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

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Going With the Flow

Dating Flow Chart

I checked my outfit in the mirror one last time as I heard Seth’s knock on my door. I’d chosen my knee-length maroon dress with a cropped khaki jacket, hoping I looked cute but not like I was trying too hard.

Seth had called me thirty minutes earlier and asked what I was doing. “Um… eating a quick dinner before bible study?”

He’d called me at 5:15 PM, and our Wednesday night bible study started at 6:30 PM. But even in light of the time crunch, Seth had asked me if I would like to get ice cream before bible study. “I can pick you up; then we can go to bible study together.”

Naturally, I said yes, but a quiet part of my mind was doing the backwards planning: It’s going to take him thirty minutes to get to my apartment in rush hour traffic; then another thirty minutes to get to bible study, which allots us only fifteen minutes to actually eat ice cream if we’re going to be on time.

But of course I didn’t say any of that. I have been coached by ex-boyfriends and ex-fiances alike that I am “too Type A” and come off as unattractive and “unfeminine” when I reveal the inner workings of my planning, detail-oriented mind. So I am learning to bite my tongue as I attempt to go with the flow.

At the sound of his rhythmic knock on my door, I tucked my hair behind my ear and unlocked my front door to open it for Seth. We greeted one another with a hug; then I stepped back and unintentionally looked him up and down. He was wearing a maroon button-down tucked into khaki slacks.

I giggled. “We match,” I told him, gesturing to my own outfit. He smiled in reply before escorting me down the hallway to his truck after I locked the door behind me.

We drove to a Chinese shaved ice shop where they serve bao bing in a variety of unique flavors. Seth and I opted to share a vanilla-flavored “ice cream sundae” topped with bananas, strawberries, almonds and bright blue raspberry whipped cream. Digging our spoons into the tower of shaved ice, we dubbed it the Smurf Sundae, and Seth laughed at me when I stuck out my tongue and asked him if it was turning blue.

We enjoyed relaxed conversation until Seth glanced at his watch and announced that we were definitely going to be thirty minutes late for bible study. Sure enough, we arrived at 7:00 PM, and everyone playfully raised their eyebrows at not only our tardy arrival together but also our matching attire. I saw one of Seth’s friends wink at him, and Seth – not realizing I was watching – grinned in response.

At the time, I was excited; hopeful; cautiously optimistic. But in the weeks that followed – while Seth and I continued to spend time together – he always arranged for us to meet in group settings. We met at a baseball stadium and bought tickets with a group of mutual friends to watch the game together. He didn’t even sit by me until the 7th inning, both surprising and disappointing me. But the very next morning when we went out to lunch after church with some friends, Seth – in front of everyone – asked the waitress to put our two orders on the same check, and I was encouraged again.

The theme of group outings continued right up to the week I went out of the country on a business trip. I had figured three weeks would be plenty of time for Seth to ask me on a date, but as the weekend of my departure approached, I started to wonder if Seth was interested after all. I’d been back in the dating scene for three full weeks, and he’d told me I would know when he asked me on a date. We’d gone out for ice cream one time, but he hadn’t called it a date, and we’d been rushed on our way to bible study. Was he interested or not?

The night before I left on my business trip, Seth had invited me to a birthday party for a friend of his who I didn’t know. I agreed, but about an hour before he was supposed to pick me up, Seth called to let me know he’d just found out there wouldn’t be any other girls at the party.

“That’s okay,” I told him. “You go ahead and spend some time with your guy friends. I can call up my girls to hang out.”

“But I wanted to spend tonight with you,” he told me. I smiled in spite of myself. So he did want to see me before I left!

“Well, I was a female engineer. I’m used to being one of the guys. I can come along if the birthday boy doesn’t mind.”

“Or we could do something just you and me,” Seth countered. “We could go get dinner or something.”

I felt the left corner of my mouth turn upward in a half smile. “Yeah, we could get dinner just us.” What are your intentions here, Seth?

“Okay. Let’s do that then.”

Seth showed up at my apartment thirty minutes later in a button-down shirt tucked into dark blue jeans and cowboy boots. I welcomed him inside, and we hugged hello. As we pulled apart, Seth kept his hands on my waist and looked down into my eyes with a nervous smile. “So… do you want to go on a date?”

My soft smile was immediate. “Yes, please.” I thought you’d never ask.

Authentically Aurora

Roy? Gee Whiz

Colorful camp counselors.png

The Camp Counselor type: Everybody knows at least one. Loud, colorful, extroverted, crazy, zany, loud, talkative, attention-seeking, loud, animated, effervescent… and did I mention loud?

When I met Roy at church last fall, he’d been out of college for six months but was still unemployed. He spent a lot of time volunteering at various sports camps, which suited him perfectly, since he is one of the aforementioned camp counselor types. A Sports Management major with dreams of being a basketball coach, Roy stands just a couple of inches taller than me at 5’5″.

Roy is actually a very attractive kid – I think of him as a miniature Abercrombie model – but I can’t help but think of him as just that: a kid. The small child, Ashley calls him. So when he expressed interest in dating me, sweet as he is, I just couldn’t get past his age (23), his height (5’5″), his work experience (0 years) and his employment status (unemployed).

