20 things to spot when observing Christian relationships

** WARNING – this post may lead to introspection**

If you spend enQuick-Easy-Valentine-Day-Treatsough time among Christians, especially those who are single and dating, some of these may be very familiar:

  1. The person who needs to be in a relationship just that little bit too much. Whenever an eligible boy or girl turns up on the scene they are the first to latch onto them, in the hope that maybe, this one, will be the one.
  1. The flirting butterfly. Every person is a target, they flit from one person to the next, pulling their best moves to impress the person in front of them. When one person rebuffs them, or often before they have the chance, they move onto the next. It’s not so much a relationship they are after but the affirmation that their flirting leads to when someone laps it up.
  1. The one who leads them on. They know they’re being flirted with, they enjoy it, they are the ones who lap it up – it makes them feel good. They’ve no intention of it going anywhere, but to turn the flirter down would mean turning down the attention. So they let it carry on.
  1. The one who seems above romance and relationship. They breeze through life as though attraction and emotion are unknown, they are busy in their own life. As far as anyone can tell they are attracted to no one, and no one is attracted to them. Except the person who is attracted to them but has no idea if they even notice.
  1. The one who is waiting for God to do it. They’re not exactly content in their singleness, because they’d rather be with someone, but they are trusting in God. This means they don’t do much on their initiative and are inclined to turn down offers if God hasn’t told them that it’s the one.
  1. The amazing girl who all the other girls can’t understand why no guy asks out. You hear the gasps of exacerbation and bemusement at why such and such hasn’t been asked out on any dates recently (or at all). This is likely to come with the tacit suggestion (and sometimes explicit) that you might want to rectify this state of affairs.
  1. The guy who doesn’t ask girls out. It’s not that he’s not interested, he is. It’s just he always finds a reason not to ask out the girl who’s occupying his thoughts. After a while he tends to decide he’s not that interested, or she’s not that interested, or sees she’s now with another guy.
  1. The married to Jesus one. They are so in love with the Lord, and he fulfils all of their needs. Until hot guy asks them on a date.
  1. I need a hero! They are just desperate for someone to fall in love with. Someone who is the right height, with the perfect colour hair, that compassionate but confident temperament who will sweep you off your feet without coming on too strong. Other than that, they’re off the market.
  1. The naïve one who everyone likes. They don’t know it but they have a legion of admirers. Guy after guy has a thing for her. All the girls wait around hoping she will be the one he picks. But it doesn’t happen, they seem immune to the volley of attraction they provoke.

    © April Killingsworth

    © April Killingsworth

  1. Friendship dependency. It starts with them hanging around and becoming friends, and being Christians they know that even if they were in a relationship with someone (not necessarily the friend in question) they wouldn’t get much more out of it then they do as friends. And they enjoy their friendship and lean heavily on it for emotional support. So friendships act as a buffer making crossing the Rubicon towards a relationship that bit less appealing (you know, they might get rejected and all that). This can lead to…
  1. The couple who aren’t a couple. They are categorically not going out, they are friends, they spend time together. Plenty of people think there must be something going on, but they’ve never even talked about such an occurrence. That would be awkward, and after all they’re not really attracted to one another. Problem is, getting a plus one to a wedding is even more awkward. But this is different to…
  1. The couple that will be a couple. Everyone can see it (apart from me), the friendship, the chemistry, the attraction. But it goes unspoken. Maybe they’re nervous, fearful of rejection, uncertain of the reciprocation of feelings, but they hold back. And everyone, the everyone who sees this as inevitable, hold back because to do otherwise would be meddling. Instead they just talk about it. And when they do they either become…
  1. The couple who want to convince you they aren’t a couple. Maybe it is early days in their relationship and they don’t want to be public about their growing amorous affection. They arrive separately, are distinctly detached in the post church mingle. But it is just a little too studied, a little too planned. Or…
  1. PDAs, alternatively known as: The couple who want to convince everyone they are in love. It’s all about the Public Displays of Affection. One minute they were single and the next inseparable. I’m all about showing your significant other how much they mean to you, but in church, during the sermon on atonement, really? I don’t think that’s what ‘his wrath was reconciled meant’.
  1. The couple who were a couple. They were going out, you knew about it, most people knew about it, but now you’re not so sure. It’s been a while since you’ve seen them together but maybe that’s just because one of them has been away. But because we don’t gossip no one talks about their break up, it just glacially filters through the ecclesiological eco-system hopefully in time to cut off another awkward plus one wedding invite.
  1. The Christian festival couple. In a blaze of camping induced romance they find the love of their life. They commit to each other 4EVA. The messages pass back and forth (in my day text and email, probably fb messenger, whatsapp and snapchat these days). But slowly it fades, until they embarrassingly bump into each other next year in the same showground having not spoken for months.
  1. The girlfriend (and sorry to be gender specific) who can’t do anything without their boyfriend. Being in a relationship mutes independent thought and the previously confident lady is a shadow of her former self.
  1. The over protective boyfriend (again, see above for apology). You get within a few meters of his girl and he’ll come alongside her and bring the conversation to a close.
  1. The wannabe matchmaker. They have a pairing for everyone, they think they’ve got skills in who suits who, and want their friends matched up pronto. Except, when it comes to it, the matching plan never hatches.single contact person

