Finally had our first "new" Crossroads Bible Study meeting Thursday night. It went quite well I thought, which was nice to see given the effort and prayer some of us have poured into it over the past several weeks to retool and rework some aspects. Yeah, the study did grind to a halt a couple of times with people going into too much detail (I thought) about their personal lives and drifting away from the passage at hand, but that's a consequence of having large numbers of people in one discussion. Given our rough past with trying to have large group discussions without the inevitable dominant talkers who never shut up and the unwillingness of many to hear others out before cutting them off, I was surprised Thursday's discussion went so well.
But what struck me most, and hence is the topic of this post, was the prayer requests. One person started in about how the crappy situation and surroundings and such down on the end of this peninsula we find ourselves stuck on are getting to her a lot and causing her to be discontent in all areas of life. That's very easy for me to understand since I suffer from the same affliction most of the time I'm awake these days. It's just that hard to keep one's head up and be happy in anything when so many things seem to be going wrong. It certainly leads to a sense of despair and a tendency to basically "give up" on most things that might otherwise be cool.
At one point she said something to the effect of, "those who agree with me or feel the same way can just say 'amen'," and of course I was right there. But that's just me being me. With the amount of times I've asked for prayer in that area, it surely surprised no one that I was the first to take that up. I've always had an amazing ability to see the bad side of anything, and I'm more pessimistic than almost anyone I've ever met, so I tend to assume that others are generally doing better than I am. Plus, from where I sit, they are usually in much better situations overall and so I just figure they are happy with where they are compared to where they could be.
But what shocked me was the amount of people who agreed. Again, I've assumed in the past that I was the token pessimistic, discouraged fellow in any group. But it actually seems that I have lots of company here. I shared a little about myself but kept it very short and even mentioned that I must sound like a broken record by now and so I really had little to share there that people didn't already know about. But after me, another woman voiced her agreement and even said she was beyond the point of putting up with it and had hauled carloads of stuff back to her parents' place (near D.C.) over the past couple of weekends. (She's said stuff before, but this was the first most of us had heard of the extent of her dissatisfaction.) And after that, a guy I know well spoke up about how he regretted buying a house several years back because he now feels rooted in an area he doesn't like.  Yet another talked about how unhappy he is with his job and has wondered for a while what he's out here for and struggled with whether or not to ditch what he has and move elsewhere.  Our resident enlisted Navy guy shared about how he's been tapped to go to Iraq later this year, and he's already put in for orders to be a drill instructor at Great Lakes after that because he can't see returning here. From the way he phrased it, it's basically a done deal and he's waiting on the official word.
After the dust finally cleared and we moved on to other topics, more than half of the people in the room had expressed some major dissatisfaction with the digs around here. (It's worth mentioning that one guy did say he felt like he must be the only one who liked his job and didn't mind the area so much. But he was the obvious black sheep in what had almost become a bitch session by that point.) There were probably more in the room who felt the same way (one for sure), at least to a lesser extent, and just didn't speak up. And I know from other conversations that all three folks who didn't show up but notified us they intend to participate this spring are on the edge like I am.
I was pretty much in shock for the rest of the evening, and two days later it's still weighing on me. I knew I wasn't the only unhappy one around here, but I didn't realize so many people were fed up to the extent I am and even beyond. I can't help but wonder what the group might look like in just a year or two, or if there will even be enough people left to try to keep things going. It's hard to tell how serious folks are but I'm guessing they're like I am and just waiting for a good chance to jump. Might this be a contributor to a lot of the interpersonal problems and lack of commitment and such that we've been trying to address in the group for some time? Of course. As I said earlier, discontentment on that level spills over into all areas of life.
But, this of course begs the question, what is it about this area that is so depressing to young single folks like myself? Why are so many young professionals -- people who, on paper, have good jobs, free time, spending money, friends, you name it -- who should probably be living some of the best years of their lives so miserable and frustrated? Throw in the fact that we're Christians, or at least we all profess to be, and thus we should have a hope that defies all despair the world can throw at us, and the plot thickens. There's clearly something at work here that isn't confined to one person's life or people from a certain background. Whatever it is, it's much greater than any one of us and great enough to upset most of us.
The living expenses are an obvious huge factor and the first one that comes to mind. You could have split the room by house ownership (or local family house ownership for those who grew up here) vs. renters and have the "I agree, amen" prayer requests coming almost entirely from one side. Lack of things to do could be another, as coming from a city or college town to here is a tough adjustment to make. But there is actually a lot within a reasonable driving distance, so I think people would be doing more to alleviate their boredom if that was a bigger factor. But I'm sure it also plays a role.
Another big one I think is the demographics and general lack of people around here to hang out with. It's easy to feel like we're on the corner of the map out here -- and if you're looking at a Maryland state map, we pretty much are -- and out of touch with everybody and everything. For people who like to get out and socialize, and generally be where the crowds and buzz are, it must get old just doing the same things with the same people over and over. Not that hanging out with friends is bad, but we all crave excitement and experiences. This is a tough place to find much of either.
There's more to this whole demographics thing than that, though. It's most disheartening for people my age, especially men, who are interested in dating and marriage. There's just not a lot to work with around here, and the huge population of technical workers skews the population heavily such that young guys with engineering jobs are a dime a dozen and young women interested in such dudes seem scarce.  I guess people deal with this in different ways. I think all of us care and are bothered at least some by it, but it's a matter of how upsetting it is.
Thankfully, for me marriage has never been a front-and-center issue and has only in recent years become a big enough question in my life that I've bothered to think about it, so I don't (yet?) feel so pressed for action. I've more or less accepted that meeting "someone" around here is a long shot at best and not something with a high enough probability to justify spending lots of effort and emotional energy on, for a multitude of reasons I won't address here. Not that I particularly like that lack of options, but it is what it is.  And don't get me wrong, I haven't totally written marriage off for my life or anything, and overall I think it's even something I'd prefer, but if that's going to happen it'll be by means I can't see or fathom now -- which is often how romance works, I guess, so that's not so out of line. I'm certainly not going to go out of my way to try to force the issue and rake myself over the coals in the process. Sure, there's a difference between being open-minded and being desperate or obsessive, but too much focus on something that one lacks much control over isn't a good thing. I'm still confident I can get a lot out of my life and make my time on this planet worth something without taking the usual marriage-family route. I know there are some people in the group who share my general outlook in that regard.
However, others in my predicament clearly don't see things the same way. We've had considerable attrition in our group due to guys and girls showing up, surveying and even testing the goods, not liking what they see or not being able to get what they want, and moving on to other markets. The sense of desperation and lack of standards (as in, they'll take whatever they can get) hasn't been hard to notice. I hate this about our group, that tendency of some to start coming and seem to be really into it and contributing, then fade away almost as quickly as they came when they start dating or conclude that their efforts are better spent elsewhere. I mean, we're a Bible study
! Do people misread our name and think it says "Christian Dating Service of St. Mary's County"? Not that dating should be off limits, and it should even be encouraged I think. But I don't like the idea of folks coming and putting up some facade for the purpose of using the group to get what they want out of it. This tends to undermine the trust and intimacy that are necessary for a solid Bible study group. It'd be far better I think if people would just come to learn about God and discuss the Bible with fellow believers rather than try to impress folks in the room, hoping to gain some benefit from their presentation down the road.
But I guess that's a lot to ask of folks my age who really want to marry and are having so much trouble finding any leads in an area that doesn't lend itself to that. As I said, we all see it differently and we all want some things in life so much we'll meddle with the rest of our lives to get them. Heck, I can't say I never do the facade thing myself -- not often for the same reasons, mind you, but it's hard to be "real" and not slip into the niche of "caring, loving person" or "theology expert" or whatever it is you fashion yourself as or have a reputation for. So we all have our struggles there.
Anyway, it's easy for me to see how some things contribute significantly to the general unhappiness of myself and others around me. It's not so easy to see what to do about it. Moving is one option, of course, but what until then? One must be content somehow. It's very hard to not just shut down and shift into "counting down the days" mode, as if God made a mistake by putting us here and we just need to wait for him to correct the error by calling us to somewhere else. There's got to be good reasons for being here, and intellectually I bet we can all see that, but it's yet another one of those things that's much harder to keep in perspective and put into practice.-----
 That guy actually has options but won't exercise them. He knows full well he could sell that house and make a killing, and then move to another area of the country with a lower cost of living and plenty of government work to keep his job changing relatively simple. But he doesn't want to move away from his family in the Northern Virginia area -- a crazy reason to refuse to better one's life, in my opinion -- and he even said he doesn't like change. Hey man, life requires compromises. Either accept your current state of life or do what's necessary to change it.
 This guy also owns a house he bought back in the days when one didn't have to give up too many body parts to actually own a home around here, so he can afford to be patient and wait things out as long as he wants. A lot of us don't have that luxury.
 Lest people think I'm exaggerating this disparity or chalk it up to yet another disgruntled twenty-something who isn't getting what he wants out of life, consider that this issue of demographics and lack of any speakable social scene has attracted the attention of employers in the area, including my own, due to the high turnover rate of young professionals. See this example for one source of proof.
 What a great chance to insert one of my favorite quotes of all time: "You go to war with the army you have, not the army you wish you had or could have had or should have had." You confront reality as it is, not as you wish it was or as it could have been... Such a simple concept, yet so real and applicable.