Honey if you love me–please smile!

In middle school I remember many parties where we entertained ourselves by playing the game “Honey if you love me—please smile!”  The game consisted of the person who was “it” going around the circle repeating that phrase in hopes of getting someone to crack a smile—while the circle members did their best to resist.  Though simple, a good deal of strategy was employed in choosing the circle member to approach—who giggles the easiest?  Who can’t resist laughing at a funny voice?  Who will lose their cool if I’m 2 inches from his or her face?

As we approach Valentine’s day and our thoughts turn towards the relationships in our lives I wonder how many out there are playing “Honey if you love me—please smile!” on a day-to-day basis?  I don’t mean playing games with those you love, but rather trying to identify and manage the emotions of those close to you.  This is different than noticing when a friend or loved one is feeling up or down and responding accordingly, instead I mean when the focus is primarily on the other person to the neglect of noticing your own emotions.

Sometimes when a child grows up in a home full of chaos, perhaps due to a parent struggling with addiction or active abuse in the home, he or she learns to read the emotions of the adults in the family and seeks to manage their emotions.  This is a self-protective coping mechanism which can be vitally important at the time—if the child’s father is drunk when he comes home, for instance, the child needs to be able to sort out whether it is safer to stay out his way or engage and placate him.  However, the coping mechanisms we rely on in a survival mode, can turn into a hindrance once we are in safe and healthy relationships.

Still, you may wonder how being aware of the emotions of others can hurt.  As I noted, it’s ok to notice how those around us are feeling—but does it allow you to not pay attention to your own emotions?  Do you ignore your own bad day in order to run over and fix someone else’s?  The danger here is not as much being aware of others as allowing that to replace being aware of what you are feeling.  When we ignore our own emotions and needs it opens us up to having our boundaries violated, not caring for ourselves when needed, and potentially depression and other mental illnesses.  If you find yourself rushing to identify the emotions of those around you, take a moment to consider what you’re feeling at that moment.  Can you identify your own emotion?  Is it difficult to identify?  Do you feel guilty acknowledging how you feel?  Those who answer yes, may be struggling with codependent patterns in relationships.  Next time we will more closely define codependency and consider another way it shows up—when our caring for others becomes caretaking.  See you then!

A Very Stepford Life

Facebook.  Pinterest.  Twitter.  Blogs.  We have become adept at remotely keeping tabs on our peers–and our peers have become adept at presenting us carefully edited versions of themselves, their relationships, and everything else.  Logically we know we are seeing mere snapshots of a life but we still buy into the fantasy and and can become bitter over our own lack of perfection.

Speaking of perfection, do you remember the premise of  Ira Levin’s “The Stepford Wives”?  The story is fascinating and terrifying as it chronicles the strange town of Stepford where all the women eventually become single-minded, beautiful, meek versions of themselves, wholly focused on cleaning their homes and catering to their men.  We know little of the men’s actual thoughts on the process, but we do see that they actively submit their wives to this transformation (the book is unclear on what must be done to achieve the result) but we do see them walking through a process of increasing dissatisfaction with their wives.  The process seems to start when the local illustrator draws a picture of the woman, presenting her as a flawless version and creating a “blueprint” for who she will become.  From there, the men slowly separate sexually, emotionally, and with their time as they put the blocks in place to achieve their goal of having the “perfect” wife.

As I read the descriptions of the transformations I found my mind wandering to the potential blueprints of ourselves we alternately pine after and project on our social networks. We rush to pin and share pictures of perfectly manicured homes, clothing, and tips to become ever more the domestic goddess/fantastic parent/perfect wife and so forth.  Has the Stepford fantasy become something we confuse with reality?

In Levin’s tale, the men become enamored with a fantasy over a real, flawed relationship and life.  It is easy to fall into that both in our relationship with ourselves and with others.  So much perfection is presented to us as being attainable it becomes easy to become angry with ourselves when we don’t measure up.  We are now the ones drawing the picture of who we should be and (figuratively) killing ourselves to achieve the fantasy.  That dissatisfaction can spread into our other relationships and show up in frustration when the people around us don’t conform to the life we are trying to create.

There isn’t anything wrong with striving for improvement (sometimes it is needed and achievable), however, when that striving causes us to resent the mixed bag of messiness and happiness that make-up healthy relationships things are heading down a slippery slope.  (Please note, I am not addressing the need for change in relationships with unhealthy patterns, but individuals in basically healthy relationships.)  While I doubt any of my readers would replace their spouse or child with an animatron in pursuit of perfection, we can often lose out on enjoying the good things in our relationships because of our desire for perfect things.

