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,