What the Beast teaches us about our wounds

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Even if you haven’t seen the newest rendition of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ with Emma Watson and Dan Stevens, you’re most likely familiar with the fairy tale that has been around for quite a while.

Fairy tales are powerful, not necessarily because of the beautiful protagonists, singing animals or happy endings but also because of the truths they relate. When a story tells us something about human nature, we know it shouldn’t be discredited (despite other, more unrealistic aspects like fairy godmothers and dancing teapots).

An example that I can think of starts with this quote I came across this week on Instagram via Made in His Image:

The broken will always be able to love harder than most. Once you have been in the dark, you learn to appreciate everything that shines.

– Zachary K. Douglas

These words really struck a chord with me; I’m not sure if it’s completely true (how can you really know something like that) but I think there is a lot of wisdom in it.

I always see traumas, past hurt and lasting wounds as disadvantages. They get in the way of peace, joy and most importantly, love.

For example, the Beast is cursed years before Belle meets him and is still affected by the consequences of the curse. Obviously there are the physical effects – mainly his Beastly-ness – but there is also a deeper hurt caused by a fear that he won’t be loved again. His ability to relate to and become intimate with others is inhibited by his physical disfigurements that resulted from the curse.

Similarly, when we are hurt by a person or situation in a deep way, we become something unnatural…we’re wounded.

The Beast struggles to become close to Belle and has occasional outbursts of anger because his fear of being unloved and unwanted rears it’s ugly head. This then pushes Belle away…causing a vicious cycle.

Going back to the quote, the important takeaway to me from that is the idea that our hurt can be used to make the world a better place. Once in the dark we have a fuller understanding of how good and how important the light is. We can try harder to be in and experience the light which we know is so good and so essential.

We see the Beast use his strength and beastliness to protect Belle; we see him overcome his fear and move closer to her and we see Belle respond lovingly. I wonder if part of the Beast’s ability and choice to cherish Belle comes from intimate experience with crippling loneliness?

I think when bad things happen there are two responses: despondence/apathy or passion.

It’s easier to not care and to withdraw…but it is also unnatural, it goes against the heart of man.

Injustice also has the power to instill great hope and aspiration for how things should be. We know how disordered it can be and we know how important it is so we strive so much more for the ideal. Once we’ve seen the bad we love the good more.

I don’t know if it’s fair to say that people who have been hurt deeply are more capable of loving…but it is possible that we try harder. Part of that is out of necessity because of anxiety that has been created which affects our ability to love and be loved…our relationality. But part of it too is out of sheer appreciation of the light. It’s also possible that we don’t try at all, because we don’t think there’s a way out of the darkness.

The Beast could have locked himself away forever and sent Belle home because of fear of rejection…fear that the underlying belief that he was unlovable was true. But he didn’t; and I think (even though it is a fairy tale…I do know that) we should learn from this. Most people won’t leave life unscathed, and while painful, we can use this to build an even stronger world by striving for and being the light. In a way, we have a responsibility to others to avoid putting them through whatever we have been through. If we don’t use our hurt for good then it’s just hurt. If we use it to help ourselves and others it becomes redemption.

I’m probably reading too much into it but…who knew so much could be found in a children’s story, right?

What Coldplay & co. got right in ‘Something Just Like This’

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As I mentioned in this week’s Monday 5, recently I’ve been perusing Aziz Ansari’s ‘Modern Romance.’ I’m only a few chapters in but it has definitely been an interesting read so far. In his funny-but-serious book, Aziz addresses some of the questions and challenges we are facing in today’s dating world.

Aziz starts out by comparing our dating habits to those of the generations before us. He brings up the fact that with our dating apps and the internet and just how much easier traveling has gotten, our pool of options is much greater than that of our parents or grandparents. The funny thing is, despite the plethora of choices, we are taking longer to get married and divorcing a lot more than previous generations.

Aziz attributes this to a few things including the phase of life that has become more important called emerging adulthood and the fact that we are now more picky about our choice of partner.

