An Open Letter to Jason Mesnick, The Bachelor

Dear Jason,

My friend Kris thinks you have nice skin and teeth. My friend Kari thinks that good teeth tell you a lot about a man. Hadn’t thought much about it, but I guess they’re right. Kris and Kari are always right. And I like both of their husbands, so they must have pretty good instincts about men.

But I wasn’t really writing to talk about dental hygiene or dermatology or Tom and Lee. Thing is, I’ve been sucked into this crazy show, The Bachelor. I made a New Year’s resolution to try to watch more TV because I’m hopelessly lost when it comes to pop culture, and The Bachelor is what came up. This is the first season I’ve watched it, and while I’d like to be pretentious and say that I spend my evenings listening to Mozart while reading Proust and Kierkegaard, Bonhoeffer and Goethe, the truth is I’m listening to Journey right now and blogging. I happen to be able to correctly pronounce Goethe, but at this moment I’m thinking about how you said that the sleep over with Molly in your backyard tent ended at first base. Really? In my definition book, first base never included a slumber party. I’m so confused!

Despite the fact that you’ve decided to date and select a spouse through a reality television show (twice) in front of millions of views, you seem like a semi-normal, decent guy. So from one single Seattlite to another, I’ve decided to share a few thoughts about dating with ‘ya:

1. Avoid general questions like, “Tell me about yourself.” Or you’ll end up with answers like Natalie’s: I really like bears. All kinds of bears. [On second thought, maybe that kind of answer tells you enough about the person right there! You may want to skip the whole fantasy suite thing and head directly to Build-a-Bear.]

2. You won’t get very helpful responses by asking any of the girls, “Are you ready to be a mom?” No one knows what motherhood/parenthood is really like until you become a mother/parent. Nothing prepares you for it. No one can explain it. And no one can anticipate how she’ll do in the role. If she does, it’s pure conjecture.

Like job interviewing, you really can’t ask, “Do you think you’d do well in this job?” What’s the candidate going to say: “I’m lazy and dishonest and lack problem-solving skills”? Better to ask these ladies to tell you stories of how they’ve handled themselves in the past. When have they failed at something? What was the best thing that ever happened to them? What stresses them out and what do they do when they’re stressed? Listen to their answers. Look at their attitudes. Best indicator of future performance? Past performance.

If you really want to get a sense of who’s mother material, invite them to the fantasy suite and set an alarm clock to go off every two hours. When it rings, hand them a wailing infant with a smelly diaper to change, feed and burp. Have them measure out accurate amounts of antibiotics at measured intervals through the night, and then wake them up in the morning to pack a diaper bag, pack a school lunch and then get dressed to go to work. See who has “chemistry” with you when the night in the fantasy suite is over.

3. Keep in mind the oxytocin factor. It’s that good ol’ bonding hormone released in a woman during childbirth and when a mother nurses her child. It’s the hormone that makes a mother look at her cone-headed, squishy-faced alien of a baby and fall punch-drunk in love with the world’s most beautiful being. Quite simply, oxytocin is cupid’s arrow. The sirens’ song. A hormonal spell of sorts meant to create strong feelings of attachment.

Do men produce oxytocin? Science says yes, but the hormone isn’t present in the male species much of the time. To borrow your baseball analogy, men’s levels of oxytocin significantly increase as they’re achieving a home run.

So if you’re trying to keep a clear head to make a wise life-long decision…well, ‘nuf said.

There you have it, my pearls of wisdom before the swine of reality television. And while the show’s a bit short on reality, I can’t help but quote good old Goethe: “Thinking is more interesting than knowing, but less interesting than looking.”

Good luck and see ‘ya at the final rose ceremony!


Romantic Comedies

I love movies. Independent films. Blockbusters. Drama. Sci-fi. Action/Adventure. And when I go to the movies, I see Jesus (not dead people) everywhere. ET? Jesus living in an inhospitable earth. Superman? Christ motifs abound with the man of steel who will sacrifice himself for lowly mortals. The Dark Knight? Caped crusader who refuses to allow evil to corrupt his soul.

And it’s not just the Jesus motifs. Movies like The Stepford Wives delve into the value of love only when it is offered within the context of free will which poses such opportunities for discussions about God and free will.

Movies are stories. And stories have an amazing power to convey moral truths as well as lies. Of all the genres, romantic comedies make me the most nervous. I love ’em and I hate ’em all at the same time. There’s Meg Ryan sitting in her car listening to Sleepless in Seattle on her radio and sighing when Tom Hanks says of his first wife, “Our hands touched and I just knew. It was magic.” Meg’s character was already dating good ol’l Walter, but there was this nagging doubt that maybe her real Soulmate was still out there.

Serendipity worked off of a similar premise. Two strangers meet, carelessly toss the chance of a long-term relationship to fate, and spend the next several years wondering What if as they settle for other relationships but still hope for a reunion with the one who was “meant to be.”

Message in a Bottle had journalist Robyn Wright using the formidable resources of the Chicago Tribune’s research department to track down the love of her life. They just hadn’t met yet. (I love the fact that the majority of romantic heroines are journalists and writers and editors!)

I could conjure up dozens of movie couples who, on some enchanted evening, lock gazes across a crowded room, and well, you know the Rogers and Hammerstein lyrics…

Five years ago, I wrote a piece for my friend, who is the editor of an online movie site about my issues with romantic comedies: They weren’t true to life. They focused completely on falling in love but never dealt with life after the initial rush of emotion. It was an okay article, but good writing requires an alarming degree of honesty from an author, and, at the time, I was unwilling to be too transparent.

In 2003, Eric and I reached our 10th wedding anniversary. A few weeks before this milestone, Katie, our fourth child, was born. It should have been a time to celebrate marriage and love and family. Instead we were utterly exhausted. We were tired from work demands. We were stretched thin with social commitments. We were weary from the relentless stress of caring for four kids, three under the age of 3. And we were going to a counselor trying to figure out what you do when you come up against the finality of another person–those things about him/her that seem intolerable, and you’ve been with the person long enough to realize that chances of significant change are slim to non-existent.

When we were dating (we dated for 6 years), we thought we were uniquely in love. No one else connected like we did; talked together like we did; shared the same passions and goals and sense of humor. Repeatedly, Eric told me that he looked around at other couples and none seemed as happy as we were. He’d never find anyone else like me.

On our 10th anniversary, I asked Eric if he’d marry me all over again. He responded that it’s not a good idea to go back and think about what you would or would not do. You make decisions and move forward from there without second-guessing the past. Hmmm. Not exactly what I had hoped to hear.

So, 10 years into our marriage, romantic comedies were both sweet and depressing. If I had been more honest in my article, I might have confessed that while I was completely committed to my marriage, romantic comedies sometimes left me with the nagging notion that my Soulmate really was out there, only I hadn’t met or married him. I didn’t (and don’t) really believe in the idea of a one and only “soulmate” but a part of me wanted to believe…

These movies also bothered me because while they summoned up memories of what it was like to fall in love—the moments of giddy anticipation and being nervous in a nice, breathless way—they underlined the fact that that was in the past and unlikely to be experienced again. I’d walk out of the theater wistful and somewhat dissatisfied over the chasm between screen love and real life. And I was annoyed that most romantic comedies didn’t help me appreciate the way love looked after familiarity set in.

Eric and I didn’t make it to our twelfth anniversary. Who can ever assemble and weigh all the factors that end a marriage? Lack of commitment. Sheer fatigue. Incompatibility. Unrealistic expectations of marriage. An extramarital relationship. Inability to negotiate and compromise. Breakdowns in communication. Failures to convey love and respect. The notion that someone else outside of your marriage just might be more compatible to you…

Ironically, I find myself a divorced woman who doesn’t believe in divorce. Instead I believe that love is a commitment that transcends day-to-day emotions and incompatibilities and difficult seasons. It’s figuring out how to reconcile those “irreconcilable differences” and learning how to lay down your will and your pride so you can love your spouse in a way that helps him/her grow in glory…grow in God-likeness.

If I have a bone to pick with romantic comedies, it’s that the stories overwhelmingly sell the notion of romantic chemistry, soulmates, and finding your “one true love” who fulfills you. It messes us all up.

My single friends fall in love, but when inevitable incompatibilities begin to surface, they’re shaken. How do you know which differences are deal-breakers versus just the stuff that everyone deals with? They stand on the verge of commitment with trepidation about plunging in—the person they’re dating is a mixture of wonderful and flawed, but what if a more perfect mate exists out there? In your early 20s, you think you’re unsure because you haven’t experienced much of life yet. But honestly, a decade (or almost two) later, the same questions about compatibility exist. At some point, you have to be level-headed enough to look for the significant qualities and then be ready to accept the rest of the package. But the movies unnerve you. On the big screen, Soulmates just know that they’re right for each other, so my single friends stay single waiting for a perfect love that feels just right.

A number of my married friends opened up their lives to me when I was going through my divorce. So many of them struggled with immense loneliness within their marriages; infidelities; selfish spouses and just day-to-day struggles. I can’t help but think that romantic comedies set you up to expect more happiness and less work out of relationships…and that’s just not real in the long run. I’m not cynical about love. I think that marital bliss does exist, as does joy in a marriage. But joy is sometimes different than happiness. And romance requires a degree of commitment and work to flourish.

Concluding thoughts? Well, I have none. It’s an an-going discussion in my head, and I’m still mulling for now. So it’s your turn to help me process my thoughts. I’m interested in hearing what you readers thinks: Do Soulmates exist? How did you know when you married that you were marrying the “right” person? Is there such a thing as a “right” person? What incompatibilities are intolerable? Are romantic comedies good? Bad? Neutral? How do they affect the way you look at love? What are the best/worst movies about love?

Looking forward to hearing from you.