Our Courtship, Part Seven: Engagement and Marriage

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana Hobbs’ blog Lana Hobbs the Brave. It was originally published on January 29, 2015.

< Part Six

Part Seven: Engagement and Marriage

As the wedding date approached, my parents got more frantic to prepare me to be a wife. Dad tried touching me more, even putting his fingers in the belt loop of my jeans in a very possessive way. When me trying to pull away wasn’t getting the hint across, I finally told Mom (why not Dad? I don’t know, unhealthy relationship dynamics I guess) that it felt very creepy. Dad stopped, but explained at one point that he was worried I wouldn’t let Luke touch me enough and so was trying to get me more comfortable with being touched.

My dad, for his part, was just trying to be a good father-in-law and present not only a sexually pure daughter, but a sexually responsive one (my mom’s big advice was ‘don’t say no too often’). This caused me to enter marriage with a warped view of my own (and Luke’s) sexuality.

My parents, again, were worried that Luke and I were too emotionally intimate for an engaged couple. One thing they did to keep this intimacy from growing was not allow me to go to church with Luke. Church was a thing I was supposed to do with the family, and for now I belonged to my dad, not Luke. My parents grudgingly let me attend Luke’s church once when he was preaching, and maybe for another couple special occasions. After we were married, I was expected to go to Luke’s church three times a week, and be a contributing member of the congregation (Luke’s dad is a pastor), and know everyone and hug everyone and there was no easing into everyone’s expectations of me. I wish I had been allowed to gradually get to know everyone there without suddenly being ‘family’ to them. We ended up leaving the church a year after we got married.

There were many other issues during this time of courtship and engagement, including but not limited to squabbles between our mothers, which I was in the middle of, and many expectations of how courtship was supposed to function. Also Luke’s mom (with whom I get along quite well nowadays) seemed to be hanging on to her firstborn for dear life, which caused still more issues. Courtship was easily the most stressful time of my life. Add in the fact that I was undiagnosed bipolar 2 (mostly depressive) and you have a recipe for misery.

As the wedding drew nearer, I was nervous about getting married (after being infantilized during my teen years, I was being thrust into adulthood and responsibility). I was in turns mocked and criticized by my mother for these nerves, with threats of canceling the wedding because I was worried/stressed. This didn’t strike me as a kind offer but rather a ‘you better shape up’ threat.

Dad, on the other hand, was concerned. He told me we could cancel the wedding if I wanted to. I didn’t want to, but my response was actually ‘no, we can’t’. In my mind, I had given up to much of my heart to back out, even if I wanted to, because according to what they had taught me, I thought I would be unfit to marry anyone else, and as a woman my value was in getting married and having babies. He was really disturbed by this ‘no, we can’t’ response, but he shouldn’t have been surprised. He was the one who taught me all that.

Luke and I got married May 23, 2008, exactly nine months after we started courting. We had a beautiful ceremony – my mom is an excellent decorator. Luke and I held hands for the first time during the ceremony, and shared our first kiss at the end of the ceremony. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been – the pictures are alright.

We had an awkward wedding night (not quite this bad), but the cuddling was special.

I’d like to say we lived happily ever after and all the drama was over, but it wasn’t quite.

My mother-in-law still had to learn to let go. My parents were still controlling. I was still sick. Church was a problem. Luke and I had to figure out how relationships work without parents quite so involved. We had to figure out, like everyone does, everything physical and how to work around different sex drives and expectations, which have changed several times throughout the years.

My parents continued trying to control me (and Luke) for years — I think they loved me, but maybe they loved owning me more. Eventually there came a day that they chewed me out yet again, but now I was done being controlled, so I talked back more than I ever had (I called them abusive, but I don’t regret it). After that, they stopped inviting us over or contacting us.

We still have a good relationship with Luke’s family.

My parents said several times in the courtship days that we should write a book about our courtship — they had, at that point, a different view of how it went down than we do. I think this is probably as close as I’ll get to writing a book, and it’s not quite the courtship-lauding masterpiece they were picturing.

Luke and I did everything ‘right’ in our courtship, and still had a marriage with stuff to figure out. We didn’t automatically have the perfect relationship we were promised, but that’s ok.

If we could survive courtship together, we think we can survive anything.

End of series.

