I've got religion

I'm madly in love with theology, but lonely for human relationships.

By Cary Tennis

Published September 8, 2003 7:10PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I am a 26-year-old male about to embark upon the world of seminary education, not for the mighty position of a pastor or reverend, but as an educational adventure. I look forward to using this masters toward my ultimate goal of being a facilitator/mediator for churches, groups or agencies in conflict. I am madly in love with theology, but therein lies the problem.

I am finding that I am a lone bird in this flight pattern, and am desperately alone for my age bracket. I ended a relationship about a year ago that was headed for matrimony, and have not dated anyone since. The relationship forced many unwanted changes in my life: a move to a new city, new apartment, loss of close friends. So part of me blames those for my lack of deep and meaningful dating relationships. The other part of me blames this blasted theology bug. So, advice I seek and advice I plead you give.

Please help! I have even scoped the Salon personals, but it seems that the women there have a "thing" against religious fellows, even though I think of myself as a very liberal and intellectual religious fellow.

Single Seminarian

Dear Single Seminarian,

I find the specificity of your career goal fascinating, and I wonder if it is a metaphor, an emblem of the way you want to see yourself rather than a sign of who you are, an imagined corrective to a perceived shortcoming. This vision of you as Solomonic hero at the center of warring tribes may loom as a mirage of belonging in the desert of your loneliness. So before you do anything, I would try to understand what life pattern or basic need is driving this desire to be a "facilitator/mediator" for groups in conflict. You might find there's a more direct route to what you're after.

Are you, perhaps, a lonely middle child from a family full of strife? Were you a sensitive and solitary student yearning to be at the center of a stylish, laughing clique? Are you secretly power-hungry but too high-minded to admit your lust for domination? To what extent is your career goal driven by your imagined effect on others, your picture of yourself performing admirable acts, rather than from a genuine love of and talent for mediation itself?

I find it easy to believe that you love the scholarship part of theology. But if you were the type of person who succeeds at mediation, your true love would probably lie with people and relationships, not with scholarship. You would already exhibit a genius for creating and sustaining group relationships, and you probably would not be so strongly drawn to the solitary trade of the seminarian. Rather, it seems likely that, as so many of us have done over the years, you have come to imagine your skill with solitary pursuits as somehow, in its apotheosis, coming to cure your trouble with people. I don't think it works that way.

Well, sometimes it does. A solitary musical genius, for instance, can become a rock star and command legions of followers. But even that doesn't really cure loneliness. It's a far better plan, it seems to me, to settle on what specific activity it is that sustains you, and then plan your life around that. In this case, it sounds like you are in love with scholarship.

However, you're not asking for career advice so much as how to overcome your loneliness, aren't you? Actually, that's sort of a no-brainer. Why did you break off your marriage plans? Why did you move far away from your home? If you cut yourself off from your people, you're going to be lonely. It's also, as I understand, not exactly rave night every night at the seminary. So I think you've got conflicting drives: You want to do scholarship in an area where solitariness and abstinence are prominent features, but you want to maintain your connectedness with people; you've already cut your ties to family and friends and are both hurt and baffled by the result.

So I think what you need to do, my scholarly friend, is move back to your area and repair the broken links to your tribe, your family and friends. Then find a way to pursue your scholarly interest from there, while remaining within your social network. The alternative -- to create a new social network while also studying full-time -- is, I think, a very difficult or impossible proposition, even for a social genius.

Then, from within the warm bosom of your community, study your own loneliness. Delve into your solitariness. Ask what really draws you to the bracing astringency of a scholar's life.

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Cary Tennis

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