Tag Archives: relationships

Men, Women, Dinners, and Access

I grew up in Fundamentalism with the phenomenon of men and women living under radically different holiness codes. One of the most notable, even to my young eyes, centered on the way men – especially married men – could not be in the room with a woman alone. For example, if the male church janitor was in the sanctuary cleaning up, it would not be considered appropriate for the church secretary (a woman, of course) to be the only other person left in the building.

When I was a teenager, my Christian school almost canceled a planned field trip because some parent of one gender canceled and that left only the opposite gender parent and I’m not really sure because even then it seemed weird to me that people were so worried about parents-without-their-spouses hitting the sack on the backside of a 711 or something.  I think somebody’s wife agreed to take a day off work to go on the field trip and protect the testimonies of all the parents involved.

(Man, if I’d been any more worldly-wise growing up, I would have raised several eyebrows at how often “testimonies” needed to be “protected.”)

When I was in college, my mom was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer and started a long march through chemotherapy. As a senior in college, I awoke one weekend to the nightmare that she’d had a stroke once the cancer hit her brain (or maybe it was the chemo; those particular drugs had a habit of triggering strokes) and had been rushed to the hospital. It was bad there for awhile, and I was 500 miles from home, and my parents didn’t really have the money to put me on a plane. So the youth pastor from my home church, a man whom I barely knew because he’d started working there after I went to college, graciously offered to drive down to Greenville from Western PA and pick me up for a quick weekend home to see my mom after she had brain surgery.  Problem was, he couldn’t be in the car with me for the ride home.  In Fundamentalism, that was a deal-breaker.  My agnostic, rock-band, techie brother agreed to do the ride-along job of chaperon, creating what must have been the Universe’s weirdest “buddy comedy road trip adventure” story of the year.

I’d pretty much called ‘bullshit’ on this whole paradigm when the head pastor of the church I attended in Greenville made a point in a sermon and then in a published article of expounding why, if he saw a single woman walking down the road in the pouring rain with groceries, he could not be expected to give her a ride. I don’t have a copy of the article and this was pre-internet, but someone on that side of the fence commented on the general gist of it in a post at TGC.

So this might explain how I went for years without any man touching me ever, even on the arm, even as a hug, even as a goodbye or hello, when I lived and worked and studied in Fundamentalist circles. It explains why, when I joined a PCA church in the early 2000s, I nearly jumped out of my skin when a guy would tap my arm as part of normal conversation. Took me years to retrain my body that human contact is actually healthy and good.

*****
Vice President Mike Pence made a splash in January when it hit the news that he refuses to be in a room with another woman if his wife isn’t present. A lot of people outside conservative religious circles guffawed, but many of us – especially women – rolled our eyes and said, “Here we go again.”

Many people wrote good articles about how this is a form of gender discrimination. I liked The Atlantic’s piece: “How Mike Pence’s Dudely Dinners Hurt Women.”  In a world where men still serve as gatekeepers to power, barring women from the room unless there’s a chaperon around isn’t protecting either of them from wrongful accusation. It’s just keeping women out of the chambers of power.

A friend of mine is studying science at a nearby, large, Research One institution that shall remain nameless. She is a senior PhD student in a STEM field, highly capable and respected by her colleagues.  If she needs to use a particular piece of equipment in another lab, the professor (a man) refuses to let women into his lab unless there are other people present.  Since this student cannot control others’ schedules, she has sometimes lost her slot to work with this critical lab equipment because there were no other people around to “chaperon” their time in the lab.  But it’s ok – some guy got to jump in and take her spot, since apparently religious conservatives are so opposed to LGBTQ+ people that they refuse to consider them when building these holiness codes.

What makes this so galling is the way her science department and university administration cannot see that this professor’s holiness code has become a weapon against women in STEM at that university.  Instead, she’s noted that people are stunned when she suggests anything but admiration for this man “who cares so much about his marriage that he refuses to be alone with any woman who isn’t his wife! Isn’t that chivalrous?! Isn’t it grand?!”

