So ... it's been over a year since I bothered to post anything. Most of my readers (family members) have probably long since given up hope. What has drawn me back? If I was more of the "normal" type of girl, it would probably be to gush about my upcoming wedding or to "introduce" readers to the groom ..., but I'm not one to gush. (Last night, at my family bridal shower, my younger sister Allysa remarked on how amazed she was just to hear me publicly state that I loved a not-related-to-me guy, let alone that I loved someone romantically!) No, this post is more serious than that, and though it is in some ways related to my relationship with Mike, it mostly isn't.
The bishop of my singles ward in Illinois has repeatedly praised the relationship between Mike and I (causing hidden blushes on my part, though I can't speak for Mike) because we have taken our time, really getting to know each other before moving onto the next stage of our increasingly invested relationship. We both began attending the ward in the spring of 2010 and we knew each other for almost two years before we started dating, first as acquaintances and then later as ... better acquaintances! ;) He served as my home teacher for about six months in 2011, which is when we really began to talk to each other in meaningful conversations. We would later date from February 2012 to late November before we seriously began discussing marriage (which may seem fast to those outside the LDS culture, but we were already hearing jokes about moving at glacier speed by September from friends within the church). Our engagement officially began after the winter holiday season, making ours a 6-month long engagement. The point is we both repeatedly discussed the pace of our relationship and respected each other's feelings on the matter in both word and deed. Open discussion has been one of the important factors in our relationship, in fact, along with honest recognition of our strengths and weaknesses as both individuals and as a couple.
Similar to the bishop, Mike has commented on our "example" as a couple, except Mike was joking. :) He likes to make fun of the people in the church who get engaged and suddenly become "experts" on dating and how to make a solid marriage relationship. He has said that the only advice he'd give to people who ask for it would be "do what works for you." And, honestly, I would agree ..., but then neither of us are experts.
Two nights ago, I was reading random posts from a book review blog I enjoy perusing. The authors and contributors primarily review romance novels and, as a reader of romances along with pretty much every other genre of book out there, I have fun reading what they have to say about the worst and the best of this particular genre. That night I was reading some of their "F" posts, books that are dismally and often laughably, horrifyingly bad. In one such review, the author mentioned, as a parenthetical note, that one of the character's behavior matched nearly perfectly the predator-warning signs mentioned in Gavin de Becker's book The Gift of Fear.
Curious, I clicked the link to go to Amazon to see how much the Kindle edition of The Gift of Fear cost.... I bought it immediately and began reading. It has thoroughly captured my attention. I've been reading it the past two days and have just a couple of chapters to go until I finish. When I was only 20% in, I was already recommending it to my sisters. Here's my recommendation to you, my readers. Read it. Read it and think about it and apply it and share it.
The book is well-written and relatively brief. The reason it has taken me almost 40 hours to finish it (we're talking about me here, the girl who can finish a 300-page book in 3-4 hours) is because it prompts thought and reflection. I've thought about my past dating experiences, and friends'. I have thought about how I reacted in situations where I was concerned or even afraid. I've thought about those times I've dealt with hostile students and, sometimes, their parents. I thought about all the things I did right, by instinct and not by conscious awareness. And I thought about all those girls and women out there that didn't and don't trust their instincts, and the men that are not taught to trust their instincts as well as the instincts of the women they care about.
This morning I have been thinking about, more specifically, how underprepared we are to date. This is the main point of this blog post, the point I have been leading to. As anyone familiar with LDS culture knows, in the church we are strongly encouraged to, if at all possible, form romantic relationships as adults (and part of me wants to put "adults" into air quotes) that lead directly to marriage. This isn't unique to those in the church (of course!), but the pressure to do so is particularly strong in our sub-culture. But we treat the issue as a discussion with one focus. As de Becker states, "Looking for Mr. Right has taken on far greater significance than getting rid of Mr. Wrong, so women are not taught how to get out of relationships."
And how scary is that? It's scary for me because it is so, so true. Girls and women are taught by our society to "let guys down softly," for instance. What does that mean, and turn into, when guys refuse (or are incapable) of taking the hint? Even as someone who hasn't dated all that much, comparatively, since I turned 16 (the typical age that LDS girls begin dating; leaders in the LDS Church advise against dating earlier than that), I have experienced the struggle "to get out of relationships." But for all the discussions and formal instruction I have had about "how to find and recognize Mr. Right," I have never received any formal instruction or participated in any well-informed discussion on how to deal with not just "Mr. Wrong," but even "Mr. Not-Right-for-Me."
For those women that grew up in the church and participated in the Young Women's program, how many times did you participate in lessons, activities, and firesides that talked about dating? And how many of those lessons, activities, and firesides talked about how to say "No" and stick to it come hell, high water, and hurt feelings? I'm truly curious. For my part, I have zero recollection of such a discussion. It never took place.
Luckily, I'm stubborn and confident in my decisions and feelings, which meant that even when one of my ex-boyfriends pressured me to resume dating him, even when he seemed to be making up excuses to interact with me after I broke up with him, even when he pushed me to continue in some form of a relationship with him, even (and especially) when I felt anxious and annoyed and frustrated by his blind perseverance, I didn't give in. I followed, unknowingly, the advice de Becker gives women in such circumstances. I detached myself thoroughly, even though that meant contacting the Elders Quorum president in my ward and requesting a change in my home teachers (the ex was using his home teaching route as an excuse for continued contact, contact that I felt increasingly uncomfortable with), even though that meant ignoring his resulting text message about how I had "betrayed" him through my request, even though that meant choosing not to respond to his inflammatory emails that practically begged me to bite back at him. I was lucky because I was strong enough to stick to my guns and eventually he left me alone.
But how many of our "sisters" are not that lucky, that confident, that strong in this regard?
And how many of our "brethren" are taught that such behavior is unacceptable? Mike, in talking about the dating woes of one our friends, has said that sometimes when girls say "no" they don't really mean "no." Though I agree that we are societally encouraged in many ways to send mixed signals, like "playing hard to get," I adamantly suggest that women should be taught not to do so and men should be taught to ignore any "game-playing" and determine to always hear "no" when "no" is said. So what if the girl (no matter her age) really intends to send the message "not right now" or "try harder" when she uses the word "no." Guys should be taught to refuse to play that game and maybe she'll eventually learn that if she means "yes" or "maybe" or "convince me" that those are the words she'll need to use instead of "no." Because nothing is worse for a girl or a woman who says "no," means "no," and doesn't get heard.
Please read the book, whether you are a woman or a man, a girl or a boy. Think about it and apply it and teach its principles to others.
P.S. I was discussing this with my mom and telling her how I want to get my Stake Young Women, Young Men, and Relief Society organizations to think about addressing this topic more formally in a fireside or something. She told me that she came across a similar book a few years ago by a LDS author; she bought multiple copies and shared them with many in her ward, too. The book is Unsteady: What Every Parent Should Know about Teenage Romance by JeaNette G. Smith, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist; she has since come out with a companion book for teenagers themselves: UNSteady Dating: Resisting the Rush to Romance. They are now in my TBR pile.
Apologies to my Family
2 years ago