Our Courtship, Part Six: Courtship by Committee

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana Hobbs’ blog Lana Hobbs the Brave. It was originally published on January 28, 2015.

< Part Five

Part Six: Courtship by Committee

The first hints of courtship drama started when Luke wrote a post that began ‘Word is getting around the church that Lana and I are engaged.’ For one, this was his way of leading into an explanation that we were courting, not technically engaged. For another, in our minds, we were practically engaged. Well in his parents’ minds, we were not. His dad called him on the phone, about as mad as Luke had ever heard him, saying he didn’t know we had gotten engaged.

Each parent had specific expectations for our courtship, and they were not clearly communicated to us or to each other, and often the expectations conflicted. It was stressful for me to be in the middle of all these expectations, one of the two people actually in the relationship and the person with zero agency in the relationship.

About a week into our courtship, there was another meeting. I was actually invited to this one, which was also attended by Luke and all four parents. This was the meeting when we were going to decide what our courtship would be like, and part of that was whether or not we’d hold hands. Yes, that was decided in committee. My parents said we shouldn’t hold hands because we would either ruin our natural sex drives by not having sex after holding hands, OR we might have sex before marriage and ruin our marriage (whereas if we waited, God would bless our marriage and we would avoid many common marital problems). Further, if we did hold hands, they probably couldn’t trust us to ever be alone together, because who knows what else we might do physically. But it was our choice. Riiiiight. Of course we decided not to hold hands. I was so disappointed — I thought that now that we were a couple, Luke could comfort me when I cried, but he still couldn’t do that, not by touching me anyways. I cried right then, feeling utterly alone. My parents were upset at me for crying.

Throughout the courtship I was still expected to email through my mom’s email account. One day, I was searching for something I had written but not sent to Luke, and accidentally found a letter she had written to Luke giving him permission to email me privately, but it was never sent. I always wondered if it was because she was disappointed with the way courtship was going.

According to my parents, Luke didn’t spend enough time with my family, and I spent too much time with his family. This is a feud that continued well into our marriage.  (At the time, Luke was coming over at least every Tuesday, or some day of the week. I was going over there to film the movie or work on the magazine, and occasionally for dinner).

I really, in my parents’ opinion, shouldn’t have been going to Luke’s house at all, because I wasn’t courting him, he was courting me.

Luke and I were deeply in love, and couldn’t express it any way but through words and gazing into each other’s eyes. It kind of upset people. Luke once said in an email that no one had ever been as much in love, and the shit hit the fan. Mom, who was still reading every email, felt personally attacked by this declaration, and I was the one that got yelled at for it.

My parents also thought that maybe we were too emotionally attached, since we didn’t even have a wedding scheduled. There was talk of transferring me to a different university.

Our families began to not get along so well. My parents were pushing for a marriage very soon, while his parents thought things were moving a too fast. My mother-in-law has said many times since that she didn’t think we should have married so young or so soon.

There was a little confusion, too, about who had authority over who, now that Luke and I were basically betrothed.

So there was another meeting. Dad likes meetings.

At this meeting, Luke and his dad showed up to listen to my dad talk. Dad had been given a revelation from the Lord. Dad told them that they were like chiefs of their little Indian tribes (yes, this is a bit racist), and that Luke was becoming a chief but he didn’t have a squaw (I’m the squaw). There was a diagram to go with this analogy. It showed Luke coming out of his dad’s ‘chiefdom’, but I was still under Dad’s chiefdom, with something like a dotted line between me and Luke. So basically, Luke’s dad had no power over the relationship, Luke had very little power, and I had none. Dad, who didn’t especially want the authority, he said, had all the power. Dad was very excited to share this message from God, to help solve all our courtship problems.

Furthermore, this dotted line connected Dad to Luke through me, so Dad had authority over Luke through me, for the time being. Dad also used this diagram to excuse him talking to me about things he really needed to address to Luke (like when Luke needed a job, and Dad asked me daily what Luke was doing to find one). Triangulation anyone?

I wasn’t at the meeting but Luke filled me in, and Dad shared the diagram and analogy with mom and me also.

