"You must become an icon on the wall of my soul."
The ardent young man had told me I was amazing, but that he might need to become a monk. Or he might not. Whatever the case may be, I had to become an icon on the wall of his soul.
It's gotta be the best kiss-off line I've ever gotten, and I still miss that guy. (Dammit.)
Please know that I have always lived in the wholesome, good-hearted middle states, where marrying in your twenties is still absolutely expected. No one sets out to be single on purpose. No one. (Yes, even in this super-progressive age and time.)
When I was a silly young thing in Protestant Bible College, I used to say that I never wanted to marry one of those "little preacher boys." It seemed to me that those boys were silly (pot, meet kettle); and the ministerial life seemed too precarious, too subject to the whims of politics. I also knew that I could not behave as well as I needed to in order to be a preacher man's wife. Either that, or I was not comfortable enough in a skin thick enough to take it.
And I didn't want to. And I didn't do it. And I got to be as silly and selfish as I wanted to for many more years.
Unbeknownst to me, college really is the easiest time to find someone to marry. So when I left college and ventured out into the estrogen-fumigated world of elementary education, the options were slim. My friends used to joke that all of the "good ones" were either married or gay. But I see now that wasn't the case. I wasted my time on plenty of good single men. With some, the timing wasn't right, or I was a little too ugly (or angry), or they might have been latently gay, or some were just concrete-locked Bachelors Till the Rapture for reasons I am not privy to.
After that, I had the beautiful experience of dating The Marrying Man. He is a good, good man. He had been married before, believed in marriage, and wanted it again. Ultimately, that didn't work out, for reasons I can guess at but never really know. Indian men are famously private and polite, and so our breakup was famously private and polite. Except for on my end. Hell hath no fury like a woman denied her American Indian babies. I had so looked forward to holding them in my arms. To this day, I feel guilty for being so mean.
After that, this Protestant girl became Protodox. And then Orthodox. The exact same faith; a whole new world. Like being in the same house, but looking out a different window on a completely different scene.
It was then that I met Mr. Icon on the Wall of His Soul. I'm pretty sure that if I offered guided tours of his soul, you would see a little icon of me there. Tiny, but there. How much would you pay for a tour of his soul? It's an interesting one, for sure. I bet I could make a pretty penny offering those tours... Hm. At any rate, he was the first I had met of the Convert Monk Crush Men. I didn't know at the time that he was one of a certain type, that he fit a mold.
And what can I say about the Convert Monk Crush Men? They love God. They hope to be good men. They might be hiding with their issues behind the idea that they will at some point leave the world to go pray for us all. We all have our baggage with us in some way or another; whether we stay single, marry, are in committed relationships, become monastic...
And the truth is, each man gets the Monk Crush for his own reasons that I will never know. Some of them have actually become monks. Some of them are still in the throes of Monk Crush. Some of them seem to have passed beyond Monk Crush to view their lives in other, larger terms than they previously thought imaginable.
Maybe a better question is why I haven't gotten Convert Nun Crush. Except that we women converts just don't seem as susceptible to it.
So for me, the joke converted after I converted. The "good ones" are no longer just married or gay, they are married, gay, or monks.
I used to have a good deal of heartburn over this. Over the idea that becoming Orthodox made so many less fish in the sea. But now I have widened my view, and I see it this way:
Since the sexual/feminist revolution of the 60s and 70s, there are no more gender roles. The women of that generation got exactly what they were looking for, it's just that they didn't know the curses freedom would bring. Having no roles has left the men of my generation with a particular set of unjust expectations. (Or non-expectations.)
Are they supposed to be tough or tender? The provider or a cooperative member of an egalitarian pairing? A hunter, a gatherer, the groundskeeper/griller, a diaper changer, up to their ears in soapsuds and window cleaner? I'm sure you sophisticates on the coasts have this all worked out, but it still is difficult for some of us. The women of our generation have emasculated our men, mothering them into irrelevancy and then wondering why we are no longer attracted. (Case in point, Date Night.) We of their generation and their mothers obliterated their chance to be a hero, and then complain. Where have all the cowboys gone?
A disproportionate amount of converts to Orthodoxy are men. Why? Someone has suggested that it is because men really like to be asked to do challenging things. They like to be asked to do hard things, but they like to understand what those things are. Within the life of the Church, there are many concrete challenges: morning and evening prayers, Confession, fasting, nepsis.
And now, I can see why Monk Crush men go there. Because being a monk is a particular, concrete thing. Because it is a manly role. Because they pray for the life of the world. And also because they get to skip out on a lot of harrowing experiences, too... I mean, who are we kidding?
And of course everyone's life and their reasons are infinitely complex, irreducible. Of course these are not all of the reasons we do what we do. But this is how I see it, today.
The thing with the Monk Crush men is that you have to hold them loosely. With all men, you hold them loosely. They are working to be themselves in an epoch that is not nurturing or welcoming. They are trying to find their way, single, married, bachelors, monks, and Monk Crush men. They deserve to be prayed for. They deserved to be loved as they are.
They must become icons on the walls of our souls.