Month: February 2015

Exit 44. I like to follow rules.

In all my reflections about opposite-sex interactions and dating, I’ve recently discovered something interesting and slightly unsettling: I like to follow rules.

That shouldn’t be surprising, given my logical mind.  Rules make things happen in an orderly fashion, leading to predictable outcomes.  I did well in school because I followed the rules.  I did my homework, I studied for tests, and I never showed up to class drunk or smoked pot in the bathroom between classes.  I got my college applications in on time, and I got an academic scholarship to study at UC Davis, one of the top public universities in the nation.  When I got to college, I attended class every day, except maybe two or three times when I was sick, plus one class I missed to see the Return of the Jedi Special Edition on the first day (midnight showings weren’t really a thing in 1997, so the first shows were around 11am) and two whole days of classes I missed for a church trip.  I graduated with honors in four years.

I became a Christian in college, and I learned promptly that Christianity isn’t about following rules.  The New Testament makes it clear that Jesus did not come to Earth to give us a bunch of new rules to follow (see, for example, Romans 3:19-26), and some of Jesus’ harshest words during his lifetime were directed at those who have an unhealthy preoccupation with following the rules (see, for example, all of Matthew 23).  I didn’t realize at the time that this was happening, but it’s funny that sometimes the churches who preach the loudest about how Jesus freed his people from living a life of following rules have some of the harshest rules to follow.  I didn’t realize at the time that they were rules; I just thought that those were just things that all Christians agreed on, since all those around me certainly did.  Don’t use the F word.  Don’t get drunk.  And of course, there were all sorts of rules about interacting with the opposite sex.  Don’t be in a serious relationship without marriage being the goal.  Don’t date a non-Christian.  Don’t have opposite-sex roommates.  Don’t stay overnight at your significant other’s house.  And the writings of Joshua Harris were very popular at that time, in the late 1990s, where he essentially says that dating is inherently un-Biblical and unhealthy.

After I left Davis, I found myself at Church I with the Problems, where I discovered much more that not all Christians believe exactly the same thing about everything.  This group was even more legalistic than anything I had experienced before.  One example that came up a lot in conversation was that that church taught strict young earth creationism.  (I have written about this issue previously.)  They had even more rules for how their members should behave, like not watching R-rated movies and not dating people who serve in the same ministry as you and not voting for candidates who aren’t 100% anti-abortion and anti-homosexual rights.  Next, at Church II with the Problems, I saw that some of the old rules didn’t apply there.  There were Christians who swore and smoked and drank and had tattoos.  I had other more serious problems there not related to legalism, but that is a topic for another time.

Some of these rules don’t work anymore, and some of them never did.  Life has changed, and the world has changed.  I wish I could throw my fear in the sea of no cares and just not worry about all this.  But the few occasions on which I did something approaching this didn’t work out so well.  I’ve written before about Mimosa, a much younger girl who I had a brief fling with in 2010.  A lot of things that happened that week broke the aforementioned rules, and that led to a lot of hurt, in the form of miscommunications and misunderstandings, creating a tension that seemed to overshadow our remaining friendship for some time afterward (although we are friends now).  Ultimately, the main issue was that we were at different points in our lives, and I blamed much of the misunderstanding on the age difference (13 years, 4 months).  I settled that by making a new rule for myself, which I called “Simpsons Rule” as an homage to the similarly-named theorem from numerical analysis.  The rule was this: If she wasn’t born yet on the day that the TV series “The Simpsons” first aired*, then she’s too young for me.  I chose this date somewhat arbitrarily in order to give my rule a clever name (although I don’t think I ever shared this with anyone), but also because one of the first things I noticed about Mimosa was that her date of birth is very close to the day that The Simpsons first aired.  (She falls just barely on the too-young side of that date.)

