Read an Excerpt
1 The Perfect Mate
Deb and I had flown into Raleigh, North Carolina, to do one of our Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage seminars. Usually during my weekend events I speak for up to six hours or more, so if I am not careful I can overwork my voice. In preparation for an event, I try to limit my jabbering and generally turn down any requests to meet with people, do interviews, and so on. However, the Friday morning before the start of the Raleigh event, my good friend and host pastor, Steve Coronna, asked if I would join him and his wife Connie on the set of their TV program, Making Your Marriage Work. My reluctance to do three television programs on the day of a seminar was mitigated only by my friendship with Steve.
The plan was to leave the hotel at 9:15 a.m. and drive to the studio to meet them. I am not exactly a morning kind of guy, and being true to form, I slept in as late as possible and began to shower and get dressed only at the last possible minute. After I shaved and combed what hair I have left, I went to get a fresh pair of underwear out of my suitcase. However, I could not find any. Since I am a typical man and unable to find something even if it's right under my nose, I did not panic, but simply called out to my wife, who was now in the bathroom.
"Hey, Debbie, where are my underwear?"
"They're right there in the front of your suitcase," she answered.
"No," I retorted. "I looked. There's nothing there."
Exasperated, Debbie shot out from the bathroom to the suitcase to try and find what I had obviously missed. After a few moments, however, she started to giggle and said, "Well, I guess we didn't pack any."
Didn't pack any?! I started to panic. No underwear?! My mind began to race: I have people to meet; television shows to tape! I don't have time to deal with, 'I guess we didn't pack any.'
Perhaps yesterday's undies, I thought, switching from panic to resolution mode. A little gross, but it seemed like a plausible plan at the time. Then I realized my drawers were lying wet on the bathroom floor and there was no time to dry them out. I had to go now if I was going to be on time.
Only two options lay before me: a) go au naturel with no restraints freely, as it were; or b) do the unthinkable wear my wife's underwear. As I pondered the options, a pair of my wife's undies caught my eye. They were made of simple cotton, and, were it not for "Victoria's Secret" stamped all over the elastic band, they almost looked like a pair of men's skivvies.
Dare I? I mused.
Now, every man I have ever shared this story with has told me they would have chosen option "a," and never option "b," even under threat of death or bodily harm. For most men, wearing women's underwear is not an option there are way too many conflicting implications. But I just could not see spending my day underwearless. I can't handle that much freedom in my life. I would have found it extremely distracting.
So, option "b" it was. I quickly slipped on my wife's undies, finished getting dressed, and headed out the door, giving what I had just done very little thought.
About five miles down the road, it started to dawn on me that I was sitting in a pair of underwear that had "Victoria's Secret" imprinted over and over again on the waistband. I thought to myself, Good grief! What if I'm in an accident? I imagined myself lying on the side of the road while the medics tried to remove my pants to save my life. I saw myself fighting them off, screaming at the top of my lungs, "Let me die! Let me die!"
Soon I was at my destination, and I tried to focus on taping the programs to be aired over the next three weeks. You can imagine the irony I felt as I looked into the camera and threw out a challenge for the men in the audience to be real men, not the all-too-familiar men who live in a virtual world of TV, video games, and computer porn yet all the while I was sitting in a pair of women's underwear! It was a struggle to concentrate on what I was saying.
After the taping, while we were waiting to be seated for lunch, I could hold my secret no longer. I leaned over to Steve and Connie and told them I had a confession to make. Few things get people's attention like an open confession, so they gathered close to me as I whispered the events of that morning. When I finally got to the part where I revealed I was standing there with them in a pair of my wife's underwear, which I had been wearing all morning, Steve screamed and tried to get as far away from me as possible. (Did I mention guys have issues with this kind of thing?) He continued with lunch only as long as I agreed not to touch him. He also asked me to never mention his name when telling this story. (But, hey, what are friends for?)
The Moral of the Story
I reveal this self-deprecating story to illustrate a point. If you are going to survive unexpected circumstances and disappointments, you are going to have to be willing to change, to adjust, to work with what you have, and to commit to doing things you normally wouldn't have chosen to do. Despite our best efforts and intentions, life doesn't always turn out the way we have hoped and planned. This is especially true when it comes to relationships between men and women.
Love can be deceitful. It starts out so easily. In fact, it is the ease of the relationship that convinces us that the other person is "the one." We are so comfortable with them. They are incredibly easy to talk to. We can just be ourselves around them. With seemingly no effort at all, we experience a sense of joy just by being around them.
"It is so easy," we reason, "this person must be the one!"
"Yes," your romance-starved heart answers, "this is it true love is always easy!"
So we take the plunge, we make the big commitment, we promise, "Till death do us part." And we know it's right because it's easy. Easy is always a sign from God that things are right. Right?
But after the "I do's" have been exchanged, life kicks in. And guess what? It ain't easy.
Men and women begin their journey believing that fate has caused them to meet each other, and then they date and end up at the altar. They think that since they have spent so much quality time with each other, they truly know each other. They know what to expect and, therefore, feel the relationship is safe they have discovered the perfect one. However, due to the intoxicating nature of the dating process, people don't know each other nearly as well as they think.
So when life hits, shock and awe set in. Shock because the differences that attracted them to each other now repel them. Awe because they are now frustrated and angry and feel that their whole marriage is simply awful.
We read in the Old Testament, "Hope deferred makes the heart sick." Simply stated, when things don't go the way you hoped they would, it is easy to get "heart sick" to lose your oomph, to want to quit and get away from what disappointed you. But that is a mistake.
The truth is that such lofty ideals of romantic perfection actually work to make people's marriages worse, not better. Since these ideals are rarely if ever realized, dissatisfaction rules the day. You were smoking marital ganja if you expected marriage to be a life filled with constant waves of joy, where every morning birds sing you awake and little bunnies help you sweep the floors as the chipmunks wash the dishes.
It may be a hard pill to swallow, but it doesn't take the ladies long to discover that though they were worshiped and coddled like beautiful princesses during the dating experience, and though they married the guy expecting to step into a long life of being the object of worship and coddling it doesn't last. Generally, women end up feeling as if they are the property of the Pumpkin Eater (who, according to Mother Goose, has his little woman neatly tucked away in his pumpkin shell, there to keep her very well). Women discover that their Prince Charming is more pauper than prince, and the man of her dreams morphs into looking more like the monster from her nightmares.
Similarly, men get disappointed and offended, but only by the idea that we could ever disappoint a woman. "How can this be?" men reason. "Our moms always said we were perfect." And we guys hate to lose the "Prince Charming" label. The problem is that we can't begin to comprehend why being married would take anywhere near the energy dating did. We have won the girl. The girl said "yes." The boy said "I do." Everything seems set, so we assume we can now begin to redirect our attentions, formerly used to chase our bride-to-be, to new pursuits. There are new hills to climb, new wars to win, new seas to cross, and of course, video games to play. Sadly, many men think "I do" means "I'm done." This is because we generally approach relationships with a conquer-and-possess mind-set. And once men possess, we are ready to move on to new ground.
In a way, what we possess "disappears," kind of the way a new car disappears after we own it for six months, and we often cease to give those we love significant attention. We don't do it to be cruel, we just don't get why we would keep fighting and striving to secure something we already have. Sadly, the romantic chase of courtship gives way to the thoughtlessness, inconsiderate behavior, and even rude assumption of ownership. (I'm not saying this is right or that it has to stay this way, it just is for the average guy.) Our shock and awe in marriage have to do with the discovery that our wives no longer think we are the cat's meow. After all, we are men, the bearers of the magic that accompanies our gender endowed to us by the male penis.
Ah, wretched disappointment it makes us sick. And when marriages are filled with disappointed wives and offended men, it doesn't take long for them to become convinced they have made a terrible mistake. Why? Because it is no longer easy; now it's very, very hard.
This can't possibly be love! our disappointed heart cries. I must have made a mistake! I shouldn't have married this guy (gal). There is no way he (she) is my true soul mate.
It is here where the battles begin to rage, and how a couple fights those battles is critical (we'll talk more about that later). Some couples fight openly, some quietly. But a couple must be willing to wrestle till there is a win for both parties involved. A win/win often requires flexibility: some push and pull, some lovingly compromise, and dare I suggest it even wearing each other's underwear (should the circumstances warrant).
But many are unwilling to fight or compromise. When their expectations are not met, their hearts feel "sick" and they want out of the marriage. Unmet expectations in marriage tend to erode the relationship. And when the marriage deal begins to feel like a bad deal, many head out looking for a new deal. They view conflict, which is inevitable in any healthy relationship (intimacy is forged in conflict), as evidence that they have married the wrong person. After all, the promise of true love can be realized only if one finds and marries their predestined soul mate, right? Wrong.
I know this won't make me very popular with a lot of people, particularly many of the ladies, but the idea of the perfect "soul mate" that God made one special person just for you is the stuff of sweetsy, twenty-five-cent romance novels, and has no footing in Christian thought.
"When you grow up," the wind whispered in the young girl's ear, "you'll meet your soul mate the one with whom you can share your life and experience ecstatic, joyful love. You will find yourselves entwined as one in conjugal bliss."
"How will I know who it is?" the little girl questioned. "How will I find the right one?"
"Oh, don't worry," said the wind reassuringly. "Destiny dictates the meeting of our soul mates. You will meet the one who is right and you will live happily ever after."
The idea that there is just one special person for me my soul mate comes from an alleged altercation between the human race and the Greek god Zeus. According to Greek mythology, we humans originally had four arms, four legs, and a single head made of two faces. Because Zeus feared that the authority of the gods might be compromised by this race of beings, he decided to split each person in half, condemning us to spend the rest of our lives wandering unrequited until we find the half we were separated from our lost soul mate. It was thought that our undying pursuit of perfect love is the result of Zeus's scheme to keep us busy far away from meddling in the domain of the gods.
According to this account, a person's soul mate is the one-and-only other half of one's soul we would always be less happy with any other person. Today millions base their hope of marital bliss entirely on the Zeus account.
If this is true, then when a relationship fails, it isn't that we have done wrong or failed to do what is right, it is that we have not found Mr. or Ms. Right. Hence, when relational failure comes, the best we mere mortals can do is cut our losses and return to our quest for the one who, once found, will cause us to live happily ever after.
But come on. Doesn't the idea that we were once two-faced, four-armed, and four-legged beings who got split by a paranoid Greek god come across as just a little crazy? And aren't thoughts founded in a mythical story really just...myth? Yet this idea has been successfully universalized; most people today hold to this view, even the non-Zeus followers.
Mixing Myth and Faith
The view that there is a predestined one-and-only out there for each of us has permeated even the Christian view of courtship and marriage. We have spiritualized it. We teach, "God has made one special person just for you."
If that is not the epitome of self-centered, narcissistic thinking, I do not know what is. God did not create another human being just to satisfy your needs or to make you feel complete.
Yet many believers pray for God to lead them to the "right one," instead of negotiating through the decision-making process of selecting a mate in a down-to-earth, biblical approach.
Those of us in Evangelical circles have even taken this to a whole new level by encouraging parents to start praying for that "one special person" that God has chosen for our child while he or she is still young. Rather than praying for our children to embrace righteousness, justice, wisdom, sacrifice, goodness, et cetera all things that would make them wonderful mates to whomever they chose to commit their lives to we are praying for that "special one" God has already chosen for our child. Zeus be praised, I guess.
Surprising to many, there is absolutely no biblical evidence to substantiate such behavior. The Bible never tells us to find the one God has chosen. It teaches us how to live well with the person we have chosen. And there is a distance of infinitude between those two thoughts. The first assumes that life, love, romance, and marriage are part of God's divine plan and, therefore, depend more on God than on us. The second, and more biblical, line of thought tells us that successful life, love, romance, and marriage are the result of a couple living by God's principles principles that never fail. But this version, which places true love and marriage on the footing of human choice and responsibility, just isn't nearly as romantic or seductive.
Many people of faith bristle when I take this position and ask me, "But what about when Isaac prayed that God would bring the right woman to him at the well?"
First of all, Isaac never prayed such a prayer; it was Abraham's servant who did. Abraham had sent his servant back to his homeland to find a relative for his son, Isaac, to marry. True, the servant did pray at the well that God would help him find the right girl, but he wasn't looking for some divine soul mate, he was looking for a relative of Abraham. In fact, when you read the story in Genesis, the servant does not begin to praise God until he learns that the girl is, in fact, one of Abraham's relatives.
Now, if you are comfortable with one of your dad's employees searching for a cousin for you to marry, I guess it would be appropriate for you to pray that God will lead him to the "right one." But beyond that, the Bible is clear that marriage is your decision not the result of a divine edict. In point of fact, I can find only two places in the Bible where God ever told someone to marry a particular person.
One is when God spoke to Joseph to take Mary as his wife. Joseph wanted to abandon her when he learned she was pregnant, knowing he wasn't the father. But God revealed to him that her pregnancy was by the Holy Spirit obviously, an unusual situation. But even in this case, Joseph had previously chosen Mary.
The only other time God told someone to marry a particular person is when God told the prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute. (And I will concede that if you are considering marriage to a prostitute, you probably should have a divine revelation before doing so.) But even then, God did not tell him which prostitute to marry. It was still up to Hosea!
Though it is not supported in Scripture, there is something about the soul mate blather that is a siren song to the human soul. We want to believe it it is so...romantic. And with this longing deeply embedded in our psyche, we inadvertently impress these thoughts onto the Bible as we read it. Sad to say, but the sacred Scriptures, which have brought unspeakable comfort and blessing to countless mortals, have also been used over and over to justify numerous untenable positions.
I'm suggesting that the problem is that we don't understand the dynamics of true love. We think we do. Our songs, movies, romantic novels, and TV shows all echo the belief that true love will always appear when we meet the right person, our destined soul mate. And this love will hit us hard out of the blue an idea charged with mystery and romance. So the search for romantic love continues to occupy the minds of people, even those who are married! The result? High divorce rates and a plummeting marital happiness index.
The truth is, a successful marriage is not the result of marrying the "right" person, feeling the "right" emotions, thinking the "right" thoughts, or even praying the "right" prayers. It's about doing the "right" things period.
Why doesn't God have a special person just for you? Because He knows that His principles of love, acceptance, patience, and forgiveness work, and they work all the time, every time no matter to whom you are married. That is why the apostle Paul never told us to find that "special someone," but rather to make sure we find someone who truly believes and lives by the principles of love, acceptance, patience, and forgiveness. He referred to such a person as a "believer."
Now, here's an honest question: If being a believer is the key, then why do so many marriages fail, even with people of faith? Simply because many people of faith fail to live out these principles. The apostle James touched this problem when he said, "Faith without works is dead." In other words, if you don't actually do the right thing, believing the right thing won't do you any good. In fact, he teaches that our lack of action can nullify the very faith we claim to have. It doesn't matter how spiritual or holy you think you are, if you are an impatient, demanding, whining, unforgiving person, your marriage will suffer.
We are all subject to the laws of physics no matter how we look, what we say, whom we are with, or even what we believe. For example, if you drive a car seventy miles-per-hour around a fifteen-mile-per-hour curve, you are going to get hurt even if you feel lucky that day; even if you are listening to a Christian radio station at the time; even if you have a bobblehead statue of Jesus on your dashboard (though he may have his hands over his eyes with a look of "Ahhhhhhhh!!!" on his face). Why? Because the laws of physics still apply to you they apply to everyone.
Just as there are laws of physics that affect everyone regardless of who they are or what they believe, there are also laws of marriage physics. Sadly, people keep breaking all the laws and then are stunned by the fact that their marriage stinks. "Why is my marriage so bad?" they ponder. Then the unwise voices of modern convention scream in their minds, Wake up and be honest with your feelings. If things are bad, you married the wrong person. It's not supposed to be this hard. You've made a mistake. God doesn't want you to feel unloved. Be courageous and bail.
And bail they do by the millions.
But the problem isn't that people marry the wrong person; it's that people act in ways that are wrong ways that destroy. If your marriage stinks, someone is breaking the rules of marriage physics. Unfortunately, most are unaware that rules even exist, much less know what they are.
Even though I don't think there is such a thing as a soul mate, I'm not saying the dating process shouldn't involve a hunt to find a special someone someone compatible with you, someone with whom you have made a connection. If you are single, I think you should expect that, even strive to find a person with whom you can share feelings of deep affinity, friendship, sexual attraction, and compatibility. That being said, I think finding someone to journey with in marriage is the slenderest part of a life-long relational journey. A great marriage is mostly about two people committing to each other and then employing principles such as love, acceptance, patience, forgiveness, sacrifice, and unselfishness, to enrich that committed relationship. Marriage is more about work than about divine luck, more about finding someone to love than about finding someone to meet your own laundry list of personal needs.
Copyright © 2008 by Laugh Your Way America, LLC