What about, a friend asks, the normal Christians, who are confident, honest, and not playing games?

Married.

What have I missed? What should be in the A-Z spotters guide of Christians who are single, dating or getting into a relationship (provisional title)?

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Valentine’s Day: isn’t it ironic?

Quick-Easy-Valentine-Day-Treats

I noticed Valentine’s Day this year more than usual. It’s not that I was scouting out gifts and ideas for the perfect date to indulge the girl I am head over heals in love with. Nor was it the pining for affection that comes in the wake of realising I didn’t have a Valentine when so many others did.

I walked through central London yesterday and saw the men hurrying home from work clutching bouquets for their loved ones, the less organised queueing round the shop only to end up with the last wilted bunch of daffodils on sale. I spotted the women carrying theirs, one with at least 4 sets of flowers – either one very besotted partner or she was a lady in much demand.

And on the internet I saw the mix of cute and kitsch, couples stating their love for each other on Facebook as though a wife telling her husband she loved him was a performance piece. There were complaints at extortion from purveyors of roses, photos of candles and dinners, declarations of thanks for their wonderful wife/husband/ boyfriend/girlfriend/date/crush/secret admirer, and the attention they had shown.

There was also the backlash. Those who were sick of the romance and the sugar coated affectations. Some of it came from thinly veiled anger and frustration, for others there was peace and contentment. There were single people going for dinner on their own, or just happy to enjoy an evening in watching season 2 of House of Cards.

But more than either the participants or the left out, this was the Valentine’s Day of the analysers. Never before have I seen so many people commenting on Valentine’s Day, what it means, where it came from, who it might offend, who might be left out. A tweet about V-Day, as it had apparently been contracted to, required an obligatory nod toward those who might find it difficult. Everyone (except Theos) seemed to have specially themed content for the day. Marketing departments went into overdrive. Unsurprisingly the action film on TV last night was stuffed full of dating sites advertising their wares during the breaks. From tenuous discount offers to comical tweets. And many of those comical tweets were really not very funny. There are only so many times you can read ‘Roses are red’ with it cumulating in a marketing tangent on a humorous final line before you want to block all tweets with the word roses.

The obvious.

The understandable.

And the bizarre.

The internet loves irony, so there were posts about awkward Valentine’s cards, emotionally repressed British Valentine’s cards, tweets of slightly dubious Christian alternatives, and a host of other ironic gestures aimed at poking fun at the institution.

Except the poking and the prodding and the analysing and the advertising had become bigger than the day itself. A friend hunting for a card for her boyfriend recounted the trauma of trying to find a suitable card. The umpteenth layer of irony is that the ironic alternatives were a lot better than what was readily available in the shops.

And yes, I am analysing the analysers.

