Saturday, February 14, 2004

Marriage links for the week  

According to Theognome, many women suffer from Ugly Wife Syndrome, caused in most cases by an overflow of Stupid Husband Myopia.

Irene reflects on her friend's wedding.

Dr. Warnock provides a ready-made Valentine's poem and gives everyone permission to use it as they need it.

Twenty-five teenage couples graduated from a Long Island high school in the early fifties and got married soon thereafter. Fifty years later, not one of those couples has divorced.

This is sad, but if two people date for 45 years without so much as an engagement ring to show for it, it's probably time to move on.

Friday, February 13, 2004

V-Day  

I've always thought that the Hallmark Company, in conjunction with whatever government officials they had donated lots of money to, thought up the idea of Valentine's Day in an effort to get people to buy more cards and candy. About five seconds of research this morning taught me otherwise. Here are two entries from my Dictionary of Phrase and Fable:

Valentine.  Valentine, St.  A priest of Rome who was imprisoned for succouring persecuted Christians. He became a convert himself, and although he restored the sight of his gaoler's blind daughter, he was martyred by being clubbed to death (February 14, 269).

St. Valentine's Day.  February 14th, the day when, according to ancient tradition, the birds choose their mates for the year. It was an old custom in England to draw lots for lovers on this day, the person drawn being the drawer's valentine, and given a present, sometimes of an expensive kind, but oftener of a pair of gloves. The valentine is now frequently represented by a greeting card of a sentimental, humorous, or merely vulgar character. The custom is said to have had its origin in a pagan practice connected with the worship of Juno on or about this day.

So our celebration of Valentine's Day seems to be sort of an ancient pagan ritual given a Christian name and heavily marketed by card stores, candy makers, and florists. Still, I will commemorate the day by paying even more attention to my wife than I usually do.

I recently came across a collection of letters I wrote to a friend from 1992–1994. I wrote them all before I had even heard of e-mail and the Internet. About half of them I wrote by hand, before I even had access to a computer. My friend (Matt) actually saved all the letters, copied them, and collected them into a binder a couple of years ago and gave them to me. It's almost like a journal of my life in the years before I met Mrs. Happy.

One of the letters is particularly appropriate today. I wrote it in 1993:

It's Valentine's Day and I don't have a girlfriend. But contrary to popular belief, that's no big tragedy. Valentine's Day does, nevertheless, stir up some wonderfully painful memories of grade school days. It seems that I always had a crush on a girl when Valentine's Day came around, and it always suffered the same pitiful end. Since we had to give a Valentine card to everyone in our class, I would pick out the most romantic card I had (usually something along the lines of a picture of a cartoon cat saying, "Purrrrty please, would you be my Valentine?"), or else I would "accidentally" give two cards to the object of my affection. Neither of these unbelievably romantic gestures ever seemed to work. I never received a hug or a kiss or a "Yes, I'll be your Valentine, you big pussycat!" or an "I'll be TWICE the Valentine you thought I'd be." Invariably, my crush would simple hand me a card with a picture of a dog and the caption "Let's be pals!" Some things never change. Let's hope Valentine's Day isn't one of them.

Valentine's Day has changed for me. It is one of the two days of the year that I almost have to get dressed up and take my wife to a fancy restaurant. I personally prefer tangible gifts to fine dining, but Mrs. Happy truly enjoys going upscale once in a while. I want her to feel especially special on Valentine's Day, though, so I'll treat my Valentine to a nice dinner and enjoy every minute of it.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Christian Carnival IV  

Be sure to check out this week's Christian Carnival over at King of Fools.

Long-term harmony  

A single friend of mine recently signed up at eHarmony. He has tried other online dating services without success, but he told me today that eHarmony seems to be a breed apart. Instead of focusing on common interests, they focus on common sensibilities, expectations, and goals. Every member fills out an extensive questionnaire, then receives messages from the service about other compatible members. These members may then choose whether to communicate or not with a questionnaire of their own design, with questions they choose from a long list supplied by the service. One of the possible questions intrigued me:

Besides love, what one trait have you noticed in couples that have maintained a successful relationship for many years?

This differs from the typical "What makes a marriage work?" question in several ways. First, it is objective and based on observation rather than speculation. Rather than asking "What actions and/or habits do you think a marriage needs to succeed," it asks, "What characteristics do you see in successful marriages?" Second, it is descriptive rather that prescriptive. It focuses on what is rather than on what should be. This is important, because the assertions of all the psychological and sociological literature in the world do not even begin to measure up to a single, real example of a man and woman who have spent 40 years together and still love each other more than their own lives. Third, it does not assume that a long-term, intact marriage is a default success. Plenty of failed marriages last many, many years.

