Friday, September 20, 2013

Getting Married Pt 2 - So, how'd you meet?



My fiance and I met online.

There.  I said it.  I'll say it proudly and openly to anyone who asks but I wasn't at all comfortable with on-line dating when I started six years ago.  I was moving to the DC area for my first call as a pastor.  I knew I wanted to live life with a family and I didn't know how else I'd meet someone.  I set up my match.com profile with my brother vetoing particularly generic/pathetic lines (he nixed my initial profile name, "the purple turtle," saying I sounded like a 7th grader who believes in unicorns). My sister-in-law cheered me on, getting so into it that she wished she could do it too. M, I said, you married your high school sweetheart; we're all on here because we want what you've got. 

At first, I was terrified of people finding out I was online dating.  I quickly went from match.com to eharmony (a more private site) because I didn't want anyone to find me.  Of course, what I actually wanted was someone to find me, so that was counter-productive.  I was ashamed that I had sunk to online dating.  It felt desperate.

Despite my shame, I kept at it.  I devised the term "inquiry coffee" instead of first date - took the pressure off.  I realized that if I were in it for the long haul, I'd better develop a thick skin and a good dose of humor.  I laughed off the person who lied and added seven years to his age because he likes older women; or the person who, after reading that the environment was important to me responded with "let's go burn some fossil fuels."  Huh?

After many months and gallons of inquiry coffee, I got serious with someone I was with for a few years.  But when that ended...

I hated having to go back on there, but even more, I hated walking through my life lonely and powerless hoping to bump into prince charming at the grocery store.  So, the last time around, I did more than just online dating.  I also got bold about asking friends for help.  They responded with care.   One couple arranged a dinner with their single friends so we could all meet.  One set me up with a date.  Ultimately, none of those people worked out, but having a network of support took the edge off and gave me hope.

Here's the full story of how I my fiance: It started with someone on my frisbee team.  Over time, he'd piqued my interest. A few years ago, in an uncharacteristic fit of boldness I emailed and confessed I was curious:

"I am not practiced at dipping my toes in the water, so please excuse me if this is waaay off base - or if your wife or child or girlfriend is looking over your shoulder and laughing!  Or if you are gay (I can never tell!) or just otherwise uninterested. I don't really know how to do this, but seemed worth exploring."

He had a girlfriend, but he was very kind in his response.  A year later, I went back on match.com and his profile was the first that popped up.  I emailed him immediately and found out that he was already seeing someone (note to self: if he hadn't thought to ask me out on his own, he wasn't interested).  But still he was friendly and kind.

So I mustered courage and asked him for advice.  He looked over my profile and sent me a page of feedback.  He told me to get onto OKCupid (no, I'm not being paid for this endorsement!). He also said he'd keep an eye out for someone "awesome to introduce me to."  But the most important thing he wrote was about the fact that I'm a pastor:

"...for the right person it will be an awesome thing."

My identity as a pastor had felt like an enormous amount of baggage, but these words made me realize I just hadn't found the right person yet. 

I took all his advice and within a couple of weeks, a goofy, musical, fun-loving, caring, progressive baptist minister-turned-theology professor emailed me. He was the right person. The rest is history in the making.

Despite the statistic that an estimated 20-35% of marriages in the US in the last 5 years started online, it still has an underground, dirty feeling.

That's why my fiancee and I claim it proudly - to take away the shame and give other people hope.  We met online, thank God!  And I mean that.  We would not have met otherwise and we're so glad we did.

matchmaker, matchmaker...la la la,
-Sarah

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Getting Married, pt 1 - Why'd it take so long?

On Oct 12 I'm getting married! Over the next month, I'm blogging various aspects of this big transition. 


A neighbor recently asked me "why did it take you so long to get married?"  My knee-jerk answer was "once I met my fiance, it didn't take long at all!"   That's not what she meant.  She told me how in her day, 22 was considered old to be married. I'm 38.

She posed the question as if deciding to get married is like deciding what to eat or when to take a vacation.  You just pick out what you want and when it works for you and bam, it's done.  She didn't know how often cries of "How long, oh lord?" went up from my lonely heart.  I have generally thought that if it had been completely up to me, I would have been married a long time ago.

