Exit 186. The voice of a ghost singing words a quarter-century old recently pushed me to make a difficult decision.

The voice of a ghost singing words a quarter-century old recently pushed me to make a difficult decision.

Okay, I suppose that’s explaining it in an overdramatic way.  Let me back up and explain.  A couple weeks ago, Irish musician Dolores O’Riordan died unexpectedly.  Ms. O’Riordan was best known for being the lead vocalist of the band The Cranberries, who had three big hits in my late teens.  At least that was my extent of Cranberries knowledge over the years.  (I should point out, though, that as friends started posting Cranberries music on social media as tributes to Ms. O’Riordan, I found a couple more of their songs that I recognized.)  They weren’t one of my favorites back then; I was mostly neutral toward their music.  I always liked the song “Dreams,” although I don’t think I ever knew the title until maybe five years ago when I was expanding my collection of 90s music for making retro gaming playlists.  I had completely forgotten about “Zombie” from some time in the 90s until seeing someone perform it at a karaoke bar in 2015, but that is a good one too.  The third song of theirs that I remember, however, was definitely my least favorite of the three, and ironically, those are the quarter-century-old words that I’m writing about today.

I hate trying to interpret song lyrics, because I was always bad at interpreting poems in high school English class.  But the way I’m reading this one seems pretty straightforward: the narrator has been treated badly by a significant other, but her feelings for him still linger.

So what does that have to do with me?  I may not have been treated badly, or treated others badly, in the specific ways described in the song lyrics, but I understand that sense of feelings lingering from both sides.  And I did something about one side this week: specifically, the point of view of the other character in the song, not the narrator.  I called someone I met on Christian Mingle and told her that I just didn’t feel like we were clicking.  It’s hard for me to do that, because I often can’t pinpoint a specific reason for it.  She didn’t do anything wrong, but I just didn’t really feel like she was someone I could see myself spending my life with.  And I didn’t want her to have to feel like she was wasting her time with me.  And as much as that hurts on both sides, I think that’s better than pretending to make something happen when I know I’m not feeling it and stretching the heartbreak out over several months.  (This makes me think I should link to another relevant song here, this one not having any direct Cranberries connections, but it does use the word “linger” in the same context – by the way, I saw this band live for the third time last week, they didn’t play this song but it was an AMAZING SHOW!!!)

I’m wondering if there are other lingering issues I need to deal with (double meaning, issues related to old feelings lingering… lingering issues of lingering, if you will).  In this case, I’m more like the other perspective of the song, the narrator dealing with her lingering feelings for someone who doesn’t care for her in return.  In particular, I have a lot of people I’m still in social media contact with whom I’m not sure if I should be in contact with anymore.  Some of these are people I knew in the past who mostly just post angry political and/or anti-Christian stuff that I don’t agree with.  Some of these are people whom I’ve had various issues or hurtful experiences with in the past. Some of them are acquaintances from certain social circles who are just arrogant jerks.  Most of the people in question here I have at least unfollowed on Facebook, so I don’t have to think about them any more than necessary, but that begs the question, what purpose would it serve to unfriend them completely?  If I don’t see these people anymore in real life, and I have things set such that I don’t see their posts on social media, is it necessary to take any more steps?

It might be.  It might help me find closure in my mind and put a stop to the lingering (there’s that word again) issues once and for all.  But, as I’ve said before, maybe I’m overthinking social media here, but I find it hard to cut people off like that.  If you are my Facebook friend, that means there was a time when I wanted you in my life, and it’s hard to let go of the hope that we’ll never be close again.  But maybe it’s necessary to let go of that.  There are people that I once hoped to be close with, but realized that I didn’t want to after all once I saw what they were really like.  And there were people I was once close with, but then they changed, and my hope is that I might once again someday be close with who they were before, not with who they are now.

So I don’t know.  I don’t have an answer for how to deal with these situations.  But it’s something I should be thinking and praying about.  I need to take care of myself, and it isn’t healthy to let people linger in my life who are causing more harm than good and probably won’t change.


Exit 145. That’s ok.

I missed a post a couple weeks ago and didn’t write a second post to make up for it.  That’s ok.

I had a semi-blind date a couple weeks ago.  It didn’t go badly, but in conversations that happened afterward, it became pretty clear pretty quickly that we’re not right for each other in that sense.  That’s ok.

One day this week, we had to evacuate the school where I work, for over an hour.  It turned out to be a false alarm, but it was pretty inconvenient, and it messed up my schedule for the week.  One of the classes is now another day behind where I should be at this time of year.  That’s ok.

