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Last issue, I considered the complications of dating and discernment. Dating, however, is an endlessly complex issue, and I think it will forever remain so as long as it involves love, men and women.
Men and women got off on the wrong foot after the fall. Woman falls to sin, Woman tempts man, Man falls to sin, hides from God, blames Woman, they’re kicked out – it’s all downhill from there.
It’s in sorry contrast to Adam’s first rejoicing over woman upon her creation: “Bone of my bone, and flesh from my flesh” (Gen. 2:13). It’s sadder still when you remember that the whole point was not to be lonely; we were made for each other, to be different and exhilarating and new for one another. The fall twisted tenderness, longing and awe into bitterness, resentment and confusion.
Men just don’t get women. Women don’t get men. Things that men do, enjoy or prefer tend to be suspect to women, and vice versa. Sometimes it’s the activity we don’t understand, sometimes it’s the intention, sometimes it’s both.
This is not to deny that there are tendencies that can cross the gap between the sexes: there are more masculine women and more feminine (which is not the same thing as effeminate) men, whether that be in interests or temperament.
Nonetheless, women are at their core wired as women; men are wired as men. And even if one can understand the other sex with accuracy, the other sex will still find ways to surprise and bewilder one.
These differences cause the most friction when they enter the romantic arena. Dating, courting, marriage — the level of communication, understanding and unity required is so intense that every little matter of difference is magnified beyond belief.
At first, this sense of scrutiny creates a contradictory but necessary atmosphere of tender caution and powerful intensity. Speaking as a man, this sense that everything you do is suspect creates a sense of boldness: every shot feels like the last shot, and you have to get it just right, no matter what. You have to be the romantic hero, or you’re in trouble.
However, the intensity of the start makes the transition to a more mundane “real life” all the more jarring. Once a relationship is official and exclusive, all of a sudden you’re trying to live life again — with an entire other person to consider at each moment.
The differences are unavoidable. All these little things you once did without incident create, as G.K. Chesterton once wrote of marriage, “a perpetual crisis.” Of course, a good relationship will be healed as often as it is shattered, by affection, understanding and apology — in a word, love; you take each shard and piece it back, together.
It is impossible here to touch on every little shard of glass, but perhaps we can examine the whole window. Then, we might realize that a man and a woman see two very different things when they look through it.
Men tend to view relationships as being in a home. It doesn’t matter where you are in the home or what you’re doing; maybe you’re just lounging around, maybe you’re doing something to improve the home. You exist within it regardless of the activity. There is a sense of security within the home; if you have a girlfriend, you can relax, precisely because you have a girlfriend. You take comfort in knowing that the relationship simply exists.
On the other hand, though I cannot claim to speak for women, it seems to me that women see relationships as a fire. It’s burning, active, consuming, something that demands alertness and attention to nurture it, to keep it from going to embers and ultimately ash. The flame will wax and wane, but it is in attending to it that the fire is sustained. A relationship is less a state of being and more of a consistent activity.
Is there a wrong or right way to see these things? I don’t think so — we see things as we are wired. When a man knows he has the love of a woman, it gives him the feeling that he can do anything he sets his mind to. I venture to say that having the loving attention of a man gives a woman her own sense of stability.
Unfortunately, the expectations and perceptions of the other sex often feel impossible to live up to. Yet that, ultimately, is the point: we are constantly put out of our comfort zones, forced to understand a whole other mind, heart and soul alien to our own.
We’re not meant for our comfort zones. We’re meant for love, even when it drives us up a wall. To paraphrase Chesterton, love is “a duel to the death which no man of honor should decline.”