I'm not familiar with many long, successful marriages. In the few that I do know, I notice that they all have a common faith.

I asked Mrs. Happy this question, and she said almost immediately "a shared sense of humor."

I'd love to hear others' observations. Remember, the question concerns an observable trait rather than a hidden attitude—results rather than causes.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

A new perspective on an old poem  

Marriage has taught me the difference between isolation and loneliness. Loneliness is an emotion you feel when no one is around. A person living a life full of love can still feel lonely in the absence of loved ones. Isolation is more of a psychological condition in which a person cuts himself off from emotional connections with other people. You can feel isolated in a room full of people as easily as when you're at home alone. I am rarely lonely nowadays since Mrs. Happy and I are almost always together. I still experience periods of isolation because my natural inclinations lead me to withdraw into myself whenever I feel a little "off." I have to fight against that tendency toward isolation because I don't want to cut myself off from my wife. It's difficult, but it gets easier every day.

Marriage has also taught me that my desire for physical contact, though it sometimes manifests itself in less than ideal ways, has its roots in something good and pure. I wish I could go back to the teenage Curt and tell him how to assuage that desire in a good and pure way. I don't know what I would tell him, though, since the only healthy way I have found to slake that thirst is with a wife. I would definitely tell him to guard his thoughts and stop his bad habits before they start. I would tell him that destructive thought patterns don't automatically go away when you get married, and how much better his life will be when he achieves a good level of self-control. The problem is, though, that the teenage Curt knew all that and still pined and fantasized and let thoughts run wild. College-aged Curt even wrote a whole poem about how he knew better and constantly failed in his struggle to keep his thoughts pure.

Adult Curt is doing better, but still struggles daily, knowing that a daily struggle is much easier and healthier than a periodic purging of impurity.

These things entered my mind today because I came across an old notebook containing sort of a journal I wrote in college. I had written a poem on one of the pages. In my life, I have written three poems that stayed in my mind beyond the day that I wrote them. The first one I wrote in high school. It dealt with the eternal struggle between men and women over whether a man should ever move the toilet seat from its down position. The second was inspired by a nasty foreman I worked under at a summer job during my college years. The last I wrote in my journal during a time when I struggled with loneliness, isolation, and a devastating desire for physical contact:

I know I am a fool because of this:
That no one but a fool would spend his day
In giving full attention to the way
A siren sings him into tortured bliss;
That such a fool is bound by hopeful kiss,
To think of her when "she" is spoken, stay
The heart that has been broken till the gray
Pale ray of sunset sets things more amiss.
My hopeless hope is just a fool's delight.
Conscious folly is a baleful omen,
The deepening of my heart's pleasing plight,
Heightened not by substance, but by woman.
    My mind and body fight a fatal duel.
    The victor shows me sure, I am a fool.

This was my first and only experiment in writing a sonnet in iambic pentameter. I'm not even sure I did it right, but there it is. I wrote it in July of 1994, less than two months before I first asked a Happy Acquaintance to eat lunch with me. That lunch turned into the deepest friendship I've ever had, which turned into my marriage, which I now celebrate every day.

Monday, February 09, 2004

Geek panel art  

I'm participating in a dramatic production at church. We rehearsed today, so my day was pretty full. Let me just offer another piece of panel art (in case you missed it, read the post where I explained the concept). This one was done with four people, the first time I've attempted it with more than two. It is also bigger than any I've ever attempted, the original being 17" by 22" (somewhere around 40 cm. by 55 cm., I would guess), which made scanning it pretty interesting.

My three geek friends helped me out. Two of us are professional artists (Rey and Nick), while two of us are professional writers (me and Jerry). That may sound impressive, but we're really just small cogs in a giant marketing machine. Anyway, beginning in the upper-left and going counter-clockwise (which is the order in which the panels were drawn), the panels belong to Jerry, Nick, me, and Rey.

For some reason I like to draw scenes of traffic and open fields. I don't know why. I also don't know why I felt the need to misspell the word "STOP." There's probably some deep psychological reason for that, but I can't fathom what it might be. The only other thing I'll say about my panel is that it features the best dog I've ever drawn.

I call upon my geek friends to offer thoughts on their own panels in the comments.

Click the image below to see the full picture.