Playing With The Hand We’ve Been Given

Cards

Glennon Doyle gives us this remarkable bit of wisdom in her post called The Lie and the Truth about Marriage.

Love Does Not Just Happen. It’s Forged.

Our romantic love drenched culture tells us that you fall in love. Falling is not something you do by choice. It happens to you. Falling is even kind of a mistake, something that you didn’t control. It implies happenstance. It hints at destiny. Falling is euphoric and dreamy. It starts out exhilarating and makes you feel alive.

But falling ends. Often abruptly and with a lot of pain.

Forging is such a different verb than falling. Forging’s definition is to form by heating and hammering; to beat into shape. Forging involves taking something that is broken and making it beautiful by putting energy into it time after time. Every day it is work. Some days it is a fight. You have to go against the grain and challenge your own comfort in order to forge.

I read this salient sentiment, loved it, and put it in my mental file marked things to remember if and when I finally get married. I didn’t think I would have to use it sooner than that.

But I went on a radio show recently and mentioned the love isn’t something that happens to you idea. Later in the interview, I talked about how even though singleness was difficult, I was fighting hard to make my life beautiful.

A listener emailed me and said something to the effect of “maybe the work of the single person is not to forge love for a partner, but to forge a beautiful life even when life is nothing like we expected it to be.” This resonated deeply with me.

We can then reword Glenon’s phrase to say

A beautiful life does not just happen. It is forged.

I am in a season in which I am forming my life by beating and heating hammering. For over a decade, I had what most people would call a dream job: traveling all over the world to beautiful places like Hawaii and Italy and Switzerland and Brazil to play music and teach. Even though I love traveling and I love playing music and teaching, I realized it was not going to be sustainable much longer. I was going on these beautiful adventures, and I was grateful for that,  but I was always alone. I would come home to roommate situations much like every roommate situation in America: people I barely ever saw. And I had tons of free time on my hands to write, again an alone experience. I was deeply, crazily lonely.

Like most of us, I thought that the fault of my loneliness was my status as a single. Some of that was justified: married people, especially those with children, simply do not spend as much time alone as I do. They have different problems, but being alone 80% of their day is not one of them. 

After many, many years waiting day after day after freaking day for my partner to finally come to me, I realized that I was going to have to find a family some other way, or else I would be miserable. I realized that I can’t get a husband the same way I got my degree. No matter how hard I worked at it, it just was not happening for me to get married. Those were not the cards I was handed. They might be someday, but not yet. I realized that my present life had been a series of moments where I longed for a future life. What kind of life was that? The waiting had taken over. Something had to change.

I had learned from my al- anon meetings (for family members of alcoholics) the life altering adage that the entire group repeats every week: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

I took a good hard look at my life, and tried to figure out what I couldn’t change. I can’t make anyone love me. I can’t will myself to get married unless someone chooses me. I can’t have children without a partner unless I adopt.

What could I change: I can find work that is not so lonely. I can spend time and energy and even money to get as emotionally and spiritually healthy as possible. I can figure out ways to have children in my life even if they are not my own children, and can start organizing my life in such a way that I could potentially adopt. I can put myself in situations where I could meet potential partners but try my hardest not to be devestated if they are not interested romantically. I can minister more consistently to spiritual seekers, something that has brought life to me for years but has been sporadic. I can live and be in fellowship with people who deeply care about intentional community who can be kind of a surrogate family for me. 

And so I changed everything. I started working at an afterschool program, giving up most of my traveling and making less money in order to have human contact and moved onto a community farm. A year later, I took a further step my moving to San Diego in order to work with an organization that centers their lives around intentional community. (betacommunities.com.) I started volunteering to tutor and teach dance and music classes to teens at a refugee center.

My plan is to start a similar team in Asheville, North Carolina where my brother and sister in law live so that I can continue to live in community, continue to minister to at risk teens and spiritual seekers, and to be near my nephews and niece so I can have blood children whose lives I am deeply involved in. I will not travel as much, which is hard for me, but I will have consistency in community, something I desperately need. (If anyone might be interested in participating in a team like this, let me know.)

This move wasn’t easy. I had to give up an impressive, fun job where people don’t know me but are impressed by me. That felt good, but it wasn’t valuable in the long run. I had to give up a life of familiarity in a hip town with dear friends. But sacrifices needed to made for me to forge a new life. 