No. It’s legalism, if we want to parse this through the lens of Christian theology.  God never said “don’t be alone with another woman.” What He said was, precisely, “Don’t be an adulterer,” which Jesus intensified as “Don’t lust after another woman in your heart.”  You can’t cut your heart out of your body, guys, so you’re going to have to rely on the Grace of the Cross for your sanctification, not your own rules about who’s sitting in the office after hours. [Please don’t bring up “Let not your good be spoken about as evil.” Not the point of that passage. If we want to play the proof-text game, then let me remind you, “To the pure, all things are pure.” So get your damn mind out of the gutter next time you see a man and woman together in a professional setting.]

And from a professional, “business” viewpoint, it’s sexism. The primary victim of all holiness codes are the women. In the name of protecting something good (marital fidelity), the brunt of the work falls on the women – not to be present if there’s a man doing his job; not to dress in a way that a man finds provocative; not to be available lest he want to rape her. Oh, sorry, I forgot we aren’t talking about the Stanford swimmer-rapist. 

Things were simpler, I realize, when the only power brokers in the boardroom, the lab, the classroom, or the pulpit were white men. That 1950s demographic profile does remain in many conservative circles, but in general American experience, things have opened up for us ladies.   ….Kind of.  OK, barely….. 😉

But I wish more men were out there expressing the outrage they ought to feel when their religious structures reinforce the idea that sexuality and attraction are uncontrollable forces in the universe; that women are temptresses and men are faithless ever; that a man wants only sex from the women he’s around; that people’s ability to claim any ridiculous thing about your reputation trumps the Great Commandments should you happen to see a woman walking in the rain and you’re the only guy in your warm, dry automobile as you pass her.

As a woman who’s married (19 years and counting) to a man who’s nothing like that, I’m offended on my husband’s behalf that people not only think like this, they celebrate people who do.  I don’t feel any need to track my husband’s movements via his iPhone or think twice about what he’s doing with his genitalia where other humans are concerned. Why? Because he’s a decent human, and I trust him. It’s part of what Love means when I think about my marriage vows.

*****

You don’t get to close your lab “in the name of Jesus.”  You shouldn’t applaud people like Mike Pence who use a non-biblical standard of sexual “purity” in a way that locks women out of the halls of power. It doesn’t matter whether Pence “intended” for that to be the effect. It IS the effect his holiness code has on the women around him.

You shouldn’t cancel your kid’s field trip for the sake of your testimony. (Good grief, who ARE your friends, and why do you keep hanging out with them if they are going to scream nasty things about your reputation the minute you set foot in an automobile with someone of the opposite sex?)

You shouldn’t avoid doing the right thing – the kind and loving thing – because you’ve built yourself a big ol’ holiness fence to protect your personal reputation. Sometimes doing the right thing is going to look rather messy.  At that point, you can either love your holiness code or you can love the person you’re trying to help.  You can’t do both.

Working alone

I work in a small office of 4 people, myself included.

There’s The Fearless Leader, the one who points out the general direction we should be headed and makes decisions. He’s a genuine extrovert but not in the way that makes you want to punch people for being obnoxious, hyper puppies; more of the “likes people, mixes a fantastic drink” type.

Then there’s the Quiet Introvert who primarily puts words to (virtual) paper. If you read something of ours longer than 500 words, she most likely wrote it. She’s the model example of all those trait-lists you see for introverts.  We talk about books and cooking and really dark TV shows.

Thirdly, the Tech Guy breaks the stereotype. I think he’d much rather be out on the lawn building sculptures out of metal and blowtorches; instead he spends a lot of time updating the WordPress code because that’s what we need done. He’s a genuine extrovert as well, though he keeps it pretty buttoned down at work. Of the four of us, he’s the one I’d most likely expect to walk up to a total stranger and do something ridiculous as a social experiment…. but he mostly confines his experiments to messing with the blend of coffee we use and seeing if anyone notices.

