Reader Kyle S. sent me the link to an article in the New York Times, wherein the writer speaks of her relationship with a member of the US armed forces, and how it's going to end (or, rather, how she's going to end it) when he deploys to Afghanistan. Here's an excerpt.
I’m afraid that the loneliness that is starting to seep into his being, the loneliness that he will feel the full weight of once he puts on his uniform and that will sit in the pit of his stomach throughout the deployment, is contagious. I don’t want to share that burden with him. In fact, I’m afraid of catching it from him. Ending our relationship feels like my only option, the only vaccine.
But deep down, I know I’m already infected. I just can’t bring myself to admit it. Ending our relationship may not be the cure, but denial is a strong antiseptic.
The Army drives home the point that no man should be left behind. The way my guy’s demeanor changes when he speaks of his last deployment makes me question if that’s true. But even if it is, that saying doesn’t appear to apply to civilians back home. When a soldier in a relationship deploys, the dynamic that is created has two sides: there is the person who left, and the person who is left behind.
I don’t want to be the one left behind.
. . .
Several times a week, in the middle of the night, as I put my bed back together and will my breath to steady, I find myself wondering why he is the only one who gets body armor. Body armor will protect his heart, but my heart needs protection, too.
He has told me that getting to know me has been a gift in his life. So, in return, on his 27th birthday — which just so happens to be his deployment day — I will help him celebrate by taking away his gift and walking away. Walking back to a life where you actually get to eat cake on your birthday, and keep your presents.
It’s sweet that he views me as a present. But I am not a gift. I am only a girl.
I just wish I had the courage to really be his girl.
There's more at the link.
My correspondent was rather contemptuous of the attitudes displayed by the young lady who wrote that article. He pointed out the number of times she used terms such as "I", "me" or "mine", the rather fewer number of times she spoke of "he", "him" or "his", and the still fewer (minimal) number of times she referred to "we" or "us".
I'm not so sure she deserves the condemnation he was more than prepared to make. First of all, I agree with him that with her use of personal versus collective terms, she was making it very clear that she was only in this relationship on her terms, not on shared terms; but isn't that the problem with so many modern relationships? I've long since lost count of the number of 'problem relationships' where, as a pastor and/or chaplain, I would be asked to counsel the couple. Whenever I heard one party (frequently both) say something like "I'm not getting out of this relationship what I expected", my instant retort was always "Well, what are you putting into it?" It's part of the Golden Rule, which is found in every major religion on Earth and in most major secular philosophies. Variations include (but are not limited to):
- "Do unto others what you would have them do unto you"
- "As you sow, so shall you reap"
- "Treat others as you want them to treat you"
It's a never-failing recipe for success in most relationships (assuming a reasonably sane and stable foundation to begin with).
Secondly, she's grown up in a society that preaches instant (or almost instant) gratification and self-centeredness, be it in shopping, or sex, or anything else. "You deserve this!" "You're entitled to happiness!" Sound familiar? Yet our not-too-distant forefathers would look at you in blank astonishment if you told them that. They grew up during the Great Depression, and fought World War II, and came home to rebuild their lives. Millions came home to divided families, as faithless spouses (both men and women) found that their wartime affairs had destroyed the foundation of trust in their marriages. Millions more didn't come home at all, leaving wives as widows and children as orphans. There was precious little talk of 'deserving' gratification or being 'entitled' to happiness . . . the survivors got on with rebuilding their lives, and their world, as best they could. They toughed it out, and made the best of a bad job.
My own parents are (or, rather, were) living proof of that. They married in haste during World War II, and shortly thereafter my father was drafted overseas. They didn't see each other for three years, during which time my father fought through the Western Desert campaign, and Mom spent many long, weary nights watching for the fall of German bombs and fighting fires started by incendiaries. When they finally met again, I think both of them realized that they weren't really compatible, weren't really the 'soul-mates' that the romance novels prattle on about: yet, they'd made a commitment to each other, and they were determined to make that commitment work. They succeeded - not without problems, not without some very serious difficulties, but they succeeded. They were together for 64 years. Together they moved to a distant continent, built new lives there, brought up four children, and earned a Ph.D. apiece. If you'd said to them that they deserved more happiness for less hard work, they'd have looked at you incredulously, then laughed in your face. They did what was put in front of them to do. That's the way it was - and still is for the vast majority of the world's population. It's only in the self-centered, affluent West that we've developed a different perspective.
That different perspective may have precious little to justify it in reality. After all, relationships aren't a matter of feeling - they're a matter of fact. If you're not prepared to truly commit yourself to your partner, to accept the worse along with the better and the poorer along with the richer, then you don't have a relationship at all. You're just playing at commitment. We don't teach our children to live that way today - the divorce rate proves it! I submit that our society, and our relationships, are the poorer for the loss of that perspective. The author of that New York Times article appears to me to be a perfect illustration of that reality.
What say you, readers? Am I on track with what I'm saying here, or am I simply too old-fashioned to recognize current reality? Please let me know in Comments.