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The blog post below has been written by our guest blogger, Alexandra Kennedy. In addition to our married members, we have a number of dating and engaged members who are committed to being intentional in preparing for their future spouse. Russ and I wish we had this kind of wisdom early on.

Perhaps you're married but know of someone who could benefit from this blog. Alexandra takes you on a very raw, vulnerable journey of being engaged and then not being engaged. 

By Alexandra Kennedy - October 3, 2018

My Dating History

I was sixteen years old when my parents allowed me to start dating. Ever since then, I have always been in a relationship. Looking back, I think I believed the lie that I wasn’t complete without one. After all, “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed.”-Ecclesiastes 4:9. Being an identical twin, your identity is tied to another individual your whole life. I came into this world with someone and I didn’t really know what it was like to do life alone.

But what I believe impacted my dating decisions far greater was my struggle with self-worth. At a young age, I observed the girls who were pursued by boys seemed to carry greater value than girls who were not. Those girls were beautiful. Those girls were popular. They had an admirer if not many. They were chosen. From the moment this social dynamic began playing out in grade school, I wanted to be one of those girls.

It took me almost a decade of dating, culminating with a painful failed engagement, to realize that I struggled with deep codependency issues but more importantly, I had incorrectly assigned who has the authority to call me worthy.

Under pressure

Why is it that when you are single, every single person you meet could be your future husband or wife? Who can relate? I know I am not alone in this. Singles, why are we in a perpetual state of hunting? Viewing every one of the opposite sex as a prospect or potential suitor. It’s exhausting. No one can be that prepared. Also, when did being single in your mid-twenties become such a burden? What’s the rush?

Facebook newsfeeds are littered with life events. Watching everyone’s life around you progress, sometimes you can’t help but feel like you are falling behind. On behalf of twenty-somethings, I have walked this road and know this pressure all too well.

It can be so overwhelming that it can cause you to do some crazy things. One morning I woke up and didn’t know who I was anymore. I had made decisions I didn’t agree with. I felt like I had to lie and hide. And worse, I didn’t know how to fix it. I felt I had dug myself in way too deep.

How we met

A friend of mine decided to plan an impromptu trip to Atlanta for a long weekend. Her friend Brad had repeatedly invited her to visit so we had a place to stay in the city if we wanted. I didn’t have any plans that weekend, or reasons not to go, so I went for it. I was a little uneasy about the idea of staying with a strange guy. To set my mind at ease, she showed me a picture of Brad and assured me he was a good guy. At first glance, he just looked like a regular guy. Nothing striking about his appearance. He looked nice. He had a nice smile and he was very well dressed. He was a smaller guy so I guess I was grateful that he wasn’t some huge, intimidating man.

When we landed, it was super late and Brad was there at the airport waiting for us. I remember thinking he looked just like he did in the photo. Just a normal, unassuming guy. Brad was friendly and very easy to talk to. He had known my friend since college so they spent most of the car ride catching up and telling stories about each other. By the time we got into the city, I felt like I knew him too. I felt safe.

By the looks of Brad's high-rise apartment, it was obvious that he could afford a very successful lifestyle. He not only appreciated the finer things in life but he took pride in maintaining them, which I respected.

Over the course of the weekend, he continued to be considerate and proved to be such a good host. He took us to the nicest restaurants and showed us a very good time. I wasn’t outwardly attracted to him but as I got to know him there were things about his character and his personality that were attractive. Though his gestures did not go unnoticed, there was nothing romantic between us. I could not deny that Brad had a lot of things going for him.

More importantly, I was very aware that we lived in two different cities so I never expected to see him again. We kept in touch. A couple of months later, he reached out and said he was in my hometown and would love to see me. We hung out all night and the rest is history.

Long Distance Dating

Brad and I started traveling back and forth from Atlanta to Orlando on weekends. I had seen the life he was accustomed to and recognized the sacrifices he was making to pursue me. He wined and dined me at only the nicest of places. He was well-traveled and took me on three different vacations in just six months. On his own, he was very successful and disciplined in his career. His drive offered a sense of security that I had yet to experience in a relationship. Most importantly, he pursued me like I had never been pursued before. Brad made it very clear from the beginning that he saw a future for us. There was something so fulfilling about being pursued. I was finally chosen.

There are a lot of things you don’t see when you date long distance. For starters, you physically don’t get to see each other as often as couples who live locally. You have to wait to see each other and when you are together, in the back of your mind you know will be leaving soon. I think it makes you value your time together and helps you practice patience.

