Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Lesson 8 from Sarah's School of Dating

In the last two lessons I wrote about the importance of finding a partner who is Christian, of the opposite sex, free to marry, and not a blood relative.  That this still leaves a heck of a lot of potential spouses to choose from. The last lesson was about 'secondary factors' i.e. having things in common, and heading in the same direction in life.

Ok, so you've found someone to date who meets all of those criteria. Not to mention they are a godly person keen to follow the Lord Jesus wherever He takes them. You think this person could possibly be 'the one'.

But someone else disagrees.

Yes, this post is about when you experience opposition to your relationship.

In many ways, this is one of the hardest posts I will probably ever write. You may have read all of my dating posts and thought Sarah knows crap all about dating. Well, that's fine.  I probably have crapped on about a lot of things, but I do have experience with this topic. I have eluded to it on my blog many times and with this post it will probably all make sense. The post on inviting enemies to parties, how the first few months of my relationship with Duncan were so difficult for both of us, how someone wanted us to break up, the series I did on forgiveness. We've 'lived' this post.

I know some people reading this will know exactly the person and the events I am referring to. I also know some will not approve of me putting this on the net, believing it should be forgotten about and never mentioned again. But I can't do that. I believe God gives us painful experiences for a reason, and one of those reasons is to bring help and healing to those who are going through something similar. If you're experiencing opposition to your relationship and have done nothing wrong (such as running off with someone else's partner, for example) then please be assured that you are NOT alone. Unfortunately our experience is more common in churches than it should be. I will not mention names in this post. I will simply try to relay my experiences and feelings from two years ago, and what I have learnt from that time.

This is our story.....

It all began on the 5th January 2007 when Duncan and I became a couple. I was ecstatic to say the least. Two days later, trouble started.

I told a friend at church that I was going out with Duncan. I thought she'd be happy. I couldn't have been more wrong. I was told that Duncan and I weren't right for each other, that he was bad, that she couldn't be happy for me, that I was making a huge mistake. I was stunned, disappointed and a bit annoyed, but not too fazed at the time. She'd get over it. There was no way I was going to break up with my hot new man.

The next day at work, the text messages started. More of the same. That she couldn't be my friend anymore until Duncan and I were no longer together. That she was 'concerned' for me. That she knew things about Duncan - bad things - that I didn't know and it was her duty to warn me. I always left my mobile on at work in case of emergencies, but then it started ringing. Apparently this person had been ringing a mutual friend of ours and told her to ring me and pass on what she had said. To say the least, I absolutely lost it at this mutual friend. I told her that if this person wanted to speak to me she could jolly well ring me herself instead of using other people to pass on messages and sending texts all the time, that it was cowardly. And I did NOT want them to call me at work.

My workmates were now very confused and curious about what was going on. When I explained it to them, they told me I should punch this person in the head. It was very tempting, but not a good idea. The texts kept coming when I got home, but I'll never know just how many were sent because my phone was stuffed at the time. Sometimes only half a text came through and, as soon as I read it, I had to delete it, otherwise no-one else could text me. It was a problem with the phone's memory, I think. It might have just been a blessing in disguise.

So the first couple of weeks of our relationship, the time when it should have been fun and exciting, were spent on the phone to this person, trying to appease them while I just got more of the same - that Duncan wasn't what he appeared, that I'd end up hurt. I felt angry and patronised, but then the worst thing happened - I started to doubt my man. I actually started to wonder if there was some truth behind what this person was saying. The seed of doubt had been sown. Duncan and I spent many hours of the phone, agonising over the future of our relationship which was just days old. He'd received texts too, threatening that he'd be bashed up if he hurt me. He'd just laughed about that one, but he did say that it was frustrating because he was three hours away and that he felt his reputation was taking a battering in the church, and he couldn't defend himself.

At this stage, everyone who knew about our relationship had been most supportive and pleased for us. Some people reckoned we made a great match. One friend admitted she'd contemplated setting us up before. These comments were coming from godly people in my church who I respect. But still I doubted.

Two weeks into our relationship, we went to the wedding of some good friends. There we were ignored and glared at by this person. We were on the same reception table which was most uncomfortable, but I didn't dare say anything to the newlyweds. It was their wedding and they didn't need any more stress, but, apparently, just days before the wedding, they became aware of the situation. We have received nothing but support from this couple since Day One and we consider them among our closest friends.  They were there for us when everything was very tough.

