T H E U N R O M A N T I C P R A C T I C A L S O F A
H E A R T C O M M I T M E N T
I've been engaged for all of two and a half months, and halfway across the country from my fiancé for all but a week of that time, so by now it is reasonable to assume I am an expert on the subject of marital engagement.
You would be wrong!
With everything that has happened between now and then, being apart has certainly had its advantages. I've appeared on a national stage, traveled halfway across the country, hyper-directed my way through a three-week musical production, and however busy, the ample time and space away has been helpful in processing this life-changing decision without said fiancé's influential presence.
I still can't really wrap my head around the idea of being with one person till the day I die, and I'm aware that in twenty years from now, the person I think I know today will only resemble his past self in form (hopefully! #gymmembership) The going hasn't really gotten tough yet.
And I'm often asked what it is I like so darn much about him to agree to a life with him, and the look on people's face is usually one of unaffected understanding.
I don't fold my hands over my heart and kick my heels up high enough to gush, "I'm just so in love!" for their viewing pleasure. I admit I am, but I'm not caught up in the feels to other's satisfaction. Why aren't I more mushy about THE ONE?
Given as many times as I have felt trapped in a world of sensationalized romance, Christianese do's-and-don'ts, sexual promiscuity and dismal statistics, I wanted to pitch my two cents in on the ever popular sleepover topic, How do you know they're the one?
You don't have to thank me, internet. This is for free.
I don't jive with the romantic culture of my generation, and I've garnered zero actual wisdom on how to successfully navigate the romantic landscape with another person thanks to popular protocol--besides generally what's wise to avoid. The accepted and addicting norms of swipe right, sliding into DMs, casual hook-ups, playing hard to get and "just seeing how things go," though minimally attempted by both him and I, ultimately proved themselves to only expose the worst kind of habits and impulses we would need to deny in ourselves to actually achieve character capable of healthy and sustainable romance...hereby referred to as, "commitment."
It goes without saying that we get along very well, I find him kissable, we have likeminded goals for our life, we both love Jesus, and I find him to be a healthy balance to my crazy, and he makes me laugh. BUT that isn't why I'm he's the one.
So I'm about to indulge you with five of the actually unromantic, stiff reasons why I'm deciding to marry this man--without having been lead by a whirlwind of butterflies, without having decided to test it out by living together, without having had a golden ray of light come out of the sky and land on his face in the middle of a crowded university. (That wouldn't be nice to a boy who gets sunburned easy.)
W H Y H I M?
1. He does not try to impress me.
The first thing I noticed about Liam on that fateful mission trip was that he treated me like he treated everyone else. I didn't feel him trying to keep tabs on me. He was genuinely engaged, equally focused on every person in conversation, and clearly content on his own. I had never met anyone like him who was as good at politely not giving a crap. It was not until he admitted his intentions towards me that I even suspected he thought of me as anything more than a friend!
The supposed indifference actually put me at ease to behave like I didn't have to worry about an audience. It was also easy to be around someone that proved himself high in moral character regardless of who was the beneficiary. He didn't show that cared whether or not I noticed him being commendable or interesting, he gave me the space to focus on my lane while he demonstrated being confident in his own.
I include this trait as number one because the principle behind it is important.
I'm not someone he needs to perform for.
I noticed him for exactly who he was while we both navigated being out of our comfort zones among new people, and gauged his character off of the authenticity and consistency of his behavior, especially in situations when he didn't know I was paying attention. (Don't I sound creepy?)
There are times when we are tempted to do the opposite in the romance game, either to imply more interest than what is true in an area that our catch-of-the-day really digs, or conversely, to hide and cover up the reality of our struggles. Ultimately, the intention is to present the best version of ourselves for the convenience of the other person but whether it's an area of self-improvement or just a leisure activity, eventually the charade dries up and we question our level of intrigue. (That's an entire discussion in of itself.)
Since he decided to be person of integrity before I entered the picture, it stands to reason I will not be the sustaining force for good character. That would be an unhealthy kind of responsibility.
He's predetermined to like himself, apart from my approval, and that makes him easy to like!
2. He listens for what I mean to say, rather than responds to what he feels or "hears."
Besides being a good quality to have in general, I can't emphasize how stress-relieving it is to enter into a conversation with this man and have the assurance that he is going to go to great lengths to actually derive the meaning from my heart rather than assume the very worst from my words.
Especially as a woman! Ladies, I am going to throw us under the bus briefly. For us to even for a second be aghast at men for not understanding us perfectly, how many times out of ten do you even know how to assign your own feelings? How many feelings do you go through in a single day? How much time do you excuse yourself to process them? How many of them do you later deem irrational or dehydration or menstruation or starvation?
Not that difficult conversations ever get easier to have, but until I met him, I didn't know the kind of relational security that was possible during an argument. Some of the most encouraging, "light beams on his face" moments, if you will, occurred during heated discussions where one or both parties felt wounded.
This surprising sense of mutual effort and control over our delivery for the sake of clarity made me think, aside from my hurt, how amazing it was that we were two normal people even capable of arguing this well. Not well as in we're both good at zingers and passive aggression, but genuinely committed to hearing the other person out and maintaining calm. He wasn't looking for a way to be right, and it freed me up to do the same.
Forgoing the demand to be right creates the best possible chance at rediscovering the best of intentions in the other person. When you can rediscover good intentions in the middle of an argument, it sets the precedent to assume the benefit-of-the-doubt when other questionable situations arise in the future.
Because they just do. I don't have to be a relationship or marriage expert to know that. But I had no idea that I would be looking for someone who could check off "argues well" on a list of traits to demand in a husband.
