A reader comments on my most recent post ...
First off, I recently discovered your blog and it has been like water in the desert. Thank you.
But here is where I need help: you see, I am one of those wistfully single Catholics, in my late 30s, watching my hopes for marriage and children dry up. Most of my dating career has been with mostly upstanding religious guys with whom I shared few common interests and to whom I felt no physical attraction. I mean, I have literally prayed that certain guys wouldn't try to kiss me for a few more dates, just because I wanted to give myself more time to get used to the thought.
But then I have also had the experience of dating a couple of guys (invariably non-religious) whom I couldn't wait to see again, where I didn't know which I wanted more: to kiss him or to talk with him some more. Attraction and feelings don't measure up to true friendship and sacrifice, I know that. But I still can't figure out a way to just make myself settle down with the religious fellow (who would probably objectively treat me well, maybe die for me if he married me, and when sex is off the table pretty much my only dating option)---And I ask this seriously with all my lonely, despairing heart: how do I make myself kiss him? (And, more importantly, enjoy his companionship when I just don't?)
I guess I see it like this: you were obviously drawn and attracted to acting, if you'd had no choice but to become an accountant, how would you have made it work?
My married friends tell me marriages are difficult enough when you're attracted to and like spending time with your spouse, and couldn't understand why I kept seeing this one guy whom I respected but wasn't attracted to (it was in a recent, desperate, "I'm going to be 40 in a couple years and he's Catholic and interested in me and there's nothing objectively wrong with him I have to just make this work" panic.) In the end, I broke it off because I just couldn't go through with it. The awkward, silent dinners were too awful---we had little beyond a shared religious background in common.
It was so easy for my non-religious friends: if they weren't attracted to someone or didn't enjoy hanging out with him, they stopped dating him. Simple and natural. For the most part, they found great, ethical, grounded husbands. Many of them are opposites in some respects (introverts / extroverts) but they are compatible.
Help? (I would also welcome any advice for getting over persons for whom you did have feelings and attraction because those memories aren't helping me.)
And now I have to figure out what to reply.
First of all, whatever I say, please consider the source. For some reason I've been inspired to write lately on issues of romance and friendship, especially as they tie in to the difficulties devout Christians encounter in their attempts to be devout Christians. However, I'm hardly an expert on this - but then again, who is? I've simply been blessed with a solid marriage that's had its share of problems, with a powerful vocation to serving God through the dramatic arts, and with a strange journey that's brought me to this point.
For my life has largely been the story of impossible desires fulfilled through unexpected fidelity. By that I mean that the great and deep call that I would hear as a boy walking alone in the country after midnight in Hermit Hollow in the foothills of the Missouri Ozarks where we lived, walking alone with the Milky Way and thousands of stars blazing overhead - that silent and mysterious majesty, "deep calling unto deep" (see Ps. 42:7), that mystery that lifted my heart to God even when I didn't believe in God - that great and profoundly serious and mournful joy - that call that I heard, that still small voice that moved me, all of that desire that I felt was a desire for something - for someone - that I loved. Yet how to find or serve my love was beyond me. How to answer that call in the real world was part of the mystery of the Incarnation.
Could I have been an accountant and not in show biz? No. I tried things like that. I tried to be sensible and ignore my desire. I tried to quench the Spirit (1 Thes. 5:19) and I could never get it to work. That's why I've always said that one of the signs of a true vocation is the inability to hold down a day job. And I couldn't - I simply couldn't - hold down a day job. I was unable - constitutionally unable - to do anything for money that was not related to my calling. It got so bad that the only money I had at one point was the jar of pennies my grandma had given me - a huge, heavy jar, whose contents, to my chagrin, after I counted them, amounted to $17 and change. I'd get some sort of work and quit after a day. I was like the character in the movie A Thousand Clowns, only more unhappy, more driven, less able to rest.
And because this drove me, I got creative. I realized I'd never get someone to hire me to do what I loved. I had to hire myself. So I started my own singing telegram business, and performed over 2,000 singing telegrams and made good money - doing what I loved. When that ended, I became a free-lance director, writer and teacher of children's theater classes. For a while I made a living as a stand-up comic. I made money touring to military bases overseas with a show I wrote and produced. And then I stumbled upon the delightful fun of playing all the parts in my own interactive comedy murder mysteries, which I sell to wineries across the country, and which has paid my bills and supported my family for 25 years now.
