Love, But Not Marriage: A Short Story

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It was July 1st, 1989, and Johnny was at Skaha Lake. The beach was a hot spot for single people in Penticton, and like a lot of other young men his age, Johnny went there to meet women. The manager of a gym, he had a muscular body, and women were attracted to him, sometimes even older women.

Johnny was about to go for a swim when he saw a young girl crying and screaming, “Mommy! Where are you?!”

He spotted a woman at the other end of the crowded beach, looking around in distress. He hurried to the girl, picked her up, and pointed. “Is that your mother?”

“That’s my Mommy!” the girl cried. She was four years old.

Johnny put the girl down, waved to the mother, and she ran across the sand.

“Thank you,” she said as soon as she reached them. “I fell asleep, and she wandered off.” The girl wrapped her arms around her mother’s waist.

“She’s a beautiful girl,” Johnny said with a smile. “Just like her mother.”

The woman smiled back, and Johnny couldn’t keep his eyes from drifting down. She was in her mid 30s, wore a yellow bikini, and it revealed much more than it concealed.

Johnny asked the girl, “Would you like an ice cream?”

“Yes!” she said excitedly.

“No; we need to go home,” the mother said to her daughter. Then she looked at Johnny. “Thank you though.” And she walked away with her daughter in her arms.

“Out of my league,” Johnny sighed. “Probably married.”

Johnny went for a swim, and he met another woman, smacking into her while she was doing the backstroke. Slim and attractive, with shoulder-length dark hair, she was wearing a red, one-piece bathing suit. She was 25, two years older than him.

“Ow!” she yelled when they collided.

“I’m so sorry!” Johnny said when his blonde head came up from the water. “I’m not the greatest swimmer.”

Johnny could do the front crawl, yet despite his strength, he could only swim 10 minutes at a time, and had to stop to catch his breath. There was something wrong with his stroke.

“No, it’s my fault,” the young woman said, wincing. “I should have seen you.” They were both treading water, near the yellow buoys that marked the area where it was safe to swim.

“Are you a good swimmer?” Johnny asked.

The young woman smiled. “I’m a lifeguard.”

Johnny grinned. “Maybe you could… teach me a lesson. What’s your name?”

“Samantha.”

“I’m Johnny.”

Samantha tried to teach him, but it was no use. He couldn’t improve his stroke. But that didn’t matter to Johnny. After that lesson, they never spent a day apart.

They worked out every day. On weekends, they swam at Skaha Lake, and went hiking in the mountains. After the first snowfall in December, they went skiing at Apex. They both loved to be outdoors, and do things that challenged them physically.

Samantha had been hurt by a lot of guys, some who cheated on her, others who left her for no reason. “I have a hard time trusting guys,” she confessed.

Johnny promised her, “I’ll never cheat on you, and I’ll always be honest in our relationship.”

Samantha wasn’t like the other women Johnny had been with. She made him wait a month before they made love, and insisted that he go see a doctor first. Johnny’s previous girlfriends were wild, often irresponsible, but Samantha didn’t drink much, and when she discovered that Johnny liked to smoke pot, she made him stop.

Johnny felt free with Samantha, to tell her things he had never told anyone. When he was 12, his father came into his bedroom and said, “I have to leave, son, and I don’t know when I’ll be back.” Johnny’s father never came back, and he never sent any money to pay the bills.

Six months went by with Samantha, and Johnny had never been happier. He had everything he wanted in a relationship: They had sex all the time; Samantha was an amazing cook; they never had a fight. But Samantha started to wonder about their future together.

It was New Year’s Day 1990, and Johnny had slept over at Samantha’s apartment the night before. He woke up at 10, and made breakfast for both of them: coffee, scrambled eggs, ham, and toast.

When Samantha sat at the kitchen table, Johnny, playing the role of a waiter, brought her a plate. “Would you like anything else, Miss?” he asked.

“Well, maybe a good morning kiss,” Samantha said, smiling.

Johnny kissed her, and whispered in her ear, “I’m expecting a large tip—later.”

This made Samantha blush. Johnny sat down, and started wolfing down his breakfast.

After taking a bite from her toast, Samantha asked, “What do you think about marriage?” Her parents were happily married, as were her three sisters.

Johnny’s toast got stuck in his throat, and he coughed repeatedly. “I don’t believe in it. You don’t have to get married to prove you love someone.”

