I was raised by parents who thought it was very important to be educated. The foundation of education, from their perspective, was reading. My brother and I were read to before and after birth, and the books we were read were adult literature, most of the time, not children’s story books. We were both taught to read for ourselves before we started school. I was reading “real” books by the age of 4. We were raised with good literature, including both fiction and non-fiction. Commonplace in our home were Sherlock Holmes novels, Mark Twain’s writings, C.S. Lewis’ books (Chronicles of Narnia, and his apologetics), Jane Austen’s works, William Shakespeare’s brilliance, and too many others to recall or name here. Heavily dominating the literary training of our youth was the Bible. This is where I get my vast love of reading, literature, writing, and speaking. I love, with all that is in me, words.
Sometimes, I forget that other people don’t come from extraordinarily literate families like mine. Sometimes, it doesn’t occur to me that the language I embrace and use so imaginatively is gibberish to those with less extensive vocabularies. Frankly, it wasn’t until adulthood that this thought even occurred to me at all. A friend of mine asked me to teach her English as a second language. Important point—English is the only language said lady has ever spoken/read/learned. She would pick a word from our conversations, ask me to define it, then find somewhere to use it within 24 hours. She ASKED me to correct her grammar! Dream come true. Haha. That moment defined a tiny thought in my brain. That thought triggered a greater realization. Not everyone thinks exactly the way I do. Amazing.
Something incredible about language is what it does inside our brains. Words are tools by which we learn to embrace and use our world. Teaching someone words is a portion of teaching someone thoughts. When you have words at your disposal, you have more ingredients for thought. Thought leads to ideas. Ideas lead to action. Action leads to experience. Experience equals education. I will, at this time, refrain from stepping onto my soapbox regarding education, as that is quite another topic and not the one I wish to discuss for the time being. Suffice it to say, readers are thinkers.
When you are raised to read and reason, you learn to think things through before you act on them. Major life decisions require thoughtful planning. Believe me, I have a truly spontaneous nature, but that doesn’t keep me from refusing to act on foolish thoughts… well, most of the time, anyway. One of the major decisions in life, from my perspective, is the person to whom you will be bound for eternity—well, at least ‘til death do you part. As a little girl, I watched my mother and learned how to be a woman. I was raised to believe that the highest calling any woman can have is to be a homemaker, a wife, a mother. Having pursued careers, owned businesses, gotten ejumacated, run wild, and eventually started to grow up, I have come full circle—to the point that I believe little else with such fervency. I truly desire to be called to that noblest profession. There is one teensy tinesy little caveat with that. It’s awfully hard to be a homemaker/wife/mother when you’re single.
Beyond that, (eventually I will get to the subject of this post, I promise) a favorite topic, whether in thought or conversation, of girls the world over is boys. We (well, at least the straight ones of us) think of them a lot. Those of us (guilty, as charged) who are, what we called in elementary school, “boy-crazy” think of them more than a lot—read constantly. Those who are both boy-crazy and raised to believe that homemaker is the highest calling are pooched from the get-go, because we put a lot of thought into what Prince Charming is going to be like. When you couple that with a literary bent and the thought-processes borne of studying thoughts of great thinkers, you basically have a mess. This calls to mind that part of a song from Music Man when Marion the Librarian’s mother is trying to convince her to give Professor Hill a chance—“I know all about your standards, and if you don’t mind my saying so, there’s not a man alive who could hope to measure up to that blend of Paul Bunyan, St. Pat, and Noah Webster you’ve concocted for yourself out of your Irish imagination, your Iowa stubbornness, and your library full of books!” To put it simply, we think ourselves out of the possibility of a relationship with anything that even vaguely resembles a human.
So, we make lists. Lists of things he’ll like. Lists of things he won’t like. Lists of things he’ll do. Lists of things he won’t do. Lists of things he’ll be, won’t be, will think, won’t think, will have, won’t have, will look like, won’t look like, etc. etc. etc. Lists of lists and lists of places you left the lists of lists because you can’t keep up with them all. And then, every once in awhile, you take all the lists and put them in a pile and set them on fire and watch them burn, until your smoke alarm goes off and the Alexandria Fire Department get in their shiny trucks and come over to rescue you from your burning apartment. And you think, “Oh, as soon as they let me back in, I need to add “Firefighter” to list 32—no, wait, I burned that one, too.”
