How does one relate?

I know it has been quite a while since I’ve written anything here. A lot of it has to do with finding time. Then it’s finding inspiration. Then it’s finding the stamina to see it through and not let nitpicky editor get in the way. (Believe me when I say I have the seeds of plenty of things to discuss in the future.) Thankfully there was something brought up recently that provided the right amount of pants kicking to write the following.

Behold, I shall tell three tales of three couples.

The first actually starts with a horrible breakup. The broken-hearted man leaves her place to lick and mend his wounds to face his tomorrows. Thankfully, he works at a job that keeps him both simulated and occupied. But hurt is still hurt. As he is recovering, he has these fleeting encounters with a woman who looks very similar to his previous lover. These coincidences soon leads to a formal encounter and through a series of small actions, a new relationship is forged. Fun times are to be had, thoughts are exchanged and emotions are shared. But then the good times soon turn to stressful times as they become more familiar with each other, including their low points. Misunderstandings cause tension and tension causes strain and strain will eventually lead to another breakdown. He ends up where he started.

The second involves a professor at a well-known institution of higher learning (you can guess all you want … the true answer and the point will be revealed anyway). While extremely knowledgeable about his subject matter, he treats it and his students with scorn and mild contempt. He has a reputation of being a smart alleck and he always rides the line of being brilliant and being detestable. This changes when he sees one of the librarians playing with a chess board. A quick game soon leads to a regular game play between them. From this game play, an unspoken friendship forms and a change occurs in him. One day, while trying to express the depths of his gratitude, it leads to confusion. This confusion turns contentious and both he and the friendship break. At his low, he begins to realize he needed to be clearer as well as truthful with her. He writes to her revealing all about himself and even explain why he acted the way he did. In the end, he has moved on from it a changed man: a man more himself.

The third occurs in a Serbian Orthodox parish (all of these take place in America). There is a new choir director who is clearly not Serbian and was not even born into the faith. There are those in the parish who are skeptical of him because of this. Nevertheless, his skill, talent and drive to make the choir a better one produces a result that many favor immediately. The few who have issues with him – and mostly beyond just him alone – are determined to stop him by any means necessary. They do so by spreading a slanderous rumor involving him and the parish’s ever-dutiful sacristan. She herself is very quiet and even withdrawn from almost everyone. Yet her deeds are well known. This slander begins to bring doubt for the director and yet he maintains his innocence and continues his mission. Eventually, he proves himself more than capable of leading the choir and serving the parish. In the meantime, the accusation take a toll on her and leads to an angry confrontation turned confession: she had fallen for him from the beginning. They end up spending the whole evening talking and their relationship has changed from casual acquaintance to something potentially deeper.

These tales are not necessarily parables but they do carry insight on how one can relate to another in a complete, total and, yes, intimate manner. In the first one, emotions drove the relationship and, in particular, it was the “high”. It starts out rosy and fun as everything is fresh and exciting. That leads to that feeling of euphoria where the endorphins seem to saturate the brain and everything feels wonderful. But time wears out the novelty and with every sharp step, there’s a dull thud. Emotions alone cannot endure.

There’s nothing wrong with euphoria in a relationship for it is icing on the cake of love-life. But you cannot make a cake purely out of icing. (That’s what the jar is for … but even then, you’ll regret it later). Emotions in general are akin to the phases of the moon: one night it’s bright and full and two weeks later, it’s completely in shadow. To expect a relationship to last for the duration based on a single moment that is not constant is to set one’s self up for failure. And in that moment of truth, you do one of three things: break it then and find someone else; try to “keep the high going” with that person (and more often than not, it will result in stunted emotional growth for both parties and in the relationship); forge the relationship on something that will endure through the wax and wanes of time like friendship, trust, honesty, respect, and loyalty (and all the above).

In the second one, it was lack of communication that created the tensions between them. As he was quite reserved and not prone to opening himself up to others, this created confusion for the other party. For her, he was a guy – known as a jerk (to put it mildly) – whom she could play chess. For him, she represented an ideal to pursue. He never revealed this nor himself to her. Thus his expression created confusion for her, which he then took as rejection and thus withdrawing himself even more into his shell. When the consequences of his actions were grave, he had to make the right choice by admitting to her and not to himself the ways and intentions of his heart. Then and only then could any relationship be salvaged.

