Thursday, August 30, 2012

Istanbul [Turkey, pt. 1]

We walked by the Bosphorus, looking across the moving water to another continent. The sun was setting, and the heat of mid-morning, when we stood in a serpentine column of tourists waiting to enter the Hagia Sophia, listening to chatter in a dozen languages, and hoping my mother's doomsday forecasts of waiting here for an hour would prove overly pessimistic, and the sun shone directly down on us despite the tall palm trees nearby--that heat was a distant memory.

The water lapped on chunks of broken stone and concrete. The occasional fisherman stood by his rod and line, waiting for movement. On the sidewalk, couples strolled and children skipped. It was my first evening in my husband's country, and my ears strained to catch the few words of Turkish I know. Çok, deniz, çocuk, iyi aksamlar... I held O.'s hand and tried to grasp the fact that I was really here, in this place from my tenth grade geography tests, in the nation O. once worshiped, in his homeland, this place where the continents kiss.

Here, so far from home, but here, with my sister (the person who is most often in my dreams, more often that O. still), my parents (Who more strongly evokes home than the people who made that house, that country, your home?), my husband (who is becoming my home, who is my new home).

It was the beginning of a long trip, and I did not take any photos, because my sister and mother were doing it for me. Now the trip is over and I am sitting in my own home, and I don't have those pictures because home, for the moment, is on the Atlantic side of the country, and not with my parents and their camera on the Pacific.

I mark my places by the seas that nourish them.

That night we walked by the Bosphorus, and thought about crossing the Sea of Marmora the next morning. That night we walked by the strait between the Sea of Marmora and the Black Sea. That night the voluptuous moon cast her shining reflection on the water, and S. took pictures, and O. held my hand, and that night was lovely.

Who am I?

I need to write about my race/ethnicity/culture, but I have no idea where to start. I can't make up my mind how I feel about the various cultures I partake in, or whether I can claim to belong to any of them. Genetically, I am half white, half Korean. Socially, this makes me neither white nor Asian. As a child, I lived in Japan, where I stuck out as an obvious foreigner. There, children demanded that I teach them English, but simultaneously asked how I could be an American since my hair isn't blond. Then we moved back to California, where I did all I could to conceal my differences. I avoided mentioning that I'd lived in Japan. My sister, who may not have been as discreet, had classmates make fun of her "Chinese eyes."

My memories are a patchwork of confusion and exclusion. In Japan I was a gaijin; in America I was an Asian. In Japan I counted myself a staunch American, but in California I realized I didn't fit in here either. Only when I moved to New York for college did it become apparent that ten years in California had made their mark, and I felt entitled to call myself a Californian. Finding out more about the way things are in the rest of the country, I only became more set in my Californian identity, declining to identify myself with the country as a whole. Yet now, married to a Turk who doesn't really believe in democracy, I find myself defending American ideals and institutions with a patriot's indignation.

What am I to say about myself? Who am I? American, Californian; Japanese by adoption, Korean by heritage, German somewhere in the tangle of genealogies; a smidge French after my term abroad in my teens; turning Turkish in infinitesimal adjustments to my husband. How much of what? How many dimensions of identity are we talking about? Genetic, ethnic, cultural, familial, geographical, ... On each dimension, what would be the percentages? Racially, I am half Caucasian and half Asian: 50% each. Ethnically? Is that the same as racially or genetically? What about my culture--is that about food and dress and language, or about the deep, subconscious structures, the filters that determine how I communicate and what I expect? what I value and what I condemn, what I feel entitled to and how I respond if I don't get it? Impossible to determine which cultures influence me to what degree--Korean, Japanese, my father's Hawaiian upbringing, the political correctness of northern California, my innate personality, the expectations of my mother?

I turn away.

Such calculations are impossible and, in the end, useless, even foolish. They are just another way to draw lines around reality, to compartmentalize, to pin down and dissect, to control. But personhood doesn't have a body to dissect, except my body, which breathes and sweats and will not be pinned down. And when I try to dissect my personality, it is not like my seventh grade lima bean dissection (too simple), nor like my eleventh grade cat dissection (fascinating, but dead).

