Posted in Catholicism, Dating, Lessons Learned

My Broken Road Part II: How I “know”

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John’s first message to me says “I’m a bold man.” This, coupled with the fact that he has Catholic values and beliefs, intrigues me. My first meeting with him is at a restaurant that serves “diner food with a twist.” The first thing I notice about him is that he is a quick thinker and keeps me on my toes. We have a great conversation and I feel both interested and wondering if I can keep pace with him. He invites me for coffee after, which I take as a sign things are going well. And then, on our way to our cars, I say something like, “Oh, yeah, we must have parked in the same area. I’m down this way too.” And then, as we get to the end of the block, John finds his car and I realize that either A) my car was stolen, or B) I totally forgot where I parked. “Yeah, I’ll be in touch,” John says, in a tone which I assume means, “Wow, you can’t remember where you parked? How is that possible?! Goodbye.”

The next week, I receive an email from him about having a picnic in his living room. I am won over by the uniqueness of the plan, although my roommates caution me not to go to a guy’s home who I have only met once. I don’t listen to them 😦

John answers the door and seems – much more relaxed to be in his home. He has two friendly whippet dogs who greet me at the door. We sit out on his front porch, front porcheating crackers and cheese, sipping wine. Minutes into our conversation, John encourages me to go across the street with him to meet his new neighbors. We spend hours showing each other YouTube music videos and talking about our favorite music. I feel very comfortable and at ease and lose track of time.

At the end of the evening, he very simply says, “I really like you, and I want to see you again. So, um, what are you doing tomorrow?” He confesses that he doesn’t really know how to go about dating, but I am secretly very happy that he is so direct (and committal) about his interest, after so many previous experiences of unclear communication.

Going home that night, I feel a sudden lack of energy about going on dates with other guys, because I am now more interested in dating John and seeing where things go. I am not ready to admit this to anyone else, though.

Ω

marriage1

“Did you have a sense that God had led you two together?” was a question I would habitually ask my engaged friends. And they always said, yes. Often they said things like, “God told me I was going to marry him.” Sometimes, the circumstances had been so unusual, serendipitous, or perfectly timed, and that was how they knew. “You’ll just know,” almost everyone said. “But how did you know?” I asked, like many people before me, looking for some kind of data, quantitative or qualitative, with which to measure.

Because these were questions that perplexed me, and because those answers felt so vague, I want to be really honest about how I “just know.”

don’t “just know.” I don’t have a deep feeling in my gut that John is “The One.” At least, not the way I thought it was going to be, like a deep primal recognition that my soul had met its mate.

But… our relationship feels different in some key ways:

