The first year of marriage

 

Why is the first year of marriage so hard?

“So, how’s married life?”

It was a question we were asked hundreds of times in that first year. It was a question that always left me feeling a little bereft as to what to say.

The truth is, our first year of marriage was hard. Very hard. Not because we’d made a mistake, not because I regretted the decision, not because I wanted out. Even though I was sure we’d chosen right and wanted in – it was still hard.

We may have been in love, but we hadn’t yet begun to learn how to love one another well. We hadn’t yet begun to learn that beyond the declarations of love and commitment comes the daily study of learning what your spouse likes, and deeper than that – how your spouse thinks.

I cried. A lot. Tears of frustration. Tears of pain. Tears of despair. Tears of martyrdom, spilled out on my pillow before sleep finally came: “Oh God, I promised to love him even if this means feeling this way fore-eh-eh-eh- (sob)-ver…zzzz”

There was no particular sin or problem that made it hard. It wasn’t that we were mismatched. It was more just that it was painful to figure out the changes. I think the most honest thing we were able to say about that first year was that it was “a big adjustment“. Here are some of the things that were hard for us to adjust:

It was hard to change our expectations of how time together was spent. When we were dating and engaged, our time together was spent “TOGETHER”, and then we went home to our respective houses and did our alone-time things alone. But once we were married, was time at home together time, or alone time? How did we figure that out? I expected marriage to feel more like an extended low-fuss date. I think he expected it more to feel like alone time, except with me in the house. It was painful for both of us to figure that out.

We suffered from decision-making fatigue. Before we were married, we had to decide on a few things together, and we figured we were pretty good at making those decisions. But once we were married, we discovered that every part of every day and every routine in every chore needed now to be decided on: we didn’t want to presume to do it “his” way or “my” way, so that meant having to have conversation after conversation about what “our” way was going to be. When should we eat dinner? what to eat for dinner? Who will do what prep and cooking for dinner? How long after dinner is it acceptable to wait before doing the dishes? Should washed dishes be dried and put away at once, or left to drip dry until morning? None of these questions was important, but much like the fatigue of a group of friends all trying to decide on a place to go for dinner and the conversation just goes and goes and goes because no-one wants to decide for the group, or the fatigue of a 4
-year olds’ “why”…. we were tired.

Another complicating factor was that it was hard to figure out our social obligations. While dating, I had a large circle of (mostly single) friends, with whom I spent about half the nights of the week. Once
married, what happened to those friendships? I wanted to keep those friendships and not be the friend-who-dropped-off-the-face-of-the-earth once she got married, but I couldn’t leave my hubby alone at home 3 nights a
week, and I couldn’t always just invite my girl friends to our house: they were my friends after all, and while they liked him they didn’t exactly want to bare their souls to my new hubby.

And so I did what all nice-girls-in-a-bind do: I cried. In private.

Would telling the truth about it being hard that first year have been understood? Would it have been seen as betrayal? Betrayal to my husband, or to the idealized notion of marriage? At the time it felt like it might be both.

And so one night, when an older, wiser friend asked: “So, how’s married life?”, and then followed it up immediately with, “It’s hard, isn’t it?”, I just about sobbed with relief. It was hard. It was such a relief to say it. And you know what? It got better. That first year wasn’t all terrible, but to be honest – it wasn’t all great.

I have friends who have had most wonderful first years of marriage. I’m so happy for them. But I just wanted to put in writing that it was not so with us. Just in case there’s anyone out there, whether in year 1 or year 4 or year 14, who feels this marriage gig is HARD and I-didn’t-expect-this and am-I-doing-something-wrong? and will-I-always-feel-like-this? and I-don’t-regret-this-but-I’m-still-crying-all-the-time…

Just in case that’s you, I wanted to say: “So how’s married life? It’s HARD, isn’t it?”

I know. We struggled through it, and we came through the stronger for it. You can too.

You might be interested in this post over at Start Marriage Right: Why we ditched the “young marrieds” groups

“Help, I’m jealous of my husband’s job”

I'm Jealous of my husband's job. Now what?

Dear Bronwyn,

I’m struggling with resentment about my husband’s frequent work trips. They’re often a week or more long, with mixed genders, and I struggle to keep my imagination under control. He is a loving husband and doesn’t seek out female colleagues as friends. He has told me this – and I trust him. Yet, when he is away, and I am left to normal life with young children, I can’t help but think he is off having a jolly time, making memories with everyone but me, and confiding in other people – I struggle with the idea of him having a “separate life” – a life where I, unless otherwise told, have no part of.