Don’t get me wrong; Roy is a very kind-hearted guy, and kindness goes a long way. In fact, my late grandfather told me that what drew him to my grandmother (“well, besides the fact that she had great legs!” he interjected) was her kindness. And my grandmother said the same about my grandfather (about his kindness, not his legs). I know that kindness is important, and I want to end up with a kind-hearted man. But I don’t particularly want to end up with a kind-hearted man-child.

When Roy initially asked me out back in November, I told him I thought he was a sweet, godly man, but I just felt we were in different life stages. Camp counselors are nothing if not persistent though, so he asked again in January. Now he has a job at the YMCA. But I was able to legitimately tell him that, despite his new employment status (employed! woo!), I am still not dating for a while (possibly a year, reevaluating at the end of each quarter, depending on how attractive my perspective dating pool is what God tells me about the state of my heart).

The puppy was not deterred. “So we just have ten and a half months to go,” he told me sincerely, taking me by the hand in the parking lot outside where we’d both been attending a party.

“Roy…” I said in exasperation, pulling my hand away. “Please don’t wait for me. I think you have a lot of great qualities – you’re a sweet, attractive, godly man – but you really should be dating other girls. I am not dating anyone right now, and as much as I admire you, I should not be a love interest of yours.”

Roy refused to try dating other people, insisting that there was something special between us. “Every time I’ve tried going out with another girl, I always end up comparing her to you, and she just doesn’t measure up. You are the standard.” Oh boy.

Just three weeks ago, we had to have the conversation again. Roy really is a sweetheart, and I enjoy his company, plus we’re in the same bible study at church, so I perhaps had been too gentle with him. Besides, my mom was really rooting for him. The little boy, she called him. The small child, Ashley called him. Roy vey, I thought to myself.

My mom liked that he was kind. I liked that he was kind. I knew though, deep down, that Roy and I weren’t a fit. And I needed to make sure he knew that. I didn’t want to hurt him, but after months of apparent lack of clarity on his part as to our status, I decided the time had come to be more direct.

Roy had walked me to my car, given me a hug and kissed my forehead (which required him to take my face in his hands and tilt my chin down). I sighed. I’d really thought I had been clear that we were just friends. Obviously we needed to have yet another DTR (can I just say? “not dating” 23-year-olds is exhausting).

“Roy, do you know why I’m not dating this year?” He nodded, but I continued anyway. “A big part of it is that I want to reinstate God as my First Love. I have allowed men to become idols in my life – a crutch of sorts – that keep me from going to God for comfort, encouragement and guidance. My sense of self worth tends to be tied up in men’s attraction to and opinion of me.”

Roy nodded again, big brown puppy eyes unaware that they were about to have their light dimmed. “I know we’ve said that we’re not dating, but whatever this is? This walking me to my car, texting me all the time, kissing me on the forehead? This pseudo-friendship-dating is a crutch that is completely undoing the purpose for which I set out not to date. You are a crutch. And I need this to stop.”

Suffice it to say that Roy got the message.

There’s a new girl at church, Jess, who I saw sitting alone and who I welcomed into our group about a month ago. Curly black hair, loves sunflowers, hates gluten. Sweet girl. I invited her to join our community group, which she did – so successfully, in fact, that last Saturday, she posted a Facebook photo of her and Roy cheek-to-cheek with the caption: “Successful first date!!! ❤ ” Umm, what?

I was confused. Just two weeks earlier, Roy had been fawning all over me, telling me that no other girls could compare to me. Two weeks was all it took for the puppy dog to pull his tail from between his legs and start wooing some other girl? Two weeks and he’s already posting photos with Jess to social media? I’m the one who invited her into our group! I’m the one who basically introduced them! And who posts first date photos anyway? Isn’t that a bit presumptuous?

Last Sunday they sat together holding hands with their fingers interlaced, and at lunch after church, Jess – apparently oblivious to the history between Roy and myself – plopped down right next to me so that she could gush to me about how amazing Roy is and then tell me all about their plans for their romantic second date.

As Jess giggled and showed me their selfies together, I ordered an alcoholic beverage. It shouldn’t bother me. It shouldn’t. I know this. I could have had him if I wanted him. In fact, I encouraged him to date other girls. And I legitimately think they could be a good match. I am happy for them. She’s a sweet girl, and he’s a sweet guy. They just seem like they’re both rushing into this like they have something to prove.

In the past week, Roy must have let Jess in on the fact that he pursued me for a while, because this Sunday when I walked into the sanctuary, I caught Roy putting his arm protectively around Jess and giving her a comforting hug as I walked by. Really? Am I that girl now? Hours later, they made their relationship “FBO” as Jess tagged it in their latest selfie – Facebook Official, “and I couldn’t be happier!!! ❤ ” Well go poop a rainbow, why don’t ya?

I really hope – for both their sakes – that she is not a rebound. And I really hope I can still be welcoming to her and kind to him. They are my brother and sister in Christ, and I want them to be happy. They are just moving really fast. And it’s hard to watch people move on from you. I’ve discovered as I’ve aged that all too often, even if we don’t want someone, we all still want to be wanted.

Authentically Aurora