Tortured Love: not actually the only way

There are a lot of tropes around relationships—good, bad, and just interesting. In Sense and Sensibility, one of my favorite novels, the two sisters deal with love in very different ways. One of the sisters, 16-year-old Marianne, is passionate and romantic and tempestuous. She’s convinced that if she doesn’t give herself over to her feelings wholeheartedly then they aren’t authentic.
It’s a very teenaged sort of view, a bit like “I cannot rein in my self-expression because my emotions are Real and True and to restrain myself would be to act falsely. Also my love is clearly valid because it prevents me from sleeping. (But that’s okay because I’ll spend the nights writing poetry about your eyes.)” In Marianne’s eyes, anyone who can stay level-headed and proper can’t really be in love, it’s too “cold-hearted”.

It seems as if there’s this narrative our culture still holds onto, wherein Marianne-style Tortured Love is somehow seen as more valid than level-headed love. Maybe it’s just because Tortured Love stories can be drawn out over more episodes, thus making more money off advertising. Maybe humans are just suckers for drama. But you don’t have to be nauseated by extreme emotion in order to be truly in love.

An acquaintance recently commented that she’s crying all the time, so that has to be good, right? Clearly it’s a sign of True Love! And…maybe it is. Sometimes you’re just overloaded with emotion and hope and gratitude and you have to process it through a good cry. That’s fine, and that seems to be what’s going on with her. But sometimes it’s that things aren’t quite adding up and you’re happy(?) but confused but hopeful but scared. Sometimes that turns out fine and sometimes it’s not fine at all.

For instance, I ran across a blog post that excerpted Fifty Shades of Crap Grey. I know, I know, I’m years behind here. But stay with me. This book is a bestseller, it’s wildly popular, and the content is horrifying. The main character is bursting into tears because she’s terrified of her love interest, and he never listens when she says no (ever), and there are grievous misunderstandings of what the word consent means. This is being presented as an appealing example of Tortured Love and a reasonable way to begin a relationship. It is actually all the classic signs of abuse, including a grooming stage and deeply concerned friends.

Especially when we’re young, it can be kind of fun to experience the emotional Roller Coaster of Truest Love—once. But I think we’ve all rolled our eyes at the TV screen after a show draws out the will-they-or-won’t-they story arc too far, and the drama isn’t pleasant in real life. I wouldn’t say rocky, highly-emotional starts are false or lesser or guaranteed to fail, but there’s a middle ground between “perfectly easy love at first sight” and “epic saga of pain and doom and destiny.” It’s okay to be comfortable.

I asked a friend once what had surprised her most about marriage. She had fifty years with her husband. She answered without hesitation: “How much fun it was.”
It was a lot of work, of course, but they had a great time. They took joy in each other, they stayed on the same team, they shared the best adventures, and they had fifty years of fun. It wasn’t a torment, it was a delight.

Sometimes, the epic-tormented-hearts-on-fire thing is just immaturity. I remember how unbelievably intense my feelings were when I was sixteen, seventeen, nineteen. You can have genuine feelings that aren’t ferociously intense, and you can have fierce feelings that don’t make you unhappy. Remember, Marianne wasn’t some experienced authority on love, she was a teenager who didn’t know any real young men and who read too much poetry. And in the end, she grows up. She learns how to channel her emotions in a way that’s balanced and healthy. And (spoiler alert) she ends up with someone wonderful, someone she got to know through a pleasant, stable courtship. Her feelings are as true as ever, but instead of torture, it’s a joy.

* * *

(Sidebar: there’s a rather lovely defense of Marianne here.)

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Linkage: Gratitude, Courtesy, Humanity

Contaminated Time and the Rediscovery of Leisure [Verily]
“We live with this constant flavor of never-enoughness.”

Give Me Gratitude or Give Me Debt [Momastery]
Perspectacles.

My Dad is a Right-Wing Asshole [Village Voice]
“The world officially ends when we let our beliefs conquer love. We must not let this happen.”

How to Be Polite [Medium]
This is one of the most inexplicably endearing things I have ever read.

And just for fun…

Love Letters from a Young Jackie O [Christie's]
I’ve always thought of being in love as being willing to do anything for the other person–starve to buy them bread and not mind living in Siberia with them–and I’ve always thought that every minute away from them would be hell–so looking at it that [way] I guess I’m not in love with you.”

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Evdokimov on the Law

The Law reveals sin, but it does not have the power to forgive sin, bestow justice, nor to order a paralytic to walk. The Law describes the precise situation of the sinner with a gruesome objectivity; it measures the abyss of his fall with its exact mathematical scale.

