Phil and I get engaged–after two months

One day at Phil’s house, we talked about going to “Maverick” with Dave and Pearl.  I was excited because we hadn’t been to the movies for a while, and this one looked like fun.

Then Phil and Dave started wrestling on the floor in front of the couch where I sat.  I thought it was all in fun, just two brothers playing around.  I used to wrestle with Peter, too, though not quite so roughly as two brothers might.

Dave got the better of Phil.  Then Phil wrestled me a little bit, and I thought it was all in fun.

Then it turned to pain–I think he was bending my arm back or something.  His mom yelled at him.

I’d been having fun, but now I got upset.  I don’t think I yelled.  He might even have yelled at Dave for something.

Then he went into his own room.  His mom mumbled a few things after he left, and was put out.

A few minutes later, I went into Phil’s room after him.  I found him lying on his couch, upset at himself.

He said he didn’t like how Dave always got the better of him, and it hurt his pride.  He didn’t like that he’d hurt me, either.

There was some of the usual–him saying I should find someone else who was better for me.

We ended up talking for a while.  And, well, we never went to the movies that night.  We were all too upset, and talking things out with him was too important.


On probably April 9, Seymour said to me at work as James sat next to me at the desk, “Did you hear that Kurt Cobain died?”

He told me at least some of the lurid details, that Cobain, the lead singer of Nirvana, had just killed himself at age 27, and been found on April 8.  I sat in shock and disbelief.

Seymour said, “But you don’t listen to Nirvana, do you?” and I said I loved Nirvana.

James didn’t like Nirvana, and was satirical about the whole thing.  I, however, was devastated.  Though not one of those people who held up Cobain as some sort of god, I loved his music.


I wrote the following to Pearl in my notes during Botany class on the 15th, describing the night of April 12:

Want details?  Don’t tell Maura or Dave–they don’t know yet–he’s afraid to tell his mom.

That may be because we had only been together for two and a half months.

4/12 late evening, probably 10 or 11; my parents know already; we wanted to keep it a secret at first, but, as you see, it didn’t work–who told you?

She said that Jennifer’s Mike overheard Phil calling me “fancy,” his cute version of “fiancée,” while we were in the library.


He didn’t plan to–he got the idea all of a sudden: Why not now?  Why wait?  Let’s just make it official; we’re already talking about it.  He had a vision of himself doing it.

A minute later, he was on his knees in front of me (main lounge–one of the couches) [we were alone in Krueger lounge], asking me if I loved him.  I had a suspicion.

Then he asked me if I’d marry him, and I said yes.

I didn’t mention a nagging feeling that I shouldn’t say yes so soon.

When would he tell his parents?

When he gets the chance and the nerve; my parents are OK with it.

When will I get an engagement ring?

Next fall, when he (hopefully) can afford it–right now I have the “engagement bird.”

That is, the porcelain bird I mentioned before.  Somebody later joked that Phil “gave me the bird.”

Pearl may have asked me earlier, and I may have tried to evade the question, according to some notes I made a couple years later.  But I don’t remember that now.

Nowadays, people talk like it’s “creepy” and a “sign of future abuse and control” if somebody wants to make you “theirs” so fast.

But back then, we were more concerned about people rushing in too fast without really knowing each other, and living to regret their legal and religious bond.  Otherwise, it was simply called a “whirlwind courtship,” and considered romantic, nothing at all pathological.

It’s weird to hear people call this a “sign of abuse,” when my parents, my husband’s parents, and my husband’s brother, all got married quickly.  Peter’s parents got married within days of their first date–that very day, I believe it was.

One episode of Make Room for the Daddy, from 1959, depicted Danny and Kathy pushing Pat to get engaged to their daughter Terry–only two months after they started dating!  Pat agreed, and the happy couple got engaged.

This was considered a happy ending, no “warnings for the future,” showing 50s attitudes.

The modern idea of “creepiness” and “red flags”–I never heard of such an idea until maybe in the last few years, while researching abuse.  [written 2013]

On the night of the 12th, Phil and I went to get the bird from his house, and it felt so very weird to be engaged.  Not pre-engaged–formally, officially engaged.  After so long being lonely, I finally knew whom I was to marry!

I said as we walked away from Krueger, thinking that I didn’t want the engagement to end, “I hope it’s the only time someone will propose to me.”

Phil smiled and said, “So do I!”

Isn’t it a good thing that hope was not fulfilled!

On April 18, I spoke with Pearl through my Botany notes again.  I wrote, “His mom did think he was joking.”

We’d stopped on the way out the door one day, and Phil had told his parents as they sat in the living room.  His mom thought he was joking, and I think she laughed or joked right back.

I wrote that before he told her, “Someone went up to her to congratulate her and she said, For what?  She wants him to wait until he graduates.  That’s too long!  There’s got to be a way around that.”

Phil decided to work with his adviser so he could graduate, even with a double major of Theater and Math, half a year early and half a year after I did.

It still seemed like too long to wait, especially after I had been waiting for my own graduation to get married, not for anybody else’s.

(It was my own idea freshman year to wait till after graduation to marry, if I found someone by then.  It was not my parents’ idea.  I wanted to focus on college, not babies, and Donna Reed once said 22 was a good age to marry.)

One day my old roommate Candice sat with her best friend, probably her new boyfriend, and a few others in the cafeteria.  I sat with them during lunch.  I told Candice I was engaged to Phil, and she said, “Is that Dave’s brother?”  She knew Dave?

My old boss Nancy found out I was engaged, and had me point him out to her one day at lunch.  “Ooh! And he’s all yours!” she chirped.

Phil tries to guilt me into changing religion

Soon after the engagement, Catherine and Rachel came to visit my room and see the bird, and Phil was there.  I think someone asked about our religious differences, and when I nonchalantly said I wasn’t converting, Phil said,

“That would make it hard for us to get married.”

