Why I Won’t Be Watching 50 Shades of Gray

Why I'm Not Going to See

The 50 Shades of Gray movie releases next week and I feel thoroughly icky about it.

When the book came out a while back, part of me wondered whether I should read it. I have read a trashy novel or two in my time, but the lustre of smooth-chested literary lust lost its appeal a while back. I wondered whether I should read it because so many of the women I knew were reading and talking about it. I wondered whether I would be able to participate in any conversation, even if it was to hold out a redemptive view of sex, if I hadn’t read it and was thus disqualified from commenting from the get-go.

In the end, I decided not to read it. And I didn’t comment either.

But for some reason, I feel I need to comment on the movie – even though I have no intention of seeing it. I know enough about myself to know that I am deeply affected by the things I see – no matter how philosophical or detached I try to make myself. I know that watching commercials with beautiful things often leaves me feeling discontent with what I have. I know that that watching horror movies makes me afraid and sad. I know that watching stories where terrible things happen to women and children make me blind with anger and heavy with hopelessness.

And I know that watching movies with lots and lots of unhealthy sex will elicit feelings (illicit feelings!) of desire and fear.

Desire and fear don’t belong together.

I know, too, that once you’ve seen something you can’t unsee it. And for me, the echoes of the image on the walls of my mind bring with them echoes of the feelings that accompanied them. I don’t want sex and fear to go together in my heart or in my head.

I believe that God made sex to be beautiful, celebratory and intimate. As an expression of marital love, it is meant to be all the things that 1 Corinthians 13 says: not self-seeking, not arrogant, not easily angered.

Sex is meant to be an expression of love, and perfect love casts out fear. A sexual relationship laced with fear is not one where love will find expression.

I am all for amazing sex, and I believe God is too. Perhaps one helpful analogy is to think of sex like Lake Tahoe. We live within driving distance of one of the deepest lakes in the world: it is a gorgeous body of water surrounded by the most glorious mountains.

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Lake Tahoe is stunning for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that it is a stunning, crystal-clear, shimmering blue lake. It is also a popular tourist destination spot, and is vulnerable to all sorts of pollution. Californian and Nevada drivers alike sport “Keep Tahoe Blue” stickers on their cars: an appeal to the world at large to consider what they dump in the lake… because the water is deep, and once the gunk gets in there, the entire lake is affected.

It is, by definition, adulterated.

Sex has all the potential beauty of Lake Tahoe: something of vast beauty, but deeply vulnerable to human pollution. The way I see it, seeing 50 Shades of Gray would dump a toxic load into the lake. You can’t unsee the filth once it’s in there.

Skip the Gray, and Keep Tahoe Blue. 

 

Photo credit: Steven Dunleavy (Secret Cove Harbor) – Flickr Creative Commons

Who Should I Date? (Notes from the Trenches of Happily Ever After)

who should I date

(Fair warning: this is a longer-than-usual post because it is actually from a talk I did to a college group this week.)

When people hear that my husband and I met on my front door step, I am often asked “was it love at first sight?” The answer is a resounding NO. It took us a couple of hits and misses, and a whole lot of awkward to figure out whether to date. As I’ve said before, he really didn’t seem like my “type”.  However, one thing I learned is that sometimes it’s wise to be open to dating a little beyond the boundaries of what you think your “type” is.

This begs the question: who should I date, then? It’s a question I spent dozens hundreds countless hours thinking about at college.

Dating is the process through which you figure out whether you and this other person are “right” for each other. Admittedly, part of what is so horrid about dating is that 1) we don’t like to mistakes and 2) we like to know the end from the beginning, and so the idea of committing to someone, albeit loosely, when you really don’t know how this is going to work out, is a scary thing.

There is, of course, a prior question, which is “Should I date at all?” My answer is “not necessarily. There is no reason that you have to date, or indeed should date.

But, it is statistically likely that most of you are interested in sex, and statistically likely that most of you will get married – and so unless you come from one of those privileged cultures where people with wisdom and connections and love for you are willing to arrange your marriage – you are probably going to have to do most of the leg work yourself. In other words, you’re going to have to date.

