The Mention of Marriage

premarital_counseling

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.

Authentically Aurora

Mocking Mark

Coffee beans burlap.png

I volunteer at a local farmers’ market a couple of Saturdays a month. The booth I help with is for a nonprofit coffee shop that gives all of its proceeds to fighting human trafficking. It’s a win-win situation as far as I’m concerned: the coffee shop gets free staffing, and I get to play barista for the day and learn how to make different drinks.

Today when I showed up, there was a new guy, so I walked up to introduce myself. “Hi, I’m Aurora,” I told him, sticking out my hand for a handshake. “And you are…?”

“Mock,” he responded, filling in the rest of my sentence.

“Mock?” I repeated back to him, thinking it was an unusual name for a man who looked very much Caucasian.

The girls around me all started giggling, and I looked around in confusion as Mock sighed in mock exasperation. “I’ve lived ‘eeya foh ‘eeyas, and I still con’t seh mahyee ahs!”

“He’s from London,” a girl to my left told me with a smile.

“Oh. Nice to meet you, Mark.”

I found it fascinating that, had I heard Mark say even one sentence before hearing him pronounce his name, my brain would have subconsciously filled in his silent “r”. But because “Mock” was the first word I ever heard come out of Mark’s mouth, my brain didn’t have the context to know that he was speaking with what I would have perceived to be a British accent.

In any case, we all laughed “hod” – “Mock” included – as we “stotted” brewing the “dock” roast.

Authentically Aurora

 

Talking is Hard

WordSometimes words don’t come out right. And sometimes that’s awful and heart-wrenching. But sometimes it’s hilarious.

Meet 23-year-old Evan, a recent college grad who just moved to town. For the first time in four years, Evan finds himself outside the bubble of all-night parties and PC gaming and, as a result, his communication skills are a bit rusty. At lunch last week, Evan discovered that communication outside of texts, tweets and status updates can be challenging. Yes, Evan, this whole face-to-face human interaction thing can be difficult.

Girl 1: “So, Evan, do you have a girlfriend?”

Evan: “Not for long.”

[Awkward silence. Everyone looks around the table.]

Girl 2 [timidly]: “So… you’re planning to break up with her?”

Evan: “Oh. No, I meant that we haven’t been dating for very long.”

Girl 1: “Oh!” [laughs with relief] “Does she live in town?”

Evan: “No, she’s still in school. She’s at Fish Camp right now.”

Boy 1: “Ooh, so you’re into younger women! Going for a college freshman, eh? Nice!”

Evan: “No, she’s not a freshman. She’s 16.”

[Awkward silence. Everyone doing mental math.]

Boy 2: “Wow… uh, yeah… you do go for the younger women…”

Evan [waving his friends frantically]: “No, no, no… I mean, she’s class of ’16 — 2016! She’s one of the camp counselors at Fish Camp!”

[Sighs of relief around the table.]

For any future updates about his relationship, Evan will be utilizing Instagram, which enables him to communicate entirely using pictures and not words. 

Gaston

Authentically Aurora

Leavetaking – Part II

Walking Away with Suitcase“You won’t leave until you can’t stay.”


“Hello,” Bryan answered his phone. The anger in his voice was impossible to miss.

“Hi. Are you still at work, or can you talk now?” I asked him.

His response was brusque. “I’m at home.”

“Okay,” I began. “You seem to be upset with me.”

Without preamble, the floodgates opened, and Bryan burst out, “I trusted you! I trusted you, and you broke my trust!

Taken aback, mind reeling, I tried to stay calm. “I’m sorry you feel that way–”

He cut me off. “You keep saying that word – ‘sorry’ – but I don’t think you know what it means. You keep saying you’re sorry, but then you keep doing the same things over and over. How many times have we had this conversation, Aurora?!”

I wasn’t sure exactly what conversation he meant, but based on his texts, it had to be the variations on our conversation about not sharing anything about our relationship with other people. “Bryan, if you’ll just give me a chance to explain–”

“I feel violated by you.” He shot the word at me, wounding me.