By extension, "argues well" translates as "listens well, responds pointedly, and comforts effectively."
3. He respects my gifts but doesn't love me for them.
To this day, Liam has seen me perform only as many times as you can count on one hand. It's not his fault, and it's not that he's not supportive.
But my being on stage had nothing to do with why he asked me to breakfast the first time. My singing had nothing to do with why he kept up long distance for 7 months.
My career ambitions remind him that I am my own person and without him, I am fully capable of committing my time to useful endeavors. Being a performer, who I am on stage is not who I am in the mornings before coffee. Or even 95% of the time.
The nice thing about his minimal exposure to something as falsely alluring as performance-based work is that if I were to suddenly lose my hands or my voice and couldn't play piano or sing, I don't have to wonder if he would still be around. I wasn't ever suspicious of his reason for interest.
He's committed to who I am as distinct from the things I do.
He's not about the potential glamour of the music industry, glitter, money, popularity, or sensuality. He's as aware of the dangers of it as I am and is a welcome perspective when discussing challenges and temptations. He is humble and down to earth! He met me without bells and whistles and accolades, and will be a good monitor for if I ever start to place too much emphasis on them myself.
4. He is a completed work-in-progress.
One of our earliest intimate conversations (that would have probably freaked out the average person on a second date) revolved around the struggles and bad habits we grew up with and are still having a time growing out of directly as they pertained to potential marriage issues. Yes, we are very aware of all the wonderfully horrible possibilities, thanks.
Now, maybe that's something you'd suggest avoiding super early on, but conventional wisdom is sometimes based in fear...
By spelling intentions very pointedly up front, stating marriage as the end goal on the first date, asking each other the hard questions nearly like we were interviewing a potential coworker by the second, letting other people have insight into our relationship, meeting the parents, getting engaged within 9 months...
He knew he would have a life with or without me and wasn't afraid to tell me what I may be getting into.
Needless to say, I've learned more about him along the way than he even knew to warn me of up front, but his commitment to his own well-being and mine by looking to waste as little of both of our time as possible by being vulnerable meant he was someone very unique indeed.
Being complete and being a work-in-progress are not mutually exclusive. By the grace of God, single people are fully whole and fully capable of living fully full lives on planet earth. By the grace of God, anyone who gets married is marrying a work-in-progress, and Lord, don't I know!
5. He is more committed to God than he is to me.
For those that find this concept unfamiliar or odd, I'll explain.
Even under perfect circumstances, people grind your gears. Am I the only child that had the impulse to run away but never acted on it? Probably not. Even safe, healthy families take turns desperately annoying each other from within.
The principles of marriage that define "marriage" as distinct from "a lifetime sexual partner" stem from the purposes of God for humanity. Science can conclude that we continue to shack up simply as a leftover from socially integrated animalistic impulses, but God tells us He created the husband and wife dynamic for the growth and health of the individual soul.
From what I've gathered, you can't survive a marriage without personal sacrifice, you can't make a sacrifice without having a choice, you can't have the freedom to choose without love. When you talk about sacrifice, choice, and love, the ultimate example of that is in Jesus Christ. The death of Jesus was the sealing of a covenant with mankind, made by God and upheld on God's end, preceded by the sacrifice of animals in the old covenant.
This new covenant meant, for better or for worse, through sickness and in health of the soul, whether or not it felt good, God would love us beyond even the end of our lives having passed the judgment of our offenses against Him down to His willing son...and for those who understand the Trinity (who can "understand"?!?) paying for them Himself. We know God through a covenant of mercy.
Now it's slightly different because I believe that once I die, I will not be a married woman. My only commitment is to love this man uniquely from all others until I die.
In the meantime, I reflect the love Christ has for me through covenant sealed by his willful death by making a covenant with Liam that I will "die" to my own selfishness to love him, based on my choice rather than on his merit. No one else gets the benefit of my time, mind, body, and resources because they do not belong to that covenant.
It sounds unromantic, because by that logic, you could just marry anyone.
And many do, via arranged marriage (which still exist!) and make it work.
I often wonder if half of the reason youth are romantically obsessed and yet dissatisfied in our culture is because we look for passionate romance pre-commitment, when really the best of it is only possible post.
My life circumstances meant I was given a choice. And I've listed a few reasons why I think it's a good one.
When people make those vows before the gaze of the Almighty, realize that they are stating that their commitment goes beyond whether or not "I like you enough today to tolerate you." They are saying their commitment extends to "tying my soul to yours, so much so that the Creator who created both of us will see to it that I treat you the way He expects of me, which is the very highest expectation on your behalf." It's God giving humanity a little taste of what it's like loving us.
I know I can never know the depth of what I'm talking about until I'm in it, and to some I probably sound really naive. That's fine.
But at least we both know exactly how much of what we don't know we're getting into.
And that I'll agree is crazy talk, as well as a confusing sentence.
The opportunity to experience covenant based, sacrificial, unmerited love is lost outside of marriage.
Because he fears God more than he loves me, I am counting on him to be the kind of person to do the honorable thing by me on days that I don't make it easy. It's a good bet.
an agreement that brings about a relationship of commitment between God and his people.
The Jewish faith is based on the biblical covenants made with Abraham, Moses, and David.
The responsibility of his character formation and his masculinity is ultimately in God's hands, and I get to partner with the Creator on Liam's behalf, rather than shape him to be someone for my convenience. Likewise, he shows a healthy understanding of that towards me.
My eyesight is short-sighted anyways in regards to what I can see on this side of eternity. The gaze of Christ extends into hope.
Thanks for reading, and happy romancing! May it be passionate and practical.