Him: I love you.
Me: I love you, too. But if you get me pregnant, I’ll stab you in the eye.
Him: I have two.
Him: I love you.
Me: I love you, too. But if you get me pregnant, I’ll stab you in the eye.
Him: I have two.
This year, I revealed to my husband that I actually kind of like Valentine’s Day. This is despite all the times I told him that I hated it, it’s lame and stupid, and a made-up, over-commercialized saccharine-fest invented by Hallmark and Big Floral. For fourteen years, the poor man has been wondering why, every February 14, I would say I wasn’t mad at him, while I was clearly mad at him.
I was mad, you see, because everyone else was getting flowers and riding in heart-shaped hot air balloons and– I don’t know, eating hot fudge sundaes that turned out to have a tiny violin player at the bottom. And here I was getting nothing, which is what I repeatedly told him I wanted. Pray for me: I’m married to a monster.
Anyway, I finally realized that it doesn’t make me defective to enjoy flowers — and that if it’s artificial to suddenly act romantic on a nationally-specified day — well, we need all the help we can get. Alarm clocks are artificial, too, but if they didn’t automatically remind us of what we ought to do, we’d be in big trouble. So, yeah, I asked him to get me flowers, and take the plastic wrap off, and he will, and I’m going to like them. Whew, that wasn’t so hard!
Having taken this huge leap forward in our communication skills, I decided to hunt around to see what normal human beings do on Valentine’s Day.
If you want to feel like you’ve got your act together, just ask the internet a question. Okay, maybe not in all circumstances. If you’re rewiring your living room, for instance, or trying to remove the Spaghetti-o decoupage from an angry cat, you may very well have lots to learn.
But if you need help with your relationships? A quick trip down Google lane will have you feeling like an expert, a champion, a genius, a hero of common sense and decency. For instance, if you Google “What do guys want for Valentine’s Day?” you will come across this depressing paen to modern love, written by a man:
One of my favorite presents was a trip to the grocery store.
I remember the clear, cloudless day, sun shining down on me proudly pushing my cart into Central Market. Rachel was with me, and some friends who came along.
I picked up a steak and set it in the cart. Rachel said, “That’s great, Doug!”
I grabbed some chips. Rachel said, “That’s really great, Doug!”
I picked up some really expensive jam. Rachel said, “Yum, that will be really great, Doug!”
In fact everything I picked up got the same response from her (or very close to it), and that was my present: I could choose anything I wanted, and she could only say how great everything was. What an awesome gift that was, a trip to the grocery store.
So what did I get, besides some red AND yellow peppers?
I got what most men want. I was accepted.
I weep for America. I weep for mankind. I weep for myself, because this is the saddest, stupidest thing I’ve ever read, and I read it three times to make sure I wasn’t missing something. What is Doug going to get for Christmas from the gracious lady Rachel? A coupon for Not Getting Kicked In the Nuts?
You know, I probably treat my husband this way sometimes. But the difference is, neither one of us is okay with it. We don’t assume that relentless criticism and belittling is part of a normal relationship — we try to get past it. And please note, Doug and Rachel’s travesty of a relationship is just as much Doug’s fault as it is Rachel’s: women can’t demean their husbands and boyfriends without the man allowing, even wanting it to happen. It takes two to be this dysfunctional.
This reminds me of the story of the man who had invented a brilliant method for saving money on the farm. “On the first week,” he says, “I fed my horse a bale of hay. On the second week, I fed him half a bale of hay. On the third week, I fed him a quarter of a bale. I was damn near to teaching the horse to live on nothing at all, but on the fourth week, the ungrateful s.o.b. died on me!”
Happy stupid Valentine’s Day, folks. I hope you get something nice. Or if you get nothing, I hope at least it doesn’t feel like a gift!
Some time ago, an online discussion of NFP took an interesting turn. I remember it especially because I got off a pretty good zinger (and that’s what we Catholic bloggers do to advance the kingdom of God: we zing people).
The Other Guy’s argument went like this: Sure, sure, the Church permits NFP to space out pregnancies in serious circumstances. Because we are a stiff-necked people, she even turns her head while we stretch the definition of “serious.” But really, if we truly want to follow God, shouldn’t we learn to let go? Isn’t the lesson of faith that God will provide for our needs, whether emotional, physical, spiritual, or even financial? NFP, more often than not, is a crutch which interferes with our radical dependence on God. He is calling us to loosen up that death grip of control and abandon ourselves more generously to his will.
The answer, of course, is that he is calling some people to give up control. To others, the call is entirely different: take charge, be responsible, grow up. Some people are already quite good at living with abandonment, thank you very much, and what God wants from them is a little self-control. It’s not even necessarily about having or not having a baby: it’s about taking responsibility for your life in general.
Different people, different situations, different lessons to be learned.
And I was gratified when several people said, “Wow, thanks, you’re right. I never thought of it that way before.” You’re welcome, and may God bless you and some day make you as insightful as I am.
I had it set in my head that it was a battle of prudence vs. generosity — that some people were called to one, and some to the other. And secretly, I thought that we overly-abandoned types had chosen the better part, even in our weakness. I admired people with prudence in much the same way as I admired Superman for flying: nice trick, and I wish I could do it — but who really wants to be Superman? Is this a guy who could fall in love? Look how clean he is, and how cold.
Prudence, like temperance, is such a dreary virtue. Justice and fortitude are about getting stuff done — but prudence and temperance are all about holding back, clamping down, cutting back, saying no. It’s all about the negative: wait, stop, think, don’t do it, hold your horses, cut it out.
Or . . . not. In this season of our life, it seems that another baby is a joy to be postponed for a while yet. With growing astonishment, I’m discovering that there is no tension between prudence and generosity. Prudence is a kind of generosity. Of course it is! Everything that comes from God overflows. What is the promised land? Not a static place, a spot on the map, but a state of motion, of spilling over — a land flowing with milk and honey. And if virtuous behavior imitates God, then how could some virtues be more petty than others?
You can do it wrong. You can exercise self-control with a mean heart, with a bitterness of restraint, or with fear. But that’s not true prudence, any more than it’s true fortitude to sit dozing in a car that someone else is steering through the storm. With prudence comes an openness of heart, that same sensation of welling up, of cracking open and flowing over that often comes (but doesn’t always hang around!) when we immerse ourselves in the will of God. I did not know how much warmth and love were at the heart of this misunderstood virtue.
I know it’s not all about the feeling. I know (or at least I’m learning) the dangers of depending on those occasional spiritual gifts of religious emotion, discussed so lucidly by Jen Fulwiler. On the other hand, when we decided to be more prudent, I wasn’t expecting any emotion at all. I was expecting something utterly dry and mechanical, something contrary to my nature, something foreign to my relationship with my husband.
Instead? It’s like one of those dreams where you’re wandering around on the top floor of your house, looking and looking for something — and what is this? A whole other room. You open the door, and step inside — and there you find what you were looking for.
There are no petty virtues. Everything that comes from God is a form of love. Why do I need to learn this so many times?
Belief in God is for the weak, who are just looking for comfort and an escape from reality.
Some days, yeah. Probably. But also:
You beg God for strength often enough, and eventually you will see that you have none yourself. None. What you are without God is brittle and empty and cold, like dead coral. You can’t even make your own heart beat.
You pray for the courage to forgive someone, and you soon notice that you yourself live next to the abyss. You play next to it — you spend your life fooling around, threatening to throw yourself in, just to get attention — and the communion of saints is forever hauling you back, buckling your safety straps again, teaching you the same old rules of basic decency.
You’re called to love, stupidly, endlessly, outrageously. You think on the perfections of God, and then you see that you have been pouring your heart into people and things whose whole nature is to let you down. And after you realize this, your main responsibility is to love some more.
And you’re called to be loved. He loves you when you don’t want to be loved, and then He leaves you when you don’t want to be left. And when you don’t like it, that’s when you need to change.
The mercy of God comes like a flood. Not a warm bath: a flood.
You can go back and salvage some of your stuff, but you will not be living in that house again.
As of now, we are surviving, we are building a new marriage and our old marriage is dead and gone. It’s is withered and decayed and the new one is bright and filled with hope. As of right now, I love my husband more than I ever have. We are not merely “riding it out”. Everything is new again. I place the “blame” on you, Dear People. When this broke, my husband was very lost. He will tell you he was in the darkest place he has ever been. He was evil or surrounded by evil, not sure. He was depressed, he obviously wasn’t thinking straight and the more he made bad choices, the worse he felt, and in turn would make more bad choices. He was just piling more “spiritual muck” onto himself. As Mark Shea says “sin makes you stupid”. So many men I see who take the route my husband have become literally unreachable under all that muck. When you all reached out and prayed, my husband will tell you it was around that time he started to wake up and come out the fog. This wasn’t an immediate process and at first, he fought it, but it was a way for God to grab him and take hold and slowly start clearing that muck away.