My husband does work hard to include me in his work life: I know more than many wives about what he does, who he works with, and he includes me where he can. It’s just when he goes away I become jaded and go into some kind of survival mode: I push away, resent, and think the worst. My husband is doing everything he can think of to help. My question is this: what can I do to combat these feelings?

Sincerely,

FOMO-Mama

Dear FOMama,
It sounds like there are a number of issues potentially at play here: wanting assurance about your husband’s affections, as well as some struggle with contentment and jealousy.
First: it sounds like you and your husband have a healthy marriage – you’re able to talk and are working hard to stay supportive and engaged in the other ones’ flourishing. That’s fantastic.
Having said that – travel for any extended period does put strains on a marriage. There are horrifying statistics about “the things that people get up to” on business trips, and so fears about sexual temptation and other excesses are not unwarranted. We have friends where the husband travels frequently and he requests that there be no TV in his hotel room wherever he travels (I’m sure the hotel staff *really* love this)… but it’s something he does for the sake of making sure there is no temptation there for him. If travel is a regular part of your husband’s job, I’m sure he has to think about ways to proactively protect your marriage while he’s away. That you can talk openly about this is important.
But I think this is really a deeper issue than a “can I trust my husband?” thing, since it seems you are more struggling with feeling left out/jealous of his opportunities, than really struggling with worry about his fidelity. I think that speaks more to a frustration about your current phase in life than specific jealousy about your husband. It’s his “freedom to go”, to stay out late if he wants to, to be ANYWHERE OTHER THAN HOME, to make friends etc, that shines a very bright light on some of the hardest things about motherhood… that being that life is just so. darn. continuous.
Remember when Fridays meant the end of the week? Ha, not so with moms.
Remember when weekends meant sleeping in? Not so with little ones.
Remember when eating out meant a meal free of issues? Not so with moms: either you’re wrangling people to just-sit-still at the table, or you’re bleeding from the nose with how much it costs to pay a babysitter. Tick tock. How long do we have?
Remember when someone asked you if you wanted to catch a movie, and you could say YES? Not anymore.
Remember when you had hobbies you liked to do after work? Not anymore: now there’s the carnage of cheerios and drool that comes after the kids are finally, finally asleep.
Remember when you used to do something and feel a sense of accomplishment that it was actually DONE? And sometimes people PAID you for it? Ha.
The life of a mom of small people is exhausting in physical and profoundly personal ways: for you work ALL DAY and it just gets undone by small people. What you tidy gets dumped out. What you clean gets smeared. What you fold gets worn. What you cook gets consumed, or worse yet – complained about and dumped on the floor.
Before I went on maternity leave, I supervised two interns. They came to visit me a few weeks after my eldest was born, and I was stunned to find I was insanely jealous of them describing the hum drum of making thousands of copies. I used to hate making copies, but all of a sudden I was crazy jealous of the fact that they had something to do which, at the end of their effort, would yield a VISIBLE PILE OF SOMETHING THAT HADN’T BEEN THERE BEFORE. Like real, genuine evidence of productivity. I was beside myself with jealousy. About stacks of colored paper.
And I felt SO pathetic realizing it. Because while my head told me *of course* it was worthwhile to be a Mom, I was still really grieving the loss of choices and efficiencies of my kid-free life, and when my husband worked late or went to a conference or my former intern made copies… I felt really crappy about my choice-less-ness and income-less-ness by comparison.
So how to get over that? Well, knowing what you’re dealing with helps… because maybe it means that what you need is not for your husband to travel less or have less fun when he does… but for you two to talk about what you might need to make space for you to have friends, or to take up a project that is not related to your kids. Would joining a book club help? Or an exercise class? When he’s home, would it help to have some “me time” scheduled in when you can take a couple of hours and go and enjoy brunch with a friend? I know these seem like small things, but I realized that adding few little things like that made the world of difference to me over time. I had become resentful that I could never take a nap. That I never got to eat hot food. That I wanted to talk to a friend somewhere other than in my house and holding a baby.
I hope I am not projecting my own experiences too much into your question here, but it does sound like you have two things going on:
1) wanting to be assured that you are your husband’s priority (and he’s working hard to show you that you are more important than his career), and
2) needing to be affirmed that you are still a PERSON, not just a domestic placeholder, and you need a work/rest/recreation balance, too. With the healthy sounding conversation that it sounds like you and your husband are able to have – maybe you could talk with him not so much about “how can I quash the feelings of jealousy?”, but “what is my jealousy telling me here?” Listen to what your jealousy is telling you about what you are needing to change in your own life, and maybe that will help you both to figure out some next steps.

