Thursday, March 5, 2015

Our Courtship Story: Talking to Myself

This installment has been the most difficult to think about and wrap words around. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." I've always felt that something special was taken, or withheld, from me during what should have been the most beautiful part of my life so far. When Chris read this blog post, there were parts of the story that were new even to him. Now he knows why I like butterflies.

Continued from Staying Strong

January 2001

Nasuli hummed with activity the week after Christmas. Many missionary families came from other parts of the archipelago to vacation in the natural beauty of our rural campus: the chilly spring-fed pond, the warm river, fresh fruit, flowering trees, mountains and jungle waterfalls. My work load was lighter, which left me with more time to think.

I had decided I wanted to communicate with Chris. Why did I want to email him? Did I love him?

Dad had told me he was proud of me for being on the mission field. He had said he believed God would reward my trust. When I confided some of my story to Ted*, he told me he admired me for submitting to my dad. I didn't admire me, though. Was it truly God who was demanding so much?

"Two Christian adults ought not to be forbidden to communicate," I wrote in my journal, "Oh, what shall I do?"

One day I took a walk alone along the grass runway bounded by sugarcane fields. I talked aloud to myself, and to my God, who claimed to be Love. I was lonely, and though we hadn't chatted since July or heard one another's voice since May, I was aware by now that Chris loved me. Why else put himself through this excruciating experience? He had to have been rather certain about choosing me to contact my dad in the first place. Such courage and tenacity made me want to love Chris back.

But did I?

"I really like Chris," I spoke the words into the humidity pressing against my skin. "I care about him as a friend. He's the closest male friend I ever had. I respect him, enjoy his company, and think he'd make a great husband."

But now we were right back where we'd been in May!

"I have had crushes on other guys, but I've never had a crush on Chris. I miss him and crave his company, but my physical desires are quiet. It wouldn't be fair to marry a man I didn't fantasize about sexually--no matter how wonderful he might be! Oh, whatever shall I do?"

Dad had not been impressed with my simple interest in corresponding with Chris. The time had come for more drastic commitment. All or nothing. I had always imagined being wooed with flowers, cards, and sweet words. But I was ready for closure, with or without the trappings of romance. With or without my suitor. I needed to nail this down for good. Did I want to marry Chris?

While singleness was more appealing than being unhappily married, I was ready to marry. In our sub-culture, marriage was the portal to adult privileges and responsibilities, not to mention sex. (Because sex was unmentionable, like undergarments--shhh!) And there was no one I would trust more with my future happiness than Chris.

The missing piece was what I scarcely had vocabulary for. I didn't know that use of the word "chemistry". I didn't know about "libido", or being "horny". I'd even been told from the pulpit that it was wrong to have crushes. I only knew that I felt butterflies in my stomach around certain guys and not around others. That there was a kind of almost painful charge in the air when they were in the room. And I had always felt completely comfortable with Chris, whether we were sharing lunch, riding in the car, listening together to office conference calls, reading Dickens, or visiting churches. He was a wonderful pal. Could he be more? How would that happen?

I was extremely naive about sexuality in general, but I knew sex was very important to husbands. In my fantasies, I was an eager and responsive lover. It would be grossly unfair to marry any man in the absence of physical desire!

"I'm willing to marry Chris," I was sure God could hear me, as I followed the trail worn through the grass, "But, God, you're going to have to give me sexual feelings for him. You take care of that, and I'm in. I pledge myself to support Chris and seek his fulfillment and happiness in every way I can."

It wasn't how I'd imagined falling in love or choosing a spouse, alone beside a sugarcane field. But that's how it happened. Calmer, I followed the loop back to the SIL guest house and wrote in my journal.

The next morning, when I came down to join Bob and Pearl in the dining room, I felt... different. Walking outdoors after breakfast, I realized that I had the sensation of butterflies in my stomach. I felt...giddy. Wow! God must have answered my prayer! Chris was his choice for me, too, and here was his gift. From then on, I never doubted that Chris was the "right one", or that my love for him could be starved or the supply run dry. I was certain that it flowed through me from God himself. (Yes, this interpretation of events posed some trouble as I transitioned to atheism and was one of the last "proofs" I clung to of God's existence.)

So, if God had given me love--erotic love?--for Chris, did that still mean I had to wait for Scott's permission before sharing that love? I was tormented by the biographies of Christian "heroes" who had not waited for parental approval before sealing their commitment to their chosen spouse. A veteran missionary had been teaching a Sunday School class on the book of Ruth and I was frustrated nearly to tears comparing my mousy self with the daring Moabitess who asserted her legal and cultural rights by going after the eligible farmer Boaz.

The Bible teacher was promoting rights for women in a way that both attracted and repelled me. I wanted to believe that I had rights as a woman, but I needed more encouragement. At twenty-five years old, I still didn't feel like a full-fledged adult. But if I was intended to take responsibility for my own choices and future decisions, I wanted to know it! That very afternoon I went to visit this older missionary and his wife and seek their wisdom.

Over calamansi meringue pie, I bared my soul to this kind couple. I told them about Chris, and my dad, and "courtship", and about the "covenant" I had signed a decade earlier. "What should I do?" I asked them. "Is it right for me to abide by my father's rules, or do I have the right to decide God's will for myself, and correspond with my suitor against my parents' wishes?"

Dick saw the analogy with Ruth's situation and supported my right to act independently. But his wife, Betty, countered his counsel. "But she made a promise to her dad," she cautioned. Betty didn't think it would be right for me to break the pledges I'd made when I was fifteen.

A split vote was insufficient guidance for me to risk my soul. I needed unanimity if I was to invite the attacks of Satan by stepping out from under the "umbrella of authority". I left their home disappointed, but resigned. If Chris could wait this long, surely I could

The next day was the New Year and a group of Australian missionaries invited me to join them on a holiday outing. We drove to the edge of the jungle and hiked across a rope bridge and through the trees until the trail brought us to a cool pool at the base of a stunning waterfall. While some played in the pristine water, I stood in the shade and observed. The cooling mist attracted dozens, perhaps hundreds of butterflies in exotic hues. The tree-canopied spot at the base of the waterfall was like a natural butterfly house and they landed on our hair, our shoulders, our shoes. I stood transfixed, gazing at the beautiful wings resting on me and feeling it was a metaphor for the excited "butterflies" in my stomach when I thought now of my future with Chris.

"Falling in love" did not have a place in the courtship model promoted by ATI/IBLP. A girl was supposed to "guard her heart" until the suitor pre-approved by her father made an attempt to "win her heart". All without physical contact, mind you.

Even approaching courtship from that angle, however, I never imagined that "falling in love" would feel so cerebral, or so...lonely. As euphoric as it was, it was a wholly interior experience. Something that happened inside my head. Something I couldn't speak of to anyone, even as my entire life changed direction.

Instead of remembering sharing a kiss, a song, or a romantic date, I recall talking to myself in a field, and then standing alone among the butterflies watching families play together under a jungle waterfall.

The setting seems picture-perfect, wasn't shared.

It was just me. 

Continued at 
Lessons in Life

1 comment:

  1. I believe you are right that something was taken from you. And that it was something that your parents had no right to take from you. This is one reason why my daughters will never be asked to take vows about their love life - or their sexuality. I find it thoroughly creepy for young girls to make vows to their fathers in the first place, but I don't think it is right to expect young girls, barely through puberty - or not - to even understand, let alone give informed consent to, such a personal matter. (I am speaking as one still in the Christian faith, and this still bothers me greatly.)

    This whole story is intriguing - and heartbreaking. I am glad that you (like my wife, who also had much taken from her by the patriarchal system) were eventually able to break free and build a life with a good partner. I never regret that my wife and I rejected the courtship system and dated. I don't regret the natural and organic way we were able to build an increasingly intimate relationship. It can't be planned and controlled. And yes, Ruth and Boaz. Badass.