Thursday, 13 June 2013

The Content of His Character

Today I'll write another post on crushes because everyone suffers from them and makes them a bigger deal than they really are. I got my first crush at some ridiculously young age, like seven or eight, and the one and only reason my heart skipped a beat over my crush object was his long eyelashes. Well, maybe he had a cute grin, too. Eyelashes, cute grin.

This boy was a year ahead of me, and I did not know him at all. I knew his name and where he was born and how old he was, and that was it. We never had a conversation. We never played together. He returned my looks of eyelash-adoration with glares. But my little heart skipped a beat all the same. Saint Augustine would have had something sarcastic to say.

Saint Augustine hated that our feelings and desires were not all wedded to our reason and blamed this state of affairs on the Fall. He really hated how irrational sexual desire was. And I'm sorry to ascribe sexual desire to myself at seven, but I don't know what else to call it. Other-focused yearnings? That might do.

Other-focused yearnings often have less to do with the other than they do with our own aesthetic appreciation of the world and personal symbolic language. For example, I once got a terrific crush on a man because he was tall, broad-shouldered, dark-eyed, a graduate student, a good artist and a cultural Catholic. The first three qualities appealed to aesthetic appreciation; the latter three were deeply symbolic. (Before I became a graduate student, I thought graduate student = smart. I also thought it = like my professor dad. Ah ha ha ha.)

At first I rarely spoke to this man, as I was too shy. Instead I made various flattering assumptions about him, including the crucial one that he was a devout and chaste Catholic. He was not. I also convinced myself that he was a fascinating conversationalist. He was not. I assumed he drank so much because he liked drink. He didn't. And when I managed to get him to go out with me--he was between real relationships--I set to work ignoring all the realities about him I did not like.  

I went to enormous lengths to ignore how completely incompatible we were. The breaking point could have been when he said he thought having sex a great way to get to know friends better, and that although he had never had sex with male friends, he wouldn't rule it out. But after a struggle, I managed to ignore even that. The love of a pure woman could save him, etc.

Fortunately, he fell in love with someone else very soon afterwards, and although I cried and carried on, it was a merciful escape for both of us. He was freed from someone who kept pretending he was someone else, and I was freed from outrageous self-inflicted crimes against my intellect.

It took me many years to stop getting crushes on men simply because they were tall, or good-looking, or graduate students, or talented artists, or belonged to a certain ethnic group, or appeared in church, or were at least cultural Catholics, and to get crushes on men because they were good. I think I only managed to make this switch at theology school, which was packed with good men. Okay, so they were mostly Jesuits and therefore unavailable, but that didn't matter in the long run. The reprogramming of my psyche towards goodness--plus reading the work of Bernard Lonergan--paid off.

The relief of being rooted in reality at last! One of the fruits of it is being able to distinguish love from its imitators (e.g. lust). Another is a complete lack of guilt in judging men for what they actually do, actually think and actually say. Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed that a man would be judged for the content of his character, not for the colour of his skin, and I applaud heartily. I also add that I dream that one day women will judge all men for the content of their characters, and not for the way their physical appearance or their symbolic worth appeals to our psyches.

I am sure men would welcome this, although I imagine it would be a shock for someone like Tom Cruise to hear "You're very handsome, but your last wife looked so miserable, I'll pass, thanks."

13 comments:

MCN Hobbs said...

I've learned the hard way not to over idealize men I don't know, but as I am in a position where I rarely meet men, , and am yet getting luckier with age. This is the unfortunate result of falling head over ears in love with someone ele's imaginary boyfriend (Lord Peter Wimsey) and never being able to quite shake the idea that it would be awfully nice to be married to that idealized in everything but looks gentleman.

Maybe I need to go to grad school to study Lonergan ;)

MCN Hobbs said...

Well, typing on my phone brings interesting typos... That should read PICKIER with age

Nzie (theRosyGardener) said...

Great post. I think I'll save this one - I have 3 younger sisters (two just starting teen years). Rooted in reality - I think this is a very broad problem for many people (and I think I'm a little glad to be a bit of a late bloomer because I can see how I would have gone nuts). Especially in crushes where there's a lack of reality.

