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J. R. R. Tolkien taught his son game

A friend's of my wife's put on an amazing parenting workshop at our church. Her topic was talking with your kids about sex. She suggested, among other things, that as parents we can help articulate values for our kids by writing them a letter.

J. R. R. Tolkien did.

The author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy wrote a series of letters to his 21-year old son, Michael, after he was injured during a WWII training exercise. The longest of these letters (3000+ words), written in March 1941, deals with marriage and male-female relationships. The wisdom is every bit as applicable today as it as 70+ years ago.

1) A man and a woman cannot be "just" friends
In this fallen world the 'friendship' that should be possible between all human beings, is virtually impossible between man and woman. The devil is endlessly ingenious, and sex is his favourite subject. He is as good every bit at catching you through generous romantic or tender motives, as through baser or more animal ones. This 'friendship' has often been tried: one side or the other nearly always fails. Later in life when sex cools down, it may be possible. It may happen between saints. To ordinary folk it can only rarely occur: two minds that have really a primarily mental and spiritual affinity may by accident reside in a male and a female body, and yet may desire and achieve a 'friendship' quite independent of sex. But no one can count on it. The other partner will let him (or her) down, almost certainly, by 'falling in love'.
The platonic aspect of a male-female friendship may last for a season but if intimacy is sustained and/or deepened, sexual attraction will occur in one or both parties. I remember years ago, talking with a high school buddy about his close friendship with a girl. He assured me that they were "just" friends and nothing would happen. I was dubious. My buddy and his friend married each other two years later. Don't get me wrong here, it's not wrong to be marry your friends. I did and it's worked out fabulously. Tolkien's point is to be aware that any relationship between a man and a woman is susceptible to sexual attraction. 

2) Don't put women on a pedestal
[The romantic chivalric tradition] still tends to make the Lady a kind of guiding star or divinity – of the old-fashioned 'his divinity' = the woman he loves – the object or reason of noble conduct. This is, of course, false and at best make-believe. The woman is another fallen human-being with a soul in peril. [...] It takes, or at any rate has in the past taken, the young man's eye off women as they are, as companions in shipwreck not guiding stars. (One result is for observation of the actual to make the young man turn cynical.) To forget their desires, needs and temptations. It inculcates exaggerated notions of 'true love', as a fire from without, a permanent exaltation, unrelated to age, childbearing, and plain life, and unrelated to will and purpose. (One result of that is to make young folk look for a 'love' that will keep them always nice and warm in a cold world, without any effort of theirs; and the incurably romantic go on looking even in the squalor of the divorce courts).
I love that line. Look not upon a woman as a guiding star but lead her as a companion in the shipwreck. When a man places a woman on a pedestal by striving for her approval, he torpedoes his dignity and sense of purpose. Supplicating also kills a woman's attraction. It's also a form of idolatry. Your guiding star must shine brighter than any mere mortal. Never lose sight of that.

3) For Christian men, monogamy is the greatest self-denial
Faithfulness in Christian marriage entails that: great mortification. For a Christian man there is no escape. Marriage may help to sanctify & direct to its proper object his sexual desires; its grace may help him in the struggle; but the struggle remains. It will not satisfy him – as hunger may be kept off by regular meals. It will offer as many difficulties to the purity proper to that state, as it provides easements. No man, however truly he loved his betrothed and bride as a young man, has lived faithful to her as a wife in mind and body without deliberate conscious exercise of the will, without self-denial. Too few are told that — even those brought up 'in the Church'. Those outside seem seldom to have heard it.
There is no raw power like the male sex drive. It is God-given yet flesh-cursed. This is where we, as men, die to ourselves every day and are empowered by the Spirit to live holy and pure.

4) Stop believing the soul-mate mythology and love the one you're with
When the glamour wears off, or merely works a bit thin, they think they have made a mistake, and that the real soul-mate is still to find. The real soul-mate too often proves to be the next sexually attractive person that comes along. [...] Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might have found more suitable mates. But the 'real soul-mate' is the one you are actually married to. You really do very little choosing: life and circumstance do most of it (though if there is a God these must be His instruments, or His appearances). It is notorious that in fact happy marriages are more common where the 'choosing' by the young persons is even more limited, by parental or family authority, as long as there is a social ethic of plain unromantic responsibility and conjugal fidelity.
Tolkien goes on to explain how the idea of romantic love will never cease to dazzle our imaginations; that the stories and poems of these kinds of couplings outnumber the actual couples that fell in love this way and lived happily ever after.

So stop lying to yourself. She's not the only person in the universe destined for you. She's not even the only one in your neighborhood/school/work/church for you. Get over your oneitis and move on.

But once you choose, commit. There is romance and mystery in the commitment. My wife and I have built a foundation of shared affection, experiences, and memories that is very difficult to compete with. We know each other deeply and it is very good.

5) Knowing God surpasses everything else
Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament. .... There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves upon earth, and more than that: Death: by the divine paradox, that which ends life, and demands the surrender of all, and yet by the taste (or foretaste) of which alone can what you seek in your earthly relationships (love, faithfulness, joy) be maintained, or take on that complexion of reality, of eternal endurance, which every man's heart desires.
Knowing God is the greatest joy; it gives meaning to every earthly relationship and the object of which every earthly relationship points us towards. As we negotiate the shipwreck of life, look upon Him as your guiding star.


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