Aziz goes on to explain that our parents and grandparents largely simply wanted someone to settle down with, whereas we want much more…we want a soulmate.

Because we are looking for true love, it takes us longer to find the right person.

While I am certain that there are people before us who got married for the wrong reasons (financial security, social norms…etc), I don’t think it’s fair to assume that all marriages before us were somehow inferior to our generation’s relationships.

The concept of a soulmate is a tricky one and definitely one I grapple with. Believing there is one right person out there for us can be a comforting thought…but as our generation is discovering, it can also be a daunting one. What if we choose wrong? And how do you know if someone is your soulmate? Is it because they make you laugh? Or you never fight? Is it because you have the same hobbies? Or because you have the same values? Or maybe it’s more of an ‘opposites attract’ thing?

Lot’s of questions.

It’s no wonder we’re being plagued with analysis paralysis. There are so many people at our fingertips and any of them could be the right one…but only one is. Yikes.

I certainly don’t advocate for getting married for reasons other than love. Love is where it starts and should be a primary motivator. However, I do want to challenge the idea that there is only one person we could possibly love for the rest of our lives…that there is only one ‘right’ individual out there that you have to find.

And by this, I am not advocating an open marriage/relationship (love means exclusivity + permanency), however I am saying we can like, chill, a little bit.

We don’t have to find the perfect person.

As Coldplay says in their new song ‘Something Just Like This’ (along with The Chainsmokers). We don’t need a superhero, we don’t need Hercules or Achilles or some other mythical character that somehow completes us. We want someone we have a connection with, someone we’re attracted to and someone who shares our goals (especially that of becoming a better person).

Butterflies are nice, attraction is good, commonalities are good. Ultimately, though, we choose to love someone. Sometimes we’re gonna feel it and sometimes we’re not. The ‘right’ person doesn’t mean that it won’t be hard at times, that there won’t be times we’re not feeling it, that there won’t be hurt or fear.

That is inevitable, unfortunately.

But the good news is that we don’t have to wait for the stars to align to love someone. We can find someone who isn’t quite perfect and love them anyway. Someone we can “turn to”, someone we can miss, someone we can kiss…that is a lot easier to find than someone with the “superhuman gift” of being our perfect match.

I’m not saying to grab the next person off the street and marry them, but I do want to help a generation a little bit by saying it’s okay to not know if someone is your soulmate…I’m not sure if that is a real thing anyway. We’re not lowering our expectations by not looking for that, we’re admitting that love involves choice…not just fate.

Coldplay and the Chainsmokers got something right when they said there is a risk…love by nature is risky. The idea of a soulmate can make it feel less so, however the truth is that ‘perfect’ person could still reject or hurt us.

I challenge the idea Aziz presents that generations before us had it wrong and we know what’s up. I think we just face different challenges than those before us. However what remains the same is love. Love involves gift of self, which involves choice. That much we can always count on and that is what we should remember next time we feel overwhelmed by all the choices out there and the pressure to find the perfect match.

Love is patient, kind and often unglamorous…but it is not perfect; and that is kind of a relief to me.

 

 

 

 

 

America’s sweetheart: Why no one wants to be the ‘good girl’

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I’ve listened to Elle King’s ‘America’s Sweetheart‘ more times than I care to admit. It started when the song came on my Pandora station while I was running and I discovered that it had a fantastic beat to run to. After that I included the tune in most, if not all, of my runs – sometimes even more than once.

As I listened more to the lyrics, I loved the irony between the title of the song, ‘America’s Sweetheart,’ and the very clear message: I’m not America’s sweetheart.

Alrighty then.

Ms. King goes on to explain why she’s not America’s sweetheart:

My hands are dirty and my heart is cold

Boys I’ve been with will say I’ve got no soul

When I meet another honey at the bar, I’ll think it’s funny when I break his heart

My kind if medicine is whiskey straight

I got a mouth to put you in your place…

What do you want from me? I’m not America’s sweetheart

Okay, so not that sweet.