Samantha had heard this before, from her previous boyfriends. “You get married to show your commitment to the person you love,” she argued. “If you make a vow to each other, you’re more likely to stay together.”

Johnny scoffed. “It doesn’t mean anything. My father cheated on my mother all the time.”

Samantha knew about Johnny’s childhood, and tried to be sensitive. When his father left, Johnny had to get a part-time job to help his mother pay the bills. He knew more about divorce than marriage.

“I know that many marriages end badly,” she admitted. “But on average, people who get married stay together longer than people who don’t.”

Johnny reached and held Samantha’s hand. “I don’t want to argue about this. I love you, and I’m not going anywhere. Isn’t that enough?”

Samantha didn’t know what else to say, so life went on as before.

But in the spring, to Samantha’s surprise, Johnny made her a proposal.

On Easter weekend, they went out for dinner, and while they were waiting for dessert, Johnny had a big grin on his face.

“What are you smiling about?” Samantha asked.

“I’ve been thinking… Why don’t we move in together? In my trailer.”

“No!” Samantha said, raising her voice. “Definitely not!”

“Why not?” Johnny frowned. “We’ll see each other more, you’ll have more space, and you won’t have to pay rent.”

Samantha shook her head. “I’m not going to live with you until we get married.”

“I told you,” Johnny said, raising his voice. “I don’t want to get married.”

Samantha didn’t know what to say to change his mind, but she knew what she had to do.

After dinner, they did what they always did on Saturday night. They went to Samantha’s apartment, and after watching a movie, Johnny took her by the hand, and led her into the bedroom. Sitting on the bed, Johnny kissed her, but Samantha pulled back and pressed two fingers on his lips.

“I’ve… decided something,” she said with hesitation in her voice. “We’re not making love anymore.”

Johnny was in shock. “What! Why?”

“I’m like a sports car to you.”

“No,” Johnny said, shaking his head. “You’re not an object to me. You’re a beautiful woman.”

“And for ten months, you’ve taken me for a test drive, but I’m not a free ride anymore.”

Johnny pleaded and begged, but it was no use. Samantha wasn’t going to change her mind.

Not having sex was like a drug withdrawal for both of them, but they made it through the spring. On Canada Day—their one-year anniversary—they went to Skaha Lake, and had a picnic on the beach. They sat together on a blanket, ate sandwiches, and drank lemonade. Since they stopped having sex, they no longer saw each other every day. There was a growing distance between them, but they never talked about it.

After a long silence, Johnny said, “I’m not sure about us anymore—if this is working.”

Samantha took a deep breath, and tried to stay calm. “Are you… breaking up with me?”

“I don’t know,” Johnny answered vaguely. “But maybe we need some time apart.”

Samantha felt her throat tighten; she couldn’t speak. She got up and walked into the water.

Johnny stood up and started kicking the sand. He really did care for Samantha, but he was frustrated that she wouldn’t sleep with him. He walked into the water after her. “I was just being honest, OK? Maybe we can work it out.”

Samantha turned to Johnny and said, “I know why you don’t want to marry me.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because you’re waiting for the perfect person!” Samantha said, distraught. “Someone better than me!” Then she swam away.

Johnny swam after her, but Samantha, not wanting to be near him, kept on swimming—beyond the buoys—thinking he would turn back.

Johnny knew it wasn’t safe to swim out that far, and he wanted to stop, but he saw Samantha struggling in the water. Beyond the buoys, there was an undertow from a small river that spilled into the lake, and it was pulling her under.

Johnny swam as fast as he could. When he reached her, he was out of breath and had stomach cramps, and couldn’t keep up his stroke. He took hold of her, swam back a short distance, but they were both sinking, and Johnny went under. Samantha’s head was barely above the surface.

A man in a boat saw them struggling, and came to their rescue. He reached and pulled Samantha out of the water. But Johnny was floating face-down, a hundred feet away.

Kneeling at the edge of the boat, Samantha spotted him and screamed, “Johnny!”

The man took the boat closer, and then he and Samantha lifted Johnny out of the water. He wasn’t breathing, so she performed CPR. She did multiple chest compressions, tilted his forehead back, lifted his chin, pinched his nose, and gave him two rescue breaths. He didn’t respond, so she tried again. He still wasn’t breathing. But on the third attempt, Johnny coughed, water spilling out of his mouth.

