Monday, July 13, 2009

advertising, the list

[Part 3 of an interesting debate. Links to Part 1 and Part 2.]

Having spent the last weekend with a few of my girlies - some single, some engaged, some married - I was made to remember one of the main sources of my elongated single phase and the near-cause of a breakup between Andrew and myself in our early days of dating: The List.

My particular version of The List had several incarnations, the first being one that I wrote when I was 19 on a train from Pune to Delhi during a trip to India. It consisted of exactly 47 calculated questions designed to snare potential suitors in a trap of their own making (The List can be found here...because I'm feeling extra generous and self-deprecating today).

#15: "Do you like cats?" (This was added because I myself like cats, and was aware that many men did not.)
#16: "Do you like polka music?" (Added directly after #15 to ensure that He Who Was Being Questioned was not absentmindedly answering "yes" to all questions in a sly attempt at winning me over.)

The second draft came about in my early 20s and was an attempt at spiritualizing The List. I wanted characteristics such as loyalty, prophetic inclination, leadership skills, an ability to mentor, and a strong testimony. In addition, I wanted him to enjoy dancing, playing piano, have interesting eyes, be a good hugger, and, of course, be fond of cats.

By my mid 20s I decided The List could do with more editing and I narrowed it down to three top points:
  1. Ability to hear God's voice and follow it.
  2. Big.
  3. Can make me laugh.
Before anyone gets the wrong idea about #3, let me explain. I had, at the time, a penchant for what I referred to as "teddy bear guys". Tall, yes, but more importantly sturdy. Beefy. Pudgy. My family came to know this phase in my life as my "inFATuation" with large men and would routinely compete to point out men bearing the greatest resemblance to the Koolaid guy.

"Sarah! Look - it's your boyfriend!"

My obsession with writing, rewriting, editing and agonizing over The List made it nearly impossible for me to see the potential that was right in front of me, which is where Andrew sat for six years before we dated. Consumed as I was with designing an ideal husband I hadn't given thought to how ridiculous The List was, how unattainable, and how restrictive.

When Andrew and I began to date, The List took on a life of its own - not unlike Jabberwocky deriving the power to terrorize Alice from her own imagination - haunting, taunting, and reminding me of the prerequisites I had established. "He's great," I thought, "but he doesn't really dance, he's not a teddy bear guy, he hasn't technically been to India, and HE DOESN'T LIKE CATS."

God had to arrest me in order to keep us together. "Sarah," he cautioned, "Andrew, the man you are falling in love with, is more than the sum of his parts. He is more than the accumulation of check marks off The List."

Recently I came upon this delicious little controversial article: right here, and, consequentially, the true meaning behind The List.
Bad experiences and damaged trust are often catalysts for rule-making, says Evan Marc Katz, the Los Angeles-based author of Why You're Still Single: Things Your Friends Would Tell You If You Promised Not to Get Mad . It's a natural defence mechanism, he says.
The List was designed to keep the bad guys out but I hadn't realized it had acted to keep me in. Looking over those 47 questions I recognize the frightened 19 year old who had already known Those Scary Guys who hooted and hollered at other women (#5), were too clingy/needy (#13), were serial daters/players (#23), who punched girls (#31), who ran to alcohol/women/other when they were upset (#32), and told me how to dress/behave (#43). I was so busy protecting myself I hadn't realized the purpose to a REAL relationship was to extend myself, to expose myself, to make myself available to Andrew, who needed me to assure him that I, also, wasn't one of Those Scary Girls.

And, yes, by the way, you caught the title of that book correctly. OMIGAH, right? OK, I just want you all to know: I did not write this book although I kind of wish I had. It's available on Amazon if you'd like a pick up a copy. You know, for "a friend". It includes such tasty tidbits of wisdom such as:
  • Don’t be the "men are pigs" woman. She’s boring. She’s unhappy. And the good men don’t want her.
  • Don’t demand the right to set arbitrary rules, let alone change them every five minutes. Act like a crazy person and you’ll be treated like one.
  • Realize when he doesn’t want to talk and give him that space. Men don’t usually feel the need to share as much. Respect that or watch him shut down even more.
Get the healing you need to move on. Once you move on, don't look back. Make yourself as available as you would like a partner to make themselves available to you. Emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and warmly. Replace The List with non-negotiables: values that you have seriously thought through and prayed about; the ones that you know you could not spend a lifetime without. A word to the wise: a fondness for cats shouldn't be one of them.

And then, date. GO OUT AND DATE. He's out there, hoping that you'll be soft enough to let him woo you. She's out there, hoping that you'll pursue her.

Despite her single status, Ms. Di Bari sticks to her regulations. They help keep her standards high and maintain her dignity. But most of all, they protect her from heartbreak. Sometimes, she feels a little like she's missing out.

“There were times when having the rules actually hurt me because I might've missed out on an opportunity because of them,” she says. “I guess I'm a glutton for punishment.”


Andrew G said...

Someone wise told me that when you get married, the person you marry becomes the list; that explained a lot too!

Sarah Aubrey said...

Namely, that we now own a cat. And you like him.


Mie said...

How did your story go? If you knew each other for six years before..Did your feelings kind of start at the same time, or had Andrew been looking at you for some time already? If you care to share ;)

Unfortunately the culture in especially Scandinavia (Or Finland namely) is completely different to North America. There's not really a dating culture. How people end up together, is a mystery! hehe. I mean it ;) In the UK I find it's quite sticky in Christian circles too - though the culture is slightly different, you get asked out for a date outside Christian circles quite a lot if you just go out.

beth said...

Girl,I am so glad that you tackled the list. Thinking way back, the only person I can remember ever telling me to write a list was not married themselves.
I am not saying that we shouldn't take advice from people that aren't married when it comes to romantic relationships. What I AM realizing is that I never really sought out MARRIED people for advice until Mark and I were pretty much engaged. That is why I tell people now that open, loving married couples are a great resource for singles - they have learned stuff!

I can relate with a lot of your points :)
I found that by the time I knew & loved myself enough to draw up my true 'non-negotiables', I was mature enough to accept that those essential values did not "narrow things down" as much as I had once thought. My lack of "list" left me very vulnerable and not in TOTAL control. *GASP*
With that came adventure, fun, joy, humility, risk, learning, and now my best friend and hero as my husband.
All along my Abba Father was willing to take me by the hand, help me enjoy being single, prepare me, and finally lead me to that man. He was wanting to help me grow into my husband-to-be's "list" more and more everyday (no striving) rather than spend have me spend my energy desperately trying to find someone that met MY detailed criteria (striving).

I love the quotes from that book.

Keep sharing your story, Sarah. You enrich people's lives simply by letting them in on your journey!