As a single, fairly level-headed adult who desires to remain the latter but not the former, for most of the rest of her life, I keep my eyes open. I observe people. I don’t often act on my observations, anymore, due to a pesky little thing called self-preservation, but from time to time, I get into “dating” mode. Usually short-lived, “dating” mode for me is a flurry of first dates, and rarely second ones. Occasionally, someone strikes my fancy or hits enough points on my endless lists that I’ll allow myself to consider a relationship. Even less often, I’ll actually try out that relationship. To put this in perspective, in my post-college life (all seven years of it), there have been three guys who I’ve considered to be my boyfriend, three more who considered themselves to be my boyfriend, and two more that I thought about potentially kindling a romance. None of these have lasted longer than a month. (Someday I’ll write a “war” stories blog post and fill you in on all that.)
The reason most guys don’t make it past a first date is that I’m not interested in CHANGING guys. I have no desire to push, prod, or nag them into being someone else (or becoming a Man). I wouldn’t want anyone to do that to me, either. I don’t want to saddle myself with someone who doesn’t live up to my standards, someone who drives me nuts with his need to discuss politics, someone who fancies himself an intellectual and is therefore incapable of condescending to the level of someone who is, frankly, more intelligent, better-read, and way out of his league (yeah, that’s me), someone to whom I’m not physically attracted, someone who, after one date, feels it’s appropriate to call me at 3 in the morning on a Tuesday for reasons unknown then get bent out of shape when I’m not particularly thrilled that he awakened me to chat about nothing specific, someone who is unstable, someone with anger issues, someone who has no respect for my time and even less respect for my person, or any of the other, somehow unsatisfactory “someones” who troll the world. (Here, I shall refrain from stepping onto my “State of the Dating World Address” soap box.)
The main problem with this whole thing is—They’re. All. Alike. Every. Last. One. Of. Them. You try and you try to pick the one who seems the least nuts, who meets, in some way, a portion of your Non-Negotiables, who might, perchance, not make your family want to kill him on sight, who is vaguely attractive, who has a “good” job (whatever that is), who has an “education” (whatever the heck that means), etc. etc. etc., and they’re all alike. Frankly, they’re all completely wrong. Well, for me, anyway. They’re all self-aggrandizing, pompous, obnoxious, yuppies who need a swift kick in the pants administered by a real man. Bar-none. And some of them are downright rude, or they’re just plain jerks. They’re a waste of my time and energy, and nothing, absolutely nothing gives me a headache like that particular variety of a waste of my time and energy.
So I met this guy. He drives me crazy. He’s nothing like anyone I’ve ever dated. My favorite term for him is “bonehead.” Yup, he’s a bonehead. He is almost as much of a bonehead as I am. OK, maybe he’s more of one. He scores so low on my list-compliance test that I almost didn’t acknowledge that he was on my radar at all. The problem is that he’s forced me to re-think the lists themselves. He is completely, totally, and in all other ways, utterly inappropriate for me. He flat-out doesn’t qualify for an AUDITION for the role of “Man in My Life,” much less a call-back. Like I said, he’s a bonehead. But. Yeah, you knew it was coming. BUT. But, he fascinates me. He intrigues me. He attracts me. He makes my brain scream, my heart cry, and my body zing. I get all confused and enthralled when I think about the possibilities. Then I get depressed because there is just no way. None. And then he dumps me. Out of the blue. One day, we’re happy. The next day, he’s blank, and we’re done. I’m relieved. Really. Truly. On the level of my heart that says, “Whew that was a close call, and he could have messed you up BAD…” (yes, that level of my heart does not always acknowledge my internal grammar checks) I am relieved. Now I don’t have to worry about him being around my family and the potential offense he can spark. And then, the little girl in me—the one who refuses to succumb to anything so boring as “appropriate”—cries and says, “But now I don’t have to worry about him being around my family…”
You see, in all my list-making, all my life, I failed to consider some things. I failed to consider the fact that a girl who is so boneheaded and heartstrong as I needs a strong man in her world. I failed to consider that the woman in me needs a man that can meet my velvet with a boulder of his personality. I failed to consider that a man entirely unlike my father will never earn my respect and will never be worthy of my love and devotion—no matter how I long to give it. I failed to remember that said Daddy is also a bonehead. I failed to consider that the fact of an attraction between the soft woman I strive to be and the hard man that I need would cripple all of the reasoning that I bring with me. I failed to consider that the man I need, the man that the woman I’m becoming needs, might just not be predictable. He might not fit into my neat little packages. He may not look the way I expect him to. He may affront me with the force of his being and make me crazy. He may be a cave man, a beast, a bonehead—and when you put “my” in front of those words, they become terms of endearment, loving niceties. He may be too many things I hadn’t thought of and too few of the things I had thought of for me to even consider. I failed to consider reality. I read too many books.