That makes it sound like I've been waiting for a date for years and wondering when I'd meet anyone I loved.  I've gone on loads of dates (thank you match.com), been in love and seriously contemplated marriage, going so far as to get engaged once and half-way engaged another time (words were exchanged but not rings or anything formal).

I could have been married by now.  So why I have decided not to?  It's too simple to say that I hadn't met the right person. It's taken me 38 years to know myself enough to know who the right person would be.  Much of that has to do with my identity as a pastor and how faith and work fit together with family. 

1) Faith: Twice I almost married men who were not fundamentally people of faith. The first time, it was someone I met in the Peace Corps.  We shared five good, formative years.  The relationship ended the same month I discovered I wanted to be a pastor.   I instinctively realized, without knowing why, that if I wanted my faith to be the central driving force of my life, he wasn't going to be the right husband. 

The second time, I was a new pastor and very much struggling with my identity.  It was comfortable to date someone who didn't bring any religious expectations into the relationship.   We went to worship together on Sunday nights and he came to church when I preached.  But it's telling that in 2+ years of dating, he never integrated into my church life. He respected my work and supported it, but we didn't share a faith.  That also meant that we didn't have a shared values system at the center of our life together.  We had no end of conflict.

At one particularly desperate time, I turned to a chapter by Pastor Martin Copenhaver called "Married to a Pagan."  I even asked my then-boyfriend to read it with the hopes that the love between pastor and atheist could turn into a marriage.  It works for Copenhaver; it would never work for me.  Our lack of shared faith didn't play consciously into our end, but it contributed.

With my fiance, our relationship is founded on shared faith. Committment to God is first for both of us.  I love the intimacy that brings us, the conversations  about church stuff, the shared values, and the theological debates.  Yes, his faith takes a different form (he's baptist), but that's great too.  His church life isn't dependent on mine.  He has a pastor.  We don't compete, we bring different insights and we respect one another. We pray for each other and with each other.  Now that I'm with him I wonder: how could I have ever thought that I would be happily married to someone with whom I didn't share all this? 

2) Work: I dated someone for a couple of years with whom I shared faith but who I sensed would never take my career seriously into account.  Great guy.  Not for me.

I have secret fantasies of keeping a clean house, cooking meals 7 days a week and having a perfect garden.  If children come, I dream of making their Halloween costumes and being the president of the PTA.  In short, I imagine becoming my mother (she is a great mother!). I also have dreams of a successful career that is meaningful and supports my family financially.  I want a cool office and respect of my peers and a rich intellectual life.  In short, I also imagine becoming my father (he is a great father!).   Guess what: there's a reason it took two of them to do it all.  

My default in relationships has been to cut out the dreams of being my father.  I've pretended, in subtle and not so subtle ways, that I could be a happy homemaker or a person who gave up career ambitions or for her family.  No wonder my boyfriends got confused when suddenly I was unhappy with the kind of set-up I'd led us both to believe would work for me!  I love my work and I love a clean house.  Classically gendered divisions of labor aren't going to work for me. 
  
My fiance frequently does things that reveal to me that they don't work for him either. 

For instance, on the day of my installation as the pastor, he brought an apron and after the service, went to work in the kitchen.  He let the day be about my call and the church and he wasn't the slightest bit insecure about it.  Last Saturday, while I was at a church council retreat, he cleaned my house and went grocery shopping for me.  He supports my career not just in lip service, but in these tangible ways. And I try my very hardest to do the same for him and his career.

Geography re: work also matters.  My fiance and I met just a few months after we both committed to positions in the DC area.  That meant that our relationship could develop without big geographical questions looming in the balance.  There's no assuming I will move wherever my fiance wants me to for his career and there's also no assuming that he will move for my career.   That's not to say we'll never move.  It's to say that there's no assumption that one person's career takes precedence over the other.

Other women (and men) have made different choices and happily let their husband's career dictate their location and thus direction of their careers.  That just wouldn't work for me, at least not now.

Speaking of...I better get to the office.  

More on marriage to come...

Peace and joy,
Sarah