Yesterday I chatted on the phone with my brother. We’re not particularly close, either physically (I live in Paris, France; he lives in Houston, Texas) or personality-wise (ditto), but we try despite our differences. Since our parents died, we are all we have left in our immediate family, and conversation tends to revolve around shared childhood memories of going to elementary school together (“Do you remember that crazy jungle gym built out of old tires?”), playing in the neighborhood (“What was the name of that kid who used to pee his pants all the time?”), or attending church.
Our family was deeply religious. Growing up in the South, you’ll hear that a lot, but in our case, besides going to church each Sunday morning, we’d also go on Sunday nights, and then on Wednesday nights was the prayer meeting with a potluck dinner, and Thursday nights the misleadingly named “Adventure Time” youth night. Oh, plus there was Vacation Bible School in the summer. Suffice to say our social lives revolved around the church.
Today he is still religious and has a wife and two daughters, while I have my faith in Dolly Parton, a husband, and a slightly spoiled dog.
So, we chatted, and I learned that my niece had broken up with her boyfriend over Christmas. “That’s too bad,” I said. “Especially over the holidays, that’s rough.” He sighed and paused, as if in agreement. It had been her first romantic relationship, and I had always been concerned about her social skills because she had been home-schooled.
Sensing that the subject was still a bit raw, I added that perhaps it was for the better. “She’s only 20 years old, and everyone needs to go through a couple of broken hearts, and to learn what to look for in finding one’s match,” I said.
I privately remembered my own struggles when I had first come out, much later than my 20th year. I always seemed to gravitate toward the wrong kind of guy. Physically impressive, but his intellect, or personality, or career (usually all three) were less so. Plus, there were the real-life lessons of being in a dating relationship — how to navigate disagreement, how to learn to trust, to forgive, to compromise.
One of the many lessons that seeped into my childhood consciousness spent at church was the passage in First Corinthians chapter 13, the oft-quoted “love is patient, love is kind” exhortation of Saint Paul. As I consider what it is that has been the foundation of the love I share with my husband of over 20 years, it is his ability on a daily basis to demonstrate his patience and kindness to me, which has pushed my own limits to grow in those same virtues.
What is ironic is that despite not growing up in a religious family, he lives a more Christian example of love than most “believers.”
I suggested to my brother that in the case of my niece, she will move on and hopefully have more confidence having had a boyfriend, a first love, even if it had been short term. But knowing what to look for in a relationship, what the red flags are, perhaps nothing is more important than that simple phrase of “love is patient, love is kind.”
“She is going to be alright,” my brother said. “I’d rather that he hadn’t broken up with her at Christmas, of course, but he was going to move back to Washington because he didn’t like Houston. Something to consider next time she’s casually dating a guy.”
“Yeah, long-distance relationships only work in Hallmark movies,” I added. “And even then, there is usually a complication that happens involving a mix up of a pumpkin latte at the local coffee shop.”
“She does love a pumpkin latte.”