  1. There’s an absence of anxiety in my stomach: peaceJohn and I talked about this once, laughingly. With every guy I’ve ever dated, I felt a nearly constant internal stress – stress about whether it was “right,” stress about if my friends liked him, stress about whether he or I would do the right things. There would be key moments in relationships where a sense of “weirdness” crept up in my gut. Once I was looking at wedding dress patterns with the guy I was dating, and then I had a strange feeling of, “This isn’t right.” With another guy I dated, I just couldn’t imagine a house where both of our possessions were lying side by side. I needed a lot of reassurance from friends about whether they liked us as a couple, etc. What feels different now is the lack of second-guessing, and the overall peace that has been a part of my relationship with John. Now, this might just be that I’m older, know myself and trust myself more. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that John share basic values and faith in common, so I don’t worry about whether we’re truly on the same page. I think it also has to do with John’s very upfront, honest nature, and the comfort I feel communicating with him about almost everything.
  2. The door is open. In other relationships, I found that my will often came up against circumstances. At the end of college, my college boyfriend wanted to get marriedopen door, but I was in turmoil about the fact that my mom disapproved of our relationship, and that I didn’t have a strong sense of what I wanted. I didn’t have enough internal peace to move forward. In my late 20s, I’d been dating a guy for nearly two years, but he became increasingly hesitant to talk about marriage, so in that case, too, the door wasn’t “open” to that possibility. With John, the door to marriage is “open”
    in the sense that 1. he proposed, 2. nothing, either internally or externally, is keeping me from saying yes. I’ve never experienced the door being truly open before, so the rareness of this state gives me a sense of peace in going forward.
  3. It works! Relationships in my past felt like they were constantly in need of a “fix-it-shop.” They’d run smoothly for a while, and then something would break down. We’d sort of fix it or patch it, but it would break down again. John is the first person I’ve dated wToast Slices Of Toast Toaster Eat White Bread Foodhere we’ve worked through things in a way that doesn’t disrupt the flow of our relationship. It’s not perfect, and it’s not bliss every day. But a disagreement or difference in opinion can usually be resolved in a few conversations, rather than needing to “take breaks” to re-evaluate.
  4. I feel comfortable with the fact that marriage is a choice. Christian communities often work hard to discount the idea of “happily ever after,” “fate” and “The One,” but sometimes they perpetuate a somewhat equally damaging view of “God’s Will:” i.e. don’t make a move until you know it’s GOD’S WILL. If God tells you he’s going to be your husband, that makes it all really clear and indisputable. But in my experience watching many Catholic friends, all very faithful, some friends experienced clear certainty when discerning a call to marriage. Many, like me, had to sift through questions, doubts, uncertainties.prayer Meanwhile, we wondered if, because we hadn’t “heard a voice,” and because it wasn’t revealed in a sign, it was God’s will. My best friend felt uncertain about her future husband, and the rightness of marrying him, until a friend encouraged her just to choose to love him for a while without trying so hard to “figure it out.”. This choice proved to be the essential ingredient that led her to peace in saying yes, when he proposed. There are good choices in spouses, and there are bad choices, of course, and keeping your eyes open is really important. But realizing (and giving myself permission) to make this choice, with this man, knowing that it was entirely possible that I could have chosen other people or life paths, has given me a lot of freedom and actually made it easier to trust God. I used to think God had a perfect plan and that it was up to me to “figure it out” or else. Now, I trust that God trusts me, and that if I ask for help, he will guide me, and that there are a variety of circumstances and choices with which he can work and create something beautiful, and this keeps me from being paralyzed in indecision.
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My Broken Road

I have a future husband who now has a name. His name is John. This feels so ordinary on one hand and so unbelievable on the other.

Reading These Happy Golden Years as a nine-year-old, I’m re-reading Laura and Almanzo’slaura-and-almanzo great love story: how she was a schoolteacher 12 miles away, and had to live with another family, and how he would go and pick her up every week so that she could go home and see her family. How Laura told him once that if he had “inclinations” toward her, she needed him to know she had no feelings for him. How he still kept coming to get her. That, to me, is the truest love, and that is my dream.

Age seventeen –  I’m sitting cross-legged on my bed, swept up by Joshua Harris’ I Kissed Dating Goodbye, so convinced by this book that I, too, must give dating the talk-to-the-hand. That I, too, should make the “true love waits” pledge.

And then I’m in college, telling boys no to dating them because “I have given up dating,” and I’m dreaming of my future husband instead. I write him love letterslove-letter, promising my lifelong devotion. I imagine someone with piercing brown eyes who may be “running from a broken past” and who’s heart can only be unlocked by my love, etc. etc. I finally have one long relationship, which is good for that time, but rocky and tumultuous, with nowhere to rest. Several friends get engaged in our senior year, and my boyfriend and I break up instead. It’s a sad time.