Finally, we get to the third one. While things like attraction and mutual interests – and unfortunately, a scheme that slandered both of them – it was their shared faith that would further develop their relationship. The other two met by circumstances and future circumstances could either keep them together or drive them apart. Circumstances play a role here as well, but they know it’s more than just “living in a moment”. There is an end goal in mind: their salvation. This is not merely some exoneration from the mouth of hell. This is ultimately about living as we were created to be: in communion with God, not as His slaves but rather as His children.

Before they met, they were working out their salvation (mostly likely with fear and trembling). Each of them had their own strengths and weakness and each had to deal with life as they could either grow closer to God or further from Him. When they first talking in a deeper way than just mere surface pleasantries, they subconsciously started asking each other this question: can I help save you? This is not to say that they are the authors of this project as that’s for Christ alone. But could their interactions help each other get closer to God? It can only be answered fully with persistence and commitment to that end goal. This means being steadfast even when it seems difficult, being humble especially when it calls for it, being patient especially when it seems even more difficult and, above all else, being loving in all times.

My final thought on all of this would be to consider the strong difference between the first and the third. While the first has no hopes of lasting for a considerable duration, let alone a lifetime, it is the relationship that’s hailed by the Western secular culture as the one to pursue. The third is not immediately glamorous – and even has its own moments that could be viewed as drama – and it may seem obscure, I’d like to think it’s practiced more often than others may think.

Oh and by the way, if you really want to know what these tales really are: http://relate3.com. The first one is called On Nights Like This, the second All That We Are and the third Walk in Silence. Told you I was a busy man.

A continuation of thoughts about the previous post

So, in the previous post, we were commenting on how it’s really good to know exactly where you stand, and while talking to a friend about it afterwards, it was pointed out that really, simply saying “Fuck Yes, let’s do it!” isn’t enough, and I was remiss about pointing that fact out.

There is a postscript to this, and it is important.

You have to keep saying “Fuck yes!” every day, to the person you’re with. And there will be some mornings where you won’t want to. I have seen couples in the tasting room which have been together for 50 years, married since just after High school, and that’s an amazing level of dedication which is the closest thing in the real world to a fairytale romance. Dedication and commitment need to be the watchwords of any relationship.

In the Orthodox phronema, dedication and committment is a journey in Mutual Theosis. You’re working together for the salvation of both members, and indeed, the whole of the family unit. As a gentleman, you need to apply yourself to that. Your road to salvation is intimately intertwined with that of your spouse/girlfriend, and any kids you have. This is important, and should never be forgotten.

Also, because I am shameless, a plug for my new blog, which will (mostly) be all about Arizona wine.
https://azwinemonk.wordpress.com/ Most wine discussions made here will end up going there in the long run, so if you’re fond of wine also, make a visit.

On knowing where you stand

Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

So there’s an article floating around the internet currently, by Mark Manson. And while the title is overly blunt and may offend some sensibilities (along with some of the article contents), I really do feel it has some very valid and pertinant points, suggestions for premartial relations aside.

(the article, in question: http://markmanson.net/fuck-yes/)

In the article, Manson points out that, for those in the dating area, lots of our advice is about dealing with grey areas, and suggests that if you’re in a grey area, you’re already lost. In a sense, whole point of the article is about letting your yes be yes, and your no be no, akin to Jesus’s words on the Sermon of the Mount in Matthew 5:37.

Ambiguity is BAD in dating, unless it’s in the form of playful innuendo. One should always know explicitly where you stand. It will lessen your mistakes. Actually, Ambiguity is rather bad in most things. If you think you’re in “the friendzone” (as much as I hate that bloody term) with someone–ask them! For all you know, they’ve been waiting for you to make a move. Or not. At the very least, you’ll know where you stand, and that’s better than endless wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Suppose you meet someone. You get to know them for a while, and dance around the topic,a nd flirt a little bit, but at the same time, you wonder if this is going to be a thing. You can either sit back and keep dancing around it, or you can be up front. Is there someone you like? Approach them, and ask.