We live in a society that is obsessed with comfort and independence, which can often lead to isolation. If we were left to bob around in the ocean of singleness, it would be very easy for us to end up in jobs we don’t like, living with roommates we barely know, going to churches that may look like community but where one on one relationships aren’t invested in, watching TV and diving into Facebook to ease our deep hunger for contact. That is the path of least resistance, and eventually we might drown in that reality.

We need to go against the grain. We need to swim against the waves to the shore of interdependence. 

We need to stop asking for a good life to fall on us and start trying to forge a good life.

Cheryl Strayed says “You don’t have a right to the cards you believe you should have been dealt. You have an obligation to play the hell out of the ones you’re holding.”

And so God, give us the serenity to accept the hand that we have been given, but to do everything in our power to play the hell out of those cards.

What Married People Wish Single People Knew #1: Recognize how weighty the decision to get married is.

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Before I start this post, I’d love for you to visit my campaign to get my book  Getting Naked Later: A Guide For The Fully Clothed out. Good news! I lowered the pre-order of my book to $20! That is the same that it would be on Amazon when it gets out with shipping. If you were planning on getting my book at some point, it would be great for you to do it now so I can actually publish it! Click here to see the campaign, pre order the book, and also to hear my first official reading of one of the chapters.

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On to my post!

The first piece of advice given to me by my married friends was also the most often given: realize how weighty the decision to get married is.

Deciding who you marry is probably the most important decision of your life. It will affect everything. Both married and divorced people that I interviewed stressed this point again and again, especially if they made hasty decisions that they regretted later.

Turns out, most people don’t have the best judgement when first in love. There is a good reason for this: most of them are basically like drug addicts. Seriously. According to the National Public Radio Show Radio Lab in an episode called “This Is Your Brain On Love, “ scientists have looked at the brains of people who are newly in love and compared them to the brains of cocaine addicts. They looked very similar.

According to this source, there are many naturally occurring chemicals we become addicted to when we fall in love. The most prominent one is dopamine. This is a chemical that makes a person feel happy and passionate. When first attracted to someone, a person has huge surges of dopamine running through his or her body

If dopamine were a woman at a party she would be the one who is a really good kisser and who looks amazing in her skin-tight outfit but who really doesn’t want anything long-term. She comes on strong and it feels really good to be around her, but her commitment quickly fades. Her love is not the kind of love that is sustainable.

Thankfully, after six months or so of being in a relationship with someone, a hormone called oxytocin comes into the mix that starts displacing the dopamine. This chemical is marked with a sense of calm and stability rather than with unsustainable highs. It lasts much longer than dopamine, even if it doesn’t make a person as “happy.” It helps one person attach to another, and it promotes contentment in that relationship.

Oxytocin is comparable to that really nice girl next door with a southern accent. The one who is not as flashy but who has a good heart and who would probably make a really good wife some day.

Our Hollywood-saturated society often gives us the idea that love is simply having the feeling that dopamine running through our system gives us. But chemicals that make us happy and uncontrollably passionate are not what makes love last. They may help draw us to someone, but they don’t foster long-term commitment. Once we are committed to each other, dopamine will help bring a little romance, but it is not the glue that holds a marriage together. It is sobering to see how many divorces and affairs have happened because people have mistaken this chemically-induced feeling for love and have abandoned their partner when the “love” wears off.

Keep this in mind as you date someone. Remember that your brain is a bowl of hormonal soup right now. And bowls of hormonal soup do not often make good decisions.

Let yourself be in love. Be aware and appreciative of this special season where it feels so good to be in someone’s presence. Let dopamine do its job; let it attract you to someone who could be a good partner. But do not let dopamine be in the driver’s seat and propel you to make big decisions unwisely.

Give yourself a lot of time to get good information before making decisions. Let some of the chemicals wear off so you can be sober in your decision making. Remember that romance and the feeling of being high on love won’t make a marriage. However, someone you are close friends with, someone who is kind, and someone who you love being around will.

Ask yourself: “Does this person have a good track record with the way they have treated me, or do I keep telling myself that they have ‘good potential,’ that they will get better with time?” Getting married to someone with a good track record is a pretty safe choice. Marrying someone who just has potential is not very safe. And track records take time.

There is great wisdom in looking for the fruit of something even when it is still a seed. Yes, you are in love now, but what will it be like to have children with this person? What will it be like to grow old with him or her? Maybe his obsession with Super Mario Bros. is cute now, but will it be cute in ten years if he is lazy and doesn’t want to work? Maybe you are able to excuse her road rage now, but will she get angry like that with you or your children in the future? These are all questions you should consider.

Does anyone have anonymous stories about jumping into love too fast or thoughts on Hollywood’s idea of love?