It is more like trying to pull up a sturdy plant whose roots grip the stones and soil, too strong for me to break with my hands and too intricate for me to untangle with my eyes.

I can look at myself through a dozen or a hundred filters, to pull forward this or that set of characteristics, to mute one color and find hints of another in unexpected places. Every filter may reveal something new.

Still, my soul is an atom, and I have no desire for fission. So I wait. Perhaps in heaven I will understand what quarks and leptons roam the spacious hall of my self.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Memory and Gratitude (2)

This post expands on the third point in my previous post on the importance of memory.

A few months ago, I was reading Ps. 105-106, and because I had memory on my mind, I noticed both psalms are about remembering. God remembers and Israel does not. Also, the Psalmist exhorts both Israel and God to remember. Some examples:
  • "Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced" (105:5), the psalm declares, and proceeds to recount those wonders, miracles and judgments.
  • "He remembers his covenant forever; the word he commanded, for a thousand generations" (8). God is praised for remembering his promises.
  • "For he remembered his holy promise given to his servant Abraham" (42).
  • "Remember me, O Lord, when you show favor to your people, come to my aid when you save them" (106:4).
  • "They did not remember your many kindnesses, and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea" (7). In contrast to God's faithfulness as seen through his remembering, Israel forgets God, which leads to rebellion.
  • "They soon forgot what he had done and did not wait for his counsel. In the desert they gave in to their craving; in the wasteland they put God to the test." (13-14) Forgetting begets impatience, mistrust, greed, short-sightedness.
  • "They forgot the God who saved them, who had done great things in Egypt, miracles in the land of Ham and awesome deeds by the Red Sea" (21-22).
  • "But he took note of their distress when he heard their cry; for their sake he remembered his covenant and out of his great love he relented" (44-45). God's rescue of his people is directly connected to his remembering.
A search of BibleGateway for verses containing "remember" brings up many commands to Israel to remember (especially in Deuteronomy), many pleas to God to remember his covenant or his servants (especially in Psalms and in Nehemiah), and many promises from God that He does remember (everywhere). Remembering was vitally important to Israel, because their lives depended on God remembering his covenant, and on them remembering God's commands. Thus the dozens of commands to remember: "Remember the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8), "Remember the day you stood before the Lord at Horeb" (Deut. 4:10), "Remember that you were slaves in Egypt" (Deut. 5:15), "Do not be afraid of them; remember well what the Lord your God did to Pharoah and all of Egypt" (Deut. 7:18), etc.

How often do churches today exhort their congregations to remember? I can't remember a lesson on memory in all my years in church and Sunday school. Memory is all about information these days; you need to remember things in school but rarely in church. In church when you are supposed to remember something, it's a memory verse, word for word, not a story or a history, not a truth, not a person.

Why? Is it because, as Zimbardo says, we are future-oriented Protestants with a bent toward trying to justify ourselves through diligence and success? I don't know, but it's something to think and pray about.

Memory and Gratitude (1)

I've been thinking about the role of memory in daily life and mood for a while, ever since I realized that O. just isn't as naturally inclined as I am to spend time thinking about the past. So I've been pondering what remembering accomplishes, and that's what this post is about. I'm pulling together several ideas:
  1. The way you remember (or don't) shapes your time orientation.
  2. The way you remember affects your mood, enabling gratitude and happiness.
  3. The way you remember can be a virtue; failing to remember can be a moral failure.
1. Remembering shapes your time orientation.
This video introduced me to the idea of people living in "different time zones." Watch it, it's only 10 minutes long but it's really interesting!

Zimbardo in the video lists six "time zones" that people live in:
  • Past, Positive and Negative
  • Present, Hedonist and Fatalist*
  • Future, Immediate and Distant
*He only names the first three of them so I made up my own names for the others, based on his explanations.