But don’t be ambigious. And I highly reccomend that you don’t be with someone simply to “settle”. Nobody deserves to be the one you settle for. They should be someone you’re absolutely crazy about, someone who you’d move mountains for. If there’s someone around that you feel merely lukewarm about, don’t hurt them by being lukewarm. Let your yes be yes, “let’s do this”, or let your no be “no, let’s not.” People will get severely hurt otherwise.

As Orthodox, we know what happens to lukewarm people. It states it clearly in Revelations 3:15-16

I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

So: Don’t be lukewarm. Choose. Decide. And don’t “settle” for someone less than you feel would be an amazing partner. Ambiguity is not attractive. This is good, actually, in all aspects of your life, whether romantic, career, or family life.

On Foundations and preparations

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All things are ready, if our mind be so.

If we want to be good husbands and fathers, we should prepare to be good husbands and fathers before we even meet the person we marry. We should carry ourselves with decorum, honesty, and integrity, so that we can be the kind of fathers necessary for our great grandchildren to be good fathers, and good husbands.

We must live our lives as an example for those who are yet to come, whether they be distant future relations, or even the hypothetical companions we have not encountered yet.

So, while you’re not married, or engaged, or dating yet, ask yourself: Are you ready to be that gentleman, at a moment’s notice? Are you ready to be a good husband? (Fatherhood, I hear, is almost impossible to prepare for, so aim for the husband bit first). Are you ready to treat someone as your equal, to help them help you work together in Christ? For mutual salvation?

If not, you should probably get on that.

Make your life in order. Get your place stable. More importantly: make your life so that you don’t *need* somebody to come in, but where it would be merely a “nice, but uncessary” addition. Finances and attitude in order. You don’t need to be wealthy, but at least stable.

Stability is key. You can’t build anything that will last through the ages on a wobbly foundation. Make yourself a stable gentleman that stands in the storms of life, and you’ll be infinately more attractive–and more importantly, have a more fulfilling life.

So: Start cultivating that life. Start cultivating that headspace. You’ll be glad you did.

On hope (and why bitterness is unattractive)

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The Father is my hope, the Son is my refuge, the Holy Spirit is my shelter, Holy Trinity, glory to you. My one and my every hope, now I entrust in you, O Mother of God, under your shelter cover me.

First, A story:
Once upon a time, many, many years ago, (in a land not terribly far away), before I was Orthodox, I was engaged for a time. Yes, I know, shocking. While we never did set a date for it, it did progress far enough for wedding rings to be acquired, and they were unreturnable after the relationship imploded. They were beautiful; gold, gleaming in light; Byzantine style, or so the description was. (I at least had the sense to like Byzantine art back then.)

A few years later, two close friends became engaged. Knowing that their hands were simular in size to mine and my now ex-fiancee, I offered to give them the rings which were now gathering dust in a closet. After thinking about it, and discussing it, they decided not to accept. I asked why, since it was clearly something that was going to save a ton of cash.

My friend’s response was: “It doesn’t feel right. I feel like if you’re giving us these, you’re abandoning your hope for a marriage in the future. I feel like you’re giving up the idea of finding someone. And neither of us want you to do that.”
I replied, half jokingly, “I lost all hope in that a long time ago.”
She then cut through all my bullshit, and said, with a note of sadness: “Yeah, I know, and you shouldn’t have. I worry about that. You shouldn’t give up hope.”

I was pretty floored back then. I realized that I wasn’t joking then. And she was right; my giving the rings to them was influenced by my own belief that I would never get married, and never find anyone, ever again.

Granted, It’s been almost 7 years since then, and I’m still not married, and there are times where I flip flop and lose hope in that, but still, I find I’m less pessimistic than I was then. And for some reason, I’ve been thinking a lot on that sequence of events lately.

Many Orthodox men (and non-Orthodox men, to be sure), are raised with, or culturally expected to, be married, and raise a family. There is a hope that this person is out there. That they’re just around the corner. And then, when it doesn’t happen for some reason or another, a desponance sets in. That God dislikes us. Or that there’s something fundimentally unattractive about us. Or that we’re horrible, abysmal people. That all women inherantly hate us. That we’re ugly. That they’re all out to get us.

