Do you keep a journal of your relationship? Do you take a few minutes to jot down milestones or note the details of special nights spent with your sweetheart?
When I think back to the year Eric and I became a couple, most of my memories are hazy. Some moments stand out in my mind; whereas, many others I struggle to recall. However, what I do remember about that year is what I neglected while on the road to the altar.
As you prepare for your wedding day, and hopefully your lifetime of love, be careful not to abandon these important areas of your life:
1. Your Friends
It seems like only yesterday my college friend, Ashley, and I were apartment hunting. After two years of dorm life, we were excited to get our own place, and we expected to live together for a while. At the time, we shared the same last name, so I enjoyed pretending we were sisters. After checking out several potential places (some interesting and some downright terrifying), we found our “forever” home at a cute complex about fifteen minutes from campus. With the help of our mothers, we secured our apartment, went home for the summer, and looked forward to moving into our new digs that August.
Then, Eric happened…
That summer, months after Eric (repeatedly) declared us just friends, he started to miss me. Soon, he realized, “Wow, I am growing to love this woman.” By the time Ashley and I had a chance to move into our apartment, Eric and I were seriously dating. From August to June, Ashley and I were roommates, but we did not get the off-campus experience we both expected. Why? Because I was so wrapped up in Eric and I lost sight of the importance of my friendships. Ashley was important to me then – and she is still important today – but, I allowed my giddiness and the newness of my relationship to trump everything else in my life. If I had it to do over again, I would probably:
- Designate some time each week to spend with friends and be willing to work around their schedules.
- Spend more time asking my friends about their lives rather than dedicating all of my energy to Eric and everything which goes along with a new relationship.
- Focus on getting to know other young couples with Eric.
New relationships can be so much fun, but the exhilarating high they give tempt us to push important people – those who have been there for us through the good times and bad – to the back of our minds. Good friends do not fall from the sky. They are a gift worth cherishing.
2. Your Family
The Summer Eric and I became a couple was brutal. He was in Virginia; I was in North Carolina. Would we ever be together again? Working with long-distance couples now, I see now how blessed we were to only be apart for a few months. Leave it to me to be dramatic! Each night, Eric and I would talk to each other around 9 pm and I would move Heaven and Earth to be home in time for that phone call.
Before Eric and I started dating, I spent a lot of time with my grandma and her friend, Miss Linda. We laughed, talked about life, and even considered having a sleepover. But, after I fell in love, I rushed away from those sweet times of fellowship because I wanted to talk to Eric. I can still see the disappointment in Miss Linda’s eyes.
Now, Grandma is with the Lord and my time with Miss Linda has been reduced to a hug on Sunday morning when I visit my home church. Eric is still important to me, but he is not the only person in my life and I should not have treated him as such all those years ago. I wish I had been more sensitive to my family’s needs as they adjusted to the idea of me getting married and moving away. Eric and I were not the only two experiencing a significant life change. Had I been more understanding of what my family was going through, I would have:
- Proactively created times of fellowship for my family before I moved.
- Bent the “rules” of my phone time occasionally to show Mom, Dad, Grandma, and other family members that they still meant the world to me.
- Spent less time talking about my exciting happenings and more time letting them know how much their time, love, and sacrifices shaped and molded me.
Family is one of our greatest gifts and yet so easy to take for granted. I missed so many opportunities to make precious memories with my kinfolk – family and dear family friends – because I was so anxious to get to the next chapter of my life.
3. Your Spiritual Life
Unlike some of my past relationships, Eric did not hinder my relationship with God; but, looking back on that season of my life, I certainly made a god out of our love story. We went to church together and wanted God to be at the center of our union, but in my heart, I was worshiping at the altar of giddiness and butterflies. There is nothing wrong with enjoying the pleasant feelings associated with budding romance; but, as with any good gift, if it takes the place of God in our hearts, it is too highly prioritized.
“You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:4-6, ESV).
In case you are concerned… no, I did not bow down to Eric and worship him. ~smile~ However, I did spend as much time with him as possible while neglecting my prayer and devotion time. It is safe to say that Eric was my everything back then, even though I would have argued this point at the time. Had you asked me, “Heather, what is most important to you in life?” without missing a beat, I would have responded, “My faith and my relationship with God;” however, my actions betrayed me and exposed the contents of my heart.
If given a chance to rewrite this chapter of my life, I would:
- Spend time in God’s Word and prayer each day before spending time with Eric, even if it caused us to have less time together.
- Be honest with Eric about my spiritual needs and seek out more God-centered fellowshipping opportunities while we were dating.
- Explore and better understand the details of our individual beliefs before getting married – and even before getting engaged.
4. Your Health
My godmother was gracious enough to help me find a wedding gown – and not only a wedding gown, but a free wedding gown! Since I was planning to sell my wedding dress anyway, she gathered a group of ladies together who were willing to let me try on their dresses. With some deep breathing and fancy “work,” I was able to fit into one of them… and voila! My wedding dress was “purchased.” I still have a picture of me sitting on the bed beside my grandma the day I tried it on – it is a precious keepsake.
As the year progressed, I told myself repeatedly, “Heather, you are going to lose weight for this wedding! You are going to exercise. You are not going to walk down the aisle feeling overweight and self-conscious. You are going to get healthy!” Well, talk is cheap if you do not put any action behind it! As an emotional eater, it is no surprise that I celebrated my exciting life change with goodies, but I failed to balance my snacking with regular exercise.
