A Guest Post by Melissa
Note: I’m reposting Melissa’s series, originally written in February 2011, with her permission. Why now? Put simply, because it was one of the first things that came to my mind when I heard about Jessa Duggar courting. This is something I wish she could read. This is for Jessa.
For all the posts in this series, click here.
We spent most of our time together at our family homes, so we also spent a lot of our time together trying to evade family. Since we were engaged we were allowed to go on short excursions alone to public places. So we ran errands for the wedding, like picking up my wedding dress after the alterations were finished, or running to the mall to pick out “Hunk”’s wedding band. When we were around my house, we went for lots of walks together, and I even took him up to my secret spot on the garage roof where we could be alone.
At the end of June (about 3 weeks out from the wedding) I went on another trip with “Hunk” and his family. We all flew out to spend a week with his extended family and introduce me to his grandma. Again, time together was wonderful! Like the weekend early that same month, we ended up getting a lot closer on this trip. His family mostly left us alone when there were no planned events, so we had days of uninterrupted time to wander around the parks in the area.
Up until this point, we had been able to keep my parents rules for the most part. My Dad still hadn’t approved hugging, and we did hug when we were out of his eyesight. But other than that we were being very careful. The emphasis on no physical touch just seemed to heighten the desire for it all the more. I was torn between really wanting to get closer to My Love, but still feeling an incredible burden to obey my parents and give a good example for my siblings. My parents always explained the reasons for their rules being that “kissing would inevitably lead to other stuff”. On this trip, it became apparent to “Hunk” and I that you could get around to “other stuff” even if you never technically kissed. The whole thing started to feel ridiculous, and “Hunk” was getting frustrated. We both knew that the no kissing rule was silly, and we both wanted to kiss, but I was still saying no each time he asked me, and he respected that no.
After we returned from the trip, I was getting fed up. We had all this pressure to be a wonderful example of what finding your spouse “the Christian way” meant, and I didn’t want to pretend that meant we hadn’t gone beyond holding hands. Maybe it was possible to go through courtship and engagement without any physical connection, but it didn’t feel like as big a deal as I was supposed to think it was and our relationship wasn’t turning out that way.
At church everyone was so impressed with our Courtship (aside from the pregnancy rumours that continued to circulate), many parents in the church saw us as a wonderful example of a “pure” relationship, and used it to bolster their own opinions of their authoritative role as parents in their own children’s lives. I even heard from one Quiverfull mom who was planning on bringing her 6 children (all under the age of ten) to the wedding because she wanted them to see how we had “saved our first kiss”. It felt hypocritical to stand up at our wedding and kiss for the first time, thereby implying that we had zero physical connection throughout our engagement. So 8 days before the wedding I decided that the charade was over and on a walk to the park near my house, I kissed him (or should I say attacked him!).
It was such a relief to have it over with and not have to think about it anymore! Later that day, I informed my Mom that the kissing ban was officially over since I had kissed “Hunk”. She was disappointed, but fairly understanding. She said it was good that we had held out against temptation as long as we did, and that one day I would be grateful we hadn’t kissed. When my Dad heard, he just made the tight-lipped look that he gets when he isn’t happy, but I guess since the wedding was so close, he decided to let it slide.
At some point in that week before the wedding, my Mom decided to talk with me about sex, for the first time since I got the bare bones basics “where babies come from” talk at 11 years old. She basically asked if I had any questions about the wedding night. I asked her if losing your virginity was painful, and she replied that she didn’t really remember, but that she didn’t think so. And that was it. A few months after the wedding, she pulled me aside and asked if I knew that women could have orgasms. I have to admit I laughed when I told her that thankfully I had figured out a few things on my own thanks to books and the internet.
“Hunk” and I never had any pre-marital counselling. I guess the idea was that since we were both Christians and had extensive involvement of our parents who had determined that we were compatible, it was unnecessary. Plus “Hunk”’s Dad was a Pastor, so we had some chats with him that I guess were supposed to be a substitute for counselling. We never talked about Family systems or background or boundaries, or conflict resolution, or finances, or anything much really. He gave us a book on sex and told us what we’d been hearing since we were young, “sex is great, but only when you are married”.
The day of the wedding dawned beautiful and sunny. I showered and went over to the church early. My sisters and I did our own hair (I wore mine down in loose curls)and I put on a little eye makeup and some lipstick. We all had our pictures taken. I loved my wedding dress. We had found it on the clearance rack and it had fit me perfectly (with the exception of the 8 inches they cut off the bottom). The bodice was satin, with a belt and neckline of white beading. The floor length skirt was satin with a sheer layer over it, and it had a small train. My favourite part was the sleeves, they were long, sheer and flared out at the edges, like a princess. The neckline was scooped to a few inches below my collar bone, and a bit lower than my Dad liked. But the price had been very good, and the dress was very modest overall, so in the end it had been approved.
