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’s 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 letters, 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.
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 that 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 Day, 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 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…