My husband and I celebrated two years of marriage last month.
|Justin, dressed as Martin Luther for reasons I
won’t go into, holds an unidentified moo cow.
Two years that went by like a snap of the fingers. When I look at my husband now—across the room, cooking a pancake for his lunch because that’s how he rolls—it’s hard for me to even remember what he looked like to me two years ago. Three years ago. Four years ago.
He’s another thing to me entirely than the Justin Dillehay I met; another human being in my mind than the one I awkwardly conversed with in church hallways; a totally different personality than the one I thought I understood when we were going on our first little dates on a front porch.
“You’re not the man I married,” I could say to him. And it would be true. Surely two years has changed him some. But he also looks different TO ME, specifically, more than to any other person, because to me he has quite literally become another individual.
I guess everybody feels this way when they look at their spouse. Their spouse changes on them, most certainly at the beginning, probably the whole time, and it begins with the simple act of becoming a spouse
What a strange thing, to feel so intertwined with another person, to the point of feeling conjoined somehow, and yet waking in the middle of the night and feeling them next to you and realizing that they aren’t you at all, aren’t even like you, can’t possibly understand you EXACTLY, and are actually so separate from you that you could hurt them and not feel the pain. People don’t hurt themselves, not usually. But they hurt their spouses.
They are absolutely different entities. And yet, they are said to be “one flesh.” It is a paradox, a complete mystery. A Christ-and-church kind of mystery.
But now I come to the point that I meant to make in sitting down. This is the thing that I most often try to explain to people I haven’t seen in a long time, when they ask about married life.
I think that for almost any couple in Christ, it can be wonderful. Ought to be wonderful.
But in my case, I can’t help but feel that it is especially wonderful. I’m almost embarrassed to admit how wonderful it really is, and how accidentally I seem to have stumbled into this wonderful marriage. Only I—and God, my witness—are fully aware of how little of my own doing it is.
When I married him, I actually thought (just a bit, and of course I’d never have said it out loud) that I was doing him a favor. I was a catch, I thought, and he was… a good investment. He was a good decision, but I couldn’t help feeling that he was getting a pretty great deal marrying me.
A year later, I thought—well, he’s better than I expected; maybe I’ve improved him.
Six months after that it hit me: I’d been a total idiot.
Because actually, I lucked out. It took me a over a year to agree to marry him, and all along I was marrying up.
I am one of those lucky people who married somebody who’s better at being married than they were at dating. I mean that in the truest sense: Justin makes a better impression on me as a husband than he ever did as a suitor. Why is this? I don’t know exactly, although I have my theories.
And maybe this is a sorry thing to do, but I’m going to try to take these theories and put out the Blog List, that numbered list of ways you’re supposed to be able to apply my husband’s personality traits into your own life and find the perfect mate.
I already said it was a sorry thing to do. Okay, here goes:
4 ways my husband is bad at dating and good at being married
1. He was bad at dating because he wasn’t good at chatting up chicks. He’s good at marriage because he has learned to chat up exactly one chick.
This isn’t a matter of ‘I know I can keep him, and I trust him because he’s not a womanizer.’ It’s more a matter of ‘I literally didn’t know how much fun my husband could be until I married him.‘
It’s extremely exciting to realize that all the charming one-liners I yearned for when he was first taking me out are showing up—now, years after the wedding. So why is this? Is it because I’ve learned his humor and he’s learned mine? Or because he somehow figured out the ‘charming one-liner’ thing in order to please me?
Consider this possibility: maybe he simply didn’t perform well under the pressure of the wooing process.
It strikes me as likely that there are a lot of very good men out there who simply do not perform well under the pressure of the date (or the court, or whatever you want to call it). This makes them bad at dating you while you’re single—but doesn’t necessarily rule them out of being good at dating you while you’re married.
In Justin’s case, this is exactly how it worked out. And let me tell you, there’s something really special about giving up on this (really unnecessary) form of charm, marrying a person, and then having it hit you on the back end.
What are those things that it takes to make a good first impression as a dater? These sorts of momentary skills: suave movement, clever quips, affected nonchalance and a winsome way of telling your life story. They are nice skills—although in the end, they have little to do with the skills required in a marriage.
Why do chicks dig this? I don’t know; we simply do.
The problem with this is that often the kind of guy who possesses these skills in excess has gotten them with practice… too much practice.
The flippant ease that some men give off with every woman they meet was never something Justin could give off. He was awkward, for months of our time together. Serious, or cautious, or preoccupied, jerky in his movements and strangely earnest in his compliments.
And then, marriage. The safety and security of a prize already won. He was more charming, at ease, clever, and flippant when he took me out last Saturday than in the entire eighteen months of our courtship… combined. The version of him that I meet with inside the four walls of our little apartment is my favorite version. He’s hilarious.
How nice is that? I resolutely marry someone, thinking I’ll never see casual-funny guy, and he shows up and starts taking me out and pushing me into the bedroom after about six months of marriage. Seems like the right time for him to show up, if you ask me.
