Yesterday I bought flowers from the only post-pubescent female I’ve ever encountered who has no natural ability to arrange flowers in a nice bouquet. How ironic to find her working in a florist’s shop. I ordered two types, alstromeria and daisies, and actually had to suggest to the woman that it might be nice to intersperse the two types together rather than just slappinng and wrapping the yellow flowers right upside the bunch of white daisies. Of course, some masculine alarm went off deep inside me that kept me from being *too* insistent about the arrangement, so I just let her put it together in her ham-fisted way. People are rarely what you expect — I’m sure she was a very talented, I dunno, cook or auto mechanic or something.
The flowers were for my wife. I’m not telling you this to claim credit for being a good husband, I’m telling you this to give her credit for being a good wife. Recently we had a big disagreement over a rather important event in our lives. It involved dates and who could attend and how much effort was going to have to go into planning and logistics and also it was The Principle Of The Thing. Basically, one of us was not going to be happy. It was one of those either-or things where there was no compromise really possible.
So after an evening of lively discussion as us married folk tend to have from time to time, I was going to capitulate. Mainly because in another situation a few years back that involved conflicting holidays and family celebrations — another time when someone was not going to be happy — Heidi was the one to capitulate. But as it turns out, Heidi came up with a way to cut the Gordian Knot and compromise. She found it in herself to put, yet again, my concerns ahead of hers and decide, bitter pill though it may be, that my happiness was more important than The Principle Of The Thing, which I had already basically conceeded to her.
So now I will cut away to this story I encountered in my scanning which talks about trends in relationships. Forget about the effects of divorce, out of wedlock births, and the breakdown of the nuclear family. The really disturbing trend, implied by this study, is that people are losing their ability to maintain intimate relationships of *any* kind. Even close friendships are on the decline. There are more people alone around the developed world than ever before. It’s like we’re living in an increasingly Seinfeld-ian world of singletons who can never quite mix right.
It is a good article. Read it. You’ll find no knee-jerk conservative reactionism there or any alarmist traditionalism, just a thoughtful analysis of the social context for intimate relationships these days that makes them tougher than ever to maintain. Essentially, it’s not that people are just more individualistic and stubborn and selfish than ever before — it’s that modern society has become oriented toward the cultivation of the individual, the self, and that tends to deprive intimate relationships of a wider, culturally sanctioned web of meaning within which self-sacrificing intimate relationships can thrive.
“Love today finds it difficult to say anything plausible about attachment, self-sacrifice or lifelong commitment. The story of love is about me – finding my self, self-actualisation, autonomy and personal growth. Ultimately, the orientation towards the self erodes the foundation for intimate relationships. Self-interest that remains unmediated by wider cultural meanings encourages a withdrawal from the pursuit of intimacy.”
So I have a wife, and a marriage, that bucks the trend. We have a relationship in which we sacrifice — occasionally in big, pride-swallowing ways — for one another. It’s not even like we take turns. Sometimes it goes in streaks. And lately I have been the streak-ee. That’s why I brought flowers. They were “I know” flowers. They were “I’m blessed to have you” flowers. They were by no means “I’m glad I got my way” flowers. Really. Well, okay, maybe just a teensy bit.
You see, I’m a bit chagrined. It’s an embarrassment of riches. I like to see myself as the biblically-ordained leader of our marriage. My interpretation of that leadership is that it is my responsibility to apologize first, to be the first to say to myself “What would Jesus do here” (I don’t own a single item of the kitschy WWJD stuff, but it’s still a useful question.) I like to see myself that way, but in reality, Heidi leads just as much if not more than I. I’m supposed to say “Hey, that’s my job.” But too often, my protest is faint. I am humbled by her humility. And I am damn lucky to have her.
Thing is, I couldn’t find the words to explain all of this to Heidi last night. (That’s why I like writing and taking time to get my thoughts down.) Sometimes the best thing you can do is keep your mouth shut and show up with flowers.