What am I learning about marriage?
It’s basically foreign missions in the house.
When you step into a foreign country, there is a process so humbling and severely humiliating that few people want to return to the mission field if they lacked the support structure to survive it. Call it culture shock. Call it being homesick. Whatever you label it, the truth remains, going overseas is reverse puberty.
You become a baby. A little man child.
And an inefficient one at that.
You can’t order food at a restaurant, you can’t talk to your neighbor. Sometimes, much like a baby, you can’t even use the toilet correctly.
When I first got to Taiwan, I had long unkempt hair. I was overweight and had stayed up about two days chilling on airplanes. I looked in the mirror and knew I had, Bob forbid, broken the elaborate hair codes bestowed upon me for righteous growth. I also kind of looked shaggy fat. At least clean cut fat can get me some self-respect. So I asked where I could get a haircut and someone pointed me to a random mall.
Walking several blocks, I wheezed and sweated profusely in the hot Taiwanese air. I smelt the fierce gray water stench rising from the canal. It smells a little like an oven from the land of dutch. Eventually after two blocks, and fifteen 7/11’s later, I arrived at the big mall near our school. I walked downstairs and found this little room where people were exposed to the clippers.
I tried so hard to communicate my need for a stylish and trendy hairstyle at a low-cost to this wonderful Taiwanese lady. Eventually I knew what to do, as Americans always do. I used the universal hand-sign for short, where you take a thumb and an index finger and produce two parallel lines that also double as a crocodile shadow puppet.
“Just a little bit.”
This apparently in her worldview meant, “Scorched Earth Policy.”
I heard a slight buzzing rumbling in the distance. Hmm, how quaint.
I didn’t understand. Minor trimming haircuts rely on old technology such as scissors and sharp rocks. The buzzing got louder, the snickersnack whistling in my ear like teenage bees swapping spit near the acoustic meatus. I started to tremble. And I finally knew. Knowledge dawned upon me and I began to discern good and evil. Her agenda became clear. This would end badly.
She adroitly brought out the logging machine from Ferngully and managed to raise the carbon footprint of my head.
Buzz. Whimper. Tear.
My hair was gone.
I had spent months growing that bonsai forest of lusty locks and in a mere smoke break, my hair was eradicated. At this age, it’s starting to progressively rapture. My hair is precious. To lose it before its time cut me deeply. Little shy whisps hung onto my scalp questioning the decency of the universe and the goodness of the almighty master Jake. Would a good Jake really cause such suffering to the innocent hair in his dominion?
After giving her more money then I believe she deserved. READ: ANY AT ALL. I went back to our school and that was when the brutal honesty of the Taiwanese presented itself. I earned the nick names Uncle Fester, and Snorlax in one afternoon. I was being body shamed within 24 hours of landing. If I had a bird. Our pets heads would be falling off.
I had become a child. And not a particularly good one.
But something amazing happened. Overtime I learned and adapted to Taiwan. I never really grasped how much I had learned through my stay Formosa. I began to rent my own place, commute to work, use Eastern living amenities. I even traveled 150 miles south on a bicycle with a broken compass and the ol’ besty Dale. I could live well in Taiwan.
When I left, you can guarantee I knew how to get my ears lowered.
And then I went on this trip called the World Race. I remember ordering taxi’s, buying bus tickets, and living in a foreign country so much better than I ever could of before. Taiwan had matured my survival skills in so many ways. I had to crawl, before I could walk. And then when I found myself in the same shoes, years later, I could run.
And this reminds me of marriage.
(Introspective Jake thinking fondly of terrible haircuts)
When you get married, you take a lifetime of fostering independence and then throw it into the bonfire shouting, “CUDDLE PUDDLE! WOOO!” Only to rise someday and realize. You are kinda bad at marriage. Not like “Fail cause you’re a dirtbag bad,” but leave the toilet seat up bad.
Marriage knocks you down a notch in developmental stability. You start crawling and doing dumb stuff and realizing how childish you really are. And that’s ok.
It’s designed to do that. And I think that is something that is hard for newlyweds to understand.
I remember a long time ago switching from T9 to a full keyboard. Then from a full keyboard to a touch screen. I remember in each transitional phase, I went from being incredibly efficient at typing to sucking really well at texting. I could text with the Valley Girl Kings. And then technology comes, pushes me into a puddle, and says pick yourself up loser. I would rise as the new technology sprints away, shaking my fist and screaming “TEACH ME YOU DARN DIRTY TYPES!”
The learning curve to new technology is steep. You go from proficiency to fall down-the-stairs-puppy awful. People accuse you of drunk-texting even when you never touch the stuff as your wobbly fingers says great sentences like, “whath art yuo up twwo todsy?”
Overtime though, you look back and say, “I can’t believe I ever used T9! What savages invented this pathetic typing method! Bah! My cell phone was one microchip away from the steam engine!”
This is marriage.
It is becoming a baby. Learning to walk. Learning to get haircuts in a foreign land. And the beauty is that much like new technology. When you finally make the transition and get past the learning curve, you are far more efficient then you used to be. In some ways the first ten months of marriage has been adapting to that curve.
I remember the primal lifestyle of coming home tired and popping in a hot pocket or ordering Taco Bell at some vile hour. In a sense, a lack of someone to care for led to a lack of self-care.
Tying to strands of life together is tough. It takes skill and finesse to not weave one side better than the other. We in many ways are still toddlering through life and learning to live well. We in other ways are looking back and saying “I can’t believe I ever lived like that. Marriage FTW, yo.”
Emily and I are now learning to walk in a profound new independence as a couple. When Emily works, I can eat bagels and watch Arrow and still make money. When I am at work, she can go to Yoga, listen to sermons, and still make money. When she works late I can have some deep fried potstickers waiting for her. When I work and Emily is home, I come back to a clean house. Our population and income has doubled, and yet our rent is the same, therefore halving our biggest bills.
My point is this.
Marriage isn’t necessarily going to start out efficient. That learning curve can be so rigid and abrasive that many a newlywed couple has thrown hands vertical and screamed, “WHY, OH, WHY DID I EVER LET HORMONES GET IN THE DRIVERS SEAT?!?!?”
When people experience movement into a new culture they have two paths. Only two. Not 75. This makes it rather simple. You either identify with the new culture or you isolate yourself from it.
Marriage is like missions in the house. And it takes time, effort, tears, and maybe some cuddles to get to the point that shared interdependence has exceeded that of independence. If you isolate yourself from your spouses culture, make fun of the differences, antagonize the uniqueness of your beloved… well you may never ever find yourself as efficient as you were before marriage. But if you embrace it? Identify with the differences and find yourself looking into the unique and beautiful person you are married to? Well, it’s like going from T9 to a full-keyboard. You look back and say, “How could I have ever lived that way?”
Don’t give up on it. It feels like puberty is on its second wind. It will be obnoxious. But in the end, you will find yourself free and joyful that you are so much more then you ever were alone.
And that is strangely close to the beauty of the gospel. The mingling of souls that eventually fosters a beautiful interdependence, where you will look back years from now and realize just how childish you were as an independent adult.
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Photo’s couretsy of Gian Carlo Photography
(Partner in Crime, accepting she married said man-baby with terrible haircuts)