People with a Past Positive orientation enjoy remembering the good old days; people with a Past Negative orientation always remember the things they regret. On the other end, people with a Future orientation don't do much remembering, particularly if they have a Distant Future orientation wherein the present and certainly the past don't matter much, because Real Life is going to begin much, much later--in the afterlife or, in a more tech-y twist, when the technological singularity arrives.

Your time orientation has important consequences for how you live your life.  Zimbardo says, for instance, that "most of us are here [at the seminar] because we are [immediate] future-oriented," that future oriented people make plans and progress while present oriented people mostly don't, that a past-positive orientation can make you happy but a past negative orientation is filled with regrets, and that "all addictions are addictions of present hedonism."

O. for a long time was future-oriented in a way that elevated the glorious Future and devalued the flawed Present: i.e., Future Distant, Singularitarian style. This future-orientation hindered him in enjoying the present (because it could always be better) and planning for the immediate future (like getting homework done). In the past several years, O. has been changing time-zones, giving more value to remembering the past.

C.S. Lewis discusses in The Screwtape Letters how enticing a person to focus on the future is the best way to make that person unhappy and cut off from God. A person who thinks of the past may remember a time when God helped him, and turn to God in the present to pray; a person who thinks of the present can experience God's presence first hand; but a person who thinks only of the future can be lost forever in a morass of dreams and fears. I am glad that O. is remembering more, because it means he is turning less toward the future.

2. Remembering enables gratitude.
Generally speaking, grateful people are happy, while ungrateful people are dissatisfied. I'd rather be grateful and happy than ungrateful and unhappy, and I wish the same for my loved ones. Gratitude is largely enabled by memory. If you live exclusively in the present, then in a pleasant present you can be grateful and happy, but when a moment of pain comes, you will be overwhelmed because pain is all you have. On the other hand, if you remember past good things and bring those memories with you into the present, you can be grateful for those past events for years and years. Present suffering can be ameliorated by memories of past pleasures, as in Zimbardo's "Past Positive" orientation. Present despair can be broken by memories of past redemptions, as Lewis says.

Note: Of course there are also things that a person could legitimately need to forget or never think about. e.g. the case of anyone with PTSD.

3. Remembering is a prerequisite to virtue
Morality is connected to intentional behavior, so we don't normally think of forgetting as immoral since it's (typically) not deliberate. Likewise we don't think of remembering as virtuous. But memory isn't not all unintentional or uncontrollable. Consider: how often do you forget that you owe someone money vs. that someone owes you money? (Maybe you remember it more when you owe money because of the potency of guilt or obligation.) We forget selectively; we forget the things we don't want to think about or don't value. Likewise, we remember selectively; if the emotional weight isn't great enough to guarantee remembering, we can choose to write things down (in a calendar or a journal). In that sense, it seems reasonable to hold a person accountable for forgetting something. Memory has a moral dimension.

Having a good memory doesn't necessarily make you a good person, but it does enable you to do good in ways that a person who does not remember simply can't. Virtues like loyalty, gratitude, and keeping promises rely directly on memory. Others, like hope and love, are made a lot easier through memory (it's easier to love a person who is being cruel to you when you remember times in the past when they treated you kindly). For both kinds, remembering is a virtue.

To be responsible, you have to remember your commitments. If you don't, you will let people down. To be truthful, you have to to remember the past accurately. If you don't, you'll misrepresent what happened according to how you felt about it. To keep your promises, you have to remember making them. If you don't remember, you'll hurt and disappoint people. To be loyal, you have to remember your relationships. If you forget, you'll betray people. To live virtuously, you have to remember things. Forgetting makes you hurt people and break promises.

More on the virtue of remembering as seen in the Bible next post.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Cover Letters and Bragging

I will delay a more past-reflective post once again, because I spent all my writing time today on an email, a cover letter and a resume. (I'm applying for a job as an editorial assistant!) Writing the cover letter was by far the most bizarre writing experience. I had to write a letter to a stranger, telling her how awesome I am! The language of the resume and cover letter is alien to my daily life. A lifetime of social experience, especially living in Japan, has conditioned me to downplay my accomplishments and wait for others to praise me.