And then there’s me. I try to keep my volume level down to a reasonable work level, though I’ve been told you can hear me laughing all the way down the hall. Of course. I’m a conflagration of polar opposites, someone who’s intensely passionate about us getting work done but desperately wishing we could lock the door on Friday afternoon to just watch a movie and call it a day.  I’m driven by an obscure insistence that we do our work well or stop trying, except when I feel like it’s a waste of time, and then I’m all about just getting it done and moving on. Yeah, I can’t explain it either.

It’s June, so we’ve entered vacation season. As the new kid on the block, I have fewer personal days than everyone else, so I am parceling out my few remaining hours by this point in the year (everything re-ups on July 1).

I’ve got Fridays off in June, at least.  Whee.
(insert longing gaze toward the beach and mountains here)
This is when I most miss being a teacher.

Else I’ll be at the office plugging away on “projects” for the rest of the month, by myself. Hopefully my coworkers will be sipping fruity drinks on a beach somewhere or hiking or reading a book or just staring out the window of a coffee shop, far away from the office. I wish them well.

I’m looking at a lot of alone-time over the next few weeks.

Despite craving large chunks of time to myself (I chalk it up to being raised like an “only”) and getting a whole lot more done when I’m not interrupted, I don’t look forward to the isolation.

Truth is, I really would rather work with people, or at least near them.

I read an article recently about getting girls interested in STEM fields which noted that many girls turn away from STEM careers because they see jobs like coding as solitary and isolating. I totally get that! I do.

I hate working by myself. Even if I’m the only one doing a particular task, I want to feel the radiating warmth of other human beings in my work space. If we have to climb a mountain together or eat an elephant one bite at a time, I want to be in a group tackling that challenge together.

I wasn’t built to be a solitary explorer. Call me when you’ve discovered the challenges that need to be conquered and I’ll come with the team to overcome them.

My communications team works in a peaceful big room at the end of a hallway, a kind of barn-shaped former storage closet. It’s open and appropriately dim for a collective of creatives. I don’t know of many other places on campus like it; certainly no other staff offices are set up this way.

The open-work environment grates on our introvert. I think she’d be happy to build walls around her desk and be done with us on many days.  Our Fearless Leader has a small enclosed office…. because #LeadershipHasPrivileges. The Tech Guy has suggested that we all just work at a big central table to promote better communication among the four of us. Nobody has actually gotten around to rearranging furniture, but I think he might be onto something there … it’s surprisingly difficult to keep four people all aware of the same information, especially when no one wants to use the same tools. *wry grin*

Sometimes one of the guys will comment that we should take over the other end of the hall so everybody could have their own office.  Meh. Chopped up isolation chambers.

As much as people can wear me out – and they often do – I wasn’t built for the solitary life. If I ever have to earn my day’s bread by freelancing, I’m setting up at a cowork space to prevent the inevitable descent into insanity.

Meanwhile, this July, if you find yourself in my neck of the woods on a workday, I’d be just fine with you stopping by my office to make sure I haven’t given up hope in the midst of my solitary confinement … in all that empty space … working alone.

🙂

To my young friends: why you should consider marriage

Most of the time, unsolicited advice falls on deaf ears. And perhaps it should.

Among the younger set, we adults get a deserved rap for being kind of pushy with our opinions. To be fair, we usually have a lot of good experience to back up our advice, and hopefully we’re sharing because we’re caring, not because were just busybody assholes.

The Great Recession has hit 20-somethings hard. They’re leaving college with a lot of debt, heading into a rough employment market, stuck living at home far longer than they’d hoped, and delaying marriage for plenty of reasons including an honest hard look at their economic options right now.