All the best,

Bronwyn

 

Image Credit: Mish Sukharev – Revtank (Flickr Creative Commons), edited using Canva by moi.

Help: Am I Married Or Not?

are we married

Dear Bronwyn,

I have been reading about marriage, sex, vows and covenants in the Bible, and my question is: am I married or not? I can’t find what defines a “biblical marriage”: Genesis says a man should leave his mother and father and cleave to his wife. I am living with my girlfriend (but my registered address is with my parents), and “cleave” seems to mean glued. Does that mean if we live together and have sex we are married?

I also read a lot about vows and covenants: I am committed to her and don’t want to fully have sex unless we are married. She wants to have sex and says “we are married”, but then when I ask her about getting a marriage license she says no. If I have promised to stay with her, is that a vow? And what does it take to make a covenant? Is that what the blood is about when women lose their virginity?

Please help: I am worried about losing my salvation over this,

Confused About the State of the Union 

 

Dear CASOTU,

There are different schools of thought on when God would consider you to be married:

  1. God views you as married if the government you live under views you as married.
  2. God views you as married if you have been through some kind of formal, societally-recognized marriage ceremony.
  3. God views you as married if you have had sex with a person.

I believe that #2 is what counts: you have been through some formal, public exchange of views, declaring your new commitment to one another as one another’s primary family. However, ideally, all three would met: you’d get legally married (in your case, get a license), your community would publicly know about it and BOTH you and your girlfriend would be intentional about the promises you are making each other and what they mean, and that marriage would then be consummated by sex.

(However, there are circumstances where perhaps #1 is not possible: for example, in South Africa under Apartheid laws the government regulated who could and could not marry. There were, however, such things as “african customary marriages” where the local chief could marry a couple. The government didn’t recognize those, but I believe God did. Also, I know of people who, for various reasons, are unable to consummate their marriage and so don’t meet requirement #3: I don’t believe—and nor do they!—this makes them any less married.)

From God’s perspective, I believe marriage (however your culture acknowledges it) makes you a family (I’ve written about this before as this being the crucial difference between “living together” or co-habiting, and being married) . You and your girl friend have not made any private or public commitment to be one another’s family. And sex doesn’t make it so. I think the Genesis statement about “leaving one’s family and being joined to their wife” is not a one time thing like going out on a date and having sex. I think it represents a far more symbolic act of leaving your parents’ household and establishing a new one, so that in answer to the question, “who is your next of kin? and who should we call in case of emergency?” the answer is no longer, “my parents”, but “my wife”.

A covenant is a formal kind of contract, binding two parties together. All contracts involve people agreeing about something or making promises/vows to one another, but covenants seem to be a special type of contract: indicating a high personal commitment to one another, usually regarded as being unbreakable (whereas a rental contract might expire naturally after a year). To establish a valid covenant, you would need a few things: two parties, both willingly in agreement as to the terms of this new relationship, there would be vows made as each party commits themselves to the covenant, and sometimes the swearing of oaths. In ancient lands, the oaths involved calling down curses on yourself if you were to break the covenant. I think that’s what the blood represents in ancient covenants: as in a “I’d rather die than break this covenant” promise, or a “if I break this promise I’m deserving of death” idea: in both cases, death is represented by spilled blood.

In God’s covenants with people, the spilled blood also represents forgiveness of sins (death, represented by blood, is paid for by a substitute. And unless there a way to deal with sin, we couldn’t be in a relationship with a holy God… so the blood of sacrifices in Israel, and now Jesus’ blood, symbolize the covenant of grace with God: our forgiveness and relationship made possible through sacrificial death (for example: see Ephesians 1:7, Colossians 1:20, Hebrews 9:11-15 )

I have always thought that the ancient marriage practices saw virginal blood as being a “sign” of the marriage covenant, but I don’t know that our modern understanding of covenants acknowledge or require blood in the same way. Certainly, even in my personal faith, I participate in the “blood of the new covenant” symbolically by taking communion. More than once I’ve read through Exodus and Leviticus and just been so ridiculously grateful that we no longer live in an era where a high priest splashes bulls’ blood over our foreheads.

So what are our covenant symbols these days? In faith, we take communion and participate in baptism. When it comes to marriage, it seems to me that public vows and the exchange of rings at a ceremony are often outward symbols of that internal commitment. Since you and your girlfriend haven’t (and by the sounds of it, don’t want to) do that, you are not married.

