The hardest, greatest thing I have learned since getting married is that my husband is first a person, second a man.
I grew up hearing that men and women are so different. Opposites. Things about venus, mars, and spaghetti.
Men need sex. Women need emotional intimacy. Men only need respect. Women only need love. Men watch sports. Women go shopping. Men are doers. Women are feelers.
Over the weekend I read yet another Christian list of "10 ways to show love by respecting your husband!"
Be kind. Don't interrupt him when he's speaking. Show interest in sex. Join him in activities.
And as I read this list, I thought, "Wait. I want every single one of these things from my husband."
In this gut response that we have to these 'lessons,' we let on to two truths that we feel but maybe cannot or will not give words to:
Love is a universal language, and humanity is one species, not two.
Love is an individual language, and humanity is billions of hearts, not two.
Nearly every difference, struggle, or misunderstanding between my husband and I has hinged not upon the fact that "he is a man" and "I am a woman" and we are "opposite" -- but that we simply are different people.
Nearly every failed expectation I've found in my marriage was created by the idea that my husband would be a very specific type of person because he was a man. And that I, the wife, would work through the problem in a very specific manner, as a woman.
When we read books about marriage and relationships, particularly in the Christian circles, we tend to study the opposite gender, almost as if to discover and prepare for everything about a person before we even meet them.
The God of the universe has not created more than 9 million species of animals, only to create two types of people. He has not created more than 315,000 species of plants, only to create "a man" and "a woman."
He has created, instead, billions of wildly unique individuals.
Billions of wildly unique individuals with souls and spirits so deep and complex that He says only He will ever know each of us fully.
How, I ask you, could we ever know them by a book about men, a sermon about our differences, our parents' advice about women, a conference, or a blog?
How, I ask you, could we ever know anything about someone before we know them?
Every past relationship I entered into has been shallow, broken, and distanced, because I entered them as a woman, and not as Lauren.
I held relationships with "men," and not with the living, breathing souls that were created as massively unique individuals.
In the past, I have sought to understand "men" instead of the person right in front of me. And I have expected myself to be "woman," ignoring my very own heartbeat, my very own Self.
I missed out on living life with another real person, because I thought I simply needed to learn how to live successfully with 'a man.'
* * *
A man who defines love by sex, respect, or authority given to him is an emotionally stunted man.
A woman who defines love by gifts, flowers, or acknowledged beauty is an emotionally stunted woman.
Love is so full, so deep, so wide. And we must give it to the person that we have married, not to a gender stereotype.
Love is so full, so deep, so whole. And we must give and receive all of it, every piece, every part, every side, as our true selves allow.
My soul has cried out through the sudden pain of isolation and condemnation on Sunday mornings when jokes are made from the pulpit about "men just needing ____ from a woman" while the "truth" buried in the joke clashes badly with our marriage.
I have looked around at the empty faces of the women around me, knowing that their hearts are crying out to hear that they are okay if they don't fit every gender role, every gender expectation. That their husbands are okay if they don't fit every gender role, every gender expectation. That they are not screwed up women with broken femininity, and their husbands are not being 'girls.'
I am witness to the great damage caused by the Church falling for the secular ploy that men and woman are so opposite, so different, so unlike one another.
We have fallen for it so fully that the Church is now commonly known as the original source for traditional gender roles, and we march forward, "responsibly" protecting one of the most life-limiting, God-contradicting lies ever bought by mankind. We are to be the ones throwing off the shallow assumptions and giving freedom where it was meant to exist, not the ones propagating it.
We walk through the doors on Sunday morning, our spirit craving a place to rest in the individual that we are. Yet, so often, we arrive only to be tweaked and trained and pushed and expected back into 'man' or 'woman.'
* * *
The hardest, most painful, greatest, most incredible thing I have learned in a year of marriage may be one of the greatest lessons I ever learn in my lifetime:
That we are people first. Gender second.
And that gender exists in order to create spectacular, infinite, unconstrained lives. Not to destroy them.