Exit 38. :)&[4].

The combination of numbers and punctuation marks appearing in the title of this post is something I’ve used a few times over the years as a Facebook status.  I haven’t recently, though, because I haven’t really felt that way, although I know I really need to change my attitude.  And that’s what I need to work on right now.  But first I should explain what “that way” is, considering that :)&[4] is an abbreviation I made up (for a quote I didn’t make up, though).

:)&[4] is short for “I’ve got a smile on my face, and I’ve got four walls around me.”  To me, that means that I’m content with life at the moment.  I may not have everything I want, things may not be perfect, but I have what I need and I’m okay with that.  (Feel free to start using that in your own statuses and tweets.)  The quote is the both the opening and closing lines of this song:

As I mentioned in a recent post, the vocalist and primary songwriter for that song, Alan Doyle, recently wrote a memoir.  I just finished reading it today.  (And if I’ve mentioned it two weeks in a row, that means it must be really good, so all of you should go read it as soon as you’re done reading this.)  One of the first things that struck me about Alan’s story was when he writes about the first time he brought his future wife to the small rural fishing village in Newfoundland where he grew up.  He tells about how they had no car and his dad had to hitchhike to work, about throwing big parties to warm up the house when they ran out of heating oil, about having no bathroom at all when he was young, the non-flushing toilet in the bathroom his father built later, and taking his first shower as a preteen while visiting some relatives on his mother’s side in a different part of Newfoundland.  You hear stories all the time like this from people of my grandparents’ generation, who grew up during the Depression, but Alan isn’t that much older than me.  All of the stories in this book happened in the 1970s and 80s.  When Alan was a university student in St. John’s, he brought his future wife to his childhood home, and she said that she had no idea that Alan grew up poor.  Alan didn’t understand what she was saying at first, because he had never thought of himself as poor.  It was the only life he knew, and his family always had each other and they had all they needed in life, and they knew how to make do when they didn’t have something.  And that attitude shows up in the lyrics of Ordinary Day.

One foggy morning last week, I was driving to work, and while still in my own neighborhood I saw a blind pedestrian walking down the street with a red and white cane.  I don’t know who this person was, and now that I think about it, I don’t even remember if I noticed if it was a man or a woman.  But it just got me thinking about how when you don’t have one of your major senses, you have to learn to make do and do the best you can without it.  And suddenly, something hit me, like that feeling you get when you figure out something that has you stumped for so long.

I don’t consider myself poor financially.  I have a job and a house and a car.  I used to be a bit less well off financially.  I spent seven years working at a small private school that did not pay well.  In mid-2014, when I left that job, I was taking home the same dollar amount, not adjusted for inflation, as what I made in public school in 2003.  And I found ways to make do.  I didn’t jump on the smartphone bandwagon.  I had roommates for a while, and when the last one moved out, I decided to live by myself, which required more making do.  I got rid of cable TV, and I stopped getting the print edition of the newspaper.  And now that I’m taking home more money at my new job, I still don’t have a smartphone, cable TV, or print newspaper subscription, because those things aren’t really necessary for me when compared to how much they cost.

One of the areas in life where I do feel poor is in my chronic inability to form romantic relationships, and along with that, my fading hope of ever having a family of my own someday.  I came of age in an environment where I was told that dating was bad, because people who rush into relationships make bad decisions, so I should stop looking to find that special someone, and eventually God would bring her along, and we’d be married and happy and fit neatly into all those evangelical Christian stereotypes, where I’d be a strong manly Promise Keeper leading my family spiritually, and she would be a strong womanly Proverbs 31 Woman going on women’s retreats that looked like commercials for feminine hygeine products.  What no one told me was that all of that came with a deadline.  It doesn’t work the same way in real life once you’re too old for youth groups and college groups.  God isn’t just going to bring someone along with no effort on my part once I’m out there in the real world and not surrounded by singles my own age in my place in life.  Many of the people around me who heard that message with me in their early 20s got married in their mid-20s and now have happy families, and I’ve spent most of my 20s and 30s frustrated over the fact that none of that works for me.  I know there are other issues at play here.  My self-confidence issues have gotten in the way quite a bit, and those happy families aren’t always so happy all the time.  But there’s something else going on here.

And this brings me back to what I was saying earlier: I have to learn to make do, and do the best I can with what I have.  The world I knew in 1997 when I was being told all that stuff about dating is gone.  If I keep denying that, if I keep expecting life to stay the way it was in 1997, then nothing is ever going to change.  I have to make do with what I have, and what I have is a pretty awesome life in 2015.  I don’t have a family of my own like a lot of my age peers do, but I have a lot of friends and experiences and adventures to be thankful for.  And there do exist single women in 2015, but I’m not going to meet them by sitting back and waiting for them to come to me.  That doesn’t mean I’m denying the power of God in my life, it means I’m being reasonable and realistic.  I’m not meeting women my age with my values in my normal social circles, which gives me three options: other social circles, bars, or online dating sites.  Other social circles are an option, although I still think it’s hard to find people with that much in common with me.  But I’m going to be spending the next two Saturdays attending birthday parties of people who aren’t among the people I spend time with often, and that can’t hurt.  I never know how things will play out in the end.  (I should add, though, that I was at one of those same birthday parties a year ago, and I met someone.  We went out a couple times, and it didn’t end well.  In the interest of not using this blog to bash exes, I won’t say anything more about that, but I will say that I’m glad that I had the experience, as a live-and-learn growing experience type thing.)  As for bars, most women there also don’t share my values, and bars aren’t really my scene, so maybe if I want a relationship, I should try going back to online dating.  I had seven months of bad experiences with online dating, but that was on one site that was free, so there are other options to explore.  Yeah, it sucks that we live in a world that is so impersonal that we can’t meet each other face to face, that everyone is too busy to have any real interaction, but that’s the world of 2015 that I live in, so if I want to get by in this world, I have to make do.  I’m not going to meet a woman who shares my interests and values 100%, but very few men do, so I’ll have to make do.

I’m not saying I’m going to start looking for a relationship right now, I’m too busy with other things to know if this a good time for sure, but I don’t want to be closed to the idea of online dating because of that one stretch of life.  Sometimes I wonder, though, if maybe God never allowed me to have a family of my own because he knows that I wouldn’t be able to handle it with all my other commitments.  I often wonder how busy people manage to raise kids.  But if I ever do get the opportunity to have children of my own, I already know the secret: I just have to make do with what I have, and do the best I can.

:)&[4].

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