Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Go Together Like a Horse and Carriage

Here’s a marvelous source of inner Quinn-tension. I find people who are very unlike me fascinating and I want to know all about them. But I also don’t want to talk to anyone new nor do I want to travel. Really, I’d rather not leave the house at all. Luckily there are these things called books and for the price of a Los Angeles Public Library card, I can wallow in the lives of others to my voyeuristic heart's content. Sometimes this other life is so completely alien to the world I know that I get another book out, and then another still. Sometimes, Consort notices and picks up the seventh book in a row about a wife running away from her family and towards Stavros (the underage monosyllabic Greek fisherman). He waves the book at me and says, “Is there something I should know?” Which is, of course, absurd because he knows how I feel about planes. As long as I have the love of a good man and a library card, what need have I of Stavros?

This spring, I was all about God; the God of the late-adolescent Evangelical variety. First, I read “God’s Harvard” written by a political journalist who spent two years embedded at Patrick Henry College which fancies itself the Christian equivalent of the Ivy League. Having partaken of a world where a visible bra strap brings a warning email and drinking can get one expelled, I was fascinated and craved more. Luckily, there was “The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University,” written by a college student who took a semester off from Brown University to attend Liberty University, founded by Jerry Falwell. Like Patrick Henry, this is a place of modest clothing and more modest behavior. I was raised pretty conservatively in many ways but I also grew up in a city which, along with San Francisco and New York, stands in for Sodom and/or Gomorrah for many of the people I was now reading about. I know Christians. I know Evangelical Christians. But I don’t know these kinds of Evangelical Christians.

More, I demanded! Give me more!

Having no other books about the colleges, I delved into source material. I read websites about modest dress for women and stared in fascination at modest bathing suits. Consort glanced over my shoulder at the pictures of young women smiling into the camera, up to their knees in the surf, their hair in waist-length braids, their bathing suits covering everything but their forearms. He looked at the screen and then at me. “Is there something I should know?”

Which is, of course, absurd because he knows how I feel about the beach.

And then there’s dating. Dating. Evangelical teenagers of this particular stripe don’t date like their peers date. They don’t date like Gen-Xers dated. They don’t date like their grandparents dated. They date like characters in Jane Austen novels dated. They court. And they only do that when they are ready to find a marriage partner. There’s a book which is very influential among this group (I’d call it a Bible for them but, well, you know). It's called “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.” Once I read about this book I simply had to have it, to finish my set as it were. I got it out of the library and snuck it into the house because I suspected this was going to be the tipping point into Consort’s suggesting I needed to go outside and see actual people.

For those of you who haven’t read "I Kissed Dating Goodbye", let me summarize: The young man who wrote the book, Joshua Harris, says that it’s best not to date because when you date without expectations of marriage, you will eventually hurt someone or get hurt, thus hardening your heart against the true love to come. Harris says dating is ultimately about premarital sex which, do we even need to say, is a huge “Oh, I don’t THINK so” for Evangelicals. He also says that dating in the modern sense -- of hanging-out with benefits -- gives a person very little sense of what being married to this other person would actually be like. So, unless you are prepared to consciously court this person with an eye towards marriage, don’t even start down the path.

I finished a chapter and set down the book. I had just reached my favorite phase of the delving into the utterly-unlike-me-person’s life, the moment of dim recognition. It’s safe to say Mr. Harris and I probably won’t be hosting a panel together anytime soon but he and I can agree on one thing: dating has very little to do with marriage. No wonder we’ve all had friends who spent the first two years of their marriage getting over the disappointment that life wasn’t turning out to be a Nora Ephron romantic comedy. In fact, the dating personality is stuffed in the back of the closet within a week of getting married. After five years of marriage, your spouse’s dating personality only comes out at dinner parties when he or she is sitting next to someone toned and younger than themself. You stare across the table at your mate, all sparkling and witty, and think, “I got five sentences out of you today. Three were about the septic tank.” And you are sad and justifiably angry, because this wasn’t what you were promised when you dated.