(Despite the fact that plenty of Protestants and Catholics get married to each other without either one converting.  I didn’t know that priests can bless such marriages, just that they were legal.  If I’d known that a priest can bless such marriages, and if Phil had said so, we could have settled the argument easily.)

Rachel and Catherine left, a bit uncomfortable about “starting an argument” between us.  Later that day, Catherine made a comment or two to me; I believe she said I should be sure and I didn’t have to go through with marrying him if I wasn’t.  Though I didn’t catch this at the time, she was trying to warn me not to marry Phil.

I couldn’t convert.  Protestant beliefs and ideals were too deeply ingrained in me.

After reading in World Civ about how long and hard Protestants had worked to separate themselves from Catholicism, and how each denomination, branch, and major theologian took one step farther away, and how churches such as mine were the pinnacle of this separation–how could I turn my back on all that and go Catholic?

I thought I could never go to confession or drink wine at Mass.  I believed that priests should marry.  I didn’t believe that the bread and wine turned into Christ’s body and blood.  I was proud to be Nazarene.  I loved my Holiness heritage.

It would take many, many years before I even considered the notion that Protestantism had many doctrinal problems of its own.  And being forced into this notion would never work; force only inspires defensiveness.

On the other hand, patience, tolerance and acceptance have often been known to inspire conversion as the Holy Spirit is allowed to work.

I would never force Phil to change his beliefs, but I wanted the same consideration, and my dad stated over the summer that he refused to pay for a Catholic wedding.

I did not agree that Catholics were part of a cult or not really Christian, but as a Nazarene I had serious problems with Catholic doctrine, and did not want to convert.

I forget how the argument played out, but it seems that we agreed that nobody had to convert to anything.  When, over the summer, I told Phil my dad refused to pay for a Catholic wedding, he was upset, of course.  But the official engagement and the future planning went on as normal.

We did keep getting into arguments over doctrines; I acknowledged my own fault in that, because with my friends I was usually tolerant of different doctrines, but with serious boyfriends I kept falling into the trap of arguing.  (Cugan says that “You’re not getting married to your friends.”)

I recall with a shudder that I once pulled out one of my dad’s books to show him why I didn’t want to convert; it was published in 1969 and called, Why I Am A Nazarene / and not a / Mormon / Roman Catholic / Jehovah’s Witness / Christian Scientist / Seventh-Day Adventist.

(To my surprise, there are references to this book on the Internet, and you can still buy it–for quite a bit of money–here.)

In those days, I didn’t realize how biased the book was against Catholicism or how arrogant the title was.  I remember Phil being (rightly) offended by it; I believe he even refuted some of the things it said.

It bugged me that I wasn’t as tolerant as I wanted to be, and I kept trying to correct that.  But it wasn’t just me; Phil gave Nazarene doctrines no more tolerance than I gave Catholic ones.

He argued that the Catholic church was right because it was the historical church; I countered that going Catholic would mean turning my back on all the changes made by Protestants, things which I believed returned Christianity to the truth of the Bible after the many changes made by Catholicism in the Middle Ages.

At first, as I noted in the February 1994 chapter, he didn’t want to continue going to my church; over the summer, when we stayed at my home, he refused to go with me to Sunday School.

I saw this as stubbornness and a refusal to compromise; going to my church and visiting my Sunday School class would not force him into conversion.  We just sat around and talked about dealing with modern issues and faith.  I loved visiting his church, and would not have minded going to his Sunday School class (except that I don’t believe he had one).

(Cugan tells me I’ve never pressured him to convert, and that I’ve never treated him like he wasn’t a Christian for not having had a “born-again experience.”)

Also, because he refused to go, I was unable to go myself because he drove me to the services.

Over the months of our public engagement (and private marriage), I had conflicting feelings:

1) feeling that I did not have to convert, we would marry anyway in my church because it was free, and

2) feeling pressured to give up my own beliefs when I felt they’d be replaced with unbiblical ones.

You can agree or disagree with the concept of Catholic beliefs being biblical, but you can’t deny that a radical conversion should be neither forced nor rushed.

I’m not sure why I felt both ways.  Maybe Phil allowed me to continue in my “heresy,” but secretly still expected me to convert.

I hoped he would convert, too, but rather than trying to change his mind about Catholicism, I believe I mostly wanted to convince him that I wasn’t a “heretic.”

He, however, when I piece together memories, seems to have been trying to push me into converting without actually saying so.  He once made an analogy to switching an “old reliable” car for a new car and ending up by the side of the road–what could happen if he became Nazarene.

But he didn’t recognize that the same analogy applied to me becoming Catholic.

Basically, he resisted anything he saw as trying to convert him to Protestantism, even just going to Sunday School classes with me during the summer, but tried to guilt me into converting to Catholicism.

He publicly went along with the wedding plans my parents were making, of having the wedding in their church, since they were the parents of the bride and would be paying for it.

But he secretly expected me to convert to Catholicism to marry him, tried to push me into it, and even one of his friends tried to scold me into converting, in September.

Little things he said here and there, and his friend scolding me, tell me this was the case, that while he openly did not object to the wedding being at my parents’ church, he actually intended to force me into conversion, without coming out and expressly saying that the wedding would be called off if I did not become Catholic.

The strangest part is his admission, in 2007, that the religious difference was never a problem for him.  So–why did he pressure me like this?  Why did he say in April that it would be hard to get married?  Why did he include it as points against me?  Why did his friend scold me?  It was a huge mindscrew.

