So, I’m sure you’re asking, “What the heck was wrong with her? She had a great guy, a wonderful life, children… the DREAM. How could she be so unhappy and ungrateful?”
The answer isn’t simple. But a large part of it centered around how damaged I was. Of course at the time I would never have acknowledged this, and even now it’s hard to admit. Once I left home and started my own life, I was determined to prove that I was smart, talented, accomplished, and lovable.
Those first three things may not have come easily; I worked hard for them. But within a few years, I had earned my undergrad, had a great job, completed an MBA at night, was respected by colleagues, and rising in my career. I had a few doors opened for me in the beginning of my career, but it was all my hard work that reaped these accomplishments, I smugly thought.
I had grown into my tall, leggy looks, my confidence soared, and I was pursued by men who wanted to be with me. This became very seductive. To be wanted, desirable, and to feel loved: these were things I craved and sought. I began to think that I had a magical power to draw in suitors, and invested time in my hair, clothing, makeup, and appearance to ensure this. In my young and inexperienced mind, I believed that being hotly pursued would naturally turn into unconditional loved. I was easily deceived by honeyed words. I fell in love too easily and gave away my heart. What resulted was a too-long catalog of relationships with men who were just out for a good time. The moment I began mentioning commitment or marriage, they fled– some mercifully faster than others. Time and again I was hurt and disappointed. A chunk of my heart got torn out in each relationship, and my distrust of men grew in equal parts to my desperation to feel loved. I knowingly pretended that relationships were love, when I knew very well they weren’t. I just couldn’t seem to fill the void, the ache. I was sure this void could be filled by having a man in my life. Every one of my closest girlfriends were wed by the age of 26, and the babies were coming fast and furious. I wanted that.
In my mid-20s I started dating a professed Christian, a guy who would tell me that as a Catholic, I’d never be a suitable partner. It didn’t stop “R” from pursuing me, making me feel cherished, and from me believing he’d change his mind. I balked a little about this “born again” thing, but asked a lot of questions. After all, I technically was a practicing Catholic, had attended church my whole life, had faith, and believed in God and Jesus. I thought my “religion” was just fine. I went to his church with him, a first in a relationship for me (I dated an astonishing number of agnostics and unchurched guys). He took me to see a Billy Graham Crusade; I admit I reluctantly attended with a mighty roll of my eyes over this fiery epitome of an evangelist (and I was unexpectedly blown away). I met “R’s” wonderful family. His sister “H” was an amazing woman, who exuded the love of Christ in her every look, touch, and word. She answered my many questions and witnessed to me gently with The Word. I was immediately attracted to the message, and I wanted to know more about becoming “born again.”
Before long because of “H’s” guidance and encouragement, I became involved in Bible Study and the single adult group at church, and I accepted Jesus as my savior, a very different and new relationship than the one I’d previously had as a Catholic. I loved my new Christian friends, and I drew closer to R’s sister as she continued to disciple me from afar. As time marched forward with no further deepening of our relationship, I was getting severely conflicted messages. R had a lot of his “own rules,” or I should say exceptions to the rules. He was a “Smorgasbord Christian,” the kind who would pick and choose the parts of Christianity that suited him. He wanted to be with me in every way except marriage. My strengthening faith and his flailing one started to rock us, and led to a series of breakups that decimated my heart. Why would God have sent me a supposedly “good Christian man,” lead me to accepting Jesus, if this wasn’t the marriage he had in mind for me? I was confused. I was even more confused that R and I debated a lot on the issue of wifely submission in a marriage; he insisted this was the proper way to run a marriage. I balked at him being my leader. I didn’t see myself trusting R in that way.
The opportunity to accept an overseas assignment for 3 years seemed a fitting way to put behind me the temptations to keep going back to him, the crushing pain of this last failed relationship, and all the other failed ones before it. I needed a fresh start. Being overseas was a great experience, but during that time in my early 30s I was tossed about in my faith. I was also resigning myself to the possibility I’d never be married, and even considered plans to become a single mother before time ran out on my biological clock.
Upon returning to the States at 32, I threw myself into my work, church, and into volunteering. I didn’t date that year. By this time most of my friends were married and had families, and most of the eligible bachelors were divorced men (or lying married men), many of whom weren’t keen on jumping back into marriage. I knew that to effectively become a single parent, I’d need to live overseas where I could afford nannies and other support. My career was the one thing that had some predictability, and was unlikely to betray me. I was researching my next overseas assignment with that in mind when I unexpectedly “met” SJ.