So, in the interest of building marriages to last, I have developed a program. It’s called the Quinn Cummings Marriage Marathon. Unlike Mr. Harris, I have no opinion on your dating life before you feel ready to settle down. But if you meet someone and think here might be the other parent to your future children, you begin the process. Don’t worry about their political leanings, their sense of humor, their hobbies and interests. We’re going to get all the information we need.

First, you two are going to take a two-day road trip. Each person will bring what they consider to be appropriate road food, good road-trip music and a reasonable amount of luggage. People have been known to pretend to prefer classical music and a locovore diet for a dinner or two, but the thought of four hundred miles in a car brings out the Slim Jims and the Lynyrd Skynyrd mix tape. You might find that charming. You might find that maddening. You might find it charmingly maddening, or maddeningly charming. You’re still getting in that car.

But not until you pack the trunk with your three suitcases and his plastic bag which contains a toothbrush, one change of underwear and a single sock. And if you complain about this being too hard, we’ll hand you a two year-old child who only likes Radio Disney and is coming down with an ear infection. Be grateful we’re just giving you a car which will make a possibly alarming noise only one of you can hear.

Now, drive. Drive and talk. Drive and don’t talk. Learn about each other. Does she share her dried fruit? Does he read signs out loud?

[Consort unconsciously does that. I love him very, very much, but I still kind of wish I had known that ahead of time.]

Does he fart and laugh? Does she fart and laugh?

[Consort pointedly wants my readers to know he doesn't do that.]

[Which means I now have to say I don't do it, either.]

Does he insist the fuel economy is improved by keeping the air conditioner off and the sun roof open? Does she talk during the more important drum solos? Again, none of these behaviors might be a dealbreaker but the average American lifespan is now in the high seventies. You need to know what you're in for.

After an hour or so, a cell-phone will ring. It will be the most high-maintenance relative this person has. As part of the exercise we will put this conversation on speakerphone and you will listen to an arms-length domestic problem for up to forty-five minutes. Maybe a younger-sister whining about her roommate or a cousin trying to raise money for a llama farm. It might be a father with a computer problem and a theory about the IRS he wants to discuss. While one person must deal with this relative, the "date" can think things like I will have to see this person at Thanksgiving, possibly for many decades and I wonder if this personality quirk is genetic.

After the family crisis is resolved, the other person’s exhausting family member will call. If it's the woman's turn, the call will be from her mother because men, you really need to know how that relationship goes. Once again, that’s not something which comes up in regular dating but the Quinn Cummings Marriage Marathon aims to keep the divorce rate low, one pair of opened eyes at a time.

After the calls, both people in the car will have to agree where to eat lunch. The only options will be a dubious-looking roadside stand offering fish tacos hundreds of miles from the sea and a Howard Johnson. Within minutes, you will know all you need to know about the other person’s risk-taking tendencies; and possibly, intestinal fortitude. After lunch, we will hand one of you a map. Oh, and while you were out of the car, we took out the road-music and switched the station to talk-radio. You must get yourselves to a wine-tasting room whose address we have scrawled on a slip of paper. It’s either 212 Elms Lane or 712 Alms Lane. Neither is on your map, although there seems to be an Ulmsford Drive. The wine-tasting room closes in an hour. You must either talk about the directions or listen to talk-radio. In this way, you will learn how you each handle conflict.

Having arrived at Aspen Lane with four minutes to spare, you are allowed to taste the wines of your choosing for three minutes. Typical dating means carefully regulating how much the other person sees you drink in order to make the best impression and to not say or do something you will regret. This is not dating. If the other person tries to forget the last hour driving up and down endless rows of identical vines by drinking the fruits of every single one of these vines, remind yourself that this might be due to stress. Of course, one day you’ll be at Thanksgiving with this person and that idiot cousin will be going on about llama farming and stress will need to be relieved but you'll be the one staying sober so someone can drive your family home before the llama-farm brochures get handed out.