There’s plenty of pressure today for relationships to stay loose and undefined. Our new ways of communication — texting, FaceTime, social media, Tinder — redefine what it means to be “connected.” New rules have emerged: like if someone texts you and you don’t immediately respond, you’re either angry/displeased or you’re committing a huge social faux pas. The struggle is real.

Buzzfeed for the win
Buzzfeed for the win

I am so thankful I didn’t grow up in a world where “dating” meant  24/7 social contact. To be “always on,” in constant contact by text or chat. No one should have to live a fishbowl life like that, yet it’s what I see in the lives of Millennials. The pressure to always respond, always reply, always be interested — I’m not much of an introvert, but even I find the idea alone exhausting.

Even when we were engaged, Coart and I were forced by the shape our grad-school lives and the state of 90s technology to make do with the limited time we had to see each other. An hour here or there, maybe studying at the same table in the library. Even the goodnight call was short. We eagerly awaited our wedding day because it would mark the last night we had to say “goodbye” in place of good night.

So I understand why marriage looks less ideal given the easy communication of our connected world, the uncertainties of a young adult’s life, and the bad examples set by the adults in their lives. (The overall divorce rate is 50%, though divorce rates for marriages in the 2000s are much lower so maybe the cautionary tales of the Boomers did some good.)

So given all these realities, it’s no wonder that moving in for a test drive before signing up for a lifetime of matrimony seems like the sensible thing to do.

Amid all these changes, and at risk of offering advice where it is unwanted, I want to make a case for why 20-somethings in a serious relationship should consider marriage over cohabitation.

I hate to be misunderstood, so please note: I’m not crafting a moral club to beat people with here; I’m trying to start a conversation. I think marriage has advantages that aren’t as easy to see from the outside.

That, and I’ve been married for 17 years, so I’d like to think I have a worthwhile perspective on what’s good about it.

1. It’s an institution that pictures community. 
Marriage is more public than cohabitation, and that has some consequences. Even if you head to the JP to get hitched, your marriage will be witnessed by at least one other human being. And most married couples stick with the traditional path of a public ceremony, which means something to the community you’re in.

I have a friend who instead of saying “I was a bridesmaid” says “stood up in their wedding” when referring to participating in a friend’s ceremony. I like that. I think it communicates much more clearly what’s actually happening when we are involved in the wedding of a friend (though no one ever seems to bring this up):  when I “stand up with” you up there, I’m offering my public commitment to support you in your commitment to a lifetime partnership.

Cohabitation offers little opportunity for people to step forward and say, “I’m with you.” Sure, you can have a tool shower or housewarming party, but it’s not the same. I realize that attending your wedding may not mean much either for my perseverance in caring about you and your marriage, but at least I’m going to be challenged to think about it.

In fact, I think one of the greatest downsides to “let’s just move in together” is that it robs the rest of us (your friends) of the chance to celebrate your partnership with a raucous wedding reception and terrible dancing three drinks in.

2. The psychological shift (in your own mind) that comes from making a public commitment to a “permament” partnership is worth it. 

Marriage is a unique relationship. It’s more than being sexual partners. It’s more than being best friends.  It’s not just a different flavor of “roommate.” It’s deeper than a financial partnership.

Marriage is for keeps.

When you take the steps necessary to incarnate your love for one another in a ceremony and legal document, you’re offered the chance to make this vow: I love you unconditionally. (That’s what the “for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, for better and for worse” part of the traditional vows is getting at.)

Marriage is hard, not because it’s “marriage” per se but because deciding every day that I’m going to love my husband more than I did yesterday requires that I sacrifice some of myself for his benefit. It’s a daily challenge, not because he’s a trouble to live with (he’s not) but because I’m a self-centered, difficult human being and he’s in my space.

Knowing that I signed up for a lifetime of this, and that I promised I wouldn’t quit when I stop feeling like I love him is foundational to the deal. That’s what unconditional love means. It’s not unconditional until you run into something in the other person that erodes your chipper can-do attitude about how much you love him/her.