Paul Evdokimov

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Evdokimov on Love

At a certain level of depth, saying “I love you” means “we will live forever”

Paul Evdokimov

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4th Time’s the Charm: Reader Q’s

young orthodox christian bloggers
Ooh, great question. Who else do we know? Orthogents comes to mind, and some of the writers on the Sounding are our age. By Singing Light is mostly about books, and it’s one of my favorites. Malheure is fantastic.

guatemalan icons
Ah, thanks for asking! Yes, the icon drive has been going well, and if you have more icons send them to Fr. David Rucker directly.

examples manners
Yes, please.
Thank you!
How do I help?
There are some interesting examples and explanations here.

examples of courtesy
Courtesy is a form of thoughtfulness, a kindness. Holding the door open for the person behind you, asking someone (especially an older or disabled person) if you can get them anything while you’re up, deferring to the interests of another, especially if they are due a little extra respect or consideration—for example someone older, wiser, weaker, or even just often-overlooked.

what do older guys do to creep out younger femals
Well, any number of things, but it depends on the specific people in question. Generally creepy means “you do not have emotional permission to do XYZ”, whether that’s because XYZ is too personal/intimate for this situation or because XYZ is completely inappropriate always. An example of the first might be placing a hand on the small of her back, if that’s not within the normal realm of touch for the relationship; an example of the second could be propositioning her, or even just asking about her sex life and preferences. (Yes, that is a thing that happens. Ick.)
Another significant element is also not picking up on the other person’s cues to please leave now thanks, or deliberately making them feel like they can’t say no. With the age difference in particular, there can be a funky power dynamic, where the older person does something inappropriate but acts as if their behavior is reasonable, taking on this weird fond amusement about the younger person’s discomfort. Not kosher.

reasons why not to follow 21st century dating rules
In general, I recommend not following any rule that would require you to break another rule that you hold dear, or that’s foundational to your worldview, your happiness, or your integrity. If your rule is that you want to go from single life to a respectful, chaste, and clear-cut dating relationship to engagement to marriage to possibly babies, and to do it in that order, then the expected modern-day order (a series of blurry transitions from single life to ambiguously dating to sleeping together to living together to possibly kids to possibly marriage) isn’t likely to make you happy. I’m not sure there are hard-and-fast 21st century dating rules, but if you stumble across one and you don’t like it, then go with the rules that let you live with joy and comfort and integrity. Especially integrity.

why russian orthodox men make good husbands
Well, if we assume that we’re talking about God-fearing, church-going Orthodox men, then they make good husbands because (more assumptions) they have their priorities straight, they’re working on their lovingkindness and integrity, they have the examples of the saints and martyrs, and they have a father confessor who tells them when they’re out of line. All love comes from God, right? So a man who puts a priority on loving God is going to be an awful lot better at loving you.

boundaries for the friend zone
USE YOUR WORDS.

boundaries in the friend zone
Oh fine. If you are friends with someone that you’d rather be dating (and you’ve already asked them on a date and been rejected), there are a few things you can do to protect yourself from unnecessary agony. First of all, find someone other than your friend/love-interest to vent to about this. Your feelings are not your friend/love-interest’s problem. Keep an eye on how you spend your time. Even if you truly love your friend/love-interest as a friend in addition to a swoony love interest, don’t spend all your time with them or thinking about them. Don’t let them dump all their personal stuff on you, don’t go out of your way to be exceptionally nice, don’t be the shoulder to cry on about their romantic issues. Watch yourself, and if you notice you’re driving four hours out of your way to do a favor for your friend/love-interest, please pull over, call a friend, and plan a new roadtrip. A) You are not a doormat or a trained puppy, and treating yourself like one won’t win you any admiration from anybody. B) People aren’t vending machines; there is no amount of “nice” or good listening or overly-helpful favors that will earn you a relationship.
If you find trying to maintain a friendship with them endlessly tortuous, then don’t. It’s okay. You are allowed to say, “Hey, I still think you’re great, but I’m going to take a break for a few months to get over my feelings for you. I appreciate your help in this. I’ll be back in touch when I can be, but I need space and silence for a little while. Keep me in your prayers, and of course you’re in mine.”

i do not think
Might want to see to that.

articles on being a matushka
Have you seen Presbytera Anonyma? This and this in particular. What about Khouriyeh Said What? The Perfect Presbytera article has shown up on a few blogs, and it’s one of my favorites.

thank you note to orthodox priest and matushka
Always a good thing. I’m not sure there’s any national Appreciate Your Clergy day, but next Sunday’s as good a day as any.

eastern orthodoxy finding a husband
how to meet orthodox christian women
finding a husband orthodox
how. to meet single orthodox
Beats the heck out of me.
Oh, wait, no it doesn’t. 2 things: Make it a priority, and fill your life now with wonderful fulfilling things like good friends, fun hobbies, and a nourishing spiritual life. Step 1 is so you don’t spend more time complaining than going to church or to Orthodox gatherings. Step 2 is so you don’t act needy, self-focused, and boring when you get there.

Go to Orthodox talks and conferences, monastery retreats, mission trips, and summer camps. Mention to your priest you’d like to meet other Orthodox people your age. Hang out with Orthodox people of your same age and same gender whenever possible; friendship matters, and networking is useful. And fill your life with ways to glorify God right now.  I know it’s hard, and it’s easy to feel isolated in our sprawling world. But you’re going to be all right.