I took a deep breath. “Bryan, I hear your hurt.” I tried to acknowledge him; let him know I was hearing him. Then I went on, “When I spoke with Marcia and Andie, it was like girls at a slumber party talking about their crushes–”

“I can’t believe you went behind my back. I trusted you.”

He wasn’t going to let me get a word in edgewise to defend myself. “Bryan, if you’re ever going to be in a relationship with a woman, you need to realize that girls talk–”

“There you go deflecting again,” he interjected with a steely edge to his voice.

I paused, trying to gather my thoughts. In the meantime, Bryan spouted accusations at me, telling me about my lack of character and integrity. “I’m just now finding out about your conversation with Russ months after the fact. How many more betrayals am I going to find out about in the months to come?!”

I care deeply for Bryan, and every conversation I had was because of that care for him. He was private, and I wanted to know him more. He was closed off emotionally, and I longed to know how he really felt about me. Bryan struggled to communicate where we stood even after six months, although I now think he wasn’t trying to communicate it because he wasn’t even trying to ascertain it for himself. And he certainly didn’t communicate it to his friends or evidently want anything about our relationship shared with them.

When Bryan eventually paused for breath, I said quietly, “Bryan, I don’t feel like I’m being heard by you. I’m trying to explain myself–”

You don’t feel heard my me?! I don’t feel heard by you! How many times have we had this conversation?! First, you went to my sister; then you talked about me to Toby; then Russ…”

He continued to give full vent to his anger, and my body went into fight or flight response. I felt my hands start to shake, my face getting hot, and tears started streaming down my cheeks as I tried not to sob. I loved this man, and he was attacking me.

“Bryan, you’re making me cry,” I choked out. “You’re hurting me.”

“Like the way you hurt me when you went behind my back to all of my friends?” There was no softness; no kindness; only rage in his tone.

Something broke in me, and the tears subsided. Now there was only a deathly calm; a painfully still deadness settled into my chest.

Bryan had started another impassioned tirade, “I trusted you, and you broke my trust. I’ll never trust you again!” I noted absently that this was the first time I’d ever really heard Bryan truly passionate about anything.

It was my turn to interrupt him, and I did so with an even, formal tone. “For the sake of closure, I need to hear you say that you’ll never pursue anything here with me again. I really care about you, and I’ve been hoping you would start to pursue me again. I had hoped -” I redirected mid-sentence. “I need to hear you say that you’ll never pursue me again.”

“No,” he declared with vehemence. “I’m done. After this, I’m done,” he spat at me.

I flinched involuntarily. “Okay,” I continued with as much external calm as ever. “Well is there anything else you wanted to get out of this conversation before we hang up?”

“I never had anything I wanted to get out of this conversation to begin with,” he snarled at me, voice full of bitterness.

“Okay, then. Have a good rest of your week.”

The click I heard on the other end resounded with finality. I’m done.

Authentically Aurora

Leavetaking – Part I

Walking Away with Luggage“You won’t leave until you can’t stay.”

My counselor used to say this to me while I was going through my broken engagement. I never realized it until last summer, but it’s true that I will not leave a situation until I am absolutely broken and beaten down enough that I cannot bear up under the circumstances any longer.

“You won’t leave until you can’t stay.”

I may have finally gotten to that place with Bryan.
(And there was much cheering from the peanut gallery.)

It takes a lot for someone to spark my attention, gain my trust and earn my respect. But once they do, I’m all in. Even when my ex-fiance told me I was so “Type A” I would likely drive to him to have an affair, I continued to love him and progress toward our marriage. I have found that I am faithful and loyal, almost to a fault.

“You won’t leave until you can’t stay.”

Bryan and I have stayed in touch in the months since our breakup. He called me when he broke his arm mountain biking in Utah, sent me beautiful photos from a hynotherapy course in Sedona, Arizona, and he kept up with me during my London trip, even going so far as to talk about how he’d like to take me back to London someday; show me his old neighborhood and what his life was like there.

I hadn’t physically seen him in three weeks or had a real conversation with him in two weeks when I sent Bryan a “Good morning!” text message last Wednesday. He just bought a new property in a nearby town and had mentioned wanting to take me to see it. I’d felt like we were headed toward rekindling our romance and reached out Wednesday morning with the intent of asking if he’d like to road trip there during the long holiday weekend. But I didn’t hear back from him all day. And when he did finally reply, it wasn’t at all the conversation I expected to have.

