As the title says, this post was written by my fiance Sarah. I asked her to share some thoughts in light of my blog “The art of friendship“. As I alluded to, her relationships with men have not been great and my friendships have mirrored some of that; here she shares the impact of all that, and how she’s come to terms with it all.
As part of his blog on friendship, Graham has asked me to write my own blog about my experiences of these particular friendships as his fiancé, what feelings I felt and how we worked through it as a couple. Part of this process for me, was wrestling with my past experiences, so I will be discussing that and how it impacted our relationship. As Graham has already said, my experiences of men, in general, aren’t good. Unfortunately, I know only too well what it’s like to be taken advantage of, left behind and treated badly. But don’t get the violins out, my life really is great. Those things that I experienced as a child and as a teenager, although unpleasant at the time, have shaped me into the person I am today. I have a great life partner in Graham, a supportive (and crazy) family, I have a job that I love, working with young people, and my degree course is opening up lots of doors for me. Basically, I want to spend my life helping people, particularly those young people who are going through similar things to what I did, and supporting them and showing them that their pasts don’t have to affect their futures.
So, when I first met Graham, I was 20 years old. Young and naïve and full of expectations. He was my first and only boyfriend; we met by accident over the internet during a discussion on a Christian Forum. We very quickly fell in love, the distance between us (I was living in London at the time) making every moment we spent together all the more special. When I started to meet his friends, I noticed a strong recurrence; the majority of them were women, and, with the exception of his boisterous darts friends, the people who he was closest to and trusted the most were female. To begin with, this didn’t bother me; I got on with them well and they clearly cared about the friendship they shared with Graham. But as time went on, I started to realise that he had a lot more in common with those women than he did with me. Now, of course, logically that’s going to happen; he had known them for longer and had gone through a lot with them. But as his girlfriend at the time, I felt like a spare part whenever we would go out to meet them because they had so much to talk about, things that I didn’t give much thought to, like action movies, conspiracy theories, science and sci fi. I couldn’t get a word in edgeways and felt like I was crashing Graham’s time with his friends. I tried very hard to suppress the green eyed monster that was raising it’s ugly head, but eventually, I confronted Graham about it and told him how I was feeling. He was very understanding and incredibly patient with me as I worked through my issues; I tried to make it clear that I wasn’t upset because of something he had done, but because of my personal past experiences.
My dad left our family when I was 10 years old because he was having an affair with another woman. Up until that point, he hadn’t been around much anyway because of his job; he worked abroad a lot and wasn’t at home a lot of the time. So when that happened, all that I thought my dad to be (a jet setting super-dad who travelled to far away places and brought back presents and stories of the things that he’d seen) went out of the window; I lost trust in him and mourned for him as if he had died, and I had lost my dad, the divorce changed him. This experience is ingrained in me and has affected a lot of my friendships and life decisions. Unfortunately, it has filled me with a fear of abandonment and a need to ‘be enough’ so people will stick around. Before I met Graham, I had an unhealthy opinion of God and I tried to fill the void I felt in the only way I knew how; with boys. As I said, Graham was my one and only boyfriend, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the company of guys beforehand. As I grew up and especially in my late teens, I put myself in social situations that I knew I was uncomfortable with but did because I was seeking male attention. Between the ages of 15 and 18, I developed a very strong emotional attachment to a boy who lived in the same village as me. He was my first proper crush and I hung on his every word. But he broke my heart and, looking back, that was when things started to spiral out of control. I hung around guys and older men who I knew were bad news, but I was looking for attention and love, no matter how small the gesture, so I stuck around. By the time I reached university in London, my tendency to be too nice landed me in real trouble. A guy living on the floor below me in halls had heard that I was a Christian and saw it as a challenge to get me into bed. Just for the record, he didn’t, but not for a lack of trying. I avoided him after I discovered his intentions. I was also stalked by a man I had met once in a supermarket and he sent me inappropriate messages and requests. After reporting him, the harassment stopped, but that was the point where the wool was lifted from my eyes. This was the treatment that the devil wanted me to believe I deserved, that this was all I was good for and that it wouldn’t get any better. These experiences left me with a bad taste in my mouth about men, and so I focused on allowing myself to be happy doing what I loved without worrying about what others thought of me. I discovered more respect for myself because I wasn’t doing things to keep people happy but because I wanted to do them.