At the reception, I became sick and had to lie down for the last half of it. Although I didn't feel overly stressed, I think a fortnight of stress had taken its toll on my body and I broke down. Stress really can make you sick!

 The text messages started to die off after that, but the person still didn't approve of our relationship. We had to sneak into an engagement party because this person said that if we showed up we'd be very sorry. Now I think the Sarah of 2009 would have just said "Stuff you!" and rocked up with her man on her arm, but I was so stressed and confused, I made some silly decisions. I was desperate to keep the situation a secret from my church. I don't know why, but I thought I could handle it myself. But gradually more and more people found out, including our pastor, and offered us support. I am still grateful to those people to this day. One friend said that if we were to break up, then it shouldn't be because someone decided they didn't like it, it should be because we weren't right for each other. Another told me that I was so strong, that they'd be tempted just to break up with the guy to get some peace and be left alone. I was far from strong, but I think that was my dilemma. I didn't want to break up with Duncan.  I just wanted the whole scenario to be over and was willing to make some rash decisions to stop the stress.

Then what Duncan and I called the 'fog' started. My head was a mess. I couldn't go to church without being scowled at and ignored by this person.  I had to sit in front of them so I could concentrate on the sermon. It was suggested to me that I change churches until it all blew over, but I refused. I liked my church. I wasn't going to run away. I think this whole experience was why I was very hesistant about our engagement at first because this person had told me a few months earlier that if we ever got engaged, we could expect more of the same treatment. Basically, my feelings would fluctuate between being in love with Duncan and feeling we should break up. I was so worried and so confused, it became taxing on my health. Some close friends knew how I was feeling, but I tried to keep it hidden from most people. This time was very hard on Duncan because it felt like he was going out with two different Sarahs - one who was enthusiastic about the relationship, and the other who he felt could break up with him at any moment. He told me he loved me, but I couldn't say it back because I didn't know how much longer the relationship would continue. The 'fog' was torture and it lasted several months. I remember one afternoon I was on annual leave from work.  Duncan and I were watching a movie at my house, and I just started shaking, and my teeth felt like they were chattering. I tried to tell myself that I was on HOLIDAYS, and I shouldn't be feeling stressed and panicky all the time, but my body would not listen to my head.

The 'fog' came to a head when Duncan met my family in Albany for the first time. On the morning we headed home, I broke down in tears. My mum couldn't understand why I was considering breaking up with such a great guy. I had told her nothing at this stage because she had been very anti-Christian and thought all Christians were loony tunes.  I didn't want her to think all Christians tried to break up people in relationships. That was another mistake. I really needed her support, and when I finally told her, she was very angry at this person because she knew her personally and liked her. My mum is fierce hehe.

That day was a turning point. A friend persuaded me to meet up with a woman at her church who is a counsellor, and it was the best decision I made. The counsellor helped me see that this was NOT my fault, that I was not a bad person and neither was Duncan for becoming a couple, and that it happens in churches more often than I had realised - two people get together and a third party (usually a single) has 'issues' with it. Duncan and I were free to marry if we chose and no-one else could dictate whether we did or not. We read Scripture together and she prayed for me.  I began to feel better and more together for the first time in months.

Eventually the pastor and elders intervened and the person left the church. I am saddened by what happened to this friendship, but I was made to choose - the friend or the man - and, well, it's obvious who I chose, isn't it? If I had to make the same choice again, I would, but it isn't easy when you're the person making the choice. I have witnessed situations before where there's been a 'love triangle' at church, but I never ever thought I'd be a part of one. A close friend went through a tough time when she started going out with her boyfriend (now husband); she copped a lot of flak from his ex and kept getting emails from this girl saying that he was evil etc. They held on and weathered the storm and the ex-girlfriend eventually left the church. This friend was a valuable support to me which is why I believe God gives us horrible experiences for a reason.  Not so we can shove them away and never talk about them again, or bitch about the people involved, but so we can use them to help others.

While I am sad at the loss of what I considered a good friendship, I would not change anything. I think the whole experience has 'hardened' me, and I'm not sure if that's good or bad. I think the Sarah of 2008/2009 would advise the Sarah of 2007 to tell anyone who was interfering without a valid reason to go shove it where they can't see the light of day! That's why when I hear people bitching about couples, saying they aren't right for each other, I get VERY angry, and tell them that if they don't have a good reason for these statements they should keep their nasty little mouths shut. Unless there is a good reason to be worried about someone's relationship (such as one person is not Christian or recently separated, living a secret ungodly lifestyle etc) then our opinions are merely that...OPINIONS. I remember when people started commenting when a couple of friends of ours got together because she was 10 years older. I mean, what does that matter? They're a great couple and really suit each other. I'm sick and tired of people making judgements unnecessarily.

Part of me is still sad that Duncan and I 'lost' the first few months of our relationship, a time where we should have been having fun and enjoying getting to know each other. But we can't change the past. We've moved on. The friendship is still not what it was and, to be honest, I don't want it to be. I'm happy to chat to this person if we see each other through mutual friends, but the events of early 2007 soured things and I'm more wary about trusting people now.

Here is my advice to couples facing opposition:
  • Seek out godly mentors: This is something I wish I'd done when I was single. If you're single, look around your church and witness who are the godly people. Which couples by the fruit of their lives would you want to speak into your life and give you relationship advice? And yes I said couples because they are the ones who generally have more relationship experience. I'm not meaning to offend singles here but this experience has made me wary. If a godly couple sees something wrong in your relationship they would usually have a good reason. There have been too many cases where a single's 'advice' has been based on them wanting their friend's partner for themselves or not wanting their friend to have a partner if they can't.
  • Don't listen to everybody: I used to think we need to let anyone who's a Christian speak into our lives. Bollocks! You need to pick and choose who you listen to. What is their motivation for opposing your relationship? Are they living a godly life? You do NOT have to take advice from all your Christian friends. Do not listen to everyone's opinions.  It will do your head in.
  • Listen to what God says in His Word: If you have met someone who is godly and meets the criteria, then go for it. Don't listen to meddling people who say you aren't right for each other. That's for you to decide. God has told us what is important to look for in a spouse, and He entrusts his children to make wise decisions.
  • Don't put pressure on yourself to know too soon: I think part of my problem with the 'fog' was that I was putting so much pressure on myself to know whether Duncan was 'the one' too soon. I felt like I needed some 'sign' to know if we should be married so I would know whether all this stress was worth it. Try to take it slow, despite the opposition and pressure.
  • Rejoice with those who rejoice: Yes, if you're single that might mean you have to put on a happy face for a friend who's in a new relationship despite your despair at your own singleness. I'm sorry to say when I was single that I did not rejoice with my friends who met their life partners before I did. I didn't oppose them, but I was so wrapped up in my own problems that I could have been more supportive. Other people have often had to wait a long time too.
  • Sometimes we have to intervene: Too often we see conflict and then stick our heads in the sand, thinking we shouldn't get involved because it doesn't concern us. Sometimes we need to get involved, however uncomfortable it may be. I don't know where I'd be if people hadn't intervened.
  • Pray and read the Bible: A friend shared with me Philippians 4:6-7 which was a great comfort. Even when I was too woolly-headed to pray, knowing that others were praying for our relationship still makes me praise God to this day.
I told Duncan tonight that I'm so glad things turned out the way they did, and that I shudder when I think I could have broken up with such a godly, caring man. If you're facing opposition with no good reason behind it, then cling tight to God, and He will get you through the storm.

Congrats if you read through all that. It's also my 400th post. Yay!


Iris Flavia said...

You have my respect for still talking to the person who put so much stress on you both!
What a sad story. And a brave one, too. And with a happy ending (or beginning!)!

Mark Edwards said...


You two look like a great couple.

I have no reason to say this, apart from reading your view of the situation, but it does sound like jealously reared its ugly bitter head. Maybe not jealously in the sense that they wanted Duncan, but that they did not want you to have something they did not have.

Sarah said...

Thanks Iris.

Mark, yes I think you're right. I think for some people the fear of being the only single left on the planet can make them take it out on friends who are starting new relationships.

I don't think I will ever know the true reason behind it. All I was told was that he was bad and not right for me.