To shift or not to shift?

Before I begin my long and passionate rant I should explain my ambiguous title for people who are not Irish or don’t actually know me. ‘Shifting’ is a term coined by the Irish which basically means hooking up with  another individual. This delightful activity generally occurs in public, when highly inebriated and is a particular favourite for anyone from the ages of fourteen and up. For those of us in college it is the gateway to finding a partner to have emotionless sexual activities with. It is gross, degrading, requires you to be without inhibitions and, if I am being truthful, can be quite addictive. This post is going to about relationships, clearly. I am single so obviously I may be a bit biased but I spend a good 90 per cent of my free time thinking about relationships so I feel I am more than expert enough. I want to talk aboutdating culture and the attitudes to dating in my generation as a whole and I also want to briefly touch on the Christian perspective which is sometimes at odds with modern culture but interestingly not always.

Many people ask me why I am still single at the ripe old age of 22. Not because of my overt attractiveness or that I am particularly noticeable to the opposite sex. It’s mostly because having reached this age it is pretty well known that I have never been in a relationship and yet, I have all the girl parts that boys like, I am fairly talkative and live in a country where pretty much anyone will shift anyone. My answer? I am waiting. Although for years it was not for lack of trying. I was the girl in school who was desperate for boys to like her. I was frightened of boys because they were so magnetic and had such power over how I saw myself, so I hid from them but I ached to be seen by one and be courted in a manner similar to Romeo and Juliet. In college I realised pretty quickly that one has to set aside all ideas of romance in order to catch the attention of a boy. So I tried very hard to give up the thoughts that I might be pursued by a guy and settled for casually going out for physical satisfaction. I recall living under this belief for the last few years, that if I look hot enough and flirt expertly a lad will be so enamoured by me he will chase after me. I deluded myself into going out to clubs, drunk and trying to find him, the ‘one’ who would make me feel pretty and happy and special. This was before I realised what it felt like to be loved by God and I craved the validation of guys. Everyone was doing it so why shouldn’t I? I never really thought about how other people my age responded to this culture so the other day I had a very honest conversation with a friend in my course. I was curious as to her thoughts. I was blown away by the fact that many of my own opinions were shared with her. She very validly spoke of how tired she was of nights out revolving around ‘getting the shift’ and it hurt her to see how devastated her friends were when they failed in going home with a guy. She and I huffed and puffed like old women about how woeful the dating world has become. Casual dating is an activity of self pleasure and for most people a means of self-validation. We as a generation are searching to be accepted as credible individuals by fulfilling the requirements of having a meaningful life as created by society. The driving force behind most social interaction and day-to-day living is the formulation of relationships, particularly romantic ones. Finding the perfect love partner in life is a measurement of success and a standard by which we define our worth. From this desire springs methods of searching, ways in which we can easily ascribe a purpose to our lives and thus legitimise our existence. Young people experiment with kissing games, college students have one-night stands, older people turn to online dating.  Life has become all about finding yourself in a partnership with another and people have lost what it means to find love in the presence of God.

A very tragic thing has occurred and that is the death of true courtship. We are becoming more ‘forward thinking’ globally, more open to ideas, living radically and freely and people are hell-bent on leaving behind traditions of the past such as marrying young. Gender roles in society have been so blurred that women are shying away from being honest about wanting relationships and men are cautious of taking the lead and being a gentleman. We strive to be seen as strong, ball busting, independent women who can handle emotionless casual relationships because ‘guys don’t want needy women’ and that vulnerability is not the way to make it in this world. Yet most women secretly live in the hope that one day one of those drunken fellas we throw ourselves at will want to date us and marry us and thus we will be fulfilled and happy in who we are because somebody loves us. We have lost intimacy, we have lost pursuit and we have lost the true meaning of relationship. In it’s place we have found instant gratification and faster ways to physical satisfaction. Technology has lowered barriers in having international relationships and connectivity but it has also broken down communication, taken away the effort of getting to know people and allowed for the normalisation of overtly sexual activities. Men live under the pressure that they won’t fit in with the guys if they don’t act in a wild, responsibility free ways and treat women in an obnoxious, objectifying way. This is ‘lad culture’. Women are afraid to have standards anymore, they don’t want to say no because we have been told over and over again that if we don’t ‘put ourselves out there’ we will be alone forever, single and unhappy in life. Being alone is portrayed a million times over as being less of an individual then those who are coupled up and this is heartbreakingly the ‘modern day woman’ culture. Individuals are compromising their identity in order to find romantic love and be accepted by their peers and themselves.