Today we glorify this girl. Maybe or maybe not Elle King specifically, but definitely the girl she’s describing.

Careless, unconcerned, unattached…there’s something alluring and exciting about being the girl who is unattainable and indifferent.

I think the alternative – the ‘good girl’ – has become so unattractive. Pearls, headband, pastel colors, sweet but judgmental, uptight…no wonder we don’t like her. I always think of Grace from ‘The Secret Life of the American Teenager.’ Her naivety was more irritating than endearing and she seemed just a little too perfect to be real…not someone I was in a hurry to identify with.

I definitely battled with which one of these characters to choose from. Of course, innately, I was completely and unequivocally the good girl. Rule breaking was never an option and anything remotely unethical shocked me. However, as I got older I started to see the appeal of the girl at the other end of the spectrum…I felt being that way was how you got noticed and protected yourself from getting hurt. When I listened to Elle King’s song, there was a part of me that wanted to identify with her. There have been times in my life when I know I did.

Now I can say that personal experience has taught me that there is nothing glamorous about taking part in the self-destructive and self-centered behavior that Elle King describes, and that there is a lot more to be lost than gained from never becoming close to anyone.

Our ability to feel, our openness to love, our vulnerability…that is our strength.

I discovered that there is an alternative to both Grace from ‘Secret Life of the American Teenager’ and Elle King or any other number of ‘rebellious’ characters.

There is more to being good than never cursing or never getting angry. To be naive does not mean you are good. To be good does not necessitate a sweet demeanor or refusal to break any rules, ever. To be good does not mean to say ‘yes’ to every demand or to be a doormat. To be good doesn’t mean to be well-liked. To be good doesn’t mean to have someone’s approval.

Okay, so what does it mean?

When I think of a good woman in media, I think of Sandra Bullock’s character in ‘The Blind Side’ (which if you haven’t seen you need to crawl out from under the rock you live under and check it out!). Based on a true story, we see this woman go against what was considered appropriate for someone like her (sophisticated, upper class, educated) in order do something good to help someone else. She was not taken advantage of nor did she do anything to please anyone else, she did the right thing.

She was not concerned that some of the things she said or how she said them offended others, she was not worried that people were somewhat scandalized by what she did…but she was undeniably good person. And that is attractive. More so than the self-centered litany that Elle King shares with us, more than closing yourself off or looking out only for yourself…goodness is attractive.

When we strive to be brave, and patient, and kind (don’t read nice), and hopeful and faithful…in short when we strive to love more, that is when we are most attractive and have the most to offer.

Maybe striving for goodness leaves more room for hurt and disappointment, love certainly is not without it’s pains, but when we persevere despite that, we achieve more than the ‘bad girl’ ever could. Caring is not a weakness, it opens doors for growth and fulfillment. Living for yourself, making decisions out of fear and hurt, it may sound glamorous when Elle King sings about it but the truth is we sell ourselves short. I want to be more. 

Elle King tells us what not to be: America’s sweetheart. I agree. I also will go a step further by saying what we could be which is more, which is good. More than someone who plays with the hearts of others and gives of themselves to no one.

I am not America’s sweetheart, nor do I want to be, it sounds exhausting. However I do strive to be good, to do good. If that makes me a ‘good girl,’ I can live with that.

Why Elle King shocked with ‘It’s Different for Girls’

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About six years ago I moved to the charming city of Charleston, South Carolina. For those unfamiliar with the area, Charleston has all the enchantment of an old city (cobblestone streets, picturesque buildings, etc.) combined with the beauty of the water (we’re about ten minutes away from the beach) and excellent cuisine (so many good restaurants). However, a significant flaw about the area which I discovered pretty quickly was that every person I knew loved country music.

Not me.

Six years later, I humbly admit (is it actually humble if you say it’s humble?) that I have come to enjoy country music quite a lot and listen to it frequently. I’m not really sure how the conversion happened, but here we are.

