Many years ago an ex bitterly mentioned that every woman he’s ever known builds her own “Relationship X-Ray Machine,” which I nicknamed the RXM.
The machine runs on all those nagging questions in our heads while we’re making small talk and might sound like this:
“What does he mean by that? Is she judging me about my makeup? Does the fact that he used the wrong fork mean that someday he’d neglect our children? Why is his napkin on his left knee? Doesn’t that mean he’s ambivalent about his sexual orientation? When should I ask about his relationship with his mother? Is she being passive-aggressive with me? Oh, if he takes his coffee black, that can only mean one thing: Napoleon complex. Is he really, seriously not making eye contact because he’s staring at my chest? Because I can’t handle co-dependent, emasculated types…Oh, wait, maybe he’s not making eye contact because I read somewhere it means he’s going through an identity crisis…”
And on and on, ad nauseum.
The RXM can infiltrate any relationship – professional, familial or personal – but it’s usually loudest while dating. If we manage to get through a date without having that ceaseless internal monologue, we give it ample opportunity during what one friend cleverly named “post-game analysis.” Get a group of friends together after a date and the sound from the buzzing RXM is deafening!
While I disagree with my ex that only women have this machine in their heads, I do think he made a valid point.
I know that as a woman, I created one of my very own a long time ago. So have most of my girl friends.
However, it seems men are developing RXMs of their own too. The forums section has had its share of RXM-generated queries. Perhaps some of us approach dating with the RXM on, even before we’ve gone on a first date, and we end up with missed connections, serial break-ups, and on-again-off-again relationships.
I’ve become convinced that this machine is responsible for much of the general misery and turmoil that can accompany dating.
Our society consistently portrays the RXM as helpful. Advice columns approach all relationships this way. “Sex and the City” hinged its entire story line on the bawdy humor within the RXM.
Self-help gurus are determined to put the machine in our heads. Poorly-trained therapists will use the RXM as a platform for counseling. And then there’s the endless stream of lists you’ve all seen: “Top 10 Signs She’s Not Interested” or “5 Ways to Detect If He’s Cheating.”
Thanks to the RXM, dating becomes a complicated process of strategy and cost/benefit analysis. Amid all the noise, angst, jokes, lists and the mind-numbing analysis, I started to wonder: Where is God?
Despite its prevalence in our culture, the RXM is a sham. It serves only to make us even more insecure, neurotic, skeptical and bitter.
The RXM attempts to analyze without the real work involved in serious examination. It’s thinking critically, not critical thinking. It’s a neurotic attention to detail parading as intellectual discourse. It’s a snake-oil cure peddled by self-help profiteers who try to convince us that something is inherently wrong.
And it’s making us all more miserable than we were before. It’s also a symptom of a bigger problem: that God is absent.
The power of prayer
A few years ago I decided the only way to enjoy a great relationship was to have one with myself. So after going on a few dates with myself (the usual: dancing, movies, dinner, coffee) I realized that I was NOT putting myself through the RXM.
Why should I? I know myself. I trust myself. I saw God within myself, I didn’t have to figure out what deep dark secret I was harboring. But that was just it, I realized: the RXM was protecting me from a harm that I’d only anticipated based on prior experience.
I already knew what most of us know: that He is inside each of us, eternally and completely. But that completeness needed to extend to the RXM in order to silence it.
How to do that is through prayer, as always. But I didn’t pray for an outcome, as in, “Dear God, please silence the RXM so I can finally meet someone.”
Instead, I prayed for trust in God rather than in conventional wisdom. What works best for me is sitting in absolute silence. In this sacred silence, I visualized myself handing over my RXM into His hands. In my imagination, it’s a Rube Goldberg contraption with the most deafening bells and whistles, flashing lights and disco balls – a pinball machine as big as a subway car.
In surrendering the machine, I surrendered to His will. It felt truly liberating.
A clearer perspective
I realized that the RXM had removed my ability to empathize with anyone.
Without it, I started to see people for who they are and the God within them, instead of through the lens of preconceived disappointments. I looked back on prior dates and saw that through the guise of witty repartee and sarcastic jokes, I was inherently mistrustful and unkind. There’s not enough charm and humor in the world to cover up a well-oiled Relationship X-Ray Machine!
How would I feel if I was treated that way? I knew that feeling all too well, and I was glad to be rid of it.
Almost immediately, people started treating me differently in all areas of my life – not just dating.
For example, I teach for three different colleges, shuttling between five campuses. Work gets hectic. One college in particular is a bureaucratic nightmare: When I started teaching for them, I didn’t get my first paycheck for three and a half months.
Each August brings the rigamarole of getting a parking pass, renewing my ID, and filling out endless forms. Imagine your worst day at the DMV – that would a good day on this campus! Every August, I’d either leave the campus in tears, or seething in rage, or exhausted…just from dealing with the administrators there.
But last August was completely different. I just quietly stood in each line, no RXM intact. I suddenly saw people who do the best they can, instead of the bureaucratic stooges I’d seen them as before. They were all lovely to me: polite, smiling, making jokes, generous and helpful.
I couldn’t believe it. I walked out of that building with tears of gratitude and joy instead of frustration and rage.
So because I started looking at things without the RXM and because I learned just how generous, empathic and insightful I was capable of being and because my faith in humanity was restored, I thought I’d be ready to start dating again.
But I still had a few lessons I needed to learn – namely, my laundry list of demands about who God should send to me. The point is, once I learned to surrender the RXM to God, I was a lot better off.