247. beatific


The-art-of-courtly-love-2A few years ago, my friend Sarah Howell moved to New York City to start a career in stage management. She’d been working in Minneapolis for a while and building a solid reputation for herself, and when the opportunity to move east presented itself, she sold everything and jumped at the chance. And unlike some of my friends who have tried their hand at Broadway, she is doing quite well! It helps that, unlike the denizens of aspiring actors in NYC, competent stage managers are hard to come by.

So I’m incredibly proud of her and her work, and wish her continued success!

When I googled her most recent show (called Love In the Middle Ages), another page appeared in the search results that caught my notice, a University of Oxford Arts blog article by Clemency Pleming titled Did love begin in the Middle Ages? I’ve come across papers and books in the past suggesting that our modern notion of romantic love is actually a relatively recent development in human history.

Well, recent compared to 20,000 years ago.

Pleming quotes professor Laura Ashe, who says that before the Norman conquest of England,

Anglo-Saxon literature had a very different focus… The world of the Anglo-Saxon warrior, at least in poetry, was based on the bond of loyalty between fighting men. Love in this world means love for your fellow warriors, and the idea of sacrificing yourself for the group.

In the Middle Ages, however:

There was a transformation in culture, a series of church reforms in the 12th century took Christianity from a rather austere view of God the Father to a new focus on Christ’s humanity.

The spiritual lives of ordinary people were recognised, and people were encouraged to have a more emotional and personal relationship with God as individuals. And romantic love – giving yourself to another person – provides a justification, in the medieval moral compass, for the pursuit of self-fulfilment as an individual.

Even tragic love stories are based on the idea that the living individual is to be celebrated and that it might be better to stay alive after all.

Ashe identifies this as something of a turning point in how we view the importance of marriage in society. Where once it was approached more like a contract or a business transaction for the sake of convenience or practicality, people now began to view it as something to aspire to.

I’ve been thinking about that recently in relation to myself—specifically, examining why I’ve been so obsessed the past few years with finding a boyfriend and potential future husband.

It’s impossible to ignore daily reminders that I’m single. Coworkers pepper their conversations with references to spouses and kids, vacations and trips “up north” to the cabin. Adverts not-so-subtly tell me that I’m incomplete, that there’s no one to share in meaningful experiences with, to share the picture frame in tagged social media posts.

I’m a “me.” Not a “we.”

As I’ve written about in other posts, there is also the element of needing to prove wrong the voices from my past that claimed gay people don’t have relationships. I was taught that gay people were promiscuous, hedonistic, riddled with diseases contracted from hundreds of sexual partners and their deviant sexual practices, and would eventually succumb to HIV/AIDS.

But there’s another latent evangelical Christian element at play in my subconscious—the primacy of marriage and commitment in that culture.

From my earliest recollection, marriage was the holiest sacrament after communion. While sacraments aren’t really a Protestant thing, we held it in the same high regard. After becoming a missionary, marriage was the ultimate calling for Christians. It was a living parable, the means by which God shaped Christian men and women into more godly people.

And there were so many analogies that, in hindsight, are just plain fuckin’ weird. Marriage is a mirror of Christ and the Church… of the Trinity… of God’s love for us… of how we’re supposed to give of ourselves for Jesus.

But of course the real reason evangelical Christians are obsessed with getting married is so that they can finally have sex, which is likely a contributing factor to why the Christian divorce rate is comparable to that of non-Christians.

So while I don’t buy into any of that anymore, there’s still this core notion buried deep in my subconscious that marriage is somehow a benchmark of success in a person’s life. It won’t be perfect, by any means, but it’s an indicator that a person is stable, attractive, and self-actualized enough to find a partner and build a life together.

Now, I know intellectually that that’s a crock. Unstable people get married, as do aimless and irresponsible people, and those who are unattractive by conventional standards (which also doesn’t mean much).

And there’s no such thing as security. Partners sometimes cheat on or abandon you, and eventually everyone dies.

I guess what’s frustrating is that I’m not so desperate to be in a relationship that I’ll date anyone. That’s how I ended up with Jay (my ex of 2½ years) for nine months. And I’ve seen friends and acquaintances languish in unhappy marriages because they’re afraid to end it and be alone.

It’s why it goads me to see ex-boyfriends and lovers just fall so seemingly effortlessly into new relationships. The other night I foolishly looked up Seth on Facebook and found out that he has a hot boyfriend named Martin and two adorable dogs.

Big mistake.

It renewed the mental loop of thinking that what appears to be a smörgåsbord for him and others in the Midwest is a veritable dating wasteland for me. That it appears so easy for them.

Everyone says good guys are out there.

So where are they hiding?

I need to get over this belief that I’m somehow less-than for being single, and determine if finding a partner is at the root of the anxiety, or if this is more old programming wreaking havoc on my current happiness.

10 thoughts on “247. beatific

  1. I relate to this SO MUCH. Theroretically, I understand that I have tremendous worth as a single person … but years in the church community have jaded me into thinking that I’m worth MORE as a “we.”

    If you find the good guys in the Twin Cities, tell me where they are, okay?

    • David

      I am SO GLAD that this connected with you, Jackie! Being gay aside, one of the most toxic things in Christianity for me and many others was the laser-point focus on marriage and the subtle shaming of—and condescension toward—single people. Singlehood is looked down upon by the married folks as a consolation prize of sorts—especially for women. The minute that you graduate from high school and youth group, church groups for young adults are basically dating pools and speed dating sessions. Before anyone really gets a chance to start figuring out who they are and what they want, they’re bombarded with paradigms of what a “biblical woman” or a “biblical man” looks like, with everyone encouraged to squeeze themselves into cookie-cutter molds of what the human experience is supposed to be. It’s a game of virtual musical chairs, Christianity’s version of women’s race to the altar, albeit gussied up with Bible verses and layers of theology. And it brutalizes those who think differently. It’s got to change.

  2. PaulDouglas

    They are out there. In my experience when you focus on being authentic, finding your passion(s) and developing significant friendships, the husband will turn up. It does take time for us to do our own work, but that is also time that your future beau needs to become worthy of you too!
    I appreciate your introspection and honesty. Very refreshing!

    • David

      That’s what I’m doing… following my bliss, not necessarily for the sake of finding a beau but for the purpose of (as Shaw famously said) creating myself. It’s just that wondering where the gay librarians are has become rather tiresome. Isn’t this supposed to be one of the professions most densely populated with gay men? But you’re right about needing to date someone worthy of me. At the risk of sounding my own horn, I’ve got lots to offer. I’m an intriguing mélange of unique experiences, quirky personality, and delightfully nerdy interests! But I’m also looking for someone of whom I’m worthy.

  3. David

    The cool thing is that relationships aren’t (or at least shouldn’t be) static. You and Keith can evolve your concept of what it means to be married. 🙂

  4. An amazing piece. Really enjoyed the read, incredibly written, and as for the whole concept of the changing role of love 2000 years ago- blew my mind! The whole partner-for-life thing, I’ve heard or witnessed so many horrid marriages with both partners drowned with dread, but I still have the naive belief that when it’s my turn it will be all roses and rainbows, of course with stresses but non that leave me feeling unsatisfied or unhappy… Will just keep my fingers crossed for now…

    • David

      Thanks, James! It continues to amaze me how research can change and inform our perspective on life. That article set me down an exciting path of inquire, and that was basically just a short blurb of a piece! But yes—our understanding and approach to love in the 21st century is changing, just as it did a thousand years ago. And I think we all have the “happily ever after” paradigm seared into our minds from an early age. That’s what we’re supposed to do as adults, right? Just do what comes right and naturally to you and your someday partner, if that’s what you want. I think most people just assume that’s the model they’re supposed to follow without really considering if it’s for them. We have an opportunity to shift that.

      Keep writing! I look forward to reading more on your blog.

      • David you’re amazing. Such an insightful person! Please write regularly! And thanks, although compared to you I look like nothing more than a wannabe slutty, blond, bimbo- but maybe that’s just who I am, aha!

      • David

        Thanks!! I’ve certainly had my slutty days. It’s a matter of balancing what you want emotionally with the id-like needs of your libido. What I’ve realized at 32 is that there’s no right answer. It’s trial and error, with the oracle of your subconscious to guide you. For me, I need a fairly deep connection with a guy to be fully and openly sexual with him, but there’s nothing wrong with enjoying sex for its own sake! To quote Sondheim: “You decide what’s right, you decide what’s good.”

        But to also quote the Bloodhound Gang: “You and me, baby, ain’t nothin’ but mammals, so let’s do it like they do on the Discovery Channel.”

      • the no-judgement is greatly appreciated! Not sure how it will all go but, definitely will be fun to write about. Already have next blog idea frothing! Great use of quotes too. I will be stealing those, aha!

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