One final thought: your question got me thinking about how it is we can say that “God joins people together” in marriage (as Jesus said), and yet still believe that marriage is primarily a social institution rather than a religious and sacramental one. Because it is true: the job of marrying people in ancient Israel wasn’t a priestly task, nor was it something we see Jesus, his disciples, or any of the ministers in the early church doing. Jesus attended weddings, but they weren’t “religious business”. I think this gives us a solid ground for saying that we take our cues for what constitutes a marriage from the social norms around us. Maybe that involved the men in the family exchanging sandals at the city gate (as it did in the book of Ruth), or in customary Zulu culture, marriage requires families to agree on a bride price, followed by a ceremony and celebratory feast. For us, we needed someone with a marriage license to officiate over our vows (they could be ordained in a church or a public official… but the law said it had to happen “under a roof”… so there was a local custom we had to observe to make it legal.)

However, saying that marriage is a societal institution doesn’t mean that God doesn’t work in and through our cultural norms to join people together. Maybe a helpful parallel is considering that God doesn’t tell us what kind of government we should have: He doesn’t prescribe communism or monarchy or democracy, but he DOES say that all authority is given by God, that all rulers are ultimately accountable to him, and that we all should submit to the authorities we live under (unless they are requiring us to disobey God). I find that a helpful parallel: God doesn’t say “you must have a marriage license”, but he does say sex belongs in marriage… and so depending on when and where you live, the definition of “marriage” is probably fairly clear. In your case, you’d need a marriage license. And your parents would probably need to know. And—this one is critical—both you and your girlfriend would need to be intentionally, willingly, life-long committing to each other.

May God give you grace as you work this out. You are not married, and my heart goes out to you because it sounds like you are trying so hard to figure out how to handle the sexual aspect of your relationship as best you can. We all struggle with our sexuality at one point or another, and I do believe God knows our hearts and he is our Father who has GREAT compassion and wants the best for us. I don’t believe you will lose our salvation over this: God’s invitation to you is to COME to him, no matter who you are or what you’ve done.  If you keep asking him for wisdom on what to do in this situation, James 1:1-5 promises that he will give it to you.

All the best,

Bronwyn

Building My Marriage One IKEA Bookcase at a Time

marriage

Maybe this sounds weird, but I find assembling IKEA furniture to be a profound marriage-building activity.

Actually, I know it sounds weird.

I know couples who bond on marriage retreats, or through deep-and-meaningful conversations, or share hiking, or photography, or puppy/pony/ferret-taming. To each their own, n’est ce pas? For us, two things stand out as significantly maritally-enriching activities: first, cooking together. Second, tackling a box of interlocking particleboard planks—armed only with a leaflet of wordless instructions and ambiguous cartoons and a couple of Allen wrenches—and turning it into a piece of furniture.

Over the years, we have developed something of an assembly-rhythm: we know who opens the boxes (me), and who lays out the pieces (him). We know where we put the screws and bolts (in the bag or next to it?) We have developed a sense of when this is a one-person step while the other finds the pieces for the step-to-come, or whether this particular step requires both of us to grab a tool and work on opposite sides tightening bolts.

There’s something about the symmetry of lifting something heavy at the same time without it toppling, of one holding it steady while the other fastens the joint into place that reminds me we’re a two-as-one team. We work quickly, with little-to-no haggling, and somehow, assembling furniture together makes me feel gorgeously in sync with him.

Perhaps it is a throwback to the early years of marriage, when many thing were difficult, and talking was hard. We were setting up house and figuring stuff out, and yet somehow, in the rhythm of building bookcases, we found a sweet spot: an hour of togetherness as we were literally on the same page, literally building our home.

In the space of an hour we could transform our space: on bended knees with tools and particleboard, we could work side by side and arise more together than we had been before, as if we ourselves were being joined, tightened, better fit in the process. “Some assembly required” is something true of relationships, too.

Our home was more homey at the end, and not just because we had better storage space.

(Aside: If Ikea had a name for this perhaps it would be Mårrïj: their design names being hilariously funny, as Darna discovered.)

There was a season when we assembled a lot of furniture. These days, with a house full of kids and ample book cases, those opportunities are rarer. But when they come, I relish them, for the nuts and bolts of relationships are not just shared responsibilities, but shared wins: Look! We build that! We did it! Together!

For some,  theirs is a story told by vacation photos, or a successfully tamed ferrets. For me, there are bookcases and sets of Malm drawers that serve as milestones in our marital journey. Here we are: Team Us. Making our home.

