I was helping a girlfriend get ready for a formal event one day when she asked me about my boyfriend, and the, ah, tempestuousness or our relationship. Did I really think fighting that much was healthy?
I shrugged, dismissing her question. Of course our relationship was healthy– we were courting, weren’t we? And, anyway, I’d be bored out of my mind if our relationship wasn’t this passionate. If we never had a fight– good gravy, that would be so uninteresting, so dull. I liked the roller-coaster, and I would never want to get off and exchange it for something placid and listless.
When I was being at all honest with my friends, I would tell them that John* and I had a “disagreement,” or that we’d “fought.” What I didn’t tell them was that these “fights” involved a whole lot of John screaming at me and a whole lot of silence from me. My version of the events, to my friends, had me sticking up for myself– like the time he told me that I would be getting breast implants after we got married, and I supposedly told him “no way.”
Yeah, that didn’t happen.
Nearly a year and a half into this relationship, one of my friends gave me a book called Boundaries in Dating, a book I probably should have paid a little more attention to. I read it, obligingly, until the authors made an offhand comment about how most people probably wouldn’t want to marry the first person they ever dated.
I immediately returned the book to my friend, telling her I couldn’t accept the authors’ beliefs as valid. Their presentation conflicted with what I knew to be the truth about boy/girl relationships.
I remember reading that sentence pretty vividly– it was halfway down a right-hand page, nearly a third into the book, right below a page break. The authors were about to launch into a new point about how dating can give people perspective on the opposite gender, but I stopped, right there, and just stared at what they had said. My reaction was visceral and violent.
What do the mean people wouldn’t want to marry the first person they ever dated? Of course they would! That’s the whole point!
My reaction was informed by about a dozen years of some hard-hitting indoctrination. It came from a whole host of sources– I Kissed Dating Goodbye, which I think most of us have at least heard of, down to Stay in the Castle (which, ironically, a friend of John’s gave to me after he broke our engagement as an encouragement that I should get back with him), to lots of object lessons.
The best “object lesson” I can remember is one about Pop Beads– a Sunday school teacher brought a whole strand of these up to the platform, and she fiddled with them as she spoke. She told a story about a little girl who loved her daddy, and her daddy loved her. Her daddy wanted to give her everything her little heart desired, including a string of pop beads. He did buy her some, and initially she was oh so grateful, but her gratitude eventually gave way to surliness and isolation. She was so happy with her Pop Beads that she started ignoring the daddy she loved so much. One day, her daddy came to her and asked her to throw her Pop Beads into the fire. If she really loved him, she would do this for him, because he missed her, and getting rid of the Pop Beads was the only way. After an interminable amount of time, she relents. The next day, he brings her a strand of pearls.
Moral of the story: what God wants for you is so much better than what you want for yourself. You should wait for his perfect timing, and he’ll bring someone into your life that is so absolutely perfect for you. Anything that you have before God brings this perfect person is a ridiculously cheap imitation, a knock-off, a nobody.
When I was about fourteen, my best friend and I made a promise together — we would “guard our heart.” We would protect our hearts from all the wolves in the world who wanted only “one thing” from us, and we would wait for The One who was the person God intended for us.
This, of course, implies that there can be only one option for us, romantically. Joshua Harris included a rather gruesome story in I Kissed Dating Goodbye about the dangers of the “dating game,” how it results in you giving your heart away in pieces, how you should try to give your whole, intact heart to just one person.
In my head, emotional purity rose to the same level as physical purity. Having a crush on a boy– even just noticing that a boy was handsome was enough for me experience near-disabling guilt and shame. I continuously judged my best friend because she was constantly having crushes– especially on people I thought of as obviously being a wolf. I was “better” at it, better at steeling myself, at not looking. When I got to college and experienced my first heartbreak, it only confirmed everything I knew. Women are designed to fall in love once. That had to be the goal.
What I couldn’t see was that all of this teaching was forcing me to stay in a relationship that was becoming more and more abusive. Because I’d fallen in love. I’d given my heart away. I’d done everything I could to make sure that this person was The One. We’d done everything right — he also came from the IFB culture, and he’d understood courtship. I’d waited to really “let my heart go” until he’d gotten my father’s permission. We were following all the rules about accountability and no physical contact (an easy thing to do, since that was also forbidden by the college) . . . I was very much assured that John was my own personal prince charming.