Monday, April 02, 2007

Love and Jokes

It has been intriguing gathering reactions to our April Fool’s Day joke. Some seem to have found the idea of a Quincy Dating Central, which we added to our house website, both relevant and absurd enough to be funny. And on the other side of the spectrum, some seem to have found it distasteful that someone would joke in such a manner, about something so serious, making light of the difficulties that face the modern single Christian in a culture such as ours, etc. And certainly, there were those that didn’t realize it was April 1st, and moreover were unable to see the humor in it, and supposed we actually intended to set ourselves up as so great that traditional rules don’t apply, that women should pursue us and submit to the embarrassment of completing an online application for the ‘privilege’ of dating one of us. And perhaps, no one’s actual reaction could be identified completely with one of these here described, but I have no doubt that these elements are familiar.

As far as jokes go, I’ll readily admit this one was a little more risky. There is much bound up in such matters as dating, much indeed, and it’s different for everyone. But given the risk, why make such a joke?

One of the themes that has been emerging in my mind, and in discussions I’ve had with others, is that we Christians (Catholic’s especially) tend to be a little up tight about matters vocational, especially when it comes to dating. When you add the confusion of looking for love in a sinful world and of experiencing that loneliness so typical of the human condition, it’s easy to get out of sorts. If I like so and so, and it doesn’t work out, I’m quick to grow discouraged, or to hold on to my disappointments as if God were not really in the details. I’ve heard no call to the religious life, I might think, and I’ve always desired to marry and start a family, and here I am living a life I didn’t plan, unmarried and growing older. After a while, and perhaps it’s always been this way, the whole business starts to feel pretty serious. And there are other concerns: One must not get too attached too quickly. One must be extra careful not to hurt anyone’s feelings. One must follow enough of the traditional etiquette, but not too much. One must be assertive, but not overbearing. And on, and on, and on. So it’s all very complicated and difficult, and given the stakes, it’s risky, and very, very serious.

But it seems to me that only fear could make it this serious. Only a lack of hope in God’s providence could keep me so concerned, so desperate to tread lightly that I would be unable to laugh about it all. The reality is that God is in control, and male-female relationships are hilarious. There’s such a splendid comedy in the awkwardness of dating, and not dating. At the heart of romance, I would suggest, is a very good joke.

And I think the comedy is essential, in part because on the other side is tragedy. Love that would be free to grow, to flourish and pour itself forth in the sublimity of the gift, is love that must suffer. We can see this clearly entering Holy Week, meditating upon the sacrifice of our Lord, the suffering that he takes on for our sake. We will die with Christ, so that we will share in his Life. Some of us will do (or are already doing) this in marriage, in act of giving our lives for a spouse, and for the children of such a gift. Other of us may experience this in a different way, as singles for the kingdom of God. And to each there is a season, and likewise a time for laughing and for crying.

So if the Quincy Dating Central joke was a poor one, it was at least an effort. We long to love openly, to be vulnerable before the Mystery. We tried to mock our own pride with a faux role-reversal and technological approach to an un-technological problem, a strange and clumsy reflection of the beauty of awkward singleness. I think we hoped that somehow, we might all take ourselves a little less seriously for it, and that maybe, rather than presenting obstacles to openness, greater openness might be encouraged.

Yesterday's Cavlin & Hobbes seems fitting (hat-tip to Aaron for finding it):

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