The previous two years, I exercised several days a week because our dorm was on the edge of the campus and buses did not run back and forth from that area to the main campus. So, if you could not flag down a car on the way to class, your feet took you there; and, if you sweated through your dress clothes, that was your problem. This constant walking kept my legs rock solid and my waist line decently slender (at least, by my standards ~smile~); but, once I moved off campus, got a full-time job, and started spending most of my free time with my sweetheart, I stopped exercising altogether.
When the time came for our engagement photos, I could barely zip the dress. Why was that not a wake-up call?! Why did I not leave that session and go directly to the gym?! Though desiring perfection is typically unhealthy, being able to zip your wedding dress on your big day is a reasonable expectation.
Unfortunately, I kept on living in denial, eating what I wanted, and never exercising. I just hoped my dress would magically fit. Well, it did not, and hours before my wedding, I stood in the bridal room, panicking, trying to figure out how I was going to shimmy into this dress. It took several ladies working together to figure out how to get me situated; and, though I was eventually able to zip it, I am not sure how I breathed. The wedding happened and Eric and I are still married, but I will forever regret how I felt that day. Instead of feeling beautiful, I felt uncomfortable and large. It was no one’s fault but my own. All those months, I had the power to decide what to eat and when to exercise, but I ignored my health and focused my attention on sweet treats and amusing activities.
Though I strongly warn people, ladies especially, against obsessive dieting and overly strenuous workouts, I do plead with you to maintain your health regardless of your stage of life – school, engagement, pregnancy, retirement, etc. When we put our health on the back burner, it is difficult to return it to its proper place in our lives. After our wedding, I had to face some unfortunate health issues, and I strongly believe they came as a result of my negligence during our courtship. If I had the chance to go back and make some different decisions, I would:
- Prioritize health and wellness.
- Suggest to Eric that some of our time together be spent walking, biking, or working out in some way, shape, or form. (I should also mention that Eric exercised before I came into his life.)
- Use this time of transition to create healthy habits (instead of putting all the hard stuff off until after the wedding).
A few years ago, I heard a song called, The House That Built Me by Miranda Lambert, and it immediately resonated with me. When I visit my hometown, I occasionally drive to familiar spots in an attempt to reconnect with my true self.
Somewhere along the road, I changed – in some ways for the better and… in some ways not. At times, I look at my life and wonder, “How did I get here? I am so far from where I planned to be when I was younger.” Though I am thankful for all the ways God has blessed me (and continues to bless me), I do miss the me I used to be before I was broken and jaded (i.e., before adulthood).
Since I had dreamed of marriage for most of my life, nothing seemed greater than realizing that dream; but, having never been married, I did not know what to expect. Like most new brides, I imagined married life to be good, joyous, and peaceful, and, life has, at times, been good, joyous, and peaceful. It has also been sad, grievous, and chaotic. Both the highs and the lows have served a purpose, and I am thankful for them both; but, what I do regret – down to my core – is losing my old self.
Somewhere along the way, I forgot about myself. In my haste to marry, I think I lied to myself about who I was and what I wanted. Please do not get me wrong; I wanted to marry Eric, but I fooled myself into thinking he was enough – that living his dream would be enough for me. He is not enough – and he never claimed to be. If I could write a letter to my 21-year-old self, I would tell her to live… to keep discovering what makes her unique… and to never lose sight of who she is no matter what man comes into her life.
Love is powerful, and loving feelings can blind and paralyze us. I, like so many young ladies, allowed my relationship to take over my identity. In my excitement, I lost touch with me. So many times in my marriage I have felt desperate to reconnect with my core self and to be the person God made me long before there was an Eric in my life.
If you are not careful and cognizant, you can lose yourself trying to be what someone else needs or wants you to be; and, the fear of losing a relationship can tempt you to live incongruently with yourself. When you are dating, breaking up with your boyfriend or girlfriend can seem like a terrifying prospect; but, over time, losing yourself wears deeply on your spirit.
If I could write that letter to my younger self, I would say:
- Always find some place or excuse to sing. Never stop singing because when you have a microphone in your hand you feel truly alive. Keep writing poetry and do not assume you will never be a songwriter.
- Be honest with yourself and do not latch onto someone else’s dreams simply because you want to be with him.
- Humbly but boldly show God’s handiwork through your specific, unique, and valuable talents. Your future spouse’s gifts and capabilities are not more important than yours.
Several of my friends are still single and I admire them more than they know. Though they desire to be wives and mothers, they are living and enjoying their lives now and not expecting their worth to come with matrimony. Watching them stay true to the passions God birthed in them inspires me and I believe they will continue to operate in those gifts – even if in different ways – after they meet their husbands.
Marriage can be so wonderful, and I believe it was meant to be a gift from God; but, as with anything else, it can become tainted if it is neglected or idolized. By placing my relationship with Eric at the top of my priority list all those years ago, I created an imbalance which followed me into my marriage. Before you walk down the aisle, consider your life from many angles. Be sure it is balanced, with God in first place, before you enter into a covenant with another person – not only for your good but for your future spouse’s good as well.
Can you think of any areas of your life – e.g., friendships, health, education, hobbies – which you have neglected since meeting your boyfriend or girlfriend?
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