Monday, February 2, 2015

Our Love Story (and What You Can Learn from It)

Photo credit: Captured by Kathy K
With Valentine's Day coming up, I thought I'd use this week to share the story of how my husband and I met, dated, and married, as well as how our story can be a positive example for singles that are looking to be married.

During my first week at college (Concordia University - Ann Arbor), I made friends quickly. By the end of my first week, I already had developed relationships with several of those that would be part of my friend group through the next four years and beyond. I wanted college to be a time of trying new things and branching out, so when one of those friends mentioned they were going to a meeting for the theater group, I tagged along.

I walked in, took a seat, and looked around. Across from me sat Andrew Gumm, the man that I would one day call my husband.

This isn't a story of love at first sight. To be honest, I don't even recall noticing him that day, aside from as the clearly-much-older-than-me student director with the basketball shorts and bushy beard. He made a much more distinct impression a few days later, when I started volunteering in the scene shop, which he was in charge of. And at that point, he kind of frightened me a bit. Add the bushy beard and basketball shorts to a half-crazed grin and power tools (I think he was trying to frighten the new he really likes power tools), and you have one scary picture.

Still, we spent a lot of time together for the next semester. His roommate and best friend (who happened to be dating my roommate) was Tom in The Glass Menagerie (our fall play), my best friend played Laura, and my roommate was one of the stage managers. Andrew was the student director, head stage manager, and head of scene shop, and I was the costumes manager. One of his close friends (playing Jim in in the play) was the older brother of one of my close friends (who worked in the scene shop). We spent a lot of time together with our mutual friends. When we weren't working on the play, the theater group was going to Steak n Shake or having game nights. Neither of us looked at each other as more than a friend--we were both interested in different people at that point--but we had a solid friendship.

When the spring semester came, he began his student teaching and wasn't going to be able to be involved in theater as much. By that point, I was starting to think about dating; I didn't necessarily want a serious relationship, but several of my friends were dating people at that point. I thought it would be fun to start spending time with someone and casually dating. Andrew was the first person I thought of, not as someone that I could ever be seriously interested in, but as someone that would be fun to spend time with and get to know better.

I started inviting him to spend time together in smaller groups. He came to my dorm to play games and talk, and he would come into theater when I was working (being on student teaching, he wasn't working much in theater) and talk to me while I worked. Before I knew it, I had developed feelings for him.

Because I was unsure of how he felt, I tried to deny my feelings while still keeping our friendship. The day spring break started, I invited him to ride up to the airport with me and my grandparents as I left to visit my parents. When I saw him coming up to my dorm that day, though, my heart was racing. We were going to watch a movie before my grandparents arrived, but we ended up talking. About five minutes before my grandparents showed up, he asked me to go out with him. Excited, but not wanting to get my hopes up, I asked him what he meant. "Well, as my girlfriend," he said, which I replied to with an enthusiastic "yes". The next few minutes were a blur of blushing, awkwardly looking at each other and away, and laughing, until he took my hand. Which quickly ended when my grandpa walked up and knocked on the window.

While I was gone on spring break, we texted almost non-stop. We talked casually, like we had when we were just friends, but we also talked about life goals and serious issues--things that could make or break a relationship. The more we talked, the more I realized we had in common, and the more I realized that I could see myself with him in the long term. I was quite sure that I wasn't in love with him at that point, but I knew I could love him.

Over the next few weeks (and all through that semester), we spent time together one-on-one and with friends, played games, watched movies, and spent a lot of time talking. One night, just about three weeks after he asked me out, we were texting, and he said something both thrilling and shocking. The text read "I guess I'll have to be getting a ring sooner than I expected." Sure I misunderstood, I asked him what he meant, and he clarified that he'd be buying me an engagement ring eventually.

I met his parents the week of his graduation, a little over two months after we started dating. He met my parents that October when they came to visit me at school. That Christmas, he came to Germany with me, and during his Christmas visit he asked my dad's permission to marry me. He proposed in March, 13 months after we started dating, and 16 months after that--about 2 1/2 years after that first day--we stood before God, our friends, and our family, and pledged to be true to each other until death.

We've now been married for six months and four days. In May, we're expecting the birth of our first child, a daughter named Abigail. These past few months have been challenging, but we both know that this is just part of a cycle and things will get better.

Andrew and I made many mistakes in our relationship, and I know we will make many more. I could write a whole post on what not to do based on our example, but today I'm just going to focus on what we did well that might work for others. This is not an exhaustive list of how to find a spouse, nor is it a guarantee that any relationship that does this will work out. These are just the aspects that I feel were most important to the success of our relationship.

We were friends before we dated. I am a firm believer that a solid friendship is vital to a good relationship, especially a marital relationship. We knew each other quite well even before we started dating, so we were able to tell if the relationship was even possible. We learned about each other before becoming emotionally involved, so if one of us had found any non-negotiable traits in the other, we could have ended the relationship before it started, saving ourselves a lot of heartbreak.

Our friends were an integral part of our relationship. Before we were dating, we spent a lot of time together with friends. After we started dating, little changed there. We spent time one-on-one, but we also still spent a lot of time with our group of friends. Because of this, we each saw how the other interacted with friends, and we were able to maintain a healthy social life, as well as having a solid support base. If the relationship had any major warning signs that we didn't notice, our friends would have been there to let us know.

Our families were involved. Because we were both living far from our parents (his were in Wisconsin, mine were in Germany, and he and I were at school in Michigan), they weren't able to be as involved as we may have liked. However, the first day he asked me out, he met my grandparents and spent two hours in the car with them, only one hour which I was present for. We spent holidays with each other's extended family (he came to Ohio for Easter with my family--minus my parents--and I went to Wisconsin for Thanksgiving with his family). He met my parents as soon as possible, and he spent an entire week with them over Christmas before he proposed. He also showed deference to my father's authority by asking him for my hand in marriage. Because our families were involved, we had extra accountability; they reminded us of proper behavior and were able to confirm that the relationship was a good fit.

Once we got serious, we got really serious. We didn't spend a lot of time in that in-between, "we like each other but aren't sure where the relationship is going" stage. As I said before, he first mentioned marriage just three weeks after we started dating! While we were together for over a year before getting engaged and for 2 1/2 years before getting married, we knew from a very early point where the relationship was going--to marriage. There was no uncertainty on that front that could have led to heartbreak.

Our faith is the center of our relationship. When I said that these were general guidelines that don't apply to everyone, I may have been slightly misleading. The others were negotiable; this one is not. A Christian should never begin a relationship that does not have Christ at the center. "A threefold cord is not quickly broken." (Ecclesiastes 4:12) "Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers." (2 Corinthians 6:14) Not to say that someone who became a believer after being married should divorce their spouse who does not believe; rather, a believer should not begin a relationship with an unbeliever. For more on this, see 1 Corinthians 7:12-16

Married couples, is there anything you would add to or take away from this list? Singles, what are your thoughts? How do you structure your dating life?

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