This wasn't easy. I suffered a lot. I never gave up. And I never married the lame gal who didn't turn me on.
This all sounds secular, but it's really all religious. For here I now am, having been an atheist at age nine, spiritual but not religious at age 18, a New Age Jungian by my mid-twenties, then after my conversion a right-wing fundamentalist Lutheran, a left-wing goofy Episcopalian, and finally simply Catholic: and still making a living doing what I love doing and what God has made me to do - here I am somehow continuing to find impossible desires fulfilled through unexpected fidelity. The fidelity has been at the very least to this: the realization that God does not place a longing in your heart unless He wants you to go on a quest to satisfy it; that the great mystery of our being includes what we love and what we're drawn to, includes who we love and who are drawn to marry, and that to deny or to bury this is somehow in some way to turn your back on God. It is to refuse to take up your cross and tread that winding and challenging trail, which is both a way of sorrows and a way of intense satisfaction and fulfillment.
That's why I criticize Devout Catholics who are simply eunuchs, quietists unwilling to cooperate with God's grace, unwilling to take a risk and suffer for what they love. That's why, on the other extreme, I criticize the Westians and the neo-Gnostic sex-magic Catholics who make a god of desire and who frustrate the function of the sexual urge by smearing it all over everything they see.
That's why I rail against Unreality (the tendency of devout Christians to make God something artificial and fictional that they can control) - for Unreality is anti-Incarnational. The challenge is the Incarnation: to bring God's Word to bear in the Real world - and that's painful, that's risky, that takes us out of our damned "comfort zones".
But even though I write (and write and write) I never quite get it right. When I wrote yesterday ...
Find a spouse who is willing to die for you. And then you be willing to die for your spouse.
... I was afraid that that would be misunderstood as "the whole picture" or the magic pill. What I meant was not, "Marry someone who is willing to die for you even if you're not attracted to him". When I quoted Chesterton, "I have known many happy marriages but never a compatible one," I did not mean that compatibility is beside the point. There is a literary license, a way of talking that's illustrative and metaphoric, that every written work adopts, which (apparently) confounds and confuses the literal minded among us - and confuses all of us when we're in a literal mode.
Yesterday's post was one in a longer series that touches on many aspects of a very big and complex story. The point of yesterday's post was, "Don't be fooled into thinking that intimacy is the same thing as friendship. Friendship is a greater thing, a divine thing, and intimacy does not necessarily indicate it. The heart of friendship is sacrifice, the cross of Christ. Any 'friend' that shirks this cross is either simply a casual acquaintance, or someone who's using you. And a fair weather friend is a foul friend indeed."
But, as you know, dear reader, a friendship with no spark - even if there's mutual self-sacrifice - is not the sort of stuff that makes for a good marriage. Agape without Eros is clinical and dead. Eros without Agape consumes itself in lust. The challenge is uniting them both - which is our great call: a call to love, for God is love.
And so the answer (after all this verbiage) is rather obvious. Don't date guys you're not attracted to. Duh.
Why is this so shocking in the Devout Christian world? Indeed, if you read some of my earlier posts on this subject, you'll find that if I so much as say, "Look for character in a prospective mate; that's more important that religion," readers will quote Canon Law to me and tell me that Catholics should not marry non-Catholics. But not every non-Catholic is really not-Catholic: full communion with Christ is an outward sign of an inward mystery, and what you want is a man who is Good, for all Goodness comes from Christ. You want a man who is willing to be in full communion with Christ, but how he gets there may end up being largely determined by you and how you love him. Yes, you must get married in the Church and you must raise your kids in the Church - but don't put the cart before the horse, and don't date only devout Catholics (who are often simply nuts), for your true love probably lives outside of your own metaphoric zip code. In other words, better a good man who doesn't take communion than a scoundrel or a loser who does.
For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband (1 Cor. 7:14)
So don't compromise. Don't settle.
There's a reason you're attracted to certain men and not attracted to others. Deny that at your own peril. Attraction alone does not make a marriage, any more than intimacy makes a friendship. But it's part of the picture.
And the picture is a vast and sometimes confusing one indeed. And yet some day we'll see the whole of it. Here we are on the wrong side of the tapestry. But there we will see how all the threads fit together in a design more beautiful and grand than we can imagine.