If I were Achilles or Odysseus or Hector, reciting my glorious deeds and prowess at everything I set my hand to would come easily--I'd have had a lot of practice, as a man in a culture and religion where salvation comes through self-glorification (as long as it doesn't overstep into hubris, which gets you damnation).

But as an Asian-American woman, clinging to a religion that praises humility and socialized into a historically Protestant culture where public displays of pride were anathema, writing a cover letter is downright unnatural. It helps to think of it as describing how my skills match the specified qualifications, but still, the experience is, in a word:


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Rabbit update

So after we got Pipkin neutered, we kept the rabbits separated for a month to make sure he wouldn't be able to impregnate Pepper. It takes that long for all the sperm to die out, I guess. Then, finally, I took the rabbits out to some neutral territory (the landing of the stairs, where neither of them had ever been) to introduce them. After a lot of initial humping (Pipkin on Pepper) and chasing (Pepper fleeing Pipkin), they eventually made friends and became quite snuggly and adorable, like so:

Eventually we trusted their bond enough to move Pepper into the large cage with Pipkin, where they would often sleep cuddled together:

And this was the state of affairs when we left them together and went off to Turkey for two weeks.
Upon our return, we found out that the rabbits had been peeing on the floor outside the cage while locked up, every day. This was unusual but I figured it was a product of boredom and frustration. Then we witnessed some minor fights and serious chasing, which I thought were mating behavior. Pepper was coming of age, after all. She was probably ready to mate.

As it turns out, Pepper was indeed coming of age, but not the way we thought. A few days later, Pepper had hopped up onto the large box that holds the rabbit supplies, and I was sitting on the floor beside it. As Pepper hopped away from me, I saw, to my surprise, furry lumps dangling on either side of "her" tail. WHOA, I said. Pepper has BALLS! PEPPER IS A BOY!!!

I was shocked and horrified and disappointed. Minor though it was, this required a definite paradigm shift! All the rabbits' behavior had to be interpreted in a new light now. Clearly the pee-spraying was actually a territory-marking contest, in which they would not cease as long as Pepper retained his male hormones. They were not going to stop fighting and be friends. They were going to fight more and more, and pee more and more, as long as they were together.

So we separated them again and resigned ourselves to another several months of climbing over a gate whenever we need to go between the kitchen and the living room. Now Pipkin is in his original small cage in the kitchen. The big cage and the living room are occupied by the big brown rabbit, whom we have renamed Hazel (also a name from Watership Down, you may notice) to facilitate a change in our perception of him. At present he is scrabbling back and forth under the fluttering curtains, shoving a collapsed cardboard box around with powerful thrusts of his hind feet.

Hazel weighs at least six pounds now, probably seven, since it's been a few weeks since we weighed him, and he doesn't look like a baby any more. He's a big, handsome rabbit:

Thankfully, he is still willing to cuddle even though he's growing up. Pipkin is as small and cute as ever, and still determined to dominate even though Hazel is more than twice his size. Hopefully they will be friends again eventually, like their namesakes in my favorite animal story, but in the mean time we have found an equilibrium, and I can be grateful simply that the peeing and pooping are over.


There are posts I've been working on and haven't published, and there is an overdue email I've been writing to my best friend who has fallen on hard times, but let me leave those trappings aside for a moment, and write what is present:

A sky from which only moments ago the rain was falling like a curtain,
a steady summer shower that sang on the sidewalk,
a sky which is now white clouds and blue shadow,
and light pouring through.

A world which moments ago pattered and ran and dripped and rippled,
a world which is now still.
Quiescent. Resting.

Like the clouds, which a few minutes ago
were dissolving, changing, shifting, pouring
themselves onto the earth, and which now
rest so peacefully on the sky. This
is the pause in the middle.

This is the pause to breathe, this is the breath
drawn after the rain, this is the rain and the end of the rain,
this is the pause, the breath,
the air,
the rest.