Being brought up a Christian means over the years I have felt scrutiny and pressure to find a relationship and form a family, and not only from the older Christian generation. The idea of settling down young is a traditional idea, not one that is in tune with society nowadays and yet I have always felt an expectation on me that I would find my husband in college. Now, if I was to do that while in college in Ireland my choice would be limited to either one of the few single Christian Irish lads, it is a very small pond, or more than likely I would have to choose an Irish lad. Unfortunately, while there are great guys out there lad culture is not one that truly understands what it means to be in relationship with someone. I’m going to be honest here and say that I don’t want to date just anyone, I want to be with someone who will not only have value in themselves but seeks to value me and not simply be with me to satisfy their insecurities or fulfill their needs. I want to be made to feel that what I have to say has worth and that I don’t have to apologise for being the weird person I am, just like I want to do that for them in return. So in a way I am satisfying the Christian standard, I am being careful about dating, being considerate and learning to love Jesus above all else but I am doing it in my own time and I am trying to relax about the fact it still hasn’t happened. I have a friend who is thirty, she is single and has a beautiful, honest relationship with Jesus. I admire her greatly and she is fairly satisfied with her relationship status. Yet people still express shock and dismay that she has not settled down “at her age” and it is sad to see this. As Christians there is an expectation that we should be searching for a partner but also that we have to not appear to be wanting one. Christian women often feel the need to live the identity of being ‘married to God’. This is one we present to others and perpetuate even if we don’t know it. We don’t want to appear desperate and so we go too far the other way to meet the standards expected of us. We act like we don’t even want a man because a good Christian woman is fully satisfied by the God. Yes we only NEED God, but most of us do want an earthly romance it is part of who we are and so many young women feel they can’t let guys know they want to be pursued. It is undoubtable truth that we don’t need a man to make us a legitimate person but we are women and the heart of women was made to be loved and even more wonderfully to give love to someone. I love the fact that I can be wrecked by the love of God over and over again and not feel that I have to be out desperately searching for a man to make me feel whole. I am slowly but surely putting aside my unrealistic concepts of love however,  I cannot wait to truly have a relationship with someone.

Am I happy being single? Yes and no. Some days I wake up and I am fine spending my time with myself and working on my relationship with God. Other days I wake up and I feel very alone and bombarded with images of all the romance I could have but don’t. I am not perfect. I enjoy the single life, I have been in it a while but I’m not going to lie. I want to be chased by a guy, I want to be greeted with a beaming grin just for me and I want to have a guy love me. However, I am coming to know that I don’t need it to be happy, that in myself I can be a whole person because I do wake up every morning loved and that is by my best friend Jesus. Cheesy I know, but it is so refreshing to not be constantly feeling like I am a failure because I don’t have a boyfriend. I know that somewhere out there is someone as weird and messed up as me who I will have great craic being with, and when my person and I do enter into a relationship it will be as two people wholly independant but ready to become a part of the change that God is constantly working in the other. I am hoping I will see him soon but in the meantime I am gonna work to become the daughter God wants me to be. So we shall see how it goes.

Must we live like we are going to die young Kesha?

“You going out tonight after work?”

Oh the monotony of this question. My usual answer? “Eh no on a Friday I like to go home, watch some Friends reruns with a nice cup of tea then head to bed with my good friend Facebook” and to me that sounds pretty enjoyable. Yet, when I say this to most people it results in a few seconds silence, an awkward laugh with accompanying abrupt change of conversation.
Not long ago I would have tried to pretend I was going out somewhere hip, even when I wasn’t, simply to fit in. However, that was simply another way of me being validated by the opinions of others and I don’t like lying to fit in.

It’s unfortunate but being a college student nowadays is synonymous with wild, uncontrollable drinking and partying. Normal socialising in the pub with friends is not enough to be ‘living in the moment’ anymore. No if you want to be a successful student, and I don’t mean in your education,  you have to hit to be ready to hit the club scene hard. When I am tired in work on a Sunday I am overwhelmed by the number of people that wink and say to me “Rough night last night eh?”. No it’s just Sunday morning and I miss my bed. There is an expectation that as a student I have to live every moment at a faster and crazier rate then someone who is in their thirties. Drinking and socialising takes on a whole new level when you reach college age. If you are not drunk before you get to the club then you are not doing it right.  Pre-drinking at home ensures students can lose all their senses without losing their money. For girls, and I am giving this view because I am a girl, gathering together before heading out includes taking many photos of ourselves pulling ‘ugly pretty’ faces, bending at weird angles to appear slim in tight, short dresses while drinking copious amounts of cheap vodka and all of this is a way to affirm to one another that we are not alone in entering this world. It’s a bonding thing, a validation of our beauty and a measure of how much we rely on the assurance of others that what we are doing is a good thing.

The culture of drinking has moved on and alcohol is abused in order to change one’s own character, to make us more open, sociable, chattier, flirtier and less caring about our worth. It’s all about bringing yourself to the point where you have just enough of yourself left that you can feel the wildness of the night but lose enough of yourself that all the shame and the dirtiness of the night is a blur of bright lights, dizziness and pleasure. If you can clearly remember all the people you hooked up with then will certainly have failed at having a good night, because nobody wants to remember the desperation of what can often be termed as a ‘whore race’. After all the point of getting hammered is to forget the loneliness, avoid the wrongness of your behaviour, feel good and satisfy carnal urges without moral hangups. Most young people go out searching for something that if they are honest they don’t really find or they find the wrong thing. If what they were doing made them feel good then they would be proud of being with guys who don’t even care what their name is, they would love reliving the dirty names they called the drunk girls and they would enjoy the ways they allowed people to grab and grope their bodies without the hindrance of conversation. I find it sad when I see people of my generation believing that embracing life is only found in chasing the ever elusive high, in searching for an experience that not only overwhelms us but sustains us and is easily accessible in lewd and dangerous places, such as in mind-altering substances or in sexual relationships. Modern social culture bombards us with the message that this can only be found in overindulgence of a wild and responsibility free lifestyle. Musicians love to tell us that our youth is shortlived and that we need to be crazy and sociable and lose ourselves in a culture of party, drink and drugs in order to make the most of our youthful time.

However, I am not denying how young and vibrant it feels to get dressed up, to hang out with people and to go out and dance to some epic tunes. But you can’t really get to do that anymore in Ireland without getting hammered; if you are a girl it is almost a prerequisite to leave your self-worth and class at the door and if you are a lad well you need to forget to be respectful to women and learn to prey on their neediness. It’s a maddening culture that is growing and addictive. As I matured I was never one for this sort of lifestyle not because of any assumed morality but because these activities have always been presented as ‘cool’, parties that ‘beautiful’ and ‘free’ people can engage in, and I never felt cool enough or unbound by my insecurities. I always felt that the ones who owned the night would see through my playacting at being carefree and I was scared of letting go and forgetting who I was to fit in. I tried at first, to fake it till I made it, and then I did. I worked it out, how to give up myself to a new me, a looser me who truth be told didn’t feel worthy of anyone let alone my Father in Heaven who was probably crying out for me to realise that my worth should never have been found in those circumstances, those people. I was ashamed of who I was, I craved acceptance so I went in search of the ‘great’ night out. Except it never was a great night, not the next morning when I felt like dying and with every pang of my head a flashback of my behaviour would shame me. Oh how it haunts me to this day, the time I was escorted from a pub for fighting a girl over some random lad, the time I fell asleep with my head in a club toilet and they had to knock the door down to get me out and the countless times I thought I would find the love of my life by getting drunk and acting slutty for him. Somehow I was truly thought that the only way I could be loved was if I acted like everyone else and forgot me. Eventually I grew weary of the searching for something that would make me feel whole. I no longer counted my worth by the amount of drunk men who told me I was hot and wanted to kiss me, I didn’t want to stay up all night trying to find meaningful relationships and I wanted to dress up without feeling the competition of other girls, or the pressure to look sexy and appealing.

The beauty of realising how low this culture can bring you is when you find where the real joy in life is, it is an uplifting and validating thing and it allows you to live in a way that makes you happy and comfortable without caring about the judgement of other people. For me it was accepting and allowing Jesus to be a constant presence in my life, to actually listen to what He is saying to me and to see myself in a true light, in the way He sees me. Now I no longer go out to find myself, to pave over the pain inside me. Granted I have a lot of issues still there and stuff I have not dealt with yet but I am relying on a different source for healing. I am turning to God because living with Him in real terms, while not easy, is so fulfilling and can bring the kind of high that restores you and carries you when things are not so great. On the rare occasions I do go out it’s simply to hang out with my friends, or to listen to music and to provide a way for them to get home safely. So I refuse to be ashamed if I prefer to spend my Saturday night painting romantic pictures, knitting shapeless socks or having tea with friends. Just as I know plenty of people who really enjoy the party lifestyle and engage in it in a healthy mindset. I have friends who have fun in these environments and don’t lose themselves to the darker side of it and I don’t think they should feel ashamed for that at all. To each their own after all. Life should not be about shaming people out of this lifestyle anyway, it is a seductive and addictive way of living and we are all tempted by it. What we should try for is to not let our identity be consumed by the party culture, to not find ourselves through losing our inhibitions and realise that what other people think of us in no way affirms who we are. In no way am I advocating teetotalism as that would be nonsensical and frankly no fun at all, after all one of the most lauded Christians of all time, C.S Lewis, did most of his writings in a pub. It isn’t the action of drinking that is destroying and consuming young people but the void that we are trying to fill and the dissatisfaction with ourselves that we are trying to run from. Living while we are young should be about letting go of the fear that we are not enough for this world and embracing that we don’t need mind-altering substances or experiences to enjoy ourselves and find peace in who we are.