When Johnny sat up, Samantha held him, and with tears streaming down her face, she said, “I’m so sorry. It’s my fault this happened.”

Johnny didn’t answer her. He just stared across the lake. Seeing that Johnny was OK, the man in the boat took them back to the beach.

Samantha and Johnny both thanked the man, got out of the boat, and returned to their picnic.

While Samantha was packing up their things, she said, “I won’t talk about marriage again. I promise.”

Johnny was silent for a moment. Then he said, “I was a coward.”

Samantha took his hand and squeezed it. “Johnny, no. You risked your life to save me. You were very brave.”

“When you were drowning,” Johnny said, looking away, “I realized I was afraid … of marrying the wrong person.”

“Because of your mother and father?”

Johnny nodded. After a long pause, he turned to her. “But when I was drowning, I realized what a fool I was. In that moment, I knew—if I lived, I wanted to spend my life with you.”

Johnny held her hands, and got down on one knee. “I really do love you, Samantha… Will you marry me?”

Samantha put her hand on her chest and took a deep breath. “Yes!” she cried, pulling him to his feet. “Yes!”

Johnny kissed her, and they held each other.

A minute later, Samantha spoke softly in his ear: “The reason I planned the picnic today, was to tell you—I’m pregnant.”

Johnny’s eyes opened wide; his jaw dropped; he couldn’t speak. He stepped back.

Finally, he said, “Wow… I’m going to be a Dad.”

Samantha nodded her head, “Yes! You are.”

Then Johnny said, “So, I guess we can start having sex again?”

Samantha shook her head. “No! Not until our wedding night.”

Johnny sighed, opened his mouth to say something, but he didn’t.

Six weeks later, they got married.

Stigmatizing People Through Name Calling

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A stigma is “a strong feeling of disapproval that most people in a society have about something.”1 To stigmatize someone is to “describe or regard [them] as worthy of disgrace or great disapproval.”2 Stigmatization is a means to control human behavior. While certain stigmas are necessary in a healthy society, stigmatizing labels are often wrongly applied to people. If you are going to stigmatize someone, you need to have proof that they are guilty of bad behavior. Otherwise, you may be slandering them.

For good or ill, stigmatization is a means of social control: “the enforcement of conformity by society upon its members, either by law or by social pressure.”3 When a behavior is stigmatized, a person who engages in that behavior may be called a stigmatizing name. This puts pressure on the individual to conform to society’s standards of right and wrong. A stigmatizing name is a mark of shame. The pain of embarrassment can cause a person to change their behavior, at least publicly.

When a behavior is no longer stigmatized, human behavior changes as a result. For example, in previous generations, women were shamed for having children out of wedlock. Today, that stigma has largely been removed, and a much higher percentage of women have children without getting married. In 1940, 3.8% of all births were to unmarried women.4 However, by 2014, the percentage had risen to 40.2%.5 While there are a number of reasons for this social change, the removal of the stigma against out of wedlock births is one important factor. When a behavior is no longer stigmatized, people are more likely to engage in that behavior.

Some stigmas are necessary in a healthy society. One example is Islamophobia, defined as “dislike of or prejudice against Islam or Muslims.”6 If someone expresses hatred or contempt for Muslims, it is fair and accurate to call them an Islamophobe. A social stigma against hatred serves an important function in society: to prevent a nation from tearing itself apart. If public declarations of hatred become widespread, it could lead to violence against innocent people.

While a social stigma against hatred is justified, stigmatizing labels can be wrongly applied to people. For instance, a person can be called Islamophobic if they say anything critical of Islam. Islam is a religion, a set of beliefs and practices, and should not be immune from criticism. To disagree with the teachings of Islam is not the same as hating Muslims. No one should be called an Islamophobe for exercising their right to freedom of speech.

If you are going to call someone a stigmatizing name, you should have proof that they are guilty of wrong behavior. During the 2016 President election, Hillary Clinton labelled millions of people who support Donald Trump as deplorable. She said, “You can put half of Trump supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables… Racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic, you name it.”7 Clinton implied that half of Trump supporters hate minorities, immigrants, gays, and Muslims.

Clinton stigmatized Trump supporters without any evidence to prove it. She later apologized for her comment, saying, “I regret saying ‘half’ — that was wrong.”8 However, she still believed that a significant percentage of Trump supporters were deplorable human beings.