For couples taking a moment to enjoy and celebrate their relationship, Valentine’s Day is great. And for some people it will be hard, to see people celebrating what you have lost, have not got, or fear you never will, is going to be hard, especially when it is something that tugs so intrinsically to our emotions and our personhood. But booking every other seat in the cinema to stop couples sitting together is taking things a bit too far.

I’ve written before on singleness and how I just am single, I don’t not like it, or particularly thrive on it, it’s just what I am. I therefore don’t find Valentine’s day a difficult day. But having someone to watch Newsnight with would be nice, and I hear and agree with all who say the marriage does not solve the problems and that singleness is not a prelude. And yet I sometimes want what others have and I do not.

That we celebrate something with the passion we do each 14th February demonstrates the longing in our hearts for relationship. And that it is hard because for many relationships are scarred with hurt and brokenness, shows that there is much about these relationships not to celebrate but to mourn.

When I commented on the masses of roses I saw on the underground someone suggested it was because people had lost their weekend retreats to the floods. And in a way it is about lose. When they took their vows and committed to another they set themselves aside. And they choose relationship over self.

While there are wounds that still seer, and memories that will not leave, while there is loneliness and longing, and dreams left behind. There is also the glimpse of beauty. And maybe, that is why we talk about it so much, analyse it to allow ourselves to keep out distance, choose irony to disguise the truth, which actually often communicates a greater truth than the honed words we could never find ourselves.

Because whether we had a Valentine or not, relationships matter. And the analysis and the irony we put into it just reinforces the point. 

Back to blogging

Writing

For three months I stopped blogging. To be honest it was a shorter break than had in mind when I stopped. But then I was picked to go to Cambodia with Tearfund, and a blogger who doesn’t blog is a bit of a conundrum. So I’m back and I’m not sure what I’m going to write about.

What I liked best about the break was not feeling the pull to write and respond to whatever the controversy of the day may be. I let provocative statements pass me by, I ignored the posts piling up as everyone who was anyone had their say and cast a verdict that something was good or bad, but rarely nuanced and complex.

I cheated a bit, I wrote plenty during these months, it was less of a writing break and more of a publishing break, and even then I posted a couple of pieces in other places.

And I return without words to fill the pages. I find sadness in my heart where there should be joy. I have stress when I would choose peace. I have tiredness plaguing me while I’m awake, and rest is a weary struggle.

Words that offer too much are empty. Posts that promise perfection or a life gilded with abundance fail to lift me. They stoke the pearls of cynicism grafted together as salt mixes in the wound.

I wrote a lot about relationships, and the readers liked it. The posts got noticed, especially when I addressed the thorny question of why guys don’t ask girls out. But I’m single and the constant flow of communications about relationships when I wasn’t in one cut deeper than I realised. It became a way of inoculating myself against the pain, it became a deflection, a device. It became a meta thing, the way we sometimes do, of distancing ourselves, and distracting from doing something about an issue by talking about it. I talked about relationships and friendships over social media and the hole I felt they left.

And then I went to Northern Ireland last weekend with nothing planned, but filled by connections on social media, I saw friends old and new, I visited places I wouldn’t have considered, and did things I really shouldn’t have. I went for some time on my own, that and having to be there for work on Monday, but when faced with the offer of dinner, entertainment and company I couldn’t turn it down.

I need people more than I know. I play into my introversion, the times I like alone, the space I give to think and process and work out what is going on. But I’d ditch it all for time spent with people who I care for and who care for me.

It was suggested to me that I stopped blogging because I was in a relationship and therefore thought it inappropriate to chronicle it. Were the former true the later would probably also apply, but alas, it is not, nor was, the case.

Yesterday was designated as ‘singles day’ in a certain segment of the American Christian blogosphere. A mum’s blog hosted a link up where singles, or their friends, siblings, even parents, posted pieces describing, with pictures, how wonderful they are and why you should get in touch. It’s sort of a pop-up internet dating site. A friend has written a post for me but it’s not online yet, I’ve got cold feet, I may post it on here. We’ll see.

