Falling in Love With Marriage.

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A week and a half ago, I came across this on my Facebook newsfeed. I almost thought about sharing it after only reading the title – “You don’t have to get married to be happy.” I thought, “Yes! I’ve written almost the same thing in other blog posts of mine! Christians understand that marriage isn’t a varsity sport that every Christian has to reach in order to achieve the pinnacle of the Christian life!”

A few days ago, I decided to actually read the article. (Confession time: I often only read the titles of things and the first few sentences…I mean, who has time to sit down and read a full Atlantic article? Those things are like novellas.) I read it, and I was still satisfied. This guy was very honest and real about the Christian single life. Nothing I haven’t heard before. You can’t rely on a spouse to fulfill you because that’s impossible for humans to do. Heartbreak happens as a result. A song from the great band Jimmy Eat World says, “If I don’t lean on you, I fall.” Well, sometimes, you lean too much and you both fall over. Which is why you need to lean on the Rock. (Not Dwayne. You know Who I’m talking about. I’m just using a lot of Christian-ese.)

 

The gentleman who wrote the article is now married, so he’s seeing it from the other side. And he did a great job outlining our human yearnings and our absolute need for the love of Christ. But…haven’t we heard all this before?

That’s what some people in the comments section of that post were saying. I scrolled through the comments for a bit to see if there were any that stuck out (if it were not from a Christian website, I probably would have found some more colorful ones). None really did specifically, but a lot of them said something very similar, which I already mentioned.

Haven’t we heard this before?

It can seem like kind of a cop-out for the people who have waited years for a spouse to come into their lives.

“Oh, you just need to love Jesus more first. You can’t rely on someone else to do that for you.”

“Marriage isn’t really that great. Jesus is better!”

“Just pray about it!”

And the unmarried person, who might have that deep longing for companionship, will say, “Yeah, but…” And that’s totally okay. I remember sitting in a restaurant with my parents once, sobbing inconsolably, and just saying between tears, “I’m lonely.” That’s okay. God created Eve for a reason. Because it’s not good for man to be alone.

I decided to gauge the reactions of some of my friends as well. I talked to a couple who didn’t read the article in full, but understood the gist of it. One of my friends is vehemently single, and the other is in a relationship with my roommate, so you can imagine their opinions might differ.

“If you’re an unhappy person, getting married won’t change that. It can enhance your happiness, but it can’t change it.” That’s how my single friend put it. “I think Christians treat singleness as a plan B.”

My roommate’s boyfriend had something very interesting to say about it. “If you’re losing trust in God because you’re obsessed with finding a partner, and you start making deals with God, you have much deeper problems,” he said. “You just have to say, ‘okay, I don’t know why you’ve put this desire in my heart, but help me deal with it.”

As human beings, we have a fundamental need for companionship. I’m an introvert, but I yearn for the companionship of my friends. If I come home and none of my roommates are there, I get a sinking feeling that only goes away when I hear a key turning in the door. Since we were created, we were innately programmed to want people in our lives. 

If you’ve ever watched The Twilight Zone, the premiere episode features a man who wakes up in a deserted town. There’s literally no one there. He walks into a drugstore, he steps inside a phone booth to call someone – nothing. In the course of the twenty-minute episode, he goes all but crazy. (Then the twist happens, which I won’t tell you about in case you want to watch it.) That man had everything he needed: food, clothes, a car, everything – but no people. And that drove him nuts.

People need people. And that’s okay. And marriage is one of the ways we manifest our need for companionship (there’s also the whole “be fruitful and increase” thing, but your parents can talk to you about that one.) Marriage isn’t just any relationship. You’re not just roommates who will separate once the lease is up. You’re not just best friends who meet up for coffee every Saturday afternoon. You’ve made the vow to spend every day with each other for the rest of your life, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, through bankruptcy and stomach flu and love handles and hospital bills.

I think the writer of that post got it right – marriage isn’t the ultimate fulfillment, and many Christians have decided to devote their life to Christ instead of marrying (there’s this guy named Paul who did that a long time ago.) And that takes a lot of discipline in a world that’s saturated with love and romance. People might look sideways at you if you take a vow of singleness (and celibacy, in this day and age), but it’s possible to be happy without a lifelong partner.

But I want to address something that the writer didn’t quite address in his post, and that’s idealization. Are we just more in love with the idea of marrying than with the actual person? If you’ve ever read or seen the play Our Town by Thornton Wilder (if you went to American high school you probably did) one of the characters notes that people like to “make sure the knot is tied in a mighty public way.” And holy crap is that an understatement. People spend thousands of dollars and sometimes more for one day of their life to be “perfect,” sometimes not taking into account that there’s still fifty more years or so to go with the person they’re sharing it with.

Seeing all of those beautiful “fairytale” moments (they’re called weddings, in case I wasn’t clear) can make you kind of…want it, right? I’m not gonna lie, I would love a beautiful, romantic wedding. I cannot confirm or deny that I have pinned (multiple) wedding dresses and themes on Pinterest, without having any idea of when this special day is going to be. Raise your hand if you played wedding when you were little. Yeah. That’s what I thought.

Stock photos don’t help, either. This is what I found when I typed “love” into a stock photo search:

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Look at how happy and comfortable they are in that very awkward position!

And this is what I found when I searched “single” at the same site:

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I can hear your heart breaking through the screen.

Love and marriage is an ideal. It’s been instilled in us from a number of sources: tradition, stock photos, 80s slow-jam love ballads – but wherever the source, it’s undeniably there. And the main problem is we think it’s going to be perfect. We think it will be exactly what Johnny Cash said it was, “This morning, with her, drinking coffee.” How does your heart not melt when you hear that, how can you not yearn for that picture he’s painted? Of course it’s good, but it’s not like that every single day. And if we go into marriage thinking it will be perfect, that’s a bit of a tall order, isn’t it?

I think a lot of single people (including me) make out what we think marriage will be for us. And usually, we’re not right. It’s like what happens any other time you picture how something is going to play out – it usually doesn’t happen exactly the way you hoped. At sophomore homecoming, I was absolutely certain I would spend the evening slow dancing with my crush. Instead, I didn’t even see my crush at all, and stood in a hot room full of grinding adolescents for two hours wondering what the heck to do. Way less than perfect. Marriage is a little bit more serious than teenage musings, but you get my point.

And remember that it’s just as easy to idealize people as it is to idealize marriage. And if you end up marrying that person, it can lead you down a very messy road.

“Audrey, you’re being just like that guy. This isn’t anything we haven’t heard yet.” You might be thinking this. And maybe you’re right. Marriage is a topic that Christians like to mull over often. If we didn’t, there wouldn’t be singles groups at church that were basically free eHarmony sessions.

But maybe what I’m trying to say is, marriage isn’t easy, but neither is being single. Especially a single Christian who really isn’t sure if marriage is in the cards for them, no matter how many people tell them it is or it should be. Single Christians go to Christian colleges where it seems like everyone gets married after their sophomore year. Single Christians get pelted with advice on finding a good Christian man or woman. Single Christians have to deal with the tension and occasional social awkwardness of being a virgin at twenty-five, or even older. Or the guilt of being a single Christian and not being a virgin. Sometimes all of those urges together make us desperate. We’ll all but throw ourselves to the next Christian guy or girl who comes our way, because everyone is saying it’s the right thing to do. Because you need to put “happily married” on your Christian resume, or else your faith stands for nothing.

So I guess I want you to leave you with this, if you’re a single Christian and feel guilty for wanting someone: don’t feel guilty. If you have a yearning for a spouse, that is a beautiful yearning. It’s a fundamentally human yearning. Don’t think that just because you want a partner, it means that you don’t want God enough.

But I would encourage you to let God in on your yearnings. Don’t hide them from Him. “God, I want a husband.” “God, I want a wife.” “I want to know intimacy with another human being.” “I want to live my life with a companion.” These prayers are 100% valid, even if they seem strange. God wants in on your yearnings. If you let Him in now, He’ll guide you in the future.

I’ll also leave you with this, which is probably something you already know, and quite possibly a thought you’re afraid of: I can’t promise you that God will answer that prayer the way you want him to. My prayer for you is that God gives you the strength to accept that answer.

Because the choice to be content with being alone is one of the bravest things you’ll ever do.

When You Go to College in Your Hometown.

“You’re living far away from home; and you’ve traded everything for a stone.”

– “Everything for a Stone,” The Belle Brigade

Before I get into the actual topic of this post, I’ll begin by saying I wasn’t planning on going to college near my hometown. I’ve talked in previous posts about how my college plans changed rapidly (see post Growing in Struggle.) I ended up at a small university in a decent-sized metropolitan area near where I grew up. I was born and raised in a very small town with a lot of cows and cornfields. Drive twenty minutes one direction and you’re in the city. Drive twenty minutes the other direction and you’re in the middle of nowhere. The area is a very odd, somewhat jarring hybrid of country, suburban, and metropolitan settings. It’s equal parts quaint and cultural, rural juxtaposed with urban.

My hometown is about a half hour from downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan – if you’ve never been there, GR is like a very small Chicago. A very, very (very very) small Chicago. My friend described it as a “Holiday Inn Express” for hipsters – it’s neither East Coast nor West Coast, but there are definitely strong hipster vibes in the city (everywhere you turn there’s a farmer’s market – one of the benefits of a metro area surrounded by fields.) My college is located on the “north end” of town, and I was raised on the “south end.” If you’ve lived in a metropolitan area, you’ll understand when I say that “north-enders” and “south-enders” are very different. Same overarching culture, but different subculture.

Like I said before, I didn’t plan on going to school in my hometown. I only applied to two colleges because I basically had my mind made up – but then, in true teenage fashion, my mind was changed, and very quickly. As a result, I ended up at this small, private, liberal arts university on the north end of Grand Rapids.

It was fairly convenient – I know not everyone grows up in a college town or even a town that has any college at all, which means they have to move away if they want to pursue higher ed. The other college I was considering was two hours away and a true college town (the college was literally the town. Other than that, there were Amish people and a Burger King.)

“So Audrey,” you might (or might not) ask, “What has your experience been like, going to school in your hometown?”

Well, Nameless Imaginary Inquisitor, it has been wonderful. I have loved going to a university that is so close to a large metropolitan area where there’s lots to see and do. And it’s been great being close to home (I mean, free laundry and food, am I right?!)

“But Audrey,” you continue, “don’t you feel like you’ve missed out by staying close to home? Aren’t you sheltered now? Isn’t it just the same as it was when you were growing up? Are you ever going to have the courage to move away?”

Whoa, now, don’t get ahead of yourself, Imaginary Inquisitor. I’m not saying that going to school locally is the best idea for everyone, or that it’s perfect, but I am saying that it’s certainly not a bad thing. And here’s why:

You’re staying close to your roots. College is going to hit all of your ideals, beliefs, and opinions right between the eyes, no matter where you go. Whether it’s your professor or your roommate, someone is going to disagree with you and possibly shake up some of your predispositions. Sometimes, these things are hard to grapple with. When you’re far from home and where you grew up, you may feel lost, maybe somewhat marooned, like you’re on a ship without a captain. When my beliefs were somewhat shaken in college, my roots helped me shape my own opinion of what was being taught to me in college – I wasn’t allowing myself to be directly spoon-fed information without first approaching it with opinions of other people whom I trusted. Having roots close to you can help with that.

You know the area. It’s easy to feel isolated in college because you don’t know anything about the city it’s in. In the case of that college-town school I was talking about, there literally wasn’t anything in the area except farmland. And at a remote college like that, most students are also from out of town so they know as much as you do. Going to a local school I had the benefit of knowing some things about not only Grand Rapids but the surrounding communities. I also found myself learning more about the area than I’d ever known before (like the dearth of coffee shops GR has to offer.) I got more connected with my church, explored new areas, and made connections in the city that I had been totally unaware of up to that point. It’s kind of nice to go into college with some background knowledge of not only the school, but its city.

You’ll have a new perspective. Although you’re in the same place, you’ll see it through different eyes. With college comes freedom to be independent and think for yourself in more ways than you ever have. I learned more about my city in college than I ever did growing up near it. I explored more towns in the outlying area than I ever had before as well. In the fall, I explored uptown with my roommates, which was a place I wasn’t too familiar with. I auditioned for shows at the community theatre. I volunteered at an inner city school. Sometimes the best opportunities are right under your nose for eighteen years and you never realize it because you’re too busy grinding through the American school system (not bitter.)

All of this to say – if you’re searching for colleges right now, don’t rule out the ones that are twenty minutes down the road. It doesn’t mean you have to live with your parents (unless you want to – I mean, free food. And your pets.) People might hardcore judge you, but that’s okay. They just don’t understand, because they were taught their whole lives that they have to go far away for college. Or they didn’t have the amazing privilege of growing up in an awesome spot like you did.

So don’t take your hometown for granted. You might just realize that it’s where you really belong.

Ordering Coffee: A Field Guide

I know the look. If you work at any kind of fast-food – or coffee, in this case – establishment that requires someone to stand at a counter in front of you, you’ve seen this look too. That glazed-over, slightly confused look as they stare just slightly above your head. Maybe they squint as they do so. Maybe one single syllable will drift out of their partially-opened lips, “ummmmm, ahhhhh…”

We’ve all been there. We look at a menu and it might as well be in Greek. Or Italian, if you’re at a coffee shop. What the heck is miel and why is it in my coffee? Is it ex-presso or ess-presso? Why do they give me a funny look when I say “medium” instead of “grande?”

As someone who’s been on the other side of that counter, looking back at you and watching you have an existential crisis that is choosing what kind of specialty latte you want, I want to help. I don’t even know if this little field guide will help at all, but maybe it’ll make things less scary the next time you walk into a Starbucks or – even scarier – a local, privately-owned shop run by a free-range hipster named Alix who has a tattoo of a hemp leaf on his neck. So let’s jump into it, shall we?

Vocabulary: The first thing you should know is what kind of hip lingo you should use when you walk into a coffee shop. First, I’ll tell you words to avoid:

  • Frappucino: DON’T. JUST. DON’T. Frappucinos were invented by Starbucks to siphon money from an unsuspecting public when it’s just a glorified slushie. If you’re at Starbucks, go ahead. Order a frappucino. But EVERYWHERE ELSE, ask if you could get your drink frozen or blended. They’ll know exactly what you want.
  • Caramel macchiato: Freaking Starbucks ruins everything for people. If you order a caramel macchiato anywhere else, your barista will look at you like you just shot their grandmother. If you want the same experience as a caramel macchiato (which tastes like sadness, if I can be honest here) just ask for an unstirred caramel latte (that’s exactly what Starbucks’ caramel macchiato is.) A traditional espresso macchiato is a tiny cup of espresso with a dollop of milk foam. And that’s what you’ll get when you order a macchiato at any establishment that’s not Starbucks or a chain that’s fallen prey to the dreaded Starbucks Lingo.
  • French vanilla: This is basically just redundant. French vanilla isn’t really a thing – it’s just a fancy way French people make ice cream (trust me, I googled it.) It’s also a weird powder that they put in those gas station machines so you can get a little cup of disappointment when you stop to fill up your tank. Just say “vanilla.”
  • Venti: Yes, this is basically a list of Starbucks terms that you should never use anywhere else. Venti only exists at Starbucks, and Starbucks has conditioned us to speak their language. Thanks, capitalism. (Just say “large” everywhere else.)

The Basics. So you want a cup of coffee. That’s why you’re here, at this metaphorical coffee shop. Unless you’re over 60, you probably don’t go to coffee shops just for a cup of black coffee, unless you’re a hipster who’s into those weird glass contraptions that take five times longer to brew than a normal percolator but apparently bring out different “notes” in the coffee. (Hipsters like the term “woodsy” and “nutty.” Most other people just taste “coffee” because we don’t have a “sophisticated palate.” Apparently palates can be “sophisticated” – like did they go to Harvard or something? What am I missing here?)

First, it might be pertinent to talk about what kinds of drinks are available for your enjoyment – because after awhile, all those Italian names start to sound the same, which makes perfect fodder for old people complaining about younger generations (“those darn kids sipping their mochachino macchiatto grumble grumble.”) So I present to you a very short dictionary of coffee terms and beverages:

