30 June 2016

What Courtship Looked Like for Us

What does courtship mean for our family? My parents are finding that as their daughters continue to grow up, it looks a little bit different each time, but what remains is the general idea of recognizing that, for us, marriage is not merely an issue that involves two people, but one that involves families. The "approval process" in our family exists for the purpose of allowing our parents to really get to know the prospective boyfriend, and challenges him to really think about his reasons for wanting to get to know one of us girls better. I suspect "approval process" isn't really the right name for it--as it's more of a get-to-know-you-extremely-well process, and I suspect that my parents will really avoid actually rejecting a young man's application unless absolutely necessary (i.e. the guy's career plans include being an axe murderer; his hobbies are illegal; he's 100k in debt with no way tp pay it off; he thinks black and white movies are stupid). We think it's valuable to make the goals of romantic relationship clear from the very beginning. I'm grateful for my experience of courtship  as opposed to finding my own way through the dating world. I'm glad my parents were with me every step of the way. You'll probably notice as I share mine and Angel's story...that I'm not too good at guesswork. Things need to be obvious and clearly stated.


Because courtship isn't especially common in our culture, I thought I'd describe what it looked like for us.

{We call these our 'engagement' photos but they were taken when we'd been married 1.5 years...they just look like the kind of engagement photos we would have taken}

My parents, not Angel nor I, were the ones who came up with the plan of courtship--they decided long before Angel ever came into the picture that they didn't want any of their kids to get swept up into the date/break up cycle as teens and told all of us that if a guy ever asked one of us out or said he was interested in us, we were to direct him to our parents for an 'approval process' of sorts, and that if we weren't in a place in life where we were interested in getting married in the relatively near future, there would be no approval at that time, but potentially a "Just be friends for now, come back when you're a little more grown up" message. I was totally okay with that, I wasn't particularly interested in boys when I was growing up, and looking back now, I'm glad that I never had to deal with the "drama" which seems to be associated with dating, especially at a young age. I took the "Never have a crush on a real life human" approach to life, and everyone who knew me at the time knew that my 'best guys' were the Professor from Gilligan's Island, Captain Jack Sparrow, and Prince Caspian. (The key to my heart: a boat and a tropical island)

Angel and I met the first day of my freshman year of college when I was 17 and he was 24. We became friends because we went to the same Bible study, and made many good memories with our group of friends during that year. Towards the end of the school year, Angel's behavior made it increasingly obvious that he was interested in me, but I was spending the summer in Malaysia and Angel was moving to Texas after he graduated so the general consensus was that we were just friends. Angel somehow knew without me telling him that he couldn't simply date me for fun, that he'd have to be serious about it. Apparently I tend to have a "Don't mess with me" aura? He didn't feel ready to be serious at the time, and I never even knew for sure whether he was interested in me, so when my freshman year was over in May, we both went our merry ways, and didn't really expect to see each other again, though we emailed occasionally to keep in touch.

Turns out, Angel lasted about half a year in Texas before deciding that, in fact, he was interested in getting married, and to that teenager, Rachel, in particular. He started calling me around Christmas time, and called me nearly every day for the next two and a half months. I kept my parents informed that Angel was calling me. We just chatted about school and work and theology and family stuff, nothing that I wouldn't have talked about with any of my other friends. But he did call me every single day. And he did buy a plane ticket to come and visit me during my Spring Break from college. At that point, I got up the courage to ask him directly, "Angel, are you interested in me?"

He responded to that statement in utter shock--apparently, to Angel, if you call a girl every day for 2.5 months it's assumed that you're interested in her. I'm the kind of person who prefers to have such things spelled out. I then told him that he would have to have a Skype interview with my parents and fill out an application, and that I wasn't interested in pursuing a relationship with him unless my parents gave us their approval and unless we were already pretty sure we wanted to get married in the future. At this time I felt pretty strongly that I could go either way with Angel--I could be interested in him or I could just see him as a friend--and I wasn't sure which direction would be worth going yet.

Instead of running away...Angel said he thought that was an excellent plan. Shortly after he arrived for his visit in Michigan, we had a Skype call together with my overly bubbly, giggly parents who were extremely excited and told Angel how honored they were to meet him. Probably the most memorable line from this Skype call was Angel's awkward, "Mr. and Mrs. Spoelman, I'd like to say that I'm interested in your daughter...umm, Rachel, to be specific" (Because, as you know, my parents have a LOT of daughters).

My parents outlined the ideas behind courtship as opposed to casual dating to Angel and told him they'd email him the application for him to fill out and send back to them so that they could do an "official" interview.

Angel called me in despair the next morning, having partially filled out the 75-question, extremely personal and in-depth, application. He was pretty sure that my parents were not going to accept his application, and he was feeling very discouraged. I was more like, I'm pretty sure they're going to accept it. He sent it to them when he was finished, with great trepidation and I can remember him giving me a hug and saying, "Rachel, if they say no, I am so, so sorry...But if they say yes, then that's great!"