Book reflection: From Bondage to Bonding

Nancy Groom's book From Bondage to Bonding is summarized succinctly by its subtitle: Escaping Codependency, Embracing Biblical Love. (I've got the 1991 edition. It's from NavPress.)

Readability: Small margins and print, intensely sad anecdotes, and a lack of dialog mark this book as the product of the previous century (or should I say "millennium"?), and put it in contrast to How We Love. This book takes some serious contemplation. Every chapter does come with a summary and a diagram at the end, but you won't find easy-to-read bullet points in this book.

Ease of absorption: The hardest part of reading this book is thinking through how/whether the material applies to your own life. The tone of How We Love is very sympathetic, non-judgmental. Bondage, in contrast, does not hesitate to mark a behavior or attitude as sinful. Groom does discuss how codependency develops (Part 2), with a compassionate perspective as a recovering codependent and the child of an alcoholic herself, but she is very clear about placing the responsibility to change on the shoulders of the codependent (through the power and love of God, Part 3). Codependence is a disorder or addiction, not a "normal" or healthy condition, and so the decision to accept or reject the label of codependent is a much weightier one than identifying which insecure "love style" is yours, as in How We Love.

Key concept: Groom offers a (frightening and intense) definition of codependency on p. 21: "Codependency is a self-focused way of life in which
  • a person blind to his or her true self 
  • continually reacts to others 
  • being controlled by and seeking to control their behavior, attitudes, and/or opinions, 
  • resulting in spiritual sterility, loss of authenticity, and absence of intimacy."
(Bullet points mine, inserted to compensate for the minimal punctuation in the original.)
Groom does mention that "you can be just a little bit codependent," and our counselor D. prefers to think of codependency not as a bin but as a smooth continuum. "Everyone's a little bit codependent," D. says. I think this is a misleading way to put it, because codependent is a real and weighty label. What I'd say instead is that everyone has imperfect relationships and imperfect self-knowledge, and everyone uses certain strategies to protect themselves in the midst of their broken relationships. Those strategies, taken to an unusual extreme, render a person codependent--and so everyone follows the strategies of the codependent "a little."

Organization & Overview:
The first chapter explains how the definition of "codependent" evolved. "Codependent" originally described the spouse of an alcoholic, or the co-alcoholic, whose patterns enabled and reinforced the alcoholic's dependence on alcohol. Later, codependence was recognized as an addiction in its own right--an addiction to approval.

The other chapters of Part 1 unfold the various characteristics or manifestations of codependence:
  • self-forfeiture,
  • self-contempt,
  • self-aggrandizement,
  • self-sufficiency, and 
  • self-deception. 
Each is illustrated with a character in the Bible who sinned in that way, and each concludes with an explanation of why Jesus' behavior as recounted in the gospels differs from the codependent pattern.

Part 2 consists of some chapters exploring how a person becomes codependent: A child's natural Fervent Longings for relationship are not met by parents, so the child suffers Painful Losses and goes on to develop Self-Protective Pretenses. In attempting to reverse the bondage of addiction to the approval of others, a codependent may turn to Autonomy, which Groom summarizes as a "refusal to trust or need," but autonomy does not actually offer freedom from bondage but only deepens the codependent's disconnection from true relationship.

In Part 3, Groom outlines the path a codependent must take to move "from bondage to bonding." These include grieving, accepting grace, and surrendering to God. She then goes on to describe what real bonding looks like, in Part 4. I haven't read Part 4 yet; I'm still in the last chapter of Part 3 ("The Freedom of Surrender").

My relationship with the book thus far, briefly: I'm a bit embarrassed not to have finished reading this book yet, since I started it over a month ago, and it's a slim volume (200 pp). I stalled after coming back from Turkey and found myself surrounded again by more pleasant books! Then we had a murky discussion about codependency with the counselor, in which I found myself totally overwhelmed and left with a number of misunderstandings of what she'd been trying to say. So I gave myself some time off to process subconsciously, and I'm only picking up the conscious processing again now... I'll write more in another post, but for now I'll say that the chapter that resonated with me the most was "Self-Deception: Committed to Denial." This one was an eye-opener, putting a name to some patterns of thought that I'd never even registered as artificial before.