Turning 23, and 24, and 25, and 26, and having promising starts, but for some reason or another, I or sometimes he, says no. It hurts. I know that I do want to be married and have children, but God (or is it me?) keeps saying no, or wait. I conclude that I must need a lot of work, or maybe I need to stop looking, or that I don’t fully trust God, and that’s why I have to wait. I am prone for asking for advice, and I notice that advice is always plentiful. In the meantime, I grow. Friends come into my life, who challenge me to share more of my true self with them, who polish my rough edges. God brings me father figures to help me and guide me as I grow up without my own father. God shows me good women who I learn from, and who are generous enough to show me their flaws too. I learn to go to God with my pain, questions, fears. Meanwhile, it feels as though I’m the late bloomer of my circle. I don’t see the gifts, most of the time. I often define my life by the thing I want that isn’t there, because that’s often the one thing I see.praying

A few years go by. I meet my own 500 days of Summer. I fall hard, and for good reason. He is a humble guy, who works hard and steadily. He teaches me a lot about having integrity and being consistent, and being a hard worker even despite how I’m feeling. I think he is the one I’ve been waiting for. I build dreams in my mind about our future marriage. Our relationship is like that perfect coat you find in the store that is perfect but just doesn’t quite reach all the way around you. So, you wonder – do you give it up or just try to alter it? The risk is, if you alter it, it might ruin the integrity of the coat. But if you give it up, how do you know you can find a better one? When we try to talk about the hard things, we fight, and we can’t seem to get through it. I feel unsure of his feelings for me, or commitment, and this turns me into a ball of insecurities. It ends, raggedly. Neither of us wants to completely give up, but as time goes by, it feels as though the tides of our lives are drawing us farther away, instead of closer. Another several friends get engaged, and again, we break up. My heart is truly broken. I feel lost and shattered in a way I never have. The hurt feels too big, that I can’t imagine remaining in the same place. So, I move to the big city to start over.

That milestone year arrives – 30.  A priest tells me that God speaks through our circumstances, and tninhat if no one has arrived whom I am called to marry, God may have different plans for me. Though deeply afraid, I seek counsel from a sister, to see if we can “get to the bottom of this.” She encourages me into a life of rhythm – consistency in prayer, exercise, intellectual pursuits. She encourages me to let go of my vocation questions and focus on being a seed, soaking up the love of God. This proves truly life-changing for me. I find myself more consistently happy, joyful and grateful, than I ever have been.

The questions remain. Sometimes the pain of not knowing “my purpose” wakes me up at night and makes it impossible to go back to sleep. I study lives that are out of the ordinary, looking for clues for how to live passionately where I am now: Dorothy Daydorothy_day_1934mother-teresa, St. Therese of Lisieux, Teresa of Avila, Sr. Dolores Hart. More years go by – 31, 32. Dates – so many first dates, and some seconds, and thirds, but for four years, nothing lasts. I still have my collection of letters to my future husband, but I’m less regular in writing. I’m afraid to write to a future I’m not sure of, afraid that being awake to my hope will be too painful in the long run.

Valentine’s Day, 2016, arrives. I decide that if there anything I am doing that is getting in the way of my dating life, or God’s call for my life, I’d like to face it and work through it. I stumble on a book by Evan Marc Katz, relationship coach, called Believe in Love and as much as my roommate laughs at me, and I laugh at myself, I read his book that walks through obstacles we often put within our dating lives. In the process, I realize: my hopelessness is my greatest obstacle. In asking God to show me before I walk in any one vocational direction, I have been “afraid of commitment.” I realize that it may be easier for God to guide a moving shipsteer-ship than a stationary one. I decide to commit to dating, and to moving towards married life, and allowing God to steer me through my actions if this is not in His plan.

I go on many dates. The way isn’t clear, and my experiences are often awkward, or funny, or weird. I often realize that I can either persevere with a sense of humor or give up quickly. I meet one very admirable guy, a faithful Catholic, who, despite sharing the same faith and values, I have no real desire to date. I second guess whether this is me being afraid of commitment or “too picky.” I meet someone who inspires chemistry and great conversation, but we don’t share the same values or faith. I second guess if this is “as good as it gets?” Among all the first and second and third dates, I decide to start enjoying this process of meeting new people, and having these chances to learn with each one.

And among the many, one of these dates ends up being John, on April 15th 2016, a day of the year that inspires fear and dread in many American people.

To Be Continued Soon…