If you find yourself on the dissatisfaction slope, perhaps it is time to stop looking at the imperfect that surrounds you and focus on the good.  Complement yourself.  “Catch” your spouse being helpful and thank him or her.  Remind yourself that children’s noise and messiness can be a sign of a happy and active imagination. True satisfaction does not come from perfection but from embracing the good within the natural flaws of life.

So, next time you look at an image of a perfect house/child/body and begin to regret your own life, remember that perfection is rarely reality and consider its potential price.


Struggle is just one part of the story

Did you ever read “The Girl of the Limberlost” by Gene Stratton-Porter when you were growing up?  The blurb on the back of the book boils it down to a tale about a girl with a harsh mother creatively providing for herself to obtain an education, but it is a tale of grief, pain, selfishness, and ultimately, healing.  I’m going to spend the next few posts considering the arcs of Elnora (the main character), her mother Kate, and Miss Edith Carr and how each woman struggles and grows through the story. 

Elnora Comstock falls in line with many quintessential “American” hero stories.  She comes from a difficult life and through creative thinking and hard work is able to be successful in the world, much to the surprise of her mother.  She is kind and always open to helping others, which quickly gains her the love of those who know her–her mother being the one exception.  She would be welcomed by modern women for her self-reliance and determination to find her way in the world on her own, but she then surprises the modern reader though in her eventual reconciliation with her Mother.  Our culture is often so greatly focused on leaving unhealthy relationships that we forget that there is the possibility for healing in certain circumstances.  The modern reader may also be surprised by Elnora’s personal faith and how this sustains her in difficult times.  We see her reaching out in prayer during times of need and being surprised at how God responds.

So what do we learn from this?

1)  Pain is a double-edged sword that can make people both stronger and weaker.  Elnora did not give up in the face of her pain and found strength.

2)  A little love and caring can go a long way in a hurting person’s life.  Elnora did not receive the emotional care she needed from her mother as she was growing up, but others in the community took the time to provide emotional comfort and to help her care for her other needs.  Though she may not have known it, this helped shape her into a loving person.

3)  Focus on goals rather than limitations.  This led to many opportunities for Elnora.  Certainly she mourned and occasionally despaired over how to achieve her goals, but she never fully gave up hope and (again) she engaged with those around her who were able to offer advice and assistance to help her keep moving forward.

4)  Keep your eyes open to see how God may be working, even in difficult times.  Elnora puts her faith in the Christian God and is surprised by how her simple faith is rewarded via answered prayers.  I realize not all my readers will believe there is truth to this, but I encourage you to be open and look for the influence of God’s providence in your life.

5)  Always remain open to relationships being healed.  Elnora’s mother eventually realized her misguided grief and anger and sought to reconcile with Elnora.  Because Elnora accepted this change in her mother they were both rewarded with healing and reunion.  (Note: this does not mean that all individuals who have been harmful must be accepted with open arms.  Elnora had come to an understanding of her mother’s personal pain and how it drove their separateness, therefore she was prepared to accept the change.)

Take these as points to ponder to see how they might apply to your life.  Is there a child you can give some extra care and support?  Is it time for you to allow healing to melt the resentment in a relationship?  Do you need to focus on hope to help you keep your eyes open for good opportunities?  Elnora’s world had many idyllic outcomes, but we can  aspire to emulate the hope and healing demonstrated in the book.

Take-out version:  Keep your eyes open for hope and healing as you walk through the pain, you may be surprised what you find.

A new story for St. Valentine’s Day

It seems like Valentine’s Day elicits strong emotions all around whether they are happy, angry, or sad.  I’ll admit to not being sure what the origin of its celebration is in U.S. history, but it has become a holiday focused on romantic love, particularly its sexual expression.  We are trained to ignore the other loving relationships in our lives and to feel sad and mopey if we don’t have a date (I’ll admit it, I’ve been there!).  I encourage all who are reading this to take a moment and consider the many individuals in your life who care for and love you–friends, parents, nieces, nephews, co-workers, and beyond.  How would today be different if you focused on the varied ways that you are loved outside of a romantic relationship and expressed your care in return?  If you are in a romantic relationship, what if you focused less on having the “perfect valentines” and more on giving a great valentines?

My main point is not that its bad to be sad or mopey if you don’t have a date or didn’t get a valentine, but that you have the ability to write your own story for today.  We know very little about the actual St. Valentine, so be free to write your own “love story” and let it include the breadth of love and care in your life.  Invite a friend for dinner, fix your pets a special treat, send a valentine to your grandmother, create your own V-day tradition–you might be surprised how much love you have around you!

Take-out Version: Love comes in many forms beyond the romantic–what will your Valentine’s love story be?