But there were some things I did know about him that I really valued. Brad grew up in the church and that was important to me. His parents were still married and they did everything together. He had a small circle of close friends and talked about family a lot.

Just six short months of long-distance dating later, he proposed.

The Proposal

  

It was fast. Everyone said it was fast. I was in complete shock when he proposed. Looking back on the photos from that day, you can see it all over my face. I couldn’t even bring myself to smile. I was stunned. I think the gravity of the situation landed on me so profoundly that day. One day, we were dating and the next I was a fiancée. How could he be so sure about us? I felt like I didn’t even know him.

Newly engaged and still living in separate cities, we began navigating the logistical conversation on when I would move. From the beginning, I felt like I had no real choice. If I wanted to be with Brad, I was moving to Atlanta. It took me two months to quit my job, sell my things, pack my possessions into my car, and get the courage to say goodbye to friends and family. It broke my heart to leave but he assured me we would make the time to visit them often.

Moving In together

There are things that I intentionally looked past. Over time, Brad became more comfortable and started to reveal himself. He was a little more judgmental, a little more arrogant, and a little more entitled each time I visited. Those should’ve been my warning signs but for whatever reason, I excused his behavior.

When I relocated to Atlanta I fell under his control. The honeymoon was over. It became a nightmare. Of course, you would never know from the photos how much mental anguish and emotional abuse occurred. Overnight, I left everything that I identified with to pursue a life with him. Leaving my job, I lost my sense of purpose and very quickly began losing my confidence. Leaving my friends and family, I lost my comfort and my support. Early on in our relationship, I was fully capable of articulating my desires, wants, and wishes in a relationship. I remember knowing myself so deeply as to have the confidence to share my non-negotiables and even inquire about his non-negotiables.  But somewhere along the way, I lost myself. I lost my voice. I lost the ability to advocate on my behalf. Something in me had changed.

Lost Sight

My faith was extremely important to me. For him, faith was a private matter. It was personal and he never wanted to share it. But he would come to church with me, so I never pushed the issue. I worried that he would never fully know me or my heart if we didn’t share our faith journey. I wanted to believe he was the one.  Was I trying to control my situation instead of letting God control it? Is this really the man God had for me? I had lost sight of what was truly important to me.

Breaking the Cycle

Things got worse in our relationship. I felt so alone. He wanted me alone and did things to intentionally isolate me. Thankfully, I anchored myself in a small group of young women. The first book we read together as a group was  Love, Sex, Dating. I had read the book before and believed in the principles Andy Stanley so eloquently shared but this time I was fearful to share with the group that I was living this lie. How did I end up here? I had to make some changes and not just some minor ones.

Ultimately, I told Brad I wanted to move out because I felt like we were cheating on our marriage by living together. It resulted in a fight that persisted for hours. When it came to the conversation about continuing to be intimate, he responded with “What’s the point of being in a relationship then?” And that was my answer. At that moment, he had reduced me down to what I did for him in the relationship. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” – Luke 6:45

There was so much fear surrounding the finality of this decision. Doubts started to creep into my heart. What if he changes? Am I walking away too soon? What if I never get married? What if this is my only shot? And the most dangerous thought, What if God wants me to serve as a witness to him?

Just a few days shy of making it one year, I ended our engagement and gave him the ring back.

Looking back, I could never envision myself marrying him. In fact, I never began planning our wedding or tried on a single dress. We never picked a date.

Finding myself again

Following my therapist's recommendation, I packed my car and drove 400 miles south to my home. I was so off balance from all the transition and upheaval in my life, that he said I needed to go where I am known and loved. It was exactly what I needed.

During this time, I finally had a moment to catch my breath. I began to process the engagement and all the pain I had experienced and subsequently repressed.

The Wait: Time is your friend.

I was so tired of the rollercoaster of emotions, so I decided to take a year off of dating. I didn’t want to date just to date anymore. I told myself the next person I was going to be with was my future husband.

People would say to me, “How are you going to find someone if you never go out? How will you find him if you don’t date?” “Why don’t you just date so-and-so.” I didn’t have to worry about how it was going to happen… I knew that God had that all figured out.