Dating is our cultural norm, the customary vehicle for how we get from one place to another. As a Christian, I believe that dating is a morally neutral thing: it is neither “good” nor “bad”. I think dating is a bit like driving. It’s the way we get from one place to another given where and when we live in history.  You can drive well or you can drive badly. And similarly, you can date well or you can date badly.

So, if you are someone who wants to date well and wisely, this is a collection of my thoughts on who and how to date, from the perspective of someone in the trenches of happily ever after. I use the word trenches advisedly. The view on the horizon is gorgeous, but there are battles to be staged. The company in the bunkers is critical. Sometimes you have to hunker down, but it’s the togetherness that makes the difference.

A curious story about houses…

A few years back, my husband and decided it was probably time for us to start thinking about buying a house. We had a third kid on the way and were now in our late 30s… in other words, even though we didn’t feel like “real adults”, the delusion was starting to wear a little thin. So we started looking for houses. We made a list of the things of things that were important to us in a house: how many bedrooms, where we wanted it to be, and some other values: like it had to have a yard, and we wanted a big enough living are to be able to invite people over. We started browsing properties on the internet, and at some point met up with a realtor who took us to look at a few houses.

A curious thing happened while we were looking at houses. We discovered some things that became more important to us as we looked, and we learned some things we really didn’t like… which we didn’t even know were important to us beforehand. We learned that we’re picky about how living spaces flow into each other, and how removed the kitchen is from the yard.  We didn’t know this was important to us until we’d actually been there.

My point is this: we thought we were looking for houses and evaluating them so we could choose one. But once we started the process, we learned so many new things about OURSELVES. The process turned us into different buyers. It accentuated certain things, and made other things we thought were critical seem less so.

The same can be said of dating. We have this idea that we go into dating in order to “find and evaluate the right person”, but the truth is that dating serves TWO purposes: yes, you get to know more about being in relationship with the other person, but importantly – you are also getting to know YOURSELF.

Who you are BECOMING while you date is as important as who you are date, and who they are becoming.

The first time my Mom met my husband was over a lunch. They chatted  politely for an hour or two before he made his way home. Afterwards, I was all over her: what did you think?? What did you think? My mom said this: “I like him. And I like YOU WITH HIM.”

What an important distinction: to not just like the other person, but the YOU you are with that person.

Two things to write on a post-it: 

There are two implications to realizing that dating is a process of other-person discovery as well as self-discovery.

The first is this: you have permission to break up if your dating journey reveals that this is not a good fit for you. If there are red flags about the direction either of you are growing in together, then it’s okay to walk away. You have permission to break up. Dating involves clarifying and refining who you are and what’s important. You can change direction in the process.

The second is this: remember that just because you have two first class people doesn’t mean you will have a first-class relationship. Sometimes two first class people can have a second-class relationship. I dated a guy for four years in college, which was longer than we probably should have dated. He is a great guy: smart and funny and he loves God – but when we were together we brought some real snark out of each other and it wasn’t healthy or edifying. I think one of the reasons it took us so long to break up is that we felt like we needed to find some critical flaw in the other in order to give us an “excuse” to move on. But the truth was, although I liked him, I didn’t always like Me-With-Him.

Get to the point already: Who should I be dating?

So, it’s okay to date. And it’s okay to break up: you are going to be discovering who you are and who the other person is during this process. But WHAT SHOULD WE BE LOOKING FOR?

This is where the notes from the trenches of married life become helpful. So many of my early conversations about dating were held with people who were in exactly the same boat as me – and all we really had going for us was pooled ignorance. We didn’t even know what questions to ask, nor did we think to ask them of people who had actually survived the dating years and could reflect with the luminous 20/20 vision afforded by hindsight.

Instead, we had pooled ignorance, and I confess that the majority of the conversation I had or heard about marriage relationships before I got married had to do with two topics: 1) sex, and 2) who gets to lead and who has to submit. These were the two things that most everyone was talking about when it came to marriage.

Then I got married and within a few months, we hit a bumpy patch and I remember my husband holing up in his office with his computer to escape the stress while I sat in our bedroom sobbing into my pillow and dramatically resigning myself to be miserable forever. I remember opening up my bible and flipping through all of the marriage passages I could think of to try and find some counsel: I read Ephesians 5 and Jesus’ words on marriage in Matthew 18 and Colossians 3’s instructions to married folk. I did not feel particularly helped.

