Sunday, October 10, 2010

Single and... Annoyed? Browsing the Church Bookshelf

So today after a decently long church service, I made my way through the throngs of people, down mazes of staircases lined with half-eaten cookies in napkins (you know how kids take a bite out of something, lose interest, and put it down RIGHT where you are bound to either smash it with your hand or knock it over, spilling crumbs or grape juice or peanut butter all over your great dress from Anne Taylor Loft?), to the "Bookstore" located in the back corner of the church.

It's really just about 6 or 7 shelves of books on everything from Christian living to Christian theology to Christianity and Culture... and somewhere in there I'm convinced are hidden books on Christian eating, Christian sleep habits, and even, get THIS, Christian dental hygiene (remember that post I did a long time ago about feeling a sense of low self-esteem when I go to the dentist? Check it out if you don't - it's in the August archive). Sometimes I wonder if there is a bubblegum chewing, cigar smoking, sleazy mc-sleazerton publisher who looks at manuscripts and says, "Well sure, if we put a religion in front of this title we'll sell millions to the evangelical community and turn a tidy profit for the company!" How DO we end up with so many books about Christian this or that, as if there was a fundamentally different kind of sleeping/eating/dating/teeth brushing/shopping/dancing/playing soccer if we are Christians! I don't mean to suggest that we don't approach life differently (we do, and we should) but different doesn't mean isolated from the rest of culture. It doesn't mean the pure alternative that looks just like the secular thing but in reality is baptized by the Christian name. Watch out - we may yet have Christian zucchinis and chickens to make Christian chicken casserole!

Anyway, so I go to the book section of the church after the service, and I'm poking around when my friend Gillian grabbed my arm and hissed, "Look at that book!" I swiveled around, scanning the shelves full of books. "Which book?" I asked. "That book!" she answered, and pointed to a slim volume with white letters and orchid purple details. The title was, I kid you not: "Starting Over: How Not to Screw Up Your Next Relationship."

It gets better.

Gillian then pointed to ANOTHER book with a picture of a single goldfish swimming in a bowl, looking forlorn on the same shelf that said, "Single and Lonely: Finding the Intimacy You Desire."

Oh yeah. A book that you can buy from for a whopping $3.99. That's right folks, for a measly $3.99 you can solve your screwy relationship or find untold intimacies in the goldfish bowl of your single life.

I have to laugh when I hear this. Why do we say this stuff? Why do we publish books that analogize (that is not a real word, is it?) our lives to that of a cold-blooded, scaly orange sea creature with a memory of less than 30 seconds, who lives on smelly fish pellets and dies within three months' of living in your dorm room? Why do we promise that in a few short pages your intimacy will be found, your mistakes will be solved, in a word, that you will be the perfect relationship guru? If you're going to make promises, I vote you bring out the big guns. Here are some of the titles of books I'D write if I was in the business of relationship advice.

#1 From Lamezoid to Lucky: How to Manipulate Random Chance to get the Spouse of Your Dreams

#2 If Mother Teresa Was Single, Why Can't You Be?

#3 Single and Lonely? Stop Complaining! (And Other Forms of Tuff Luv)

#4 Dirty Martini, No Olive: What Your Single-Ready-To-Mingle Go-To Bar Order Says About You (and Your Dateability)

#5 Ring By the 15th of April: The REAL Timeline for Christian Dating (And When To Max Out Your Credit Card for the Ring She Doesn't Think You Know She Wants)

#6 Woe Is Me, I Got "Juliet" On A Facebook Quiz and Now I Think I'm Doomed to a Life of Young, Tragic Love (A Memoir about My Twenties, Taylor Swift, and Life in America)

#7 A 2 Page Guide to Finding Your Soulmate (You Thought You Needed to Read a BOOK?)

#8 Church Shopping When You're Single: How to Tell The Cutie from the Desperate from the 'Taken'"

#9 How (Not To) Lose a Guy in 10 Years: What You Can Learn from Sappy Teen Romance Movies About Making A Relationship Work

#10 You're How Old? The Age When You Should Start to Worry About Being Single Could Be Just Around the Corner

I think if I went to the gum chewing, cigar smoking publisher with these snappy titles, I would be a billionaire before you could say "Pat Robinson" or "Jerry Falwell!". In all seriousness, though, I want to know the purpose behind these books that seem designed SOLELY for the purpose to broadcasting to the world that you are, in fact, single. It might be easier to tattoo to your forehead - "Single. Stop Staring." Maybe we write the books because we feel like it's "not so bad" if we are addressing the problem. If we read the book and follow the steps, pray the right cycle of prayers, mingle with the right small groups and social events, make our hair wavy one day and straight the next and buy our clothes at the cute boutiques on M St. that scream, "I'm super trendy but also cute but also very sexy but also eco-friendly and caring towards the environment!" - if we do all that, the magic formula will work and we will no longer be single.

And I won't lie, the church I go to (and love) here in Washington, DC seems to breed Kodak-worthy couples and families. Everyone is perfectly coiffed. The characters: The Wife, showing her expensive-but-tasteful-and-conflict-free diamond rings while hoisting her 9 month old son (The Son) dressed in baby Gap navy blue pants and a cute white T on her slim hips as she holds the hand of the 3 year old girl (The Daughter) dressed in CrewCuts (the JCrew store for little kids) and her long platinum blond hair in a little side ponytail. The Husband walks over and puts his left hand with its simple platinum band possessively but not aggressively around The Wife's waist and they pull closer together. I can almost hear a photographer shouting, "Perfect! A little less teeth! Work it! The camera loves you!"

The Son and The Daughter never bicker, never shout, and don't even spill anything on themselves. They giggle at the appropriate times and are always listening intently to the adults around them. The Wife looks like she has never been pregnant in her life and could pass for 23, seems to maintain a look of calm as the 1,000 people exit the church, as she feeds her children with one hand and deftly tacks up a bulletin board with kids' drawings and paintings from Sunday School. The Husband converses knowledgeably with the Other Husbands, laughs jovially about the Twins/Yankees game and glances over every so often at the Family, a small smile playing on his lips. He wears Sperry's loafers, khaki shorts and collared shirt, in the "I'm out of the office but still dressed appropriately for a variety of social occasions and I maintain a rugged but polished" look. The Wife places her hand gently on The Husband's forearm, signally that it's time to go back to their economical but expensive midsize SUV.

When such perfection exists (and you should all read about it in my dear friend Lauren's AMAZING blog post about The Evangelical Power Couple:, looking around your single self at church sort of makes you want to reach out and grab that book. It sort of makes you want to grab a box of Kleenex, a bottle of wine or maybe tequila or maybe diet Coke, and weep and read and eat and weep some more.

DON'T. DON'T! You are marvelous. You are sitting here, reading this blog post at 11:59pm or whenever you're reading it, and you're in your PJs or your business suit or maybe you're dressed to go out dancing. And you are thinking about Christian couples, Christian dating, Christianity... and you're laughing. And you're thinking, and you're living. That is marvelous. Too marvelous to waste on 65 pages of ploys to get a boyfriend or a girlfriend. Too wonderful to waste any more time asking "WHY AM I SINGLE?". But definitely wonderful, marvelous and extraordinary enough to start saying: What can I do today? What can I do? What quirky adventures can I have? What fabulous outfits can I try on in a dressing room? What cupcakes can I eat? What fun fro-yo places can I go to?

Ask those questions. Find those answers. And trust me, leave those books on their shelves. Collecting dust is probably what the gum-chewing man really thought they would do anyway.

Love, always. Hilary

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