I won’t lie to you, it wasn’t easy. For whatever reason, the second I made the decision to stop dating and focus on me, guys were coming out of the woodwork. It was actually really annoying. I remember thinking, OF COURSE, the second I make this decision all these great guys would start coming my way. But I continued on my path with the confidence that God was in control. For extra protection, I began to pray the same prayer every day. I would pray, “God, if I’m not going to marry him, please don’t let me catch feelings. Please give me discernment and wisdom to navigate what I’m feeling. If I am going to marry him, please don’t let my feelings cloud my judgment or compromise the covenant. And God – If I fall in love with what I’ve heard, let it be because his words edify my spirit and mirror your word.”

My Harvest

On a Sunday, I had taken notice that an acquaintance of my sister’s boyfriend was now attending the Church I went to. His name was Adam. I had known of him but didn’t know him well enough. From what I had heard, he was well respected. “Good for him!”, I thought. It’s always nice to see new faces in church. He would sit toward the back by himself.

Occasionally, a group of us would meet in the lobby after the service and go somewhere for breakfast. Adam joined us a few times. It was so interesting how much my heart has changed. He was very attractive and very kind but it really didn’t matter to me like it used to. God had given me eyes that respected Adam but with a quiet confidence that God had something for me. I didn’t want a relationship anyway. I knew I needed time.

I would run into Adam every now and again. He was always nice. At some point, Adam got my number and we began texting casually.

After being home for two months, I decided I was ready to move back to Atlanta. Ready to do things on my own terms and create a life for myself in what I consider a redemption year.

Knowing that I love to read, Adam texted me that he had read a great book that he wanted to mail to me. I gave him my address and two days later I received the most beautiful flowers. Inside the card read, “The best chapter of your life has yet to be written.” I called him right away to say thank you and that it was so considerate and unexpected. But I wanted him to know that I wasn’t interested in dating right now. He understood and said he just wanted to make me smile and thought I deserved some flowers for what I walked through. We ended the conversation by saying that we were looking forward to seeing each other again…whenever that was.

After a month or so of us texting and randomly hanging out, Adam invited me to a concert with him and my sister and her boyfriend when I was back in Orlando for a business trip. He was respectful. He invited me to dinner. Looking back, his pursuit was calculated but patient.

As I got to know Adam, I was amazed daily by how he truly was everything and MORE that I had prayed for. His vulnerability drew me in. He was unlike anyone I had met before.  Adam is one of the most caring, selfless, sensitive, generous, loving, and handsome men I have ever met. He puts the Lord first and truly pastors me and loves me as the Lord does. Every door is opened before I can put my hand on it. Not a day goes by without him praying for me and speaking his love to me.

Because of the heartache, God became the source of my fulfillment, worth, and identity. I don’t get my worth or fulfillment from Adam. God broke the cycle of ruminating on who I should be dating. Adam's love is just a representation of Jesus’ love for me.

After 11 months, Adam asked me to be his girlfriend.

Trust Him

I pray that my story encouraged you today, wherever you are in your journey. The Lord cares so much about every detail of your life. He put the desires in your heart. Don’t try to get ahead of God by trying to figure out how it is going to happen. Trust that He has your life figured out so you don’t have to. It will be beyond anything you can ever dream, ask, or imagine. Our God is so faithful.

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God Uses Our Experiences to Help Others

In the email, I mentioned how Alexandra and I had no idea what was in store for us meeting each other. Before I met Russ, I had dated someone for a couple of years, who I thought was ultimately going to be the one. So much so, that we took a premarital assessment test at the church to see how healthy we would be together married. I was in for a surprise. There were so many red flags on the results, it looked like the stock market had crashed. But was I really surprised?

It took someone (my dear friend and counselor, Debbie Causey) to shine a light on my situation and ask some questions like, "Tell me why you love each other?" It was this type of questioning for me to wake up to all the warning signs I had been seeing along the way. Believe it or not, her simple questions were enough for me to call it quits. Of course, there is more to this story but I want to keep it brief to share how God uses our experiences to help others. Debbie turned on a light for me like I turned on a light for Alexandra. Neither Debbie nor I knew the power of stepping into these stories but like the scripture says,

In their hearts, humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps. -Proverbs 16:9

If you're married, share your story with others. Be a mentor. You'll never know how much you might impact a life, a future family, or a legacy. 

Or if you're still dating, be brave and ask for a mentor.

And the bow at the end of Alexandra's story...June 18, 2022!

Want to be more intentional in your journey toward marriage? Join this incredible Intentional Marriages community by clicking here. Learn the foundation of how to establish a strong relationship that can withstand the test of time and conflict. All marriages have conflict, it's how you recover is the secret sauce. Join us to learn how!

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