Getting Ready to Relate with another Human Being
For a recovering fundamentalist, getting ready to relate with another human being can kind of be like a Martian coming to Earth and trying to establish friendships. In a sense, this whole website is about growing into the person you would want for a friend. That’s the process we need to go through…to get comfortable in our “earth skin” and then to be able to relate to other Earthlings.
So let’s start the discussion with some preliminary considerations for feeling at home on earth and with earth’s inhabitants. Our deeper relationships ideally should start as friendships. That said, we may still be tempted into romance before we are ready, so I have a couple of sections on our particular vulnerabilities in that area, coming from fundamentalism. First, though, here are some tips for forming good relationships.
GETTING READY FOR FRIENDSHIP
Have examples of good people in your life.
We may lack life experience, but we can look around and make a list of some good men and good women to have as models. We can think about what makes this or that friendship or marriage good. We can frequent places where good people go, so that we don’t forget the qualities of our role models.
If you are a man, have a good woman in mind, and vice versa. Ask yourself as issues come up with your potential friend, “Would X say or do that?” The comparison can help us to see the issues more clearly. We can be way too ready to charge ahead when we see someone who attracts us.
My mother used to say of my father, “There are not many like him out there.” She was right, and I would have done better to refer back to him more often. I was too easily turned off by traits produced in him by the evangelical church rather than to dwell on his honor, his steadfastness, his honesty, his prioritizing of his marriage and family, his support of the family, and his gentleness and warmth.
These qualities really represent what I would want in a man, anyway. I appreciated my dad, but there was always the chasm formed by religion between us.
Be clear on what true intimacy is.
Intimacy is not just a close personal relationship, and certainly not just a sexual relationship. There are plenty of sexual relationships that are not truly intimate.
People who have a fundamentalist hardness and rigidity programmed into them cannot come with openness to others. Consequently, they cannot know true intimacy. Intimacy is being open to others, not feeling superior to them.
Intimacy is a way of looking at the world.
We have the privilege and the pleasure of learning intimacy after leaving fundamentalist religion. While we might be hoping to find a life partner, we may be surprised to learn how satisfying other friendships can be.
Continue work on developing, recognizing, and protecting your inner compass.
As you get involved in activities and life experience, you will come to recognize and honor the deep core meanings of your life. This comes from a growing awareness of who you are and how you fit in with family, locality, country, and world.
Be focused on living those deeper core meanings before you. Decide what you want in a close relationship. Get to a point where you would rather be alone than have a mismatch on your inner compass.
Protect your path of growth and becoming.
Turn all you know and all you want and all you are toward that dream of who you want to be and what you are determined to have. You cannot live without this primary human dynamic of becoming. If a prospective friend can live without it, that’s the answer. You can live without him.
Before starting a relationship, be secure in the development of your personal boundaries.
Make sure you’ve done the work on your personal boundaries, what you want and will allow and what you do not want and won’t allow.
Decide whether you will get involved in an on-line dating service.
On-line dating is both a good place to practice with personal boundaries as well as a potential source of many disappointments if too much is emotionally involved in an exchange. The general lack of courtesy and consideration of individuals on-line can be mind-boggling. Expect culture-shock. Also assume that the individual who writes to you may be writing to others and may decide to drop you without warning in favor of someone else – or may be a gold-digger or looking for a sex playmate.
Just because another person treats you carelessly does not mean that you will do that to someone else. I always responded with something kind, such as, “You sound like a nice man but I think that we don’t have much in common. I wish you luck in finding a good woman.”
That said, these dating services can be good places to gain experience in what you want. Be reserved and self-protective in what you say about yourself. You can learn to graciously say no to those with whom you have little in common. Especially for women, let the man approach you and show his interest by his actions (although there are always the exceptions, the woman who sent a man a “smile” and they ended up happily married).
Look for someone who would be an equal, particularly with education – though you may be lucky to find a self-educated Renaissance person, too. Look for openness.
If someone disappoints you on-line, Katie’s words are: “You’ve been spared.” (www.theWork.com) If the direction of your life is strong, you have plenty to do ahead of you. Ideally, you will meet a like-minded person on that journey rather than on-line.
Get some feedback on your personality, your strengths and your weaknesses.
You may learn interesting things from taking on-line “chemistry” and “relationship needs” assessments. You answer many multiple choice questions, and based on your responses, you get a summary of compatibility instantly returned to you. I took the questionnaire at the free on-line dating site, Plenty of Fish, www.pof.com, and felt it was pretty accurate for what I know of myself. The results can also point out areas of our personalities where work is needed.
You can take the free assessments either without joining POF, or join and then delete your membership.
Joining Plenty of Fish is another matter, especially for an older woman. I was on it for a short while. I can summarize my experience: A lot of guys are looking for sex and younger women. If you sign on, consider putting something like “old fashioned values” in your profile. That should help weed out individuals who are out to use and devalue other people. A better choice might be www.match.com if you want to participate in on-line dating (fee). I’d still suggest keeping “old fashioned values” in your profile.
Finding a friend at one of these sites to me was like looking for a needle in a haystack…and I eventually gave up looking. You may find a good person, but if you are looking also for a kindred spirit…that’s decidedly harder.
In the next lower tab, we’ll examine some vulnerabilities as we anticipate close relationships, as related to the long shadow of fundamentalism.