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Our mud huts

Why do we stick with dating traditions that break our hearts?


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If you had a system that yielded poor results every time you used it, how long would it take for you to chuck that system?

The traditional Maasai windowless mud-and-dung hut, with its poor ventilation, has for who knows how long been the cause of respiratory infections and eye irritations in adults and children of the tribe. So why have these Kenyans 50 miles south of Nairobi continued generation after generation to design their shelters like that? I don’t know. Tradition? No one thought of a better idea?

A Korean medical doctor I knew told me in the 1990s that he and a team went there to treat eye, nose, and throat ailments, and they tried to persuade the townsfolk to drill a hole in the tops of their huts to let the smoke of their biomass fires escape. I wonder how he made out.

My brother once met a fisherman in Oregon who mentioned casually that he throws up every time he goes out on his boat. “Why in the world are you a fisherman?” my brother asked. “Because my father and my grandfather were fishermen.”

Now that’s a more complicated matter, I guess. Sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do.

But if you can possibly conceive of a way to alleviate suffering where suffering is not necessary, I say let’s do it. If insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome, let’s not be insane.

I’m writing from fresh pain after a romantic breakup. Not my own, but it brings back all of mine in a rush of hot memory of breakups long past. And as I think about it, I don’t know anyone who hasn’t had them—either as the dumper or the dumped. Not my husband, not my grown children, not my parents, not my friends. In fact, if you can come up with a single exception (excluding eunuchs who are eunuchs for the kingdom of God), scribble his name on the back of a $20 bill and mail to this address. I’ll interview him for his secret.

What’s wrong with this dating tradition we have? Why does this failed custom feel like the American version of the mud-and-dung hut folly? The Maasai are so used to incurring smoke-related retinal disease, nobody thinks it a big deal to have the walking blind among them. Westerners are so used to incurring courtship-related psychological crippling, nobody thinks it’s a big deal to have walking broken people among them. It’s a rite of passage, we think. Grandpa did it, we think. Well, Grandpa Kioko probably died of chronic bronchitis too.

I doubt God intended this. Did He really want as a prelude to marriage all these serial heartbreaks? This depressing custom of giving little pieces of our heart to one, and then another? Of defiling ourselves a little bit with one, and then another? “Take another little piece of my heart, now baby” (Janis Joplin).

And of course the longer you “go out” with a person, the more it feels like marriage, so the more the breakup feels like divorce. Which it rather is, because for months now you’ve been telling him you love him, and sharing your most personal fears and traumatic childhood episodes.

The worst comes after the breakup, when it dawns on you that a breakup ends not only the dating relationship but the whole relationship. You promised to stay friends, but it was wishful thinking. Now the irony is that when you feel like a movie and popcorn, there are any number of third-tier friends you can phone, but the one person you cannot phone is the person you were closest to until last week.

And the Bible is silent.

Well, with one exception. There was a certain servant who set out on a long journey looking for a bride for his master Abraham’s son Isaac. And what did that servant do—arrange a date with a few interesting prospects? Consider some candidates’ dowries? No, he prayed to the God of all wisdom to show him the girl. And He did.

Radical and untraditional as it seems, I think, young man, young woman, you would do far worse than start praying the same.


Andrée Seu Peterson

Andrée is a senior writer for WORLD Magazine. Her columns have been compiled into three books including Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me. Andrée resides near Philadelphia.

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