The Hobbs came over Christmas evening 2007, so Luke could give me his present. We were in the dining room with our mothers, while everyone else was gathered around the computer watching a video. Luke gave me a CD he had made of songs that reminded him of us. I was a little disappointed, as my little brother had told me that he told Luke I wanted a ring, but I read the list of songs anyways. While I was distracted, Luke got down on one knee reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a jewelry box. He asked me to marry him and I was like ‘duh.’ (but I think I said it more graciously than that.)

I put the ring on my own finger; not exactly like how I had pictured it when I was a little girl.

My parents later complained that Luke hadn’t asked their permission to get engaged, or told them when so they could prepare something special (Luke tells me they knew he was buying/had bought a ring, so I’m not sure what the problem was). But of course, they didn’t complain to Luke about that, only to me.

So we were engaged. It was a little anticlimactic. The only real difference, at that point, was I had a flashy new ring, and we could refer to each other as ‘my fiance’. A week later, we set a wedding date for after the spring semester ended in May.

Part Seven >

Our Courtship, Part Five: It Begins

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana Hobbs’ blog Lana Hobbs the Brave. It was originally published on January 27, 2015.

< Part Four

Part Five: It Begins

The summer of 2007, after the first semester of college, I finally got my driver’s license. Luke, several friends, a few siblings, and I began filming a movie we had been working on writing. Mostly Luke wrote it and I made criticisms that he sometimes listened to.

I got to know some of his friends from church pretty well while filming. When he introduced me to them at the readthrough of the script, there was a distinct note of pride in his voice.

My parents knew all along I was intending to do the movie with Luke (I hadn’t realized at first that it would be a huge production, which we’d never actually finish), but apparently I never actually asked permission (I was 19 by now), so I got a few angry lectures about that, especially because Mom relied on me to be at home during the summer to help her with the housework and the kids. It was enough of a sacrifice on her behalf to let me go to school, but for me to be gone ‘for fun’ so often made her angry. I, however, was having the time of my life, spending so much time with friends.

Then came August, and the beginning of the fall 2007 semester. At some point before the semester began, another meeting that would be important to my future took place, and once again I was not present. This time it was Luke and my dad, and Luke was asking to court me ‘with intentions of marriage.’ Dad anticipated the question and bought him a watch to welcome him into the family.

The first day of school, Luke and I got lunch like we usually did. It was kind of a tradition by then, and so I didn’t even think to ask my parents. We just went about a ¼ of a block from the school — barely off campus — and got some fast food. I got in so much trouble later, because Luke and I weren’t yet courting and we certainly weren’t married, and yet here we were, going on a ‘date’, without asking permission from my parents. It was impure and inappropriate, according to my parents. Of course, Luke had already announced his intentions to court me, but I didn’t know that yet, so I couldn’t use that to justify our lunch.

At the end of the first week of school, Luke and my parents hatched a plan for him to pop the question.

It was a beautiful moment. I was in love before, but I finally felt free to feel all those feelings. I was so giddy from these new feelings of loving and being loved that I was clumsy and nearly sleepless for several days.

I thought that everything would be pretty smooth sailing now that Luke and I were an official couple. I was not correct.

Part Six >

Our Courtship, Part Four: Falling in Love

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana Hobbs’ blog Lana Hobbs the Brave. It was originally published on January 26, 2015.

< Part Three

Part Four: Falling in Love

In August 2006, we started college, took a few classes together, and met each other between classes to walk to our next class together. I’m sure everyone on campus thought we were dating.

At the very end of 2006, I got sick. in 2007, I went back to school still sick. I was so miserable that semester. I still didn’t have a driver’s license, so I spent most of the day at school, because Dad dropped me off a couple hours before my first class, and picked me up at the end of the workday. Luke came to the rescue though. On MWF, we shared our last class of the day, so he took me home every day that he could for the whole semester.

I gave him gas money because he went out of his way to take me home. I slipped it into his backpack once a month when he wasn’t looking. He saved it up and gave it back to me on my birthday in late April, with a note that all but said I love you. Of course I didn’t read it that way at the time; I wouldn’t allow myself to see what should have been obvious, because I was so invested in making sure there was nothing romantic between us. I kept the note anyways. If that’s not a thing ‘just friends’ do, I didn’t want to know about it.

He was there for me that semester like no one ever had been. He loaned me his coat on a cold day (I didn’t have a coat). He listened to my problems. He bought footlong subs to share with me because I wouldn’t have eaten otherwise (self-care was not something I was taught). He even carried my backpack when I was too sick to carry it without a great deal of pain.

