Courtship, Part 3: They Said He Would Leave Me

The whole reason I was sold on the idea of participating in a parent-guided courtship in the first place was my fear that if I chose my own husband I would be blinded by love or manipulated by an unscrupulous young man and thus end up in a hellish marriage. Following a parent-guided courtship was the safe thing to do. My father would protect me by vetting my suitors and choosing a good husband for me when I could not trust myself to make that choice on my own.

But then I broke with the plan. The young man I met did not meet my father’s list of requirements for potential suitors. My father therefore denied my young man the permission he needed to court me. Except, I refused to listen. I had begun questioning my parents’ beliefs, and I was no longer willing to bow to my father’s commands. I was afraid, I will admit, because in the back of my mind old thought patterns kept playing: that if I dated or married someone my father did not find worthy, I would end up abused, and that if I dated or married someone with heretical doctrinal beliefs, he would ultimately abandon me. 

And yet, I struck out on my own nonetheless, facing a relationship playing field that had suddenly changed completely. Gone was the (false) sense of protection and safety the hope for a parent-guided courtship had given me and gradually, painfully, and over time, in its place I gained the self confidence I needed to feel able to independently choose my own spouse.

To be honest, the most important step in this process was realizing how wrong my father was in judging the young man I was interested in. My father denied his permission for us to start a relationship because this young man did not meet the requirements in a list that focused on doctrinal and political purity and the ability to provide, but when compared with the very real and dynamic young man in front of me this list started to look very one dimensional:

Unfortunately, the young man I later met and fell in love with did not meet the religious or political qualifications my father laid out in his list. He did have other qualifications, though. He loved me, for one thing. He cherished me, valued me, respected me, thought I was the best thing ever. He told me I was both beautiful and smart, a perfect combination. He listened to me, to my fears and concerns. He put what I wanted before what he wanted, and respected my boundaries and strange requests. He agreed not to kiss me until I was okay with it (we’re talking months), and he stopped using language I found offensive (you know, the kind of words that no one but a fundamentalist has a problem with).

And most of all, he put up with everything my family put him through. You see, because he didn’t agree with my parents beliefs, he was persona non grata, and he knew that. Yet when he would visit my parents’ house with me, he would avoid conflict and ignore my parents’ attempts to bait him into political or theological conversations. He tried to focus on what he and my family had in common instead. He listened to the condemnations of global warming and discussions of the evils of socialism and the coming governmental collapseand never batted an eye. He knew my family was crazy – and he still loved me.

And you know what? He loved my family too. For all their eccentricities, he saw the good in my parents and focused on that, and never derided or slandered them. More than that, he loved my dozen siblings like they were his own. And they loved him too. No, they adoredhim. He wrestled with the little kids, played computer games with the bigger boys, and let my sisters prattle on about their dolls and games. He cooked with my siblings, letting them help pour the pancake batter on the griddle. He participated in all their plans and shenanigans. He already had a way with kids even at a time of life when few other young men even have kids on their agenda.And when the whole situation was too much for me and I was overwhelmed by my parents’ emotional manipulation and the fear that what I was doing might be wrong, he held me while I cried and accepted me as I was. He supported me and was there for me. He was a rock I could depend on. He let me cry on his shoulder and listened while I poured out my fears to him. He believed in me and let me be anything I wanted to be. He was amazing. And yet, he attended the wrong church and voted for the wrong candidates, and he therefore did not meet my father’s list of requirements.

As I realized how backwards my father’s criteria was, I lost my faith in the safety a parent-guided courtship would have provided me and I gained confidence in my own ability to discern and make relationship decisions. I also realized that all those other things – my young man’s care, compassion, kindness, and love – mattered more to me than exactly what he believed about God or who the next president should be.

And I was surprised, very surprised, to find that whether or not someone was a good person did not depend on what religious beliefs they espoused. Suddenly the whole “correct doctrine = dependable person/incorrect doctrine = potential abuser” dichotomy crumbled before me. It’s hard to express just how important this was. I’ve seen this same process described before in the words of a Mormon wife whose husband lost his religion:

We rarely talked about religion, yet it consumed us. When Sean replaced his temple garments — the sacred underwear he’d promised to wear day and night — with boxers, I couldn’t take it anymore. It was too much betrayal. I called up a neighbor with a husband like mine and cried. But instead of empathy, she offered questions that stunned me into silence. Was Sean addicted to pornography? Watching R-rated movies? What sin had brought him to this terrible place?

My tears stopped. Her questions were so off-base that they seemed absurd. She was sincere, and trying to help, but she believed what the Church teaches — that a man would only leave because he’s disobeying the commandments. She couldn’t understand this was a rational inquiry. She saw everything as the result of sin.

This started my brain twitching. I knew Sean was still a good person, that he still maintained the same moral standards he had when he married me. The Church was wrong about him. What else might they be wrong about? I shoved the thought away.

But I wanted to understand him. This was Sean, the man who stood by me during years of clinical depression. The man who pretended to be a dinosaur while he chased our shrieking sons around the room. He wasn’t some heathen. I couldn’t believe that. I wouldn’t believe it. He’d always been a skeptic, and even though I didn’t agree with him, I knew intellectually that he’d never make this decision without careful consideration of the facts.

Like this young woman, I had been taught that incorrect belief will naturally lead to all manner of problems, but like her, I wasn’t seeing it. I had been taught that if I chose a young man on my own and against my parents’ wishes, I would end up abandoned, perhaps pregnant and penniless. Or perhaps he would have a porn addiction that would lead to him abusing me. Or perhaps he would abuse our children, or lead us down the path to financial ruin with his opulent spending habits. Because how could incorrect belief not be manifest in harmful and destructive living? Somehow, when I think back, the fear that he would leave me – cast me aside the moment something better came along – stands out.

I honestly think my parents are a bit surprised at how well my pick has turned out. After all, I married a young man they did not approve of, and against their wishes. And you know what? It has turned out pretty well. We will soon have two lovely children, we are financially independent, and we are both embarking on what promise to be fulfilling careers. Sure, my parents aren’t pleased that I’m working, and that our doctrinal beliefs don’t match theirs, but they can’t help but see what a dependable, hard-working, loving, and selfless young man my husband is, and they have said as much. I married against their wishes, but all of their dire predictions have proved to be completely without foundation, and they see that.

That fear – the fear that if I chose against my parents’ wishes my young man would abandon me or worse – was something that took a long time to work through. I still think about it sometimes, not to worry about it but rather to laugh. I now see, after all, that the “correct belief = dependable person/incorrect belief = potential abuser” dichotomy is completely false, and I almost wonder how I never saw it before. I suppose I just needed to see it proved false in my own life.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.


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