It’s about vulnerability. That point when you look at your skin and feel it’s about to crack, when you consider your hopes and they are more fragile than a Fabergé egg. I don’t want to post it because I don’t want to know what people think.

And I think perhaps I am as scared of acceptance as rejection. Rejection I am used to, if no one responds then it leaves me with nothing to do, but console myself and hope for something better in the future. A mystical future that is detached from reality.

But if someone emails me, if someone says, ‘hey, I’m interested’, then I have to do something. I can no longer pontificate from my perch of opinionated singleness. I can no longer stay above the fray. Or pretend I am above the fray. If someone gets in touch, am I ready to respond? Am I going to respond? I don’t know.

Maybe I am scared. Maybe I am too used to being single. Maybe I am too picking. Maybe I don’t want to be in a relationship, even though at least ostensibly I would say that I do.

I’m back on the blogging wagon. We’ll see where it goes. I’m excited for March and sharing stories from Cambodia, and I’ll continue to write about the eclectic mix of subjects I always have. And if you ever want to write a guest post, just get in touch. 

When I fall out of love with social media

Church pews in Tuscany

I

Are there ever days when you can’t face getting out of bed, when the trauma seems too much, when people seem difficult, circumstances challenging and it all just a little bit too much.

I have those days.

I have the days when crowds are claustrophobic and friends seem faux.

I have days when I am not very sociable, nights when I skip the party and times after church when I walk out the door without talking to anyone.

I have the good days too. Not just those when everything goes easy, when friendships are smooth when fun is effortless. But also those where it is hard.

When eye looks into eye. When words spoken meet ears listening. When hearts opened meet arms stretched.

II

I’ve been blogging for just over two years, tweeting for nearly five.

I’m neither a philistine or a fanatic of the social media variety. I like being social and sometimes I think I do a pretty good job of it.

Do a pretty good job of it? What kind of way of talking is that?!

It’s instinctive I tell people, it’s like a language, you just have to find your voice. Don’t listen to those who tell you rules on who to follow, how to tweet, the etiquette of engagement.

Social media is a world many people don’t know. I tried to explain tweeting to my sister last year and all I got was a blank stare.

Social media is a world some people claim to own. Not in a legal possession sort of way, but in a these are the ways you should engage and you’re welcome regardless, but really, if you’re going to do social media properly, then this is how you should do it. I’ve always reacted against that sort of thing.

Sometimes it is oppressive. I found myself defending myself for not following more people on twitter recently. I’ve tried to keep it to a realistic number, and my excuse is I’m pretty good at engaging beyond that, I’ll almost always reply, I’ll jump into amusing conversations, hilarious memes.

I felt it necessary to defend that I was doing twitter right. Or at least acceptably. Or maybe that my way was right.

III

I chose to blog about relationships.

I chose to write about emotions and feelings, and the way they find their way like water into the recesses of our life.

I chose to make honesty and openness the hallmarks of my writing. I chose to make myself vulnerable, to make myself known across the ether to those who do not know me.

And people read what I wrote. Not loads, but enough. My family, my friends. The odd influential blogger who might tweet about my writing. Retweets that generated traffic, comments from journalists and those the subject of my posts. Attention that I never felt I deserved but started to crave.

The shock finding that according to some algorithm this blog is ranked 5th out of all religion and belief blogs in the UK. Nice but weird. And unsustainable, at some point the new rankings will come and I’ll tumble off that perch.

The cost of my hallmarks was each post got harder to write. Vulnerability cuts deep. I had exposed each layer and to take the next off was painful. Writing about fear, about shame, about doubt, about past experiences or lack thereof. Writing about hopes and dreams and fears and anxiety. And fears.

IV

Walking into church after one of those posts was always hard. When I say I find going to church hard. And then walking through the doors the next day.

I tell myself if I’ve helped some people grapple a bit better with their own struggles with church, if I’ve provided an ounce of hope to those unable to see the light, then that’s worth it.

