Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Our Courtship Story: Silenced

Continued from Uncertainty and a Breakthrough

Jeri early in the summer at SIL

"That's the first positive signal I've gotten from you," typed Chris.

He was more than ready to initiate "courtship" again. But our imaginations painted the process very differently. In my mind (influenced by the handful of courtship "testimonies" I had read), Dad would give Chris pages of questionnaires to fill out. They would have regular phone conversations talking about me, my strengths, weaknesses, and preferences. It might drag on for months, and I did not want to be living in my parents' crowded house waiting for it to unfold without being allowed to say anything myself. When the time was right, Dad would either give Chris his stamp of approval and turn him loose to "win my heart", or maybe he would help Chris plan a romantic surprise to launch the new with-marriage-in-mind phase of our friendship.

As far as Chris was concerned, my dad had already told him he approved of him. He was well-liked by my whole family, in fact. Asking for Dad's blessing (again) would be a formality, but he anticipated no trouble. He wanted me to be happy, so if I wanted him to wait quietly while I got ready for my trip, that was fine with him.  

Eight hundred miles north, I smiled from my seat in the computer lab. The summer semester was fast coming to a close. My visa for the Philippines had been approved. I would purchase my ticket when I got home. Meanwhile, I would focus on my Mandarin grammar project, prepare for final exams (my first ever!), and just enjoy my last weeks of independence with all my new friends. 

And then... I got mail. A card from my mom, to be exact. I had been emailing home throughout the summer, telling about my classes and my tamer adventures. Since I had no intention of being a "sneak" or of "rebelling" (a sin frequently compared to sorcery), I had mentioned my AIM chats with Chris in an e-missive from late July. And now Mom was concerned.

We had not gotten permission to communicate directly, she said. If I was having second thoughts about Chris as a suitor, we needed to go back to start and begin again on the right foot.

Oh...shit. If the word had been part of my mental vocabulary in those days, I would certainly have used it. As it was, it was as if all the oxygen had been sucked out of my atmosphere. My breath shortened and my heart raced. Notes from Mom often carried a punch, but this one was particularly upsetting. Mom hadn't even been involved in the situation up to this point. I may have signed my name next to Scott's with our pastor as witness, but I had never made any promises to let her guide my selection of a life partner. Mom was someone I alternately feared, assisted, or took care of. I was not prepared to let my present or future happiness depend on her whims.

Still, she was my parent, and obedience to parents was of paramount importance in our paradigm. Dishonoring a parent's wish could result in God removing his physical or spiritual protection from one's life. And I needed all the guidance and safety I could get. It would do no good to travel to a island nation across the globe only to be hammered by Satan's henchmen!

The answer, I decided, lay with Scott. Nothing in Mom's note suggested that Dad even knew about what she'd written, much less agreed with her assessment of the situation. As her husband, he was both her "head" and mine, and he possessed the authority to undo her orders. Heck, he'd done that before, coming along behind her to mop up confusing or anxiety-inducing restrictions. I would call Dad, let him know what Mom had said, and ask him to clear it up.

Cell phones still being luxuries, I squeezed into one of the phone booths at one end of the student lounge in the common area below my dorm room and began dialing the string of numbers on my long-distance phone card.

Dad listened while I explained. Though Mom's instructions seemed to be news to him, to my surprise he supported her. Regarding Chris, he said that more interest on my part should signal the need for more distance between us. I was incredulous. As long as I was actively opposed to Chris as a suitor, our friendship was no big deal, but once I began to consider him as a possible mate, I should avoid him? I don't think I had much to say after that.

I hung up the phone and exited the booth feeling both sad and angry and fighting not to let the tears spill over. I was nearly twenty-five years old and I was pretty sure not one of my classmates or even my missionary instructors would be able to understand how utterly controlled I felt. How could I be a marionette with strings my parents could pull from three states and one Great Lake away?

Well, there was only one week of the course left. If that was how it was going to be, I might as well enjoy it! So knowing a guy might be a good match meant I should ignore him. What if you knew a guy didn't have a chance?

The next time Chris tried to engage me on AIM, I told him I wasn't allowed to talk to him. But that weekend I played ping-pong with Paul. We went, with a small group, to Shakespeare-in-the-Park and "ended up" sharing a quilt on the grass. On Sunday, he complimented my appearance, even noticing the clip-on earrings I almost never bothered to wear. We ate meals together. I savored his attention. Paul even dared to inquire about how courtship worked in my family. I told him the truth, implicitly warning him off. Sweet man that he was, I was certain he could never win my parents' endorsement. At least Chris had a chance. But I still felt bad comparing my two gentle and dark-haired friends: one I had known just two months and another I had shared significant life experiences with over two years.

Days before I left the university campus, I wrote in my journal about "our bloody version of chivalry":
"If I were to refer Paul to Dad, it would prove what I have said about Chris: I have not given him my affections. My heart is free...  
I am willing for Chris to resume communication with Dad. Whether I am ever included or not, they should part as friends and clear up the judgments they have passed on each other over the summer. I love them both, and want them to be friends.
...If I have been a ray of brightness for Paul, here, I am content." 

Continued at Holding Pattern

1 comment:

  1. "Regarding Chris, he said that more interest on my part should signal the need for more distance between us. I was incredulous. As long as I was actively opposed to Chris as a suitor, our friendship was no big deal, but once I began to consider him as a possible mate, I should avoid him?"

    This demand made of you really exposes how the whole idea of courtship is merely a means of subverting one of the most powerful forces of youth in order to maintain control over adult children. Okay, that's kind of obvious from the get-go, but still. I watched my Dad manipulate my sister's courtship process into a nauseating, self-serving exercise in which he could make all kinds of childish demands on her, even requiring her to take responsibility for things that went wrong in our family back when she was still a child. Because she knew what she wanted, she went through the motions just to get it over with. That any parent thinks they can behave that way and maintain any kind of relationship with their adult children is beyond delusional.

    As long as you weren't interested in Chris, your friendship wasn't perceived as a threat to your parent's control. But as so often is the case, as soon as a person does show interest, courtship minded parents are hell bent on leveraging that interest to their own ends.