After all these years, there are three main things I want to point out:

  1. While I no longer have the views about Catholicism which I grew up with, still, one should never be forced to change religions.  So I do not believe I erred in refusing to be forced to convert, especially so quickly.
  2. DO NOT refuse to attend church/Sunday School with your significant other, even if his/her church has serious doctrinal problems, because this can be seen as controlling, i.e. “my religion or the highway.”  You can respectfully say why you have problems with the church, but keep going if it means much to your significant other–as long as he/she keeps going to your church as well.  In time, perhaps he/she will see things the way you do.  However, if for some reason your church will excommunicate you if you go to his/her church, then say so, so it will be seen as the mandate of the church, not your stubborn refusal.
  3. DO NOT force conversion, but allow the Holy Spirit to speak, because belittling and forced conversion, or forcing your spouse to raise the children in a faith he/she hasn’t agreed to, is spiritual abuse.  Look for ways your church might allow marriage between you without forcing him/her to convert, rather than digging in your heels and demanding conversion or nothing.  A Christian is a Christian, no matter what the denomination, but if a mixed marriage truly bothers you, then don’t date/get engaged to someone of another denomination in the first place.


Eventually, Phil made it clear that during our marriage, if I used birth control, he wouldn’t sleep with me because it would cause me to “sin.”  Now as a Protestant, I had absolutely no moral qualms about birth control, and it did bug me that I would have to give it up.  But I agreed to use natural family planning because he wanted it, and because it might even be fun.


You know how Catholic churches in medieval days used to demand tithes?  Well, apparently this practice has been completely abandoned.

Once while I worked in the library with James, Phil found me setting aside my tithe from my latest paycheck, rolling it into the check stub like I always did during that year.  I explained what it was, that when I went home I would put it in the offering plate at church.

Phil said that after we married, he wouldn’t tithe at all.  I thought Catholic churches were big on tithing, but he said he’d never even heard of it.

I said it was very important, even on a smaller income, and he’d find we had more money in the end if we tithed our small income while he tried to make it as an actor.

(I took this from the “law of returns,” or receiving more than you give, which Pat Robertson described on The 700 ClubI no longer agree with this, but it was so drilled into my head by church and The 700 Club that I believed it then, and that it was God’s Requirement, that to flaunt it was Sin.)

Somehow it turned into an argument, and he made disparaging comments about tithing.  He said he’d take over our finances when we got married–though I could tithe my own money.

He said the Catholic church didn’t need tithes, because so many people and organizations made donations to it.  He said the Church didn’t need his money.

He didn’t understand that Protestant churches are usually nowhere near as rich as the Catholic church, and need tithes to keep going, yet don’t require them.

But to keep my church going and respond to God’s call to tithe, I wanted to tithe regularly, and not be made to feel like I was wasting money.

“Would you talk about this somewhere else?” James cried to Phil.  “I’m trying to study here.”

Phil left.  I was still ticked off at him.  (Phil was also a terrible manager of money, so I shudder to think what our finances would have been like if he did take them over.)

James said to me, “I’m sorry, but he was really starting to annoy me.”  So he saw Phil, not me, as the bad guy in this argument.  I felt persecuted by Phil, myself.

A few minutes later, Phil called, sounding tearful.  He kept saying he was sorry.  We patched things up a bit.  He said, “Tell that guy I’m sorry.”  So I told James.

Phil tries to force me to obey him

Phil got upset because I refused to say “obey” in our marriage vows.  I looked in the Nazarene manual I’d brought to school with me, and in its outline for a marriage ceremony (p. 251), “obey” never appeared.

Phil wanted me to ask the pastor to put “obey” in the marriage vows when he officiated our wedding; I refused.

Phil said, “I thought you weren’t one of those feminists.”

But I think most women would agree with me on this these days, at least most American women.

He said, “And even if I said, ‘Don’t have an affair,’ you wouldn’t obey me?”  As if I would have one!  And the marriage vows already forbade that.

He made it sound as if I should let him order me around like a child, and if he didn’t, I’d do wrong things, just like a child who doesn’t know any better!

I have since learned that the Bible verses about submission don’t mean “obey,” an obligation like with a servant or child or in the military, but to voluntarily give yourself over to someone else.

The husband and wife are to submit to each other, with the husband not demanding obedience but giving love and protection.

Phil was looking at my “obligations,” but not at his own.  I didn’t realize yet that this was a big, red flag.  (Was the NVLD blinding my eyes, or just love/infatuation?)

It wasn’t until mid fall when I put a name to this: abusing authority, a sign of emotional abuse.

Many Christians use the word “feminism” as a bad word, as if it means man-hating or anti-Christian.  Feminism simply means that women are equal to men and should be treated as such.

This is not some atheistic idea; it goes back to ancient Christianity.  Forget everything you’ve heard about St. Paul’s writings: For his day, his writings were actually feminist.  He insisted that men should treat their wives like loving partners, not like slaves who must be punished if they step out of line.  He said that in Christ, there is no male or female.

There has never been anything wrong with women demanding respect and fair treatment, not just in the workplace and society but at home.

So when Phil objected to my moderate form of feminism, that should have been a red flag–no, a huge, scarlet flag with warning lights.

Girls, never even date a man who insists that his wife should be obedient!  Even if this man seems kind and sweet in every other way–once he becomes your husband, he will probably turn into a power-hungry tyrant.  Phil seemed kind and sweet in every other way.


Phil shocked me by saying he expected to do sex scenes if he were ever to make it as an actor.  How could a Christian even think of such a thing?

And how could he think it was so important when there were famous, Christian actors and actresses who had never done sex scenes, nude scenes, or cussing in their movies?  (Ann Jillian was one.)

He didn’t understand why, but I said I did not want him doing sex scenes.  I didn’t want to see him onscreen having sex with some other woman, even if it was all fake.

I’d be fine with kissing scenes and the like, but not scenes which violated all Christian morality.  He finally agreed to respect my wishes.


One afternoon as we lay on my bed, fully clothed, just taking a little nap, Phil dreamed he was at his bachelor party the night before the wedding.  He acted it out as I lay cuddled under his arm, and we even had conversations.