Help: We’re Married and Heading in Different Spiritual Directions

Help_ my husband is drawn to orthodox
Dear Bronwyn,

My Husband is increasingly drawn to Orthodox Christianity, and I don’t know what to do…

A shared faith was central when we married a few years ago, but it has since become a struggle and source of conflict. My husband and I met and married in a college group at a Protestant Church. He became curious about Orthodox Christianity before we married, but I tried to make it clear that I did not ever see myself becoming Orthodox. Since we married, we have gone to various Protestant churches, but lately he feels drawn towards Orthodoxy again. When I work weekends, he attends an Orthodox church and has incorporated Orthodox traditions into his routine (daily prayers, etc.) I have tried to be supportive by reading about it, but I still really disagree and don’t feel I am supposed to convert. I am struggling with resentment since I feel we agreed on this before we married, but don’t want to discourage him from something which he feels is important to his spiritual growth. He really appreciates the liturgy and the ties to the early church. We are both trying to accommodate each other and would like to worship together, but we really disagree here and feel so torn.

Help?

– An Unorthodox Wife

Dear UW,

None of us marry as spiritually complete or stationary people. On the one hand, this is really encouraging: hopefully it means we will have a growing faith which refines our character and makes us better able to love and show grace as the years go by. On the other hand, it is terrifying, because who knows what changes lie ahead?

I understand how threatening this must feel to you both, and really respect that you want to worship together, remain considerate of each other, and that continued spiritual growth is on both your agendas. That is HUGELY important. But this does seem to be something of an impasse, and you two will need to continue to talk with each other vulnerably and lovingly as each of you grow.

As someone who grew up in a very unstructured, happy-clappy church, it came as something of a shock to find myself in a liturgical Anglican church in college. It seemed so stale and archaic at first. I did not care for the Book of Common Prayer, and had to try hard not to roll my eyes with the common readings and the reciting of the Creeds. But, I came to love the liturgy: I learned something about praying with the fellowship of saints across the globe and across time, and hearing the collect prayers, in particular, drew out new ways to pray for timely issues using timeless Scripture. When we landed up at a Baptist church in the US, I was surprised by how much I missed the liturgy which I had spurned at first.

Where am I going with this? I’m saying that I understand some of the draw. Your husband’s attraction is shared by many millennial who are frustrated by the dogmatism of evangelicalism and its culture wars. It can be hard to express solidarity with Christians in the present when there is so much-hair splitting, so it is comforting so find solidarity with Christians of the past. Peter Enns posted this cartoon recently: it’s funny because it’s true.

11007614_628927553920047_152492327_nI want to encourage you to not be afraid. Orthodox Christianity is different in its language and expression to the way in which you came to know the gospel, and I really do understand how threatening that feels (like that time my pot got me in trouble.) But it is not heretical, and there really are faithful believers who know and love Jesus in that community – people who might be very blessed to know you and who might bring great joy into your life too – even if you just visit there from time to time. Try to keep reading, and I dare you to pray that God might reveal Himself to you in new and unexpected ways as you read and visit. One person who has walked this road before is Marilyn Gardner, who describes herself as a reluctant orthodox. (She’s so kind – you could contact her through her blog if you had questions.) My wise twitter friends also recommended Frederica Matthews-Green’s book Facing East and Peter Gillquist’s Becoming Orthodox as helpful reads.

But I also don’t think you need to convert if you don’t feel this is where God is calling you right now, nor do you need to fear that your husband is going to walk away without you. If you imagine that both of you are standing at a crossroads together, and the fear is that you two will land up taking separate paths – take heart. Thus far, you get to walk hand in hand together a little ways down each path to see the view before coming back to the crossroads again. You can walk down this road without fear that you are walking away from God, even though I know it is uncomfortable. With time, love, talking and prayer, this will become clearer for you both. You may land up loving it. You may never love it, but choose to go at times because you love and support your husband. You may both find another road opens up which you are both excited about. But know this: it will not feel like this forever.

Keep talking, and keep asking God to show you the next step. James 1 promises if we ask for wisdom He always gives it. This is a good instance to set down your anchor in that promise. God has a good plan for drawing both you and your husband closer to Himself (that’s always His goal, after all), and even though you can’t see how that might be possible – He is the one who can do immeasurably more than you ask or can even imagine.