Again, I’m not saying it’s a dealbreaker, but it’s something you should know.

This is getting long so I'm going to let my hapless victims sober up before I finish them off. Next week " The Quinn Cummings Marriage Marathon" Part II.


Anonymous Whitney said...

While dating, my husband and I got caught in a 4 hour traffic jam outside Shreveport,LA in the middle of what should have been a 12 hour roadtrip home. We still loved each other by the need of the trip, so I knew he was the one.

6:02 AM  
Blogger kate sweeten said...

I went through something similar to this not too long ago...except it was a car ride with my fiance, him mom and dad, older sister and her boyfriend. I came to realize - with much horror - that his dad IS the guy that reads road signs. EVERY road sign. THE. WHOLE. TIME. Well, I should cut him some slack - he did miss a few road signs while he was whistling along to whatever song was on the radio while drumming out the beat on the back of my chair. I had to make my fiance promise to try his damnedest not to turn into this. Don't get me wrong - I love my future in-laws. I seriously hit the awesome-in-law jackpot, but, woah. I have my limits.

6:53 AM  
Anonymous spleeness said...

haha!! This is the funniest, best post I have read this week. I'm facebooking and tweeting this. The high-maintenance ph call, risk-taking w/fish tacos, 4 minutes to spare on Aspen Lane... absolutely fantastic.

8:45 AM  
Anonymous Erin said...

When my husband and I were teens, we were sold on Josh Harris, which sparked our friendship and gave us something to talk about. We never were clear on what we were supposed to do after we kissed dating goodbye, though...so after about a month of being "just friends!" we stopped talking about Josh Harris and started dating each other. All's well that ends well, I suppose.

9:06 AM  
Blogger Dr. Steph said...

As someone who has been with the same man longer than she's been not with him (and I'm not yet 40)...yes. yes. yes.

We took a 22 hour train trip together. To his parent's house.

Now we can do home reno together.

9:14 AM  
Blogger Char said...

I took a 13 hour trip with my (now) ex-husband. It was good until he tried to kill us by running a flashing stop light in some small town in Florida. I think I pretended to sleep the rest of the trip so I couldn't see any more horror.

9:23 AM  
Blogger stash haus said...

This is hi-larious - and absolutely true. And beware of his mother. When we were dating my now MIL had the unfortunate tendency to drop in (letting herself in with their "emergency" key) at inconvenient times (like 7 am on a Saturday morning) just to return or drop off an item.

The Stashhaus plan would be similar, but would include having to move in together for at least a year - sort of like the old Scottish custom of handfasting. During this time, they would have to put together Ikea-type furniture, hurriedly prepare for unexpected visits from both his family/friends and hers, complete a number of renovation projects (both do-it-yourself and working with contractors), and then have to take care of some children for a number of months while also taking care of pets.

9:31 AM  
Anonymous Anna said...

BRILLIANT!!!! And, once again, I say, "Brilliant."

11:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope the second installment will discuss the different driving STYLES that potential spouses employ. Is one driver perhaps a "rule follower?" You know, the type who drives 5 miles under the speed limit, slows down to let other drivers merge, waves others through a 4-way stop, etc. The other drive may likely be a tad "bolder" in driving style, i.e., aggressively suggesting that other drivers get out of the way with the use of flashing headlights, hand guestures and tailgating, driving at least 10 miles per hour over the speed limit ("don't worry, cops forgive that much no problem), etc. Good conversation starters, that's for sure!

1:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Such a well crafted essay. It was a delight to read. And true, so true.

6:31 PM  
Blogger Gail (but you can call me G) said...

Oh my gosh I was laughing out loud. I am forwarding a link to my husband. We've been married 22 years, both married before as well, and just sent our last kid off to college. Everything you say is on the money!

He is the rule follower driver, and I'm the "bold" driver, LOL. He drives me nuts. I drive him nuts. I usually let him drive just to avoid his comments, unless we are in a rush and then I drive because I do NOT drive like an old man. . . :D

9:57 AM  
Blogger creature 0f habit said...