Cohabitation can develop really deep feelings of loyalty and partnership, and I do find great merit in “common law” recognition of long-held partnerships as marriages. (Because I think they are, by that point.) But when you’re young, just living together means you’re heading into some very difficult storms without much of an anchor. In fact….

3. Your support network can’t take you seriously if you aren’t clearly “seriously committed.” 

A solid relationship that lasts will be a relationship grounded in a support network. That network has already been partially built by the time you get together, but it’s going to need more people to be effective across the length of your lifetime.  Life is never about just you. Lone wolves (and couples) get eaten in this world.

It’s not that cohabitation strips you of your support network. Not at all.  But I do think, lacking the confirmation of a marriage —that you’re serious about making this work— many of us more experienced married couples (who ought to be mentoring you) are less likely to fight for the survival of your relationship when you come to us weeping and angry and ready to throw in the towel.

Note that I said when, not if.

Truth is, cohabitation looks like “try before you buy.” And who am I to tell you to make the commitment if you aren’t sure yourself?

But once it’s made, once you’ve stated “before God and these witnesses” that you want to make a go of it for keeps, I’ve got better footing to encourage you to make it work and walk with you through the hard parts. (I’m assuming that we aren’t talking about domestic abuse or anything similarly destructive. That is a totally different conversation.)

Your relationship will face deep, difficult problems, because you are a broken, difficult person. Whether those problems wreck your relationship has much to do with how serious you are about making it through together and how much help you get from the people around you.

4. Living like you’re married without the commitment of marriage can load you down with emotional baggage and heavier expectations than you’re ready for. 

The pressure of a joint household apart from a commitment to a united life can be suffocating.  You still have to make all the same decisions of a married couple — whether you’ll keep your dishes or his, whether you’ll live near her workplace or yours, how you’re going to prioritize your spending to achieve mutual goals — and all of those decisions take time and thought and commitment to your needs as a couple.

And since you’re sleeping together, you’re also cementing a physical intimacy that generates deep emotional intimacy and vulnerability, but without affirming that should you “slip up” and create a life, you’ve thought through the ramifications of child-bearing, rearing (or aborting – not a choice I support, but among your options).

You’re binding together your lives, finances, career trajectories, health care options, vacation plans, budgets, student debt, and friend circles.

Undoing all of these connections now that you’ve melted things together will tear you into much worse pieces should the unthinkable happen and this partnership blow apart.

So why aren’t you getting married?

There are lots of great reasons not to get married: you’re too immature or emotionally unready, you’re undecided about this partner, you can’t afford to support yourself yet, your job or grad schoolwork takes away all the time you would need to foster a healthy relationship… to name a few.

But those reasons, if they are true of you, should equally warn you against creating all of the financial, physical, practical, and emotional bonds of a marriage apart from the actual commitment of a life together. In other words, get side-by-side apartments if you must. But you’re not ready to live together either.

****

Hey, it’s my view. It doesn’t have to be your view, and if you disagree with me, we are still friends. I won’t make it awkward, I promise. Everyone is always welcome at my table.

But I figured it was worth taking the time to explain what I think and why.  And I’d love to hear your thoughts – drop me a comment.

Link: For the well-meaning Christian: humility in listening.

An excellent read for many reasons.I’ll list this one:

I think many of us Christians come across as more interested in “being right” than in truly loving other people. Dani’s post about how to really listen in humility to someone who has left the faith may challenge your long-held habits — an even better reason to read it.

For the well-meaning Christian: humility in listening..

Why I hate the “freshman dorm”

The older I get, the more I appreciate God’s emphasis on mentoring.  Life is far too complicated to be “taught” like a classroom subject. Sure, “tests” appear pretty frequently from our Master Teacher but clearly the people older than I are supposed to be my “study buddies.”

Many skills-based careers still depend on the master/apprentice relationship. Carpenters, electricians, and machinists (among others) even still use those medieval terms: journeyman, master.