I had people over last night.  It had been four months since my friends had been to my house, and that was a last minute thing; it had been six months since I had planned to have people over.  I just haven’t been feeling very social the last few months.  That’s ok.

Although I have known for a long time that I am an introvert, I always enjoyed things like this where a ton of people show up at my house… once in a while, at least.  I would count how many people show up, hoping to set a new record.  But last night was a much smaller crowd.  That’s ok.

I don’t even remember what the record is now.  I remember having 30 people once, but I think that might have been surpassed once.  But I’m not sure.  That’s ok.

I stayed up really late last night, and I skipped church this morning.  That’s ok.

Around 11:00 this morning, I went back to bed, and I stayed in bed until mid-afternoon.  I didn’t go for a bike ride today, and I haven’t cleaned up anything from last night yet.  That’s ok.

It’s ok, because I have to take care of myself.  It’s ok, because I needed to be around a smaller crowd and feel closer to this group of people.  It’s ok, because my true friends will understand.

Exit 132. It reminded me of the way I’ve been mistreated.

I voted for Gary Johnson.

This is not going to be a political post, so I’m not going to go into detail on my thoughts on the issues.  So here’s the short version: I wasn’t expecting him to win a majority of the electoral vote.  I mostly just didn’t want a vote for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump on my conscience.  I dislike them both, for different reasons.  And I don’t agree with Gary Johnson on some things, but the thought of him in the White House scared me less than the thought of either of the two major candidates in the White House.  And I do not regret one bit voting the way I did, so all of you who kept telling me that a third party candidate can’t win, save your I-told-you-sos for someone else.

So… anyway… even though I wasn’t 100% behind all of Gary Johnson’s views on the issues, and I don’t agree with all of the Libertarian Party’s stances, this year felt different.  With Clinton and Trump so widely disliked, many voters were looking for an alternative. Johnson had previously won two terms as governor of New Mexico, so he had relevant political experience.  He was polling over 10% in many states a few months before the election.  He was popular with certain subgroups of the population, and in a few states, such as New Mexico and Utah, his numbers were looking like he might actually have a chance to win.  No third party candidate had won a state since 1968, and in an election projected to be close, like this one, just winning one or two states might be enough to ensure that neither of the two major candidates would win a majority of the electoral vote.  According to the Constitution, this would lead to the House of Representatives choosing the President, with each state getting one vote (as opposed to each Representative), and this would open up the possibility of a compromise with the Republican Congressional delegation not being unified behind Trump.  The chance of that actually happening was small, but like I said, this year felt different, and it felt like time for the unexpected to happen.

But it did not happen.

Evan McMullin of Utah entered the race late and took most of the Utah anyone-but-Clinton-or-Trump voters away from Johnson.  Johnson got a little over nine percent of the vote in his home state of New Mexico, and over five percent in only a few other states.  Nationally, Johnson won a little over three percent of the popular vote, a number very similar to his showing in my home state of California.

Watching this phenomenon kind of annoyed and disappointed me, because it reminded me of the way I’ve been mistreated over the years by people who I thought cared for me.  People get all excited about something that I’m also a part of, but then in the moment of truth, they back out and abandon me, much as many people who polls said were voting for Gary Johnson apparently abandoned him and the rest of the Johnson voters.  There have been times when I have made group plans to go out to dinner, game nights, movie marathons, sporting events, and the like.  Many of my friends act interested at first, and then many of them back out at the last minute.  Not only is this frustrating, but sometimes this leaves me with tons of uneaten food at my house, or a responsibility to find someone at the last minute to take a ticket I’ve already paid for.

Similarly, in my 20s, I was surrounded by Christians who preached an extremely restrictive and conservative message regarding dating and sexuality.  I did my best to conform: I made friends with girls instead of actively pursuing them as romantic interests.  I tried my hardest not to masturbate or have overly flirtatious and sexually explicit chat room and instant message conversations, and when my willpower wasn’t strong enough, I felt immensely guilty and down on myself.  Meanwhile, many of my friends who were so passionate about this lifestyle eventually threw all that stuff out the window and started doing all the things they preached so loudly against.  They told me that I was single because God doesn’t want me dating and I wasn’t praying enough, just before they went home to watch porn and have sex with their significant others that they weren’t married to.

Why do people do this?  I don’t know.  I do have a few theories as to where all the prospective Gary Johnson voters went.  There probably were not as many of them to begin with, since much of what I was reading on the subject came from the Johnson campaign itself, which had a vested interest in skewing statistics to make their candidate seem more popular.  As I said before, many of them, especially in Utah, voted for Evan McMullin instead.  Some of them probably decided that they were so repulsed by one candidate that they voted for the slightly less objectionable candidate just to stop the slightly more objectionable one.  Some of them probably were so repulsed by both candidates that they did not vote at all.  Some of them probably lost faith in the ability of anyone to go up against the two-party system that they voted for the slightly less objectionable candidate.  That’s their right, and I’m not here to blame third-party voters for a major party candidate winning or losing any state.  That’s not how it works.

As for why my friends acted in ways that made me feel abandoned and backed out on, I know even less.  Some of the people in my life just aren’t true friends, just as many potential Johnson voters weren’t truly on board with his candidacy.  With social plans, sometimes things genuinely do come up.  People get sick.  Family members have emergencies.  And as for the Christians-don’t-date lifestyle, sometimes people get caught up in a certain lifestyle or viewpoint because of the people around them, without actually having a life-changing commitment to this lifestyle, and when circumstances change and they see other viewpoints, sometimes they fall away.  I don’t want to be angry with my friends.  I understand that things come up sometimes.  And everyone has their own journey of faith, and everyone who has left Christianity or become more liberal in their interpretation of Scripture has their reasons for doing so.  It is not my place to judge their faith.  I have things to learn from them, and I certainly see some things differently now than I did as a new Christian 20 years ago.  Many of these things happened to me a long time ago, and I don’t think it is healthy to carry grudges.

I guess I’m mostly angry at the world in general.  Unfortunately, there isn’t much I can do about it.  Life isn’t fair, and people will disappoint.  I’m just going to have to find a way to deal with it, and this is a process that will take a long time.

Exit 126. But ask me again tomorrow.

Yesterday, I stayed home and had a nice relaxing day.  The day ended with me on the couch binge-watching five episodes of Castle on DVD.  (If you’re wondering why I’m still binge-watching on DVD rather than using Netflix or Hulu or Amazon Prime, I only have to pay for DVDs once, and I don’t have to worry about the network being down or my show getting pulled from my service provider.  But that’s another topic for another time.)

Castle is a crime drama set in New York City, about novelist Richard Castle and homicide detective Kate Beckett.  Castle consults with Beckett and her precinct, an arrangement that began when a serial killer was copying murders that happened in Castle’s novels.  Castle uses Beckett as the inspiration for the main character of his new series of novels.  At first, Castle and Beckett have these awkward do-they-have-feelings-for-each-other-or-not overtones, and their relationship gets explored later in the series.  The show recently concluded its run of eight seasons.

I have currently been watching season 4, which aired in 2011-12; this was the first season that I actually watched when it was on TV.  Season 4 is the creepiest to me… but not because of any of the murders depicted on the show.  No, season 4 is creepy because of how it predicted my life.

A side plot running through the first half of season 4 involved Castle’s red-haired daughter, Alexis, and her long distance boyfriend.  Alexis was in her final year of high school, and her boyfriend had just graduated and moved three thousand miles away to California, to attend that snooty university that I don’t name in this blog.  Alexis was rearranging her life around their long distance relationship, making plans herself to move to California and attend school with her boyfriend.  In the meantime, the guy was blowing off their Skype dates, taking his sweet time in calling and texting her back, and just generally not making her a priority.  Eventually, Alexis gets tired of being treated like that, and they break up.

I first started watching Castle in the fall of 2011 on the recommendation of my red-haired girlfriend at the time, the one I call Acrux.  She had just moved five hundred miles away to the other end of California.  I was rearranging my life around this long-distance relationship, assuming that once the school year was over, I would move to Acrux’s part of California.  In the meantime, Acrux was blowing off our Skype dates, taking her sweet time in calling and texting me back, and just generally not making me a priority.  Eventually, I got tired of being treated like that, and we broke up, about a month after the episode with Alexis’ breakup aired.

(There was another episode at the end of season 4 that also predicted something big that happened to me a couple weeks later, but that is also another story for another time.)

Alexis’ breakup happened over the phone, and Castle walked in on the last part of the conversation.  He asked her if she was okay, and she replied, “No.  But ask me again tomorrow.”  I wasn’t okay when Acrux and I broke up.  And it takes me a while to feel okay, mostly because I’m not in high school, I’m pretty picky, and opportunities to meet significant others are few and far between in my life.  But, almost five years later, I am okay with this breakup.  Acrux wasn’t right for me, I’m better off without her, and I’m okay with that.  It took some time to get to that point, and there are other things and people I haven’t completely dealt with right now.  But ask me again tomorrow.  Ask me again in a week, in a month, in a year, and I’ll be ok.

Everything will be ok.


Exit 113. All I can say is that my life is pretty plain.

Those of you my age may recognize the title of this post, from the lyrics of the song “No Rain” by Blind Melon.  If that title doesn’t ring a bell, then perhaps I should refer to it as That Bee Song.

I don’t have this song in my collection currently.  But I’m going to add it soon.  But why the big deal? you are probably asking, especially if you know me in person.  You rediscover one-hit wonders from your teens and add them to your playlists all the time.  Why is this one a big enough deal to blog about?

Two reasons.  First of all, because my brain is mush from all the socializing I did over this recent holiday weekend, and I can’t think of anything else to write about.  But more importantly, because this marks a major turning point in my feelings toward this song.  I’m not rediscovering this song; I’ve never forgotten it, despite the fact that, for the greater part of the last two decades, I have refused to listen to it and immediately changed the station almost every time I hear it on the radio.

If not for one specific incident, this song wouldn’t be a big deal, and I very well may have forgotten it in the almost-quarter-century since it was released.  One time, back when I was young and confused, a guy I knew went to a Blind Melon concert with a girl I really liked and didn’t have the guts to ask out.  And this guy was a jerk.  She could definitely do better.

That’s it.  After that happened, I refused to listen to this song.  Nothing ever happened between that guy and that girl, as far as I know, but for many years after that I refused to listen to this song, because I was angry that he got to go out with her and I didn’t.  It sounds petty and ridiculous, but… no, there is no but here.  It is petty and ridiculous.

Approximately eleven years after this incident happened, I was making cookies with the radio on in the other room, and I heard No Rain come on.  I instinctively started to walk away from the cookies, toward the room with the radio, so I could change the station.  But then I realized something.  I realized I was being absolutely crazy.  There was absolutely no legitimate reason I should leave what I was doing and go change the station, getting the flour that was all over my hands all over everything else in the process, just because someone I liked went out with someone I didn’t like, once, over a decade earlier.  Not listening to No Rain had become so ingrained in my brain that this was the first time I really thought about why I didn’t like this song, and how it really didn’t matter at this point.

For a while, I still didn’t particularly like the song.  R. Shannon Hoon, the lead singer (who, sadly, died of a drug overdose a few years after recording this song, only a few weeks after surviving age 27), has a weird voice, and on those occasions when I would hear No Rain come on the radio (which usually happened in the car, when my hands weren’t full of flour) I would still change the channel.  But I’ve heard it twice in the last couple weeks, all the way through, and I got to thinking about how I still associate this song with something that happened more than half a lifetime ago that still has nothing to do with me and is insignificant in the long run.

And, even though I’m still not a big fan of Mr. Hoon’s voice, it really isn’t a bad song.  It’s exactly the kind of nostalgic one-hit wonder that I’ve been listening to a lot in the last few years, with the kind of beautifully sad lyrics that I can really relate to.  So, now, every time I hear this song, it will be a reminder that the world didn’t end for me on that day decades ago when I found out that my crush had a date with a douchebag.  I’ll probably ever completely forget about this, since that’s not how my brain works, but I don’t need to let the past weigh me down anymore.

Exit 112. I don’t want to play this game.

In the 2011 novel Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, an ordinary trailer-park kid is trying to save a dystopian near future virtual reality world from a corporation trying to gain control of it for themselves by solving a series of puzzles rooted in late 20th century geek pop culture.  I have written about this novel before (#32), and how one quote from it sticks out in my mind in particular:  “Like any classic video game, the Hunt had simply reached a new, more difficult level.  A new level often required an entirely new strategy.”

This principle seems especially true in my life today.  I came of age in the context of evangelical Christian college-age youth group in the late 1990s, and much of my views about life and the future were shaped by this world.  In this world, you get married in your early- to mid-20s (preferably without dating, and without kissing your wife until your wedding day, because Josh Harris), and start having children, who will then get involved in Awana and Sunday school while you and your wife attend the young parents’ Bible study. That ship sailed a long time ago for me.  That strategy doesn’t work in my world, and I feel like there is no precedent for me, because many people I know in situations similar to mine have long since walked away from their faith entirely.  Hence, an entirely new strategy is required.

Now would be a good time to plug a guest piece I wrote for another blog, since it is related to this topic.  Go check it out.  And while you’re at it, check out the rest of this other blog and the original blog from which this was spun off.

Anyway, where was I… I realized recently that there is more to the story than finding a new strategy.  Looking around me, it seems that the life that many of my peers are living, the life that is considered normal for someone my age in my situation, is one where socializing revolves around alcohol, whether that be going out drinking with friends, going out for drinks with a date, or, especially here in northern California, a classy wine tasting excursion.  Dating in this life involves playing with people’s feelings, fooling around physically with no sense of commitment, and not communicating honestly.  Is this the life I want?  Do I want to find a new strategy only to become this?  I don’t think so.  To go back to the video game analogy, I don’t want to play this game, and the game I thought I always wanted to play is out of print, with no copies anywhere on eBay and no working emulators for it.  Furthermore, I’ve realized that I don’t know if I want to play that game after all, by which I mean that the evangelical Christian family world I described above is not entirely my ideal anymore.

But what game do I want to play?  How can I figure that out, and how much of the rest of the world’s game will influence my game?  I’m never going to be the type to hang out in bars regularly, but maybe I could benefit socially from hanging out in bars occasionally and drinking something without alcohol?  Should I give up my personal prohibition on drinking alcohol and have a drink every once in a while in moderation?  Should I be a little more adventurous in pursuing dating rather than looking for any of hundreds of deal breakers right when I first meet someone?  I really don’t know.  But I have a feeling I’m at least starting to ask the right questions.

Exit 75. Everything cleared up at just the right time.

I didn’t get a chance to write anything this week.  I have a lot of thoughts running around in my head, and I’m not sure how much of it I want to share with the world.  So I’m posting something I wrote in December 2010, which seems timely again because it’s about a lunar eclipse, which we just saw recently

Monday night [December 20, 2010], there was a total lunar eclipse. I’ve been looking forward to this since June, when I stayed up very late to watch a partial lunar eclipse. (For those of you non-astronomy buffs, this is the one where the full moon turns red.) But as the day of the eclipse approached, I started to think that I was going to miss it. It rained hard all weekend, and it was supposed to continue raining well into this week. It rained during the night, and most of Monday was cloudy, although it only rained briefly, and lightly for the most part.

I was driving home during the early stages of the eclipse. I had the moonroof open (glass closed, but the cover pulled back so I could see up), and every few minutes when it was safe to do so I would look up briefly. I could see that the moon was getting darker, but sometimes it was also covered by clouds so that I couldn’t see it very clearly. I figured it would still be worth watching, but that my view would be interrupted by clouds and maybe reduced to a dull red glow at times.

I got home just as totality was beginning. I looked up and saw clouds drifting across the sky… but something amazing was happening. They were all moving away from me. Within less than a minute, I had a completely clear view overhead in all directions. I could see the spectacular red moon very clearly. And not just the moon, but to the south I saw Orion, with Canis Major and Minor behind him, and the Pleiades ahead of him, and behind me to the north Cassiopeia and the Big Dipper. Everything was completely clear. I grabbed a blanket, bundled up, and lay on the back patio for an hour and a half just watching the sky. It stayed clear the whole time… not a cloud in sight. And when I finally did go back inside, after about a fourth of the moon was lit again, I could see clouds in the direction of the Big Dipper, probably ready to come back my way soon. But everything cleared up at just the right time.

Yesterday I went into work to finish up all the paperwork to register for a school activity I was a leader for at the time. I was extremely scatterbrained during finals week and wasn’t on top of getting stuff turned in. Yesterday was the deadline to get it turned in, and in order to do so, I was still waiting for two other things to happen. One of the students hadn’t yet turned in his permission slip. I spoke with his guardian the day before and said that I would need it dropped off at school by noon in order for him to participate. Also, another school employee had forgotten to sign his part of the form. I spoke with him on the phone the day before, asking if he would be at the school any time in the next 24 hours; he said he would, so I put the form in his box and told him to give it back to me when it was done. So I got there and checked my box… the permission slip was there, but the writing competition proctor agreement was not. I went through the motions of copying everything I had and filling out my part of the registration form, hoping that he would show up while I was still there… but when I was done making copies, he still wasn’t there. I didn’t want to keep calling and keep bugging him; even though I would be perfectly willing to go wherever he was at the moment, as long as I could still make it to the office where I had to drop off the paperwork and back to my neighborhood in time for my dentist appointment two and a half hours later, I didn’t want to be annoying about this, especially since it was my lack of responsibility and focus that put me in this situation of rushing around in the first place. So I was sitting in the office, debating whether to call his cell phone vs. call the office and ask if it was okay to register without that form and deliver the form in January… and about a minute later, I see him driving up. I got the form signed, drove it out to where I needed to drop it off, and made it back home in time to have lunch before my appointment. Everything cleared up at just the right time.

Paul writes to the Romans that “at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly” (5:6). In all the details of the Christmas story [remember, I was originally writing this at Christmas time], it’s easy to overlook the fact that this happened at a specific time for a specific reason. Thousands of years had passed since the time of Adam and Eve. Why didn’t he send the Savior sooner? Why did God choose the time of the Roman Empire over any other time in history? I don’t claim to know the mind of God, but he definitely had his reasons. During the time of the Old Testament, his people had a lot of things to learn the hard way. They went through many periods of turning away from God and then turning back. They had good kings and bad kings. They were conquered by other nations and taken into exile. In all those experiences, not only did God’s people experience their need for a Savior, but when God sent Jesus into the time of the Romans, he was able to use that experience to turn expectations upside down and weed out the true believers from the posers. The posers wanted a Messiah who would kick some Roman ass, but instead he sent one who spoke of humility and faith and selflessness. Had Jesus come at a different time, that message might not have had the same impact. Jesus came at just the right time.

I made a list of goals at the beginning of 2010. Yesterday morning, as I was riding my bike, thinking about how I was coming very close to my goal of biking 1000 miles, I got to thinking about other goals that I had not yet accomplished. One of them, the one I had code-named Phobos in that original post, remained unaccomplished; this was probably the most difficult of all the things I had hoped to do in 2010. I was almost out of time, and I didn’t know if I’d get the chance to do this. (Well, I suppose i could do this any time, but the nature of this activity is such that certain situations are more likely to lead to a more positive outcome than others.) Last night started out kind of disappointing. But then a window of opportunity seemed to open up… and just before it closed, I took the chance.  It was a very awkward conversation that did not lead to the desired outcome, but I tried, and that was really the point of Mission Phobos.*

Everything cleared up at just the right time.

[*In case you’re curious, “Mission Phobos” was to ask a total stranger on a date.  The very act of asking that night led to a very awkward response, we never went on a date, and we really didn’t speak again.  But I tried.  I set the same goal for myself in 2009, and it did happen; it didn’t last to the end of the second date, and the girl is happily engaged now in 2015, but we’re still on Facebooking terms.]

Exit 67. Thinking out loud.

I suppose a lot of blog posts are thinking out loud, at least they would be if they were spoken instead of written, but in this case I’m referring to the song.  “Thinking Out Loud” by Ed Sheeran is a major hit song released in late 2014.  If you haven’t heard it, find a radio station that plays contemporary pop hits, and leave it on for approximately 5-10 minutes, and they’ll probably play it.  Or if you went to a wedding in the last few months, it was probably the couple’s first dance.  If you still don’t know it, here you go.

My first thought hearing it was that it sounds pretty much the same as Let’s Get It On.  My second thought was that it’s kind of nice, for a sappy love song.  I don’t have the strong emotional reaction to sappy love songs, because I can’t relate, but this one is catchy, and sweet.  Then one day on the way to work a few months ago, the song came on the radio, and I suddenly heard it in a different way.  I was going to write about it, but I never did.

I recently attended a wedding reception where this song was the first dance, and the circumstances reminded me of the thing I never wrote about.  This couple, now in their mid-20s, had been friends since childhood, but they didn’t discover feelings for each other until just within the past couple years.  And under those circumstances, the line from the song that made me see it in a different way months ago hit me all over again:

“Right where we are.”

The song is all sappy I’ll-love-you-forever-even-when-we’re-old-geezers stuff, but then the end of the refrain says that “we found love right where we are.”  The “we” of the song didn’t have to go out searching, love was there all along.  My friend who got married has lived in four (I think) states over the seven years I’ve known her, but her husband is someone she knew when they were both growing up right here in Sacramento.

Might that still happen to me someday?  What I learned about finding love from college Sunday schools doesn’t work in middle age, as I’ve said before.  Trying to make that work isn’t going to do me any favors, and neither is nostalgically wishing for that kind of relationship.  I have to work with what I have, right where I am.  Is there someone or something that I’ve been overlooking for years?  Or is there someone here who I haven’t met yet because I’m looking in the wrong place and trying to make square proverbial pegs fit into round holes?

(Oooh… ending on a question… that’s a new one for Highway Pi.  Crap, I ruined it, because now I’m not ending on a question anymore.  Or am I?)

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 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.