But at some point my eyes flicked to the verses just above those addressed to married people in Colossians 3, and there – in a passage not particularly about marriage – I found the most helpful relationship advice possible.

In verses 12-17, the apostle Paul writes this:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

This was GOLD. Be kind, compassionate, humble. Remember who you are. Be PATIENT with one another’s weaknesses. Forgive. Love. Remember you are called to peace. Encourage one another. Practice thankfulness.

This right here in Colossians is a relationship gold nugget, preserved for over 2000 years, but also – you’ll be glad to hear – recently backed up by science.

An article in the Atlantic from November last year entitled “Masters of Love” detailed the work of two psychologists and marriage experts. One of these was Ty Tashiro, author of The Science of Happily Ever After. The other was John Gottman, who has studied thousands of married couples over the years in his “love lab”, where he and his researchers have invited couples to spend a weekend together under observation.

Over the years these guys have studied what the single biggest indicators of relational success are in a marriage: regardless of age, socio-economic status, religious affiliation, age gap or the number of shared interests.

Are you ready? Here they are: the two biggest indicators for relationship success, as “discovered” by science: kindness and generosity.

To which the Bible says a very polite: “I told you so.”

Why is this important?

This is important because it means that far from figuring out sexual compatibility (and I’ll have more to say on that in a minute), or shared interests or who gets to make decisions and how – the biggest benchmarks for relational success are in fact the QUALITY OF HOW YOU TREAT PEOPLE DAY TO DAY.

And friends, this is VERY good news for dating.

It is very good news because you don’t need to be married to find out whether you’ve got what it takes to work. And it’s good news because you don’t have to wait until you’re married, or even until you’re dating, in order to be preparing well for the most successful relationships.

Dating and marriage is a micro-study in the broader subject of healthy Christian living, and what this means for dating is that we have the tools already not just to start evaluating others, but also to evaluate ourselves and the quality of our interactions with someone.

On the day we got married, my husband made a speech and, in his typical understated way, this is what he had to say of me and our marriage. He said “I realized long ago that asking “is this the right person for me?” is not the right question to be asking. The right question is “am I willing to become the right person for them?”) We had dated for long enough for him to decide that he wanted to commit to the journey of being the right person for me, and I had dated him for long enough to know that I wanted to commit to the journey of being the right person for him.

So…. (“At last!”, you say, “insert drumroll here!”)…. if this is what both Science and Scripture say about having healthy long-term relationships…

Here are some things to  consider when you’re asking “who should I date?” (keeping in mind that these are the same questions which someone should be asking of you as to whether you’re dateable….)

  • is this person kind, and growing in kindness? How do they treat their friends? How do they talk to their family when they’re with them, and how do they talk about their family when they’re away from them? How do they treat the ‘lowly’ people – like restaurant servers and janitors and those they aren’t trying to impress?
  • How do they handle anger? Are they able to express anger appropriately? It’s important to know how to talk about the things that make you angry, instead of stuffing feelings and silently seething, or does their room have a bunch of punch holes in the wall? Can they handle hanger? There’s healthy anger and there’s unhealthy anger – do they know the difference? And, if they are wronged, are they able to forgive and move past it?
  • How does this person handle conflict? Colossians 3 calls us to be able to let the peace of Christ rule. Are you the kind of person who wants to be right, even if it’s at the expense of your relationship? You can be right about an issue, and still handle it in all the wrong ways… so look at how this person handles conflict, because this is GUARANTEED to come up in your relationship. Super important: date someone who knows how to apologize. I’m serious.
  • Does this person know WHO they are and WHOSE they are? Colossians 3:12 starts out by saying “as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved… put on compassion, kindness and humility.” Friends, this is SO important. Knowing that your identity is found in belonging to God and being WILDLY, RECKLESSLY, UNCONDITIONALLY loved by him is crucial for healthy relationships… or else, we begin to try and find our identity and affirmation in how loved and respected the other person makes us “feel”. No person, no matter how wonderful, can fill this deep, deep need we have to be unconditionally loved and belong. This is a God-shaped hole, and we need to be people and date people who let God fill the God-shaped hole – and then we supplement and complement that.
  • In the same vein as that, is this a person I can GROW together in the Christian life with? Colossians 3:16 says this: Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. At a very basic level: is this someone with whom the message of Christ can dwell between you richly, and with whom you can share God’s wisdom and encouragement and instruction? Colossians 3 is about the basic bedrock for good relationships, and our marriage relationships should at least meet this standard.
  • Is this person aware of (and patient with) weakness? Here is a striking thing about Colossians 3:13 – it doesn’t say “fix one another with all your wonderful suggestions”, it says “bear with one another”. In other words, it acknowledges that there is always going to be  sin pressure points, or weaknesses in us, which are going to rub against other people. No matter how long you are married and no matter how many great communication skills you have – you NEVER will outwit, outsmart or outmaneuver sin. You will ALWAYS have weaknesses, and your partner will ALWAYS have weaknesses. The question is: do you know what they are? And are you willing to bear with each other? Yes, we hope for growth and maturity and sanctification… and that does happen. But those fault lines in my soul will be there until the day I see Jesus face to face, and only then will I be perfect… and you know what? That’s the day that my marriage ends because “Death will have parted us”. So. All of that to say – date with an awareness of and a grace towards both your own and someone else’s weakness.
  • Can this person be faithful? Are they faithful to do what they say, faithful to keep a confidence, and faithful with their (and your) sexuality.

