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




16 comments:

  1. "She posed the question as if deciding to get married is like deciding what to eat or when to take a vacation."

    AND

    "It's taken me 38 years to know myself enough to know who the right person would be. "

    Love these quotes - and this reflection, Sarah! You know we share some common ground on this topic and I really enjoyed reading your reflection and hearing the joy and humor and wisdom of where you are now. Happy last month of prep!

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    1. Thank you for reading so carefully Deborah. Yes, we share some common ground and it's always good to have such colleagues. Hope your hands are full of clay these days!

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  2. I love these reflections, especially about figuring out how to find the perfect work/home balance. Our paths have been different so far but I, too struggle with that one. The closest resolution I've come to is that I CAN'T do all of it. And I, like you, am lucky to have found a partner willing to really share in what needs to be done and is also willing to help me (as I help him) be gentle with myself when it isn't perfect/clean/well-behaved/finished on time/pretty. It was good for me to hear the reminder of my good fortune reflected in your words!

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    1. Oh Noelle - this makes me just want to meet on a softball field or a winers rehersal and enjoy! Thanks for your words and your blog - I love it! Hi to Kevin! -

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  3. I wanted to marry a very committed Christian. But I was agnostic and his faith scared me. He broke up with me, and in the throes of pain I somehow became converted, without him. And stayed without him, because even though he has a lot of faith, it's a faith that relegates women to the back of the bus. I'm glad you met someone who could have a huge faith, and not put you second and not imagine that the work of our lives somehow belongs in pink and blue boxes! Christy

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    1. Thanks Christy - glad that God somehow worked through him - or through your being without him? - and that your faith is what grew. Very much appreciate this post.

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  4. So happy to read this post, Miss Sarah! Loved the way you articulated your thoughts, especially this "It's taken me 38 years to know myself enough to know who the right person would be. "

    Wishing you a lot of great times ahead!

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    1. Thank you miss N! I miss you and hope all's well :)

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    2. Things are well, Miss Sarah! Congratulations and much happiness to you both! I miss you and walks with your puppy around here!

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  5. What a wonderful post, Sarah. A pleasure to read, and it meant a lot to me, since I get so tired of dating and think I may never find the right guy! I always try to remind myself - if it's in God's plan for me, then it will happen. If not, then God has something better in mind.

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  6. Asa now single parent I have gone through alot of where you are not. But my life took a different turn. At age 40, with a well established career, and no one in my life permanently, I decided to have a child, and after loosing a baby to a stillbirth, adopting my beautiful daughter. (She is now 13) and the center of our lives. My work and home life balance shifted drastically, and for the past 12 years I have put off management positions because they allowed me no flexibility. I have also postponed any relationships that might negatively impact my daughter. Now that she is a teenager, balance is shifting again.
    One step at a time, and it has to feel right!!

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  7. Thanks for posting about your life leading up to your wedding, Sarah, and congratulations! Bertie and I get married in Green Bay Oct. 19, so you beat us to the alter. It's a busy time for us and it's nice to pause and hear about the marriage part :)

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    1. Many Congrats Clay - so so glad to hear it! Mazel Tov!

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