I cannot underestimate the practical help as well, the donations, the words of encouragement. I was…hysterical. I was scared, confused. At the time, the kind words I read and the support kept me going. I desperately needed it because while I was receiving support here, I was hearing equally…um, “non-supportive” words from some of the icky people my husband allowed to influence him. One of his family members told me it was my fault because I had so many kids. Seven is ridiculous, I should have stopped at three and my husband clearly didn’t want any more but I refused to listen. I must have had those kids to keep him around. She, other family, the girlfriend all told me it was because I “was a bad wife”. So yes, hearing encouraging words was necessary at that point because I didn’t know what was right, what was happening, what was real and my self-esteem struck a huge blow so it was easy to believe I deserved it all for doing things like having children, and being a boring housewife.
The donations helped in more ways than the obvious as well. My husband left and came home in February. Yes, he did support us, but in his very “rational” state, he did not think about what it costs to support a family of 8 in one spot and the cost of supporting himself in the New York City area 3 hours away prior to leaving. The donations helped with practical matters, but it also gave me a great deal of confidence that some how, some way, if things go badly, I’ll make it. I think it also sent a signal to him that despite surrounding himself with nitwits like the family members I described who had his ear, most people looked down on his actions to the point they were willing to donate money! (Incidentally, when this happened, I became adept at finding email accounts, decoding passwords and an ex girlfriend came out the woodwork who had been lurking on this blog to congratulate him on finally getting rid of the “old ball and chain”, to tell him to contact her and to let him know “do you know she’s asking for donations?” I deleted it.)
There has been talk that maybe people should not say bad things about Bud McFarlane Jr for leaving his wife in the comboxes lately. No. He should know that the general population looks down on such actions. Admonish the sinner. It’s not simply for the sake of “siding” with Bai, but for the sake of his own soul. My husband, on his own accord went to confession, and spent an half hour bringing the priest up to speed. Mass that day, ended up starting late because of it. I’m not sure if that would have happened if things did not play out the way they did. Every piece of this had it’s purpose.
So what happened? I cannot even begin to start, it would take a book. It was the hardest year of my life. I now have grey hair, crows feet. I have these permanent bags under my eyes from crying everyday (great product: ).
I can say that this was a spiritual battle for sure. At first our progress was teeny tiny baby steps and a lot of uncertainty. It wasn’t until late June that I decided I would stay married to him. Before that, I don’t think he was certain about staying married to me until February-when he decided he wanted the marriage, I was sick, fed up, done with him. Since June, the progress was slow and then started snowballing. Spiritually, each time we made a large step at progress, Satan was right there with a rebuttal. Every stinking time. This is still the case. It’s almost immediate. We actually can see it for what it is and more and more it gives me the confidence that we are “meant to be”. The only way things will continue to work from here on out is relying on prayer and the sacraments. Satan has a foothold in our lives. No way around that.
I want to share some things I learned for anyone going through this:
1. Pray, pray, pray. You have nothing else but God. I made the Novena to the 13 Blessed Souls a few times, the St. Rita I don’t know how many times. Our Lady Undoer of Knots, St. Jude, St. Joseph the Flying Novena to the Infant of Prague in addtion to tons of rosaries, Chaplets of Divine Mercy, the Angelus everyday for months. I said a Magnificat every time it popped into my head. I don’t even know how many novenas I made. I begged for prayers. I debated a lot between telling people and asking for prayers and keeping my dirty laundry to myself. It’s a tough call because people who love you and see you suffer will not want you to reconcile with your spouse, which is 150% completely understandable. Still, I think the reason my husband turned around was the prayers.
There will be times when you will doubt if God even exists. Pray harder then.
2. Read Love Must Be Tough by James Dobson. And/or implement the “180” as soon as possible. This will keep your head on straight when you think you are loosing it, and may help get your marriage back-if that is what you wish.
On a side note: we Catholics do a good job in having a preliminary outline how to keep a marriage Godly. We do not have a lot of resources to turn to when things go bad. we have Retrouvaille, but that works only after both parties decide to work it out. There is nothing to stop a man (or woman) in stuck in “the fog” dead in his tracks and let him know what he’s doing. We need something. Now. Maybe Greg can help us with that?
3. Take care of yourself. I did a little, but only after everyone else was tended to. I would only work-out as reward if I finished all my chores, which of course, were never finished. I figured once the kids were gown and out, I’d have “me” time again. Through all this I was tired, defeated, depressed. I started drinking. By most people’s standards, not heavily, but I know I wasn’t doing it “for the right reasons”. So instead, I knew I needed an outlet and it would either be negative (drinking) or positive. I hit the gym, I started getting pedicure, I actually bought clothes for myself, I decided to try once a week and get to a restaurant if I could. Being cheated on is a huge self-esteem killer. People stopping you constantly and telling you how good you look, and then finding out you had seven kids, and in front of your husband…priceless!