{Now, this is the part where I want to digress and talk about sex for a minute. A few weeks before I got married, someone I dearly love and trust pulled me aside and told me that one thing I really needed to do before marrying was to test whether we were sexually compatible. I love her still, but on this issue she was dead wrong. Here’s why:

  • Having sex with the person you are dating hinders your discovery process about all the other things you are trying to figure out. Once you start getting naked physically, you stop talking, or at least you slow down significantly on the journey of getting to know one another. It defeats one of the main goals of dating – testing character, and building relationship, while adding a whole bunch of other confusing dynamics. Instead of going on a date thinking “we’re getting to know each other”, you’re wondering how the evening is going to end.
  • Secondly, having sex when you’re dating tells you very little, if anything, about what the quality of your long term sexual compatibility will be. Honestly – ask some married folk you trust –  were the first 20, or 50, or even 100 times they had sex a good indicator of the quality of their sex life now? I’m willing to bet not. Sex is not about bodies doing something biological. Sex is primarily about PEOPLE doing something spiritual with their bodies. It involves the whole person, not just biology. So all that to say, having sex while you’re dating is actually going to tell you VERY little about your sexual compatibility, which depends so much more on your established intimacy in other areas.
  • Thirdly, God says it’s a bad idea. And since he created it and wrote the blue print for it, we should probably trust the designer’s manual. You know how when you get an electrical appliance it has a sheet which says stuff like “do not immerse this appliance in water?” Because they know how things can explode if you use them incorrectly? There are consequences to using good things in stupid ways. Sex is a hot stuff appliance, but it really shouldn’t be dunked into dating waters. (I have some more thoughts on this here, if you’re curious. Also, that post has funny pictures.)
  • Lastly, and this is on the point of faithfulness – I want to suggest that while dating is a terrible time to test sexual compatibility, it is a KEY time to test sexual integrity. People who are in control of their own sexuality are the ones who are free to enjoy it. Out of controlness might seem fun at first, but it can get scary and dangerous quickly. Key factors in long term sexual health are the questions of how well you steward and express your own sexual desires: learning to respect your partner, to be able to say no to lust, to control your own appetites – these things are CRUCIAL in marriage.

It is worth spending some time thinking about what you are learning about your own and your partner’s sexual responsibility in dating: learn what is actually lying beneath your sexual drive – Sexuality is so much more than a primal physical urge. is it a desire to be in control? To be satisfied? To be found attractive? To be close? How do YOU handle these things? And how does the person you are dating handle these things?

Furthermore: I have some gender-specific things to say on this issue when you are in the dating phase.

To the women: be wise about the fact that more often than not, what drives our desire to get sexual with a person is not so much that we desire THEM, but that we desire their desire of us. We want to move physically closer to people who have moved emotionally closer to us and make us feel safe and wanted and beautiful. This is important to know about yourself, and it’s important to develop responsibility over those feelings. Don’t egg guys on because you love the feeling of being desired and attractive to someone. Be careful of that. (Men who are reading this paragraph – this is what it means for you: know that for women, physical desire is often about wanting to feel wanted, more than it is about sex.)

