How Life Works

I’ve had two conversations with friends that have been hanging out in the back of my mind for a while now.  Each had, at its root, a distinct topic and context; however, after I’d rolled the conversations over in my mind for a while, I realized that at the root of each conversation was the same theme.

Friend #1 (lets call her Marie) was trying to convince me to find my way back to the Seventh Day Adventist church in which we were both raised.  That isn’t really accurate, actually. I don’t want to paint Marie as an intolerant proselytizer who was trying at all costs to re-convert me.  After one of our trademark 2 hour-long phone conversations, we had somehow gotten on the topic of religion and she’d begun explaining why she strongly believed every word in the Bible to be the TRUTH and a direct edict from God.  I admitted what I had never had the vocabulary (or courage) to verbalize when we were good little Christian girls in Sabbath School: The Bible has kernels of truth in it that can provide guidance and order to many lives;  it is a document written by men who sincerely believed they were called by God to bring his word to fruition.  I, personally, am not so convinced of its divine inspiration.  I, personally, believe that the many sects of Christianity foolishly believe in its total ability to keep things “in order” a bit too much.

Marie and I went back and forth to no avail because what it all came down to was she chose to believe in Seventh Day Adventism and religion as a whole and I simply didn’t.  Marie is an intelligent, rational woman so she didn’t doom me to hell or patronize me by implying I was lost and she would try to help me be found.  Since we have a long friendship, this very heated debate didn’t end in a nasty tone at all.  As a matter of fact, it ended in an exhausted one because it was about 1 a.m when we both were like, “Damn.  I’m too old to be talking to you until all hours of the night.  We ain’t 13 no more.  Bye.”

What stands out in that lengthy conversation, though, was something Marie said.  When explaining why she believed so strongly in the Bible, she mentioned, “Each and every time I didn’t do what God said, I got nothing but pain.  Nothing but heartache.  I should have followed his word.”  When I offered that perhaps part of the beauty of being a human was encountering pain and making ridiculous mistakes so one learned from them and formulated a life path that made sense for her, Marie stood firm and insisted: “No…EVERY lesson I learned when I was not following Him, I wish I hadn’t.  The pain and heartache I caused myself was not necessary.”

What I heard underneath that: “If I remain a faithful Christian, I will exempt myself from pain.”

Friend #2 (let’s refer to her as Pam) and I were commiserating about what every single gal commiserates about: dating and the tedium and time involved in engaging in it, particularly in New York City.  Particularly, when you are in your 30’s.  The problem: We were encountering men who were charming, respectful and genuinely interested in us, just disinterested in  committing to anything remotely long term.  The usual scenario: He is happiest when I expect nothing more than what we’re doing now.

Pam seemed to have developed what she thought to be a fool proof plan to not “have my time wasted.”  She had implemented  into her dating lexicon the policy of not sleeping with a man until they were in a committed relationship.  She spoke of several men who didn’t like her plan and off handedly asserted: “Yeah, he didn’t want to go out anymore because I wasn’t sleeping with him after we dated for three months.  But, he didn’t want to even answer me directly when I asked him where he thought this was going.”  I had no problems with Pam’s no-sex-until-you’re-my-boyfriend rule.  I’ll be frank: I didn’t plan to follow her lead, but I could understand why she’d implemented this into her strategy of snagging a boyfriend.  I did innocently ask, though, “Well, what if EVERY man is not meant to be your boyfriend?  What if some of them are just meant to be temporary companions.  Not that you have to have sex with them, but just because you want to ultimately end up in a committed relationship, does that mean you can ONLY spend time with a man if it looks like he is THE ONE?”  Pam saw this as a waste of time and implied that I was a little immature if I could do that.  She seemed to insist that simply going out with a man (sex or no sex) who just wanted to show you a good time was a stage that women in our demographic should be over?  When women did that, they were putting themselves in danger of getting too wrapped up in the guy and then disappointed when he wouldn’t commit to something “real.”

She again stressed how that was wasting her time and much like Marie, made a statement that stayed with me: “So, he gets what he wants and I get to keep going out with him without a commitment?  And then when’s he through, he moves on.”  Underneath that, I heard: “I have developed a way to not get hurt or disappointed in matters of the heart.  If I just don’t have sex too soon, I won’t be disappointed by men so much. Thus, I will lessen the chance of painful heartache.”

Perhaps I am reading more into Pam and Marie’s belief system than they would like.  Or I could be completely misinterpreting them, but the subtext of both of their rationalizations seemed to be that if I do this, I will save myself from pain.

In my humble estimation, that is ridiculous.

Although life is a wonderful journey full of moments of triumph, it is also cluttered with unavoidable moments of sadness, distress, darkness.  Yes, we can make choices that lessen the dark moments, but the fact remains, pain is weaved into the very fabric of the human existence .  It is a natural and NECESSARY part of the human experience.  How can I explain to Marie that she can follow every rule – the Big 10 and the myriad number of minor ones – and she will still find herself nursing a wounded soul at some point in life?  She can be a faithful Christian, but the fact is…the world, like humans, is terribly flawed and she should expect to be disappointed/hurt/downtrodden even when everything she’s doing should lead to nothing but rewards.  

And Pam…I know there are many theories on how WOMEN can control and modify the behavior of men.  If women______, then men will___________.  If women don’t ________, then men won’t ___________.  While these theories sell millions of relationship books and may result in the rare woman modifying her particular male’s behavior to meet her needs, the simple truth is: If you plan on canoodling with those HUMAN men, there is a great likelihood that you will be hurt, disappointed, heartbroken regardless of how you have pain-proofed your encounters with them.  If you have sex with him too soon, there is a chance that you will be hurt.  If you hold out until he anoints you as “the one,” there is a great likelihood, you still will be hurt.  

How life works?  It is a marriage of joyous, exquisite moments that will bring tears to your eyes and cold, bleak moments that will reduce you to tears.

3 Responses

  1. Well damn. I guess that’s true: we g’on cry regardless.

    LOL! Preach, Buddha. Preach.

  2. I hear you Keturah. And you’re right: both Marie and Pam are trying to protect themselves from life itself. It’s all interesting…

  3. Oh, listen, I feel strongly that people’s attempt to avoid pain is what keeps them crouched in fear so much and for so long that at some point, it doesn’t matter what rules or doctrine they follow, they are likely going to encounter some turbulence. See Big Love for TV reference. Life is the perfectly imperfect conundrum. There are no hard and fast rules. Guidelines, perhaps, but rules? For both of your friends, an embracing attitude of love and acceptance would better serve them for living and having peace with themselves. Dogma gives you comfort, I know, but it doesn’t alleviate a broken heart. Standards create the perception of structure and order, but they don’t always produce tangible results. Conscience is a great guide if you trust yourself (which most people don’t hence leaving the door open to be “led” by someone) Life is mysterious in wonderful ways when we let go of expectation. Like now, all I expect is that by finishing this sentence, I will have finished this sentence.

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