The Only Real Obligation in Life

The Only Real Obligation in Life

"I'm thinking about letting them know I can't do it anymore," he told me. "But I feel bad. They really need me." He let out a sigh through his nose. It crackled in the speaker of my phone. I could feel the father-son relational scale tip to my side.

"Dad," I said. "You shouldn't feel bad about it. Especially at this point in your life. You don't have to be a slave to obligation."

#LiveTogether: (Not So) Great Expectations


We're continuing the #LiveTogether series, in which we take a look at the highs and lows and in-betweens of doing life with people.

I'm excited for today's post--it's from my good friend, Sarah Gurley. Enjoy!


When I was four years old, my dad found me crying on the floor of my bedroom, buried by my dolls and a palpable sense of anxiety.

“Why are you crying?” his concerned voice asked.

My pre-school self tearfully responded, “Because I don’t know who I’m going to marry.”

At four years old, it was silly. Juvenile. Innocent.

But then 23 rolled around, and I had yet to experience a real romantic relationship. I’m not talking about holding hands at lunch, or circle “yes” or “no” notes; make-out buddies or a date here and there. No. A real relationship. A partner. Someone you can depend on. An automatic plus-one to the prom. A “you hang up first” wave of nausea for anyone unfortunate enough to be within earshot.

I saw it perpetually happening to my roommates and friends. College was the absolute worst place for someone grappling with singleness. While everyone eagerly coupled up around me, I stood firm on my island of solitude. Who needs a man, anyway? I’ve got my ambition and body pillow, dang it.

I moved to South Korea after college graduation to seek adventure. After all, I made it out of college without a significant nibble on my romantic fishing lure--why not move halfway around the world and ride out this single wave while I’m young? I packed away my yearning for romance, locked it in a box and left it under my childhood twin bed. Let it collect dust; see if I care. I was headed to the Land of the Morning Calm where I most assuredly would not find a romantic interest.

But the unthinkable greeted me upon my arrival. I met someone. As soon as my feet found the sweltering Korean ground, a fetching, blonde-haired New Yorker started to show interest. Not just casual interest either. We’re talking Ethan Embry in “Can’t Hardly Wait”, ridiculously in like with me. So I did what any relationship amateur would do. I jumped in feet first.

But there was a problem.

After that day my dad found me in my bucket of self-pity tears, I spent the next 19 years racking up expectations and ideals for whoever would eventually fill the role of significant other in my life. Everything from appearance and talents to personality type and disposition were accounted for.

This poor guy didn’t stand a chance.

I finally found an eligible male who was head-over-heels for me, and three weeks into our relationship, I dumped him over a plate of Korean dumplings (the irony in our food choice was not lost on me). One may ask why on earth would I break up with a guy who was kind, compassionate, caring, handsome and all-around wonderful?

Simple: he didn’t fit the bill.

I started my collection of expectations before I even hit puberty. And without a significant relationship in my past to give me a healthy dose of reality, those expectations ballooned. What started as an innocent “that would be nice”  multiplied into countless dealbreakers. I didn’t have to give a reason for the breakup other than, “He’s just not what I’m looking for.”

This guy in Korea didn’t have the right profession. He was a teacher. I wanted a pastor. He wasn’t super musical. I wanted someone to write songs with. He was blonde. I wanted a guy with dark hair. He was super athletic. I wanted someone less…hunky. (Editor's note from Paul: All of the nerds of the world are thinking, "Where was I when you were single??") Sure, he had everything else I was looking for but to my novice and nitpicking heart, what he lacked drowned out the whispers of his outstanding qualities.

We parted ways.

Then, something curious happened. My mom, whose opinion I esteem more than just about anyone’s, told me I was being a self-centered, unrealistic, hypocritical idiot (not in so many words, but that was her gist).

She didn’t want my unrealistic expectations and ideals inhibiting me from experiencing life to the fullest. We can’t all marry Ryan Gosling, sigh.

We’re always going to find something in our significant other that doesn’t quite fit the bill; nobody is perfect. But life isn’t comprised of rigid puzzle pieces needing to fit together just so. If that were the case, we’d spend 50% of our time looking for that specific person and the other 50% stressing over whether or not we already missed him/her. But have you ever put together a worn-out, old puzzle that has eroded and chipped pieces? What was once a beautiful landscape is faded and filled with gaps. When the pieces no longer fit perfectly, what’s the use? It’s not worth the effort so you just throw the puzzle away.

What I didn’t realize was that by racking up all those expectations, I was setting myself up for a temporary, throw-away puzzle of a relationship. Even if he fit my 23-year-old self, would we still fit together at 33? 57? 81? By going in with a checklist of qualities, I was preventing myself from experiencing the wonderful unpredictability of love.