2. He was bad at dating because dating is all about holding off on spiritual intimacy. He is good at marriage because spiritual intimacy is something he fosters very well.
It is very difficult to know exactly what a person’s private spiritual life is like without marrying them. You can ask questions about it (‘How’s your quiet time going?’ ‘What are you struggling with?’), and you can pick up clues from their exterior life (you’d better, or deciding who to marry will be like blindfolding yourself and jumping into a haystack to find a needle).
There were all sorts of clues for me to pick up on before we were married—the classic hints about honesty, integrity, commitment to faith, evangelism, relationship with friend and family, etc. These hints helped me to make a decision. They just didn’t always help me to be excited about it.
But in the end, how could I have known—really known—that he was going to pray with me so faithfully? That his office door would shut each morning, and that I would hear whispered prayers behind it? That he would be reading the Bible privately, that he would be so regularly sharing passages of other books he was reading?
That he would betray a deep and trembling love for Christ—betray it by tears, laughter, and silence at telling times? That he would betray his motives so clearly—with such joy when he sees sin defeated in my life, such pain when I sin against God in ways that don’t affect or inconvenience him at all? That he would be so quick to repent when his sin is shown to him? That he would so fervently defend truth and hate lies? That he would practice such thankfulness—for all God’s gifts—regularly exclaiming that I am the best among them?
I couldn’t have known these things. I could only guess at them. This is what I meant when I reasoned with myself that he was ‘a good decision’. I knew, from the exterior evidence, that he was a man of character—not the sort of charming, influential person I’d intended for myself, but a man who was generally to be trusted not to abandon his faith or his family.
But marriage was certainly necessary for me to witness what I witness now. I couldn’t have known these things before, because my witnessing them has only been made possible by the intimacy of marriage.
3. He was bad at dating because all the fun physical stuff wasn’t available as a form of communication. He’s good at marriage because he’s good at communicating on intimate terms… verbally and physically.
Dating, for the Christian, is a time of excitement and newness, of questions, flutterings, and dreams. But it’s also a time of self-denial, and stilted forms of expression.
I think you know what I mean. You want to show each other love… in all sorts of ways. And you can’t. You want to coo to each other and swear undying affection, but you try to spend your time talking about important things and getting to know each other. You want to touch, but you refrain. You wait.
Marriage, on the other hand, is a time of open Biblical encouragement. ‘Don’t deprive one another’, remember—delight each other with words, with touch, with caresses and assurances of the mindless, circular, illogical, repetitive kind that love provokes.
My husband (and I) are most comfortable in this world of uncomplicated ‘yes’ and ‘as long as we both shall live’. Much more comfortable than in the world of dating, a world of ‘no’s, ‘wait’s, and ‘maybe’s.
Justin almost instantly learned how to communicate in these new and fascinating ways—he learned quickly and well, as soon as the vows had sealed us. But these verbal and physical skills, so palpable now, aren’t anything I could have really predicted when we were dating.
Dating is just no fun, that’s all.
4. He wasn’t good at dating because he was so grateful all the time. He is good at marriage because he is so grateful all the time.
A girl just doesn’t really want to always know her boyfriend thinks he’s THAT lucky to have her. And if he thinks that, she wants him not to make it so apparent. Not in that doggish, slavish way
Justin was grateful in this unappealing way when we dated—I sometimes wanted to tell him “if you think it’s so unbelievable that I like you, don’t you know I’m bound to wonder: IS it unbelievable?”
This is not right, really—it’s a fallen value system that ranks people on scales and treats dating like haggling in a bazaar. But so it is. Women are more likely to think this way than not. Men who know how to play the game tend to make sure they don’t immediately open with the attitude of “I am SO LUCKY TO HAVE YOU AND WHY ARE YOU STILL HERE?”
Did Justin say those things? Out loud, no. But he helped me to feed my own ranking system, because—I suppose—of his fear of man. I knew that he was almost desperate to keep things going, and it made me extremely… cool. Indecisive.
This attitude of his has been amended (this actually began before we were married, when he drew up some boundaries against my careless attitude, but that’s another story).
In marriage, gratefulness (of a different stripe) is a welcome trait to a woman. This is the kind that Justin is practicing now. He is still a consistently grateful man. But the gratefulness is less like the gratefulness of a dog, and more like the gratefulness of a king who looks at his queen as if she was just saying ‘yes’ to him for the first time.
He still seems to regard me as a good fortune, as an exotic visitor, as a surprising gift. But he has also proven that his love for me is still subservient to another love and another loyalty. His attitude isn’t presumptive and it’s not slavish. He acts like a man who wakes up every morning believing that he is fortunate.
This is why I say that maybe God and I are the only ones who understand how much I got when I got Justin for a husband, and how little it’s deserved—because Justin still seems to think that he’s the lucky one.
This attitude of gratefulness infuses great sweetness and comfort into a marriage—but not, really, into a first date.
Am I going to pretend that this little list is necessarily a good one to guide your mate-picking? Nope. I really haven’t gotten that far in my theories.
It’s really just that I’m two years into my marriage, and grateful as a dog.
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