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Combat Boots and a Headscarf

Anna generously loaned me her copy of Nearly Orthodox, so here are my brief thoughts on it.
Tl;dr: I loved it.

I have been many things—nanny, firefighter, book-obsessed tree-climbing pintsized revolutionary (…apologies, Mrs. Cheney)—but I have never been a punk rocker. And my spiritual journey has been within the church since I was six years old. Still, Angela Doll Carson’s Nearly Orthodox made me feel understood. It made me feel not-alone.

She’s a phenomenal writer, vivid and crisp, and she strikes a balance between poetic imagery and the story itself. I loved the way she wove different threads together, tying anecdotes about her kids to theological quotes to her own thoughts and hesitation. She has the courage and stubbornness to ask hard questions, and to not flinch if she doesn’t like the answer at first glance. It was a wonderful book, and I highly recommend it. I expect it’ll find its way onto my own bookshelf, too.

Also I finished it in one night and cried all over Anna’s book. Sorry, dear.

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Belief

Those who believe that they believe in God, but without any passion in the heart, without anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, without an element of despair even in their consolation, believe only in the God-idea, not in God Himself.

-Miguel de Unamuno

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A tribute and changes

Happy new year, readers!

I’ve been reading Seraphic Singles for about four years. I was sad, though not surprised, to see that Dorothy Cummings McLean aka Auntie Seraphic, is hanging up her “Singles blog writer” hat; after all she is now a few years into a happy marriage and am quite sure wanting to pursue other interests. I am indebted to Seraphic because even though I don’t necessarily agree with all of the particulars of her advice, she opened my eyes to new ways of thinking about dating and singlehood.

Our culture is hostile to Christian or more traditional ways of handling romantic relationships. Being promiscuous is something to be celebrated and striving for chastity is embarrassing. Reading Seraphic and her community of super smart readers, it really helped sink in for me that the culture’s default view is an aberration of our times. Through correspondence, Seraphic helped me get out of a relationship that just wasn’t right for me, for which I am very grateful. That was almost 3 years ago, and still hurting from that breakup, I started blogging on dating and society. Through that blog, I met Brigid, who then suggested we start writing an Orthodox dating blog together. We jokingly refer to Seraphic as the blog’s Fairy Blogmother, for without her this blog wouldn’t exist.

Things are changing in Orthogalandia, too. Out of the three writers, one of us is getting married in the fall (yay, Laura!), I’m in the middle of a career change, and Brigid is Brigid, which means she’s the real writer of the blog and when she is famous and well published, you can say you knew her back when.

Never fear, though, we’re not going away; it’s just likely that the focus won’t be dating and marriage and singlehood quite as narrowly. Things have already been heading that way for a while; we’re just checking in with you guys to make it more official.

We’re also changing our motto. Tho “because dating is hard” is succinct and funny, it doesn’t really quite capture what we’re about anymore. Do you have any suggestions on what we should change it to? We’d love to hear them! What topics are you excited for us to write about?

 

 

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Words of Wisdom

It is not possible for us to become holy and to be saints in an hour! We must therefore progress from modest beginnings toward holiness and purity. Even were we to spend a thousand years in this life we should never perfectly attain it. Rather we must always struggle for it every day, as if mere beginners.”

St. Symeon the New Theologian

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Nearly Orthodox: Book Review

Bias alert: Angela Doll Carlson is a friend and we belong to the same parish. But that shouldn’t stop you from reading it!

Nearly Orthodox

Perfect cover for this book

I’m wary of conversion stories. Depending on what stage the convert wrote them in, they can be a bit too triumphalist or naif for my tastes. Angela Doll Carlson’s book, Nearly Orthodox, does not suffer from either of these.

Some converts enter the church enthusiastically and zealously. Angela entered it with trepidation.

It’s important to have stories from converts who made the choice to convert even if they had reservations. Sometimes we can get too caught up on the aesthetics of Orthodoxy; since many other Christian expressions do not offer the richness that come part and parcel with an Orthodox service so those things can be appealing to inquirers who feel that something is missing from their current practices. However, Orthodoxy can seem severely outdated or politically incorrect, causing inquirers to curb their enthusiasm (I mean, we have actual patriarchs).

However, it is evident from the pages of her book that her desire to know and serve God is strong. In here are stories about growing up Catholic; Angela’s punk rocker years; the side trip to Protestantism; marriage and family life; and vignettes on being an inquirer, then a catechumen, then finally her conversion. Angela puts her story out there in a vulnerable way that I can’t help but admire.

This is an absorbing read. I would recommend this book especially to inquirers or catechumens who have reservations about how strange Orthodoxy can be, and to those who feel they might not fit some sort of expected “convert” mold.

Update: Win a copy of the book here!

 

 

Categories: Book reviews, Reviews, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

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