Yes, that’s the number of years my husband, Jonathan, and I knew each other before we got married. I guess you could consider us living examples of the saying, “The best relationships start off as friendships”.
If you’re thinking it happened because I’m some crazy purist or that I adhered closely to the most popular boy-girl relationship (BGR) book of my era, Joshua Harris’ “I Kissed Dating Goodbye”—which encourages couples to get into relationships only if there is the intention of marriage—I’m afraid you’d be disappointed. In reality, Jonathan was my fifth serious boyfriend (not even counting those whom I went on casual dates with every now and then.)
However, I was only his second serious girlfriend, and by the time he asked me to consider dating him, he was quite certain I was the one he would marry. His confidence came largely from the fact that he had known me for a considerable amount of time, during which we had our fair share of cold wars, overnight phone conversations, and shoeboxes full of encouragement cards. Naturally, I learned this only after we got married.
But allow me to start at the beginning.
Jonathan and I first met in youth group after I graduated from Sunday school. At the age of 15, we became good friends and co-leaders of a cell group. It was over the next two years that we developed our individual convictions about BGR. His was to abstain from a relationship until after he finished serving his National Service, while mine was to get into one as soon as possible.
At the time, my dating philosophy was simple: date until you meet “the one”. And so I did. One failed relationship led to another and this went on for some years, until I finally started to doubt my take on BGR and whether I’d ever be married.
Jonathan, on the other hand, continued to commit to waiting—right through college and his tough years as a naval diver. When he finally started to date, he did so with much caution and commitment, with every intention to marry his then-girlfriend.
Much later, he would tell other young people that he had decided to wait until he was 21 before he started dating because he had wanted to dedicate the best years of his youth to God and to the ministry God had placed him in. His philosophy was shaped by Ecclesiastes 12:1, which says, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, ‘I find no pleasure in them’.”
He had many other practical reasons as well—he believed that it would be hard to keep a relationship going while he was in the Navy, and that he would not be financially able to get married at that time. But his main reason for staying single was to focus on serving the Lord.
When close friends found out we were finally getting married, they teased me for banishing him to the “friend zone” for a long 15 years. In fact, I would reply, it was the other way round! My husband had kept me in this zone for 15 years because he had wanted to spend his younger days serving wholeheartedly in the youth ministry. And I’m glad that he had.
Those 15 years gave us time to know each other’s quirks, to learn the message behind every frown or raised eyebrow, and to understand what made each other tick. And because we shared so many mutual friends, we’ve had the joy of having many willing wedding helpers and more recently, babysitters! That long period of being just friends made life after marriage so much better.
Don’t get me wrong, we still have our differences to work through. But to have someone who knows exactly how you feel through just one glance, I believe could only have come out of a tried and tested foundation—friendship.