I have been thinking of you, Seraphic, lately, because I'm trying to kill a crush right now - but not my own! I remember all your things about different cultural expectations because I think my American friendly smiles (which I'd give to anyone) gave the IT guy in this Middle East-European border country the wrong impression. He's way too young as well. No more smiles for him, unfortunately, but I think it's best for both of us.

Pearlmusic said...

Thank you in particular for the „symbolic worth” which has been a reason for many of my crushes. Personally, I have never been hooked too much on men’s looks, except, of course, for adolescent crushes I had on celebrities and I have never been able to define this vague reason for which I fell for “not necessarily too handsome Mr Wrongs” and I guess here it is! Perhaps it was also noting “Uh, his not that handsome - equals he isn’t THAT spoiled by women - equals he MUST be a good man” was part of it. It is absolutely fascinating what our poor little heads are capable of inventing!

Seraphic said...

@Nzie. The responsibility for killing a crush lies solely with the person possessing it, though of course the person inspiring it should be extra-careful not to encourage it. Meanwhile, you probably symbolize America to him, you exotic western flower, you!

Nzie (theRosyGardener) said...

I think the smiling was like giving off a signal I didn't realize, so I'm hoping not smiling and kind of avoiding-ish helps. :-) He's only here twice a week, but he did kind of walk me home already.

Sheila said...

When I was a kid I had terrible crushes on singers. Their voices sounded so sexy. The trouble is, I was into 80's progressive rock, so their pictures were downright horrifying. So I imagined up how I thought those guys *ought* to look, and had crushes on that instead.

Which goes to show that the nature of a crush is *not* to be rooted in reality.

Magdalena said...

I am curious: How did you manage to make the switch between tall, good-looking men to Good Men? If there is any kind of technique I would very much like to learn...

Stellamaris said...

I second Magdalena's question! I've always had crushes on the wrong type of man. Most of the "good" men I have met have bored me stiff. How do I reprogram myself? Is there a reset button on my brain?

c'est la vie said...

It's possible to reprogram yourself... but once you do get a crush on a Good Man you feel that because of your virtuous efforts to reprogram, you now deserve to have your feelings reciprocated. Which is not necessarily the case, and if you're like me, you then feel aggrieved = not rooted in reality. Again. Sigh.

Mustard Seed said...

Thank you for your honest story, Seraphic! Sometimes unanswered prayers/desires are really for the best. It's interesting how easy it is to make really generous assumptions about people just because they're handsome or belong to a particular church or profession. for instance, I think one reason doctors are stereotypically considered "catches" is because in order to become one, you have to be smart, ambitious, and hardworking or you won't survive medical school. Then there's also the idea that many of them want to help people, which is noble, and some women also like the idea of marrying someone who makes a good salary. Anyway, I guess what I've realized is that there are good men in every walk of life, and conversely, just because someone is a doctor/human rights advocate/teacher/whatever doesn't mean he's the right guy for moi. It all depends on the individual person. It seems simple, yet that is one thing I've learned by 30 that I didn't necessarily know at 20.

Coincidentally I'm curious if there is a work by Lonergan that you would recommend as like, Lonergan 101, or whether you could explain more about him? I'm curious to learn more about your guru (as you titled the Andy Warhol version of his picture). thanks :)

Seraphic said...

It is not 100% effective, but I suggest surrounding yourself with good men, which might mean surrounding yourself with male religious or other "men for others". They will mostly be off-limits in terms of romance, of course, but even male religious need friends, and the point is not to marry any of them, but to reorient your sense of what men are supposed to be like and what makes them attractive. I know a male religious who goes out of his way to talk to the oldest lady in the room, not just because old ladies get neglected but because he honestly loves talking to old ladies. Well, most of us will be old ladies one day, so really...

In the 21st century, there are no marauding vikings or tigers around, so there is no real advantage to dating a tall guy. In fact, there are disadvantages, if you are rather short. For example, it is a nightmare dancing with a guy over 6 feet if you are bared scrape 5.

In the 21st century, with its sex-drenched divorce culture, there are more advantages to dating (and marrying) a GOOD guy.

Seraphic said...

Dear me, That should be "merely scrape".

Meanwhile, Lonergan can be terribly hard to read if you start with the wrong thing. I recommend starting with his "Method in Theology" Chapter 2, "The Human Good." Another good starting point is "Second Collection." Grub around in that until you find something particularly interesting.