I met my first and hitherto only boyfriend when I was sixteen and was almost instantly convinced that we were going to get married.
Marshall (not his real name) moved to my wee hometown the summer before our junior year of high school. He asked me to be his girlfriend during a sunset stroll along the beach on August 27. Things could not have been more perfect.
Until they weren’t.
Marshall and I fell hard for each other. He was unabashedly all about me, like complimenting me and expressing his feelings and stuff. I am not what one might call effusive, so my version of being all about Marshall manifested as a stoic and reserved respect. Until Marshall told me that he wanted to get me a promise ring. Though we had been dating for less than a year and I assumed he meant the pre-engagement type of promise ring. Wow, I thought, he must really love me. It turns out that he meant one of those “True Love Waits” promise rings, alternatively known as purity rings. But still, at the time, I took it at a statement of commitment. And we were planning to wait to have sex anyways, so sure I wore the ring and signed the little card that came with it.
I don’t know why we were so gung-ho about getting married so quickly into things (it was absolutely because of the whole waiting for sex thing). We even talked about getting married right after high school. As I was sixteen, I thought that, upon turning eighteen, I would miraculously become an adult ready to commit to what might end up being eighty years of marriage. Then I turned eighteen.
We ultimately decided that we should wait until after college to get married. Four years would be hard, especially as we were at different schools, but we believed our love could endure. After all, we both loved Jesus and therefore we could endure anything. It would totally be worth it once we graduated and could get married.
Approximately four months after leaving for college, Marshall started expressing doubts about our relationship. And by that I mean he sent me a text that said, “I’m having doubts about our relationship.” I was shocked. Sure, things had been tense for a little while. We were having trouble maintaining the physical boundaries we had set. We went to vastly different schools. I can’t speak to what all was going on with him, but through our separation I realized that I had lost a lot of myself in that relationship and was trying to make changes. But, I thought, we can work it out. We just have to try a little harder.
In April of our freshman year, we broke up. More specifically, I broke up with him. And yet, even after that conversation, during which he took a phone call from his mother, part of me believed that we would get back together.
We didn’t. He started dating someone else five months after we broke up. They are now married with at least two kids.
Love is a funny thing. At several of the weddings I’ve been to recently, the officiant has said something about love being a choice. I get what they’re saying, because when you’re with someone for a long time, you’re bound to drive each other a little nutso. But love endures all things, as Paul writes in the quintessential passage on love (1 Corinthians 13:7, ESV). I looked up the word “endure” in preparation for writing this blog, and Google said, “suffer patiently.” Really selling it, Google. The second definition listed said, “remain in existence; last, ” which has a less masochistic connotation.
In my relationship with Marshall, I thought it was noble and right to endure in “loving” each other. But the way we were “loving” each other was actually hurting both of us. I now realize that in Marshall, I wasn’t really looking for love as much as I was looking for a sure future and stability. I was looking for someone to tell me I was ok.
I don’t know that there’s a hard and fast rule of when to tough it out and when to walk away, the obvious exception being abusive relationships. There are probably some good guidelines, as there have been a plethora of books written on love. For Marshall and me, it was a little bit of listening to our intuition and a whole lot of Jesus opening our eyes to how unhealthy things were between us. Neither of us could build endurance in love by perpetuating our toxic habits. But it turns out there were other people with whom we could work through a better understanding of love. Mine has been with friends, mentors, and really good therapists so far. In the end, enduring in love has looked more like building endurance than stoically suffering when a thing isn’t right. And I think that’s closer to what Paul was talking about anyway.
Picking up what I’m putting down?
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