Anyway, back to the matter at hand; having had these experiences, my response to Graham having close female friends wasn’t good. The fear from my parents divorce constantly nagged at the back of my mind and the devil had a field day feeding on my fears. I constantly tried too hard, putting myself out and spending too much money on surprises and gifts because I thought I had to earn Graham’s love. Because of the distance between us (our whole relationship has been at a distance, and will be until we’re married), Graham often got to see his friends more than he saw me, and that made me very jealous. It wasn’t his fault, or indeed, his friends fault, but I started to become paranoid that if I wasn’t around when he wanted me to be, Graham would look elsewhere. Again, this wasn’t any reflection on Graham’s character or on how he had treated me; it was all past fears and it eventually got to the point where it was affecting our relationship so much, with arguments, accusation and misunderstanding, that I had to make a decision. Was I ready to be in a relationship? Was I ready to make myself vulnerable and trust my heart to another man?
By the grace of God, and with a lot of patience, the answer to those questions became yes; I had to come to terms with the fact that I really didn’t have a clue what a healthy relationship looked like, and that all the Disney movies and chick flicks I had watched had given me unrealistic expectations of love and who Graham should be. My parents relationship before the divorce had largely been at a distance because of my dad’s job, and I was fearful that due to the distance in our relationship, we were headed towards the same end. I had to work hard to remember that Graham wasn’t my dad, and to trust that God would protect my heart from any more hurt. I didn’t want to become a wife who dictated when and were Graham could see his friends, that wouldn’t be fair, I don’t own him. I aired my concerns to him and he was very patient with me. We talked A LOT about the friendships he has and how it can sometimes make me feel, often going over the same ground several times. I have learnt that whether the relationship is romantic or not, Graham will throw everything he has into it; he doesn’t do half measures. At the end of the day, it all comes down to trust. Graham is aware of my past, and I am aware of this, and we both know how vulnerable we can be at times, so we continually reassure and talk about our feelings when they occur. That way, we don’t give the devil a chance to get a foot hold and turn our feelings toxic.
I will never stop Graham from seeing his friends, female or not, and actually, something that has really helped me is becoming friends with those women as well. Being frank and honest with them about how I feel and helping them to understand my fears has alleviated all the awkwardness that I previously felt because, having had a girlie heart to heart about it, I now know that they are not a threat, and that they care about Graham in a purely un-romantic way. Who would I be if I didn’t trust them on that? I have no right to control, accuse or assume someone else’s thoughts. I also have close male friends who I talk to and spend time with; none as close as Graham of course, but I enjoy their company and they’re special people in my life. Graham trusts me completely that those relationships will remain un-romantic, and that if any spark does occur, we agree to be open about it. I would like to give an example; Graham recently travelled to Los Angeles for a training week for work and I was missing him terribly as we couldn’t talk daily like we usually do. I was attending lectures during that week, and a male friend from the year below me offered a hug when he saw that I was looking glum. It was a long, tight hug that was very comforting, but it also made me realise how much I missed Graham and that I wished I was hugging him. I felt guilty as I feared I had shared an inappropriately timed hug with a man who wasn’t my intended, and so when Graham returned home, I told him what had happened. He said it was fine and thanked me for being honest. He said it was natural to find comfort in human contact and that he trusted me to keep things appropriate. And that was it, that’s all it needs to be. I think I have become a lot more aware of my words and actions since being with Graham; I used to be quite flirtatious, but now I am much more reserved in my interactions with the opposite sex. I am also aware of just how special our connection is and, as my future husband, there are things that only he knows and only hears from me because it’s such a special, treasured thing. I don’t think Graham and I would be as close are we are now if we hadn’t been honest and upfront with each other. I think my jealousy and pre-judgement would have eaten me up and destroyed our relationship and broken down any trust we had.