Hi there

Hey Bryan! Life is good, I presume?

Always.
Had an interesting talk with my buddy Russ last night…

Really?
Want to talk about your talk?

You tell me

…?
I would be interested to hear if you want to share

I think you know more than I.
It was about a talk that you had with him

Ah that. How’d it go?

A bit upsetting

I’m sorry

You keep saying that
…and then doing things to reinforce it

I had that conversation with Russ in March or April

After the one with Toby
& Chris
& Marcia
& my sister
& before Andie

Bryan’s texts came in such rapid succession that his anger was unmistakable. I had only seen Bryan this angry one other time – when he confronted me about sending a Facebook message to his sister; an event I thought we had already addressed. Even over text messaging, I felt my blood pressure rising in response to the hatred I read in his words. “You tell me.”

I have known for a while that Bryan is a private person. When he took me to Cirque du Soleil for Valentine’s Day, I posted a photo of us together on Facebook. He promptly untagged himself. Hurt, I’d asked why. He explained that a coworker had asked him to go, and he’d turned them down to take me. Bryan said he didn’t want to upset his coworker, so he didn’t want me posting photos of us at the event. Considering I was his Valentine’s date, and we’d been dating for three months by that time, this didn’t make sense to me, but I didn’t push it.

Similarly, Bryan asked me not to post any photos from our sailing trip together, stating that he didn’t want to make his friends jealous of all his travel adventures. But that same logic apparently didn’t apply to his trips to Argentina, Colombia or Canada with friends over the same time period. It would seem his requirement for privacy is specific to matters of the heart.

None of Bryan’s friends knew we were dating until the eve of our sailing trip in March – four months into the relationship – and, even then, I was the one who Toby approached to probe deeper. Toby walked me to my car one evening after bible study when Bryan was out of town. Once at my car, he asked, “So what’s the deal with you and Bryan? Are you guys dating or what?” I remember laughing and replying, “Great question! I wish I knew the answer!”

Chris was a friend who’d stopped by Bryan’s house once early in our relationship. I was still getting to know Bryan and hadn’t met many of his friends at that point, so – like I think many women would do – I’d tilted my head to the side and asked with a wink and a smile, “So how long have you known Bryan? Is he a good guy?” Apparently Chris had told him about it later and thought it was weird that I’d asked. I thought it was weird that he thought it was weird.

I’m an open book. I always have been. In high school, my choir director said to me, “You’re the real deal. With you, what you see is what you get.” Bryan knew this about me from day one. On our very first date, I told Bryan that I’m still a virgin. I wear my heart on my sleeve. I have nothing to hide. I am who I am.

So when Marcia and Andie – two female friends of Bryan’s – asked me what was going on with us, I was happy to tell them. We were like little girls at a slumber party, talking about the boys we have crushes on. It was a compliment to Bryan that we talked about him. But he obviously didn’t see it that way.

So what I am hearing is you saying all my friends are calling and asking you for all this...?

Toby asked. He approached me.

Just like Russ did

He’s the one who suggested I talk to Russ.
Marcia asked me.
Andie asked me.
I was the one to reach out to your sister, but I owned that.

Uhhh ok

I sensed the downward spiral starting. Bryan was irate and not accepting or even absorbing anything I was saying, so I asked:

Would you rather talk about this on the phone?
Or are you too upset to talk?

I received no response.

Or are you finished talking?

His reply was immediate:

I would hate for that to be a topic of future conversations behind my back.

Shaking my head – heart in my throat – I dialed his number and waited for the phone to ring.

Life at Sea – Part III

blonde-yacht-sailing-sea-sunlight-landscape-woman-wallpaper-817181130I feel like Bryan and I had some really important, enlightening, breakthrough conversations over the last couple days of our trip. We have struggled with emotional intimacy (neither one of us seems to want to be emotionally vulnerable), so I’m grateful that we were finally able to articulate certain thoughts and feelings to each other that will hopefully blossom our relationship as we live out our respective revelations.