I CAN'T wait for Part II!

I hope you know I'm gaging my current relationship by this post.. haha

10:16 AM  
Blogger Judy said...

My husband once fell asleep in the middle of a traffic jam on the Dan Ryan during Chicago Friday night rush hour traffic.

He woke up when he hit the car in front of him.

Needless to say, I scream a lot when he drives. I do not care in the least that this bothers him.

I've read "I Kissed Dating Goodbye". I liked most of it. But, I know enough evangelical Christians who read the book and are now divorced to not hold a book up as a standard for everyone.

Looking forward to Part II.

My husband and I were just commenting yesterday that it seems to us that the most unlikely to last marriages LAST, and the ones that had that 'match made in heaven' quality don't.

11:44 AM  
Blogger Dee at Pedestrian Palate said...

Pretty sure I took this back in '87 in a road trip to Maine with my husband. He passed thd test because he let me stop to outlet shop in Bangor. Little did I know, he'd never stop a car on a long journey again. He must have a secret catheter. He never needs to go.

6:39 PM  
Anonymous Kim M. said...

We ALWAYS laugh at farts. Except for the dog's. Even the kids gag.

9:10 AM  
Anonymous FurBabyMom said...

This post should be "assigned reading" in premarital counseling! ;) I'm looking forward to Part II!


6:04 PM  
Anonymous Jen said...

An in-law in the backseat with dementia is a must! You learn when to turn the other jaw-clenched cheek and when to laugh at the unthinkable so you don't lose your own mind!

1:09 PM  
Blogger Eris said...

Oh God yes please! I am signing up NOW. I never really thought about this but it IS true: dating is no measure for what marriage would actually be like. I've been dating a perfectly lovely boy for 16 months now, have travelled out of the country with him, have been taken to the hospital by him where he got to see a nurse demand that I use a suppository, have met his crap friends and he mine, have had polite family dinners, and really? What do we know about the potential for marriage? NOTHING. I live about 9 hours away from LA. If I kidnap him now we'll be there by morning. I'll pay any fee, I'll bring stacks of books about quirky people, anything. I know that your waiting list is probably long but please take us, I totally bought your book and laughed out loud at the bit where you can sing all of My Sharona without prompting. The future of my adopted children depends on you :)

9:17 PM  
Blogger Allison said...

I recently did a 456-mile one-way road trip with my brother.

He's lucky he's family, or he'd have been ditched at mile 78. Lord help whoever he ends up marrying.

Looking forward to part II!

3:10 PM  
Blogger kmrf said...

I am reading your new book and on the level of woman, wife and mother it makes me laugh out loud (those loud barks that have to therapeutic).

I have been married for 13 years. My hubby and I met when I was 16 and he was 18. I know it had to be God ordained since in hindsight I can see 16 year olds are only little tadpoles of who you actually become. Proto-humans if you will. I had been a christian since I was 10 and at 16 was praying for a best friend, thinking of a female friend. I met my husband and we "courted" for 3 1/2 years- yes he is a saint.
I took the risk and trusted God. I asked for something from the relationship and it paid off. He stepped up and acted like I was worth it.

We married at 20 and 21.
We got through college (working full time), through my masters progam, bulding a house from the ground up, a baby with colic, two babies in 24 months and me becoming a stay at home mom.
My husband is one of a kind and my best friend (Thanks God for hearing that little 16 year old).

God was in it all the way for us. His word guided our paths.

7:02 PM  
Blogger Jeannine Garsee said...

Well, thank you, Quinn. I'll NEVER get the coffee out of my keyboard. :)

6:20 AM  
Blogger Christy said...

Speaking of the evangelical college genre, you MUST get a copy of Al Franken's "Lies and the Lying Liars who Tell Them" and read the chapter in which he takes one of his interns to Bob Jones (I think), masquerading as his father. It is so funny I spewed milk through my nose when I read it.

4:31 PM  

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