Grace and Peace to you from our God and Father,

Bronwyn

 

Photo credit: Thomas Berg – Orthodox Church (Flickr Creative Commons) , edited by Bronwyn Lea. Cartoon: Tom’s Doubts #14 by Saji.

 

The Blogger’s Husband (and other naming dilemmas)

So, here’s a question: how should I refer to my husband online?

Some of the bloggers I read have invited me right into their homes and introduced us to their family by name: Rachel Held Evans has her Dan (Go, Team Dan and Rachel!) Kristen Howerton has a feisty daughter named India: I would recognize her spunk at 100 paces, even if she wasn’t wearing rompers. Ashleigh Slater goes with Ted. Glennon Melton has her Craig, Chase, Tish and Amma. And I know Jen Hatmaker has Brendon, Remy, Sydney, Gavin, Ben and another kid whose name I don’t know so they must be either very private or very boring (who am I kidding: clearly the answer is private. Boring is not an option if you are a Hatmaker.)

Others are more cryptic. I know Sarah Bessey has an “Anne with an -e” (of course!), but usually she calls them her ‘tinies’. Parenting forums use the ubiquitous “DH” for “darling husband”, which I find more than a little cheesy. My friend Jen opted for MOTH: the Man of the House – sheer genius!  My friend Cara calls her beloved “HBH”, Hot Black Husband, a most awesome combination of privacy and flattery.

I am choosing the more private route. While I am willing to bare my own soul on this blog, my husband would rather have root canal than talk about his feelings. His trust has been long-won, and I work hard to walk the line between being honest about my life while not sharing about his. My children are in the same boat.  So while they do make appearances, I don’t post pictures of their faces or their names on this blog. But what, then, to call them? And in particular, what to call my husband?

Ann Voskamp loves her Farmer. And Ree Drummond has MarlboroMan (and honestly – who can not vicariously love a man like that?) But my husband is not a Man of the Earth, who spends his days doing manly things in manly ways, sweating manly sweat and wiping his brow on his rugged plaid shirtsleeves. He is an engineer, and an excellent one at that. But I can’t call him The Engineer. It’s altogether too Dilbert-like, and I ain’t anyone’s pointy haired woman.

And so, I call him “my husband”. Accurate, but not exactly catchy or endearing.

So I’m wondering: Do you have any suggestions? How would YOU refer to your family?

 

A Different Life

Please welcome Hannah Vanderpool to the blog! Hannah sent me this submission for the Words that Changed my World series a couple of weeks ago, and I have been SO EXCITED to share it with you. Leave her some comment love, won’t you? (It should be easy… I loved this post!)

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It was cold in Vienna.  Winter had snuck up on us and I could no longer crack the window in my tiny dorm room.  I lay on my bed staring up at nothing.  Like a treetop perch it stood six inches from the ceiling to make room for storage underneath.  I counted the holes and hieroglyphs students before me had made, their own versions of ‘Starry Night.’  I waited for direction, measuring the silence with the beating of my 20-year-old heart.

I slipped off the edge of my bed, feet bracing for a cold landing.  I wrapped a robe around my shoulders.  I was glad I’d thought to pack it months ago.  I could hear the buzzing of male voices outside my room and crossed an arm in front of my chest before creaking open the door.  The studentenheim’s community phone was attached to a concrete pole just around the corner and stood unoccupied.  I surveyed the open room where students had gathered to smoke and sip cheap wine.

A moment later I shuffled across the hall, ignoring the pair of Swedes kissing on the dingy couch, and grabbed the receiver.  I typed in the country code for the United States with shaky fingers and waited, shifting my weight from one frozen foot to another.  It was the middle of the night but the town and its students were still going strong.  I tried to imagine what he might be doing now.  I chewed my lower lip and rubbed the place where my engagement ring would be if I hadn’t left it at home.

A familiar voice lit up the line, amber and clear.

“Hello?”

I swallowed, hoping my own voice sounded normal.

“Hey, Jon.  It’s me.”  Swallow.

“Hey, babe!  How are you?” he replied.  “It must be, what? the middle of the night there.  Is everything OK?”

My young fiancé was carrying on in the US, getting though college and part-time jobs until I returned from my study abroad semester.  He was steady and kind.  I was twisted in knots.

“Well, I…no.  I’m not OK, actually.  I got this opportunity to audition for a big musical theatre company here.  I’d be an understudy at first but they think my chances of landing a lead are good.”  I paused.  Static filled the heartbeats between us.

“So anyway, I guess I look just like the girl who sang the part of ‘Belle’ before.  She left the company to do other things.  I’d be singing and acting in German.  It’s…a good opportunity.  I’d be crazy to pass it up.”