A song that came out a few months ago that especially caught my attention was one by Dierks Bentley featuring Elle King called ‘It’s Different for Girls’ (which incidentally was nominated for a Grammy this weekend). The reason why it shocked me is pretty obvious when you listen to the lyrics:

“It’s different for girls, nobody said it was fair: When love disappears, they can’t pretend it was never there.”

The song goes on to describe the differences between how men and women cope with break-ups:

“A guy gets drunk with his friends and he might hook up. Fast forward through the pain, pushing back when the tears come on…it’s different for girls.”

My first thought when I had heard the song was: “this is going to get a lot of backlash.”

In today’s hook-up culture that especially encourages women to put themselves out there and not get too attached, this song contradicts the popular notion that women can and should pursue casual encounters with men, becoming both physically and emotionally intimate without any commitment.

Not only that, but even more surprising was Ms. King agreeing with him, echoing the song’s controversial message with her lines:

“She don’t sleep all day and leave the house a wreck. She don’t have the luxury to let herself go…”

This is coming from the woman who is behind the hits: Ex’s and Oh’s and ‘America’s Sweetheart,’ both of which have very different perspectives from this country tune.

While I certainly am an advocate of all people being created equal, I do see where Dierks is coming from; after all, though men and women are equal, we are also different.

This is especially evident in our relationality (the importance we place on our relationships) and the way closeness with another person affects us deeply. We largely define ourselves by our relationships: with our family, our friends and our boyfriends/husbands.

That is not to say that men are unaffected by intimacy, rather because of the way we are made, even ‘casual’ intimacy (physical or emotional) touches women deeply, whether we want it to or not.

Part of that is due to a chemical called oxytocin, also known as the ‘love hormone’ that is released after having sex, having a baby and even during more casual physical contact. This hormone is called the ‘love hormone’ because it creates a feeling of affection and trust in the person it is attached to.

Think of having a baby, how incredible of a miracle that is, the level of attachment that exists between mother and child. You don’t have to have experienced it personally to know that there is nothing more powerful than the love of a mother for her child. Safe to say, oxytocin is a powerful hormone. And in the right context, it’s an amazing thing. Oxytocin bonds people. So, even when you’re mad at your husband or frustrated with your daughter, there’s a deeper connection that goes beyond how you feel for them at the moment…it’s a chemical, biological bond.

However the trouble starts with the words we hear in Dierks Bentley and Elle King’s song.

We can’t just “fast forward through the pain, pushing back when the tears come on.”

We don’t say “it’s okay, I never loved him anyway.”

We might try; we might go out, drink too much, go home with another guy, max our credit cards, tell our friends we’re ‘over it’…but the truth lies in the tears that come when we’re alone, the unwanted memories, and the longing for the phone to ring.

Not only are we sad the person is gone, we’re frustrated that we aren’t okay about it. Days, weeks, months go by; we should be over it but we’re not. Why? Because we’re physically wired so that intimacy matters; is has a deep impact on our lives.

This is actually a pretty cool thing because we’re made to love and be loved; and love by definition has two components: exclusivity and permanency.

Therefore, anything less than that, for example  a one night stand or a five year marriage that ends in divorce…isn’t going to cut it. It’s not supposed to.

So what does this mean for us?

Emotionally, psychologically and physically we’re made for more…and that is what we should look for. Not a fling, not a rebound, not a guy who doesn’t know what he wants or isn’t ‘ready’ to commit. That is going to end in heartbreak, it’s not what we are made for.

Love is ultimately a gift of self…how can we give ourselves to someone who isn’t going to stick around? It’s similar to pouring money into an investment that is going to fail…not a smart decision.

We have to start expecting more from our relationships. There’s a lot of cynicism out there because of the high divorce rate and fewer and fewer people committing to each other for the long-term…it’s up to us to turn that around.

Romantic love can start from a healthy friendship, it can grow and flourish when we push through the fear and risk encountering someone and becoming close to them, not just using them for a more favorable relationship status or fleeting pleasure. But it starts with our expectations. If we expect a healthy, committed relationship, that is what we will attract. Of course this is harder to come by than a hook up but I think good things are worth waiting for.