He was there the day I failed a paper around midterms and cried about it all through the next class. In fact, I later learned, that was the day he fell in love with me. Sitting next to me while I was crying, he was wishing he could do something to make it better. He realized he loved me and wanted to marry me.

Of course, he didn’t SAY anything to me about it at the time, or to my dad, so the conversations with my parents about me being ‘too far into the woods with Luke to go back now’ continued.

During that semester, I always said goodbye to him before his class in the music building. And every day before his class, an attractive girl would come sauntering out in her high heels, bat her eyelashes and say ‘hi Luke’ in what I thought was a flirtatious tone and sashay away. I hated that girl.

Also that semester, I got red highlights in my hair over spring break. They looked super coppery at first but i knew they’d tone down and look amazing in a few days. Well, I didn’t know I’d see Luke during spring break. “What have you done to your hair?” he hissed when he saw me. When we went back to school, a classmate complimented it. I think Luke turned green from jealousy — I felt triumphant. Then after class Luke told me it looked good — the first compliment he’d ever given me. He’d been in love with me for weeks at this point so you’d think he’d have been pouring on the compliments, but he actually seemed slightly more distant. It was very important to him that I not know he was in love with me until we were courting, because of purity and all that. It seems so silly now.

One day, at the very end of the spring semester, I was feeling particularly stressed and vulnerable about something. We were sitting on a little wall outside by the library — our wall. I told him what I was worried about, and he just listened. And then I don’t know exactly what happened in my heart but suddenly I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. That was the moment I think I fell in love, and I both felt guilty and wonderful, but I was also in denial about how deep my feelings went, because I simply wasn’t allowed to be in love before courtship.

Part Five >

Our Courtship, Part Three: Missing Him

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana Hobbs’ blog Lana Hobbs the Brave. It was originally published on January 23, 2015.

< Part Two

Part Three: Missing Him

In order to do the magazine, Luke and I had to email back and forth.  Luke got to use his own email, as his parents had no problem with him having a private email address, but I had to use my mom’s email. She read every single email I sent and received, as a way of chaperoning us/making sure things didn’t get romantic, I guess. Our words were scrutinized and sometimes used against me.

Luke and I finished our first issue of our magazine at the end of 2005, the middle of our senior year of highschool, and in January 2006, I went on a mission trip to Puerto Rico for 9 weeks. I talked to Miss S on the phone regularly, but sometimes called when she was too busy so I talked to Luke instead. I was lonely so I just yakked his ear off. He talked very little. We were not particularly close at this point, but I think we grew a little closer while I was gone. The Hobbs all sent me mail when I was away, and Luke and I continued work on the magazine from a distance.

At some point in the spring, after I got back, I took the SAT, and was thrilled to see a familiar face. Luke and I sat at the same table, and finished the last part of the test at about the same time.

I couldn’t drive yet, so I had to call someone to come pick me up when the test was over. Luke waited with me and I felt so safe and cared for. He didn’t offer a ride home because I wasn’t really allowed to ride with other teens at that point (though mom complained to me that he could have just brought me home if he was going to wait with me, so I was puzzled).

A couple weeks later, we went to a preview day at our future university together, a couple homeschool students in a sea of public schoolers. He’s tall, I haven’t mentioned it yet. I’m only average height. I would have felt intimidated by all the unknown people (I hate crowds), except I stood right by Luke the entire time. His presence was large and it made me feel safe and I treasured that. We were starting to get much closer. I had a major crush by this point.

I turned 18 and we graduated from high school in April. Our homeschool group did a graduation together. In late June, I went on another mission trip, this time to Bogota, Colombia.

I read some book on purity on the plane, I think it was Before You Meet Prince Charming, and I felt very ashamed to have such a strong crush — it wasn’t holy and pure to give so much of my heart to someone else before we were even courting.  The trip was only 2 weeks, but I missed Luke so bad it hurt, and I hated myself for it. I didn’t feel like I was allowed to miss him, since we weren’t courting (which is silly, because even in that culture, people are allowed to miss their friends). I didn’t really miss my family, things were often stressful at home and if you haven’t noticed by now, my parents were somewhat controlling. Being far away was a nice break, I just wanted someone to share it with.