His buddies got him a stripper, and he ended up in a room with her, where his “buddies” expected him to sleep with her.  (In real life, such a thing would result in no wedding.)

He held the stripper just as he now held me, and explained that he couldn’t go through with it.  He told her all my virtues, both in looks and personality, making me sound like an absolute goddess–almost.

“The only person who could ever take me away from her would be my perfect ideal and have a model’s figure.”

Never mind that a real-life model would be a stick, my weight was ideal for my height and frame, and I had shapely curves.

After he woke up and explained to me the parts I didn’t already know, he said the dream was just an act.  He said the last part was to make me feel better, that the person who could steal him away was nearly impossible to find.

However, now I felt like I was in competition with supermodels.  I said as we walked to dinner, “I’ll have you know my measurements are almost the same as Ginger’s.”

That’s Ginger Grant from Gilligan’s Island, who was 36-24-36.  My measurements, which I took in high school while at about the same weight I was now, were something like 36-25-37.  (I measured my hips right where the bones were, which I thought you were supposed to do.)

It’s that one thing to make you feel insecure after a litany of your physical and personality perfections: What, my perfect figure isn’t perfect enough for him?  My personality isn’t good enough for him?  You mean if Ms. Perfect ever does show up, he’ll leave me, even if we’re already married?

Also, Phil didn’t believe me when I said that even if I met a guy who was my perfect ideal, I wouldn’t leave Phil for him.  But I meant it.


Around this time, my older brother, Jake, got engaged to his new girlfriend, Pam–who was also pregnant with my niece.  It was hard to imagine either of my brothers with a wife and kids.

Pam and Jake made a cute couple.  Pam always laughed and teased Jake, and Jake seemed to enjoy her company and even the teasing.  She even knew how to handle him, knowing he could be a bit chauvinistic at times, but not acting like some subservient wife.


As usual, my friends would say after lunch, “Let’s go check mail.–I want mail.–I want a male!”  It was wonderful to finally have a male of my own.


In October, our friend Helene told me that during this time, after we got engaged, he told her and her best friend Kay about an argument we had.  He said he didn’t want me to listen to the radio anymore on the way to his house–at least, that’s how it sounded to me.

That, however, was the only time I could listen to 93Q, a station that played the songs I liked best, hard rock and alternative.  It didn’t come in so well in my room in Krueger.

So this would be such a huge sacrifice, and I wept over the thought that he’d take away my music.  (Music is a huge thing for me.)

But he explained that he meant he didn’t want to listen to the radio every time we went to his house.  I guess it came out wrong.  He didn’t mean I could never listen to it.  At least, that’s how he said he meant it, so I felt better. 

He told Helene and Kay that we had an argument but worked it out.  But he also complained that I wouldn’t just do whatever he wanted.  They saw this as controlling, and hoped I realized this before marrying him.

Castles in the air–including plans to live on a desert island

The Enigma video “Return to Innocence” came out around this time, and Phil and I both liked it.  It showed a French couple’s life moving backwards from death through old age through middle age through youth, a time in a hayloft before they got married, their first meeting, their childhoods apart from each other.  It was beautiful.

One night on Melrose Place, Billy went to get an engagement ring for Allison, for the wedding that we viewers had waited maybe two years for.

I don’t remember them mentioning the two months’ salary rule–in fact, I don’t think I ever heard of it before I got my own engagement ring in 1996–but the ring salesman said, “The size of the diamond reflects how much love you feel for the woman.”

Clarissa and I both thought this was ridiculous.  The look of the ring, and the fact that you even have a ring, is far more important than the size of the diamond.

(The look of the ring is especially important because if she doesn’t like it, she might exchange it.  She’ll probably be wearing it for the rest of her life, after all.)

I watched Melrose Place faithfully every week, especially now that things were really getting psychotic.  It was a guilty pleasure, which it had never been before.

In time the show would start going down the toilet, with everyone sleeping with everyone else and everyone wanting to blow up the place, and by then I didn’t like it at all.  But for now, it was exciting.

Phil’s mom told him he could get an engagement ring really cheap–$300, I believe it was–from a certain catalog.  I believe the catalog was for a discount store or warehouse.  So this became our plan.

He told me to decide which state I wanted to live in.  He said the movie studios were in California, New York and Texas, and we’d go wherever I wanted.

I chose Texas because I liked it when I visited in 1983, didn’t want to go to some huge, crime-ridden, concrete-jungle place like New York City was in those days, and didn’t want to go to California where I heard all the crazies were.

Florida may also have been an option, but I don’t remember why I would have rejected it.

(I know why I would now: too hot, too humid, and too many huge bugs!  I also know that I don’t want to live anywhere but the Midwest.  Sure we have winter, but we have plenty of other benefits to make up for that, such as cooler summers, and the bugs dying or going into hibernation for several months each year.)

We talked about going down to Texas when we got married, and starting an adventure, me working while he found a job at a studio there.

Or staying in S– for a while, living at a certain large wooded park in a place we’d build (though I wasn’t so sure the park would let us), and using the stream there for water (his idea).

He wanted to build a place on his parents’ deck, but his mom wouldn’t let him.  (Yes, he had some odd ideas which no one can actually do in a city.)

He wanted to return to S– one day, though I didn’t want to.

We also thought of living in the woods or on a desert island.  At first he didn’t think I’d like to live on a desert island, but discovered to his joy that I would love to.

This was before I realized I hated camping.  It’s also before I realized how full of mosquitoes and other bugs the woods can be.  But I’ve always loved desert island stories, and wrote a few of my own.

A Secret Marriage

One day, I saw in the glass display case by the mailboxes, an article from the S– newspaper about one of our Latvian students.  After graduation, he eventually became First Deputy Prime Minister of Latvia, then after that, head of the Latvian president’s office.  (I’m not kidding.)