More personal thoughts to follow, and eventually a summary of Part 4, on real love, real relationship, real Bonding.

Monday, August 13, 2012


A few weeks back, two of our friends, A. and E., were fighting about what whether it's okay to forward an email which your friend sent only to you, to another mutual friend or friends. A., who is a young Christian, denigrated the whole concept of privacy, saying it is necessary only because of human selfishness and pride. In an unfallen world there would be no need for privacy, he claimed. I disagree, vehemently. The following are some thoughts on the importance of privacy.

I believe privacy is deeply connected to personhood, not just sinfulness. Even in a world where everyone was perfectly loving and humble, I think the need for privacy would still exist.

*Note: Perhaps in Heaven that won't be the case, because Jesus promised that we will be one there as He and the Father are one--perhaps this includes sharing all our thoughts? Likewise, in a world with telepathy or perfect communication, privacy would function differently.

This is because privacy has to do with appropriateness and the specificity of relationships. Respecting a person's privacy is honoring the specificity of their relationship with you. Each relationship is different, because every person is unique. Persons, even persons who all study computer science, or even persons who all follow the same God, are never interchangeable. When you say something to one person, that person will interpret it in a particular way, because they have some particular and finite knowledge of you and a particular relationship and history with you. If that person repeats what you said to another person, that third person is not going to hear and understand it in exactly the same way as the original, intended audience.

For example, if I say something to O., he will understand it in a much deeper and more nuanced way than if I say that same thing to O.'s best friend S., because O. knows me more intimately and also knows more about me and simply has had more experiences with me. Thus if O. does repeat what I said to S., he has a responsibility to both me and S. to provide whatever context and/or interpretation he can to make it more likely that S. will interpret my words as I intended them.

Of course, in a lot of cases, no matter how much context/interpretation O. provides, there is no way for him to repeat my words to S. in an appropriate way. Some things just can't transfer, because some context is relational and historical rather than informational. That is, the fact that I'm O.'s wife is a major, major part of the context of whatever I say to him, and that context is simply not transferable because our relationship is unique.

Now, I know marriage is an extreme example of a relationship being specific and its contents being impossible to repeat appropriately outside of the marital context. But every relationship is specific and particular. The particularity of relationships is rooted not in our fallenness but in our personhood. A., E. has a particular relationship with you, and E., A. has a particular relationship with you. That particularity in and of itself, without recourse to matters of pride, unlove, hiding, etc., necessitates a consideration for the particularity of any given exchange between the two of you.

To summarize and apply: Simply because E. is a unique individual and he said some things to you, A., as your own unique individual in the context of your particular unique shared relationship--simply because you are both persons and every time you speak to each other you do so as persons--it doesn't work to repeat what he said to you to other people who weren't invited into the original exchange. If you do so without asking his consent, you are treating him as a non-person.

Whatever bad purposes privacy may be used for, privacy in itself is an essential way of respecting personhood. That's why it's important.

P.S. It's also worth noting that when you argue that privacy is only important to people who wish to hide something, you make it impossible for anyone to request privacy without appearing to be guilty. It's a conversation-stopper. If your goal is to foster open communication and create a space where no one feels the need to hide their true self, then making the argument that the desire for privacy comes from sin is counterproductive. On the other hand, if your goals is to shut down communication and "win" the argument, this might be a highly successful tactic to take... Heh.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Book Reflection: How We Love (2)

To follow up on yesterday's post, my major take-away from How We Love is that my coping mechanism of choice is avoidance.

It took me a while to come to this conclusion. But the fact is, I do a lot of avoiding! It's especially marked when I'm in conflict with my mom. But I do it all the time, which is why I don't have open conflicts with most people. For instance, I can't remember ever having a fight with a friend. A disagreement, sure, maybe a lively discussion--but not a fight. If it starts to look like a fight, I shut up or back down. The conflict just isn't usually worth it to me--the cure feels worse than the disease.