When a stigmatizing label is wrongly applied to someone, it is a form of slander: “a false spoken statement about someone that damages their reputation.”9 Unless a person expresses hatred or contempt for a certain group of people, they should not be called racist, homophobic, xenophobic, or Islamophobic. If you call someone a stigmatizing name, you have formed a judgment about that individual. If you are wrong in your judgment, you can do great harm to that individual, damaging their reputation and self-worth.

Stigmatization establishes a “red line” for bad behavior in society. The proper use of a stigmatizing label is to declare the truth about a person’s behavior, not to insult, disparage, or belittle them. When a person is stigmatized, it creates a public perception that they are a bad person. Because of this, no one should be stigmatized unless they do something bad without showing any regret or remorse. The goal of stigmatization should be to make the person face the truth about their behavior, so they stop doing what is wrong.

Notes

  1. Cambridge English Dictionary, s.v. “Stigma,” accessed November 10, 2016,http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/stigma
  2. Oxford Dictionaries, s.v. “Stigmatize,” accessed November 10, 2016, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/stigmatize
  3. Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House Inc. s.v. “Social Control,” accessed November 13, 2016, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/stigmatize
  4. Stephanie J. Ventur and Christine A. Bachrach, Nonmarital Childbearing in the United States, 1940–99, National Vital Statistics Reports, October 2000, 17, https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr48/nvs48_16.pdf
  5. Brady E. Hamilton, National Vital Statistics Reports, December 2015, 41, http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr64/nvsr64_12.pdf
  6. Oxford Dictionaries, s.v. “Islamophobia,” accessed November 10, 2016, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/islamophobia
  7. Dan Merica and Sophie Tatum, “Clinton expresses regret for saying ‘half’ of Trump supporters are ‘deplorables’,” CNN, September 12, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/09/politics/hillary-clinton-donald-trump-basket-of-deplorables/index.html
  8. Ibid.
  9. Cambridge English Dictionary, s.v. “Slander,” accessed November 14, 2016, http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/slander

Three Traits of Judgmental People

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A judgmental person is like a porcupine. If you get too close, you’re likely to get hurt. Judgmental people have three common traits: They are overly critical, they show no respect for the person they are critical of, and they justify what they say because they believe it is true. People can become judgmental due to their pride, their hurt and anger at being wronged, and a lack of love for others. Three ways to overcome being judgmental include self-reflection, forgiveness, and seeing the whole person.

Some people will accuse you of being judgmental if you criticize them. However, the word judgmental is defined as “having or displaying an excessively critical point of view.”1 The first trait of a judgmental person is they constantly criticize.

No one can handle being criticized all the time. It puts a strain on a relationship because the person being criticized feels unloved. Further, when someone is too critical, it is human nature not to like them. A judgmental person repels others, and will have a hard time forming long-term relationships.

Judgmental people are offensive not only because of their words, but also their tone. They will speak to (or about) a person with hatred, contempt, or disrespect. Instead of speaking calmly and rationally, they can be highly emotional—hurling insults, or using profanity.

A judgmental person will often justify the harsh things they say because they believe it is the truth. However, the truth should not be used as a weapon to hurt someone, or destroy their self-worth.

Every human being has value and worth simply because they are human, not because they are good or bad, a success or a failure. A judgmental person often bases an individual’s worth as a human being on their character traits, failings, or some other criteria. They are unable to separate a person from their actions, to recognize that everyone has equal worth as a human being.

Although they may not admit it, judgmental people feel and act like they are superior. People who believe they are superior have illusions about themselves. They see themselves as more than they are. In looking down on others, they have an ego problem: a heart filled with pride.

In addition to pride, a person can become judgmental when they are angry at being wronged by someone. Hurt and wounded inside, their heart can grow cold, and they harshly judge the person who mistreated them.

Whatever the root cause, a judgmental person has a heart that lacks love and respect for other people. The danger in being judgmental, is that once you feel hatred, contempt, or disrespect for one human being, it becomes easier to transfer these feelings to another.

One way to stop being judgmental is through self-reflection, by recognizing that we have faults of our own. The more we self-reflect, and realize our own shortcomings, the easier it is to love and accept people as they are.

Another way to stop being judgmental is to forgive the person who wronged us. Forgiveness doesn’t change what the person has done, but it will set us free inside, so we can let go of being hurt, angry, or offended.

A third way to stop being judgmental is to open our eyes and see the whole person. A judgmental person will often hyper-focus on someone’s negative traits, making them blind to their positive qualities. If we can see the whole person, it is much easier to love them.