This tall, cute guy was married, and said that he and his wife had married without thought for finances or school.  Things were different over there than in America, where people try to finish school and get their finances together before marrying.  I longed to be able to do the same, and marry Phil right away.

Some of my favorite songs from that time: God by Tori Amos, Dreams by the Cranberries, Cantaloop by US3, Spoonman by Soundgarden, Thunder Kiss ’65 by White Zombie, Sober by Tool.

In probably April, my roommies-to-be and I went down to the new apartment buildings, which were built but not yet finished, to see what they’d look like inside.  We went into what we already knew to be our apartment, which at that time was sawdust and bare wood and insulation.

It looked so tiny then, but we were to find that, after carpeting and furniture were put in, the rooms seemed larger.  We thought we wouldn’t fit, but in the fall we all fit in there quite easily, thanks to lots of well-placed cabinets and wire stacking drawers.  (More on that is in the September chapter.)

I thought I’d leave the apartment about halfway through the year, get married, and move into another one with Phil, as we wanted to do, but I didn’t mention this at the time.

I used to love the song “Loser” by Beck, but during Hell Week, the Pi-Kapp pledges had to sing it to the actives every day at lunch.  They’d put their hands on their hips and move their torsos around while “singing” at the tops of their voices.  It was part of a song they put together about the actives and/or about themselves, which to them was funny but to the rest of us was just plain annoying.

I once thought pledges were funny during Hell Week, but now I found the antics annoying, from the Pi-Kapp pledges walking around wearing menu signs to the yelled greetings pledges had to give the actives.


Phil and I were burning with lust, and didn’t want to wait to marry when we were so sure we belonged together.  But Phil’s mom didn’t want us to marry until after he graduated–at least a year and a half away.  So on Sunday, April 24, we married in secret.

It may be hard for many to understand, in this 21st-century world, why I was so anxious to get married.  These days, sexual relations outside of marriage are considered normal.

But in religious circles, you aren’t supposed to have them until you get married.  If you do, you are considered to be in grave sin, at risk of eternal damnation, as well as the ire of your parents–especially if you get pregnant.  Oftentimes, you’re not even allowed to satisfy your urges yourself.

And while this practice of no sex before marriage, has been a common custom throughout history and across cultures/religions, before our time, teenagers would marry in the middle of their raging hormones.

Nowadays, even 18 is considered too young for marriage; kids are expected to wait until they’re done with schooling; many don’t want to marry until far into their 20s or 30s.

If you’re in a sex-saturated culture where it seems everybody else is doing it and enjoying it, and you’re not supposed to have any kind of sexual relations before marriage (even alone), imagine how anxious you will be as a teenager to get married so you can have them without guilt or fear of punishment!

I couldn’t stand having to wait to marry Phil, when we already knew we were going to be married, and that we were only waiting for us to finish college.  Then I remembered two things:

One, an advice column I’d just read about spiritual marriages.  I’d never heard of such a thing.  The column, in a Christian magazine, advised against such marriages, because they were basically private commitments, and not recognized by the law or by the church.

The columnist wrote that if you’re waiting to finish school/make money before getting legally married, then that is coming before your commitment, and you’re not ready to be married.

But instead of being turned away from the idea, I wondered if the columnist was right or wrong about it not being a real marriage in the eyes of God.

I also didn’t know how common it actually was for people to do this.  Some states still recognize common-law marriages, which have no legal ceremony.

In time, I began to hear stories like this a lot, and not just in Christian magazines.  In one magazine, which I read a few years later, one couple wrote that they considered their anniversary to be not the day they married in a church, but a day just before that when they exchanged vows while alone in the woods.

I also read the story of Brook Kerr in TV Guide, who had a nonlegal marriage for years.

I didn’t know yet that my friend Anna considered such a marriage more real than one which has a legal piece of paper, yet doesn’t connect the hearts (though she still didn’t think we did the right thing).

In the 90s, such marriages popped up on soap operas.

As we head into 2014, the Internet is now full of websites and forums threads asking if such marriages are “real.”

There are also many people now who commit to each other without a legal ceremony: gay couples, straight couples who don’t want legal entanglements, straight couples standing in solidarity with gay couples until gay marriage is legal.  It even happened on The Crow!

The second thing I remembered: In the Middle Ages, all you had to do was exchange vows to be married.  I wondered if the same thing might apply to our hearts, even if legally we wouldn’t be considered married.

Phil said the advice columnist was wrong about such marriages being fake, that it didn’t apply to our situation.  He later said he was convinced that yes, we were truly married, and that he did plan to be there for me in sickness and health and riches and poverty and such.

He said that just because we had to wait for school to end didn’t necessarily mean that we put it first, but that it was something we had to do.  We were going to marry in a church in a little while anyway, and that would just make it official in everyone’s eyes.  But back to how we got married in the first place.

We followed a time-honored custom, called verbum or clandestine marriage in the Middle Ages, handfasting in Celtic days and days of itinerant priests, common-law marriage in the pioneer days when ministers were itinerant or absent, and common-law or spiritual marriage in modern America.

Handfasting only lasted a year and a day, but I haven’t heard of time limits on the other kinds of marriages.  The wedding would take place, with or without witnesses, and be binding before God; eventually, if possible, it would be made sacramental as well.  Only in modern times are such marriages not legally recognized.

We didn’t know the term handfasting, but probably would have used it if we did, because we intended to cement it with a legal, public ceremony in the summer of 1995–not go on with a clandestine or spiritual marriage forever.  Eventually, we even signed a simple statement that we were married.  My research paper on such marriages is here.

Here is a website which would declare our marriage valid, even though it was neither legal nor public.   I especially find this part interesting:

I specifically read about an older, Catholic couple, where the man was living one a rather pathetic pension, and the woman was getting a tiny amount of money from her deceased husband’s funds.

