What I mean when I say “I love you”

People come together
People go their own way
Love conquers few

Our love is like a paper airplane flying in the folded wind
Riding high, dipping low
But innocence is fair game, I’m hoping I can hold it in
Our love will die, I know

[Alison Krauss, Paper Airplane]

When life falls apart, I’m anxious for it to hurry up and see the dust settled so I don’t have to linger in emotional limbo, in transition.

Change doesn’t bother me once it’s over. But the row I’m hoeing has been long and hard and slow, and I’m not at the end of it yet. But I think I’m ready to tell you about it.

I’m going to tell you a lot more than I owe anyone, because I’m pretty sure that after the overly simplistic teachings of the courtship movement and the enthusiastic buy-in of my generation to its tenets, this sort of story is going to be one of many like it. I wish that wasn’t true, but when simplistic, idealistic teachings are accepted on black and white terms, without any nuance or caveats for humans being human, the sincere hearts are going to skid to a stop in disillusionment and brokenness when reality hits.

But that’s exactly why the truth of Jesus is so powerful — he didn’t come to teach us how to get it right. He came to be near and love us while we make mistakes.

So, my story.

I got married in January 2011, and I turned my universe upside down and graduated early and moved to a city I’ve never loved for the love of this one guy. He saw me and befriended me and supported me as I walked through the double detox of leaving a spiritually abusive church and setting healthy boundaries and learning self-respect as I left the world of Christian patriarchy. That process has fed most of my writing here.

Then there was the day when I felt a cognitive dissonance when he said “I love you,” and I began to wonder if he had really shaken off the stunted emotional habits of his own childhood and adolescence spent in the sister-church of my former church home.

And we talked and we talked and we talked in circles about what “I love you means.”

Then one day, he told me that he wanted a separation, and maybe we could start over and try again. That the teachings of one SGM pastor who’d told him (shortly before our wedding, when he came to him scared and confused) that it was okay that he didn’t have “feelings” for me, that if we were best friends and he found me sexually attractive, that it would all work out once we were married. That the feelings would come.

So he had married me, telling himself that Love is a Choice, and that Love is Sacrificing Yourself and Your Desires, that Love Is Getting What You Don’t Want For The Good Of The Other.

And I watched him fade away, disappearing into despair and loneliness and self-hatred I couldn’t possibly touch. I cried myself to sleep in the dark many, many nights while he walked alone in the dark, fighting the lies of depression.

We compared notes: how I felt, how I fell in love with him, vs. how he didn’t feel, what he did enjoy, what he knew he was capable of feeling but couldn’t conjure for me.

I’d talk and talk with him, and then fall to pieces, crying, rejected, crushed. He’d look at me, so tender, so sad, so disconnected and completely unable to feel with me.

After counseling didn’t help (“of course you were in love with her! you married her.” “no, no. you don’t understand. did you hear about these books on courtship?”), he asked for a separation again. I decided it’d be best that I do the moving out, since I was dying in the stuffy dimness of our little apartment.

“We’ll work on this, maybe there’s a chance,” he said. “We just need space to recover from the intense tension of the last few months.”

So I moved out on New Year’s day, and I spent two weeks working hard to clear the air, clear my head, be easy for him to talk to.

But a few days before our anniversary, he said he didn’t have the faith for it, that he was done, that he wanted a divorce.

And I walked into the cold and stood by my car and cried when I saw Orion, the companion of my late-night tears since I was small when I would take out the kitchen trash before bed and sit on the driveway and cry from the stress of everything and nothing.

There is nothing more agonizing than waking up alone and forcing yourself to get out of bed and be a person and live today and keep obligations and maintain relationships and be responsible when you know you’ll be fighting that same battle all over again tomorrow morning.

I’m going to be okay. This rekindles old dreams. Grad school, writing books, California, New York, England. I have big ideas and I’m going to spend the next year getting stable, finishing obligations here, investing myself where I need to be, for now. But then, 2014? You’re mine, baby. Look out.

But for now, there’s grief and processing and rending of hearts and sore knees and restless nights. I understand too well how he almost cannot help but do what he’s doing — the detrimental effects of anti-emotion, anti-body courtship teachings are relentless and ruthless. I am the only person with a real right to anger at him, and I’m refusing to partake. Please refrain from it as well. He needs the Body to be the Body as much as I do.

He’s moved on, and I’m trying to pick up the pieces over here. It’s final and I’m fighting an uphill battle with those I love questioning whether or not we tried hard enough, if I’m just giving up, do I believe that divorce is wrong, why I can’t just wait to decide on this because what if he changes his mind?

I didn’t choose this. It’s happened. We tried, and he’s done. Divorce is the awful consequence of choices gone wrong. Of course we’re taking this seriously.

When those questions fly, I just want to slam my fist on the table and yell, GRACE GRACE GRACE GRACE GRACE.

Letting him go is letting him live.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

29 thoughts on “What I mean when I say “I love you”

  1. Mercy and grace I pray. That you find your heart sheltered in the love God in Whom is no condemnation. Thank you for sharing your story. You are NOT alone in this! God be with you

  2. Oh my gosh,

    Hannah, I needed to read that. This is gloriously brave and brilliantly true and painfully beautiful.

    “So he had married me, telling himself that Love is a Choice, and that
    Love is Sacrificing Yourself and Your Desires, that Love Is Getting What
    You Don’t Want For The Good Of The Other.”

    This attitude looks so tempting sometimes, and thanks for the warning that just because loving a woman looks like the best thing for her doesn’t mean it actually would be.

    “I am the only person with a real right to anger at him, and I’m refusing
    to partake. Please refrain from it as well. He needs the Body to be the
    Body as much as I do.”

    This is the gospel, written out from a unique woman’s perspective. I don’t think there is any non-Jesus explanation for you being able to say that. The beauty and the pain mix together somehow.

    Thanks for sharing, we need to hear.

  3. I am sorry to hear of yet one more heart broken by sgm asshattery but, through your words, I sense a strong spirit of a dynamic woman that will look back at this time from a position of strength and confidance.

  4. I’ve read this three times and I keep thinking: did I read what I just read? Is this the story that I always feared when they were pushing courtship? This story is heart-wrenching. Thank you for sharing this, Hannah. So many people need to hear this.

  5. Oh Hannah, this explains why I have been so burdened of late to pray for
    you — and particularly around the holidays, and when Heidi eloped! I
    am so, so sorry to hear of this. I lurked at The Nest Egg, never quite
    knowing how to begin again the conversation you struck up when you left a
    comment on my blog. I was deeply conflicted and confused, back then,
    and protecting myself as usual, but I’m over that now.

    know I want to be there for you now, if you need anything –you have my
    e-mail. Definitely, I will continue to pray. You had some questions
    for me, way back then, and if they are still relevant issues that I can
    help you with, I’d be happy to help.

  6. Here’s the gentleness you asked for:

    *wraps you in my arms and gives you a long hug*

    Thank you for sharing your pain with me, so I can help you bear it. I’ll pray with you.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *