Jesus and Hollywood: What’s the Difference between Acting and Actually Doing, Especially as a Christian? (Pondering Profanity, Sexuality, and Violence)

 

 

Seems like a strange pair, but we born-again Christians love our movies and TV just as much as everyone else.  But where do we draw the line?

One of my favorite TV shows during 4th and 5th grade was surprisingly The Dick Van Dyke Show as it was featured in syndication on Nick at Nite.  It was while watching that show (I was around 9 or 10) that it occurred to me, “Dick Van Dyke is kissing Mary Tyler Moore, but in real life, they may both be married to someone else who has to watch them kiss another person.”  To me, that would just be too weird… and wrong.  As much I fantasize about being an actor in a flash-sideways version of my life in some alternate path I could have chosen for myself a decade ago, I have to acknowledge that as a born-again Christian, there would be an exhaustive list of limitations for me as a legitimate actor.  (Granted, Kirk Cameron got around the “have to kiss another woman” dilemma when he used his own wife as a stand-in at the end of the movie Fireproof.)

That’s not to say that there aren’t born-again Christians who act in mainstream media.  For example, there’s the often-mistaken-as-a-Jew-but-actually-just-Welsh-American actor Zachary Levi, who is the protagonist of the hit show Chuck.  He has been outspoken about his relationship with Jesus Christ.  Click here to see what he said in one of his interviews with Relevant magazine.  I am fascinated by his Hollywood success and his commitment to his faith.  I would love to ask him about this very topic today; specifically this question, “As a Christian, what won’t you do in a role?”  (Zachary Levi, if you’re reading this, feel free to comment and help me out.  Thanks.)

Where does a Christian draw the line when it comes to acting?  I would say kissing another person on stage is harmless except when either or both of them is married.  And what about “love scenes” (scenes that involve sexual activity, with or without nudity)? What about profanity? Are there any words you just shouldn’t say?  Personally, I could easily curse on camera before I could say, “oh my God”; because to use God’s name in vain is breaking one of the Ten Commandments, while cursing is simply a fading taboo of shifting rules set by the expectations of culture.  To me, there are plenty far more destructive ways that words can be used that go against the Kingdom of God, like gossip, malicious sarcasm, and belittling.

Here’s where it gets really tricky.  If you think it’s wrong to curse in a role or play a character who has premarital sex, how is that so different from playing a character who is a murderer?  At least by playing a killer, you’re truly just pretending to play a character who is obviously in the wrong.  But by being filmed semi-nude under covers in a bed, you’re sending a subconscious message that sex between two consenting adults doesn’t necessarily have any spiritual concerns attached to it.

So in theory, in 1983, as a born-again Christian, if given the opportunity to have Al Pacino’s lead role in Scarface, would I, should I, could I?  For it’s time, the movie Scarface contained more profanity than any other film in history.  It was originally rated NC-17 for its violent content.  But in the end, (sorry if you haven’t seen the movie but you’ve had 28 years to see it so I feel okay about giving away the ending) all of Scarface’s sins find him out.  It’s obvious that his life of violent crime led to his own demise and in the end, it wasn’t worth it. Does that mean that this movie teaches its viewers not to waste their lives in a mob, getting  involved with violence and cocaine?  In theory, yes.  In theory, it has positive, redeeming value because in the end, crime doesn’t pay.

That’s something I’ve observed about Christian culture.  It seems most Christians are okay with a character doing obviously un-Christian things if in the end they repent: Unlike the character of Stacy Hamilton, played by Jewish actress Jennifer Jason Leigh in the 1982 movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High, who decides to have an abortion and seemingly goes on to live a completely normal life, never regretting her decision.  I contrast that to the song “Red Ragtop” by Tim McGraw, whether the 20 year-old protagonist gets his 18 year-old girlfriend pregnant and together they decide to have an abortion.

However, by the end of the song, though it’s not explicitly stated, the melancholy mood and subtle lyrics of the song itself convey the message “we can’t undo what we’ve done or beat ourselves up over it, but we do regret and it’s definitely a sad thing that happened”.  Rightly assuming that Country music fans are mostly Christians (simple demographics), they helped the song rise to the #2 position on the Country charts.

Entertain this thought: Ask yourself privately, as a Christian, whether or not you would play the role of a character in a play, musical, TV show, or movie who would do any of the following things:

-use minor profanity

-use stronger profanity including racial or gender slurs, up to the “f-word”

-use God’s name in vain, whether it’s by saying “oh my God” or “G.D.”

-play a character who has premarital sex and never encounters any real negative consequences

-play a gay character who never actually kisses another actor

-play a gay character who does kiss another person of the same gender

-play a heterosexual character who jokingly kisses a person of the same gender on the lips, which happens quite often on Saturday Night Live

-play a serial killer and rapist, though no explicit violence is ever shown on screen and who never curses or participates in any pre-material sexual relationship

-play a serial killer and rapist, though no explicit violence is ever shown on screen and but does participate in some premarital sex and who does some cursing

-play a serial killer and rapist, though no explicit violence is ever shown on screen and but does participate in some premarital sex and who does some cursing, but at the end accepts Jesus Christ as their Savior and from that point on lives a life in accordance to the teachings of Jesus

How is it any more wrong to play a homosexual actor than it is to play heterosexual actor who has premarital sex?  Though both situations are perceived much differently by the general population, when it comes to my understanding of the Bible’s teaching of righteousness, I don’t see how one is any different or worse than the other.  The way I understand it, Jesus died for all sin.  Sin is sin is sin.  No matter what kind it is, it separates us from God and causes every single one of us to need His grace.

Where do you draw the line as a Christian actor? Obviously to be involved in straight-up porno-graphy is out of the question for any sincere Christian.  But there are so many millionths of the scale to get to that extreme.  On the much slighter end of the scale is a man with his shirt off showing off his six-pack while he rides a horse bareback.  Further down the scale is that same man passionately kissing a woman while in a hot tub, both in their swimsuits.  Next is the same man and woman acting out a love scene in bed and though they are actually naked, they aren’t acting having sex underneath the blankets which strategically cover up certain parts of their bodies.

I remind myself that outside the culture of conservative Christianity, in reality the rest of the world behaves its own way regardless of our censorship.  To imagine a real life group of people who in their everyday lives never cursed or had premarital sex (outside of the conservative Christian world) is to me, simply unbelievable.  Taking away the elements of entertainment that are unChristian-like either makes the TV show or movie either A) unrealistic or B) a Christian movie like Facing the Giants.

I also remind myself that the Bible itself is full of violence, premarital sex, rape, and murder. There is homosexuality.  There are concubines.  There are instances were people cursed (like when Peter denied Christ).  The King James Version of the Bible even contains the words “piss” and “ass”.  If the entire Bible were made into an epic movie, could born-again Christians play every role?

But some point, acting is no longer simply just acting.  It’s doing.  So here’s my final thought about all this.  In some technical, annoying way, are we as conservative, born-again Christians actually hypocrites for being spectators of popular entertainment?

Imagine this: Instead of the majority of the cast of Friends and Seinfeld being Jewish, instead they were all born-again Christians.  Because of their faith-based convictions, none of them were willing to use any profanity or be involved in any situations that involved premarital sex.  I know how beloved these two sitcoms are among the majority of Christians I know.  But imagine a world where Ross Geller saying “We were on a break!” meant nothing to us.

Two Questions for You about This Today:

A) As much as we Christians love our sitcoms and movies, would they truly exist if we didn’t support them with our viewership because we ourselves wouldn’t be willing to play those roles the same way?

B) Where would you personally draw the line in regards to what you would or would not do for an acting role, hypothetically speaking, if you were an actor?

I sincerely would love to hear feedback from you, the invisible reader, on either or both of these proposed questions, by leaving a comment below.  You don’t have to leave your name; you can easily remain anonymous if you wish.

If you’re not a conservative, born-again Christian, still free to answer as well… and please know how aware I am that the content of this entire post probably seems a bit… out there.  For all I know, you may find it either laughable or offensive that we believe premarital sex is wrong or that kissing someone’s spouse is both weird and taboo.  But what good is a religion that has no backbone or reasonable standards, despite how counter-culture those limitations may be? Thanks for reading despite the culture shock of it.

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The Model Paradox: Ken and Barbie Vs. Homer and Marge

Truthfully, do we prefer to see perfect airbrushed models or just reminders of our own bodies?  Is beauty really in the eye of the beholder or does how we spend money on magazines what we actually believe?

America has always had a love/hate relationship with Barbie and Ken. Unsurprisingly, it exactly reflects the way we both worship and curse the models we see everyday on TV and in movies and magazines. During the Fall season of 2009, there was a lot of Internet buzz about a model named Lizzie Miller who was featured in the September issue of Glamour magazine. The picture showed her proudly smiling, displaying her nude yet self-censored body, seeming both unaware and apathetic about the fact she has a “belly”, stretch marks, and thick legs.  The letters and emails poured in by the masses, praising the magazine for showing the beauty of a “normal” woman. While Glamour has been known to feature plus size women on the cover, like Queen Latifah in May 2004, the magazine mainly uses thinner models instead on a regular basis.

But, if normal sized and average looking people are what the general public really wants to see and even the magazine editors know this, why consistently do we continue to see models with perfect abs and bodies with less than 2% body fat? Because when it really comes down to it, we don’t truly want to see a model who reminds us of what our own bodies look like. The proof? Lean models sell more magazines. Bottom line. And we the average people are the ones buying.

In 2006 Dove soap began their Self-Esteem Fund campaign, featuring “real women” in their TV and Internet ads.  While the ad campaign is still active as of today, according to their website it will be ending after 2010, for whatever reason.  But even if these ads with “realistic models” help sell more soap, why are there still skinny, muscular, sexually provocative models on the covers of fashion, beauty, and even health magazines?  Because despite increased sales of soap, the image of the person on the cover of a magazine is largely what sells it. And on a regular basis, I continue to see the real life equivalent of Ken and Barbie on fashion, beauty, and health mags, not Homer and Marge Simpson.

The physical ideal self is what so many consumers are looking to become. It’s a nearly impossible image that we may be able to get close to, but never actually permanently attain for ourselves, unless we own a gym.  And that perceived void in our lives to feel beautiful or sexy (or maybe simply to feel worthy of being in a healthy relationship) largely helps to magazines to sell, by feeding into our subconscious. It’s the image that some people keep stuck in the front of their minds when they work out or when make a conscious decision to eat grilled salmon and a salad instead of a bucket of fried chicken and a 48 ounce soda.

We blame the magazines and media for bombarding us with unrealistic models. And it makes us feel good when magazines do display people that remind us of ourselves. For about five minutes. Then a flash of a shirtless Ryan Reynolds or Jennifer Aniston wearing nothing but a men’s tie on the cover of GQ changes that. We can say we want to see imperfection, but how we spend our money directly affects what images continue to show up on magazines covers and retail ads.  Tired of seeing unrealistic models?  Stop reading and buying those kind of magazines until they only feature people who look like you and me.

But that obviously will never happen.  Because our love/hate relationship with models is somehwat like a kid who goes to Disney World for the first time but is old enough to know that Mickey Mouse is not actually a 6 foot tall mutant mouse, but instead a college student in a really expensive costume.  Even so, this child is no less excited even though he or she knows it is just a fantasy.  And that’s just what models are- a fantasy, both equally demotivating and inspiring.

The Cultural Identity of Being “Born Again”

I actually come across as pretty normal on the surface.  But recently, I have realized that I’m not simply a religious guy, or even just a Christian… I am one of those evangelical fanatics- basically another version of Kirk Cameron.  So now, I take this opportunity to come out of the closet and accept my social label as an official Born Again Christian.


“Even though I see fundamentalist Christians as wild-eyed maniacs, I respect their verve.  They are probably the only people openly fighting against America’s insipid Oprah Culture- the pervasive belief system that insists everyone’s perspective is valid and that no one can be judged.”

-Chuck Klosterman, in his book Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs

It wasn’t until recently while finishing the final chapter of Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs that I finally realized I am part of a subculture of Protestantism which outsiders label as “Born Again”, which from what I gather, was a pretty popular term back in the 1970’s.  This whole time I’ve been calling myself a Christian, but now I fully understand that just doesn’t cut it.  “Christian” has become such a generic term these days.  Jesus is officially a household name now. While Jesus may be Ashton Kutcher’s homeboy, it’s safe to say that the relationship I have with Jesus Christ is much different than someone just using Jesus as a funny pop culture reference on a t-shirt.

By reading about myself from an outsider’s perspective (Klosterman identifies himself as a mix between a “bad Catholic” and an agnostic), I am able to understand my cultural identity in a way I never have before.  I get it now: I am a fanatical Christian.  Every thought pattern in my head eventually comes back to Jesus being the savior of the world and my desire for people to know Him.

I find it extremely important and relevant to quote a paragraph from Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs:  “There are no other subjects, really; nothing else- besides being born again- is even marginally important.  Every moment of your life is a search-and-rescue mission: Everyone you meet needs to be converted… Life would become unspeakably important, and every conversation you’d have for the rest of your life (or until the Rapture- whichever comes first) would really, really, really matter.  If you ask me, that’s pretty glamorous.”  For me, calling myself a Christian doesn’t simply mean that at some point I came to the realization that I belief Jesus is the son of God, which would be the simplest definition of the word Christian.  Instead, I live a seemingly curious and quirky lifestyle as it relates to my relationship with Jesus Christ.

You’ve probably heard of “Catholic guilt” or maybe even “Jewish guilt”, but I need to introduce something called “Born Again guilt”.  Because we truly believe that Jesus literally meant it when He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father but through Me,” we carry this burden of wanting every person we meet to “have a personal relationship with Jesus” like we do.  We sincerely believe that by trusting in Christ as the redemption for our naturally flawed nature and by loving serving others as ourselves, we will be part of the Heavenly Kingdom when Jesus returns as the King.  Sounds pretty sci-fi, yes.  But so does every religion, including atheism.

It’s no secret that I find reasons to insert random facts about the year 1983 or to tell which actors are Jewish or relate the Rubik’s Cube to everyday life.  That’s just me being me.  But I am also constantly looking for ways to write about or at least mention Jesus in ways that are subtle as well.  I realize that if Scenic Route Snapshots was simply me preaching, I wouldn’t be getting between 600 and 1,000 hits each day.  Instead, I write about whatever off-the-wall thing is going through my head that week.  And if it’s possible to show my faith as relevant to the subject as my faith is relevant to my life, I won’t shy away from mentioning it. I would love to sit down with people and discuss my relationship with Jesus on an everyday basis.  But I know that often, that isn’t practical, and therefore not possible.

Kirk Cameron is the official mascot of Born Again Christians. Just ask them about a movie called Fireproof or something called "the love dare"...

Everyone I know, it seems, already understands why Jesus died on the cross. That cultural familiarity with Him, in American, often can be the thing that keeps people from seeking Him in their lives beyond a basic understanding.  It’s hard to tell people what they already know.  So when I write and when I am involved in seemingly surface conversations with people, I try to find ways to point the thought process to my faith somehow- even it’s simply using the word “afterlife”.

How can you tell a Born Again Christian (also referred to as “saved” or “evangelical”) from other deists who use the term “Christian” to describe themselves?  Here are a few red flags to look out for:

They attend a “small group”. In addition to regularly attending their church on Sunday, many Born Again Christians meet once a week (in groups of around 6 to 10 people) at someone’s house for about two hours to study the Bible together and pray.

They strive to study the Bible and pray on a daily basis. In addition to their weekly small group meeting, they also study the Bible and pray privately as well.  Sometimes they refer to this as their “quiet time”.  Many of them can be seen doing this during their lunch breaks at work.

They avoid using profanity. This is often a way they recognize each other.  This means they also refrain from saying “oh my God” as well, as it profanes the name of God to matters that are not holy in any way.

They use the word “blessed” to describe their life. It’s a way of glorifying God in a non-churchy sounding kind of way.  Also, when you leave a message on their cell phone, they end their “sorry I’m not here right now…” spiel with “have a blessed day”.

They truly believe that sex is for only for people who are married to each other. Even if many of them largely contribute to the high viewership of the reality TV show The Bachelor, it’s understood between them all that they collectively do not approve of the “overnight date” episode with the “fantasy suite”.

They politically identify as Republican, or are part of the newer, cooler, independent version called the Libertarian Party. If nothing else, these two political parties typically support the Pro-Life movement whereas the Democratic Party is at best indifferent on the issue.  For Born Again Christians, abortion is not up for discussion or debate.

They take the Bible as literally as possible. Jesus was literally born from a virgin.  Jesus literally multiplied the fish and the bread.  Jesus literally came back to life after these days in the tomb, etc.

They do not believe in Evolution. In particular, the theory that humans evolved from apes. Intelligent Design is instead their theory of choice.  Here’s the 101 on how the dinosaurs fit into Noah’s Ark.

They often refer to Jesus as “Jesus Christ”. It’s almost like “Christ” is Jesus’ last name.  Really though, it’s a Born Again Christian’s subtle way of distinguishing Jesus as the prophesied Messiah of the Old Testament, as opposed to just a historical rabbi who happened to be a “good teacher”.

I'm not Mormon, but I feel like I can relate somewhat to their cultural identity and displacement in society.

So if you know someone who contains at least two or three of these attributes, there’s a good chance you’re dealing with a Born Again Christian. Like Kirk Cameron, Sarah Palin, and President Jimmy Carter, they are the ultra-conservative Protestants.  They seem to blend in with society at first glance, but once you get to know them, you’ll notice the underlying behaviors that set them apart from standard Christianity- like a Mormon, only without the added teachings to the Bible or the crazy mad dancing skills.  (Derek Hough, Julianne Hough, and Lacey Schwimmer of Dancing with the Stars as well as Heidi Groskreutz and Benji Schwimmer of So You Think You Can Dance are all Mormon.)   For some humorous characteristics of Born Again Christians, check out this blog by Jonathan Acuff, called Stuff Christians Like.

“You gave your life to Jesus Christ… and you were not the same after that.” – “Not the Same” by Ben Folds


Being a Handsome Man Vs. Being a Hot Guy

And why it ultimately doesn’t matter anyway thanks to a little something called “charm”.

Recently I asked my facebook friends via my status update, this question:

Females, I need your input for something I’m writing: What is the difference between a guy who is “handsome” and a guy who is “hot, sexy, etc.”?

To summarize the similarities of the responses, with a man who is “hot” there is an attraction (mostly physical), whereas  with a man who is “handsome” is someone who simply is a good-looking guy, though there is not necessarily any kind of attraction there.  Of course the ironic thing about this can best be summed up by what my friend Holly Arnesen said:

“if i refer to a guy as handsome, it usually means that physically speaking he’s nicely put together, but doesn’t necessarily mean i’m attracted. hot and sexy usually has to do with more than what a guy looks like. like some women think intelligence is sexy so, they’ll go for a smart guy over one that they think is nicer to look at.  i once heard someone say, ‘men fall in love with women they are attracted to, and women are attracted to the men they fall in love with.’ i’m not a guy, but i’m pretty sure this tends to be way things go.”

On the right, Bronson Pinchot, who played "Balki" on Perfect Strangers.

What enticed me to walk up to my future wife on October 5, 2006 and talk to her the very first time I saw her from across a large crowded room was her appearance.  Though it wasn’t until four months later to the day, on our first date (I knew it was a date but she didn’t until it was over), that she actually thought of me in any kind of romantic way.  My physical looks were irrelevant to the equation up until the point I made it clear I was interested in her, given that I’d shared with her my personality and character prior to day that we crossed the line from being friends to dating.

Until we started dating, I was just another average-looking dude.  A forgettable face.  Perhaps the most memorable physical trait would have been my dark hair.  Based on the celebrities that people have told me I look like in the last couple of years (“Cory Matthews” from Boy Meets World, “Balki” from Perfect Strangers, “Ross” from Friends, as well as David Arquette and Paul Rudd), I evidently have the looks of a Jewish-American comedian, which all of those Nick Shell look-alikes are.  Men that are remembered not for their looks, but for their personalities and talent.  Are those men handsome?  Sure, why not.  It’s irrelevant either way.

Ben Savage, who played "Corey Matthews" on Boy Meets World.

Speaking of David Schwimmer, I don’t believe anyone could have played the part of Ross better.  But to be part of one of the most popular romantic American TV couples ever, he was a very ordinary looking guy.  Fans of Friends always think of Ross and Rachel fondly, though never once have I ever heard anyone comment good or bad on David Schwimmer’s looks.  But regarding Jennifer Aniston, it’s not that way at all. Her looks were so relevant she actually started a hairstyle craze in 1995 called “The Rachel”.

When my wife and I reminisce on when we first started dating, she always says, “You always had interesting stuff to say so I knew we’d never run out of things to talk about.”  It’s possible that’s what won her over.  My quirkiness.  Some people would call it my ability to “think some crazy crap up”.  Others more reverently refer to it as “thinking deeply”.   My lifelong habit of daydreaming during math and science class definitely paid off.  I charmed her.

So if a guy is simply average-looking, how can he improve his situation?  The “Makeover Week” on the TV show The Biggest Loser would tell us he would need to slim down, get his hair cut shorter, shave off his beard, and wear nicer clothes.  But I know my wife always prefers me to wear jeans, t-shirt, and a ball cap, and she never notices or cares whether I have a beard or not.  There’s really no official way for a schlub or average Joe to gain “handsomeness” or “sexiness” since that’s up to the girl they’re trying to attract.

The more colorful and eye-catching cockatiel bird is on the right. The female is on the left.

And I think that’s why it’s a guy thing to not care as much about our appearance as females do.  Because unlike male birds (which are always more attractive and attention-grabbing than the females they attract), male humans know they can attract a woman who is out of their league looks-wise as long as they are funny enough, smart enough, rich enough, strong enough, sensitive enough, or whatever else it takes to charm their love interest.  From Doug Heffernan to Barney Rubble, charm certainly has its advantages.

The Male Sex (Over)Drive: Pornography is Pathetic

Pornography has always been a strange concept to me.  Beyond all its connections to immorality, there is one basic truth that while quite obvious, is evidently overlooked and somehow ignored by so many men across the world: It’s not real.

Those women are not actually happy to be exposing their bodies to countless men who, for a handful of reasons, choose to indulge in pornography- from buying magazines, to frequenting strip clubs, to visiting their favorite waitress at the nearest Hooter’s because they serve “really good wings there”.

And I get it.  Pornographic partakers are looking for some form of an “easy” woman.  They are selfish and lazy, unwilling to involve themselves in the natural and necessary steps to nurturing an actual human romantic relationship.  These men will settle for a nude woman faking a smile while pretending to want sex from him.

While I usually do my best to refrain from coming across as judgmental, I’m willing to call it like it is on this one: Pornography of any kind is simply pathetic.

I can’t help but focus on the thought that “that’s somebody’s daughter you’re looking at”.  It seems unnecessary to point out the familiar (and often true) stereotype that many strippers are single moms desperate to make a living.  And that many women who pose for pornographic magazines were sexually abused when they were young.  Not always, but often.

And despite the subconscious banner in bold Verdana font reading “SHE DOESN’T ACTUALLY WANT YOU- SHE’S JUST DOING IT FOR THE MONEY”, men continue to support the economy of prostitution in all levels- because ultimately any type of pornography is related to prostitution.

Despite the spot-on lyrics of songs like Hall and Oates’ “Maneater” and “Family Man” in 1983, as well as Phil Collins’ “Easy Lover” a year later, men continue to repeat history everyday by continuing to give in to maneaters and easy lovers.  Not just at a minimal pornographic level, but all the way up to cheating on their spouse.

Because it all gets muddled up, somewhere between magazines underneath a teenage boy’s bed to a young single man going to a strip club during a bachelor party to a married man who feels trapped and unappreciated in his marriage and gives in to the first temptress to come along.

It’s all related.  Just different degrees of it.  There will always be maneaters and easy lovers, whether they’re in person or on paper.

If only these men had enough common sense to remind themselves: “There is a legitimate reason this strange woman is eager to jump my bones.  Perhaps it’s not truly sex she wants, but is instead using sex to get something else I’m not yet aware of.”

But I guess there are a good number of men out there who don’t mind knowing that their sexual activity is forced, phony, empty, and most likely taking advantage of a woman in some way.

Singleness; The Gift No One Really Wants

Not all single people mind their status.  But they may mind being reminded of it.  I know- I used to be one of those single people.

A month after I graduated high school (June 1999) I joined the youth group of First Baptist Church for a trip to Centrifuge, a one week Christian camp for teenagers.  We stayed in the college dorms of Union University in Jackson, TN.  I was the oldest one in dorm; the other guys were mostly freshman and sophomores.  

One night after whatever campy game we played, we were hanging out in the dorm, getting ready for bed.  And I observed a chance conversation that has stuck with me (and my sister after I told her, turning the event into a longstanding inside joke) – one that I will never forget, not that it was some prolific thing.

The most good-looking guy of the youth group (tanned, blue eyes, well-mannered, came from a respected family) was being told by his peers that Jenny, the token Barbie of the youth group (aside from her looks, she was caring, sincere, and also was a good kid from a good family) was rumored to have said that she said he was cute.

His peers were doing their darndest to get him to ask her out, talk to her, just to do something to make her his girlfriend.  His response?  Shrugged shoulders, looked down at the ground, a sort of “eh, I don’t know…” demeanor. 

One of the guys then responded with what is now, to me, a very famous line:

“Dude… ya gay?”

Sitting across the room from him, halfway pretending not to even listen to the conversation, aside from laughing and thinking it was funny, I related to the kid.  Because I knew his struggle.  Not a struggle with his sexuality, but a struggle with having to entertain other people’s expectations of him dating.

Not all teenage boys are obsessed with “one thing, and one thing only”.  Yes, they are aware, as they are wired to be.  But sometimes a kid just wants to be a kid.  And having a girlfriend gets in the way of that.  And he knows that, so he doesn’t bother wasting a girl’s time when he knows he would just hurt her feelings by eventually choosing something else over her.

Not the norm, but the norm for some.  And it’s the only norm I knew.  Anything else, to me, would be phony.  Or deceitful. 

So yes, I was like him.  Never had a serious girlfriend in high school because, if nothing else, I knew I was moving out of state for college.  So why even get into a relationship if I’m just moving away anyway?  Me and my logical mind. 

Well-meaning people, often in an effort to help me be normal, would offer to set me up with a “nice Christian girl”.  Always a nice gesture, but I didn’t want anyone’s help.  If I was interested and inspired enough, I would find a “nice Christian girl” on my own.  (I have a feeling that there are Jewish guys out there who can relate to this story by simply replacing “good Christian girl” with “good Jewish girl”…)

I almost feel sorry for the few girls that I may or may not have strung around in the process of being in any situation that somewhat resembled me dating them.  Keeping them guessing.  Having them wonder why I didn’t show more initiative to pursue them.  Having them possibly (and understandably) take it personally that I wasn’t making them more of a priority.  I didn’t know what I was doing and I didn’t really want to.

It was me.  Not them.  I honestly cared more about learning to drive and strumming my guitar and playing James Bond on N64 with my friends and shooting paintball guns at street signs than I did having a girlfriend. 

So how did I treat this situation?  I had girl friends (friends that were girls), not girlfriends.  And it worked for me- I was good friends with many girls and around them a lot, but kept the relationship platonic.  But I also had plenty of friends that were guys, as to not become that guy in a modern day setting who would end up going to watch Sex in the City 2 for “girls’ night out” and be the only guy in the group.

(It goes without saying; Man Law prohibits straight men from going to see Sex in the City 2, under any circumstances.  However, watching and discussing The Bachelor and/or The Bachelorette is completely permissible; as it is excused as a way for husbands/boyfriends to spend more quality time with their wives/girlfriends.) 

By the time I actually was ready to date, a few years later, the whole concept seemed to have more of a purpose.  I never had to date a bunch of people to know who I was looking for in a wife.  So when I finally did meet her at age 25, there really wasn’t anything to figure out.  And I looked back at all those years of other people wanting me to seem more normal (by regularly dating), and knew that I did what was right for me.

There is more pressure than there needs to be when it comes to dating, especially for teenagers and people over 30.  When the time (and person) is right, a “friends only” person will make an effort to date. 

I think the Christianized “gift of singleness” concept is a bit hokey; it’s the gift no one really wants.  But just because a person is 30 years old and still single, it doesn’t mean anything.  They’re just being smart.  And patient.  Not settling.

I could easily be in the same single situation.  It’s just that I was spared at age 25 of meeting the right one.

Yeah, right!

Free Marriage Advice

In the past year and a half since I’ve been married, I have gained valuable knowledge, and therefore I live by it.  And now as I pass it on, it now becomes advice.

Back before my wife and I were even engaged, we decided to use Everybody Loves Raymond as the prime example of what our relationship would not end up like.  Because by default, maybe it would.  But through daily conscious effort and with an intentional mindset to be counter-cultural, I am convinced that marriage can be better than the mundane and miserable American stereotypes.

We subconsciously decided that if we were to model our marriage after a married couple from a sitcom, there were some better options out there.  The Huxtables from The Cosby Show.  The Keatons from Family Ties.  And the Seavers from Growing Pains.  Heck, even Mork and Mindy.

Though I hadn’t read a book since college, it was the months leading to our marriage that I suddenly became interested in soaking in as much advice and knowledge as I could from the professionals.  Books like For Men Only, For Women Only, Does This Dress Make Me Look Fat?, Yup Nope Maybe, and Men are Like Waffles-Women are Like Spaghetti.

I don’t know how men and women could begin to truly understand each other and point out the differences between them before these books came along.  But I was born in the right year, so I got to benefit from them.  The core of what I learned and what I’ve applied since reading them is this:

Men can really only focus on one task at a time; they are not multi-taskers.  They are problem-solvers.  What men want more than anything from their wives is to be respected (to be privately and publicly acknowledged as a good man, not a bumbling fool).

Women are multi-taskers.  They are better equipped to handle all the detailed parts in life that men to tend to neglect.  What women want more than anything from their husbands is to be loved (to feel cared for and understood, listened to, and to be reaffirmed of their beauty).

Being aware of these differences, my wife and I both understand that being wired differently, our wires will get crossed occasionally, leading to a classic misunderstanding involving hurt feelings and/or pride.  We know not to assume that either of us is wrong or right, because that’s what leads to an argument.  It’s not a contest, a game, or a battle; it’s a matter of getting on the same page.

We know not to raise our voices, not to be sarcastic, not to talk over the other person, not to interrupt, and not to leave the room as a means of escaping or trying to gain control by getting the upper hand.  We know to say “I feel and I think” instead of “you are or you did”.  And we always know to never say “you never” or “you always”.

Another thing we decided back when we were just dating was that we would become like those old couples we see sometimes that are still in love.  Not just still married, but still in love.  Being affectionate throughout the day is of upmost importance for us to become one of those old, sweet married couples.

“Just you wait, that’ll all change…” That is what I am told from the Nay Sayers.  The ones who say that I’ll stop randomly buying flowers for my wife once we are “out of the honeymoon stage”.  The ones who say that my wife and I will stop being affectionate once the kids come.  Once “life happens”.

I’m sorry that those people have settled for the Everybody Loves Raymond standard in their marriage.  I guess it works for them.  But I see it as a set-up for potential failure.

A couple years ago I heard my pastor say something I’ve never heard before.  In the countless couples he has counseled where one of the spouses cheated on the other in the marriage, he said that it’s almost never over sex, though sex is what makes it official.  Instead, it was about companionship.  Friendship.

The cheating spouse was not getting something from their marriage partner, so they found someone who would give them what they craved.

Often it’s attention.  Often it’s someone who will not make them feel judged.  Often it’s positive reinforcement.  Simply put, it’s someone who lets them know everyday they are special.

A healthy marriage means that the husband and wife never stop dating.  It means the honeymoon isn’t over, despite the year of the wedding.  It means that the wedding was the beginning, not the end, of true romance.

The Books