One of my favorite movies is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind starring Jim Carey and Kate Winslet. In the movie, Joel, the uptight, Eeyore guy falls for Clementine, the bohemian, Jenny Gump type girl. They have an amazing relationship until Clementine gets bored and tired and changes her mind. Fortunately for her and to the anguish of Joel, Clementine is able to have Joel erased from her memory. The movie focuses on Joel’s attempt to erase Clementine from his memory but erasing her from his heart proves to be more difficult than he thought. Eternal is a tremendous movie with depth and poetry. I always marvel at the minds that can capture and pen such amazing insights yet so subtle that you honestly think you are the only one who caught it.
Relationships are tough. They are work. They are messy. I think that is what scares me the most about commitment. The work. The truth that I can’t just ignore or avoid things when it is convenient for me. The scary realization that you are in this together. I know that this is comforting to many people. I know this simply because they say it is and because so many people go for it. I don’t know it from personal experience. I hear “in this together” and I hear prison doors slamming shut and Percy Wetmore yelling in the background “Dead Man Walking”. My worst nightmares involved marriage ceremonies where the countdown is on, I’m in white and dead-sure I’m about to make a big mistake. And by nightmares, I mean literal nightmares – “wake-up-in-cold-sweats”, “i-need-to-go-for-a-walk” nightmares.
I’m scared of the work and failing at it. Right now, I have it pretty good. The single life is good. I don’t have to be nice in the morning. I don’t have to wait to use the bathroom or shower. I don’t have to be angry with anyone other than myself about dishes left in the sink. And even then, I’m pretty easy on myself. I mean, we all make mistakes, right? It’s totally understandable when I make one. It’s when others make them or point out my own that it can get a little inconvenient and frustrating.
I know I sound completely selfish but I’m being honest. Marriage is a scary concept to me. It isn’t that I don’t want to be selfless. I just know it is going to require a lot of work to be selfless. What if I can’t pull it off? What if I get antsy in marriage the way I get antsy at work or with hobbies? What it I want to bolt and run? What if I change my mind?
“in this together” means “the good, the bad, the ugly in this together”.
Can I handle that? Can I handle someone knowing with pain-staking accuracy my bad and my ugly? Because if I get married, it is a guarantee that he will be very familiar with my bad and my ugly.
In the movie, there is this very brief but very significant dialogue between Joel and Clementine.
Joel: I don’t see anything I don’t like about you.
Clementine: But you will! But you will, and I’ll get bored with you and feel trapped, because that’s what happens with me.
What an amazing and honest discussion. Clementine isn’t opposed to the relationship. She’s scared that she’ll feel trapped even if she doesn’t want to feel trapped. She’s afraid she’ll hurt him even if she doesn’t want to hurt him. When she finally admits this out loud to herself as well as to Joel, Joel says “okay”. Not like an “okay-fine-be-that-way” okay but an “okay-i-love-you-and-your-worth-the-risk” okay. At that moment, grace surges through every part of her being.
I completely get Clementine. I wish I didn’t but I do. And as is the case for most of us, our relationships with people often reflect our relationship with God.
Author Lauren Winner writes “I hope I remember, when I’m bored with Him [Jesus], and antsy, and sick of brushing my teeth next to the same god every morning, I hope I remember not to leave Him. I am not so worried that He will leave me. The Bible, after all, is full of stories about God sticking with His bride, no matter how stiff-necked and prideful and unfaithful she may be.” (Girl Meets God, 26)
God: I don’t see anything I don’t like about you.
Melissa: But you will! But you will, and I’ll get bored with you and feel trapped, because that’s what happens with me.
What a beautiful four-letter word of grace to me.