Well, well, everyone said with a smirk when we told them, and finally! with sighs of happy exasperation.
It’s been nearly a year since I finally came around and told Ethan I had feelings for him – and had had them for ages. He grinned, like a silly school boy who’s just been told that the girl of his dreams will go to prom with him. And then he recovered slightly, shrugged, said he’d known for a long time, and hugged me like I was a long lost friend.
Dating has been interesting. It’s pushed me through a lot with counseling, helped drudge up and heal things I’d forgotten were buried beneath layers of hopeful disregard. It’s been strange to discover needs and dependence – something I always let other people have and refused to find in myself. I’ve found encouragement, grace and confidence in myself – that I am loved, and will be loved. That I am in fact liked. I rediscovered womanhood, pulled down the walls of achievement and discarded the mantra that as a woman I have to do things twice as well to gain half as much recognition. Instead, my femininity became a gift and not a burden, something to celebrated and not battled.
But it has not been easy. We were both so independent, so used to our own lives and schedules. Perhaps most of all, we were neither of us prepared for the terror of needing someone else when our defense has always been to simply walk away. We still do it sometimes, me just last week. I slammed a door, stormed up to my apartment and then cried while I searched for supplies to make a lonely dinner. I’d barely stuck my head in the fridge for the third time when a fist pounded on my door and I realized I didn’t want to be alone or argue, just wanted to hug, make up and cry. I used to think I was the self-made-woman who everyone wanted to be friends with for her intelligence and skills. Looking into Ethan’s eyes that night I saw that version of myself crumble and I relearned that I need him and I need God and the self-made-man is an American myth of faulty independence. I relearn that every. single. day.
Last year, a friend of mine said marriage was hard because it was like looking into a mirror of his own selfishness every day. He said he could feel it claw up from somewhere inside him, sin and contempt, frustration over nothing, selfish angst over everything. He warned me, “you don’t know how easy you have it, being single.” I laughed, because in a way I knew how easy my singleness was, I knew because all my married friends were saying the same thing.
Today, E picked me up for work. He was late, so I was late, I stumbled in after the provost and hurried to a health screening, and I was seething while I cheerfully made small talk with superiors as we filled out paperwork. It’s not fair, my head was screaming, that he gets free use of my car and I am late to work nearly every day. The little child that personifies my selfishness was stamping her foot, arms crossed over chest and sticking out her lower lip. It just isn’t fair.
But, you see, it is actually quite fair – this give and take and compromise and frustrations that force growth. It is quite fair to be faced with my selfishness, my greed, my self absorption and unwillingness to budge on just about anything. I’m the sun in this little universe, but slowly I’m being deflated and pushed back to rightful position of tiny star orbited by nothing. It is quite fair, this learning to give up and putting sin to death. Because this is the beauty of relationship after the fall. He’s my best friend and there’s much good in that. I’m my own worst enemy and he mirrors that, he quietly, patiently, stubbornly forces me to grow. Marriage is sanctification, and dating is getting close to that refining fire.
So, to my single friends who lamented the holiday of love last week…you have it easy, in one way (one for which I’m often jealous). Don’t long for dating, don’t long for marriage as an answer to prayers and a fairy tale ending. Long for it as a chance to grow, to learn what it really means to love in spite of canceled dates, tight budgets, missed signals and reordered dreams. Long for the chance to be sanctified, to be continually reminded of the cross and redemption, of sin and futility in human nature. Because if we aren’t open to that chance of glorifying God by loving unconditionally even when things are hard – well, I don’t think we’ll make it far because we won’t have understood marriage and relationships in the first place.