To the men:  this is what I need to say to you: the #1 way you can screw up your sexual future is by being involved in porn.  I have been around long enough to see the terrific damage it does to people’s sexual relationships in the long run. So, a key way you can be a guy worth dating from a girl’s point of view is to handle your sexuality well in this area. (Women who are reading this paragraph – obviously this would be a really awkward thing to ask someone outright about, so this is where it’s important to be dating someone who has healthy, accountable relationships with other Christian guys. Because you don’t want to date someone who has an out of control porn problem.)

To men and women alike – date someone who is being FAITHFUL and responsible in handling their sexuality. It’s your best bet at sexual satisfaction and enjoyment in the long run.

(Phew! Take a deep breath! Serious part is over… now, back to Colossians and the things to think about in dating…)

  • Is this person thankful? Do they practice thankfulness both in big and small ways? Colossians 3:17 talks about a habit of gratitude, giving thanks in all circumstances. Date someone who practices saying thank you: to God and to others. Be someone who practices saying thank you: to God and to others. It’s the gateway to joy.
  • And finally, friends, date someone who loves Jesus. Really. That is your single best indicator that they will be someone who loves YOU well.

So what?So where does this leave us? I think it leaves us with two distinct take aways. The first is this: culture’s wisdom on “getting a guy” or “Getting a girl” is just really terrible advice. Almost all of it is focused on enhancing physical attraction: be bigger, be smaller, be smilier, be more ripped, be bustier, be more confident etc. And it puts tremendous pressure on us to pour all our energy into these things that have little or no correlation to dating – which is actually about figuring out whether you can DO LIFE with this person. You marry someone to LIVE with them, not to look good in instagram vacation shots.

Rather, dating well means dating someone who is becoming a person you trust and respect, and with whom you can partner to live for God for the rest of your life. And it means discovering more about yourself so that YOU can become more that person.

At this stage of my life I know people of all races, all weights and heights and BMI’s, of all professions who are happily married and unhappily married… and this is what I want to say in light of all this: what someone LOOKS like is an almost IRRELEVANT indicator of whether you should date them.

So, maybe consider dating with a bit more of an open mind. You don’t have to know all the answers about where this is going when you start… you just need to know enough about this person to think that you might want to know them a bit better.

Date to get to know yourself.

Date to get to know whether this person is kind and generous.

Date to see if you can talk about fun things as well as hard things in a way that is gracious.

Date to learn about sexual responsibility.

Date, and give yourself the freedom to break it off as you learn more: remember, two first class people can still have a second class relationship. So work on being a first class person, and as you date – ask the community around you not just if they like the person you’re dating, but if they like the YOU you are becoming in the process.

Colossians 3 is GOOD NEWS for dating, because we learn that marriage relationships, like dating relationships and friendships and family relationships… all depend on the quality of how we treat each other. There is no mystical “x factor” you have to worry about finding as a mystery ingredient to the perfect marriage. Rather: it’s the stuff we already know and appreciate about others, and it’s stuff that is do-able and know-able in every day.

So date, friends. Be kind, be generous, and date.

 

 

When relationships with the in-laws are tricky…

Advice for when relationships with your in-laws is tricky

Dear Bronwyn,

I read your RELEVANT article on honoring parents when we are adults. I was  wondering if you have any practical tips for honoring parents when a circumstance is difficult?

My husband and I live near his parents and see them regularly. Although we’ve been married six years, and both just turned 30, there are times when his mom becomes a bit of a ‘helicopter parent’ and treats him like he’s a little boy again. As if he needs to be a ‘son’ first and a ‘husband’ second. It stresses him out for sure and I’m looking for ways to support him in this. We’ve had several (kindhearted and respectful) conversations with her but not sure if they resolve much. We’re a bit baffled on how we might help her see us as adult children instead of just kids that need to do nearly everything with the family still. Any thoughts?

