Maybe he’s quiet, maybe he’s loud. Introverted or extroverted, gentle or tough, tall or short, bookish or mountain-man. Maybe he’s thoughtful, maybe he’s brash. Right-brain or left-brain, sure of himself or carrying hurts, little bit lazy or a little bit uptight, knows Brahms backward and forward or listens to Justin Timberlake on long drives. Maybe he smokes. Maybe he runs many miles. Maybe he swears like a sailor or has impeccable manners, asks too many questions or asks hardly any questions, has lots of experience – good and bad, or has little experience – good or bad. Maybe he has a mind like a steel-trap or maybe he struggles to remember details. Musical or mathematical, pensive or enthusiastic, irreverent or composed, laughs at dry humor or delights in slapstick, comes from a divided home or has never known familial strife, fit in with the jocks or never fit in well anywhere. Maybe he’s full of anxious energy, ready for adventure, or happy to sit and do nothing. Maybe he’s great with computers and technology or maybe he’s the first one to stack the wood. Maybe he’s a fine listener or maybe he’s good at keeping a conversation afloat. Maybe he teases a little too much or maybe he takes himself and the world a bit too seriously. Maybe he lays his days out like clockwork or maybe his approach is a bit different every day.
I look at the above attributes, strengths, quirks, and weaknesses and I shrug.
Those things are not essential. They’re windows through which I’ll come to know him and love him, and I have preferences: but they’re not what make the man.
The one thing I unwaveringly hope for is this: he’s trying to be a man of virtue – whether I’m in his life or not. Whether I’m ever in it or not; whether I’m there to see it or not.
Does he have curly hair, an incredible sense of humor, matchless wit and an enthusiasm for philosophy? Is he a messy eater? Does he agree with me that swiss cheese is disgusting, and that it would be worth the effort to tame a squirrel someday and maybe name it Snufkin? Does he sometimes state his opinions too forcefully?
Don’t know. Don’t need to know right now. What I want to know is simply: is he trying to – striving to – be a man of virtue?
Does he know how to fish, has he been to Asia, does he write beautiful songs, is he impatient when untangling Christmas lights, is vulnerability difficult for him, is he hyper-sensitive, has he fallen with other women in his past, is he allergic to bananas, does he look handsome in a V-neck, did he stutter when he was a kid, is he intuitive, was he ever a pothead, can he do the scissor-kick, is he all good with his Dad, is he smarter than I, can he cook?
Don’t know, don’t need to know right now. I want to know: is he trying – striving – to be a man of virtue?
See, I want to be friends with this man. Friends remain after honeymoons become memories. Friends are not to be bothered by idealized images set upon pedestals: they prefer the real thing. They love the real thing – not only that, they like the real thing. Lawd knows I am no man’s “dream woman” – I will never match up with a list of perfect traits: spend a little time with me and you’ll discover that. I’m not an ethereal songbird who only ever floats around pondering the best way to imbue all of my interactions with the personalistic norm. I’ve got “fatal flaws to call my own”, and I’m striving to meet God in those places of emptiness, caverns he wants to fill and make like unto himself. It is this continual invasion of God that makes me crave true friendship – companionship – ‘being-with.’ And I know that only in a virtuous man will I find a true friend, because only the virtuous man or woman can experience true friendship.
And so I simply want to know: is he striving to be a man of virtue? Everything else follows from that. I’m okay with being surprised: the whole “make a list describing your ideal guy, right down to which side of his head he parts his hair on” thing always seemed a little one-dimensional to me. Makes me think of my favorite scene from Groundhog Day, where Bill Murray’s character, Phil, asks the girl he’s interested in “what she wants”: to which she readily replies with a list of highly desirable – but somewhat idealized – traits that she’s clearly compiled over years of dream-casting: romantic, courageous, hilariously funny, good body, the humility of a saint (doesn’t know how good-looking he is), kind, sensitive, gentle, not afraid to cry in front of her, likes animals, plays an instrument, changes diapers like a pro; and finally, he loves his mother. Phil listens to all of this patiently, and then asks simply, “This is a man we’re talking about?”
What good are all of the most appealing traits if they’re not based in a virtuous heart? Where’s the beauty in a man’s muscled, powerful body if his soul can’t match its stride? Those long lists of traits are just the raw material of love. A person’s quirks and features are a wonderful part of the whole – but they’re not what make him good. What makes him good is his desire to conform his life to the inner-life of God: viz., his virtue. There is a harmony that exists amongst virtuous souls that encompasses, yet goes far deeper than, compatibility.
Is he a man of virtue? Because if he is – I will be in good hands. Tough hands, scarred hands, quiet hands, musical hands, etc. No matter. They’ll be good ones.
Lord, give that man the grace to keep trying. Who-ever he is, whatever his idiosyncrasies and gifts are: give him the grace to strive.
Try, man. Strive, friend.
I’m trying and striving, too.