A couple of weeks ago, Seth and I went out to dinner with some mutual friends. After a great evening full of laughter, Seth drove me home, and we sat in his pickup truck for a few minutes winding down the evening.
In the midst of our conversation, Seth reached over to hold my hand and started fiddling with my fingers. He was looking down at our joined hands, but he looked up when he started to speak. “Aurora, we’ve been dating for a while now…”
His voice trailed off, and he laughed, looking uncomfortable. “I’ve talked myself in and out of this conversation so many times…”
“What is it?” I asked, encouraging him along.
He sighed. “Well, we’ve been dating for a while now, and I was thinking… I’d like for us to start having more intentional conversations in the direction of marriage.”
My eyes widened. “Wow.”
“What do you think about that?” He looked nervous.
I paused, gathering my thoughts. “Well… I think it would be good. It would be good for us to continue developing our emotional intimacy.”
I was surprised at my stoicism and internally evaluated why I wasn’t letting myself get more excited. Seth brought up marriage. Seth brought up marriage! I hadn’t expected the topic to come up so soon but was glad that it did. At the same time – having been through what I’ve been through – I felt happy but guarded. I decided that – like a classic intorvert – I needed more time to process my thoughts and feelings before I gave myself over to my emotions.
“Yeah? You think so?” Seth looked hopeful.
“Yeah,” I answered with a smile; then I asked, “What does that look like for you? Having ‘more intentional conversations in the direction of marriage’?” I wanted to make sure we were on the same page and communicating clearly. Marriage is a weighty topic.
Seth suggested that we start to read through some marriage books or even go to pre-marital counseling. “I have a book that’s like ‘101 Questions to Ask Before Marriage’ or something like that. I was thinking we could talk through those questions.”
“Yeah.” I smiled. He’d really put some thought into this. “That sounds really good.” I was starting to feel the excitement now; the sense of Seth’s affection for me starting to culminate in commitment.
Seth had gotten quiet and looked deep in thought. “What are you thinking about?” I asked, looking at him affectionately.
I thought Seth might finally tell me that he loved me. We hadn’t said “I love you” yet, but now that he was starting to talk about marriage, I thought he was finally ready to communicate his feelings. I expected to hear his deep, resonant bass voice whisper, “I’m thinking about how much I love you.”
But instead what my ears heard was, “I’m worried about hurting you.”
I recoiled, shocked at his words. The sweetness of the moment was broken. “You’re worried about hurting me?”
“Yeah.” Seth winced, seeming to realize belately that maybe he shouldn’t have said those words out loud. Or maybe it’s good that he did.
I took a deep breath, willing myself to respond rationally rather than over-reacting in my surprise and disappointment.
“I’m a little confused,” I told him evenly. “You just told me you want to start intentionally moving in the direction of marriage and then, not even five minutes later, you tell me that you’re worried about hurting me. That doesn’t line up for me. Help me understand.”
Seth backpedaled, explaining that he wasn’t saying he wants to move in the direction of marriage necessarily; he just wants to start having more intentional conversations on marriage-type topics so that he can see how well we align. He’s in a place where he wants to make a decision one way or another – should we get married or break up? – but he doesn’t yet know which direction we should go. He just wanted us to start talking through the more challenging topics that tend to cause issues in marriage.
I understood where he was coming from, but I still felt wounded. I wished he’d been able to clearly communicate at the start of the conversation rather than unintentionally leading me to think he was more ready to commit than was accurate.
I was also hurt because Seth knows I’ve been through a broken engagement. I’ve told him that the topics of marriage and engagement need to be handled delicately with me. I am overly sensitive to wavering commitment and indecision about relationship status. I am of the opinion that questions like “How would you want to discipline your children?” can come up naturally in the course of a date night. Asking what you think the role of a wife is can be discussed on long road trips to the ranch. Part of dating is having those conversations organically. But once you bring up marriage so directly – once you suggest that we do “pre-marital counseling” – you have entered into the realm of alluding to commitment. Saying that you want to start having “intentional conversations in the direction of marriage” means, to me, that your mind is made up and you are starting to look at rings. But, in the case of Seth, I was mistaken and misunderstood his intent.
I believe that a couple doesn’t do pre-marital counseling to decide whether or not they are compatible; they do it to pinpoint potential sources of conflict in their marriage and learn to conflict well. Except my ex-fiance. He used pre-marital counseling to point to all the reasons we wouldn’t be compatible in marriage. He used our counseling to tell me all the reasons he would have an affair if we got married.
Seth and I dialogued about what he said versus what he meant; what I thought and how his words made me feel. I asked him to try not to bring up marriage so directly again until he is actually ready to go ring shopping or drop a knee. It plays with my emotions and toys with my heart. “And please don’t use the ‘M’ word until you’ve used the ‘L’ word.” L comes before M, after all. And I need to know he loves me before I’m ready to let my heart hear him talk about forever.
I explained further, “We don’t need to be in a rush to make a decision. I know all of your friends are married with kids and that you don’t want to waste my time or your own, but if you rush this decision, the answer will be no. I know. I’ve lived it. We will break up. Ultimately, people shy away from things they’re not ready for. So if you want to give us a chance, slow down and don’t rush this decision just because you’re comparing our timeline to your friends’ relationships.”
I delivered this message in the most loving, gentle, calm manner I could, and Seth fortunately responded well. He apologized profusely. “You’re right. I’m like a bull in a china shop. I want to have respect for your feelings and treat them gently.”
We prayed together, hugged and agreed not to rush this decision. And I’m thankful. Because I would rather wait to marry Seth than not marry him at all.