At the time of writing, I am kind of freaking out. I’m going to ask my girlfriend Martha to marry me in just a few days, and while I’ve never been as sure about anything in my life, my mind is spinning with so many fears and ever-worsening worst-case scenarios. So, to try to reassure myself that this is the right decision, I’m trying to take a step back to write down the things I’d want in a relationship if I had to do it all over again.
Those of you who know me may remember that I previously held this idea that love was something akin to a skill — that the success of a relationship was less dependent on the specific people involved and instead was mostly just a function of their time, effort, and commitment. I still feel like the “make it work” mentality is an essential quality (see later!) because discipline is a big part of faithfulness. But, what I didn’t realize is that there really is such a thing as being head-over-heels for someone. It’s one thing to spend time with someone with the intellectual knowledge that “it’s important and meaningful.” It’s quite another to spend time with someone who makes you feel the way that John Keats did about the bright star of his own. I’ve had several deep, meaningful connections with friends, and even a bit of a romantic spark with a crush or two — but that kind of bowl-you-over, stars-in-the-eyes kind of magic has happened only once in my lifetime. It’s hard for me to imagine that happening again. It’s difficult for me to imagine it ever happening by chance. It’s impossible for me to imagine entering into a relationship without it — on both sides.
One of the most prominent features of that magic is that it feels like it’s ours, and ours alone. I never understood the use of possessive pronouns in relationships because I hadn’t ever been in one that I was so fully committed to. To call someone “mine” seemed overly constricting because I always had possessed the emotional strength to “move on,” should the situation call for it — and I felt like this freedom (on both sides) was very important somehow. What I didn’t know is that it’s possible to care about someone so much that this freedom “take it or leave it” seems like bondage compared to a life that is tied and committed to theirs. If the other person isn’t in the same boat — if her heartstrings are tangled up in someone else (or could easily become so in the future), that’s a terrifying situation to imagine. Yes, there’s a part of me that still doesn’t really like words like “mine” in juxtaposition with people, since God is the only one we truly belong to — but at the end of the day, the expression is an artfully concise way to reflect the reality that faithfulness is hugely important to long-term relationships. I can’t imagine myself giving my life to someone who wasn’t deeply faithful, not just in action but also in spirit. And by the same token, the incredible peace that comes from the confidence you are loved fully and completely by another is something for which I’d gladly trade (in a heartbeat!) the freedom to ever choose anyone else.
Maybe you’ll think I’m a hypocrite to care so much about communication, given how difficult it is sometimes to talk to me. But, one thing you’ll have to give me is that I try very very hard to live in an open and honest way. One of the reasons is that it’s almost impossible to gauge the private and easily-concealed things I care so much about, without an over-the-top commitment to communication. I don’t want a girl who tells me only what she thinks I need to know. One of the most hurtful things you can do to me is to intentionally keep me in the dark without letting me know why. I don’t want a girl who tells me only what I ask her about. Those of you who know me will remember that if a conversation’s direction is totally up to me, it will often snowball into a discussion of an increasingly general (and necessarily esoteric) nature — often exceeding beyond the bounds of what really matters in day-to-day life. I want a girl who knows her own mind, and tells it to me — whether I ask or not. I want a girl who is so used to honesty that she sometimes slips and tells me more than she intends. I want a girl who trusts me enough to tell me more than she’s comfortable with. There are few things I hate more than “keeping up appearances,” and it would be quite difficult could continue on with someone who crafted their words more for esteem or false-peace than (possibly difficult) truth. I think the right to privacy is hugely important, but I need someone who will give me the honor of knowing which thoughts are off limits and why. I don’t want someone who is “prudent” in the out-of-context Provs 10:19 sense, hiding their true thoughts and feelings behind a wall — be it one of deception, silence, or even misdirected politeness. I need someone who walks in the light and out in the open.
I need someone who is “righteous” in the in-context Provs 10 sense. Yes, I need someone whose spirit spills over in a way that I can know the very human soul beneath it all — but I also need someone who has goodness built into their core being. That order’s pretty tall, in no small part because it’s an extremely personal and difficult-to-define. Perhaps the best way to communicate the thought is through an analogy to running: In this world, there are runners, and there are those like myself who try hard to be. Whether it’s due to years of training, “good genes,” or a combination of the two, there are those among us to whom pacing and stride and breathing and form are like second nature. Those I call runners are perfectly in their element on a run, effortlessly channeling the spirit of the antelope. And then, there are those like myself. I’m a pretty determined guy. I can slog through the miles. But, it’s not where I’m most at home.
Likewise, there are those to whom moral excellence is so ingrained that goodness is what feels most natural. And there are also those like myself who lives in a constant and determined struggle to do what’s right. I realize we all struggle — even elite athletes have to work hard to stay in shape. Likewise, those who I would call “good” in this world need to be ever watchful to avoid complacency and hypocrisy. However, I couldn’t ever see myself seriously pursuing someone who I can’t look up to in a moral sense. I occasionally need a voice of intellectual reason — but I literally can’t live without a voice that continues to inspire and strengthen my desire to be good.
Sometimes, one is too close to the situation to understand it. For most people, it’s more difficult to see their own flaws than it is to see the flaws of others. For me, it’s also quite difficult to see my strengths. I need someone who can see the good in me that I can’t always see for myself. Those of you who know me well will understand what I’m talking about when I say that negative feelings toward myself have been a particular struggle for me, and someone who points out the good — both in life and in myself — is absolutely a must. I need an inspiration.
Love for others
I’ve always been pretty good at seeing the good in others. I truly do love and deeply care for the people in my life — but, I’ve also not been the greatest at staying in touch and keeping up with the people that I care so much about. Sometimes, I forget that just thinking about someone isn’t enough. You’ve got to spend time with them. Since I usually keep myself (too) busy, there’s always a valid excuse for holeing up in my room or office. And, since my tolerance for being alone is quite high, it’s easy for me to get into situations where I go for days and weeks without truly interacting with other humans. That’s not a good place to be for anyone — and it puts a huge damper on the God-given role to serve others. Being a part of people’s lives is something I genuinely enjoy when it’s not motivated by guilt (as sometimes happens when I let things go for too long). I need someone who understands that I often need non-social time to re-charge, but will also gently draw me out of the cave and into the lives of others, where I can make a difference for good.
Without going into the theological fine points, I need someone who is a Christian both in word and action. Someone who has a good intellectual understanding of the Bible, but who also lives like they believe it. I need someone to whom I will grow closer as a side-effect of setting my primary focus on glorifying God.
Love of family
Family is very important to me. It has been for my whole life so far, and it will continue to be for the rest of my life. If you have a strong dislike for my family, or there are severe unresolved problems in your family, or don’t want a family of your own some day, that’s going to be pretty difficult for me to deal with. By the same token, someone who is supportive of family is going to be quite a blessing in years to come.
I love learning. It’s one of my favorite things to do. If you love learning too, we’ll very probably get along. I love learning new things and I love explaining new things to others. I think we can have a lot of fun together if you like to tell me about some things I don’t know about, and like to hear some things that you don’t know about. A curious mind is quite alluring.
Let’s face it. My eyes are biased. They like the way that some people look more than others. They like curly hair. They like the signs of physical fitness. They like green eyes. They like a graceful form. They like freckles. They like lots of other little particular things I don’t have time to mention now. If another human has any of those features, they’re going to be a little easier on these biased eyes.
I may have mentioned this before, in reference to my thoughts on physical beauty, but I go crazy for little quirks. If someone has a one-of-a-kind way of smiling or gesturing, or pronouncing words, or has a little shopping cart full of beanie babies in their living room. That, my friends, is a huge plus.
So, umm. Yes. That’s a pretty strong affirmation that Martha Harrouff is the right person for me. I knew this already. I’ve known it since shortly after we met. I just needed to remind myself of what I care about most, before putting everything on the line.
Update (July 8, 2015): SHE SAID YES!!!! I can’t even describe what I’m feeling now. It’s similar to happiness — but it’s so intense that I think I need a different word. So incredibly grateful that God led me to the best person (aside from God) who ever happened to me, and so incredibly humbled that she chose me.