Dating: Room for Disagreements

I met a couple this past summer who met one another through the online dating service E-Harmony. They belong to the same monthly book club that I frequent so I’ve had a number of opportunities to hear them talk about their relationship and one thing that has come up time after time is that they are not at all alike in their taste in music, or politics or religion. But they share a number of deep values and the differences between them seem to compliment or add to their relationship.

A number of Christian friends who have struggled with relationships have often pointed to the belief that they were “unequally yoked” with their partner as far as their faith and that was one of the reasons for the failure of that relationship. They also often cite the belief that they should have known better before hand that he/she wasn’t walking with the Lord enough and that this would later lead to problems. It doesn’t take much “wisdom” to see how not holding the same religious beliefs can be problematic, especially if one partner is very vocal or in other ways committed to their beliefs. But given the natural gap between what one hopes for oneself and ones consistency to live according to those beliefs, I wonder if a lot of this talk about being “unequally yoked” isn’t just an easy target to explain, after the fact, what went wrong.

There is also a dependence that I hear in some Christian women that their husbands should be X, Y, and Z as far as being “spiritual leaders” in their household that sometimes seems to me to add a culturally driven expectation which may not fit at all the personality of their partner. Is there really a way that every husband should be? Should men also have a specific expectation about their spouses (something about women being quiet and reserved with their opinions, etc)? I wonder if it isn’t this expectation for some kind of cookie-cutter perfection that gets us in trouble and ignores how much more valuable we can be to one another through our differences than through some blind allegiance to a set of beliefs that may or may not translate into pattern of behavior that leads to relationships filled with trust, respect, affection and love.

I wonder if one is not better off with someone who is equally committed to their own beliefs and lifestyle than to hope that things work out with someone who says that they believe in the same things that you believe in. If the core values are there, if a similar balance is there between words and actions, if the same passion is there (albeit, perhaps in different areas), is that better than expecting one’s partner to be one particular way over the course of the relationship? So much in life is about change, where is there room for that, if it is all dependent on some monolithic static adherence to specific beliefs that may have nothing to do with the dynamic connection between the two partners.

When I lived with Denise she had a chip on her shoulder that if I were to disagree with her on something that it was somehow a sign of disrespect. She couldn’t see that I could appreciate her opinion and respect her as a person but still disagree with whatever was under discussion. It became a bit of a “holy grail” for me to find someone who didn’t hold their beliefs so tightly that they didn’t confuse a basic disagreement with some kind of disrespect. I’ve learned since then that most will just avoid the area of disagreement, if the relationship is important enough to them (but are likely to point out that conflict as one of the reasons the relationship didn’t work later on). But not talking about something is no answer (especially for someone like myself, who likes to discuss and ponder everything). There has to be room for “open” differences without it being treated in a condescending manner. This reminds me of a couple lines from a Mark Heard song:

“Well, my brothers criticize me,
say I’m just too strange to believe,
and the others just avoid me,
say my faith is so naive,
I’m too sacred for the sinners,
and the saints wish I would leave.”

I guess I’m at the point where I believe that having a passion for life and the way one lives it is more important than being in religious lock-step. Given my personal religious journey I tend to shy away from labels and monolithic expectations. I was the “Jesus freak” among the Catholic Charismatics at LMU and the left-leaning intellectual among the Fundamentalists at Biola and have journeyed far beyond either moniker in the intervening years. But having come full circle in many ways I have an expectation toward openness and looking for the good in the differences between us. And for me, what I hold to be true for ones significant relationship should be true for ones communal relationship with the body of believers. There has to be room for differences. Listening to J. Vernon McGee may be a bit like continually watching “Lost in Translation” for me, in that it marks familiar territory for me much more than a rigid agreement with this beloved bible teacher. I love him but I don’t agree with him a lot of the time. JBB

Music: Stuck in the Middle – Mark Heard – Stop the Dominoes

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