I always believe the ideal is waiting just over the horizon.

Escape From the Ideal

I always believe the ideal is waiting just over the horizon.

 

All the places you ever wanted to escape to

are always

Here

in the end.


 

I published this poem on my “professional” blog a week or two back just to demonstrate that, yes, I actually am a writer… in the unlikely event any of my “serious” work is ever accepted for publication by any (established) journal. But I also wanted to talk about it here on this blog, which is much more interactive/conversational.

First off, a shout-out to valdelo of Silently Screaming for the simple encouragement to keep writing. That little nudge prompted me to see if I had anything in me tonight… and voila. (More about the power of nudges in a future post!)

Anyhow. This poem popped into my head as I was contemplating my pronounced tendency to look to the horizon for salvation. I have the *worst* time practicing mindfulness–i.e., focus and attention fixed on the present, experiencing and appreciating all it has to offer, not lingering in the past or endlessly planning out the future. The Yercoviches refer to this tendency as “reviewing and rehearsing,” a behavior practiced by vacillators (such as myself) who tend to devalue or idealize events (this is just the link to a summary of the “core pattern” handout where they describe these tendencies, which you can also find available for purchase on their site). I.e., I tend to feel that the past could have always played out better, so I rehash it endlessly trying to “troubleshoot” for future improvement–or I believe that a future event can be perfectly managed if I only plan it out carefully enough, so I overthink constantly (and heavily).

This leads to endless annoyance or discontent or discomfort with a new place or relationship or experience or accomplishment once I’ve finally arrived at it and it has become familiar. All of a sudden, my daydream of freedom and hope and life and possibility has been replaced by obstinate reality grounded in simple, uncomfortable, less-than-ideal facts. It’s not even that reality is really that bad–it just doesn’t match up completely with my daydream. For a vacilator, this loss of the ideal is crushing.

So I have to learn not to value the ideal so darn much.

This is made easier when I realize how many downright stupid, unimportant things I idealize (like not having crumbs on the floor, or having clean bathrooms [honestly, isn’t it far more significant to realize the incredible blessing of HAVING a fully functional bathroom–or even more than one?!], or keeping runny toddler noses off all the furniture)?

It’s harder when I’ve idealized things that *seem* more important, though–like having firm, stable, relationships with loved ones. But firmness and stability don’t look or feel exactly like my imagination tells me (since I don’t have a lot of experience in those areas compared to some, idealized imagination sets my hopes and expectations–not reality). Letting go of these imaginings and finding the courage instead to emotionally experience the reality I’m in–good, bad, and everything in between–is a huge challenge.

It’s deeply intimidating particularly because the reality I experienced for so long taught me *not* to trust, feel, or seek communion with others when relationships have even a whiff of going south about them–in large part because it was never demonstrated to me that doing so *could work*. I also had basically no idea where to start: what does trusting, feeling, and seeking communion look like in a relationship that’s actually worth it–where it’s safe, advisable, and even necessary from a mental health perspective?

However, finding myself in truly worthwhile, long-term relationships has shown me that the old way of relating isn’t going to work here; I need to develop a new skill set.

Fixing all my hopes for happiness and security on the imaginary ideal place, situation, or companion will only leave me despondent when I finally reach my destination–and realize it’s not *everything* I made it out to be.

It will always end up being the experience I’m left to engage with in the present–the current, immediate moment–the one place I’ve had small confidence and found little comfort in for so long.

I will continue to do just that–as long as my expectations are that my ideal *should be* the reality.

The truth, however, is that I can’t change the reality in front of me–but I can, gradually, change my perspective on it and how I interact with it.

The details of this elude me constantly, but I’ve found one mantra from the How We Love website quite helpful. To paraphrase:

“It’s not as bad as I think it is, and it’s not as good as I want it to be.”

Accepting this as unchangeable truth helps me to regulate my expectations and, thus, avoid getting too working up one way or the other. It requires me to let go of my own demands upon reality and exchange them for trust, instead, that my needs will be met–perhaps not how I’d like them to be, but they will be met–by the people who really *do* love me, as they have tangibly and consistently demonstrated over an extended period of time, through the providence of a God who has demonstrated enormous care and love for me over a much longer time frame.

This is the proper way to reflect upon the past: to search it for all the good and love I’ve received, practicing a new, unnatural approach to reflection–rather than picking through it for the parts that didn’t match my original skewed ideals and ruminating over the uncomfortable bits.

And it’s the proper way to envision the future: with calm, simple confidence that my idealized plans will not come to fruition, and are not worth the time I spend on them, but that whatever else happens instead will still be manageable and even full of blessing from a divine agent I can’t possibly anticipate or control–which terrifies me, which reminds me that I need to sink deep into reflections of his steadfast, unshakeable love once more. Because “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18, NKJV).


 

Lord, well over a decade ago I wrote about this, seeking to experience the unfathomable love you have for me, because I needed to be free from fear. I still do. I fear constantly–big things, little things, imaginary things that feel too much like the actual reality of times past to be ignored. Lord, please–free me from torment. Free me from fear. Cast me into perfect love: love based in reality and well-founded expectations, that it may cast out every fear caused by unmet, idealized expectations. Exchange my broken mindset for your healing way of thinking. Help me to be patient with the process (avoiding unrealistic expectations yet again!); lead me to all the tools I need, and bless them with your presence. Thank you for loving me, even when I can’t fully sense it. Especially then. Amen.

 

Ms. vs. Mrs.

I’m sure most of you reading this had the same training as I did growing up: we addressed adults by their last name and proper title, e.g., “Mr. Johnson” or “Dr. Bradley” or “Mrs. Hinkle.”

Those Misters and Missuses of the ’80s and ’90s we so addressed probably still prefer (or maybe just expect) to be called that. After all, they are still our seniors by a good twenty years or more and belong to a generation where this was thoroughly standardized. So, unless I’m given specific instruction to the contrary, I maintain this form of address with them—and I expect my children to mimic me.

However, I don’t refer to my peers in the same way, even around my children. Since I normally address my friends as “Gretta” or “Bob” or “Joanna,” and my children hear me refer to them this way, I don’t want to confuse my boys by giving them another name to know adults by, so I just have them use first names as well. Sure–previous generations have worked through this confusion in the traditional way, and it was no big deal. But that’s not the main reason I do this; it’s just a helpful side effect.

To clarify somewhat, we don’t have our children address adults just by their first names. Formal titles do show respect to one’s elders, or in some cases to those with a greater degree of expertise in a particular subject field. Since using titles doesn’t actually require coupling with a last name, we do have our kids use them when referring to adults. The results are “Mr. Bob,” “Dr. Dan,” “Ms. Anita,” etc.

But we rarely, if ever, use the title “Mrs.” If we do, it’s by mistake; a slip of the tongue generated through years of habit.

Why not?

“Mrs.” is the formal title specifically for a married woman–one who “belongs” to someone else. In very formal settings a wife might even be denoted by her husband’s name preceded by the title, e.g. “Mrs. John Smith.”

grammarly has a great article on how to properly use these formal titles!

For more about this, see grammarly’s very helpful article, “Here’s How to Know the Difference Between Miss, Mrs., and Ms.”

Here’s what bothers me: why should a woman’s traditional, formal title be defined by her husband’s possession of her? In contrast, a man’s formal title remains unaffected by whether or not he is married. Now, there are certainly many different degrees and forms of possession in relationships, plenty of which are harmless and normal; after all, my children are referred to as “Stephanie’s kids.” But the relational imbalance inherent in the titles “Mr.” and “Mrs.” paired with the all too commonplace misogyny in traditional marriages of the past half century (either grossly overt or relatively benign) leads me to feel that, on the whole, I’m not sure I like “Mrs.” anymore.

But even that isn’t my ultimate reason for avoiding the word. My final reason comes down to this:

I want to avoid putting any sort of negative spotlight on unmarried moms.

If I ever told my kids that we call the mom of some friends “Mrs. So-n-So” but the mom of other friends “Ms. Thus-n-Such,” I would have to explain the reason behind that cultural phenomenon: one woman is married and another isn’t. I would be highlighting that fact for my kids, singling out the minority group as different in some way, and thereby planting seeds of skepticism, disassociation, and criticism. I’d be inviting gossip about the other mom and the opportunity to discredit her for no reason except for the fact that we call her something different. If we label her with something strange and use it every time we speak to her, there must be something wrong with her–right? This is the kind of assumption a kid can easily make.

Of course it would be obvious to my kids if their friends have no dad in the picture. Of course they might have questions about the situation, but I would encourage them to talk to their friends and their friends’ mom about it, and if they didn’t want to talk, to respect that. It’s not something my family needs to problem-solve around our dinner table, and it’s not anything that should alienate us in *any* degree from a family with a different shape.

So, for all these reasons, my boys address women roughly my age as “Ms. First Name.” No muss, no fuss. Everybody’s on the same playing field, and, I have to say, no one has batted an eye.

Words so greatly affect how we relate to the world around us, and I feel that the fewer lines we can manage to draw between ourselves and others, the better off we’ll all be.

The Jesus Eraser

Image credit David Hayward @nakedpastor