The ceremony went smoothly. Neither of us had that many childhood friends (he had one good friend, I had none) and we wanted to include our many siblings, so we opted to have just sibling stand up. I had everyone over age 8 (4 sisters and a brother) on my side, and he had all 4 of his sisters. I walked up the aisle to “Be Thou my Vision” and I hardly remember who was there, I was so focused on “Hunk” at the end of the aisle. The sermon is a blur in my mind, I do know that it seemed longwinded, and since his Dad was doing it there was a lot of stuff about “Hunk” in it, and like nothing about me which was a bit strange. As the vows approached, I was so nervous. I felt hot and cold and shaky, I could feel my face burning and later looking at the photo’s I realized that my skin had been white and covered in red splotches. “Hunk” told me later that he wondered if I was going to pass out! I made it through just fine, promising to submit to him in all things (I did try at first, but I never was very good at that) we sang a very long song, and then we were pronounced husband and wife.
We had a wonderful time taking pictures as a couple, and then the reception began. We had a buffet luncheon of fruit and sandwiches (which turned out very nice) and then spent some time going from table to table to greet and thank our guests. The one major regret I have is that just as we had finished greeting “Hunk”’s family and the church members, and were getting to the tables with our friends and my extended family, “Hunk”’s Dad (who was the self-appointed MC) told us that we needed to sit down because they were going to start the speeches and other programs. He said that we could get back to greeting the rest of the guests afterwards so I gave in, but we never did get to say hello to the rest of the guests.
We had been informed that we needed to tell our courtship story so that people could see an example of a courtship that had “worked” (aka ended in marriage) so I went up to the mike and shared a synopsis of our story, and I was sure to include the fact that the kiss in the ceremony was not our first, for the sake of all the other young couples to follow in the courtship mindset. There was no dancing, since this was a fundamentalist wedding, and when my Dad went up for his speech he told us to be sure to have lots of babies since he was looking forward to grandchildren. I remember feeling slightly disappointed that he didn’t really have much more to say about me, but I had mostly expected that.
Late in the afternoon the guests were starting to leave, and “Hunk” and I were ready to take off. After saying goodbye to parents and siblings, my Dad shook “Hunk”’s hand and passed us a little spending cash. We climbed into our car and drove away. We made a quick stop to grab our bags and change our clothes and then we settled in for our drive to our honeymoon location. We were both tired from the long day, and tense from so much interaction with family. But as time went on we found ourselves relaxing and falling back into our usual pattern of talking about our experiences of the day. We spent some time opening all the wedding cards and reading the funny notes inside and counting the cash. We stopped at a Chinese buffet to eat and by the time we got to our destination 3 hours later we were feeling at ease together.
We spent a delicious 6 days alone in that little condo. We ate out together, and when we stayed in I cooked way too much food (that’s what happens when you are used to cooking for a dozen people). We went for walks, and watched movies together. We went to the beach (where I’m pretty sure we completely disgusted everyone with our displays of affection) and we spent many (rather awkward) hours in bed together. It was so wonderful to be alone, without anyone else to tell us what to do. We did interrupt our honeymoon for one evening, at the request of “Hunk”’s Dad. He wanted us to meet with him and the family at the home of a wealthy supporter of his ministry. So we went, because it was “important”. The rest of the time was ours, and that week came to a close all too soon.
We moved around for the next few weeks staying with family, until the Seminary Apartments were open for us to move in. After 3 months together (at barely 20 years old) we were starting married life, but we still had so much to learn about each other.
We got pregnant right away, and I spent the first several months of marriage puking so much that I lost 15 pounds. Then we lost that baby, and when we got pregnant again a few months later, we lost that baby as well. We grieved and struggled through depression together. Hunk was taking 19 credit hours of graduate work, and working for his Dad’s ministry and was often exhausted and working long into the night. I was a stay-at-home wife, trying to process the loss of our first two babies.
Since we had gotten married “God’s way”, we were told that we would have a free pass on all the problems that come with marriage. But we had a lot to learn about communication. He alternately confided in me and ordered me around, I alternately “rebelled against his authority” and submitted. We fought. A lot. We fought about religion, finances, gender roles, and family boundaries. Both of us were far too enmeshed in our families of origin, and it took a long time for us to truly “leave and cleave”.
Be sure to come back soon for my concluding thoughts on Courtship.