Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Two lists; or, “YOLO” vs. commitment

A few months ago, Katrina Fernandez posted a list written by one of HuffPo’s “limitless supply of young narcissists”, Vanessa Elizabeth, under the title “23 Things to Do Instead of Getting Married”. After skewering Ms. Elizabeth six ways from Sunday for her “verbose, self-appeasing litany of how ‘f**king awesome’ she is,” Kat posted her own list of things young women should accomplish by the time they’re twenty-three. Let’s compare:

1. Get a passport.
1. Join the military or a volunteer organization.
2. Find your “thing.”
2. Regularly donate to a charitable organization.
3. Make out with a stranger.
3. Graduate college with a useful degree, learn a trade, or acquire a marketable skill.
4. Adopt a pet.
4. Have a job and keep it for at least a year.
5. Start a band.
5. Get at least one raise, one promotion, or some workplace accolade.
6. Make a cake. Make a second cake. Have your cake and eat it too.
6. Own grown up clothes and dress like an adult, not a perpetual adolescent.
7. Get a tattoo. It’s more permanent than a marriage.
7. Become an active member of a church.
8. Explore a new religion.
8. Stop taking money from your parents. Don’t ask for loans or bail. You’re an adult now.
9. Start a small business.
9. Move out of your parent’s house.
10. Cut your hair.
10. Have a lease in your name and fulfill your contractual obligations.
11. Date two people at once and see how long it takes to blow up in your face.
11. Purchase and maintain your own vehicle and vehicle insurance without the aid of a co-signer.
12. Build something with your hands.
12. Balance your checkbook and create a budget.
13. Accomplish a Pinterest project.
13. Open a savings account.
14. Join the Peace Corps.
14. Put aside money from every paycheck, even if it’s just $10 to start.
15. Disappoint your parents.
15. Check out your credit score.
16. Watch Girls, over and over again.
16. Donate blood often.
17. Eat a jar of Nutella in one sitting.
17. Every day tell your friends and family you love them.
18. Make strangers feel uncomfortable in public places.
18. Babysit your friend’s children … for free.
19. Sign up for CrossFit.
19. Keep a private journal.
20. Hang out naked in front of a window.
20. Learn a hobby or try out new ones till you find your passion.
21. Write your feelings down in a blog.
21. Cancel a date to spend time with a grieving friend or family member.
22. Be selfish.
22. Seek and listen to advice from your elders.
23. Come with me to the Philippines for Chinese New Year.
23. Make a habit of thanking God daily.

Foremost is how much of Vanessa’s list is dedicated to being an a**hole: “Make out with a stranger.” “Date two people at once and see how long it takes to blow up in your face.” “Disappoint your parents.” “Make strangers feel uncomfortable in public places.” “Hang out naked in front of a window.” “Be selfish.” I wouldn’t blame any woman for not going with her to the Philippines; more than twenty-four hours in her company looms in my mind as perfectly intolerable. Also take note, if you please, how little there is on Vanessa’s list that you can’t do and still get married by twenty-three; in fact, you could knock out most of the list in a month.

It’s most instructive, though, to observe how “start a small business”, “adopt a pet” and “join the Peace Corps” compete in gravity with “cut your hair” and “eat a jar of Nutella at one sitting” on Vanessa’s list. It’s like putting “build a tool shed” and “construct a bridge across the Mississippi River” on a honey-do list. I don’t think she’s quite grasped the difference between funny and silly. More to the point, though, it betrays a complete inability to grasp the concept of commitment.

Here’s her idea of how the young engaged person’s mind works:

It’s cold outside … you want to cuddle and talk about your feelings … life after graduation is a tough transition … so why not just cut to the chase and get married, right? It’s hip. It’s cool. You get to wear clothing that wouldn’t normally be socially acceptable at the dive bar you frequent with the $5 beers. Eff it. YOLO. YOMO! You only marry once ….

If that’s how a young person’s mind really works, then it’s no wonder people who marry young have a higher marriage failure rate. And I wouldn’t be surprised, because narcissism has been on the increase, and empathy on the decrease, for the last four decades.

My contention, however, is that many things in life require more than an oh-what-the-hell-let’s-give-it-a-whirl attitude to be anything other than a waste of time and/or money — they require commitment. “YOLO” might be sufficient reason to attempt para-skiing, but it’s a lousy motive for buying a dog. Or joining the Peace Corps (or the Marine Corps, for that matter). A small business started with a “YOLO” attitude will close in six months; a band started with a “YOLO” attitude will never get out of the garage. If you’re not going to go all in, then don’t even bother to buy the chips.

Maybe to you, bud. To a million other people, it means,
"Go do something against your better judgment."
Let me put it a different way: For some things, you never start with the thought, “If this doesn’t work out ….” There’s no question of it not working out. You’ll invest all your heart and soul into making it work; you’ll leave nothing — nothing — on the table. And if it does fail — because even with full commitment some things still fail — you’ll be the last to admit it, not the first.

By contrast, Kat’s list may not appear to be much fun. But the woman who accomplishes those tasks will be a better, stronger, more well-rounded and admirable person. If she adopts a pet, the pet will be happy and healthy until the day it dies. If she starts a band, the band will at least do some local gigs and even develop a bit of a following. If she starts a business, a bank will loan her the money because she’s a good credit risk; if it fails, it won’t be because she didn’t give it her all. If she disappoints her parents, it won’t be because she set out to do it, but because they had inappropriate expectations.

Because she invests every talent she’s given into what she does, she will be richly rewarded. She’ll get more out of life because she puts more into it. Where the woman who follows Vanessa’s list will lose what little she’s been given, because she refuses to invest even that much (cf. Matthew 25:14-30).

And the woman who follows Kat’s list is much more likely to make a marriage that lasts, with a man worthy of her. Because marriage isn’t supposed to be something you “try”, and a spouse isn’t supposed to be a consumer good you return if s/he doesn’t “fit”.

Go all in. Or don’t come to the altar.