So. I recently changed my Facebook profile picture to the Velveteen Rabbit, and I wanted to talk a little about what I meant by that. In the last couple of weeks, two Facebook friends have posted articles about relationships that have disturbed me very much. The first is "Why You're Not Married" by Tracy McMillan, who proclaims herself an expert on the topic because she's been married. And divorced. Three times. Her Reason #1 of why I'm not married is "You're a Bitch". Here's a sample of what she writes on that topic:
"The deal is: most men just want to marry someone who is nice to them. I am the mother of a 13-year-old boy, which is like living with the single-cell protozoa version of a husband. Here's what my son wants out of life: macaroni and cheese, a video game, and Kim Kardashian. Have you ever seen Kim Kardashian angry? I didn't think so. You've seen Kim Kardashian smile, wiggle, and make a sex tape. Female anger terrifies men. I know it seems unfair that you have to work around a man's fear and insecurity in order to get married -- but actually, it's perfect, since working around a man's fear and insecurity is big part of what you'll be doing as a wife. "
And the article continues in much the same vein, including such gems as "You're Shallow", "You're a Slut", "You're Selfish", and "You're Not Good Enough" which basically comes right out and says that, as a female, you're doomed if you have any form of fire under your ass that is leading you to want to improve yourself, and you should just get over it and accept your life as it is.
The second article is "Sex Is Cheap: Why Young Men Have the Upper Hand in Bed Even When They're Failing in Life", which looks squarely in the eye at research that suggests the increase in smart, successful women is directly proportionate to the decrease in men willing to commit to marriage. Why? Because with such a huge pool of "successful" women, competition for men is fierce, and men have no trouble getting laid without much of a commitment, so they have no incentive to work for a relationship, and absolutely no motivation to get married.
Both of these articles have been gnawing at me. Both people who posted it had long chains of comments from their other FB friends about how these articles were right on. In the case of the former article, I was the sole person that called it out as being mean-spirited and wrong. However, I think I may have also been the sole person in the thread who has never been married and who has just been dumped. Again.
So I posted the Rabbit as my profile pic, and this is my question. Male or female, whatever happened to wanting to become Real?
If you've never read the story of The Velveteen Rabbit, this is what I mean... it's a conversation between a stuffed animal (the Velveteen Rabbit) and one of those rocking horse toys (the Skin Horse):
" 'What is REAL?', asked the Rabbit one day... 'Real isn't how you are made,' said the Skin Horse. 'It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.'
'Does it hurt?' asked the Rabbit.
'Sometimes,' said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. 'When you are Real you don't mind being hurt.'
'Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,' he asked, 'or bit by bit?'
'It doesn't happen all at once,' said the Skin Horse. 'You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.' "
I adored the Velveteen Rabbit as a child, and honestly I still adore it and am inspired by it. Love does wear you down a bit, but it also refines and deepens you. Of course it does.
But this kind of love is hardly the Domain of Women. I know men --first and foremost my own Dad, but also my brother and many friends of mine-- who have submitted themselves to this process. Yes, their wives have played a large part in it, and they too are being worn down a bit in the process of Becoming Real, but my point is that these guys aren't asking for a pass from the work of being an adult because they're guys... and no one is offering them a pass, either.
But over and over and OVER AND OVER again in the media, I see this picture being painted of the selfish, shallow male who just doesn't want to be challenged by the work of really loving anyone. And over and over and over again, I see people polarizing in their responses to an essentially either "man-hating" or "woman-hating" position... and I just want to call bullshit on the whole conversation. In fact, I want to declare a cultural emergency and maybe compromise freedom of speech for a little while until this shitty perspective is drummed out of our national discourse.
NOBODY gets a pass on the work of loving others. Period. When folks get a pass, families and communities fall apart, as do the people who've been "relieved" of the work of love. We're supposed to love and sacrifice for others... it's the most refining thing we do in this life, and it's the bedrock of a civil society, not to mention a Rather Huge Part of Christ's message. Failure to learn how to sacrifice for love encourages a sort of low grade sociopathic impulse, leading a person to create a series of tiny explosions as they wound everyone that becomes at all close to them.
I can look back at relationships and see where I've made mistakes, and most of the time it's because I didn't allow time to get to know the other person before I leapt into a relationship with them. I didn't weigh the costs out. I didn't find out if they had the potential of Becoming Real... and there was a period where I decided to stop caring about that, because I'd given up on ever finding someone who wanted that with me.
I'm not giving up again, because when I did that, I became the shallow one, I became the problem (at least part of it). But I do have to pause at the thought that I'm living in a culture that so easily and quickly throws the spotlight on the sociopathically selfish people, declaring them "normal", and disregards those doing the quiet work of love, day after day. I think the Rabbit will be on my profile for a while, as a reminder to myself and to others of these questions:
- Who are you to think that you don't have to do the hard work of love?
- Who are you to think that Becoming Real isn't a necessary part of being human?
- Who are you to accept media portrayals that spin this as simply The Way Guys Are, and not a spiritual problem that affects everyone, male or female?