I needed Bryan to hear the implications of my struggle with perfectionism and the havoc wreaked by the voice of my internal critic. So often when he – in completely bewilderment – has watched me shut down, it is because his words (unbeknownst to him) have been warped by the perfectionistic voice in my head to tell me that I am wrong or stupid or incompetent and therefore unloveable. The brokenness of this way of thinking is something I’m keenly aware of and still learning to battle effectively and consistently. My hope is that Bryan’s understanding of this struggle will ease our communication going forward.

Bryan needed me to hear his experience with the burden of always having to be the responsible one. The oldest son of six kids, with their father having passed a few years ago, Bryan is also the wealthiest and most highly educated of his siblings. As such, he shared with me that he perpetually bears the brunt of his family’s needs in addition to requests from countless friends for loans, a place to crash for the night, travel advice, networking favors, etc.

Bryan has a way of putting those around him at ease. He is connected and competent, and that unfortunately causes many of those around him to switch off their brains and lean too heavily on him. I did that to him this trip. In an effort to leave my high-strung Type A personality at home and just enjoy my free-spirited vacation, I intentionally didn’t print off our itinerary, and I forgot to call my credit card company to let them know I’d be out of the country. As a result, Bryan was always the one both driving and navigating, paying for expenses I couldn’t cover with my wad of cash, and generally ensuring we survived the day unscathed.

As nice as it was for me to unplug and just depend on someone else (for one of the first times in my life – a deliberate choice I made), Bryan told me that he was hoping for a partner; he expected us to operate as a team, and he had counted on my usual independence, responsibility and organizational skills to come through on this trip. He was disappointed by my dependence and perceived neediness, and I was hurt by his frustration and resultant emotional distance.

We had some hard conversations, but hopefully we now better understand one another so we can engage in healthy, joyful, life-giving interactions in the future. Time will tell if choosing vulnerability was worth the risk.

Authentically Aurora

Prayer Request

Unhappy-Couple

For anyone who is so inclined, I am openly asking for prayer over my relationship with Bryan. I really, really like this guy a lot – he is a smart, talented, attractive, godly man with a kind heart and generous spirit – but we are really struggling with communication.

We have the same fight constantly, only over different subjects. At its core, the theme always remains the same: I will be discussing some part of my life (past, present, or future), and Bryan will offer an alternate perspective, but instead of couching it as simply an alternate perspective, he has a way of making me feel like he is scornful of my decision.

For example, tonight I was telling him about how I have chosen to continue working in my job at an oil company while attending school part time for graphic design. It seemed like the wise, prudent, responsible choice to test the waters of graphic design to see if it’s a career path I would actually enjoy before completely quitting my stable, lucrative job at an oil company.

Instead of saying something like, “Did you ever consider just quitting work completely and going to school full time?”, his response was:

“Sometimes the only thing to do is to just DO something. Imagine the opportunities you would have had if you’d just moved to San Francisco to do graphic design full time. Imagine the people you would have met; the experiences you could have had. You could have had such an adventure!”

His chosen wording and tone made me feel like I had to justify my safer, more responsible decision as opposed to his clearly preferred option of having the grand adventure. Only, it wasn’t necessarily his preferred option. He was just stating a counterpoint.

But, regardless of the subject, Bryan never makes it sound like just an alternate perspective; his word choices make me feel like he thinks this alternate perspective is the RIGHT perspective. Then, in my insecurity, I get defensive and lash out, which causes him to withdraw from me, which only deepens my lack of security in his affection for me. We are in a vicious downward spiral, and I think I see where it’s headed. Only, neither one of us wants it to go that way.

We had a long conversation about this tonight after yet another disagreement. He said that he really likes me a lot but is concerned about my defensive behavior. I really like him a lot but feel insecure in his affection because I often don’t know where we stand and, as a result of this insecurity, exhibit the defensive behavior that is then his reason for not investing further in me.

This is the way my engagement started down the path toward a broken engagement. Bryan has asked me why I always have such a pessimistic view; why can’t I expect good things? But I think I see the writing on the wall, and life has a way of delivering self-fulfilling prophesies on a silver platter.

So again I state: Prayers appreciated.

Authentically Aurora