Good Girls, Bad Boys, and the Man Behind the Curtain

I read a book by the name of Shades of Milk and Honey. I am still not quite sure why it was called that. I was given ample warning from everything from the dust jacket to the book reviews that this was to be a very Austen-esque book. (I’ve read a few of Jane Austen’s books, but generally thought she needed a good editor.) Anyhow! I’m getting far afield. The point is, I wanted a relaxing quick read to ease my mind and get my imagination going. I was a bit disappointed, because the book followed the trope so very closely that I began to find the experience boring.

The ironic thing is that there is this scene in the book–it goes like this: the dark, brooding, reclusive hero is busy brusquely telling our Plain Jane Heroine (which almost rhymes) that she does his work a terrible disservice to pay attention to the man behind the curtain; she ought to be entirely transported by the effect, and pay no mind the mechanisms. The irony comes in that–while I disagreed with dark, brooding, reclusive guy, I agreed with him. I like to look for the brush strokes in a painting, and think about the hand that formed them. But on the other hand, the story failed to transport me, and I was left looking at the mechanisms.

The plain, Jane older sister. Her beautiful, somewhat bratty younger sister. The handsome, charming gentleman that isn’t. The younger sister’s love-life falling into disgrace. The dark, brooding, reclusive man who falls passionately, deeply, irrevocably and suddenly in love with the Plain Jane.

Why is this the story? Why does it catch us? Why does it work well enough to be repeated?

Some people say that Good Girls like Bad Boys. Good, dutiful, responsible, polite girls, who are the conscious of their consciousless younger sisters. Girls who always behave, and hide their passions and emotions deep inside, even from themselves, as much as possible.

Maybe. Maybe it is the “opposites attract” idea, the idea that one needs to bring life to the other, and the other to temper the one. Maybe. I don’t really think that’s it, myself.

Maybe it is the other thing I have heard disgustedly said–that women think they can change men. That we think we can turn the dark, brooding recluse into the handsome, charming gentleman. I would argue vigorously against this stance; I don’t think this is what draws us in at all.

Is it all sour grapes? The sister who has all the beauty and winds up with the miserable life, the handsome, charming gentleman that wasn’t? Maybe. Maybe there is a little jealousy; maybe there is a little of finding lacking what we’ve been told or thought we wanted.

But I think this  all is just edge of it, just the edge.

When I started working, I would find myself bracing myself when I walked into the waiting room and discovered there waiting for me a grouchy, reclusive, brooding man. Or woman. Either or, but I think more were men. And I would tell myself, “These men are your father.” My father, who is chronically in pain. My father, who is desperately shy. My father who loathes small talk, and feels terribly incompetent to perform it in anyway. My father, who is slow to trust, and assumes that everyone is putting him on, telling him what they think he wants to hear.

The Man in the Waiting Room was scary, but you don’t show fear in front of scary things. I would bring them back and very patiently, very determinedly, kill them with kindness. I smiled, I explained in depth, I avoided asking any questions that weren’t necessary, I made extremely good guesses at topics of conversation that would connect with them. I taught them to trust me enough that they would tell me things. I made them smile. I even made them laugh.

They would leave, and I would heave a small sigh of relief. I won. Almost no one–I do not believe a single cantankerous one of them–held up against my assault. People who scowled at the secretary, people who looked like they were sucking on lemons, people who pretended to fall asleep in the waiting room so they wouldn’t have to admit there were other people there. Sometimes I could turn them around in a day. Sometimes it took weeks. But I made them all smile, and every one of them was a victory.

I think when men write about these things, it goes like this. There was this monster. And I killed it. And it isn’t scary anymore. Aren’t I great? And I think women write the same story, differently. There was this monster. And I made it smile. And it isn’t scary anymore. Aren’t I great?

Because really? Really, Mr. Rochester was a jerk. But he was wild, and he was scary. But in the end, he wasn’t–because of Jane. We all like to think that it doesn’t matter who we were born as, doesn’t matter the shape of our bodies, or the shape of our noses–we can still conquer the terrifying things. The Men Who Don’t Smile. The People Who Don’t Like Us. Those Who Are Critical of Everything. The Ones Who Have Forgotten How to Smile.

It wasn’t changing of the scary person, as much as it was just breaking open the shell. The same person, but no longer holds the power of fear over you. It’s a different kind of victory than slaying dragons, but it’s a very real victory anyway.

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Why Not Cry?

“So. . .you spent the last 20 minutes trying to hold it all in and contain your feelings. Maybe you should have just had a good cry?”

These are not the word I expected to hear, least of all from my singing instructor. Well, why not cry?

Because! Because I was just tired, and because it was just a silly quiz, and because it didn’t really matter, and because I should be more mature than that, and because what was done was done and here I was now, and because. . .

But none of my reasons were compelling. Why not cry? The question lingered, even after the singing lesson was over.

Who and what and when and why, even, are we taught not to cry? Because it’s unpleasant to listen to? Upon reflection, I had to admit that in some ways this was a good thing. Crying is a sign of distress; one should not have joy listening to it. But did that validate the idea that one shouldn’t cry unless one had a very good reason to?

Perhaps the idea of “not crying” is just a social or cultural construct. This does not necessarily make it bad, but neither does it make it good. I search my memory for a passage in the Bible where God says, “Oh my word, stop your crying already! I hate it when you do that, and you don’t even have a good reason for it!” Instead, I turn up Jesus weeping and Jesus defending the woman who washed His feet with tears. I remember that God promised to wipe every tear away–not to finally fix people from their stupid crying thing, but acknowledging the pain and promising the comfort–the final, full comfort.

I was tired, and I got a 72 on a Physics quiz, and I’m mad at myself for not being able to control my emotions better, mad that I can’t just breeze into my singing lesson and pull off an elegant rendition. It feels right to be angry at myself for being weak, but then I don’t know how to answer my instructor. Why not cry? Where is your justification for for thinking it is more righteous to hurt on the inside instead of letting your pain out? What right do you have to be angry at yourself for feeling, for having emotions? Why are you trying not to feel what is yours to feel?

I want to be above my emotions. I want to hold them in regal authority, allowing them not to move me until I concede it is so. But echoing in my head, I hear the voice of God in passage after passage. . .My heart was grieved within me. . .My heart was moved. . .I have had pity on you. . .My heart longs. . .My heart was stirred. . .

The God of the Universe feels. The God of Universe does not dismiss His emotion, or discount it. Indeed, He created us to be able to cry, a feat I do not see repeated in any of the rest of His creation.

And we stifle it.

It is wrong to cry, wrong to show tears in public, it is weak, it is childish, it is shameful. Why? Now that the question has been asked, I find it rather confounding and difficult to let go of. Why should I be ashamed of tears, why should I be frustrated that there is no place on campus to be “alone enough to cry”? Why am I afraid to let anyone know that what I really want is to be comforted? Is it because I am afraid that in my pain they will only hurt me worse? Do I think they will scorn my “weakness”? Or is it more simple than that, and I just really don’t want anyone to know that it hurts me to be tired and get a 72 on my Physics quiz?

I’m not happy with any of those answers. But I find that I’m also unable to reject them. I’ve boughten in too deeply to the social construct that being “tough as nails” is a good thing, and that the way a woman is tough is to not let anyone see her cry. That for a woman to be strong, it means to play the boys’ game, and win anyway. That people should be shocked to know you cried, because for something to make you cry–you!–it should be so devastatingly horrible it takes your breath away.

I know that’s not true, but I can’t let it go, either. I wish–what I really wish–is that I had the guts in and the grace to stroll into my Physics professor’s office, and tell him, “By the way, please don’t give me my grades on Wednesdays. I cry a lot, and that screws up my singing. I’ll pick them up on your Friday offices hours.”

But still–I want to be able to say it, and not flinch. Say it, and not blush. Say it, and not care if he laughs that I cry over grades that aren’t perfect enough. Say it, and rule my emotions with an iron rod.

I’m not willing to accept myself as an emotional being. I’m not willing to admit that I need to schedule in time to feel, to hurt, to cry. I’m not willing to admit that it’s not a bad thing to cry, and  I don’t even quite dare to write that it might be a very good thing to cry. I want to be cool and keep it all together, not admitting that I go all to pieces weekly and I don’t want to admit that it’s both expected and okay. I want to conquer that, not get better and better at saying, “Boy, I go all to pieces!” Maybe, if I got really good at it, I could say it with a laugh.

I read a blog post this week, and since then I’ve read it an re-read it. There’s a lot that sticks. One part is this:

“I’ve got to quit being so down on myself. If GOD LOVES ME, but I’m constantly berating myself, it’s apparent – just speaking logically, here – that I believe that what I think of me is more important than what He thinks.”

The Lady in the Mirror Looks Lovely Tonight

I’m not being narcissist. I’m mentioning it because it’s not so very often the case.  The Lady in the Mirror has looked a lot of things, ranging from utterly unremarkable, to stubborn, to ill-tempered, to flustered and worn out, to goofy, to unkempt and uncivilized–but, no, not so very often lovely.

I wonder why.

I wounder why I so often find myself unlovely. I wonder if I am changing, or my senses are. And sometimes, when I look in the mirror and see loveliness, I can’t help the thought that flashes across my mind. “What a waste.”

I don’t know; it would seem there would be someone else out there who could put it to better use, or someone who would have it admired more or displayed better. What is one supposed to do with loveliness?

I ignore it, mostly, myself–except for those fleeting glances while I wash my hands or brush my teeth. I suppose that’s part of why I feel oddly ill-suited for it. The pace of life doesn’t seem to leave me with a lot of time for contemplating my appearance, even if my mind will wander to it. But I can’t deny, either, the hidden story that we tell ourselves and hide too deeply to admit to nearly even ourselves–that we would like to imagine that someone is watching from a distance and admiring. That some day we’ll be discovered, in our ashes, or hat shop, or lowly secretary, or caring for the hurting, or whatever your fairytale has you doing, and that someone will see ourselves as much more wonderful than we see ourselves.

Lists

Everyone keeps making these lists, and it makes me feel left out, even though I think it’s stupid to make numerical lists about things that can’t be numerated–“5 ways to have a more joy-filled life” is a stupid thing to write. Sorry. I am all harsh and judgmental like that. I just think that implies a whole lot of knowledge that people don’t really have, and implies a cause-and-effect universe that we’d all like to figure out, but can’t, because, guess what? It doesn’t work that way, or everyone would be following those lists to a T and having awesome, joy-filled lives and no tummy fat, forever and ever amen. Seriously, it doesn’t work like that.

Anyway, lists. Because I’m horribly judgmental, every time I see a horribly executed list, I think to myself, “I could do better than that!” Then I think, “That would be stupid. I’m not allowed to be stupid.” Then I’m all like, “Who says I don’t get to be stupid? Who made the rule against stupid? I can be stupid if I want to be!” Then I realize the reason why a lot of us don’t be stupid a lot more often is because of the people watching, and we don’t mind being stupid, we mind being caught being stupid. If no body sees it, it didn’t happen, and you can enjoy it for what it is.

So here’s my stupid list. I think I’m going to call it, “Important Things That Men And Women Ought To Know About Each Other, But Probably Don’t” or “Relationship Advice From The Outside: I Know You’re Doing It Wrong, Even Though I’m Not Doing It” (this is more common than you think; didn’t C. S. Lewis write a book on marriage, even though he’d never been married? Guys writing books about kissing dating good-bye when they hadn’t yet figured the whole thing out and gotten married either? I’m, like, trending over here, not going out on a limb). Or something. Maybe when I get to the end of the list, I’ll come up with a really splendiferous title. I usually write first and come up with the title last, anyway.

Okay, now I’m really, really done with the preamble. Here we go:

Things Women Should Tell Men, but Probably Never Do:

  1. There will be tears. They cannot be avoided, they cannot be stopped, it isn’t your fault, and I don’t like them either. So there.  But there will be tears, and for women, it’s as natural and healthy as, like, going the bathroom. It’s not going to ever be something where it’s like “Man, I just really like crying,” but trying not to cry, trying to hold it all in–that’s going to cause some serious harm. I can’t not cry. I can hide it and I can be ashamed of it–but I’m pretty sure that almost nothing would make a woman feel more loved than to have a safe place to cry.  I’m sure you don’t like to see me cry, and I’m sure it makes you very uncomfortable, but there’s no way you can take care of me better than to make me feel like it’s okay to cry and that’s what your shoulder is there for. You can’t imagine how awesome that would be.
  2. “Help me” means “do it together,” because, actually, I’m lonely. I say, “Honey, come help me with the dishes.” And you’re all like, “Mm. Honey no like dishes. Dishes go away. Let’s–always eat off of paper plates, so we can throw them all away and NEVER do dishes!!” And then I’m all like crying, and you don’t understand. I had a problem, you found a solution–shouldn’t this be the happy-kissy part? Yeah, but you got confused on the grammar part. The important part was come help ME with the dishes, not come help me with the DISHES. If there were no dishes, I would want you to come help me with something else, because, basically, I’m feeling lonely and forgotten and unvalued, and I want you HERE, with ME, doing whatever I’m doing. It makes me feel like all is right with the world when we’re working together, like I’m safe and you care.
  3. I take it very seriously when you make fun of/look down on my emotions and/or emotional capacity. You’re strong and muscle-y and that’s your strength. My strength is my emotional capacity. If you trash that, I have nothing left. The flip side of this that you can give me such incredible encouragement and support when you say out loud when you notice the value of that emotional capacity. If you can tell me “You’re such a good friend to so-and-so” or “I like how you always seem to know how I’m feeling” or “I like how cheerful you are” or anything that says you see worth in how I am pouring out my heart and soul–that’s going to really balance out the times you can’t help but roll your eyes and say “Sometimes it IS about the nail, honey.” or “Stop taking it so personally!” or “you’re making this into a bigger issue than it should be.” Okay, yeah, sometimes; but if you never tell me the things you value about me feeling, feeling, feeling all the time, it basically makes me think you have no respect for me.
  4. My body does not work the way yours does. I don’t put on muscle as fast as you do; my metabolism will never burn as fast as yours, no matter how much I exercise. I will never be able to drop weight the way you can. It really is that hard for me to lift that thing. No, I do not know how to drive standard, and even if I do know how to drive standard, that doesn’t mean I understand the hand motions you’re making. Those raging hormones and biological clocks have been abused as excuses, but they’re really true and not funny at all. I think babies look cute the way you think food is a good idea when you’re hungry.
  5. It matters to me what things look like. You’re all like “What does it matter how it looks? That doesn’t change what really IS.” I know, I get it, but you’re still wrong. How things look can make me feel happy or not happy; why do you think I care so much about what color we paint the room? To you, a room is a room is a room. To me, it is a happy room, or a sad room, or an energetic room, or a calming room, or a room that reminds me of my Great-Grandma, or a million different other options. And the same is true about clothes, about the plates I serve food off of, and just about everything around me.
  6. I’m trying. And I know you’re trying. And I love you.

Things That Men Should Tell Women, But Probably Never Do:

  1. I have emotions, too. Just not the crying kinds. You handle emotions by talking or by crying, but I have one way of dealing with things: Fight or Flight. I’m either going to get really mad, or I’m going to hide from it. I might hide from it by watching sports non-stop, or playing computer games, or any number of things. But basically, I Hurt Inside = Fight or Flight. So I come home with all these bad emotions inside, and I go into flight trying to deal with my emotions, staring at the glowing screen. And then you’re all like, “Honey, you never help me with the housework,” “Honey, we never do anything together,” “Honey, are you even listening to me?” And I’m all like, Ugh. More bad feelings. More Fight or Flight. One time I heard this story–I don’t know if it’s true or not, but anyway–this woman felt like her husband had totally checked out on her, on their marriage, on living. No matter what she tried to do to get him to engage, he wouldn’t. Some guy told her, “Stop nagging him and start loving him, and he’ll come around.” So she stopped nagging him, and just gave him a kiss and told him she loved him, and five minutes later, he was upstairs helping her with the chores. I don’t offer any magic solutions, but if your dude is hurting and depressed, More Bad Feelings isn’t going to make him come around, and you might be able to help him better if you can realize the difference between I’m Lazy and I Hurt.
  2. Just tell me. Really. You’re trying too hard to be gentle and I can’t read between those lines. Just tell me. You’re all like, “Wow! The garbage can is really full!” and I’m like “Yep.” Then you’re all upset because I didn’t change the garbage, and I’m all like, “What the heck? I didn’t even know you wanted the garbage changed. Why didn’t you ask?” You thought that hinting about a full garbage can was good enough, but I am a man. I either (a) noted your observation, agreed it was correct, and promptly forgot about it, or (b) was thinking about how much fuller I’ve seen other garbage cans, or the time we stuffed Joey in a garbage can, or thinking about eating my breakfast, or even thinking about NOTHING AT ALL. Just say, “Honey, can you change the garbage can?” and I’ll be like, “Yep.” and we’ll both be happy. Say, “Honey, I want flowers on my birthday, and my birthday is next Friday.” Say, “Honey, I hate my stove and it makes want to cry every time I use it. Let’s get a new one” not, “don’t you think we should think about updating the kitchen?” Say, “You really hurt my feelings with that last comment,” don’t storm around the house for three days while I wonder what happened, and if it’s my fault or someone elses’. No hinting. Just say it. We’ll both be happier, I swear.
  3. Please understand what you are asking me to do. Sometimes you act like you’re asking for the moon in a handbasket, and it’s the easiest thing in the world. Other times, you ask me to move Mount Everest, and wonder why I’m giving you The Look. It might help if you tried to do it yourself first, or if you did it with me. But sometimes I think you really don’t understand the gift I’m giving you, and I feel like I’m your errand boy, not the love of your life. Give me advance notice; be honest if you really want it done before a certain time, and understand what this supposedly easy project entails. If you painted the house with me, you might understand why I put off painting the house for so long.
  4. Indecision is painful. I hate indecision. I get rid of it as fast as I can in my own life. Watching you go through indecision is like watching someone hurt. I would like to end your pain and give you a decision. You keep telling me that half the fun is trying to decide, but not for me. For me, I want answers. Don’t come to me when you want to talk about the relative merits about two different colors of pink. Go to your girl friends for that. Come to me when you want an answer, this one or that one, yes or no. I’ll give it to you in a hurry, but I’m not going to talk about this decision and re-visit it ad nauseam.
  5. Just because I’m not saying anything doesn’t meant I’m not listening or that I don’t care. You talk all the time, and I listen. I don’t talk. If you want an answer to a question or want to know what I think, ask me directly. But don’t think that just because I’m quiet it means that I’m ignoring you. I just don’t have as much to say.
  6. I’m trying. And I know you’re trying. And I love you.

Heart Cry

waiting

Do you know what people tell me?

They tell me that they think that it’s probably good that I’m not married and that I don’t have a family. That I’m being “spared” with the world being what it is now a days. That it’s a good thing I don’t have what I want.

Do you know how that makes me feel?

These people who tell me this–they married. They had children.

They aren’t with me, down on their knees before God saying, “Oh, Lord, my heart cries out for my husband; my body cries out for children! Why am I alone?”

These people have had their fill. Had their spouses in their arms, and the little hands of their children, their little womblings, resting on their necks. Do they regret it? Do they wish it back? No! They rejoice in it. They were made full in it. But I–I am supposed to be happy and grateful for having less than what they do.

Spared? From what am I being spared? Spared from waking up in the middle of the night and wishing that one I loved was right beside me? Spared from a searing stab of envy I didn’t even know could exist when I see a woman cradle her swollen belly?

You people–you’re like the rich standing over the starving ones, telling them it’s just as well they don’t have the food you’ve eaten, as it’s much too rich to sit well.

Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on a wound, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.