In an instant my mind covered all the old ground.  Our first date, the way his hand enveloped mine, his proposal.  I loved him.  But this chance was everything my voice teacher could have hoped for.  My parents, both musicians, would be so proud, wouldn’t they?  I was headed somewhere and I couldn’t turn this down.

Finally he spoke.

“I will come be with you.”

“But you have to finish school and then…what will you do—in Europe—for no reason?”  I heard my voice inching upward.

“We’ll get married and then we’ll figure something out.  I’ll finish up here and then I’ll buy a plane ticket.  We are more important than a location or a job, you know?  I promise it will all work out.”  He sounded sure.

Fifteen expensive minutes later I hung up the phone.  The couple on the couch had moved on and curls of smoke trailed from an ashtray they’d shared between moments of passion.  I shivered and half-skipped back to my tiny room.  I lay on my bed all night, struggling and praying.  But by the time the sun had slipped over the buildings outside my window I knew that I couldn’t stay in Vienna and pursue this life.  It wasn’t my dream, not really.  Jon had given me permission to try, had promised that he’d do this life with me whatever that meant for the two of us.

And somehow, that had helped me to be brave. It had given me the courage to say no to a once-in-a-lifetime offer.  I finished my semester abroad and came back to the United States.  And then, to borrow the words of Jane Eyre, “Reader, I married him.” We grew a family together, sending tender roots down into the soil of the mundane. We are living a quiet life.

I have never looked back.

 

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Married to her college sweetheart, Hannah Vanderpool is a Jesus-follower, mom of three interesting kids, writer, and world-traveler.  She can’t imagine a world without sisters and books.  You’ll find her at www.prayingwithoneeyeopen.wordpress.com or on Twitter @HannahVpool.

Scanning The Crowd for Love

Today I’m over at my friend Cara Meredith’s blog, where she has a wonderful little series called “The Little Things”, telling about how it’s the small details of life that sometimes make such a very big difference (great series, right?) I LOVED getting to write this – it’s the awkward and unlikely story of the little thing that made me realize the guy I thought was Not My Type had perhaps more to him than I had realized. Click on over to Cara’s right away (and look around while you’re there!), or read here for a preview 🙂

Amanpreet Kaur - Couple Holding Hands (Flickr Creative Commons)

Amanpreet Kaur – Couple Holding Hands (Flickr Creative Commons)

He stood at my front door with a sheepish grin and a bomber jacket that really should have stayed in 1987. He was late. He mumbled. He seemed uncomfortable.

However, he was new to town and I was ‘practicing hospitality’, as it were, so I welcomed him in and introduced him to the dozen friends at the table. We made conversation over dinner: he was an engineer, he had traveled, he had quit his job to spend a year at seminary reading. He was introverted, mathematical. He needed a new jacket.

I sized him up: he was the perfect guy.

For somebody else.

Putting on my Emma-matchmaker hat, I made a mental list of quiet, mathematical girls I could introduce him to. This could work out nicely, I thought.

 

(OK, Go! Go! Go! Over to Cara’s Right Away!)

The intimacy of toothbrushes (and sex)

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Kim looked steadily at the crowd of 200 kids. “Let me explain what holy is,” she said. “Holy means set apart for just one person’s use. It means its not for anyone else. Just for one person.”

She produced a toothbrush from her bag. “Like this toothbrush. This is my toothbrush. I used it this morning. You just had snack and probably need to brush your teeth. Would you like to use my toothbrush?”  The crowd erupted with a chorus of “no!!!” and “eeeew!” Not a single furry-toothed kid wanted to take her up on her offer.

Brilliant illustration, I thought. Even at a young age, kids know that toothbrushes are intimate things. You don’t just go around sharing toothbrushes: they are reserved for your mouth alone.

The toothbrush analogy came flooding back to mind this week while I was watching a TV show. As is the way of much entertainment, the story involved a (young, in-love, responsible, monogamous) dating couple. They were in bed together. Another show later that week depicted another couple waking up together – with different partners than they had woken up with a few weeks earlier in the season.

It got me thinking: how is it that we live in a world where we think that sharing toothbrushes is more intimate than sharing your body? Why does a crowd of children shy away from the thought of picking up a friend’s toothbrush and shoving it in their mouth, but we don’t bat an eyelid at the thought of someone picking up a friend and…. (well, you know.)

Is it the germs on a toothbrush? Sex involves more germs.

Is it the risk of disease? Sex has way more risk (and more reward, as I’ve written about here.)

