Monday, July 27, 2009
All I know is this time around Not gonna be the one taking you back All I know is this time around Not gonna be the one not gonna be the one All I know is this time around Not gonna give you a second chance All I know is this time around Not gonna be the one not gonna be the one --Lovehammers, “Black Angel (Not Gonna be the One)”* It happened somewhere in the neighborhood of eight years ago. I’m pretty sure it was late spring or early summer of 2001. The only thing I really know is that Stephen Jay Gould was still alive. And it came a bit after I dumped my first girlfriend. It was also a Wednesday. These might seem like oddly specific details. And they kind of are, but not really. See, in the fall of 2000 she’d gone off to college and met another guy. I was still sticking around Wheaton, doing the townie and community college thing, I guess, and helping my church rebuild the college program. We met on Wednesday nights for Bible study in the basement of one of the guys in the group. I made it every week. But I hadn’t wanted to make it that particular week. Stephen Jay Gould was giving a lecture at the College of DuPage. I heard about it too late to get a ticket. Chances are that I would have enjoyed that lecture, too. I knew nothing of the concept of the Non-Overlapping Magesteria at the time, but Gould probably would not have offended the sensibilities that led me to Bible studies on Wednesday nights. Really, all I knew about Stephen Jay Gould was that if he was in town giving a lecture, you go. It would have been late spring. That Wednesday was one of the first times, possibly the first time, I’d seen her since I found out that she’d met another guy at college and hadn’t exactly told me. It was one of the first times I’d seen her since my friend who introduced us told me that she’d told him we’d broken up and messed around with him. Truthfully, instead of going to Bible study that Wednesday night I should have just gone home when I found out there was no Stephen Jay Gould ticket to be had. See, that night after Bible study we had a good heart-to-heart and I forgave her. I shouldn’t have. It’s not that I have anything against forgiveness. I’m a fan. It’s that she told me the reason she messed around with me and with my friend was that she loved both of us and didn’t know what to do. She told me the reason she started hanging out with that other guy was because she loved him. To my credit, I think I knew it was a load of bullshit at the time. I certainly believe it now. I guess it helps that every year since then she’s tried to get back in touch with me during the spring. She’s tried to tell me she’s sorry, that she still knows me better than anyone, that she still loves me. This last time around I tried to end it for good. I figured that after she told me she understood me, that she’s moved more towards where I am from a philosophical perspective, that it would really cut her off at the knees to point out that I’m an extremely socially liberal atheist these days. I probably should have told her I was an alcoholic who has sired many illegitimate children. At least that would have been more fun for me, since I would have been able to make up ever more ridiculous stories to see what she would buy in her quest to get me to decide she’s again worth my time. She still claims to love me. This is after nine years in which I gave her no reason to think I cared and a failed marriage on her part. Truth is, she uses love in much the same way certain guys will tell a girl they love her just to get in her pants. She may or may not want in my pants, but this time she certainly seemed to offer that option. What she really wants is something other than sex, though. She wants control. Not even necessarily of me, but of someone, and for some reason once a year she gets it in her head that I’m going to let her manipulate me this time around in spite of all evidence to the contrary. It was about five years between the night I didn’t hear Stephen Jay Gould talk and the next time a woman told me she loved me. I was talking to the one I’ve immortalized on these pages as Her and it pretty much came out of nowhere. I believed she did at the time. Hell, I believe it now. But that use of the word “love” wasn’t the one that stuck with me. It came towards the end, that time I was pretty sure things weren’t going to work out but still didn’t want to admit it. She’d just hurt me quite badly. When I didn’t take it well she refused to admit that anything was wrong. In fact, she pretty much insisted that everything she’d said was correct, but it didn’t matter, because she loved me and wasn’t that enough? It wasn’t. “I love you, but you’re not good enough,” is never an appropriate expression of love. The first one only loved me as long as she thought she could use that word to get something from me. The last one only loved me as long as I continued to be what she thought I was. Part of the reason it took me so long to find someone else to use that word around me after I dropped the first one was because I’d lost interest in the idea of finding love. Switching from manipulative love to conditional love hasn’t exactly helped.** Meanwhile, though, it should be absolutely no shock to anyone that my experiences being “loved” by members of the female gender had a large effect on my ability to handle the church’s “love.” I put the word love in quotes there for what may or may not be obvious reasons. I’ll argue to my dying day if I have to (and I hope I don’t) that the first girl never actually loved me. I believe the second one did. But I also believe that conditional love isn’t ultimately worth all that much. And the sort of unconditional love that’s supposed to make a general judgmentalness okay isn’t worth much of anything, either. I would hope that through all my Critical Mass posts it’s become relatively obvious that my experiences with the “love” of god and most of my fellow Christians were of conditional, judgmental forms of love. Honestly, I’d rather not belabor the point any more than I already have. Besides, it’s hard to explain how the love of god is judgmental. It’s all subjective. All I know is that there is no such thing as the unconditional love of god. Everything came with conditions. You had to believe the right dogmas, say the right things in Bible study, avoid asking all the questions that were too dangerous. All I have is my strange collection of analogies. They are strange, too, like writing fiction where I’m the main character and the events actually happened. But I only tell the stories that can’t hurt me anymore, so by the time they make it here it’s almost like they happened to someone else who I vaguely recall knowing quite well. The truth is, though, that the fictions have a strange effect. I mostly don’t think about Her until She becomes a useful narrative device for spinning these tales of why I left the church. Which means, in all honesty, she’s now outlived her usefulness to me. That seems like a horrible thing to say, but I can’t come up with any better way of communicating the idea. I have the Critical Mass posts. I have This is My Truth, Tell Me Yours, Part 6. I don’t know what else I can possibly say on the subject. It’s time to let sleeping dogs lie. The story has been told, all else is commentary. I’ve drifted a bit in the original goals of this blog. That’s fine, though. I did mostly want to write about history, since I missed it quite a bit more than I’d thought. Gradually, though, it became the story of my own history. But there’s a point when I get beyond the idea of “searching the past to understand the future” and simply wallow in what was, what wasn’t, and what might have been. I don’t know what that admission means for this blog. Religion still fascinates me, but I think I’m going to start writing about it from more of a historical perspective. There is much to discuss about the Documentary Hypothesis and the formulation of the Gospels. There is also quite a bit to be said about the early history of the church and Bible itself as a historical document. And there will be After the Flood for the foreseeable future… So I don’t think I’m going to stop talking about religion. I think I will offer fewer and fewer stories about my own experiences, however. Christianity is like a bad relationship. I can only live in the memories for so long before I absolutely have to move on for the sake of my sanity and my happiness. The truth is that I don’t necessarily identify myself as an atheist or a former Christian or anything like that. I did for a while I was adjusting. And I’d say that I no longer have any god belief and am, by default, an atheist. But in terms of self-identification I’m more likely to say I’m a Peacemakers fan than an atheist these days. I’m also probably going to tell you I’m a historian before much of anything else. In the short term, too, I still want to discuss the aftermath of the Four Days in July, the Gettysburg Address, and the Lost Cause Myth… And if you, dear reader, don’t like that, well, too bad. I’m not your monkey. And I’m guessing that you’re not an organ grinder, anyway… --------------------------------- *Which was, in the most ironic possible way, immediately followed by U2’s “All I Want is You” on Winamp. **I think there’s also a strange answer in there to the whole “nice guys finish last” thing. See, the first time around I allowed myself to be manipulated, so she walked all over me. The second time around I was so terrified of losing her that I never stood up for myself and was more than willing to assume that any problems in the relationship were primarily my fault. I was still thinking that months later. I didn’t want to hurt anyone and basically always tried to not lose her. In trying not to lose her I stopped challenging her and probably basically stopped being interesting. Moreover, though, I got so worried about her damned self-manufactured abandonment complex and trying to make sure that I wasn’t the next one who hurt her that it never occurred to me that I was hurting myself. I couldn’t allow myself to leave, couldn’t allow myself to think about leaving, so I never did. And through it all, even long after it was over, I kept trying to figure out what I’d done wrong, how I could have done better. It never occurred to me that the fact she never accepted any responsibility and got pissed at me when I dared suggest she’d done something wrong or had done something to hurt me was a pretty good indication that I should have turned on my heels and walked away. But I didn’t. I did something much worse, something much dumber. Whenever she’d say something like that and piss me off I’d attempt to pull the whole, “I’m leaving this time, no, I really mean it.” It’s a game. It’s a stupid game, one that I hope I never play again. It just made me look like a sap and it never had the desired effect of getting her to run after me. Most of the time I’d just turn around and go back when I realized she hadn’t moved. There are power dynamics in a relationship. Any time two or more people are involved in things there will be. I’d never argue that one gender or the other has to have all the power, nor would I argue that there should necessarily be someone who is in charge and someone who isn’t. What I do think, though, is that any relationship should have a free will component. Either person should be allowed and able to walk away at any point and the reaction of the other to the attempt to leave should say everything about the relationship. You can’t turn walking away in to a game or a passive-aggressive attempt to get the other person to offer some sort of Shakespearian monologue about how wonderful you are. But if one person starts to take the other for granted, the one who is being taken for granted should absolutely be able to stand up for him- or herself. And if the other person says, “Fine, leave,” ( and actually means it) well, chances are they weren’t worth the effort, anyway. I think, too, that countless stories like this explain how “the nice guy” becomes “the bitter guy.” My goal is to not be the bitter guy. Life’s too short to live angry and it’s certainly too short to be spent hating some random ex. She has no place in my life and the memories of her have no place beyond their ability to teach me what to look for and what to avoid. Period. End of discussion.