I also felt ashamed of missing Luke so bad, because I didn’t know if he missed me. I knew I’d be brokenhearted if he ever married anyone else, but I didn’t know if he felt the same way. So I knew I was in trouble deep.

While on the trip, trying not to be so attached to Luke and trying to make friends, I flirted with some of the guys at our host church. One night, near the end of the trip on the bus, one of them that I had gotten kind of close to reached out and took my hand. I felt cared for. Safe. So I let him hold it until I had to get off the bus. And then the guilt and shame came. I had never held a boy’s hand before (unless you count the awkward dance when I was twelve). I had meant to never hold anyone’s hand until I was courting, maybe even until the wedding (I had read some books about no-touch courtships), and I had ruined it. I felt like I was trash.

When I got home, I confessed to my parents. They were livid. They wailed, ‘Where did we go wrong?’ They threatened not to let me go to college since I obviously couldn’t control myself around boys. Dad asked me ‘What will Luke think of this?’ What would Luke think of me now? I was basically a slut — if he had ever wanted me, he might not want me now. But amidst my shame, I felt a little indignant. After all, Luke and I weren’t a couple. He didn’t own me.

It was around this time, both before and after the trip, that my parents started talking to me about being too close to Luke. They weren’t sure exactly what I should do about it (and Dad’s frequent talk about how I should marry Luke was NOT helping anything), but it was bad, and it was apparently all my fault. If I married him eventually, it would all be ok. But he hadn’t said anything yet, and of course as the woman, I couldn’t say anything (please remember, Luke was still 17 at this time, I was just barely 18). If I didn’t marry Luke eventually, I was basically dooming my future marriage because my parents were convinced I was in love with Luke — which according to purity culture, meant I was impure in my heart. I don’t actually think I was in love yet though. I probably could have been, had I let myself feel it, but I hadn’t. I certainly cared about him a great deal and loved him as a friend, and but I wouldn’t say I was ‘in love’. That came later.

Even so, I felt a great deal of shame and frustration over my emotional attraction to Luke, even over our friendship. But that was mostly when my parents were fussing at me about it. And it didn’t stop me from scheduling classes with him or continuing the magazine. (Not that my parents requested that I stop either of those things. I think they just wanted to vent their frustrations at me.)

Luke, by the way, had no idea any of this was going on.

Sometime in that time period, I had a dream. Luke and I were alone, and he was holding me up in the air, like I was pretending to fly, and I felt so peaceful and so happy. It was a simple little dream, but I woke up with a smile on my face. I felt embarrassed, but I treasured that dream, like it was a prophetic thing.

Part Four >

Our Courtship, Part Two: Boy Meets Girl

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana Hobbs’ blog Lana Hobbs the Brave. It was originally published on January 22, 2015.

< Part One

Part Two: Boy Meets Girl

When I was 15, I met the Hobbs family when they came over to our house for lunch one day. The way my family generally did friends, my mom would make friends with another mom, and the kids would be our friends, whoever was nearest in age to each of us, usually.

I became friends with the middle child and only girl (I was at the time also an only girl), Hannah, and wanted to become friends with the oldest boy, about a year younger than me, named Luke (spoiler: I married him).

He seemed quiet and distant and intelligent.  He seemed like a Darcy type and I, like most homeschool girls, thought Pride and Prejudice was quite possibly the greatest love story ever written.

He also seemed lonely, so over the months that followed, I took every opportunity to befriend him. I didn’t really have a crush on him at this point, although I did consider him a prospect for marriage, because I considered pretty much every intelligent Christian guy near my age as a prospect.

At this point, I think my parents were intending I marry one of the Hobbs boys – Luke has a brother 2 years his junior – at least my dad certainly talked about it a bit. It didn’t seem to matter to Dad which one. Also Miss Susie, Luke’s mom, seemed to like me a lot and Luke’s youngest brother, who was two at the time, loved me. So there was the potential for a perfect match (after all, in courtship, you basically date the family).

At some point I did start crushing on Luke but I didn’t really talk about it (guarding my heart, remember?) and I can’t really remember when, because I was pushing those feelings away so hard.

At some point in 2005, I got the idea to start a Christian magazine for teens — none I had seen were radical enough for me. Brio by Focus on the Family was way too liberal.

