Though I was twenty-three when I had my first girlfriend, I still had no idea what I was doing. I had asked some great girls out, want on some truly fun dates, and had two DTR talks(Define The Relationship) before I found a girl who was actually interested in moving forward too, and I was on cloud nine when that happened. It's a great feeling when someone is like, "yeah, let's see if this leads to marriage," however after that comes the work which, with the right person, will be worth it.
Many people gave me great advice before, during, and after my first relationship and I wished I listened to more of what they said during it all.
Remember, I am not an expert, these are just some of the wise words people told me and personal lessons. A story from an expert, in my opinion, will be at the end of this by my fantastic father, Drew Ellenwood!
1. solitude is risky
Be it in a home alone or a parked car alone, when two people of the opposite sex are alone together and are 'interested,' only bad things can happen. That doesn't limit it to physical either; topics can be dangerous too as they can venture into subjects too deep at the moment or just unhealthy and inappropriate discussions. A good counter is being in public places together, coffee shops, restaurants, or with friends. Leading to the next one. (Segue)
2. groups are healthy
Community is essential. It is healthy to see the other person in different environments as it helps both of you get to know each other in a safe place. That being hanging out with their friends, your friends, or mutual friends, very rarely is community wrong. Seeing how they get along with your friends and you with their friends helps you get to know them better, from them personally or from their friends. A healthy relationship won't force you to abandon your friends for it. Good friends will want to support both of you as you two should support them back like friends should, just like family. (Better Segue)
Though, if everything goes well, you will get married and leave your family to start your own with your spouse. This doesn't block them out forever as they will still be involved in both of your lives. Getting to know the family and seeing how their relationship is with other members and you is important because they won't be going anywhere.
Side note about parents: they are a great glimpse of what the person you are dating will be in the future, just like you. It is not the norm for someone to not be like one of their parents. Trust me; I am a lot like my dad. (No Segue Here)
4. tough talks
During all this, stuff will come to mind. Conversations will come to light that will need to be discussed. They aren't the typical "how many kids?" or "where to live?" questions which are important and should be talked about but are harder to state broadly for everyone ones. I'm talking about the topics that are unique to each couple that would be easier to avoid, and you will want to avoid them. You will think of excuses for not bring it up, the timing isn't right, it will just make them uncomfortable, or they don't want to talk about it. These conversations will vary and be unique to each couple but must be discussed sooner rather than later as it is better to talk about them now instead of five years into marriage.
Side note: both parties must want to have these talks and must both agree on the topics to be discussed now and the topics to wait to talk about for engagement for protecting both parties. (Segue by contradicting myself)
5. protect the hearts
Now, to help make it clear, with these tough talks, and just spending time with them, you will get close to past pains, deep fears, and long struggles you have. All of these things your future spouse will need to know to help you carry those burdens as you help carry their burdens. At the moment though, they aren't your spouse, and if they do know these things, it can end up hurting both of you even more if you all don't end up as husband and wife. Now, if you find yourself confused on what you must talk about or stuff to wait for until engagement, that is where community and older, wiser people come into play to help both of you know how to traverse the topics and the journey itself. When in doubt, ask someone who has been there before.
Now, you could listen to all the points I gave and even the wiser words of my father below, but if you don't have Jesus at the center of the relationship, it will all be in vain. Because in the end, it is all about Him.
Now to the good stuff!
Below is the manuscript my father used when he gave his marriage testimony at his church last Sunday and after reading it, I knew I needed to add it! Thanks for the permission dad!
Drew Ellenwood's Marriage Testimony
When Jeff asked me for a testimony on marriage, I reminded him that I’m single. But a testimony is a description of a scene or the relating of a story. I will tell you a story of a marriage. Its characters are Dona and I. And as any story, this marriage has a beginning, a middle, and an end.
I was a senior at OU, and Sandy and I were pre-Christmas history. Alone again… naturally. It was just past Spring Break and I wanted a date for the coming weekend. Who to call? Dona or Marty? I picked up the phone and called… Marty. But she was busy that weekend and I didn’t want to wait until the next, so I proceeded to the second on my short list. Sure enough, Dona could go. Just as well. Months later I saw Marty with her feet up in her chair at a nice restaurant. Yikes.
The date with Dona was a disaster, or so I thought. We couldn’t seem to keep a conversation going. We ate at Sweet Peas in Oklahoma City then stopped on the way back to Norman at an arcade where I watched her play Ms. Pacman. And as I watched, I knew she’d never go out with me again; I had proven too boring.
But she did. We dated a couple of months before she went on a summer mission trip to Spain. I entertained the idea of asking Amy out while she was gone. I mean, there were no rings on anyone’s finger yet. But I couldn’t get Dona out of my mind. I had to eat crow and ask Charlie Ann for Dona’s address in Spain.
“Didn’t get her address, huh?”
“Did you say ‘goodbye’?”
“Hmm. Well, here’s her address, though she’s probably found a cute Spaniard.”
Now, international mail is frustratingly slow. This was before cell phones and emails. On the day I had been sailing – my first and last time as I capsized the boat and lost the mast – and with Christopher Cross’s “Sailing” in my head, I got home to an airmail letter. Mast lost or not, it was a good day. No mention of a Spanish hunk. And I started understanding what falling in love is about.
She came back. And soon I thought I might propose. I asked my parents, my mentor, my best friend, Dona’s disciplemaker, and my grandparents if this was a wise choice. You know, real love is deeper than romance; it is wisdom. My advisors were unanimous, though my grandmother warned that with marriage comes enough exposure of the heart for it to be broken. Let’s not skip to the end yet.
One date before Dona and I were married we learned a lesson that stayed with us. I took her to My Pi Pizza. Neither of us wanted to tread on the other, so we hemmed and hawed over the menu.
“What do you want?”
“O I don’t care, you choose.”
“No, let me know. Which do you like?”
And on it went. We ended up with a pizza neither of us liked because neither of us had opened up about what we really wanted. The lesson: Marriage is not compromise. You want compromise: try Congress, though they don’t even get there now. Marriage is consensus. Compromise and you end up with what everyone can tolerate. Consensus is talking and listening and coming to a decision better than what either had thought before.
During We Bought a Zoo, Scarlett Johanssen tells Matt Damon, whose character is recently widowed, that the word ‘cage’ is not used in zoos anymore. They’re called ‘enclosures.’ Then she says, “My brief marriage: that was a cage.”
He replies, “Not mine.”
So we come to the middle part of our story: Wedding, honeymoon, finishing school, starting a career, raising kids, buying a house, riding the ups and downs of finances and health and family. The humdrum. With Dona, it was nice.
In marriage Dona and I let our guards down and showed all the fear, desires, and ick of our hearts. But to do that, you must trust each other and you must be trustworthy. There are to be no weapons pointed against each other. It’s like what Dennis Quaid says in the movie In Good Company that you choose who you’re going to be in the foxhole with, and when you’re out of the foxhole, you keep your pants on. Marriage is not everyday a fight. Marriage is everyday a united front.
This person is your companion. Not some dude sitting with you in a deer stand, not some chick you share coffee with. They are friends and have their place. But your spouse is your intimate companion.
Dona knew my moods, and I have many. My poor kids are left with me, the weakest one. Dona was the level-headed of us. She could calm me down by simply saying, “Drew.” She never sprung stuff on me when I had just walked though the door. She encouraged my silliest dreams, even sent me one weekend to merely write. She didn’t get angry because I can only think on one thing at a time. She would simply say, “Drew, look at my face.” Then she had my attention.
And me? I studied her. Men, don’t throw up your hands and tell me you don’t know what to buy your wife for her birthday. Go in her closet and see what she wears, what is her size, what has she pushed to the back wall. We can memorize football scores and baseball statistics; we can figure out our wives’ desires.
Dona and I were watching While You Were Sleeping and the dad says to Jack, “Why didn’t you tell me you didn’t want my business? I could have sold it to Uncle Eddie for twice its worth. I could have taken your mother on a cruise with Kathy Lee Gifford.”
I looked over at Dona and said, “Would you like to go on a cruise with Kathy Lee Gifford?”
“If I went on a cruise,” said she, “I’d rather go with Mickey Mouse.”
Hmm. So for her 50th birthday I sprung a surprise on her and told her to pack her bags because the next day we were leaving on a Disney cruise.
This was after she had fought cancer for a few years. Things were going well. I even wondered if I should waste the money on something as trivial as a cruise. But was it the Spirit or no? I was reminded of Jesus saying, “The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”
And I didn’t always have her. I had really wanted to have a Golden Anniversary. But life rarely takes your desires into account.
There came a day the oncologist said there was nothing more to be done, and Dona stated matter-of-factly, “Let’s go home and live until we die.”
We took one last little trip up to Mount Magazine, bringing along her medical equipment. A month early for her birthday, but this was good. She died four days after her 52nd birthday. I was sitting by her bed in the room she loved in our house, reading her verses from Isaiah, as she passed. But this is not a bad thing, my friends. What better way to pass to God than to hear your love read those beautiful promises from Isaiah and next hear Jesus speak your name.
The center of the family is not a person. It is not the husband; that is tyranny. It is not the wife; that is bitterness. It is not the children; that is delinquency. The center of the family is a relationship, an unshakable one, the marriage relationship between the husband and his wife. This is security for man, woman, and children. And at the core of that relationship, if it is to hold at all, is Jesus. Even cancer cannot rattle this.
Yes, my grandmother was correct. A heart can be broken. Yet I would never trade those years married to Dona. So, give yourself to Jesus, have a daily Quiet Time, and cherish one another as long as it is called today.
And make your own story a happy one.
© 2015 S. W. Ellenwood. All rights Reserved.