When I do get stuck in a conflict, when the tension can't just be ignored, the urge to get away is overwhelming. I want to walk out of the room, out of the house, spend the night somewhere else, not ever have to think about resolving the conflict or seeing the person whose words or actions are making me feel this way. I want to leave and never come back.

In actuality, though, the most I do is leave the room. And the next morning, things never feel as bleak.

If my tendency to avoid is so strong, why was it hard for me to identify myself as an avoider? I initially thought maybe I was a pleaser (seeking comfort through the approval of others), because I do care so much about making O. happy / meeting his expectations; then I thought I was a vacillator, because one of the markers is feeling, "My partner doesn't want to be as close to me as I want to be to them," and also because the book said vacillators tend to have a hard time identifying their own type. I knew I wasn't a Controller/Victim.

I also figured I couldn't be an avoider. Why? Partly because of the dynamics of my relationship with O., and partly because the portrayal of the avoider in How We Love was so extreme.

The dynamics of my relationship with O.
I recognized immediately I'd had a pattern of avoidance with O. during our dating. I wanted to take the whole relationship slowly, being on my guard against getting too close too soon. I wanted to protect myself by maintaining a degree of distance--after all, we were just dating, I reasoned. Friendship and school come first, then a boyfriend, because boys come and go but friends stay, and responsibilities don't go away just because they're inconvenient. O. on the other hand tended to take a "she loves me, she loves me not" view of the situation, and I believe he felt panicky when I pushed for more autonomy. (Pretty sure he's a vacillator!)

Since we got married, though, I've often been the one feeling too much distance, demanding more of O.'s attention, and pushing for greater togetherness. During our honeymoon, for instance, I felt ignored when O. would stop talking to me or looking at me to look things up on his shiny new smartphone, as if he had disappeared into this black box, into which I wasn't invited. This particular problem was quickly fixed when O. and I discussed it and he promised to be more mindful. Nonetheless, it's a good example of the small things that easily leave me feeling ignored, wanting more time together, better time together, better togetherness. These are not the characteristic feelings of the avoider but of the vacillator.

So I figured I wasn't an avoider anymore. But what I eventually figured out is that I am still an avoider, it's just that I'm not as extreme about it as the book's examples, probably because I had a fairly secure attachment to my parents. I just had to observe myself more carefully and more candidly, and think harder about the key ideas behind the book's somewhat extreme presentation.

The book's extreme examples:
My greatest criticism of How We Love is that it didn't make any concrete mention of less extreme cases. An early chapter discussed what it looks like to have a secure attachment style, but then secure attachment was hardly mentioned in the rest of the book, almost implying that if you are securely attached, you'll never employ the unhealthy strategies that mold the relationships of those who are insecurely attached. How We Love is packed with anecdotes and case studies that paint clear and vivid pictures of what each "love style" quintessentially looks like, but fails to give examples of these negative patterns working in more subtle ways, or to explain whether the securely attached can also fall into these traps. A greater range of examples, or at least some commentary on what a less extreme manifestation of each imprint might look like, would really have helped clarify the ideas for me. Precision! It's key!

I did eventually recognize my own pattern, though, and now it seems obvious. I seriously doubt I would have realized how often I feel like escaping or hiding without reading this book and thinking hard about which love style I tend to fall into. Equally important, I probably wouldn't have realized that not everyone feels that desire to escape in the midst of conflict.

In sum, How We Love has already been helpful to me in seeing myself more clearly and thinking in a new way about my important relationships, especially about my marriage. The greatest insight for me was recognizing my avoidance, but there are some other good take-away points too, such as the following:
  • Comfort is key--we're all seeking comfort (in our different ways) and the provision of real comfort is what changes the dynamic.
  • Comfort comes from being heard and being held.
  • The ability to identify your feelings, to name them and talk about them, doesn't come naturally. I'm blessed to have parents who taught me "soul words," asked me about my emotions, talked me through difficult feelings, etc. O. on the other hand is from a family which, though loyal and loving, does not so much discuss feelings as act them out. I can't expect him to be in the same place as me with listening, asking questions, naming his feelings, etc., when I've had years more practice. That's just setting both of us up for frustration.
  • O. doesn't have to figure out for himself what to ask and how to listen; there are resources--like the lists of questions and of emotions in this book--that can make learning so much easier.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Book Reflection: How We Love