Luke wrote a family newsletter and I was impressed, so I enlisted him as my co-editor. We were very devout fundamentalist Christians, extremely entrenched in purity culture, and hesitant but sincere evangelists, both being shy and extremely introverted.

I soon learned, after beginning the magazine, that Luke’s parents had fallen in love while working on a Christian magazine. I was a little worried after this, that maybe the magazine would lead to something romantic if we weren’t careful (and maybe I was secretly excited about it) but my devotion to emotional purity was steady.

We started the magazine when I was 17 and Luke was 16.

Before our first issue was written, there was a night our families got together and our parents went out for dinner. Our brothers played while Hannah and I cooked dinner and watched the littlest kids. The patriarchy was strong with all of us.

I found out years later that when the parents had gone out, they were actually having a secret meeting to determine if all parents were okay with Luke and I getting married eventually.

Apparently they were. I guess if it wasn’t okay, they would have pulled us apart — let me reiterate that we knew NOTHING about this meeting that basically determined our future. Also we were teenagers.

As it was, we continued being pushed together (not that I’m complaining, we liked being together). Knowing my parents, this meeting was probably all their idea. Dad is big on meetings.

I believe that, from this point on in my dad’s mind, I was basically Luke’s property that he was holding on to for awhile. Many future conversations made it clear that Dad felt it was his duty to present Luke with a emotionally and sexually pure wife.

Part Three >

Our Courtship, Part One: No Dating

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana Hobbs’ blog Lana Hobbs the Brave. It was originally published on January 21, 2015.

Part One: No Dating

What follows is mostly just story, with very little commentary. All memories are mine, aided a little by Luke for parts he was there for. Everything I wrote is true as far as how I remember it. I didn’t try to make anyone look any better or worse than how I remember them acting. 

When I turned 12, my parents threw me a dance party for my birthday. I was in the sixth grade at the time, for what would turn out to be my last year of public school. At the party, my best friend, who was a boy, asked me to dance. We stood at arms length, awkwardly holding hands and swaying to the music.

That boy and I never went out, although I had a different boyfriend later that year. I think we ‘dated’ for about a week (talked to each other once in that time period), then the last day of school he sent me a note saying we needed to break up. I was crushed — even more crushed than when Mikey dumped me in the second grade for a girl because she was taller.

The following summer, my parents decided to homeschool us starting the upcoming school year. My parents had been reading and listening to a lot of new material. I think maybe they’d gone to a homeschooling conference by then. They became convinced that the way we had been living was not as pleasing to God as it could have been, and that meant changes were coming, but mostly for their children.

One evening that summer, my dad told me, “You’re not ever going to date.” I assumed this was a joke, along the lines of his “You can’t get married until you’re thirty” jokes.

I laughed, and he looked at me seriously, almost angrily, and told me he wasn’t joking. I was stunned. I didn’t know how I would ever get married if I didn’t date. The answer, I soon found out, was courtship.

What exactly courtship is, I wasn’t sure. It’s not a well-defined term, and people use it many different ways, but my basic understanding was that it’s a relationship that is intended to end in marriage, and in which the families, especially parents, are intimately involved.

Why I would be courting, my parents (and books they gave me) made very clear in the weeks, months, and years to follow. It was the only way to keep my heart safe for my future husband. I learned all the typical things here and there: dating was practice for divorce; giving away your virginity (or even your ‘emotional virginity’) would make you like a rose with petals torn off, a wadded up piece of paper, a candy bar that someone had licked. My dad told me that when you date someone, you knit your heart together with their heart, and if you break up, it’s the same as divorce – it tears all the knitting apart and breaks the yarn. It leaves you broken, and not whole for your future husband. Many marital problems, they said, were caused by people being broken by dating.

I didn’t want my heart to be broken.

I felt guilty for the boyfriends I’d had in grade school; I wondered if I had already ruined my future marriage.

Seeing as I was only twelve, I was far from marriage, so for the next few years, nothing much happened that’s relevant to the story. I just felt happy that my parents were going to protect my heart. I had a few crushes, which consisted of me wondering if THIS was the person I was supposed to marry, but nothing very serious. (I tried very carefully to ‘guard my heart’ which basically meant shutting down the romantic part of myself as best as I could.)