OK, so that’s it. No more of him. He’s not mine, nor was he, except in my head, or when we were alone and he’d whisper those honey-soaked words that professed my possession of him. My boyfriend. My Man. My Beast. My Caveman. My Bonehead. OK. It didn’t last long enough for me to be too hurt. But two little girls are in the back of my head, like children on a cross-country family vacation. One is the prim and proper “big” sister who insists on dressing up in mommy’s shoes and wearing her pearls everywhere she goes. The other is the free-spirit who prefers her scuffed up jeans and her bicycle (or pony, in my case) and a smudge of dirt on her cheek to the perfume and powder of her polar-opposite twin. They sit back there, softly arguing. Not so much that Mom and Dad (my conscious thoughts) are forced from their conversation in the front seat to intervene and bring order, but just loudly enough that when there’s a lull, the parents are aware of the subject at hand. Instead of arguing over a toy or picking on each other out of exhaustion or crankiness, the twins in the backseat of my mind are arguing over life, the future, the potential for happiness, the dreams I hold dearest, and the realism of the necessity of lists.
“You can’t consider someone like that. He swears too much to even introduce to the family. He has tattoos for Pete’s sake, and wants more. He’s uncouth and undeveloped. He hasn’t yet learned some of the most important lessons in life, even though he’s 5 years your senior!”
“Yes, I know all that.” The little foot would stomp the floor-board impatiently if it could reach, but being short, the little girl actually kicks the back of the driver’s seat instead. “But the only people I’ve ever met who are ‘appropriate’ for me are not attractive. I have no respect for them. They don’t meet me on my level or challenge me like that. Those people just bore me, give me a headache, and annoy me. He's a MAN. He makes the girl in me wake up and take notice!”
“But you can’t base a future on how someone makes you FEEL. Feelings are fickle.” She’s absentmindedly twirling the string of pearls through her fingers. “Feelings tell you nothing, but that you’re alive—“
“Exactly! I’m ALIVE!”
“—But you can’t base a future on a vital sign!”
“But if I don’t have vital signs, how can I have a future?”
And Satin Perfume & Pearls pauses, always careful to choose her words with consideration. Satin Ponies & Puddles looks very proud of herself for a heartbeat, then more unsure as the two consider. And the argument continues, quietly, in the back of my mind.
So, my paradigm has shifted. I’ve always known that some things work and some don’t. I’ve always known that there are things I want in my life and things I don’t. The man in my world will need to be certain things and need to not be others. It’s just that I’m not as sure of all those things as I was before. The problem with being sure is dealing with the sharp contrast between surety and reality. A few of my Non-Negotiables remain. A few are less “Non” and more “Negotiable”, and a few things that I hadn’t considered have become mainstays of the Non-Negotiable master list. Thanks to the man who was briefly My Beast, My Strong Man, My Bonehead. Yes, Bonehead. That is now a Non-Negotiable.
It took someone who does not think the way I think, who doesn’t have the “education” that I have, who doesn’t meet my qualifications, who doesn’t fit. It took someone who can’t possibly be my one-and-only to teach me that my scripted suitors don’t fit, that my lists don’t cover all the bases, that the intangibles create the romance, and that I need to rethink this whole idea of who will be a part of my future. He’ll never read these words, I’m sure, but I thank him, with all my heart. And I thank my girlfriend who opened the door with her request for English lessons, because if I hadn’t realized that mine was not the only perspective, I would have never been open to discovering this whole other side of the man I will someday love and marry. And now, bring on the Boneheads. :D