4. Sacramentals. I said before this is a spiritual battles. Holy water, blessed oil, blessed salt. I mixed all three up and made crosses with it over every window, every doorway. I spiked my husband’s food…
5. Get support from people who have been through this. People who have been through this have a very unique perspective. It all seems very black and white, cut and dry until it happens to you.
7. Outside professional help. Get counseling/therapy. Find a priest or a few and talk to them. Appraise your medical doctors, midwives, pediatricians what’s going on. My family practitioner knows everything. I have found myself in the emergency room a number of times this year and since my doctor knows what is happening in my life, diagnosing the problems was easy. Did anyone know that you could have panic attacks in your stomach? I didn’t.
6. Some good books:
Love Must Be Tough by James Dobson
Love and Respect by Emerson Eggerichs
The Love Dare
Here’s one I haven’t read, but I want to read desperately:
Transcending Post-infidelity Stress Disorder (PISD): The Six Stages of Healing by Dennic C. Ortman
The Bible!!!! This is nothing new and it’s nothing the good book didn’t warn about. Read Proverbs 5
Lastly, I’m talking mostly about me here. I’m talking a lot about what my husband did wrong. I give a lot of credit for the prayers and help people gave me, but I have to also give credit to my husband. It takes a lot to totally admit you are wrong and to allow God to break you down and build you back up again into a new person. I have not made it easy. Yes I prayed, yes I tried to stay “right”, but I haven’t been a saint on this journey. I’ve been downright evil and wretched at times. The fact that he stayed when he was unsure if he should to begin with, when he was not raised with a background where people are married is simply amazing. The fact that not only did he decide to stay, but change, that he recognized his bad choices were not the key to happiness…many people can’t or do not even know how to not exist in their lies.
7 In the same way, I tell you, there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner repenting than over ninety-nine upright people who have no need of repentance. ~Luke 15:7
Once again, thank you, thank you, thank you.
The smartest thing I’ve ever heard about men and women and sex is something Matthew Lickona said. I couldn’t find the exact quote, but it was like this:
Men need to have sex in order to feel taken care of. But women need to feel taken care of in order to want to have sex.
You could see this situation as an insurmountable dilemma and a cruel trick of nature. Or you can see it as God’s way of making sure that men and women are good to each other.
Isn’t that right? It only works if we have to work for it.
And now, just because I recently rediscovered Patty Loveless (I couldn’t get the Lettermman intro off, but the song starts at 17 seconds):
Back around New Year’s Day, when people were making resolutions, many of the good ladies of the internet were sharing their plans for self-improvement. They all had long and laudable lists to accomplish, but they wanted to avoid that all-too-common problem with good intentions: losing focus, petering out, or just plain forgetting.
To avoid this pitfall, they planned to distill their finest aspirations into a single, pregnant word. They would post this word in a prominent place where they would see it often, and they would be encouraged and redirected throughout the day.
To this idea, Jen from Conversion Diary responded in a way that I could have done myself:
“Here’s the problem,” I told a friend. Ann Voskamp’s word is YES, Rachel Balducci and Arwen Mosher are both doing JOY…I feel like holy people like that can do this sort of thing, but I’m too much of an overly analytical grouch for it.” I thought that if, say, I were going to try to be more joyful, I would need specific, measurable goals in that department, lest I end up just rolling my eyes at the “JOY!” sign posted on my refrigerator as I shuffle around joylessly.
She’s a better woman than I am. I’m pretty sure that the first time I glanced at “JOY!” on the refrigerator while crawling around with a wad of rags, trying to sop up the rapidly-congealing jello soup that someone forgot to tell me they spilled all over the floor, where they were, incidentally, storing their math books and their collection of unwashable fairy costumes, I wouldn’t be rolling my eyes — I’d be gnashing my teeth, and possibly actually biting someone. Yeah, I got yer JOY right here.
So, no, this plan wasn’t for me. (Jen, however, ultimately decided to go with “Fortitude,” which is a good, versatile word, and realistic.)
But why am I bringing this story up now? Because I recently sorted through a bunch of old papers, and in among the long division worksheets and Cub Scout permission slips, I found a homemade valentine.
It was from my eight-year-old daughter to my seven-year-old son, and in a very few words, it illustrated such love, such consideration, and such a profound understanding of her brother’s character and basic constitution, that I decided to make it my mid-year Word.
I hung it in a prominent place, and every time I pass by it, it gives my heart a lift. Even on the darkest day, I smile, and I remember anew what true love is all about.