(Libby Anne talks about her crushes here, and I expect many formerly homeschooled women have had similar experiences.)

Part Two >

How the Teachings of Emotional Purity and Courtship Damage Healthy Relationships

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Randi Deuro.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Darcy’s blog Darcy’s Heart-Stirrings. It was originally published on January 18, 2011.

There are many times that I don’t realize just how much strange teaching I’ve had to “un-do” in my life until I try to explain them to someone else. This happened to me the other night. A dear friend and I were talking about our kids and how to help them transition from children to adults. The topic of dating and relationships came up and we started talking about my story. Sometimes it’s actually comforting to me to be met with blank or incredulous stares from people I consider “normal”, good Christians. It somehow validates my belief that some of the teachings I grew up with were very wrong.

I’ve also lately started facing the ways in which the teachings of “emotional purity”, (a la Josh Harris, the Ludys, and others) have damaged the part of my brain that makes healthy relationships function.

I define “emotional purity” in the same way that popular homeschool writers have: it is the idea of “guarding your heart”. Which sounds all noble and righteous and everything but in this context is really just a facade for fear. Fear of loving and losing. Fear of making the wrong choice. Fear of getting hurt. Fear of being damaged. Fear of not measuring up. In my life it meant never having a crush on a guy, never allowing myself to “fall in love”, basically training myself to shut down a normal, healthy, functioning part of my human heart.

I’m 27 years old, been married for almost 7 years. I rejected the teachings of courtship and emotional purity when I was 19. But their effects have yet to leave.

There are several ways that these teachings can damage a person’s heart.

1. They cause shame.

Shame because sometimes you can’t help but like one guy a little more than another. Shame because that’s “sinful” and “emotionally impure”. Shame because it sets a standard and proclaims that you are somehow shameful if you cannot keep it. You are considered damaged goods if you have fallen in love and had your heart broken. It was Josh Harris in I Kissed Dating Goodbye and the Ludy’s in several of their books that popularized the idea that everytime you fall in love or get “emotionally attached” to someone, you give away a piece of your heart. The more pieces you give away, the less of your heart you have to give to your spouse someday. He even went so far as to say that each of those former flames actually have some sort of hold on you. This has got to be the most bogus and the most damaging teaching of this entire movement. Love doesn’t work that way. The more you give, the more you have. My 3rd child doesn’t have less of my heart just because I’ve loved two other children before him. And, really, I haven’t given them “pieces” of my heart. I’ve given them each all of my heart. The miracle of love is that it multiplies by being given.

Each person I love has “a piece of my heart”…my best friend, my sisters, my husband, my parents, my kids. It is ridiculous to suggest that there is not enough of my heart to go around.

And what view of redemption does this teaching proclaim? Not one that I want anything to do with. It is an incompetent redemption.

2. They cause pride.

Pride because suddenly you are better than everyone else. Because you have never had a crush on a guy. You have kept your heart for your spouse. You didn’t say “I love you” til your wedding day. Pride in human accomplishment. Pride because you are so much more spiritual than that poor girl over there who is crying because her boyfriend broke up with her. Because your heart is whole and she just gave a piece of hers to a guy she isn’t married to. Pride because you did it right, she did not. You have more to give your future husband than she does. She is damaged goods, you are the real prize.

This is exactly what happened to the Pharisees. They made up laws that God never condoned, then patted themselves on the back for keeping them, while looking down on those who didn’t. This has nothing to do with the righteousness and grace of God, and everything to do with the accomplishments of man. I remember watching a video where one of the biggest names in the courtship movement bragged with obvious arrogance that he didn’t tell his wife he loved her until their wedding. And I thought “how twisted can we get?” We took something as simple as saying “I love you”, built a strawman rule around it (“saying I love you is defrauding”) then hung it like a trophy on our walls. Job well done, folks.

3. They create skewed views of relationships which lead to dysfunction

This is where I still struggle. Where others see nothing wrong, I am suspicious of every look, every situation, every witty exchange. I am still uncomfortable hugging one of my best friends who is a guy. Because we were never to hug or have physical contact, even innocent, with a guy. Voices in my head scream “defrauder!” just by giving a friend a quick hug. I feel ill at ease sometimes even talking to other men. Oh, they never notice. Because I’m really good at pushing those feelings away and acting “normal”. But I am bothered by my reaction to everyday situations. We were taught never ever ever to be alone with a guy. Because it could look bad. He could be tempted. You might start thinking impure thoughts. You might even *gasp* flirt!