I recently read that tattoo artists learn their complex trade by apprenticing themselves to a master artist who takes full responsibility for the younger’s training and development as an artist. When the apprentice has exhausted his master’s knowledge and skills, he moves on, perhaps to found his own shop.

Artists and musicians are part of a centuries-old system of mentorship. Professional trade the names of their teacher like Olympic medals or badges of approval. “Well, I got to take a master class with so-no-so before he died.”  “Ooooh! Really? Wow!” *eyes open* Even musicians trained outside the traditional system proudly acknowledge sessions spent doodling or jamming informally with the musicians they most admire. “I learned those sweeps from Paul! He was chillin at my buddy’s house before a show so we hung out….”

For most disciplines, a “good education” must be mediated through someone else’s guidance and experience.  Wise students attend colleges where a well-trained faculty invest themselves in training students well and directing their entrance into the discipline. So it is with life.

If I went to college thinking I would get answers to my deep questions, I was disappointed…. I didn’t.  I only got more questions. Ditto with master’s degree #1.  Masters #2 *did* provide a wealth of foundational material for my thinking, but I think that had as much to do with my being older the second time around as it did with any particular course content.  Education is never about the content….

Let’s be honest:  Life is tough. We all need each other — isolation is deadly — but we need these people ahead of us on the journey even more. We need these storehouses of experience to open themselves up for us to rummage around and find what we need as we need it. And it’s not just the “big questions” of life that fall under Paul’s injunction that”the older teach the younger” — think of what humanity would lose if Southern women stopped teaching their daughters how to make fluffy biscuits and sweet tea! 

Several of my former students and friends just moved thousands of pounds of STUFF into their dorm rooms at college. An overwhelming number of them now live on entire halls or buildings crammed with hundreds of freshmen controlled by a scattering of RA’s (who are nearly as inexperienced at life and the universe and everything).

Doesn’t the very concept of “the freshman dorm” cut the legs out from under God’s vital process of life-mentoring? 

Sure, college classes provide plenty of intellectual discipleship into a professor’s underlying worldview … but dumping all the newbies into one building to muck along on their own as best they can (aside from the “freshman life seminars”) suggests we don’t really care much about our freshmen …. or deem them capable of much more their first year besides public drunkenness and a need to be sequestered from the quieter, calmer, older student population who find freshmen too irritating to keep close by.

I critique BJU a lot, but I deeply appreciate now the way they nestled the freshmen into already-existing communities of older students. Every room contained a jr/sr, a sophomore, and a freshman (usually). Having those older, wiser people around me in abundance made a whale’s difference in my freshman year — though I recognize that only now. The University purposefully created ‘spaces’ in the student organizations where freshmen became woven into the fabric of university life instead of being left to clump together in one lump of inexperience. Looking back, I can’t remember the names of all the upperclassmen girls who reached out to me in my first months at college, but I can’t tell you how much their stability and wisdom protected me from a lot of stupidity and mistakes. (And loneliness.)

Unintentionally, NCS ended up following a similar pathway as we designed the high school.  I noticed my first year there that the 8th graders become so much more mature by hanging out with high school kids all the time. We have seen the older kids take an intentional role in raising up younger students who know how to act right; who treat their classmates with patience; who treat a lady with respect; who learn what to do at a formal dance. We’d drive those relationships all the way down into the elementary school if we could.  It’s so good.

Almost by definition, young adults lack the experience they need to actually “make it” in adult life. Dropping all the young’uns into a single building where they can be managed, controlled, and kept away from the mainstream population robs them of so much that ought to be part of a college kid’s dorm experience!  You don’t learn wisdom and life skills from classroom lectures; it comes as someone older than you teaches wisdom “when you’re lying down, and when you rise up; in your goings-out and comings-in; as you walk along and when you eat” (so says Deuteronomy 6, more or less).

Isolation from older, wiser adults is a systemic flaw in the American college system.