Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Our Courtship Story: Uncertainty and a Breakthrough

Continued from Breaking Up With Fundamentalism

July-August 2000     Grand Forks, ND

I was studying hard, playing hard, and wringing as many fun new experiences out my summer as I could. 

Jed* continued to follow me everywhere. Sometimes I humored him. When it rained, I took advantage of his eagerness to keep me dry under his big umbrella. When I wanted exercise but didn't want to stroll around campus alone, I tolerated his company. Other times I got my friends to run interference. One gregarious young Canadian was particularly adept at intercepting Jed while I made my escape from the cafeteria, the chapel, or the classroom. Though I was not particularly flattered by Jed's attentions and dodging them became a sort of game, the idea that some men did actually find me attractive gave me a sense of power and vulnerability I'd never felt before.

One evening after we'd finished studying, Paul* asked if I wanted to get ice cream. I was getting to like Paul more every week and I did want ice cream, but the invitation put me on guard. I had made so many promises not to date. Going off-campus for ice cream after dark sounded suspiciously date-like. (Chris's dad's definition of a date--"when the girl doesn't pay"--came to mind, but I doubted my own dad would be convinced.)

"I'll go if it's a group."

Paul's big brown eyes held a puzzled expression.

I tried to explain that I did want to go with him. Just not alone.

"If you can find someone else to go, too, I'll go!"

Paul started knocking on doors in the girls' dorm hallway, recruiting other seekers of ice cream. As I watched him, I felt self-righteous and silly at the same time. In the end, I can't remember how many of us went, or if I even rode in his car. Any romantic warmth that may or may not have existed at the moment of his invitation had been effectively quenched.

I wasn't sure how to feel afterward. My "Commitment to Courtship" had been tested--for the first time, perhaps. Had I turned down a date? Or kept it from becoming a date? Had I been rude, or read too much into the simple offer?

The next day I told Chris about the incident while I watched him on the webcam. "Did I do the right thing? Do you think I confused Paul? He's such a nice guy. What should I have done?"

Chris patiently did his best, from his lack of experience, to reassure me, while Jed played solitaire at my elbow. I was comfortable talking to Chris about anything, but we danced around discussions of our own relationship. I didn't want to flirt with him. He described me once as "indifferent". But as we had more conversations that lasted into the wee morning hours, I knew I was not "indifferent". I was uncertain. I Uncertain about my purpose as well as my desires.

Every time I admired something I liked about Paul, I found myself comparing him to Chris. I appreciated Paul for being Paul, but he was continually reminding me of Chris. And I began to ask myself, if Chris was the rule by which I measured other men, what did that say about him?

"Do you want to be a mom?" A group of us were walking back from the cafeteria one night and this question from the sweet young student from Moody Bible Institute beside me took me by surprise. 

"Yes, I do," I answered, honestly.

"You'll be a great one." He smiled softly at me, but I knew he was also dreaming of his girlfriend and the family he was looking forward to starting in the not-too-distant future. It had been a long summer apart.

I was touched by his compliment. But it was the question that etched me deeply. What kind of person asked girls if they wanted to be moms? In my culture, one was not deemed ready for marriage until one was also prepared for the challenges of parenthood. I was certain that if I expressed any misgivings about maternity, my parents would never give their consent to my marrying. My reproductive instincts were primed and ready, but then, I had always considered them inextricably tied to my sexuality.

One morning in my dorm room late in July, a luminous new thought dawned on me.

Chris wants to marry you! I told myself.

Marry me? My self was dumbfounded.

That was why he wrote a letter to Dad! I'd interpreted his attempt to initiate contact as a mere "signal of interest". I had not truly absorbed the depth of his intentions. Marriage! He didn't want to merely get to know me, he wanted to start a family--with me! I had expected, from the books and stories I'd read, that I would just know when a man was interested in me. That I would be thrilled when he finally asked my dad for his endorsement. I had never pictured this out-of-the-blue interest from someone I had not already marked as a "possibility". I had to rearrange my fantasies to fit this new reality.

I was, and am, a terrible secret-keeper. The next time Chris and I were online, I told him what had begun to sink in. "I know I should have figured out that that's what courtship is for, but... I just realized that you want to marry me."

At his desk in his west Wichita basement, Chris sighed. This was going to be a long process!

"If you still want to, after I leave for the Philippines, it's okay with me if you resume communication with my dad," I told Chris. "I don't want to be around while you guys are working things out. But I won't interfere this time. Just wait till I'm in Asia."

Continued at Silenced

*Names are pseudonyms.


  1. Oh girl, I love you and how honest and real you are. :-) You make me laugh and feel a little sick as I recognize so many of my own awkward attempts at normality. :-) Can't wait for the next chapter!

  2. You really had no idea that he wanted to marry you? But I thought that was what courtship was all about.

    1. I was a little slow on the uptake! No one had ever spelled that out. My dad hadn't told me anything like that, and Chris certainly didn't. :)

  3. thanks for the "update".