It is a problem which resides in yourself, it is not insurmountable. Attitudes can be changed. Just because I’m single doesn’t mean that God hates me. It just means that I’m living in a lousy dating pool. (the fact is, most Orthodox people are!) I have an awkward head? Wear a hat. And so forth.

The problem is, we’re putting our hopes on wordly things. Yeah, I know, it’s pretty trite and cliche, but that doesn’t make it any less true. And romance is, technically, a worldly thing. Sure, marriage lasts into the Kingdom of Heaven, but there’s no need for sex or romance in the far distant future when the Kingdom of God returns to earth, which does make it (or at least some of the trappings) a bit wordly, despite the often beautiful theology surrounding it.

I remember hearing a sermon once, and I wish I could remember which priest it was, where it was mentioned that hope in material things, or worldly things can–and usually does—lead to dissapointment. Which leads to fear, then hatred, and then the dark side. By putting our hopes on a wife, and when after praying the akathist to St. Xenia for 50 days in a row* and one magically still doesn’t show up, we lose hope. We become bitter. And then we start blaming God, which is pretty uncool.

Bitterness is not becoming for a gentleman, I feel.

Instead, we should be placing our hopes on God, just as St. Ioannikos did, in the prayer above. The fact of the matter is that if you place your hope on something OUT of the world, beyond the universe, you’ll find yourself less likely to be dissapointed. And less bitter.

Enjoy the beauty of the world around you. Marvel at the falling leaves of gingkoes and oaks, and the darting flight of the hummingbirds. Look for the little ways in which God manifests in the world around you, and know that God’s got..something going on. Maybe you won’t find someone, but maybe because if you did, you wouldn’t have been able to save a burning school bus filled with kids on their way home from a youth retreat, or something, because maybe you would have been dating someone and not been there to save them.

Point: God is really mysterious. Point: I know that’s cliche. I really do know. And I know it’s not terribly helpful, but you have to start the attitude shift somewhere, because while many women I know do enjoy sarcasm, very few enjoy bitterness and curmudgeon-ness. There is a MASSIVE difference between simply not caring that you’re not married or dating, and being actively grumpy about it. And that difference shows.

Place your hopes in God, gentleman. You will not be dissapointed. And since all things are accomplished through God… you never know.

*Note: I’ve not actually tried this, does it work?** Sorry. Couldn’t resist. 🙂

**I stand corrected, it’s 40 days. Derp.

On fighting monsters

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In the wake of the tragic suicide of Robin Williams earlier this week, I’ve seen many stories surface. Someone even said that it was because he “opened his mind to demonic energy,” which lead to his suicide.

That’s fucking bullshit!

(Sorry for cursing, but it needed to be said.)

I’ve been battling depression myself for years, and I assure you, I’ve never made any pacts with demons, or opened myself up to outside powers. Depression is a fucking mental health issue, and has nothing to do with demonic possession, and I honestly want to punch everyone in the face who says stuff like that, because it’s a bloody cheap shot at a man who had a huge influence and made all of us laugh, at least once. He doesn’t deserve those allegations.

Here’s the thing, here’s what depression is, from someone who knows: It’s a monster. A fire-breathing sadness dragon. It is a seemingly endless cold, rough sea stretching from horizon to horizon, and you’re sailing on it in a rickety boat with a leaky hull and only a plastic beach bucket to bail out, and you’re in the middle of a storm that stretches from horizon to horizon.

“Can I ride this one out? Will the storm ever end?”

Depression is somewhat insidious. It sneaks up on you, lurking in the shadows of your mind, making you second-guess everything. It makes your triumphs failures, and turns your failures into triumphs. Sometimes you can fight it; other times you can control it, but it never really goes away. Even now, some days, I find myself hit hard. Now, I’ve more or less learned that it’s a beast with a cyclical clock, but even so, when it hits hard, it still feels like it’s going to last forever.

Because, see, here’s the thing: even when you think it’s gone, it’s always there, lurking in the shadows. Some days, you find yourself wondering if today is the day where you’ll lose it again, where you’ll be holding the knife, or the pill, and pondering if it’s really going to be better tomorrow.

You’re not alone in the struggle, my friend. Remember this: you are never alone. Repeat it with me now: YOU ARE NEVER ALONE.

Fighting depression is, quite frankly, like fighting a monster. Sometimes, it’s like fighting a hydra, and you feel like as soon as you lop off one head, twenty more come in place. And sometimes, you aren’t strong enough to defeat it on your own. It’s okay to admit that you’re in trouble and need help. It’s okay to call in the cavalry. Your ancestors defeated saber-toothed tigers and giant eagles and bears. Those survival skills aren’t so useful against a monster that lives in your own head.

Call a priest. Call a Friend. Call a priest who’s a friend. Call a hotline, if you get really bad and need help immediately. There’s people out there to help. There’s people out there waiting for you to ask them to help, who would drop everything to give you a leg up, and help you out, even if it’s simply to listen to what you’re going through.

If you need help, get help. Don’t be afraid to appear weak; remember, even Christ struggled in the Garden. And he was the Son of God.

NB: No, this is not a cry for help on my own end.  But I’ve been at that point before, long ago.  It could come again, for all I know.  Because, like I said, that’s the nature of depression.

On Communication

Communication is essential for any relationship to work, but simply being able to communicate freely is not a guarantee of a successful relationship. Two people have to be able to understand each other, too. You can talk all you want, but if your prospective romantic partner doesn’t understand a word of what you’re saying, then you’re headed for an iceberg.

People have different methods of communication, different ideas, and different definitions of things. What one person may define as a date is another person’s platonic movie night with a friend. If you’re not sharing what definitions mean, this can lead to huge problems after the fact (or during the fact). People have different languages, essentially, even while they might be speaking what sounds like yours.

It’s kind of like British English versus American English. I say pants, you assume they’re talking about my… well, underpants.

The point is, successful, and precise communication is what can save fights and struggles in the long run. And, while many trained psychologists don’t feel that the Meyers-Briggs type divisions are a thing, or even useful, I disagree. I feel the seperation of types can serve as a good guideline for compatibility. Why?

Meyers-Brig types can provide some indication of how people think; and people who think similarly seem to have similar definitions of things. An INTP like myself will often have a far different view of relationships (often a broader, big-picture view) and what goes on in them from someone who’s an ENTJ (who may have a far more in-depth narrow field of view, and sees things in a piecemeal fashion, rather than all at once), and so on. These differences in thought can lead to difficulty communicating the meaning of things, especially when the other person simply assumes they know what you’re talking about.

Simply talking at someone and expecting them to understand will not always work.How to solve this issue? Be explicit about what you mean. If you’re having the conversation with someone about whether or not to date them, define what you mean by “date,” and ask them to define it. Find out what their definition of courtship is, and so on.

Believe me, you’ll be much happier if you do the grunt work in trying to figure this all out BEFORE the fighting starts.

This also works for manifestations of love within relationships. Some people prefer touch, some prefer deeds, some prefer gifts. Get to know the way that your soon-to-be companion expresses love, and be sure to make nods to how they show it, when you show them your love after you’re together! I’ve seen fights break out over this, too.

On Thirty

So I just turned 30.

When I was 20, I assumed that when I was 30 I’d be married, raising a family, about to buy a house, and be part of a fantastic career (or finishing off a Ph.D–or both–because hey, the sky’s the limit, right?)

Only one of these things is true currently. My life at thirty is completely different than I expected: I’m Orthodox (back then, I was a pagan and had no interest), I work for the Arizona wine industry (a field I was only barely aware of at 20), and I’m happily single living in a fantastic town on the side of the mountain (I was expecting Flagstaff at that age).

It’s actually a better life, and a more fulfilling life than the one I imagined at 20, and one which I feel is even more stable than the one I imagined. I’m a more level-headed, peaceable-minded person than I imagined I would be, ten years ago.

Imagine that.