As women we should honor ourselves by only accepting the kind of love we were made for…not anything less. I suspect more often than not, men respect that. They may not be able to always come through for us, but one day one will…and that’s all you need.

I know Valentine’s Day can be a sore subject for many of us, but I like to look at it hopefully. True romance is a beautiful gift and when we have the patience and courage to wait for it, we experience firsthand how powerful and wonderful it really is.

After all,

“There is no greater force against evil in the world than the love of a man and woman in marriage.” – Raymond Burke

Elle and Dierks may have caught us off guard with this song. I wouldn’t be surprised if some listeners were offended by their message; but Elle’s contribution adds credibility to what is already scientific fact. She sings from her personal experience as a woman which has taught her that it is different girls. And thank God it is, because our desire for authentic love is what centers us and men and is a reminder of what really matters.

Career isn’t everything & other takeaways from ‘La La Land’

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As I mentioned in this week’s Monday 5, over the weekend I finally had the opportunity to go see ‘La La Land.’

The music and style (basically her whole wardrobe is #goals) in the film were two of favorite parts, I also enjoyed the cinematography and how different it was from what we typically see today.

The story itself was also good, although I (as probably most viewers) was disappointed by the unsatisfying ending.

*warning* this post includes spoilers!

Of course in every movie and book when there is a couple that includes a or both protagonists, it’s natural to become attached and want them to live happily ever after; and while this may seem cliché or unrealistic, I think there’s something to be said about valuing the relationship we’ve seen flourish throughout the story.

In ‘La La Land’ we see them choose their careers over each other. There is the crucial point where Mia asks Sebastian, ‘What about this? What are we going to do?’ Of course the question is natural considering she may have to go to Paris for an extended period of time if she gets the job she auditioned for. But I think she was hoping (I know I was) that he would respond, ‘we’ll make it work,’ or something along those lines. Instead of his actual response which was essentially we will have to wait and see.

Cool bro.

In fact we see Mia’s disappointment in his words with her empty facial expression and silence.

What person wants to hear that?

We can argue that Sebastian was saying this out of selflessness, he wanted Mia to do well in her career and be able to ‘give it her all’ without their relationship as a distraction. After all, an essential aspect of their relationship was the mutual encouragement to pursue their dreams. And while I do see the value in this, I also think there’s something disordered about Sebastian’s reasoning.

Our dreams of having a successful career, of traveling, of accomplishing, of doing the perfect cartwheel (it’s all I want)… those are super important. To be with someone who nurtures and encourages that is even more so. However, I think there isn’t much in this world that can be more valuable than other people and the relationships we form with them. Especially when it comes to love. Mia and Sebastian clearly loved each other, they were committed to each other and wanted the best for the other. To give that up because of a ‘big break’ seems irresponsible and unnecessary. Couldn’t they still achieve their dreams as a couple? With their mutual encouragement couldn’t they have even potentially have helped each other achieve more?

What is more precious than love? What is more important? And if they had achieved less would they have been unhappy or dissatisfied knowing they had a great love? If that had been the case, that would have been a fault on their part… a disordered desire: success over love.

The ending is not disastrous by any means, we see Mia seemingly happily married and successful and Sebastian is able to achieve his dream of opening the jazz bar. But when we see the alternative ending, what could have been if they had stayed together, we see the great sacrifice they made in choosing what they did.

There was immense joy in their life together and a closeness between them that we don’t see between Mia and her actual husband.

Was it worth it?

I know we’re encouraged to follow our dreams, of course I hope we all do – career is definitely an essential part of our calling and fulfillment in life. But to say that our career is the most important thing I think is just not true.

Loving others and being loved, that is where ultimate joy and completeness is found, not our titles or income.

I mean that and chocolate.

And wine.

And Netflix.

I hope I am able to achieve at least some of the things I work toward in life, I hope my work does impact others in a meaningful way. But most of all, I hope I choose authentic love over anything else.

xo

Miranda