– a Baffled Daughter-in-Law

Dear BDiL,

I grew up hearing some truly alarming stories of difficulties my parents had with their own in-laws. My mind is etched with tales of my late grandmother refusing to eat a pork roast my newlywed mom had cooked. Legend has it that she shuddered and sniffed: “I never eat pork, it’s so like human flesh.” My mom was devastated and poured her heart out on the phone to her own father on the phone. Recounting the jibe about pork being like human flesh, my ever witty grandfather came back with: “well, how would she know?”

Jokes aside: navigating relationships with adult parents can be incredibly tricky, and when one adds a spouse and then children into the mix, things become even more complex. I want to commend you and your husband for your desire to honor his parents, for the loving conversations you have had with her so far, for the prayers you have prayed and are continuing to pray. It can be hard to remain warm and welcoming and prayerful in a situation where you feel criticized and the other party lets you know they are disappointed with how they are being treated – even though you’re doing your best.

So first thing: good job. God sees your heart in this, and I believe he blesses your desire to honor them.

My second thought is this: I think there are some significant limits on what we are able to “help people see”. We can explain as lovingly and clearly as possible, but sometimes people can remain at an impasse. She may not want to “see”. She may not be able to see, due to a hurt or different worldview or radically different perspective on things. You did not mention whether your husband was an only child or the eldest son, but if he is – I hear that can have a big impact too.

So what do you do then?

I take great comfort in the words of Romans 12:18:

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

If it is possible… God knows a peacefully resolved relationship is not always possible. It might be that we try and try and pray and pray and do everything right – and healing a breach might not be possible.

but: as far as it depends on you, live at peace. I love that the Scriptures are clear about delineating healthy relationship boundaries. Healthy relationships depend on more than one party – and so as far as it depends on you – do what you can do keep it peaceful. The fact that you and your husband are on the same page about this is a huge help (sometimes I get letters from people where the wife feels the Mother in Law is interfering, but the husband seems unaware of or unwilling to address the problem. My advice there would for the couple first to figure out what they want from their relationships with the in-laws).

So often if a couple is having a hard time with a parent who they feel is overly (and unhealthily) involved in their family affairs, they fall into the trap of allowing the parents to set all the relational expectations – and then they believe that honoring the parents means trying to meet as many of those expectations as they can. The parents are often disappointed because their children aren’t “honoring their wishes”, and they interpret their disappointment as disrespect. So, for example – a mother in law might simple assume that her married, adult son is spending thanksgiving with them, or coming over for every Sunday dinner – but fail to actually invite the couple, or to give them a reasonable space to say no, not this time without the threat of The Great Dump Truck Of Guilt being heaped upon them.

In that circumstance, though: the adult children are not disrespecting the parent. The parent is just disappointed, that’s all.

My practical advice for you is this:

  • Create your own boundaries as a couple. Figure out what you and your husband CAN and WANT to do to honor his parents and include them. As a family unit, prayerfully decide the ways in which you feel you could honestly and openly welcome them into your lives and home. You set the terms of what you both feel you can, in good conscience, do. I think it would be healthy to reach a space when you can say that you are CHOOSING every interaction and visit you have, instead of trying to just minimize the number of times you disappoint her and being driven by guilt.

So, for example – decide if you would be happy to have lunch once a month/once a week. Tell her you’re often invited to lunch with other young families after church on Sunday but you still want to make time to have lunch with her because she’s important to you – so ask her if you can write a date down in the calendar in PEN, and tell her you are really looking forward to it.

Have you and your husband decide how much phone conversation or texting you are willing to do – and have him call her regularly. If she calls at inappropriate times, I would say it is okay to let the phone go to voicemail on occasion – but then he must call her back when he has time to talk, and make a good effort to really listen 🙂

Cloud and Townsend’s book on “Boundaries” is so helpful for things like this. Say yes and no to what is healthy for your family, and then stick to that. If you decline one of her invitations, you do not need to apologize profusely or promise to make it up to her, NOR do you need to give her a reason why you can’t go. People who are invading your space then often feel that they have the right to evaluate your reason and see if it’s “good enough” to justify the no. I find it better to say: “Thanks for the invitation, but we can’t this time! Sorry to disappoint.”