I remember taking a trip to visit friends in Japan when I was about eleven, and bringing a dozen books with me for the two week trip. Books were always the heaviest thing in my suitcase, and they still are. I've tried to cut down on the volume and weight of reading material I bring on trips, though--usually by bringing intellectually denser books that will take me longer to get through. It's been a successful strategy.

But I definitely took my Dense Book strategy too far on this recent trip to Turkey. My reading list:  
  • How We Love by Milan and Kay Yerkovich--A book on attachment theory
  • From Bondage to Bonding by Nancy Groom--On codependence, this was a disturbing read.
  • Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder--The one novel I brought, this was also an introduction to Western philosophy, an Alice in Wonderland meets Gödel, Escher, Bach.
  • Rose by Li-Young Lee--a slim volume of poetry, this book lasted me the whole trip because I seldom read more than one or two poems at a time.
  • And of course, my much-battered NIV Student Bible.
I finished reading Sophie's World a few days in, at which point How We Love became my light reading. Absurd: a book of psychology that examines childhood emotional wounds and necessarily calls up painful memories, as my "fun book"? I decided to bring more fiction with me next time I travel.

To be fair, though, How We Love is very readable (as soul-searching books go). It's full of examples and dialogs from struggling couples, and almost every chapter ends with a list of bullet points. O. wasn't reading it on the trip and still doesn't seem to be interested in reading it all the way through, but he could get a sense of what I was reading and thinking about in a few minutes, thanks to the bullet points.

And what was I reading about? The premise of How We Love (subtitle: Discover Your Love Style, Enhance Your Marriage) is that our patterns in adult relationships are deeply shaped by the strategies we adopted to protect ourselves as children. This influence comes into play with special force in that most intimate adult relationship--marriage. The strategies we adopt as children to cope with our parents' imperfections are called imprints, attachment styles, or (in this book anyway) "love styles."

The authors introduce early in the book the metaphor of marriage as a dance. Spouses who have different "love styles" are, in effect, dancing to different music. Perhaps the husband is dancing a waltz, while the wife tries to tango. Inevitably, they step on each other's toes, and each thinks the other is dancing wrong. (It's a useful metaphor the first time the Yerkoviches introduce it, but a few chapters in I started skipping the paragraph that reappears every chapter to remind me that spouses with different love styles are like dance partners listening to different music.)

According to How We Love, there are five* insecure attachment styles or relational coping strategies. These strategies are the patterns of:
  1. the Avoider, who seeks safety by avoiding conflict and even avoiding intimacy
  2. the Pleaser, who seeks safety by working hard to please the beloved and thus avert conflict
  3. the Vacillator, who seeks safety in intense intimacy and is angry when that intimacy is blocked or threatened
  4. the Controller, who seeks safety through control
  5. the Victim, who seeks safety through passivity.
*A note on terminology: I'd read a little on attachment theory before, in my favorite relationship book, The Highly Sensitive Person In Love (by psychologist Elaine Aron). Aron identifies three insecure attachment styles by a set of names that is, I believe, more standard: avoidant, ambivalent, and chaotic. Avoidant maps to Yerkovich's Avoider; the Pleaser is also a subtype of the Avoider. Ambivalent maps to Vacillator, and the two manifestations of the chaotic style are the Controller (active) and the Victim (passive).

The book has a chapter on each attachment style, some helpful chapters on common combinations of partners (ex. "The Avoider Marries the Vacillator"), several chapters on how to change the dynamic of your marriage by learning to comfort each other, and lists of "soul words" and listening questions in the Appendix. I didn't have any immediate "Aha!" moments while reading it, but it's definitely a useful book, and I recommend it to any one whose parents weren't perfect. :P

More next time on how How We Love applies in my life!