9 March, 2009
I am so proud of you. I think if anyone was out in left field, it was Melissa for thinking her behavior with you as a married woman was warranted or kosher. It is a convenient cover—marriage—that one can retreat into, a safe, sanctified shield that can be used to thwart oncoming advances or to justify certain behavior because it is “protected.” This is bullshit. I can’t think of any married man that would be okay with his wife holding hands or grinding at a party with another man, unless it was her brother or something. That is the slippery start to affairs, and you did everything right by telling her that her coming to Bolivia (come on!) was a bad idea. I’d suggest reading my 8 January 2008 blog post ‘Seven Year Itch’ on this subject.
We are both, as you say, over-the-top emotional guys (though for myself I think less so these days), and on the surface I think you have every good reason to be skeptical about relationships that develop quickly. With Debbie, it has been an informed jump—it is a good fit, she is settled, we connect spiritually and can share our faith together, we have similar temperaments and expectations of the future, she is supportive and generous with her spirit, and I am crazy about her because of who she is and who she wants to be. Being extremely attracted to one another is just one of the many pluses.
The thing I don’t agree with you on is keeping your expectations low. Maybe you meant this in another way. At least in terms of relationships, I would rather be alone than be in something that was low-balled emotionally, safe, and guarded. When you’ve been hurt, this is a natural tendency I think, which you know as well as I do. I think prudence in the externals can come with abandonment to the emotions and the spirit of vulnerability that comes with letting your guard down on the inside. No one is rushing to get married or anything like that, but we are both rejoicing in what we feel has been an answer to both of our prayers, praising God for His goodness, and delivering us when we were both on the cusp of despair of never finding someone to walk the spiritual path with in a relationship.
I have always felt that it was better to temper extreme feelings (of being in love or otherwise) with low expectations and pessimism. I no longer feel that this is a good approach, especially with regards to love. What I am doing is listening to the inner echoes of my heart, tuning my ear like a bat to the reverberations off the walls of my insides, questioning what the frequencies (highly charged emotions have their own frequency different from rational discernment, but both have their place as equalizing informants—like faith and reason, that old married couple), yet choosing what I let in and what is not healthy or helpful. Those things need to wait at the door for their turn to come in and plead their case. So far the prosecution arguing against the relationship has had a tough case, but that’s mostly because their argument is weak in light of a very affirming sense of love, respect, friendship, and many other sustainable qualities Debbie and I hold for one another. In answer to your question, we met on catholicmatch.com.
Paul is a tough one for me too, and like you said, there are some things I just cannot accept that I see as culturally and historically situated that, when taken out of context, are just plain wrong. Perhaps this is my limited, cultured understanding. But I think it would be unrealistic to take things meant figuratively as literally, or to continue to observe customs from thousands of years ago that hold no place in our modern culture (though there are some things that are timeless). I feel a lot of anger sometimes when I read Paul, the Zealot, too. He is strong, and expects all of us to be strong like him, and blameless. Take about forgoing low expectations! Studying theology has been helpful for me in tempering what I see as extreme gut emotional reactions to some of what Paul (and others) write. That is why I have less respect for evangelicals who take everything in the Bible literally. One just has to take Jesus’ teaching on cutting off your hand or gouging out your eye if it causes you to sin to know that not everything he taught was to be taken literally, and it takes wisdom to know discern what was meant by his words.
It took me years to find a spiritual advisor I trusted and one who was a good fit, challenging without being ignorant, compassionate without being coddling. I would encourage you to keep high expectations when it comes to your spiritual life, not to low-ball yourself. God wants the best from you; you should want the best for yourself. You also wrote: “Can I sacrifice potential love and happiness for what I really want to share with a partner – that is, use the relationship to grow closer to God?” You certainly can, and people do all the time. Debbie and I have both waited a long time to meet someone who shared and respected our faith, but we held out for that, and thank God we did. Where your heart is, there your treasure will be. I think I mentioned Karl Rahner to you last letter. What trajectory, what course have you set your life to? On that path, that is where you will find your heart’s deepest desires…but only if you decide to go down that road, with all its perils and potential for heartache, disappointment, and crucifixion. Being a Christian is not easy. Loving someone, and accepting love, is not easy. Waiting is not easy. Doing field work in the mountains for the next month is not easy (but gives you invaluable time to reflect on these things, these golden kernels, that often get lost when we are engaged in the modern world). More and more it seems like nothing worth two bits is easy, and that’s just how the game goes. High stakes, baby. Ante up…I’d love to keep playing hands with you.