I was trying to explain this to my friend and it came out sounding so….crazy and embarrassing. I told her if she was to walk out of the room, leaving me and her husband in the same room, my first reaction would be one of panic. “This might look bad…. what if he talks to me…what if someone else sees us….what is he thinking…” My second reaction, close on the heels of the first, would be a coping mechanism that I learned long ago: I calmly tell myself that “this is perfectly normal and perfectly innocent…he probably doesn’t even notice me…this is a Godly man I know and trust….the only person who would ever freak out about this is me….to the rest of the world there’s nothing wrong here”. I then calm down, act normal, and hope nobody noticed my crazy internal battle. Cuz they’d probably admit me to a psych ward. Thank you, Josh Harris and Co. I hatethis about myself! I am a strong, confident person. But the idea that I can defraud just by a look, that I could become emotionally impure just by a thought, that I might become damaged goods with pieces of my heart strewn all over tarnation, and that guys “only have one thing on their mind” and we need to help them control themselves, has truly negatively affected what should be normal interactions with my friends. Honestly, I don’t get embarrassed talking about much. But this admission isn’t easy for me.

Guess what? In the real world, men and women can have innocent relationships. They can talk to each other without one of them thinking there’s ulterior motives. They can laugh and exchange wits and, yes, even drive in a car together without anybody thinking anything dubious is happening. They are not naiive but they are not afraid of their own shadows. Purity and integrity in relationships can be there without being unnaturally freaked out about it. The other night, I stuck my tongue out at a guy friend who was teasing me and his wife cracked up laughing. As I laughed, I felt myself looking down on the situation, amazed that nobody thought twice about it, then amazed that I DID…that I had to push away feelings of guilt because what if someone thought I was *gasp* flirting?! This is one dysfunction that I really wish I could be freed from. Maybe time is the only cure and I need to be more patient with myself. These teachings have deep, rotten roots and it takes time to pull them all out.

4. They teach us to make formulas to be safe

1 + 1= 2. Emotional purity + Biblical courtship = Godly marriage. But life doesn’t work that way. You can do everything “right” and your life can still suck. You can do everything “wrong” and still be blessed. Rain falls on the good and evil. Time and chance happen to them all. People who follow the courtship formula still get divorced. Or stuck in terrible marriages. Courtship is not the assurance of a good marriage. Life is too complicated for that. Love involves vulnerability. When you choose to love, you are choosing to accept risking a broken heart. No formula can protect you. Life involves risk. Following God involves risk. He is not a “safe” God. But He is good.

God doesn’t seem to like formulas. Because formula is the opposite of faith. Formula says “I will follow a God that I’ve put neatly in a box, to give me the desired results”. Faith says “I will follow You even when I can’t see where I’m going, even when the world is collapsing around me”. Formula says “I will not risk, I will be in control of my future”. Faith says “I will risk everything, I will trust Whom I cannot see, surrender what I cannot control anyway.” Formula is the assurance of things planned for, the conviction of things seen. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Heb. 11:1). But we are afraid. So we control instead of trust. We don’t take a step unless we can see where we’re going. We build neat little formulas and say “THIS will keep me safe!” Then we blame God when our puny formulas fail.

These teachings need to be stopped. They were new in my generation and now I, and others like me, are reaping the fruit of them. And the fruit is rotten to the core. I’m sure those who promoted such ideas had good intentions. But good intentions aren’t enough. Without Truth and Grace they can do more harm than good. Thanks to those good intentions, we are seeing an entire generation of homeschool alumni who have no idea how to have normal relationships. I have talked with literally hundreds of alumni my age, and am not exaggerating the extent of the issue. It’s nice to know I’m not alone in my dysfunction but discouraging as well. What is encouraging is that most of us have determined to stop the insanity. We will not be passing these things to the next generation. Instead we will teach our children to love God with all that they have, all that they are; and to love and respect others as they love themselves.

I leave you with the words of a very wise man:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

~C. S. Lewis

Emotional Purity and Courtship: A Few Years Later