower and working classes. The equation has flipped precisely on its head: the middle-class homemakers are now middle-class workers and the lower-class workers are now lower-class homemakers. And the latter are increasingly male.

I’m not complaining, as I enjoy my life, just pointing out the obvious: then and now aren’t really comparable.

Am I saying that the Proverbs 31 ideal woman is irrelevant or obsolete? Absolutely not! She is more relevant that ever, in context. One of the first areas of the passage that I focused on when I stopped running from it several years ago was this:

The heart of her husband safely trusts her;
So he will have no lack of gain.
 She does him good and not evil
All the days of her life.

This alone encompasses a lot, and when I focused on this with my whole heart, a lot of things came into clear focus and instantly fell into place. Along with that, every single item on my bullet list above? It became unnecessary or at least pared down significantly.

Most of my days are quite full, although without very young children underfoot, I certainly get more breaks than a mother of many littles. The priorities of my days are the priorities which will keep me in line with the verses I highlighted above, and my husband is very much a postmodern American man. Take that as you wish, but coupled with faith,  this means a combination of modern things executed in the spirit of eternal truth. Mostly it means lots of editing: of memos and emails, or other stage management type deals. Also, lots of cooking. The proliferation of food choice has certainly infected this family.

So, while there is a small garden, a bit of sewing, and even homemade bread from time to time, for me Proverbs 31 means that at the end of my child-rearing years, I will prayerfully be able to look back over the decades and see where I struck all the ideal woman notes. I cannot get it all done today. Trying to do so would illustrate a stunning lack of regard for the priorities of the man whose heart’s trust I am trying to maintain and the ultimate goal of a life which represents a woman who fears the Lord.