I took a few months to rid myself of my unyielding plans and expectations. I threw my puzzle pieces away and instead embraced moldable clay. Where one piece pushes, the other can give way to allow for the new formation. A beautiful, flexible push and pull where chips and gaps are simply rubbed away.

One day, the guy came back around and asked if I wouldn’t mind giving it a go again. He hadn’t changed during that time apart. He was still a semi-musical, hunky, athletic, blonde teacher. But after sloughing off my own expectations and preparing myself to jump in sans deal breakers, I found myself falling in love with this unsuspecting gentleman in a far-away land.

A wedding, two adorable children and seven years later, he’s still creatively exceeding my original expectations each and every day.


Sarah is a travel-addict who leads worship and teaches bible at a private boarding school in Western New York. When not reading age-inappropriate YA novels or searching couch cushions for lost binkies, she spends time with her hunky husband and two daughters. You can check out her book reviews and mom rants at Paperbacks & Pacifiers

Feature photo ©2011 Aric Cortes | Flickr

On Hope: I May Have a Problem


"May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears." -Nelson Mandela

Ever since I first stumbled upon these words on January 17th, I haven't stopped thinking about them. They've climbed out of my computer screen and, like vines, have wrapped and twisted themselves all around me.

For almost two weeks now, I've wrestled with the words and what they might actually look like in my life. What choices am I making out of fear? What choices could I make out of hope? Which choices are wise, cautious choices and which ones are steeped in sanitized safety?

I have a dark little secret I've been hiding.

Every time I've sat down to grapple with these questions, it's as if I've taken a small sip of hope--I like to envision it with a bit of tonic water, some ice, and a squeeze of lime. I've been holding the glass close to my lips these past two weeks, letting the contents sting my nostrils. Eventually, sips quickened and became gulps. I've kept pouring into my glass, cutting more limes, refilling the ice trays. And after days and days and days of downing this stuff, when I finally went to stand up, the room was spinning. I started thinking wild thoughts. I could feel the liquid courage coursing through my veins.

Friends, I'm completely, shamelessly drunk on hope.

I'm gone, man.

I'm so gone, I don't even care what making hopeful decisions "looks like" anymore. You see, when you've had too much hope to drink, you don't worry about the details anymore. You say whatever hope brings rushing out of your mouth. You throw your chair down, march in a crooked line to the dance floor, and start moving your body in awkward and glorious freedom. It doesn't matter what people think at that point--hope has taken over.

I know some of you are laughing at me. I know some of you are shaking your head, thinking, So sad. So naive. If only he could see what we're seeing. It's quite embarrassing, really.

I'm okay with that. I'm okay that you think almost all of those things; you can even go as far as to feel pity for me. I know I'm stumbling around, eyes glazed over with dreams, moving my limbs with the grace of a giraffe on sedatives.

Do not, however, mistake me as naive. I know full well the dark side of hope and its brutal, crippling hangover. I know the cost. I know the risk. I've paid dearly, and I have the scars to prove it.

I understand that I'm headed for disappointment.

I understand my heart will be broken.

But here's what analyzing that Mandela quote, what binge drinking hope has made me realize:

I'm so done being afraid of disappointment and fearing the worst. 

You know, I used to be young and reckless with hope. I used to climb to the roof and, with stupid confidence, declare that I could make the leap into the pool below. I used to laugh when people would tell me I couldn't or that I was crazy.

I've lived for some years now an existence in which I let sensible, sober people convince me that my dreams were too big, that my hopes were too high, that my expectations were too great. I came to believe that I wasn't allowed to ask or hope for anything good, let alone great. I buried my bottle. I flushed all my hope down the drain--every last drop.

That dry, hopeless way of living? It's been more unbearable than any disappointment I've felt from trying and then failing.

Never again. I will not resign myself to that timid, tame life.

Instead of cowering in the shadow of disappointment, instead of covering my eyes to avoid seeing a potential tumble, instead of piling up stones to protect my exposed heart, I want to stare straight down the barrel of the gun. And I'll have a goofy grin on my face, and I'll be singing a slurred, falsetto rendition of Teenage Dream. I refuse to bow down to the fear of failure.

This kind of approach to life isn't for everyone. It's foolishness, really. You have to be ready to peel yourself off the floor again and again when disappointment inevitably knocks you off your feet. You have to keep opening your chest at the risk of adding another scar to your heart. You won't escape unscathed.

You have to be slightly off your rocker to sell out to hope.

Just so happens I'm looking to get a little crazy. To the people are also crazy enough to join me: