The End of Relationship

I’ve seen some version of this Tweet making the rounds in the last few years:

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I don’t blame to author here. And there is a lot to appreciate in this tweet. It is not the job of women to fix broken, warped, or malformed men. To correct their misogyny, to bear their violence in hopes that doing so will show them the evil of their ways, to even train men on how to be civilized.

And yet, this tweet is also reflective of something I have seen a lot of in the last few year — an abandonment of relationship, that we have things to teach each other, and things to learn from each other too.

Once, long ago, when I was just learning how to be Muslim, I found that when I asked “how do I pray?” Or “what does this mean?” that some well meaning Muslim would hand me a book. “Read this,” he’d say, “this will teach you all you need to know.”

I tried, and I learned some things from books. But most of what I learned, I learned from Muslims willing to take time and effort and teach me. Like the Saudis at Ohio State, who asked me about this one day, and one of them remarked:

That’s now how any of us learned. We were taught, by people who took time and interest.

We form each other. We teach each other. There is no choice. It n 30 years of being together, Jennifer has taught me how to love Jennifer. And in doing so, she made a better, kinder, gentler, more patient man who, I think, understands women better.

I don’t think I was a badly raised man. But I was incomplete, lesser — as we all are — because what I needed to learn I could only learn in a relationship.

In various places online, I have seen queer, black, and transgender people express the same concerns — It is not my job to teach you what it is like to be me. There are books for that, which should be read first.

I get the frustration. It is difficult to be someone so many find imponderable (one reason I wrote the memoir I did) and incomprehensible. I know it is frustrating having to walk someone though what it means to be me on a regular basis, to know that I’m having to do this because I’m the misfit who doesn’t conform to the standard specifications. (And I’ve paid for it too.) It’s tiring, this work, and not always fulfilling. And not always successful, either. (My own mother doesn’t really get me…) It would be nice to be able to hand someone a book and say, “here, read this, then we’ll talk.”

And I actually have that book! But … it didn’t help me much, at least not with the church.

At any rate, I get the frustration. I would like it if people just “got” me too.

But there’s a big problem as well with the approach the blogger takes, the demand that so many have when they foist books off on people — they deny obligation and responsibility, and the power of relationships to form and change people.

In effect, we (in America, I cannot speak for the rest of the world) are reaching a point where we are increasingly demanding people already be formed before they come into our midst. There are no more others, just demands for ideological conformity, and ideological understanding. We are not allowed to be changed by human relationships, to be confronted with our own power and responsibility in the face of the difference of others. In fact, this is nothing less than a demand that others as the other cease to exist. Everyone becomes an abstract feature on a map, explained by a key, so there’s no need to actually get to know them. The shorthand tags of their identity tell us we need to know because those shorthand tags are already explained ideologically.

This is what it means to be pre-formed. It is each individual’s responsibility to get with the program, to understand and work within the key. The consequences are dire otherwise.

The question then becomes — what is to happen to the blogger’s badly raised men? I fear that our society has become one in which we determine they are to be discarded as threats, as too broken to fix, as people in need solely of professional help and management. “Go away by yourself for a while and then come back when you are fixed.” Not a helpful recommendation when the problem is … relational.

And may need relationship — love and belonging — to repair and heal what is broken.

Have we gotten so frightened of each other that we are incapable of learning from each other, unwilling to teach each other, and unable to bear each other if we don’t already conform to our ever-tightening expectations and demands? I fear we will find out.

I fear we are already finding out.

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