In the fall semester of my sophomore year, I took an astronomy class. At the end of the first session, two cute upperclassmen guys approached me as we all gathered our things to leave. They asked what my name was and told me that they had noticed me before at the Christian campus fellowship they also attended. I usually sat alone because I was painfully shy, and I only knew a few other Christians by name on campus. The two guys (we’ll call them Guy and Other Guy here) invited me to a Bible study they were co-leading that was about to begin meeting once a week. I nervously agreed to come and hurried back to my dorm room. I told my roommate Karen about how awkward I felt, and she reassured me that they sounded nice.
Over the course of the semester, I spent an increasing amount of time with Guy, Other Guy, and two girl friends (one of whom eventually married Other Guy!) who I became close to through this Bible study. By the end of October, Guy became my first boyfriend.
I have no idea what he might believe now, but at the time, Guy believed in a complementarian setup when it came to gender roles. Complementarianism says that leadership roles belong to men and support roles belong to women. Guy was very vocal with me about his desire to handle our “courtship” cautiously and seriously as my potential future spiritual leader. Now at 31, I consider that perspective on gender to be…how do I want to put this…misleading? Oppressive? Enabling the abuse of power and feeding systemic patriarchy? All of the above? I am an egalitarian, believing that gender does not preclude anyone from any role or ministry. But at 19, I did not have a clue what I thought. Most of my Christian peers at the time agreed with the complementarian worldview wholeheartedly, and I decided they must be right. This isn’t to say that Guy meant badly towards me. I honestly don’t believe he did. He was almost always kind.
I was incredibly excited for my first date, especially because he told me he was taking me to Princeton. I had never been there before but it sounded grownup and romantic. My friend and I took the bus to the mall the day before to carefully select an outfit: a pink tank top with a burgundy sweater. Once Guy and I arrived in Princeton, he led me to our date…at Subway. Then he realized he had forgotten his debit card (or it was his whole wallet? I forget which). So my first date was me buying sandwiches at the least romantic place in Princeton. At the time, I thought he was so intelligent and sweet, that it didn’t matter.
There were some bizarre moments in our relationship, like when he snapped the mix cd I made him for Christmas in half. He said it was a sin to copy music. This felt tragic, since I had agonized over ideas for a thoughtful and personal present when I didn’t have much money. He also refused to watch the movie Mulan with me because of the ancestor worship. I always laugh when I think of that.
Another favorite memory is when Guy walked right smack into my parents’ glass screen door when he arrived to meet my family over winter break. Classic. He did make a good impression on my father, whose takeaway was that Guy carried his Bible with him. I don’t remember anymore what translation it was, but my dad made a point to check and approve. Great job with all those important details about guys I brought home, Dad! Nothing gets past you! That really mattered in the end. (It didn’t.)
At the beginning of the spring semester, Guy suddenly gave me several books about marriage that he wanted me to read and get back to him with my thoughts in the near future. I was taken aback by this as it had only been a few months, and I felt overwhelmed under the pressure to commit to concrete opinions about serious marital issues. I worried that I might disappoint my potential “future leader”. I cringe when I remember those worries now.
A few weeks later, Guy suggested we go on a walk, which we often did together. He told me that he had in his mind a checklist of all the qualities of a Christian wife and the future he envisioned for himself. He felt that I wasn’t ticking off enough boxes for him. Those were his actual words! He also said that he had known this for a couple months but was “trying to make it work”. Like the broken cd, this felt very dramatic, both because of his abruptness and because the location Guy had chosen for this conversation was the pretty waterfall bridge behind campus. He knew it was my favorite place.
To his credit, Guy wrote me a letter two years later, apologizing for how he had handled our relationship. That meant a lot to me. In those years, I went on dates with a few guys and had one other significant relationship. When I was single again, Guy and I ended up long distance friends when he taught English abroad. I remember talking via Skype for hours at night, hearing all about his adventures. I began to get the distinct impression that he wanted to pick things back up when he got back to the states, but I wasn’t sure how I felt. When he arrived home, he barely spoke to me. After I asked why, he said that he felt stressed because “everyone was pressuring him to date me”. He began dating someone he had just met at a wedding not too long after that. Around the same time, I met my actual future husband. And he blew everyone else I’d ever met out of the water, including the saga of Guy, my very first boyfriend.