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But Love Troubles My Head


But Love Troubles My Head

In my last post, I wrote that love doesn’t trouble my head much anymore. But it does.

My freshman year of college, I met my first boyfriend – his name was Biblical Studies. I hadn’t been particularly studious as a high school student. We were homeschooled and school was what we did all the time (it was nothing to get too excited about). But just a few weeks into my Bible classes, I was enamored of it all – the primary texts, the commentaries, the discussion of probing questions that charmed and vexed the soul.

For the first time in my life, I’d found something more thrilling than a boy. Here was a quest for which I would gladly forego meals. (I see now my obsession with Biblical Studies was worse than love – I would never have forsaken food for love of a boy.) The following summer, I took a series of summer classes back-to-back. I got into the habit of going from my (4-5 hr) morning class straight to the library and studying until supper. My stomach would knot with hunger, but my elation was so visceral that I barely felt the knots.

This kind of love still troubles my head from time to time. When I met Josh, the old, troublesome sort of love began to show its true colors. Over time, I began to see that what I had understood to be romantic interest or physical attraction (I never dared to call anything “love”) had less to do with interest in a particular person or subject and more to do with my need for distraction. Of course, it’s never that simple – most of what we do is a complex mixture of real interest and the need for distraction. But mostly it was distraction.

This is why love still troubles my head from time to time – because it isn’t about romance or attraction or sex. It’s a quest to keep our ghosts at bay, to distract us from our raw, wounded insides. This troubles me, but I’ve gotten better at resisting it, refusing to let it rob me of real interest, real love. The source of every human love is God, and when someone loves us as we are, that gives us the confidence to face who we are. We no longer need to be distracted from ourselves. (Josh’s love helps a lot.)

I think of distraction as a kind of gluttony. It keeps you from really focusing on what’s in front of you and loving it. Instead of encountering the gift before you, you’re always searching for more, not because you’re interested in genuine knowledge, but because you’re interested in acquiring, possessing.

As I reflect on my undergraduate education, I see that in many ways, I was not taught to love knowledge. I had to learn that on my own. I was taught to be thrilled with knowledge, and this carried me for a time. But the leisure of four years of full-time study has a way of encouraging gluttony – a swift love affair with books and the meaning of life. It fattens you up with knowledge, but does not give you the tools to pursue knowledge when you no longer have the leisure to do so. And you begin to starve.

At the end of this affair, you are unsatisfied. You have not learned to live with knowledge, only to gorge on it. You are unable to maintain the vigor you once had now that the pressures of work and family life make it difficult to devote many hours to study. You learned to love knowledge in one context: the classroom. You did not learn to talk about the questions when you sit at home and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you get up.

Since knowledge was just a distraction, an erotic pang in your love-sick gut, you feel justified in leaving it behind. Fantasies are quickly exhausted, and you need to move on to something new.


When Love Doesn't Trouble My Head


When Love Doesn't Trouble My Head

Love doesn't trouble my head these days, but it used to -- a lot. I've been married for well-nigh five years now, and I forget how harrowing life seemed back then in those days before I met Josh.

Before Josh, there was always someone I fancied, whether or not the lad reciprocated my affections (most often not). There was always the flutter, the highs and lows of he-loves-me-he-loves-me-not, the anxious but excited wondering, the hope at an unexpected conversation, the despair of absence or uncertainty.

And, of course, the butterflies that I have always called butterflies because we had no language to talk about sexual attraction.

Then I met Josh. And not one butterfly.

I bumped into him on the steps leading to the college chapel. He told me about his upcoming senior recital. I mentioned that I was writing a novel. He said he'd like to see it when I was done.

He looked older than when I'd last seen him two years ago.

Those early sightings had been fleeting, certainly. He spent most of his time in the bowels of the music building, and I only ever saw him briefly in the cafeteria or on the sidewalk on his way to the music building. I remembered a young man with enthusiastic hand gestures whose shirts and khakis had clearly been purchased in the 90s. And he wore sneakers with those khakis, sneakers laced super-tight for good ankle support.

He'd grown a beard since then and his eyes looked older, sadder, wiser. 

And I thought, "He seems to have shaped up nicely. I wonder if he's still with that Amanda-girl. I hope he is with someone who deserves him."

It was an innocent thought. You may not believe me, but I had no thought of him for myself. Because there were no butterflies.

Instead of butterflies and drama and confused, angst-ridden prayers, all I felt was an almost startling ease. We talked often in those next few weeks, and every time we met, I felt more and more like my real self.

This was not how love was supposed to work. I was supposed to be intimidated, happily anxious.

I emailed him a draft of my novel, but we didn't talk over the summer. In August, when we came back to school, we got together for tea. And it was at that tea, that I was certain of what I had suspected over the summer -- this was the man I was to marry.

This was not how love was supposed to go for me. I had always been suspicious of the stories people told and how they "knew" when they first met that they would fall in love. You can't know, I thought. You can't know after only having known someone such a short time. You can't be sure of someone's character so soon.

Yet here I was, so sure that Josh and I were meant to be together. And I wasn't even in love. I have not been certain about many things in my life, but I knew that Josh and I fit. For the first time in my life, I wasn't worried about being in love. Love didn't trouble my head.

I wasn't worried about butterflies (or the lack thereof). I knew they would come when they needed to come.

And they did.