Is it the intimacy of a toothbrush? Sex is more intimate.

And yet people seem to be willing to brush their bodies together long before they’ll brush with one another’s toothbrushes.

In the last few weeks of our engagement, I remember running an errand – and instead of taking my old-jaloppy of a car, I borrowed my soon-to-be-husband’s significantly nicer set of wheels. I dropped something off at a friend and she walked me out to the parking lot. “Wow,” she observed, “I’m impressed! He trusts you to drive his car!”

I was stunned. Of course he trusted me with his car. He was about to entrust his heart, his life, his pocket book, his most vulnerable self to me. What was a car in the scheme of things?

Entrusting yourself to someone is more intimate than entrusting your car to them. And sharing your body is more intimate than sharing a toothbrush. By an order of magnitude, in my opinion.

And it makes me wonder if, after an evening of flirting and good chemistry, if handsome guy was to sidle over to delightful girl and whisper, “so, you wanna go home and share my toothbrush?”, whether the response might not be a little different.

Angry Socks and Silences – My Messy Beautiful

Messy, Beautiful Marriages sometimes have icy s

I carried a pair of mismatched, dirty Angry Birds socks in my pocket all day. At breakfast, my toddler was wearing them as mittens on his hands and was frustrated that his attempts to eat a banana with them were not going as well as he had hoped. I gave the boy a hand (his hands, actually) and stuffed the banana-icky socks in my pocket. Where they stayed: All. Day.

 

I thought about taking them out once or twice, but chose not to. The socks felt symbolic: representative of how I have messy, mismatched, sticky things going on in my head and my home right now. I took the socks to the store, to the park, to the school fundraiser concert. They were lumpy and hidden in my pocket, just like the other life-mess I carried with me. Sticky, but out of sight.

In truth, I kept holding on to the socks because I needed them there. I felt my pocket and my fingers could discern the shape of my sadness all balled up.

This week someone told me about their hard marriage on the phone: hard because there has been shouting and blaming and ugly-things-said. I listened and thought, “my marriage is nothing like that.”  Her marriage gets hard when the shouting is deafening. Mine gets hard when the silence is deafening. Rather than flare up, we freeze. Rather than shove, we shrivel. But our struggle is also hard in its own, private kind of way. The damage done is not as noticeable, and  perhaps such silence might even be considered by others to be signs of self-control or loving restraint. But when an iceberg sails into your living room, you would do well to remember the Titanic. Icy silence can do great damage.

I felt the socks in my pocket and I thought about our latest bout of silence. I thought about how fake I feel: a lay-leader in my church and a regular contributor to a website for engaged and newly married couples. Month after month, I write columns about healthy marriage, and I have hinted in my words that maybe “communication isn’t all there is to it”. But if people knew – if they really knew – how, even though we love each other fiercely and even though we are happy most of the time and laugh much of the time and even though he is mine and I am is – even with all that, we still get stuck. We hit a wall. We have a small handful of unsolvable problems. I hurt. I cry. I get lonely. And sometimes, there are ice-bergs in my living room.

And who can I tell, without it seeming that I am dishonoring or blaming my loved one? How can I ask for help, if the solution has to come without the requirement of us talking about it? And would saying these things out loud cause others, who see us as stable – no, need us to be stable – would it cause them worry? Would talking make it better? Or would it make it worse? It can be a lonely thing to struggle in silence in a Christian community.

Maybe I should quit writing about marriage, I thought. If the best I have to offer is a marriage with periodic Scenes of the Titanic, who needs that?

All day long, I thought about the socks. I thought about my husband and I: two angry birds ourselves, balled up together in a sticky mess. A mismatched pair, but a pair nonetheless. In it, together, even when things are hidden and icky. I felt the socks in my pocket and fingered them like prayer beads: asking God to help us fix our nest.

At the end of the day, I took the socks out my pocket and threw them in the laundry. We put the children to bed. We talked about our day. We watched an episode of Friday Night Lights. And drip by conversational drip, drop by habits-of-love drop, we started the days-long process of defrosting the iceberg.

I think maybe I won’t quit writing about marriage, after all, because we’re not quitting marriage. We may not know how to do the healthy-disagreement thing, and we have some issues, yessiree. But he’s the red sock to my yellow sock: we’re a pair of love birds, you know, even when we’re angry.

Tomorrow, those socks get a new start. Freshly laundered. Walking together.

 

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I’m excited to be participating in Momastery’s Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project with this post — To learn more, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!