If she remarried, not only would she lose her first husband’s money, but her new husband would lose a portion of his money as well. They could not survive like that.

The Priest who actually answered their letter, told them about the acceptability of private marriage vows in the Catholic Church.

Since there is no certificate given, it is not a legal marriage, however the Church recognizes them as a married couple because matrimony is a sacrament that is bestowed upon the two people being joined and sealed by God, it is not performed by a Priest upon two people.

Even the Catholics don’t consider this living in sin, so why should anyone else?

If this were true, then Phil and I would have been truly married even in the eyes of the Catholic Church, even though, in September, when he changed his mind, he now decided we weren’t really married.

While this priest’s views are legitimate historically, the Catholic Church has required a priest and witnesses for centuries, because private weddings led to many problems.  I would like to see this letter, but the blogger gave no reference.

According to this page, if we had done this in Alabama, we would have been considered legally married.  A Texas website also states that it’s not illegal to consider yourselves married if you want to–so long as you don’t claim legal rights that only belong to legally married couples: “Any person can make any personal commitment they wish to another person.”

I told Phil my idea while we were in the basement, and asked if he thought it was a good idea to do like Medieval couples did and exchange vows now.  He said he didn’t think it was a good idea, but he still wanted to do it.

So we did so, trying to remember the vows we’d heard on TV and at real-life weddings all the time.  (The modern custom of writing your own vows was rarely done back then.  Even soap opera ceremonies used traditional vows.)

So even though it wasn’t a legal marriage, our vows were real.  A vow is a vow no matter what the setting, and we vowed to be together forever, no matter what.

During the vows, Phil prompted me in mine (even though I knew them quite well) and included “obey,” but I wouldn’t say it.  He frowned like he was hurt, but I just couldn’t say “obey,” no matter what.  It was a matter of principle.  He finally let it go with a smile.

To be more precise, and make sure there is no doubt, these are the vows we made: take as wedded wife/husband, to have and to hold, love, honor and cherish each other, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer, as long as we both shall live/till death do us part.  I think Phil even said, “I pronounce you man and wife.”

So you see, we actually said the words, we actually made the vows; no matter if you say it in front of witnesses or not, when you make vows like this to someone, you have to mean it.  It’s a real vow.  Whether or not the “take you as wife/husband” stands up in court, you still are vowing to be together until you die.  This is serious.

I said, “Now, this isn’t legal, mind you, and is easily broken.”

Phil said, “Is that a warning to me?”

No, I wasn’t warning him that I was going to divorce him.  I just wanted him to understand what we were getting into.  However, though it would be easy to break it legally, I felt that morally it would be very wrong to take back the vows we had just made: It would be a divorce, and that would be wrong.  Our religious traditions both said divorce was a sin and remarriage, adultery.

However, Phil didn’t want me to tell anyone about our marriage because he was afraid we’d get in trouble with our parents.  He didn’t want them to separate us.

April 24 was a beautiful day to get married.  It was sunny, and the weather had finally warmed up–80s, I believe.  The house was opened up to let in the fresh air.

Now it was time to consummate the marriage.  But just then, his mom flipped on the basement lights from the ground floor, and when he went up and opened the door she told him to clean out his minivan.

It had to be done now, meaning we couldn’t go through with the consummation.  I was to go to the Phi-Delt suite at 4:30 to go to a Choir concert.  It was too late for consummation by the time Phil got back from cleaning the van.

Hemorrhage and excruciating pain after first time

A bunch of us planned to go to a Choir (Christian alternative band) concert that evening.  I wanted to finally get my own copies of Pearl’s Choir CD’s.  My friends and I rode in a car to the place of the concert.  They were Pearl, Mike, probably Sharon, and probably Tara or Astrid.  They had no idea I was now a married woman.

The place was an hour and a half away.  When we got to the place, it was deserted: no concert, no sign that there ever was to be one!  We were confused, especially Pearl, who had read about the concert in her CCM magazine.  The others decided to go to a movie, rather than just coming out all that way for nothing.

I wasn’t entirely convinced that our marriage was real and not just playacting.  So in my heart I felt that if we were delayed that night, if I got back very, very late, it was a sign that God did not actually consider us married, that He was trying to keep us apart.

I believe I started to feel this way before we found out the concert wasn’t there.  Then I thought God most certainly did consider us married, because I would be back far sooner than I’d expected.

But then my friends decided to go to a movie.  All during the night I said nothing when they made plans, because I felt I should let the results of the test be whatever they were supposed to be, and not tamper with them.

I’d never heard of the movie The Paper and the movie poster didn’t interest me, but my friends wanted to see it.  I ended up loving it.  These are my impressions of it:

Yes, as they said in the beginning, the whole world can change in twenty-four hours.  After all, all of a sudden I was married!  I hadn’t expected that when I got up that morning.

I had no idea what the movie was about, especially when I saw the opening scene with two black teenagers finding horrors.  I feared it was one of those gross action films, but it was not.

I watched Henry and his wife Marty interact, and thought, They’re married, and now so am I!  And one day, we’ll be about to have a baby, too!

Alicia telling her extramarital lover that “This is the last time” reminded me of Shawn (see index below for his story), who said that often.

The movie was wonderfully loony, with “Let Marty talk to her husband,” Robin the green, fourteen-year-old photographer (I didn’t know that was legal), and “A bullet came out of the wall–why did the bullet come out of the wall?”  (Our group loved this and began reciting it.)

Pearl cried out in dismay and shock, which I also felt, when Marty found blood instead of water on the floor when she was near her time.  I wondered if Phil and I would ever be in that situation, with me nearly dying from hemorrhaging during a pregnancy, and how we would deal with it.

These thoughts and my own marriage made the movie both significant and special to me, yet Phil preferred to make light of it and pointed out a movie review that said it was bad.  We never did see it together.  But my friends and I all loved the movie.

On the way back to Roanoke, maybe an hour or two earlier than we’d originally expected, I sat on the right side of the car and watched the moon.  It was midnight blue behind the clouds.  It was so beautiful that night, the perfect end to a perfect day for a wedding.  I kept silent and thoughtful, thinking of my new, secret status as wife.

Rather than go directly to Roanoke, the others decided to go on to S– and have a snack at Country Kitchen.  I had something with hot fudge and ice cream, and maybe a Dew or Root Beer as well.

The others spoke of staying up all night and watching the sun come up.  I don’t remember if they actually did it, but I said I didn’t want to do that this time.  (I had a husband to get back to.)

It began to rain hard.  I don’t remember how long we stayed there, but we finished our snack and the time finally came for us to go back to Roanoke.

At Roanoke, I forget where exactly I found Phil, but he was standing outside–and soaked.  He was angry at me 1) for not coming home when I said I would, and 2) for not saying anything to the others to hurry them along.  But you can see my reasons for not doing that.

He was also mad at me for something that was his fault: that he’d been standing in the rain, waiting for me!  I couldn’t believe he had done this.

When I got back, I expected to find him warm and dry in either the Phi-Delt suite or Krueger.  If no one was in the Phi-Delt suite to let him in, he could have picked up the phone outside Krueger and called Clarissa to let him in.  He knew the number, and there was a directory by the phone in case he forgot.

Failing that, he could have waited in the minivan, maybe parking it near Krueger or the suites so he could see me get home.  By the time I got home Clarissa would certainly have been in the room, and she could hear the phone even when her hearing aid was out and she was in bed.  If she was in bed, she could have opened the door and had him sit in the lounge.

Or he could’ve gone in the suite laundry room, which had a door open to the outside 24/7, or stayed on the ground floor of the suite building, where the upper walkway made a huge frickin’ overhang.

But he did none of these things, and it’s hardly unusual for people to come home from a social event much later than planned, especially one with a long drive.  (Which seems odd now, because I noted above that we were way ahead of schedule.)

Yet he was mad at me as if it were my fault somehow!  Now I see it as yet more controlling behavior by an abuser, another red flag of abuse which I missed, an element of narcissism to blame you even for things that are beyond your control.

This was hardly the wedding night I had expected, or that I had always wanted.  Phil arguing with me when we had been married only several hours?  Once we got to his room, he also got mad about my test, saying I was “testing God.”

But “testing God” means to live a life of selfishness and sin and throw it up in His face.  I was just laying out a fleece, something my dad had taught me about, so I figured it was perfectly fine.  It was simply an indication of whether or not God considered us married.

It was late, and I wondered if that meant we weren’t really married, but Phil didn’t put any stock in that.  In fact, over the next several months, whenever I doubted our marriage was real in God’s eyes, he would tell me we were definitely truly married…only to change his tune completely in September when he wanted to break things off.

Looking back, the anger and the refusal to consider my concerns, were huge red flags that he wanted me in his control–listening to his guidance on whether or not we were truly married in God’s eyes, so that I would be his subservient wife and willing sex partner.

Somehow we got through the arguments, however, and got ready for bed….I don’t want to go into detail, but it was…awkward, didn’t go the way it was supposed to, because we didn’t know how (despite all his fancy sex-ed education).  I mean, we knew some basics, but neither of us knew the vagina was separate from the urethra, and no, I had never used a tampon…..

The morning after the wedding, Phil said to me as we lay in each other’s arms, “Good morning, Mrs. O’Hara” or “How does it feel to be Mrs. O’Hara?”  It felt wonderful.

The next night, we tried again, with a little more knowledge this time of how things were actually supposed to work.  But because we found the correct way, I was in intense pain the whole time, and couldn’t wait until he finished.  He felt bad about it, but nothing stopped the pain.

Some say that you only bleed a little bit, but when I went to the bathroom I found lots of blood.  I just got over my period on probably Sunday, yet had to wear pads again.

They say it only bleeds the first time and that you only have pain the first time, yet I bled and felt pain for days.  (I had just finished my period, so it wasn’t that.)

I could barely sit down, which made Advanced Writing the next morning particularly uncomfortable.  At least the seats there were cushioned!

After the pain went away a bit we tried again.  But for days or weeks afterward, sex hurt, and this was very scary.

But because the marriage was secret, and we didn’t want anyone to think we were having premarital sex, I had no one to talk to.  I really could have used a website like this, but we had no such thing back then.

Also, from what that site says, I should’ve seen a doctor for my excessive bleeding, but I don’t believe this ever occurred to us.  We didn’t know what was “normal.”

Ironically, months later at a party, the subject of first times was brought up; I asked, “What if after your first time you bleed for days?”  I didn’t tell them that was me.  Pearl laughed and said, “That sounds like hemorrhaging to me!”


After the marriage, I told Phil about a picture I once saw in a Bride magazine back when my brother married his first wife:

It was part of a black-and-white ad, and showed a newlywed couple lying in bed.  The husband had his arm around the wife, who nestled her head on his shoulder as they slept.

It was sweet; I waited years for that to be my future husband and me.  Phil did this to me, and nearly cried, since he was so happy to fulfill that dream for me.

Now, when he’d have arguments with his parents, probably over me sleeping over so much or him going home with me for the summer, he’d say to me, “You are my wife!”  He wanted to tell them I was his wife and didn’t deserve such remarks, but he couldn’t.

I’d look at the family pictures on the basement wall and think, “Now I’m a part of that family and married to him,” while looking at Phil’s childhood pictures.

I didn’t know until maybe a year or two later that Catherine wrote a poem one day when I came in late to class.  I believe she noticed me wearing the same clothes I had on the day before, or maybe it was just because I was late.  In the poem, she wondered what we had done the night before, and if we were just using each other.

I marked the date of the marriage and the date of the true consummation with hearts in my day planner.


I used the rhythm method for a while, not knowing much about natural family planning, and because Phil was Catholic and believed artificial birth control was a sin.  He did a paper in high school about natural family planning, and wrote that if done correctly, it’s about 99% effective.

I knew that a woman was supposed to be fertile around the 14th day of the month, but didn’t know that people with irregular periods, like mine, might be fertile on a different day.  But for the first month of our marriage, I didn’t get pregnant, so I must have been doing something right.

Starting in the second month, I knew about taking my temperature, so I avoided my fertile days and didn’t get pregnant.  Phil assured me once or twice that if I did get pregnant, we would push up the legal, public wedding.  However, I got very frustrated with the rhythm method, since I didn’t know what to do and had to abstain for five to ten days mid-cycle.

Probably around May 4, which I marked with a diamond (it was probably day 14), I got upset and told Phil I wanted to use birth control.  You would think he’d agree, since birth control is much safer than the rhythm method, but as a Catholic he said, “Then I wouldn’t be able to sleep with you.”

He said he would be too conscience-stricken, even if I used the Pill and was the only one using the birth control.  He would feel that he contributed to my sin–even though, as a Protestant, I didn’t believe birth control was a sin.

Eventually he said that he couldn’t force me not to use birth control, and that I could if I wanted.  I think he even said he would still sleep with me.  But I would have felt bad for putting his conscience in such a position, so I decided to stick with natural family planning.


Soon after the marriage, as we went through the Burger King drive-through (maybe getting French toast sticks for breakfast or something), I had misgivings: Is my money now his, too?  Have I lost my independence already?  Am I really ready to be married?  Yet it’s too late now to turn back: I already am married.

I told him not to call me “wifey,” like before he called me “fancy,” because somebody might overhear like before.  Phil wanted it kept secret from everyone, even my best friend back in Indiana.  He didn’t want somebody to tell our parents, and he feared she would tell mine.  He didn’t want our parents to find out and get angry, maybe even try to keep us apart.

I often doubted that we were really married in God’s eyes, but Phil would say that yes, I was his wife, and yes, we were married: He had no doubt of it, he said.

What we did was a type of marriage: We bound our hearts together and spoke the same vows legally married people speak.  Over the summer, we shared the same house and food.  Also, some people have secret, legal marriages and yet don’t live in the same house or share the same food, so that isn’t exactly a perfect way to tell whether or not two people are truly married.

One day, Phil asked if I wanted to do as the advice column advised and register our marriage at the courthouse.  It was tempting, but I finally said, “If we do, our parents might find out, and I don’t want mail for Nyssa O’Hara to be coming to our parents’ houses.”  I also may have feared problems on our official wedding day.

Basically, even though we would be legally married, we still wanted the marriage kept secret.  I don’t know if these were good reasons or not, but they were good enough to me at the time.

For one thing, I didn’t know that before you got mail addressed to your new name, you had to officially change your name with Social Security and many other places.  If I had known that, then maybe we would have actually gone to the courthouse and registered our marriage.

And maybe Phil would have taken the marriage as seriously in September as he did in April, and not divorced me.  And I would have been terribly unhappy as time revealed him to be a bad husband, an emotional and potentially physical abuser–and I would’ve had to go through the courts to divorce him.


The song “Don’t Turn Around” by Ace of Base came on around this time, and I’d listen to it as Phil and I sat at the computer at his house.  We often listened to WIXX while sitting at the computer and playing games or working on homework, and those were happy days.

Some of the lines were, “Don’t turn around–I don’t want you seeing me crying.”  It was about a woman whose boyfriend had just broken up with her, and though she was devastated, she didn’t want him to see what he’d done to her.

I’d hear this and their song “I Saw the Sign” (about a woman who finally realized her ex was not the one for her and she could find the one who was), and be glad that–since we were married before God–the song would never apply to me ever again as long as Phil and I both lived.

There was yet another Honors Convocation on Friday, April 29 at 6:30pm.  Phil and I were both honored in it because we were both in the Honors CORE program.  It was odd to be honored for something that basically amounted to being in one Studies class instead of another.

Tables were all set up and covered with cloths in Bossard, and our parents all came, taking this chance to meet each other.  Little Taylor came along as well.  We met them at the Campus Center at 5:50, and the banquet was at 6.

It was funny that our mothers had the same name.  Our parents seemed to get along really well.

And through it all, they didn’t know Phil and I were already married.  This must have been how Romeo and Juliet felt around their parents after their secret marriage.

May 1994
Life at Roanoke: My College Memoirs–September 1991 through May 1995

Table of Contents

Freshman Year

September 1991:

October 1991:

November 1991:

December 1991: Ride the Greyhound
January 1992: Dealing with a Breakup with Probable NVLD
February 1992:

March 1992: Shawn: Just Friends or Dating?
April 1992:Pledging, Prayer Group–and Peter’s Smear Campaign
May 1992:

Sophomore Year
Summer 1992:

September 1992:

October 1992–Shawn’s Exasperating Ambivalence:

November 1992:

December 1992:

January 1993:

February 1993:

March 1993:

April 1993:

May 1993:

Junior Year
Summer 1993:Music, Storm and Prophetic Dreams
September 1993:

October 1993:

November 1993:

December 1993:

January 1994:

February 1994:

March 1994:

April 1994:

May 1994:

Senior Year
June 1994–Bits of Abuse Here and There:

July & August 1994:

September 1994–Divorce: The Long, Dark, Painful Tunnel:

October 1994:

November 1994:

December 1994:

January 1995:

February 1995:

March 1995:

April 1995:

May 1995: