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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Epilogue D "She Was From Italy"

The Purpose of Dating [Revised 2-22-10]

I had always given considerable weight to my brother Dave’s opinions. He was my closest sibling, though twenty-two months my elder. As seen in these Unsettled chapters, I often followed in his footsteps (or in the thin tire-tracks of his ten-speed). I’m confident that the feelings of having a younger brother “tagging along” are quite different in the eyes of the older brother. Perhaps that was why he forgot to fill out the paper-work that would put me on his dorm hall my freshman year. (More likely he didn’t think to do it.) We lived in separate dorms that first year, but by the fall of 1977, the beginning of my senior year, Dave and I were roommates. (He had changed his course of study, which lengthened his college years.)

By then, Dave was dating Jayne, his wife-to-be, though they were not yet engaged. I was dating no one at the time. True, I had been in and out of three or four relationships in college, but the “late bloomer” part of me was equally true of my ability to think of dating as much more than hanging around a lot with the girl I had the strongest crush on. Perhaps, the one exception to that was the girl for whom my shovel toiled that Christmas Break of 1975, but by then Brenda and I were no longer dating as such; however, our paths crossed regularly in classes (same major) with occasional lapses of lingering feelings that were difficult to define. As for my social life in the fall of 1977, I was a confused guy who had not gone on a date for about a month, and of course this caught my brother’s attention.
We always took interest in each other’s dating life. Only once had Dave and I ever taken interest in the same girl at the same time. (This happened months before he had met Jayne.) The funny thing is, I don’t even remember the contested girl’s name. She was from Italy; petite with a pixie grin and doe-eyes like a waif in those Keane paintings from the Sixties. It was silly really. I had walked with this new student all the way across campus after a class. Her accent was fun to listen to, and when I told Dave about it, he told me that he had met her the day before and was thinking about asking her out.

“I was thinking about asking her out, too.” I said in mild protest, but in all honesty the idea had not yet germinated into a plan of action. My words were prompted mostly by the fact that Dave had just told me his intentions.

“I thought you liked what’s-her-name,” Dave said.

“Well, I do... sort of, but I don’t know where that stands.”

“If you’re going to ask this girl out, I’m not,” he said, and I felt bad that he was willing to concede with so little fuss.

“No, you go ahead,” I said. “You saw her first. I only met her today.”

“What’s that got to do with it?” Dave’s eyes scolded, “It’s not like I have dibs on her. You can’t call ‘shotgun’ for a girl like she’s the front seat of a car. If you want to ask her out, go ahead.”

“I am going to. I’m just telling you that I don’t care if you ask her out, too.”

“How weird is that, Tom!”

“It’s not weird. It’s just a date. It’s not like I like her.”

“Yeah, well, if you do like her, I don’t.”

“I don’t like her.”

“Then why would you ask her out?”

To see if I like her.”

“Well, I’m not gunna get mixed up in that,” he said. “That’s weird. What if you do like her. Then what if I like her. Then what if she likes one of us back—or worse yet: what if she likes both of us back. She is from Italy.”

“I think you’re confusing that with France.”

“Whatever! I’m just telling you I have lost all interest. So go ahead.”

“Well, I’ve lost interest, too.”

“You are pathetic, Tom. We’re you going to ask her out or not?”

“Yes, I was going to.”

“Then do it,” he dared. “I don’t care. She’s too young for me anyway.”

I’d painted myself in a corner and had no choice. If I didn’t ask the girl out, it would expose the fact that her stock had gone up simply because Dave had expressed interest in her. What Dave didn’t understand at the time, was that this cute Italian girl situation was more about endorsement than competition. I never felt competitive with Dave, mostly because I was never as good as he was at all the things we did in tandem (things I did mostly because Dave did them). This was true of drawing, swimming, diving, wrestling, cycling, skating, gymnastics, ping-pong—you name it. I was good at those things because Dave was my mentor, my big brother, but he was not my competition, and it’s a good thing because in most of those endeavors there was rarely a true contest. His backing out of this situation was unusual.

The girl from Italy with the swimming pool eyes and Mediterranean accent was likable in every way. It was a nice date as dates go, but I did not ask her out a second time. I had this geography thing that always crept into my so-called love life. I was and am a real Midwest, homebody guy, and after college, I planned either to return to Michigan or live within a day’s drive of my family. If I met someone from California, I knew it was a non-starter. Met a girl from Prince Edward Island, but we were just good friends. So this whole Italy thing was a short-lived romantic notion—probably from watching Three Coins in the Fountain with my sister Kathy. The thought of a transcontinental relationship between the Mitten and the Boot would never work, and I knew it halfway through that soon-forgotten date.

I believed, and still do, that dating "seriously" is pointless if it doesn’t show signs of life beyond the date; it must, at least, hold hints if not hopes that it could lead to a life-long, committed monogamous marriage. If you say after a date, “That was nice, but I don’t see it leading anywhere,” why keep dating? Just to “be in a relationship” or to avoid going to events alone?

(There are exceptions, I suppose. There are those, like the Apostle Paul who never marry, or those who put it off for various reasons like Sherriff Andy Taylor who seemed to have some meaningful courtships that led to neither inappropriate intimacy nor marriage through all the years of that long-running show. [It was in the spin-off, Mayberry RFD, that he and Helen married.] And it is true that my Emily and her husband Keith dated in high school and all through college, but such dating that goes from high school crush to college courtship to marriage is the exception not the rule. These thoughts are primarily concerned with dating in the teen years.)

Between the ages of 15 and 20 (or however one defines the period of “dating just to be dating” without the idea of courtship toward marriage), developing friendships is the key. Friendships are a different matter. For our three girls, we have strongly recommended socializing in groups. If "friendship" sounds too common and the relationship needs to include "dates," we encouraged double or triple dates. Group dynamics and the social skills and accountability of shared values within the group help keep things in perspective during the years when dating for its truest purpose is simply not chronologically possible. What's the point of getting "head over heals" at an age when only one of the two logical outcomes of dating can take place? Those two logical outcomes being (A) you will either eventually break up or (B) you will eventually get married.

Since the 1950's, the average age of marriage in America has risen from 22 (men) and 20  (women) to 27 (men) and 25 (women). This is primarily due to two factors: First, about 60% of high school graduates now go directly into college (up from 30% fifty years ago). And second, the intimacies once strictly reserved for marriage (and therefore part of the incentive for entering into marital commitment) are now commonly traded among sexually active teens. In other words, societal norms have doubled the length of years of the "dating gauntlet" in the pre-marital stage of life while at the same time discounting a once-exclusive benefit of marriage. Think I’m wrong about the second reason? Consider this: Beginning in the 1960's and increases every decade, over 50% of couples who eventually tie the knot in marriage, live together prior to doing so. Based on every "date movie" since When Harry Met Sally (1989) to Valentines Day (now showing), 50% is low. That was almost unheard of before the "sexual revolution" of the 1960's.

Is it any wonder that the "try it before you buy" plan has led to the most promiscuous, mixed-up, insecure, non-committal "looking for love" generation in history? I am not judging; I'm saying that society reaps what it sows and may someday weep at what it laughed away over the past fifty years.

If the conclusions above hold water, and if we assume that parents are engaged in the formation of their teen's worldview while they live under our roofs, then our notions about "dating" are more important than ever. If, for instance, we allow dating to begin around age 15-16, our sons and daughters may be managing these emotions, pit-falls, and relationships for a decade before starting a home of their own.

Because of these trends, I encourage young people to postpone the entanglements of "exclusive/entitled relationships" until it is realistic to consider marriage being just a few years off. If they cannot resist forming a more serious relationship, it is wise to treat the person they’re dating as if they will someday be introducing them to their spouse. The thoughts typically go something like this:

"Imagine, at that point of introduction, how honorable it will feel to be able to look each other in the eyes and speak highly of the other person's wife or husband based on whatever time you shared in the past." Most often I'm speaking to young men, and I'll add, "Think of it this way. Suppose I'm correct. That means the girl you will someday marry is out there dating someone else right now, just like you are dating this girl now. If so, don't you hope that the guy your future wife may be dating will treat her as if the three of you will someday meet? As if he is not entitled to acts intended for marriage no matter how much the culture excuses it? Imagine, being in a dating relationship with the foresight to project how life may feel at a five or ten-year high school reunion."

In most cases, that is a very sobering conversation for young people. And since most young men "in love" are pretty sure the current girl is "the one," and they might just be that husband,  I remind them that if—and for most dating couples below the age of 21, this is an unlikely if—"IF, perchance, the girl you are now dating is indeed your future wife, she will still be introducing you to her husband, because you will not be that man until you look in the mirror together on your wedding night. Imagine how honorable it will feel to look in her eyes and know that you did not take the liberties of husband until you spoke the vows that made you hers."

How different the collective behavior and conscience of young people would be if they valued marriage and considered the fact that they are likely dating someone else’s future spouse. The comparison is not perfect, I know; there are many things that are appropriate for dating couples that would not be appropriate with someone else's spouse. But the thought does add an element of respect to dating. The kind of respect that can make a held hand speak volumes and bring the purest meaning to slightest touch; the kind of respect that keeps a gentle kiss from being demoted from an act of affection to a mere activity that leads to other actions. Treating the person you date with this kind of respect does not mean there can be no sparks, no romance; it simply asks that you keep in mind the difference between a candle and a conflagration. There is a time and place for unbridled passion, but it follows bridal vows.

Many readers are may be thinking, “Tom, I knew you were conservative, but I didn't think you were blind to reality. You do realize that we are living in a post-modern, post-Christian world, right? Do you actually tell 21st Century young people this old-fashioned, idealistic fluff ?”

Yes, I do. Ideals are always idealistic, they beg comparison between our hopes and our habits, between what we know is best and what we are willing to do (or do without) to achieve it. Marriage itself is an ideal as well as a rite. How shallow is it to someday expect fidelity in marriage when it was considered an unrealistic “ideal” in the dating years before? Marriage should be considered the beginning of intimacy not the end of some wild, hormonal ride. How silly is it to treat dating like bus stops at brothels or binging at a buffet, and then to assume the satiated appetite will suddenly be restored or limited by a vow on a wedding day?

I realize that the world does not endorse this advice—quite the opposite is modeled in nearly every “coming of age” flick and sit-com that Hollywood cranks out.

The world finds the mere talk of such ideals laughable, which is why I said “How different the collective behavior and conscience of young people would be if they valued marriage and considered the fact that they are likely dating someone else’s future spouse.” I personally think it would be a better world with far less heartache, far less divorce, and far fewer children standing in the lurch as if trapped in some sad painting.

Please don't misunderstand what I am saying. I know we are broken people in a broken world. Things do not always turn out as we or God originally intended. As Paul said Philippians 3, I'm not trying to talk or act as if I have never fallen short of the ideals I share with others, but as an educator, I dare not let go of ideals no matter how faded or outmoded critics say they are. Schools are constantly striving toward ideals, hoping to make the best of each student's situation, of each classroom environment. Teachers are constantly assessing: "Wouldn't it be better if..." and implementing those ideas. If this is true of our world from 8:00 to 3:00, we dare not accept that it is futile to direct teens toward what is best in their personal lives.

Ideals are not a yardstick used to beat down offenders who fall short of them; they are not haughty medals to be worn about the neck. Ideals are lights along the path of what is best; they help us see beyond what is to what was meant to be.
"Meant to be." Sounds like the kind of thing people in love say. Where was I? Love? Dating?...

Oh, yes, I was talking about a cute girl from Italy that my brother and I once met. The point of my including that blip in my "dating" radar was to shed some additional light on this brotherly relationship in order to explain why I gave such credence to Dave in a similar conversation many months later. By then, the fall of 1979, he was very serious with Jayne, and concerned that I was "not dating" anyone at the time. He came into our dorm room, shut the door, and told me he had just met the nicest girl from Kansas.

"What does Jayne think about that?"

"I'm not saying 'nicest girl' for me. I'm talking 'nicest girl' for you."
More about that Kansas girl in "Epilogue D Continued."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank goodness for big brothers!

20/2/10 3:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You said it! Next chapter gives summarizes the courtship.

20/2/10 10:18 PM  
Blogger the walking man said...

I will say this, that being actively engaged with teen/early 20's kids certainly has given me the SAME perspective you have Tom.

I look at them and quietly find out how actively engaged their parents have been and in short we as a generation are certainly reaping the value we have instilled in the kids.

I am not going to condemn the young for being as they have learned, but I can and do dissuade them from doing the one thing they seem so readily enamored of thinking it be the only sign of love.

23/2/10 7:44 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Thanks for the input, Mark.
This post has led to some good discussion away from the blog.
I think it is a topic tha parents today are at a loss to know how to handle. They see the culture and media (and public schools) pushing in one direction as if the only concern is pregnancy or STD (concerns to be sure) but in reality even if those things are avoided there is a high emotional price for the devaluation of the intimacy God meant for marriage.

23/2/10 10:59 PM  

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