Meanwhile, I wasn't positive what they would say, but I had a much more hopeful outlook than Angel. Partially because I could tell from my Mom's demeanor at the first Skype call that she already loved Angel, and partially because she sent me an email that day saying "Take Angel and drive by our house. Maybe someday when you get married you guys will live there, so he should know what it looks like."

That's my Mom for you! I told Angel that Mom wanted me to show him the house my parents owned, so we drove out to their house and walked around inside the barn for a few minutes (little did we know we'd spend the first 3.5 years of our marriage living there). When evening came that day (and, therefore, morning in Malaysia), we got together for Angel's interview Skype call.

The purpose of the application and interview was so that my parents could get to know a lot about Angel and about his plans and goals for the future, and for us to start seriously talking about whether our most important values and goals lined up with each others. Probably if we hadn't all been long-distance, this part of the process would have been much less formal and my parents would have gotten to know him in a more normal way.

I mean, ya'll know how the story ends. My parents were incredibly impressed with Angel's honesty and clarity and values, and after talking about serious issues and plans for the future and where we saw this relationship going, they gave us the thumbs up to begin courting. That was March 23, 2010. At the time, Angel was suggesting a tentative wedding date in June 2011--he had already decided he wanted to marry me months before, anyways.

Angel left to return to Texas on March 24, 2010, and we kept in touch via phone and email. For the next couple of days we asked each other a lot of tough, important questions about what we wanted our future lives to look like. But it was clear to us nearly from the moment that my parents said "Commence courtship!" that we wanted to get married. Partially because Angel had already been pretty sure he wanted to marry me since December of the previous year, and somehow I felt comfortable going along with the plan.

My parents strongly approved of Angel, but they were slightly shocked when a mere two weeks after we officially began courting, he emailed them with his plans to buy an engagement ring and a plane ticket, and to fly to Malaysia to ask me to marry him while I was visiting my family for the summer. They had originally envisioned a somewhat longer courtship. Angel had told them that he wanted to be out of debt before getting married and imagined the process of paying off student loans taking a year, at least. However, working 5 12-hour shifts instead of 3 12-hour shifts per week at the hospital was taking care of Angel's debt much quicker than we had originally planned on. After talking with me about whether I was ready to get engaged to Angel, my parents emailed him back the news that they liked his plan very much.

We got engaged the next time we saw each other, July 2, 2010. We had an engagement party in Malaysia, and it then became pretty important that I spend time meeting Angel's family, so Angel bought me a ticket to fly to Texas once I returned to the USA at the beginning of September. I visited his family on a quick trip, three days, and then it was back to Michigan for school for me while Angel worked very hard at applying for jobs in Michigan so that we could get married as soon as he started working in my state. Him moving to Michigan for us to get married was always the plan because I still had to finish school. We didn't plan on living in Michigan forever, but it made for a good start.

He was hired in September for a night shift hospital job that would start in November, and we promptly attempted to plan a mid November wedding. The wedding date was pushed back two weeks by a lack of venue, till December 4, so we married about two weeks after Angel moved to Michigan, and just days after he finished paying off his student loans.

Whether or not the couple goes on any un-chaperoned "dates" before actually getting married is an issue that people who court often have strong opinions on. For us, my parents gave us permission to go on official "dates" when we got engaged and afterward. Of course, for us actual dates were pretty much a non-issue because of being long-distance. I can count the number of actual dates we went on before we got married:

1. A breakfast date the morning he proposed.
2. A Japanese Botanical Garden and Red Robin when I visited his family.
3. Wandering around downtown, looking at Artprize exhibits, and celebrating because he'd just gotten the news that he'd been hired at the hospital.

Okay, 3 official dates pre-marriage. But I can say our relationship did not suffer for lack of dating. As a long distance courtship, our relationship took place over phone calls, emails, Skype calls, and hanging out with mutual friends and family members when we visited each other. (Warning: If you have 5 little sisters, they might possibly love your fiance more than you do, sit on his lap, and generally not leave him alone. And they will point their fingers at you and laugh when you kiss.)

Also, among those who court, whether or not you hold hands or kiss before getting married--there's different ideas from one family to another. There was a rumor started that we weren't going to kiss until we got married (actually, it was started by that mischievous Angel of mine, who posted on Facebook: "I can't wait to kiss Rachel for the first time on our wedding day!"....and when I called him to ask, "What???" he answered that he was talking about whatever kiss happened to come first on our wedding day, he was excited for that one, and he couldn't be held responsible if other people misunderstood.) Anyways, this rumor somehow got around to my grandfather, who didn't even have facebook, who called me in concern telling me he'd heard a rumor that Angel and I hadn't kissed yet and I had to reassure him that it was completely false. That's been making my life interesting since before Day 1.

