Once upon a time, a fifteen year-old sat in the dorm-room she shared with another fifteen year-old a wrote a letter to her crush, a twenty year-old heartthrob (according to her). She was rather naive, having been protected all her life, and had really very little idea about how she should go about getting his attention. She messed it up, he was amused (but not moved) by her letter, which included all the lyrics to Brandi’s Sitting Up In My Room, properly acknowledged of course because she’d read her brother’s notes on citation. She regularly went through her brother’s old files from college because she was that kind of child: wordy, ready as in read everything and anything, and far advanced beyond her years.
However, one cannot learn about love and romance from books, one must learn by experience and from the anecdotal evidence of others. Unfortunately for that fifteen year-old, she had been so well-protected that she had never heard these anecdotes or experienced a crush before, so relative to her age, to her developmental progress, when it came to boys despite being ‘advanced’ in other areas, she was woefully unprepared.
Sitting Up In My Room read like everything she wanted to say to this boy whose smile made her little heart thud, so she was happy that day, painstakingly copying the lyrics from an old Look&Listen magazine. This was in the days before Google and the internet, you see.
Once the lyrics were neatly copied on to the front page of an A4 counter-book centre spread, she filled the remaining three pages torn from her Geography notebook with her untidy scrawl, writing about how handsome he looked the last time she saw him, how boring school was now that she was supposed to be thinking about her O’ Levels, and ended with a plea: would he please tell her if he was going to be her boyfriend because she also liked her music coach’s brother but liked him more. I told you. Clueless.
Once upon a time there was an unmarried woman in Joburg. She prayed to her God often, crying out for relief from her deep loneliness and for healing from heartbreak. She sat in her study (she had such a room where she lived in those days) and wrote out the characteristics of the kind of friends she wanted to attract. Soon enough, as happens with single women past a certain age, that list evolved into one detailing the kind of romantic partner she desired. It wasn’t a very long list because she had learnt a lot since the days of Brandi lyrics and teenage crushes, and although she would never be completely comfortable with the dating scene and was forever awkward in her interactions with the opposite sex, she was a little bit wiser and her expectations were more, shall we say, realistic?- which is not to say that she was no longer naive. She was.
This was her list:
- He must be able to teach me about God (because she had walked through wilderness and met her God there).
- He must be willing to be a husband to me and a father to my children (she wrote a separate list for the kind of husband she wanted and another for the kind of father she desired for her children and then combined the two).
- He must want to be with me.
I told you it was a very short list, if list can even be used in this context. Anyway.
One day, a few months after writing and refining and committing and praying over to her lists, a man she liked and thought she could learn to love (he made her breathless for real, imagine that), came to see her. They’d known each other for a year by then and his visits were sporadic, random, and always short, but she liked him and let him come and go as he pleased, never asking him what he was doing, nor asking herself what she was doing entertaining what she later came to call his shenanigans.
One day after a particularly trying encounter (her heart was in her throat the entire time and she struggled to maintain composure: he had that effect on her), he dropped her outside her building, said his goodbyes and drove away. She walked into her flat smiling, giddy with endorphins and dopamine, and got straight into bed to think about him. She replayed the scene over and over in her head, examining it for clues about his intentions, and -because she was wiser now not just older– she focused too on her responses to the very real stimuli that presented itself in the shape of a seemingly appropriate, generous, God-fearing man.
Yes, he could teach her about God and had done so already, showing her the face of God in new ways. Her talks with him were the primary cause of her study of the subject of prayer, and she knew that in matters of spirituality she had at last met a man who could do what Adam failed to do for Eve. Here was a man who could stand between her and God as both pastor and prophet. Yes. Point No.1 on the list: check.
