Should've Stuck with Betrothal

11:00 AM

A couple of wedding cards, a bridal shower gift, and a roll of "happily ever after" wrapping paper at which my mother already laughed litter my bedside table. The calendar's marked for a bridal luncheon on Sunday for C, a wedding ceremony a few weeks later for N, and the invitation for J's big day arrived just yesterday. Back to the Dollar Tree wedding section. . . .

I made it to this bizarre stage in life when my friends at twenty-something or barely-twenty get hitched for life with their best friend. I might be babysitting their first child this upcoming year. The weirdness just gets weirder. Even more bizarre -- chilling with your friends at school and suddenly realizing there's only one single person crammed onto a couch full of starry-eyed couples. Even I was awkwarded out.

It used to be just me and my boy, the resident awkward couple, the one with whom everyone third-wheeled. And then more of our friends kept coupling up, either officially or unofficially, until we created a multi-wheeled semi-truck phenomenon. When I came home -- more couples. That semi-truck just chugged up to Wisconsin too.

Now, I must say that more couples means I can deflect teasing and actually throw in some affectionate jabs myself. I can take the stalker pictures and d'aww behind their backs while they covertly hold hands. It's a glorious thing.

The downside? It feels like a competition. Couples take on a character of their own. Two normally bearable people can be absolutely unbearable when paired together (or vice versa, I suppose). Thing 1 and Thing 2 win Most Awkward Couple of the Year. John and Jane Doe get the Cuteness Award. Mr. Knightley and Emma walk away with Most Godly Couple.

Not really, but it's hard not to take notes and compare: "Oh, wow, it really does make me uncomfortable to see them hugging for more than 2.3 seconds -- never going to do that again!" "Wow, he pays such close attention to her! I wish my significant other looked at me that way." "Aww, he walked all the way to Salvation Army to buy her a pair of shoes because she threw a fit about getting a B+." (That was my boy, by the way. Very bad day.)

I mean, it's hard for me not to take notes and compare. The couples I know find no shame in kissing in public. They don't call their boyfriend crying all the time because we-are-such-a-horrible-couple. They don't live under the gloom of the thought that they're clearly not as godly or Christ-centered or ministry-oriented as Couple X over there. My own boyfriend cheerfully ignores any negative and positive compliments and finds little interest in changing either of us into a perfect couple.

He picked the wrong girl, because that's all I'm interested in -- becoming the perfect couple. Maybe sometimes, when in my least admirable moods, becoming the best couple. Which means I'm hard on myself and I'm hard on us as a couple, but I'm most hard on my boyfriend. I don't remember feeling so much envy in my life before I started dating. Envy that they had a cuter first-date story. Envy that they write long, detailed letters to each other. Envy that their story-of-us held less tears, drama, and sin.

Behind all that envy lies a terrifying fear: If my relationship is not perfect, it's probably because I picked the wrong guy. And if I picked the wrong guy, than we have to break up -- and I can't break up with him because I love him!

Where, might you ask, did I pick up this inane train of thought? Oh, just the mainstream courtship advice -- all the books and blogs and cassette tapes over the years, training me not to settle, to wait for The One, to evaluate young men's eligibility to discern what a godly man was, and to make a list of qualities and must-haves in a potential spouse.

It also instilled me with fear and discontent. That listing and those expectations are crushing my real relationship. The courtship mindset as listed above armed me with how to judge a man and see all his weaknesses and failures, but it never taught me how to extend grace or how to love an average sinner. It placed all the emphasis on the guy being right for me, conforming to my image, my expectations. My browbeaten boyfriend now slowly leaks out as much confusion and hurt as he does tentative love.

Women aren't taught to love in said mindset. They're taught to keep their emotions, affection, and participation away until the man earns her love -- as if love suddenly becomes works-based in the most intimate human relationship. The knight in shining armor always pursues her; he's never allowed to be so rejected and broken that he gives up pursuit because the dragon he fights daily is his own distressed damsel. Meanwhile, the damsel sits in her castle, going over her knight's faults and weighing them in the balance: Is such sin worthy of breaking up? Maybe all these sins combined? But no, this good quality outweighs his faults -- for now.

It hit my envious gut hard when my boyfriend told me, "I love you," and I could not say it back. Because he wasn't perfect. Because he wasn't meeting my expectations. I was wise enough not to say I love you, for what kind of love weighs and measures? My envy and bitterness and discontent had choked out all genuine love.

Sometimes I wish that arranged marriages became popular again, just so that this ridiculous question of "Is he The One?" would get hacked to pieces and buried six feet down. I wish with all my heart that I did not struggle with this inability to love due to the gross reason of envy and judgment. I wish I possessed the capacity to love unconditionally and accept my boyfriend, the way he loves and accepts me.

Honestly, I can rail against the courtship mindset malfunctions, but really, it boils down to a sick, sick heart. #totaldepravity But I know the Great Physician, and someday I will return to this blog and write down the story of how I tore out my strangled heart and got a new one that beats with love and grace to the Father's rhythm.

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5 impressions

  1. I read this really long boring essay about Puritan courtship and what not. It seemed they didn't focus on the merits of their potential future someone, but rather decided if they could live with the shortcomings of their specific other.

    Smart idea maybe. But Erich definitely has some awesome merits and I don't understand why you're crying over your boy. =)

    I think relationships are just naturally draining and if you weren't concerned about dating the wrong guy I would be seriously upset for you dating so flippantly and I'd even cry for you once in the shower just to show how much I'd be upset for you.

    Don't cry too hard, because I approve of *ahem* well, him. Even if he didn't get those extra brownie points for watching High School Musical with you.

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  2. Wow, this is timely. Lately I've been thinking about grace in relationships, and being the right person, rather than obsessing over finding the right person.

    So thanks for sharing your story, it was a convicting and thought-provoking read!

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  3. Yep. Totally "get" this. I understand the need for discernment and advice in getting into a dating relationship, but I think it can be over the top. I question my own relationship sometimes, which makes it really confusing; however, my boyfriend is a great person and I think the most important thing (after him being a Christian) is a willingness in both people to talk about things and to be committed to one another. If that is in place, everything else will work out somehow. And since when did Christianity and Christian marriage become about whether or not this person makes ME feel good, fits MY needs, or follows MY ideals and prejudices?

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  4. Justine -- I am so glad I'm not that only girlfriend who feels this way. :P

    "Since when did Christianity and Christian marriage become about whether or not this person...follows MY ideals and prejudices?"

    ^ I love this. Christian marriage is an extension of Christian life, of the church. Just like the strong have to lay down their freedom for the weak in the church, husbands and wives should lay down their convictions/ideals/freedoms in order to love one another better and be united. How are you supposed to be challenged as an individual if you share the exact same everything?? That's unrealistic.

    Plus, I think it's so important that marriages don't just become copycats of their parents' households. There needs to be freshness and personal conviction and backing away from prejudices in order to see things from a different angle. For instance, someone recently wrote me an inappropriate email. My entire family protected me, took my side, and made a big deal about it. My boyfriend? He didn't make a big deal about it at all. He doesn't drag out people's decisions and foibles...and I needed that perspective in order to avoid gossip and resentment. So thankful he's nothing like me and my family!!

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  5. this made me laugh - so true! right on! a relationship is a journey and each one is going to be different! my relationship turned totally different than anything I ever planned on (oh silly me and thank you Jesus for a very patient boyfriend!) - I am so grateful for it as it shook up my box and opened my mind!

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