Today, while driving back from dropping my subject off at his car, Itook a trail that's known to some people as the Ho Chi Minh trail. AsI drove along, I realized something about the way I think -- I tend toreally get into a certain theme of thoughts until I really think I'veexpressed it well (philosophical thoughts), and once I do, I feel freer tomove on to other kinds of thoughts. I think I have a good shot at wrappingup a particular thought right now, and I'm curious what comes next, so herewe go. The Islamic/Orthodox Judaist approach to sexual/relationship morality,compared to modern western approaches, has a number of interestingcharacteristics that in many ways fit "emotional prudence" better. Specifically,western culture favours ideas of independence and freedom in ways that can causepeople to go through some pretty rough emotional ground. Under Islamic/Orthodoxtradition, the genders maintain stricter separation, with a strong focus ongetting people to the point where they can marry, and share interaction with theopposite gender almost exclusively with their spouses and family. Thisrestriction of interaction serves a number of purposes. While divorce is notforbidden, lack of exposure to the other sex means that divorce is more likelyto happen for a fair reason (problems with the relationship) rather thantemptations from outside. Partners in a relationship can know that there is noshady middle ground between proper behavior (according to their mores) andinfidelity, nor that said middle ground would cause gravitation towards thelatter. Modest clothing ensures that people pick their partners for morelong-lasting reasons than because they happen to look good in plastic, andlack of sexual activity before marrage (sic) avoids judgement clouded by sex.All that being said, there are some weaknesses to this model of relationship.It is worth noting that I will judge this from the perspective that courtshipis a good thing, and that the partners should have a definite say in the marrage,a view that one cannot take for granted in some versions of these societies.Firstly, good sex is something which many people feel is a legitimate partof deciding on a significant other. Refraining from sexual contact removesthe ability to use that as a criterion. Similarly, head coverings and similar,especially use of sheitels or burkas, prevent any consideration based onappearance. Appearance can be an important factor in being attracted in arelationship. Finally, the notion of romantic love often involves an idea ofpassion, and these rules reduce the ability of establishment of that beforemarrage. In some ways, what is produced is marrages of convenience that maygrow into romance with deep emotional ties, where these ties are made saferby society's rules, rather than marrages of people who love each other whoseties do not get as much safeguarding by society. Islam and Orthodox Judaismproduce societies that are in some ways more realistic with regards tojealousy and fidelity, at the possible cost of passion, romance, and freedom.
I find that interplay fascinating -- while I prefer the western model, I thinkI can understand some of the reasoning that the other model serves.
I also recently have been floored by a realization -- I really don't know whatI want to do with the rest of my life. It seems that an upcoming crossroadshad to make this happen, but it certainly has, and I find it very scary.
The crossroads is basically as follows. CMU has a Qatar campus, and I am considering transferring to there because I think it would be an interestinglife experience, and I would learn a lot more about the middle east andislamic culture. I would also have the chance to see a lot more of that partof the world, and the pay is better with really nice benefits. It's a threeyear commitment though, I think. I could either do it, or stay here.
There are several things relevant to what I do. I've floated the idea with anumber of people, including family, friends, and acquaintences. I was hopingto do this with Nicole, but unfortunately, that seems unlikely now. My momis deadset against the idea and most of the rest of my family isn't reallytelling me what they think, or doesn't have a strong opinion. Some of my friendsthink it's a very stupid idea, while others see it as being a good lifeexperience to take. I wish I wouldn't be doing this alone -- I really hope I canconvince someone I'm close to to come along. I can safely say that there are afew people where if they said they'd be coming, I'd feel right with going andbe 100 percent into it. Similarly, there's at least one person where if they'dsay the right things, I'd decide not to go. I've realized that I really do careabout other people, and while I'm reclusive, the social ties I do make mean alot to me. Partly, I have some friends here, and they mean a lot to me, andthe idea of losing them all at once in my everyday life seems awfully harsh.I did it once for Debb, so I know I can do it, but that doesn't make it easy.I know that I wouldn't be staying there forever, and am fairly certain thatat the end of three years, I'd be out of there. The question then comes up --what then? Would I move back to Pittsburgh, stay at CMU, and rebuild theties I let lapse while moving there? A good number of the people I really amstarting to get comfortable with now might be gone by the time I return. If Iwere to stay, I'd have more time to build ties with them, and part of me thinksI might even move somewhere to keep a close friendship working. There have beenpeople who I would've been willing to do that for, in a way completely unrelatedto life partners and things like that. I don't know if that's a weird thing ornot. Alternatively, I could explore the cities where I might be happy settlingand move directly there after my stay in Qatar. I could trust that I'd makenew friends. That's scary and painful too. I need some people to feel like hometo me, to have intense friendships where I see them at least once or twice aweek. These things take a long time to build, and I'm only comfortable doingthat with people who end up being very rare. Only recently have I been inPittsburgh long enough that I feel I'm starting to do that. It took a long timein Columbus too. There's that, and as I said before, I don't really know whatI want out of life.
There are so many things I could do, so many primary values I might expressin how I live ly life that go against other possible primary values, and Ionly recently have had them conflict so much. I could focus primarily onlife-experience enrichment, and go to Qatar -- I'd see things that I probablywill never have the opportunity to see again. I could focus on building anacademic career, stay at CMU Pittsburgh and focus strongly on taking classesand getting a PhD. I could focus on building wealth, which probably would meangoing to Qatar and earning as much as I can. I could focus on friendships andsimilar, and stay here, visiting Columbus a lot and continuing to develop myfriendships here. I could focus on getting to the stage in my life where I'llbe settling down, and either stay here or save up and move to one of my possibletarget cities and pour as much effort as I can into finding a significant other. Until today, my course was clear -- I wanted the life experience and waswilling to give up all the rest to have that. Now I'm not so sure -- it'snot that I'm leaning the other way, it's that I don't know what the fnord Iwant. There are many kinds of life I could live, many different selves thatI could imagine being. I have a lot of thinking to do.
Things were so much simpler when the decision largely hinged on if I couldconvince Nicole to go with me. The stakes are different now. I'm thinking ofgoing alone to a foreign country and committing for what's likely to be threeyears, and resetting the clock to zero for how close I am to building the kindsof friendships I crave. There are people who were once frequently in my lifethat have no idea how much they mean to me, and people who may eventuallyreach similar levels of meaning in my life here. I'm starting to think thatwhile the terminology isn't quite the same, perhaps Martha wasn't completelydifferent than me when she spoke of loving friends. I use the word lovedifferently, and am uncomfortable with her usage, but there definitely is atype of strong emotional bond that I begin to feel with some friends.
My whole future is on the table right now. Yup, a LOT of thinking to do. Incidentally, I know that this is probably abit more intimate than most of my BLOG entries, and some of my readers willbe a bit uncomfortable doing so, but if there's any entry recently that I'dlike feedback on, this is it. If you've found yourself in similar moments, orfind my characterization of things interesting, or have some advice, or haveanything at all you'd like to say, I would really appreciate your thoughts.As always, if you prefer, send your comments by email. For this particularBLOG entry only, I don't mind if my family comments. No matter who you are,for this entry alone, provided you're not just vandalizing the page, yourcomments (that are not blatantly off-topic) are welcome.
I think I'm going to take a bit of a vacation from new entries, both becauseI have a lot of thinking to do, and because I want this to be the topentry in my BLOG for awhile so it'll get lots of comments. Tonight, Iwill treat myself to India Garden.
Note that I will be in Columbus for the last weekend of the month (thinkbetween 25 and 28 March), so if you're from Columbus, let me know if you'dlike to get together.