So that's it, our long-distance courtship story. We went from college buddies to husband and wife in an amount of time that startled some (8 months), but I've always loved that fact that we never had to worry about guessing or playing games. We knew we were in this for the long haul since the beginning.
Theresa said...

That's a really sweet story! I love how you respected your parents' values so much.

The Lady Okie said...

This was really interesting to read. Thanks for sharing! Clearly Angel is a keeper and basically an awesome kind of guy and you two are totally meant to be :) Obviously this type of courting, application, "interview," etc., works because it has worked for you and worked very well! I am not personally convinced, however, that this would work well for everyone. Not to say that the mainstream dating scene is the way to go either, because avoiding all that drama sounds brilliant. I'm just saying I don't necessarily think most people know they want to be married and married to that specific person so quickly to not be able to date longer, go on more dates, and make the whole 75-question application thing worth it. I feel like even if two people were good together, that might be intimidating. I don't know. But it's hilarious that your grandpa was so concerned about you not kissing Angel. Ha!

Tori said...

This is so interesting to read! I don't know if I would like it, but I'm so glad that it worked out for you and Angel!


Patty said...

This is so interesting Rachel! I think there is a lot wisdom behind your parent's reasoning as to why they wanted courtship this way for their daughters as something helathier and more life-giving. Insightful!

Carolann Chambers said...

I think that you and Angel were simply meant to be. You are such an awesome couple, and I think it's great that you have such a great relationship to model for your sisters, too. I definitely understand why your parents would want this for you. This was interesting for me to read because we don't do courtships in my family. However, it was so important to me that my whole family approved of Nick. I remember when he came to pick me up for our second date, my entire family was over having a BBQ and all of my uncles started asking him questions. They of course loved him right away. Thanks for sharing this story - I loved reading it.

chelsea @ the new wifestyle said...

ohhh super fascinating to read - thank you for sharing! i absolutely love hearing about how couples find each other, start dating or 'courting' and go from engagement to marriage and then on. now i'm very curious about the 75 questions on the 'application' i bet your parents had a lot of fun preparing those!

Michelle said...

This is fascinating! I was the most boy-crazy teenager. I think I would've felt imprisoned and suffocated if I had done things this way, but at the same time I wish I HAD anyway. So much drama. James was the first straightforward guy who told me how he felt about me and his intentions from the get-go. After several wishy-washy guys, I knew the guy who told me exactly what he wanted would be the one for me. And it worked!

Moonofsilver said...

PLEASE please please um post a sample of the questions they asked angel?!?!?! I would love to hear what kinds of questions your parents asked!

Currently Kelsie said...

This is super super interesting! Pretty cool approach to it. I second Carolynn's question about the questions!!

Crystal said...

This is really interesting! It's so great that your parents were so invested and that you and Angel were happy with the process as well.

Witchcrafted Life said...

This was such an engaging, lovely read and way to get to know you both better. Tony and I had a very, very whirlwind romance, too. We met (online) in March 2004, in person for the first time that June, became engaged in July, and tied the knot in October, some seven months after our paths first crossed. Like you two, we both sensed/knew instantly that things were serious and given that we were, at the time, living on different continents, saw no reason to prolong a courtship period, so married quite quickly and have always been extremely grateful that we had the courage to do so (this fall will mark twelve years together and our love only continues to deepen with each passing day).

Many hugs & joyful start of July wishes,
♥ Jessica

Lily Fang said...

I love your parents' philosophy. After experiencing the angst of my first relationship, it sounds so, so smart just to stay friends unless you're interested in getting married to that person in the (relatively) near future. It really feels desultory to invest yourself in someone to that degree without any plans for a long-term relationship. Sure, the warm and fuzzy feelings are nice, but what are warm and fuzzy feelings over a solid friendship?

I absolutely love this story and how Angel and your family interacted in the initial stages. The facebook post is just too good--that's hilarious how your grandfather called you! You two seem like a wonderful and happy match, from the quirky photoshoots to the unwavering support you offer each other. Thank you for this lovely post!

imperfect idealist

Budget Splurge Beauty said...

Wow. Interesting read. Definitely different than anything I've (or anyone I've known) experienced. Funny that Angel messed with people about kissing though although I know some people who do the courting thing DO wait to kiss! I mean to each their own lol. I might think it's strange but it's not my life so who cares haha

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Beka @ Sunshine to the Square Inch said...

That's so fun! Angel is a trooper for filling that application out. I guess if you really think someone is the one you want to marry you just keep walking forward until God closes a door.

I think dating and courtship look different for each person and couple but I think it is really good that your parents were involved and that they set an expectation of courting when you were young. Do you and Angel plan to do that with your children too? Just curious =)