It’s funny how the things you rebel against in your adolescence bite you in the butt when you grow up. For better or for worse, I have always been a person who felt sure of herself. I was always sure I wanted to get married. It just felt like what you do. There is a song by Wale where he says he’s in his mid-twenties and still never been to a wedding. I grew up in the church I’ve been a flower girl at least 4 times and I’ve lost count of the number of weddings I’ve attended. I was born to a married couple and their circle of friends was married. I have three Uncles, one is single by choice and he’s not exactly bachelor of the year. I have two aunts and one is single. Singles are in the minority in my family. Getting married is expected.
I grew up in a girl gets married environment. What I didn’t want was to marry a preacher or marry a guy from church. Nope, I was too cool and free spirited for that. I felt like a guy from church would have high religious expectations of me and I needed to be free. Why sign up for a race I know I couldn’t win. All I knew was that I cuss when I get angry, I wanted to move to New York City and dance in nightclubs. Basically, I wanted to be Parker Posey in Party Girl. A church guy would be against me and not for me.
Now that I’m a 31-year-old single mother to my 15-year-old daughter, I can describe myself as a former serial monogamist. I think Erykah Badu may have described me best as a “recovering undercover over-lover”. I have had my share of worldly men and I can honestly say there are times when I say, “I could have been in Married Couples for Jesus!”. Married Couples for Jesus was a group at my church. I feel like the name is self-explanatory. It was an auxiliary for married couples. They would go out on group dates and even renew their vows as a group at times. It was basically activities for married couples because going to secular music concerts, the movies or night clubs was well frowned upon.
As a teenager, I was concerned about having a husband who would prohibit me from going to a Prince concert. I didn’t realize that my upbringing was shaping my expectations of my future partner. I grew up seeing men date women. Single men took women on dates. Married men took women on dates. It’s just what you did. They treated women well. Anything less would just be downright foolish. I witnessed men court women because they wanted to get married (ok this is a group of people abstaining from sex until marriage, or who at least want to give off the appearance of waiting).
I grew up in an environment where your partner was a reflection of you. If a man wasn’t taking good care of his wife it was a bad reflection on him. A man and his wife were one in the same so if his wife showed up to church looking bad he looked bad. It was a different sense of responsibility for men and women within their relationship. It was more than just keeping up with appearances, your spouse was a part of you.
With that being said, I haven’t been on many dates lately. To date a man with no concept of this environment is hard. I have a completely different view on how men should treat women. Some of the men who I have been in relationships with felt I had high, unattainable standards. Outside of church, there is the concept of a couple being two independent entities. You bring what you bring and I bring what I bring and we pick and chose what we share.
In today’s world, a woman must prove herself worthy of being married. It’s almost as if you have to be a man’s wife for a long time before he even considers marrying you. Where in church it went without saying that the woman was good. Church men proved themselves worthy and stable enough to afford a wife. Lots of couples are happy to be together for long periods of time without being married, which is fine. I just know a lot of women who feel like they have to prove themselves worthy and get disappointed when the relationship doesn’t end in marriage. Which leads to this idea that every relationship that doesn’t lead to marriage is a failure. I don’t think that’s true. I think failure is when a woman fails to acknowledge that she is single and refuses to audition for the part of the wife because it’s not a requirement.
In no way do I think “church couples” are perfect. No, I identified the cons of being a church couple before I saw the pros, not to mention you could be courted and well kept only to realize that you got married just to have socially acceptable sex and be divorced before your twenty-fifth birthday.
There is no safety zone for women who wish to be married. No magic formula or perfect audience to present yourself to. Married Couples for Jesus is just a moment of clarity that made me realize why I have different expectations than some of the men who I have dated. Being a badass at church camp made me feel like such a rebel but maybe I just had more questions than all of the other teenagers. My set of values isn’t as far from those in Married Couples for Jesus as I initially thought. (My 15-year-old self just screamed at that sentence!)
My fascination with the world was only met by the reality that there are pros and cons to every dating scenario. I know that I am exactly where I am supposed to be, so no regrets. Maybe there is some guy out there who felt like a badass rebel at church camp too and has realized worldly women aren’t all they’re cracked up to be either. Maybe he’ll court me at the exact moment that he should in exactly the way he should. I won’t have high expectations at that point it will be shared values and not totally unrealistic. Although he won’t be able to take me to a Prince concert maybe we can go to The Roots Picnic and then go to church on Sunday. Clearly, I like churchmen more than I thought.
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