  • Espresso: [ess-PRESS-oh] It’s a tiny cup of coffee (if you want to get fancy, it’s a demi-tasse, which is French for “teeny tiny cup that makes your hands look gigantic, even if you’re the president” (exact translation)) It may be small, but don’t be fooled – espresso is one tough cookie. If you’re not a fan of strong coffee, don’t order straight espresso or extra shots of it in your drink. Most of the fancy drinks on the menu will involve espresso. If you’re not a coffee fan, you can probably order any of these without espresso – just ask for a “steamer.” However, in most coffee shops, you can get your espresso served in a fancy way, like an espresso macchiato (see above) or an espresso con panna (that’s espresso topped with whipped cream, and yes, it’s delicious.)
  • Latte: [LAH-tay] The oldest coffee trick in the book – pull some fresh shots of espresso and pour some warm, frothy milk over top. Add flavor if desired. Typical lattes come with two shots of espresso, but you can specify how many you want (single, double, triple…I’d probably stop at three. Like I said, espresso packs a punch.)
  • Cappuccino: [cap-uh-CHEEN-oh] Lattes and cappuccinos are not created equally. Gas stations may have fooled you into believing a cappuccino is a cup of overly-sweet disappointment – it’s not. A cappucino is like a latte, but fluffier. When you pick up a cappuccino, it will almost feel like you’re holding an empty cup, because all of that frothy milk has been turned into foam – there’s a deep “cap” of it on top of your espresso. You can order it “dry,” which means you want all foam and no frothy milk. Order a cappuccino and you’ll be instantly classy.
  • Americano: [ah-mair-ick-KAHN-oh] Europeans think we’re weak and can’t handle espresso – therefore, they named a drink after us. An Americano is espresso that’s been diluted in hot water. No milk is involved unless you decide to add cream. If you like a good swift kick in the pants and the mouth, then Americanos are for you.
  • Mocha: [MOE-ka] Think of this as a grown-up hot chocolate. It’s a latte with extra fun – dark chocolate. Basically perfection in a cup. Usually it comes with whipped cream. If you’re a decent human being, you’ll keep it that way.
  • Red eye (also called shot in the dark): A cup of black coffee with a shot of espresso (or two or three, depending on your level of exhaustion.) Not for the weak. Pack a defibrillator.
  • Cafe con miel: A latte with honey and cinnamon to sweeten it. If Jesus were a drink, he would be this one.
  • Cold brew: Different than iced coffee. No espresso is involved. This kind of coffee is brewed cold over 12ish hours, bringing out a different taste than hot-brewed coffee. Iced coffee is usually just hot-brewed coffee that’s been poured over ice.

Your head might be spinning right now. “Audrey, there’s so many options and I don’t know what I want! I’m standing, helpless in front of a counter facing this stranger who is probably judging me! You’ve just made this more confusing!”

Unfortunately, I can’t help you here. Coffee people, especially baristas, have gotten a bad reputation of being overly judgy. And…that reputation kind of hits home. So I’ll just give you some advice depending on what kind of coffee shop you’re at.

  • A chain coffee shop (ie, Starbucks, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf for you West-coasters, or Dunkin Donuts for every American who drives long distances): Don’t worry! They’re not judging you. They deal with coffee laymen most of the time. Just order with confidence, exchange a joke or a little small talk with the cashier, and give them a nice tip. These people are on your side, and they appreciate you and your business. Their jobs are hard enough as it is, and they deal with difficult people all day, so a chipper and good-intentioned customer like you will brighten their day.
  • A local, privately-owned coffee shop (ie something with a weird name like the Brown Crepe or Ground Up Ideas…wait…): Sorry, but these people are probably hardcore judging you. They journeyed to the deep caverns of the Himalayas in order to learn how to master the perfect pour over. They wake up at 3:30am every morning to milk a cow in order to make your latte later. They personally grind the espresso beans between their teeth to give it a more natural flavor. Of course they’re judging you when you order a caramel macchiato. And they’re definitely going to spell your name wrong on the tiny ceramic cup, because they have names like Leif and Alt-Z.

I hope this brief field guide helped you, or maybe I deeply offended some of you. If you have any further questions about coffee and how it can be served, drop a line in the comments and I’ll address it when I write an entire book based on this post (just kidding, never gonna happen.)

No matter who is standing behind the counter facing you, waiting for you to “just order already,” remember that it’s okay to ask questions. I’ve given you a brief skeleton of the kind of things you’ll encounter at a cafe, but chances are you’ll come nose-to-nose with something I didn’t outline here. Ask questions boldly. The worst thing the barista can do is answer you with a slight note of disdain in their voice.

In the meantime, friends, may your drinks always be caffeinated and your milk frothy. That’s kind of an awkward sign-off, but I’m going to leave it at that. 1237519_10204006906851497_6422427241302713823_n