V

I never hesitate before opening up twitter to share my latest thoughts, join in whatever conversation is the topic of the day, tweet links to my latest post. I only pause a moment before making my most vulnerable statements.

I’ll spend evenings when I don’t feel like going out browsing twitter jumping into and out of conversations, commentating on the latest TV, on whether or not I should watch another episode of Breaking Bad. When I leave church early I’ll banter with people I do not know. I joke in ways I wouldn’t normally. Not in real life.

It’s not like real life.

Yes I said it. Shoot me down. I don’t think social media is real life. It’s a construct, it’s a facade. It has elements of reality mediated through technology and distance that can be great.

I enjoy it, sometimes I love it. I’ve met people I would never have otherwise, and kept up friendships that might have waned. I’ve learnt and I have grown. I’ve had in depth conversations with people I’ve never met.

But I think we ask of it too much.

It is not the same as the person sat before you. The eyes that look into eyes, the words and the silence that speak compassion. The hug at the end of a conversation. Social media hasn’t learnt how to transmute a hug.

I’ve jumped the shark. Any suggestion I might know what I’m on about gone. Any social media credibility abandoned. I don’t think my Klout score will ever recover.

VI

It’s not only the how but the what. Not only how you engage in social media or blogging that is focused through an informal never quite agreed on set of norms. But also what views are valid. What is acceptable, what will be met with nods of approval, affirming responses.

I know I can write that stuff.

Sometimes I’ve shied away from topics because it might lose me credibility. The people I want to like what I write might not like me if I said this about that, or that about this.

The feeling that my words need to speak for themselves. Because they are what I leave.

VII

When I think about the people I love the most. Those closest to me. My family and my best friends.

It is not their words that I value. It’s not their clever phrases or ability to find humorous words to add into Christian book titles.

I have a friend who is annoyingly good at cutting to the heart of situations, of getting to grips with what’s really going on. But that only works when I’m looking into their eyes.

When I think about a community that cares I think of people around me. Those I see and know and am able to touch. Those in real life. Sure social media can give me a boost. It can be loving, it can be kind, it can be compassionate.

But I don’t think it will ever be more than a bolt on to the community of people I call my friends. And if it becomes more than that maybe I’m not giving enough to my friends. Those who I can give a hug to.

On being single

Kweku and Fi wedding cake detailWind wisps through the air, leaves shiver on their stems. People bustle past the forlorn store fronts hurrying to find their way to some indistinct place. Their speed suggests purposes, urgency, a thing to be done before any other. But they carry on, moving fast but arriving nowhere. A perpetual asymmetry of intent and achievement.

A perpetual asymmetry of intent and achievement.

A lot of movement but not a lot of action.

A lot of words but not enough openness. Frankness as shade to protect the fragile soul. Saying things we don’t mean to mask the heart. Leaving places too painful so we don’t have to wear our scars before those who know their cause.

The temptation to move on. The idea that some different place will be a better place. The hope that dreams might come true. The figment of our imagination we think might switch to reality if we loiter in its midst for long enough.

Continue reading

Is it the church or the media who’s obsessed with sex?

Justin Welby

Credit: Alex Moyler

Yesterday the Archbishop of Canterbury came to work for the official opening of our new building. He spoke with wisdom and grace, he spoke of the need for unity in the church – especially poignant exactly 50 years on from when Martin Luther King declared he had a dream.

He challenged the church to begin with repentance, to recognise the scars that still hurt, and to follow Martin Luther King’s example and set a vision for what society should look like, and how the Church can bring that into being.

He spoke of the contribution churches bring to communities, the places they bring hope to communities in need. He spoke of the power of the gospel to transform people, and through transformed people change society.

If you see anything in the press about his visit, and a few papers have covered it, this is not the message you will have read. Continue reading

Am I Beautiful? A review

20130828-083734This isn’t a review of whether or not I am beautiful, although it’s a question I’ve asked myself more this week than ever before. I’ve found myself looking in the mirror, taking in my appearance, thinking about how I choose what to wear.