* Help your mother in law with the language of disappointment if you feel she is pushing too hard or starting to hover. “Mom, I know you’re disappointed we can’t come over tonight. Thanks for understanding, and we are looking forward to that Sunday lunch…”

* Ask her some questions: about her own relationships with her in-laws. About her favorite memories with her children. And if you have the openness of relationship to ask directly, maybe you might even be able to say: “I know we aren’t always to spend the kind of time with you that you would like us to. You are important to us, though, so I was wondering what some of the most important things are that you would appreciate from us?” Who knows what might come from that?

I hope this is of some practical help. If it is possible, and as far as it depends on you, I hope your relationship with both your parents  remains a peaceful and rich one.

Got an “Ask Me Anything” question? Click over here

 

Photo Credit: Grant MacDonald “Vine and Brick” (copyright from Flickr Creative Commons), edits by Bronwyn Lea.

The intimacy of toothbrushes (and sex)

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Kim looked steadily at the crowd of 200 kids. “Let me explain what holy is,” she said. “Holy means set apart for just one person’s use. It means its not for anyone else. Just for one person.”

She produced a toothbrush from her bag. “Like this toothbrush. This is my toothbrush. I used it this morning. You just had snack and probably need to brush your teeth. Would you like to use my toothbrush?”  The crowd erupted with a chorus of “no!!!” and “eeeew!” Not a single furry-toothed kid wanted to take her up on her offer.

Brilliant illustration, I thought. Even at a young age, kids know that toothbrushes are intimate things. You don’t just go around sharing toothbrushes: they are reserved for your mouth alone.

The toothbrush analogy came flooding back to mind this week while I was watching a TV show. As is the way of much entertainment, the story involved a (young, in-love, responsible, monogamous) dating couple. They were in bed together. Another show later that week depicted another couple waking up together – with different partners than they had woken up with a few weeks earlier in the season.

It got me thinking: how is it that we live in a world where we think that sharing toothbrushes is more intimate than sharing your body? Why does a crowd of children shy away from the thought of picking up a friend’s toothbrush and shoving it in their mouth, but we don’t bat an eyelid at the thought of someone picking up a friend and…. (well, you know.)

Is it the germs on a toothbrush? Sex involves more germs.

Is it the risk of disease? Sex has way more risk (and more reward, as I’ve written about here.)

Is it the intimacy of a toothbrush? Sex is more intimate.

And yet people seem to be willing to brush their bodies together long before they’ll brush with one another’s toothbrushes.

In the last few weeks of our engagement, I remember running an errand – and instead of taking my old-jaloppy of a car, I borrowed my soon-to-be-husband’s significantly nicer set of wheels. I dropped something off at a friend and she walked me out to the parking lot. “Wow,” she observed, “I’m impressed! He trusts you to drive his car!”

I was stunned. Of course he trusted me with his car. He was about to entrust his heart, his life, his pocket book, his most vulnerable self to me. What was a car in the scheme of things?

Entrusting yourself to someone is more intimate than entrusting your car to them. And sharing your body is more intimate than sharing a toothbrush. By an order of magnitude, in my opinion.

And it makes me wonder if, after an evening of flirting and good chemistry, if handsome guy was to sidle over to delightful girl and whisper, “so, you wanna go home and share my toothbrush?”, whether the response might not be a little different.

One-Minute Marriage Maintenance

We just bought an ancient old older gently-used car. The car has over 140,000 miles on it, which ordinarily might have made us fear that it would soon have something very terrible (and very expensive) go wrong with it. However, the car was regularly and carefully maintained: it had its scheduled services, regular oil changes, minor issues addressed as they came up. 140k later, and it’s humming along smoothly. Regular, small maintenance does a lot to avert big mechanical crises.

Done... In 60 Seconds

Done… In 60 Seconds

This got me thinking about our getting older gently-used marriage. We have not had the money or much time over the years to do big, radical relationship-repairing things: we have taken very few vacations, and probably have an average of less than two “date nights” a year. However, with nearly 4000 days of marriage under our belt, we’re humming along smoothly. Even in marriage, regular, small acts of marital maintenance can do a lot to avert crises.

Marital maintenance doesn’t require any money, and often takes less than a minute. Here are some 60-second habits which we have found make a difference:

One Minute of Listening

Life gets busy and there are lots of competing noises in our house. It is often easy to ask a question and half-listen to the answer. However, one minute of dedicated LISTENING to my spouse’s answer when I ask “how was your day?” goes a long way.