(*”The Simpsons” first aired on December 17, 1989)

But sometimes these rules I make for myself become arbitrary and pointless, and even counterproductive.  A couple years back, I saw a Facebook comment by a friend from college who I’ll call “Kallichore.”  We were still in touch for a while after I was done with college, I have one of those weird distinct memories of something she said to me that would have happened around 2001 or ’02, but we lost touch through natural causes shortly after that.  Anyway, I saw something that Kallichore posted to one of our mutual friends who I have stayed in touch with, and I thought about adding her because she was always a good friend who was nice to me.  I decided not to, though, because of an awkward incident that happened in 1997 involving a failed attempt by me to ask her out.  If she happened to notice me on Facebook and send me a friend request, then wonderful, it’d be great to hear from her, but I wasn’t sure it was a good idea to initiate anything.  A couple years pass, and just recently I saw something she said on Facebook to the same mutual friend.  I replied directly to what she said… and then I got to thinking.  Yes, I had a failed attempt to ask her out in 1997.  But that was more than seventeen years ago.  Furthermore, we were still friends long after that, and I even remember a conversation we had years later in which the 1997 incident came up, and she cleared the air about what really was going on in her mind at the time and why she turned me down.  So why would there be any lingering awkwardness so many years later?  I was over that by 2001-02ish, I’m over it now, and ignoring her after I specifically replied to something she wrote on Facebook just seemed rude at this point.  So I threw that rule out the window, sent her a friend request, we got to catch up over Facebook, and it’s been good hearing from her again, as well as reading funny stories she posts about her kids.  (Kallichore, if you happen to read this and recognize yourself in the story, I hope I didn’t make things weird by bringing up things from the past.  When I friended you on Facebook, I had no intentions beyond that you were always a good friend and I wanted to hear what you were up to now.)

So why not just throw the rules out and live free?  There were certainly other times I’ve thrown out the rules.  When I was dating Vega the Nice Ex in 2006, she lived 100 miles away, and sometimes I’d stay on her couch on a Saturday night and drive home Sunday morning, despite the fact that some legalistic Christians believe that such an action gives off the appearance of sexual immorality to the outside world.  During that same time period, I had a female roommate, despite that fact that legalists say the same thing about that.  There was never any sexual tension between that roommate and me, and for that matter, we kept to ourselves most of the time.  I was in my room grading papers and chatting online with babes, and she was in her room studying and playing World of Warcraft.

The problem is knowing which rules I should keep and which I shouldn’t.  Some of them kind of fall into Biblical gray areas.  Don’t get drunk, good rule, but do I really need to abstain from all alcohol?  I know plenty of Christians who occasionally drink enough that they could qualify as drunk; does that make them bad Christians?  I don’t think so.  Don’t kiss on the first date, that’s probably a good idea for me personally, since the one time I did break that rule (Mimosa), that made the heartbreak a lot more intense, but does that mean I should be afraid to, say, hold hands with someone I’ve been out with a few times?  Maybe is it even time to throw out Simpsons Rule, if I meet someone that young who I seem to click with?  Age differences become less significant over time, and a lot of women young enough to fall on the too-young side of Simpsons Rule (they could be as old as 25 now) can be pretty mature.  I don’t know.  Life is complicated, and the rules don’t always apply the same way in every situation.  How do I know which principles I should hold on to in every situation, and how do I know which ones don’t always apply?  There is no easy answer other than to keep seeking God’s wisdom.

Exit 43. A moment of childlike innocence.

I had a brutal week.  I had two hours of meetings after a regular-length day of work on Wednesday to prepare for the upcoming standardized testing season.  I also gave a test that day, which would take four or five hours to grade, so I had virtually no free time from Wednesday morning through Friday afternoon.  I also had a lot I was dealing with emotionally that I still haven’t completely processed, including a recent incident that left a student from the school where I work in the hospital (I do not know this student, and the incident did not occur on campus) and the sudden passing of an acquaintance whom I hadn’t seen in several months.

So because of all this, I’m not really prepared to write about anything this week, and when I do that, I look through my old Livejournal from years ago and old Facebook notes I wrote.  The last time I had to do this, I had something in mind I wanted to share, but after spending an hour looking through all my Livejournal posts from 2006 and 2007, I couldn’t find it.  I just found it now; apparently I was looking a little too far back.  I wrote this in April of 2008.

The wind was at my back. I still had over six miles to go before I got home, but the pedaling would be a lot easier this time going with the wind. I was pedaling fast, probably around 17 miles per hour except that I couldn’t be sure. My speedometer has been broken for some time. To my dismay, the green light ahead of me turned yellow, requiring me to slow down and waste all that momentum I had built up. There was no way I’d get across the intersection before the light turned red.

As I stopped at the intersection, I looked around. To my right, two girls, one on a bike and one on a scooter, were getting ready to cross. They could have been sisters, but I couldn’t be sure. One of them started to move, but the older one held her back, since it was only the left turn light that had turned green and it was not their turn to cross yet. As I turned to look forward, I heard a voice over my right shoulder call out, “Hi.” I turned to the right and saw one of the two girls waiting to cross waving at me. She looked like she was probably no older than ten or eleven.

“Hi,” I replied. “How are you?”

“Good,” she said. “How are you?”

“Good. It’s a beautiful day out today.”

“Yeah,” she agreed as her light finally changed. “It’s been a good day so far.” She and the other girl began crossing the street.

“See you later,” I said.

“Bye,” she replied. Both of them smiled. They rode off, and I continued waiting for my light to change. And for that one brief moment, all of a sudden it didn’t matter what color our skin was, it didn’t matter that I was in a neighborhood very different from my own, it didn’t matter who would win the presidential election later this year or what the economy was like or that many would view a man my age saying hi to young girls with apprehension and suspicion. All I saw was a moment of childlike innocence and exchanging friendly words with my fellow human being.

Exit 42. I really don’t like Valentine’s Day.

I really don’t like Valentine’s Day.  Let’s just get that out in the open.

Of course, I’ll also admit openly that over the course of my life, I haven’t had much to celebrate, and I’m sure that has played a big part in why I don’t like Valentine’s Day.  Sure, there were the elementary school Valentine’s Day celebrations, and I got my share of paper mass-produced Valentine cards from classmates stuffed into a big envelope on my desk.  (Do they still do that in elementary school classes?)  I didn’t have the experience of sitting there being the only kid with no Valentines in my envelope, like what happened to Ralph on the Simpsons.  Most, if not all, of my classmates at least gave me a card each year.  But as an adult, Valentine’s Day is just another day for me, except that the rest of the world conspires even harder than usual to remind me that I’m alone.  And calling it “Singles Awareness Day” doesn’t help either, so you guys can stop doing that now.  But there is more to it than that, and I think that my point can be illustrated if I break down the specific circumstances and events of every Valentine’s Day that did involve having someone to do something for.  There have been precisely three such Valentine’s Days, and I think my point will flow better if I go in reverse chronological order.

Last year, 2014, things appeared to be moving in the direction that I was going to have a special someone.  In January, I had met a girl at a mutual friend’s birthday, and almost immediately she was writing me long multi-paragraph messages on Facebook.  I took her to a Kings game, and by the time I had known her for two weeks, she was texting me every day asking how my day went at work and telling me about her day.  She seemed more interested in me after two weeks than Acrux had been seven-plus months into our relationship, a few years earlier.  After our second date, I brought up the issue of what was going on, and she said we were “very casually dating” and she was interesting in seeing where things went.  I was too.  Valentine’s Day was a few days after this second date, and I remember feeling greatly conflicted about what to do.  If I tried to do something elaborate and romantic after just two dates, it might seem like I was rushing in, going too fast, I’d scare her off or she’d think I was a creep or something.  But if I did nothing, I might seem uninterested.  I decided to send her a card in the mail, something of the not overly smothering “I’m really enjoying spending time with you” variety.  On the following Sunday afternoon, that would have been the 16th, I got a text from her saying that we had gone as far as we could have and there wasn’t anything there.  I asked if I could at least know why, and she gave some equally vague BSified answer.  Whatever.  KMA.  I don’t know if she got the card.  I don’t know if I should have done something more, or something less.  And maybe I’m misunderstanding girlspeak again, but I kind of felt like since we had had the conversation earlier that week that there might have been something there, I at least deserved a phone call or a face-to-face conversation.

To this day, I still don’t know if the mutual friend with the birthday party ever knew about this.  It wouldn’t surprise me, since the mutual friend is a woman, and girls talk about stuff, but I do remember distinctly that I saw the mutual friend during the time all this was going on, and she didn’t ask me about her or mention her in any way.  I kept trying to figure out if she knew, and she didn’t say anything to let on that she did.  The mutual friend isn’t someone who I see often these days.  But I did go to her birthday party again in 2015, and the girl who dumped me by text was there.  I successfully ignored and avoided her.  I didn’t want to talk to her, and we had nothing to say to each other.  The girl didn’t stay very long, so it wasn’t that hard not to talk to her.

In 2011, I was kind of seeing someone who I’ve code-named Aurora; I mentioned her previously in the same post I linked to above.  That time period included Valentine’s Day, and a few days before, the mutual friend through whom I had met Aurora reminded me that Valentine’s Day was catching up and listed off all of Aurora’s favorite types of flowers.  I felt a bit overwhelmed by all this.  Buying flowers has always been a completely alien world to me.  I don’t buy flowers.  I’ve never bought flowers in my life.  I don’t know the process or the protocol or what to look for or anything.  I don’t remember if I mentioned this to Aurora, but I do remember I was still conflicted about if I was interested in her like that or not, and I didn’t want to do anything to lead her on if I wasn’t sure that that was what I wanted, having been on the receiving end of such a dynamic enough times in my life to know how much it hurts.  I do remember, though, that Aurora made me a card with a message that seemed understanding and accepting of my confusion as well as my dislike of the holiday.

The only time I actually had a full-blown ambiguity-free girlfriend on Valentine’s Day was 2006, with Vega the Nice Ex.  I had been at a basketball game at UC Davis, my alma mater, and before the game I was browsing the campus bookstore.  I found a little teddy bear that said “Someone At UC Davis Loves Me.”  Vega and I had an adorable little inside joke about deer, so in a fit of craftiness, I bought that teddy bear, and I gave it antlers using toothpicks and glue.  She loved it.  But through the whole process, I felt dirty, like I had violated my principles by buying a Valentine’s Day gift.  I’d been very vocally anti-Valentine’s Day for so long, and here I was doing something cute and sweet and mushy.  (At least I didn’t get her this teddy bear instead.)  But it also felt nice to have someone to share those inside jokes with.

There is a common thread in all of my Valentine’s stories that, I think, cuts to the heart of why I dislike this holiday for reasons that transcend being almost perpetually single.  Each time, I felt pressured to do something simply because of what the calendar said, and each time, I was left wondering if what I did was enough or was appropriate.  The media inundates us with caricatures of bumbling men forgetting that it is Valentine’s Day and rushing to the store to buy something for their wives and girlfriends so that they don’t end up sleeping on the couch for a week.  Love shouldn’t be like that.  No one should have to buy the love of their significant other.  If you really love someone, you should show them every day, not feel pressured to perform because Hallmark told you to.

Being bitter about being single certainly isn’t helping the situation, and it isn’t going to help me be anything other than single any time soon.  I’m trying not to be that way.  But I also don’t want to be in a relationship where I feel pressured to perform because of what the marketing departments of the world try to make us think is important.  And I still don’t like Valentine’s Day.

Exit 41. A dubious milestone.

I reached a somewhat dubious milestone earlier this week.  For a day or so, briefly, I had exactly one thousand friends on Facebook.

It seems like I’ve either been getting unfriended a lot lately, or I’ve had friends deactiving or deleting their Facebooks, so it didn’t last long.  I am at 999 as of this morning.  That number is not entirely accurate, for that matter; it does not take into account couples who share a Facebook, people with separate Facebook accounts for business and personal uses, or people who make Facebook pages for their pets.  And interestingly enough, my 1000th friend was someone I had known for several years but had never been friends with on Facebook, not someone I had just met.

This begs a few questions.  First of all, why do I care?  I’m not trying to be famous, and it doesn’t make me any better or worse that I have a lot of friends.  I just notice these things because I’m a math guy.  But more importantly, is it really possible to have a thousand friends?  And who are these people?  And how did an introvert like me get a thousand friends?  The answer to that is inherent in the unstable nature of my adult life.  I moved away for college, I moved again just before I turned 25, and I moved again at 29.  Most of those places, I stayed long enough that my network of contacts changed, and every time I made a major change like this, there were some people I didn’t leave behind who I stayed in touch with over the years.  And Facebook makes it so convenient to look up old friends that I eventually found others who I did lose touch with, or they found me.  I also tell my students that they can add me on Facebook after they graduate from high school, and in the seven years that I worked at the small private high school, quite a few of them did, and numerous others from past schools found me over the years.

In a lot of ways, this is a good thing.  Facebook makes it easier for an introvert like me to have some semblance of both a social life and a past using the forms of communication with which I am most comfortable.  But I have to be careful as well.  As has been often said, Facebook presents a distorted view of everyone else’s life, only showing what others choose to share.  The Internet also makes it easy for someone with a bad idea that sounds good on the surface to rally others who share their ill-informed views and use the mob mentality to shame people who disagree with them, and Facebook in particular makes it easy to pass on the ill-informed articles.  Sometimes, I just feel like I don’t need that kind of negativity in my life.

A couple days after I hit 1000, I was feeling particularly frustrated with humanity in general, and I contemplated unfriending a lot of people.  Some of these people I really don’t have a lot in common with to begin with, and I never see them anymore.  I do, in fact, occasionally unfollow people, so I don’t see their posts unless I make an effort to click on them.  But even so, the only people I unfollow are the ones I don’t have much in common with, I don’t see anymore, and who also post condescending inflammatory political things I don’t agree with.  And I don’t want to unfriend people completely, because if someone is on my friend list, that means that, at the very least, they meant something significant to me at one time, and I’d like to hold on to whatever small shred of hope is left that we might mean something to each other again at some point.  (And I have occasionally re-followed people I had once unfollowed if, for example, we start talking and hanging out regularly again.)  There’s that saying about how people come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.  I’ve never been good at that; I want everyone to be a lifetime friend, or at least to have the chance to be.

So can I keep up with a thousand friends?  I can’t read every post.  And I’ll probably have to find ways to spend less time on Facebook, since I haven’t done a good job of that lately.  But I’ll do my best.

Exit 40. Something which I have not done in as long as I can remember.

An hour or two from now, I will have completed something which I have not done in as long as I can remember: I have not watched one minute of the NFL playoffs this year.

I apologize for those of you looking for non-sports-related content on here.  I have some things I’ve been thinking about that I will have more fully formed opinions about next week.

This is the second Super Bowl I have intentionally avoided.  There was one Super Bowl a while back when one team was the team that eliminated my 49ers, and I had had a bad experience with a fan of that team at that time, and the other team, I can’t stand that team or their fans for a lot of reasons.  But I didn’t avoid the playoffs entirely that year because, obviously, the 49ers were in it at one point.  I didn’t watch the Super Bowl at all that year; in fact, I went to Costco in the middle of the game, and it was more empty than I’ve ever seen it.  It was nice.

Usually, I watch the Super Bowl even when I don’t care about the teams involved, and usually, I even come up with a team that I would prefer to win, even if I don’t really care that much.  But the way I see it, with the Seahawks, and the Patriots, and Katy Perry doing the halftime show, everyone loses.

This also marks two years in a row that I have not been to a Super Bowl party, and at least five years in a row that I have not been to a Super Bowl party locally, because most of my local friends these days aren’t into football.  I didn’t realize until I was an adult that there were people in this country who didn’t follow sports.

Now if you’ve been a fan of one of those teams for a long time, then I hope you enjoyed the game.  (I still don’t know what’s going on in the game, so I don’t know if your team won.  I’m sure I’ll hear soon.)  I’m okay with that.  If you’re a fan of Katy Perry and you wanted to watch the Super Bowl for the halftime show, I’m a bit less okay with that, but to each his/her own, whatever.  If you’re a bandwagon fan who just moved to Seattle or Massachusetts, and all of a sudden you love your team after years of talking about how much you hate football, then I personally find people like you kind of annoying, but that would be true regardless of what team was involved and how that team did that year.  You can redeem yourself, however, by staying true to your team in the future, even through the bad years.  And the Seahawks and Patriots will have bad years again.  You bandwagon-jumpers wouldn’t understand this, but just wait and see.

It felt really weird to be ignoring the NFL playoffs while scrolling through Facebook posts of excited and disappointed fans talking about their teams’ games.  I’m just kind of fed up with the NFL in general right now.  Part of that is, of course, the disappointing season the 49ers had.  There is a lot of talent on that team, and it got wasted due to internal team strife, conflicts between players and coaches, rumors started from the outside, and bad calls.  But also, things are just getting ridiculous.  When we have players being punished by the league because they are required to speak to the media against their wishes as an obligation to the fans, players trash-talking each other on Twitter and acting like 10-year-old playground bullies, and all the increasingly convoluted rules about what is and isn’t allowed on the field, it just takes the fun away from the game.  I enjoy football, but this year just left something to be desired.

I’ve been occupying myself with basketball season just fine, and occasionally hockey (but not as much as usual because I don’t have cable).  And baseball season is just around the corner.  The cycle keeps going on and on.  The wheel in the sky keeps on turning.