I’ve wondered what people think about my appearance, what assumptions they make based on what I am wearing, whether I have brushed my hair (in all likelihood probably not). On my weight and my height, on the shape of my face and the colour of my skin.

I was bouldering on Tuesday evening and at one point as I was watching one guy tackle a particularly feisty route I found myself remarking on his muscled form. It’s not the sort of thing I usually do. I would certainly hesitate from making comments like that about a girl, I’d phrase it differently, I’d focus on her abilities and not her attributes, I’d say she was a great climber.

Because beauty and appearance has become commodified and traded, it has been weakened and abused. Beauty has become the thing we cannot ever fully achieve and certainly not retain. Yet it is something, which in the US alone $5billion is spent trying to enhance, recreate, and manufacture. Beauty is not just assisted by products it has become a product. Continue reading

Seven fears that stop me asking girls out

© April Killingsworth

Two years ago I wrote a post “why guys don’t ask girls out”. This is a different post, it’s what stops me from asking girls out. Not why guys don’t, but why I don’t.

It is simple to slip into the abstract when writing about relationships, find the generalisation, the concept; the easy way out. It is also tempting to use other people’s stories, to aggregate examples and form a trend that is straightforward to talk about and respond to.

If you look at most of what is written about relationships that’s how it works. What is the problem, and what is the solution? It’s the mentality of glossy magazines and trendy bloggers, and we look for solutions because we think that if we have a list of things to do to solve the problem that’s the same as having it sorted.

… we look for solutions because we think that if we …

The other day Emily Maynard tweeted that if she were to write a book it would be called “I Have No Idea How To Fix Your Life And It’s Weird That You’re Looking In Books For That.” Continue reading

It’s a bubble wrap life: thoughts on modesty

Heart of Tuscany July 2013 054 ModestyLast night I ate at Nando’s. I went for a half chicken marinated in mango and lime dressing and it tasted good. I could have gone for it naked (or plain as they prefer to put it), but we all know that chicken tastes better when dressed. It made a good thing great. And it’s the same with people and clothes.

No it’s not.

I can’t do it. I can’t write an important piece about modesty, attraction, responsibility and liberty premised on an extremely tenuous food metaphor. I’m not going to suggest it’s like putting meat on the BBQ and then telling someone they can’t eat it, or anything about chocolate cake, sweets, or any other edible. I’m not going to say it’s like taking an alcoholic into a bar.

I’m not going to use any of those examples because they are about consumption. We eat food, we drink beer, we do not consume another person. And too often that is the problem when we talk about modesty and attraction: we do so from the mindset of a consumer. We think of other people as an it, as something that we either consumer or do not consume. And in doing so we deprive other people of agency. Continue reading

Love in a time of courtship

The Dating DilemmaBoy and girl meet.

Boy and girl fall in love.

Boy just knows girls is ‘the one’.

Girl just knows boy is ‘the one’.

So boy buys ring.

And girl says ‘yes’.

They live happily ever after and never argue.

Just how God planned it.

Really?

That’s how Rachel Gardner and Andre Adefope start their book The Dating Dilemma. It’s a myth and we all know it, but it’s still how we often end up thinking relationships should work out. And we judge our performance in the light of our failure to match up to this illusive standard.

It’s not just a myth based on what we want to happen, it is also rooted in theological misconceptions, and that makes the problems run deeper, become more entrenched and require considerable effort to shift. The idea of ‘the one’ finds support in the idea that God is in control of our life, which often veers toward thinking of God as a master architect with a blueprint for our lives. Roger Olson talks about this: “The idea that God has a detailed, blueprint-like plan for every individual Christian’s life is not biblically supported, nor is it reasonable”. He goes on to say: “God is a loving person and not a computer who spits out unalterable equation … There’s a special quality to personal relationships that is lacking in a relationship between a person and a computer – care, concern, flexibility, interaction, communion.”

When we rely on the idea of ‘the one’ we are demanding of God something we do not want him to do. We only want him in complete unalterable control when it suits us, when it makes our life easier.

When it fits to our blueprint. Continue reading