See, here’s the thing; being single at an older age like us is not a bad thing. It, as we’ve said before here countless times, is immensely rewarding. And the fact is, our lives need to be more stable before we consider bringing someone else into them. The reality of the current world is that, thanks to the economy, crushing burden of student loan debt, and other various sundry aspects, is that people of all genders find themselves unable to achieve stability in their 20’s; it’s become an extended time to be a teenager.

It’s only in our 30’s, I think, that we become stable enough to find our place in the world–and to hold it against all who come against us, and are able to keep doors open for those whom we want to be a part of our lives.

So. Here’s to the 30th decade.

Answers from the Google Searches, Volume 3

don’t depreciate yourself- YES.  Don’t do this.  It makes you feel bad, it makes others feel bad about you.  You’re hiding your talents under bushels, if you’re doing so.  I think I got that parable reference right.  The point is, if you depreciate yourself, you’re not living to your full potential of awesomeness.  On that note, don’t depreciate anyone else either.

longest lasting tyrannies- It depends on what we’re defining as a tyrrany here.  Are we talking dictatorships?  Despotic empires?  The Clasical Greek definition of a Tyrrany?  If the latter, I suspect Syracuse works best as the longest lasting Tyrrany as a political entity.  A very interesting place, actually. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_tyrants_of_Syracuse

few people like to think of themselve as cheap, but almost everyone seems to be- I disagree.  Chesterton, back me up here:  “There is no such thing on earth as an uninteresting subject; the only thing that can exist is an uninterested person.” This relates, of course, to what I mentioned above about not depreciating others.

beard gents- Beards are fantastic.  Some gentleman have beards, but I would argue that it’s not necessary that a gentleman have a beard.  Beards are a fashion, and I wonder if the fashion for gentleman to have beards stems from the purposeful unkemptness of Philosophers after the lifetime of Alexander the Great, which was the first time in the western world where facial hair was NOT fashionable, and it was a sign that Philosophers used as a way of seperating themselves from the realm of average popular culture.  I smell a thesis.  For someone else, that is, not for me.

dating orthodox christian and waiting for sex- Yeah, you really should be waiting for marriage for sex.

dating during a fast- It can be done.  In some ways, this emphasis during fasts on more Godly things allows a couple to focus more clearly on religious and spiritual aspects of a relationship, than the physical and emotional aspects.

long distance orthodox christian relationships- Oooh boy.  While I have lots of experience with long distance relationships, I don’t have any experience with long distance dating an Orthodox Christian.  That being said, the advice I would give is largely the same–you need to start planning an ending where the two of you are in the same location, and communicate this location.  Decide on this location.  The key to any long distance relationship is planning the ending of the distance aspect.  A relationship across distance cannot last forever unless the relationship eventually becomes close-distance. If you remain apart, you will drift apart and break.  It does allow for seperate growing into the faith, however, so there is a distinct bonus, especially if one partner is Orthodox and the other is not; it makes it easier to discern if Orthodoxy is a thing you want to pursue on its own merits, or you’re simply clouded with “wanting to be with your Orthodox partner”

true gentleman do not speak in sarcasm- I would say that this is not entirely true.  I would say that Gentleman do not speak in casual sarcasm.  Instead, when a gentleman speaks in sarcasm, it is to make a point explicit, especially if it is directed as another.  These are stealth insults, essentially, a way of speaking obliquely and tactly.  Pointless sarcasm, or sarcasm for the sake of sarcasm?  Perhaps something we shouldn’t do, except among our friends.  At least, that seems to be when I do it…

orthodox reflections on anxiety- As far as I’m aware, the only one i’ve penned was my entry on Social anxiety.  There are many different forms of anxiety, however, and I’d love to see a collection of quotes and sayings from church fathers and elders on this subject!  But also remember the words of St. Paul, in Philippians: “Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6)

how long to keep mavrodaphne- Mavrodaphne of Patras is technically a port.  Ports can be aged forever, essentially, when kept in the proper conditions.  These conditions are a proper temperature out of direct sunlight, on its side so that the cork is kept moist.  58 degrees to 62 degrees Fahrenheit is a good temperature.  In other words, keep it as long as you like, and drink it whenever you please. 🙂