Next, could he husband her and father her children? She considered this, weighing his actions up till that point against the measure of husband and father: protect and provide. Could he, she wondered. Would he, was the more pressing question. She considered this seriously. Her ability to ignore the rush he gave her, to create space in which to consider the things that matter, was hard-won and she valued it. She had ignored these things before, fallen for unsuitable men, but now she was well-equipped -because of her commitment to hiding in God and living in truth- to properly separate fact from hormone-fuelled fiction and fantasy from reality. Ah yes, she had learnt you see. She had learnt that what a man says is important, but less so than what he does. She had learnt to enjoy the words while reading the actions, instead of lettting mere words, unsupported by action, cloud her judgment. She had come a long way from that foolish fifteen year-old. But I digress.
The question now before her was whether or not he would be the man in her life, whether he intended to be that man. She pondered whether she could wife him as he needed (of course she considered his needs too, what she knew of them. She was not altogether selfish), and mother his children.
Her conclusion was that yes, she could if the opportunity arose, and that he too could husband and father. He had the skillset necessary to protect and provide, and she thought, thought, that the intention to do so was why he kept in touch. There was no rush, there was much ground to cover before such things could be discussed, but she was growing increasingly convinced that yes, the right framework existed.
And so on to the third and final bullet point on her list of basic requirements. Did he want to be with her? Ah, the most difficult question to ask of another. Are you willing to do what it takes?
Here she had to be firm with herself. She promised herself a few years ago that she would deal with the world as it was, not as she wanted it to be. So she was merciless in het search for proof of love, of caring, of concern. Yes, there were such proofs. But were they enough?
For the time being, for what they were to each other, his actions were…satisfactory; fair. They were in a kind of friendship that, to be honest, worked only because they both wanted it to and compromised where necessary to maintain status quo.. Ideal, wouldn’t you say?
Ah but now, wait. What is this? The woman sits back and a frown appears on her brow. What was it that he said? Yes. The memory fills the room. She is no longer smiling, her heart is no longet racing.
I am not ready for a relationship.
When he said those words she nodded in agreement. She knew he had work to do on himself, and to be honest she was glad for the slow pace with which their relationship grew. From sharing Scriptures, to discussing the nature of faith in God who claims to be the God, to talking about matters of the heart …they progressed slowly, carefully, gingerly because when they were children, these two, they thought like children and acted like children but now they were grown, and needed to reason like adults.
So what did it mean, this thing he said?
Now that she was alone and not buffeted by delighful sensory perception of his maleness and deep spirituality, she asks herself why she didn’t press him? Was it because she knew where he was going and wanted assurance that he would never leave her? She understood him easily and was encouraged by this sign of self-awareness on his part. Besides, she knew she wasn’t ready for a relationship either, and she knew that full well. There was a lot to be done on both sides before they could even begin to talk about what a life together might look like. So when he said he wasn’t ready although it was appropos of nothing, really, she agreed. She said she knew that he wasn’t ready, and let him know that she too had work to do before committing to a relationship. She understood what he was saying, and appreciated the truth of it.
Now, alone, she thought about it and found herself wondering why he had said that. Who asked him?
A new sensation arose in her chest. Nausea, or something like that. New understanding bloomed. Her breath became shallower, and she had to consciously decide to breath in 1 2 3 4 and out 1 2 3 4…
And then she faced the deeper truth of his statement.
When a man says he’s not ready for a relationship, what he means is that he’s not ready for a relationship with YOU.
To all the boys I’ve loved before I dedicate this piece and this beautiful, beautiful song because I stand here, I am still standing, not because I am superwoman or uniquely inured to heartbreak (I’m also dramatic and prone to exaggeration), but because I am still able to love. You all taught me that about myself. I’m still standing because hope springs eternal. It really does. Because each one of you taught me this: good men exist, men I can love exist, it is inconceivable that I will not find one man who wants to be loved by me.
I am stronger than I have ever been because I still believe in a loving God who will in His good time satisfy the desires of my soul.
The vision will come though it tarry. If t’is not now, then it is to come, and if it is to come, then it will not be now.
Yes. Another sunrise, another day. I live, I learn, I love. Here’s to moving forward. #squadsalute