Portraits and single ladies

Dear Single Ladies,

To be fair, I must needs direct a few words your way as well. And truly, I have somewhat to say unto thee.

[And they said unto her, Say on.]

There is an enemy to romance lurking in the heart of every woman, single or married, as far as I can tell: the Ideal Man. I just want to say this about him: he doesn’t exist. Now don’t even think about getting all prickly on me and saying you’ve found one; hang on a few years and you’ll know what I mean.

So if you’re looking for tall, dark, and handsome, keep in mind that he will probably be tall and dark but not at all handsome—or dark and handsome though not particularly tall—or tall and handsome and… blonde. And if by great good fortune you find someone who is all three, he is sure to have a caveat somewhere, such as an especially unpleasant family, for example, or a collection of ancient, mushroom-scented footwear he refuses to part with. The earlier you can start laying down the Ideal to take hold of the Real (and it starts with your father, your brother, your friends), the better off you will be. He’s not going to come in a frame.

Back in our grandma’s day, a woman knew she was blessed just to get a good steady man who could hold down a job and support the family.

Nowadays that’s only scratching the surface. Nowadays we want it all: a man who stands boldly for truth and leads the pack in righteousness and expresses himself with passion but also a man who comforts the fallen, bathes the wounds of the outcasts, and wipes his boots before he comes indoors. He should sing well. And dress well. And use good table manners. And make pretty much money but not care too much about it. He should be a man’s man with a deep voice and an easy laugh. He should be good with kids. And animals. And difficult people. And if he plays a mean game of baseball and has arms like a sailor’s we’re not going to complain about it…

Girls, we don’t make it easy for him either. He says “Will you please?” and we say “Hmm. Twelve out of twenty criteria? Ummm, no thanks.”

(By now you may be wondering if I have a secret plot to marry off the whole world. You’re getting close. I have found no better institution than marriage for ending aloneness and enforcing selflessness.)

Did you know that many men show their best colors in close relationship? Don’t judge him from a distance, by “what you know of him so far” when you’ve only met up with him in herds and crowds. Give the guy a chance to do his wooing! You will soon know if it’s not working—there are people who simply do not gel—but you may be very, very surprised by the man you discover.

A man in love is a crazily compelling thing. And a man who stays in love and finds persistent, foolish, wild ways to show it—triply so.

He doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful. Thanks for giving him a chance.

Love,

Shari

Scenery and single men

Dear Single Men,

It’s been a while since I’ve directed any comments your way, so lest you get too comfortable I thought I’d jot a note to light a fire under your collective rumps.

I may have reminded you before that most single women are not single by choice. (Is this ringing a bell? Okay, good.) You wisely pointed out that this is also true of most single men. Well said. Having gotten this far, I would like to add another piece to our logic: it’s time for you to stop ignoring the women over thirty.

I don’t plan to crack open the whole “Is it God’s will for me to be single?” bit, partly because I can’t decide for you and you certainly can’t decide for her; but mostly because the question itself goes against my understanding of God’s will as we know it. However I am certain of this fact: there are quite a number of magnificent adult women out there who would be better off with good men in their lives.

It’s startling to think about, really, because the women who do singlehood best make it look so effortless. They are engaged in fulfilling work, they are surrounded by relationships, they are maturing graciously, and they laugh often and delightfully. God be praised. But don’t be deceived. There may be a Christian woman or two in the world for whom singlehood is effortless, but I have not met her yet. Behind every gracious action and every appearance at yet another event alone lies a large dose of will power and heartache.

She has become a stronger person because of her life alone; I don’t deny it. And as a result, she is the kind of gem you will come across only once in a lifetime. She is serene. She is faithful. She is well-versed, well-traveled, well-rounded. She is truly beautiful.

And you almost don’t notice her.

She fits easily into the scenery of your local church, or mission, or school. You hang with the slim and ditzy twenty-year-old chicks and to you, she is just an Aunt Jane—the pleasant, wise, and completely safe person you so deeply admire. Platonically, of course.

Would you stop divorcing esteem from romance, and get Aunt Jane out of your head? You are not making this easy. She is a woman, and anything but immune to manly attention. She notices the way your eyes twinkle, the things you laugh at with her, the way you talk to a child. She knows that to you she is just a part of the scenery, but she dreams of a knight who notices.

Some of you have asked girl after girl, only to be met by a string of refusals, and I am sorry.

Ask a woman next time.

She may turn you down as well—though she longs for love she is not fool enough to accept anything with a beard—but her sympathies will be on your side and she’ll sure as shooting think about it. She will think about how good you are with children and what books you like and how you use your money. If you dream of Miss Gorgeous, she admittedly harbors hopes for Mr. Studly, but your lack of studliness will never be the deal-breaker. She knows enough of human nature to look deeper.

(And the minute she starts falling for you she’ll think you the studliest thing she ever saw. So it’s all good. Did I mention she’s a woman?)

I want to say this, with no disrespect to the hot young things: not one of them can hold a candle to her. She has a femininity that’s been tempered by time, mellowed, sweetened, tested by fire. She will comfort you as no one can comfort—follow your lead, admire your strength, and honor your manhood; time has taught her their value.

She is priceless. Thanks for noticing.

Love,

Shari

The In-Laws

Last weekend my husband’s parents came to visit. We love them. We love their visits. And I started thinking about the relational stages of in-laws. I wrote this post as a laughing tribute to both the Incredible Man and his family (hereinafter referred to as the Smiths), who love me as their own and who have put up with me in all my stages. The illustrations given below are purely fictional.*

I think also of the men and women who married into my side of the family, and had a Smith culture of their own to adapt to. They’ve been brave. And it’s been rich.

In short, I love everybody. It’s all good. And no way am I willing to hang for writing this.

*****

How We Feel About In-Laws

Stage One—In which we are dating/ engaged/ possibly newlywed

Here we are just getting acquainted with the Smiths, the lords and ladies of creation who produced the incredible man now pursuing us. We are slightly overcome by the fact that the Smiths like us; it’s so generous and noble of them. They accept us unconditionally, they reserve the spare bedroom, they roll out the red carpet. They prepare to freely offer us the priceless boon of becoming a part of the Smith legacy and culture. We blush and we smile and we don’t know what to do with our hands.

Stage Two—Perhaps one year into the real thing

[It is, as T. H. White points out, impossible to explain how these things happen…]

Here we have rubbed shoulders considerably more. We see the incredible man is really a step ahead of the Smiths in every way. He’s the cream of the crop and no mistake. We are so glad he doesn’t hold forth on politics like Uncle Henry or pick his nose like Cousin James. And that’s not even touching the way the Smith men treat their ladies. Considering his family, it is really amazing that he turned out so well!

Stage Three—Some time later

Here our eyes have been opened rather farther: the famous Smith legacy and culture is about to choke us. As far as we can see, all the issues in the incredible man’s life are his by direct lineage. He holds forth on politics exactly like Uncle Henry and was taught nose picking by the nose picking master, James himself.* And you know he treats women the way he does because it’s in the blood of those Smith men.

The only solution, so far as we can see, is to … well… that is… you know, at this stage of the in-law game there doesn’t seem to be any solution but gritting the teeth and hanging on.

Stage Four—We pray by the mercy of God it comes soon

At some point, quite unexpectedly, we realize that we have caught hold. We’ve found a handle—the fact that we and the Smiths all like camping together; the fact that our mother-in-law once struggled with doubt (back in the 1950’s); the fact that we adore our sisters-in-law. We find the outstretched hand and catch hold, and suddenly we are dancing. We find our place in the Smith line, waltzing in and out among the complex relationships rather more peacefully than not, smiling at Cousin James there in the corner. His back is turned and we know exactly what he’s doing but—oh well. He is a dear. And we’re all going camping tomorrow.

*

As far as I can see, life from here on out will be a continuous cycle of Stages Two through Four. The Lord may in His mercy grant us a brief return to Stage One, but I’m not pinning any hopes on that.

Perhaps there will be a Stage Five down the road, in which their faults and ours have so mingled that we have forgotten we were ever non-Smith ourselves. We will be both forgiving and blind. Perhaps.

People are like onions: layers within layers. As we move down into relationship, we get to a skin after a while through which we think we cannot penetrate. Call it misunderstanding, call it irritation, call it natural resistance; it seems the bottom of the well. But we push through it, somehow, down to a whole new level of sweetness and flavor… and on to the next skin, where we rest for a while… and then on to the next depth…

And all is well.

In any case, we married into the Smiths. How much better can it get?

*****

Posted with the permission of my lovely mother-in-law.

*He doesn’t actually pick his nose, although he does occasionally hold forth on politics.

Displacement

The main caution I have about blogging (reading or writing) is a traditional conservative-Christian concern about—well, really anything new. What is it replacing? Isn’t that a nice conservative tack?

“Not so sure about that there new-fangled tractor. What’ll I do with ma horses?”

Blogs take time, no argument there. You heard in the interviews a few different ideas for filtering them, streamlining them, evaluating them, and making them work. But there’s also the issue of displacement. Any time you add something into an already full life, something else bumps out. For me, there are several things I don’t want bumped out.

Better reading

You take a book. Any book. I’ll guarantee you it’s been written, honed, polished, fine-tooth-combed, turned inside out, and above all funded by dozens of dedicated people with a lot at stake. You take a blog. Any blog… Uh. Do you have it already? How’d you get it so quick? Oh. You just grabbed what was cooking at the moment…?

Fresh-squeezed juice has a charm all its own, but don’t go there for the mellow richness of aged wine.

Better relational connections

We all would rather get together for coffee. Me too. I have ten friends within five miles who would go with me in a heartbeat. Except that they’d first have to check with their hubbies, arrange sitters or work schedules, and haggle with me about when and where. Then we’d have to carpool, or not, and figure out who’s paying, or not, and then somebody’s kid will get sick last minute or the weather will dump snow on us.

Whew.

In the meanwhile, it’s deceptively easy and connecting to see what’s online.

Real life is messy. And better.

Better mentoring

Where do you go when you want to learn to bake bread? To grow sprouts? To sew an apron? Whom do you seek out when your child has a rash? When you disagree with your husband on an issue? When you just got hurt bad?

God can speak to you anywhere, through anything. He can absolutely use a blog to grow you, even a blog by someone like me whom you’ve never met. But I’m going to suggest argue insist that you’ll learn more with the older women in your community. For one thing, they’re smarter. They actually know more. For another, they’re stupider. They don’t say it all right and they have that annoying tick above their left eye and they show up at the darndest times. So you’re growing already, just by living through being with them. You can’t ex them and ignore the content you don’t like. They’re in your life to stay and you gotta make this work, sister.

Better occupation

You know, we can spend our lives watching other people live. All I have to say on this one is two lines from a gospel song.

“Rouse, ye Christian workers, be ye up and doing!
Must the Master’s kingdom suffer at your hands?”

Don’t get me wrong here, please… The online world is a semi-real place in which Jesus is desperately needed. So bring your blog to the Kingdom, and the Kingdom to your favorite blogs. Use them well, to the very best of your ability.

And then, as Marlene so aptly said, get up and live.

Concerning love

To anyone who is worried about whether or not the psycho writer of this blog can be trusted, rest assured. She cannot. However, only in a single five minute period of frivolity has she ever deliberately posed here as someone she is not, say between the hours of 11:17 and 11:22 on a dark Wednesday night, for example.

She is being held in custody, pleads guilty, and says so help her if she ever does it again.

However, she has always wanted to throw a dozen eggs against a brick wall.

You’re in good hands. Relax!

—The Management


Tonight I share links to some snippets I’ve been enjoying: for your edification, amusement, outrage and delight.

I’m working up to something, probably tomorrow: a post on the myth of true love.

Yes, I said the “myth.” I did say “the myth.”

Relax!

–Shari


How I Met My Wife

–Writer Jack Winter plays with some English words never used without their opposing prefixes.


My Husband is Not My Soul Mate

—A great blog post shared by one Hannah on her first-year anniversary.


7 Things Every Woman Needs to Know about Relationships

7 Things Every Man Needs to Know about Relationships

–Relevant Magazine


It’s Not About the Nail

A comedy clip on male/female relationships, posted to YouTube by Jason Headley