Instead of being judgmental, we need to be selective in our criticism. When a person does something we believe is wrong, we have two alternatives: say nothing at all, or speak the truth in love. Often it is better to say nothing, to overlook people’s minor flaws and shortcomings. The more you criticize others, the more you will be criticized, and the less likely people will listen to you.

Nonetheless, there are times when we have a duty to speak. For instance, if a person is hurting someone else, it is right and just to speak the truth to make them stop. We may even have to be bold and direct. However, before we correct someone, we should show them love and respect. When a person feels loved and respected, they are more likely to listen to us when we tell them the truth.

Notes

  1. Oxford Dictionaries, s.v. “Judgmental,” accessed October 27, 2016, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/us/judgmental

The Wolf Who Believed He Was A Sheep: A Fable

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A pack of wolves lived on a mountain. One winter day, the youngest wolf, the son of the Alpha male, joined the pack on a hunt, and they attacked a band of bighorn sheep.

The young wolf stood by, watching the slaughter of two old ewes, and when it was over, the wolves ate until their bellies were full.

After the pack returned to their den, the young wolf was so disturbed by the deaths that he howled all night long.

The next morning, he told his father, “I’m not eating sheep anymore, or any other animal.”

His father laughed at him. “What are you going to eat?”

“Grass.”

And the young wolf became a vegetarian.

A week later, his father commanded him, “You can’t stay in the den tonight. You must join me on the hunt.”

“No,” the young wolf said. “I’m not a killer.”

“If you don’t come with me,” his father said sternly, “you’ll embarrass me before the pack.”

“I will go,” the young wolf replied. “But I will not kill.”

The young wolf went with his father, and watched the pack attack another band of bighorn sheep, killing two old rams. But when the wolves ate, the young wolf turned his head away.

That night, he had an epiphany. He kept it a secret until spring arrived; then one day he told his father, “I’m a sheep trapped inside a wolf’s body.”

His father frowned. “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”

“It’s the truth,” the young wolf said.

“Believing something is true doesn’t make it true.”

“I know what I am; and I am not a wolf.”

The Alpha male growled at his son. “If you’re not a wolf, then go live with the sheep!”

“Is that what you really want?” the young wolf asked sadly.

“Yes; you’re banished until you realize what you are!”

The Alpha was so angry, he mocked his son before the pack, saying, “My son is crazy! He thinks he’s a sheep!”

The young wolf looked at his father, then left the den, and as he walked away, all the wolves laughed and howled at him.

He wandered for a long time until he found a band of bighorn sheep. The band, comprised of ewes, yearlings, and lambs, ran away in fear, but he caught up with them.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” the young wolf said. “I’m a sheep like you. I’m just trapped inside a wolf’s body.”

The sheep all stared at the wolf in confusion, and then they looked at each other.

“It’s a trick!” one of the ewes finally said.

A yearling cried, “He’ll eat us all!”

“No; I only eat grass,” the young wolf said. “I’ve never killed a sheep in my life.”

Hearing this, the sheep didn’t know what to think, but they didn’t run away. The wolf joined their band, and ate junegrass and wheatgrass like they did.

The wolf and the bighorn sheep lived together in peace and harmony until the end of summer. Then, in early fall, two rams joined the band.

“Leave us—now!” the larger ram commanded the wolf.

“I’m not a wolf. I’m a sheep just like you.”

“It’s true,” one of the ewes said. “He’s never hurt any of us.”

“He’s a nice wolf,” another ewe said. “I mean, a nice sheep living inside a wolf’s body.”

The rams didn’t believe it. “A wolf is a wolf is a wolf,” the larger ram said.

“Nature made you what you are,” the smaller ram added.

“I know I don’t look like you,” the wolf said to the rams. “But I know who I am inside. I’m a sheep.”

The young wolf tried to persuade the rams, yet no matter what he said, he could not change their minds.

That night, the two rams waited until the young wolf was asleep, and they attacked him, ramming him in the head with their spiralled horns.

The wolf woke up, fought the rams, and wounded them with his sharp teeth. The rams fell to the ground, and the wolf stood over them.

The larger ram said weakly, “I was right… You’re not a sheep.”

“No; I have the soul of a sheep,” the wolf replied. “But I still have the strength and power of a wolf.”

And after that, the rams never attacked the wolf again.