One Minute of Eye Contact

We spent so much time looking at things together (our kids, our dinner, our screens), that sometimes we forget to take time to look at each other long enough to read one another’s facial expressions, see the laughter or tiredness in their eyes. Taking the time to SEE each other is so important for feeling, well, SEEN.

One Minute of Restraint

When angry, my instincts are often to speak quickly, and my first instincts are seldom my best ones. If we are facing something and I find myself feeling particularly angry or frustrated, sometimes just a few moments of restraint before answering saves me hours of regret.

One Minute of Prayer

I confess I am not a very faithful pray-er. I know I should devote serious time and attention to lifting my spouse before God, and when I don’t have a chunk of time, I often don’t pray at all. However, just one minute of prayer that he would be encouraged, helped, grown, useful, and fruitful in life goes a long way.

One Minute of Touch

We are at a stage where we have more children than limbs, and usually my arms are engaged in elasto-girl type endeavours to restrain my children from certain death in the road/on a counter/in the bath tub. However, when we remember to hold hands for just a minute, to extend our greeting hug and kiss just slightly longer (with no expectation of it Going Somewhere, although sometimes that happens), it does a lot to keep us feeling connected. Literally. The few moments my husband holds my hand just before I drift off to sleep are often the most contented of my day.

Our marriages need maintenance, but life is demanding and our schedules are hectic. And I will get to that to-do list… in a minute. Those little investments in maintenance are needed if we are to go the distance.

Modesty: the protector of intimacy

It would seem that Modest(y) is (the) Hottest topic these days.

I have read some very thought-provoking articles on modesty in the past weeks: what it is, what it isn’t. I’ve read about whether it’s wrong for women to wear bikinis, about how much women are responsible for their dress as opposed to men being responsible for their lust, about how love should be the controlling principle in how we dress.

Against this backdrop, I have another thought on the topic of modesty to add to the discussion: that modesty is integrally related to intimacy. Modesty is, I believe, a protector of intimacy.

Intimacy involves “a close association with or detailed knowledge of” a person, subject or place. It includes the idea of privacy – something shielded from the ‘public’. Intimacy involves being close, familiar, sharing affectionately in a loving personal relationship. As such, intimacy is a word used for the closest of relationships: emotional intimacy, sexual intimacy, “let me not to the marriage of true minds” intimacy.

Couple-Holding-Hands1

I would suggest then that modesty is a word we can use to describe behavior which protects intimacy. If intimacy is about being known and revealing ourselves, then modesty is that behavior which shields the private, which keeps the intimate “covered”.

Physical intimacy involves seeing and touching one another’s bodies. It is private. The bible uses the word “knowing” as a verb to describe sexual intimacy. Modesty protects intimacy by keeping our bodies “unknown” and saving that knowledge for a privileged relationship.

Emotional intimacy involves knowing one another’s deepest thoughts and feelings. We use similar language to describe these relationships: we BARE our souls. We REVEAL our secrets. We EXPOSE ourselves. We UNCOVER truth. The process of building emotional intimacy involves letting down our guard and “letting someone in”.

There is a  corollary to this modesty-intimacy connection: that being that if we have “shown it all”, it is much harder to build true intimacy. If everyone knows my secret, then there is nothing truly special and “bonding” about me telling it to you. However, if there are things about me which no-one-but-you know, then you and I both know that that privileged and private information has forged intimacy between us.

Similarly, if everyone has seen Joe Bloggs naked because he is a well-renowned local streaker, then for Joe Bloggs to reveal himself to me would not build intimacy between us. However, the knowledge that I am the only person who has seen my husband in all his glory does add to the preciousness of intimacy.

I believe  modesty involves choosing behaviors which form a boundary to protect intimacy. The word modesty has fallen on hard and controversial times. Not many want “modesty”. But intimacy is something we all want: we want to be closely bonded, to know and be known. Not by everyone, but by a select loved and trusted few.

The way I see it is this: modesty is more than a clothing choice. Modesty involves choosing to protect what we reveal of our body, mind and soul; and by choosing modesty, we create a protected space for the true joys of  intimacy. 

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