Six years ago, my dad wrote me this:
When I first heard of your heartache I thought, Why the secret? Why did we first learn of such an important relationship only after your heart was broken? Good counsel should be sought early on. [Prov 11:14] “Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellers there is safety.” You’re 23 and very much a young adult, but Sweetheart, as a single young lady you are scripturally still under the authority of your Dad until that special man that God has for you shows up. I have gladly volunteered for the position. I had hoped you would avail yourself of the protection that someone who loves you and cares only for your well-being can give. It’s my God-given duty to look out for you during the courting years.
I would never forget this advice from my dad because I think it was the first time somebody had reprimanded me for keeping my relationship a secret. Actually, it was not even about the fact that I kept it a secret. This was the first time somebody had “stepped up” to do his fatherly duty, and it involved reprimanding me for keeping this relationship a secret.
My stepdad expressed dismay that I had kept this relationship from them, therefore limiting his parental/fatherly authority, and at the same time, making me susceptible to so much hurt. I had hoped you would avail yourself of the protection that someone who loves you and cares only for your well-being can give. Those words stuck with me for years. Because I had grown up most of my life without a father, needing (or even realizing my need for) fatherly protection didn’t come naturally to me. It was a foreign concept, something that I only realized I was missing around the time I got my heart broken. Years later, I would see the value and importance of such principle, having your father as your protector, your authority.
My mom, on the other hand, freely gave me the space to vent out and cry, because at 23, I got my heart very badly broken. Like any mother, she comforted me and told me it was okay to cry. She encouraged me that one day, in God’s beautiful time, I would have my own happy ending (or happy beginning), and that the best thing I can do for now is to actively pursue and deepen my relationship with God.
Six years have passed since this letter, and I am now 29. There’s no hiding of any relationship from my parents, clearly because there’s nothing to even hide (haha). And where I stand now, I carry the wise counsel of six years ago: relationships need parental and godly support. This is important, because it keeps accountability strong. Your boyfriend not only becomes accountable to you, but he must firstly answer to God and secondly to your parents. It is freeing to know that the one you love and trust is also loved and trusted by authorities in your life such as God and your parents. You have a sense of peace that comes from the approval of all those you love and value in your life: your family, your friends. To me, that spells a good relationship.
One of the advices my mom gave me even before my great heartbreak was to hold on to my list of non-negotiables and to also watch out for red flags in men. Non negotiables are basically traits you want and pray to have in your partner. Over the years, my list of non-negotiables have expanded and matured but topmost would still be that he is a committed Christian who loves God above all. Everything else follows after that. On red flags, there’s one that my mom specifically warned us against: violence in men. She never fails to remind us to keep watch over men who are inclined to be aggressive or physically violent in a relationship, because it is a foretaste of things to come in a marriage. And honestly, very early on, I had already decided that one of the things I would NEVER tolerate in a guy is physical violence. Because I have personally witnessed it happen to my best friend back in high school. I will never forget the dread and terror I felt when I saw her get hit, and for the first time, you just feel helpless as a woman and really scared for your life. More than the physical wounds, it was the emotional pain that was really scarring, that would take years to heal. Violence is not just physical. It could be emotional manipulation, verbal abuse, threats and all sorts of aggression. And these do not heal quickly. The effects of being in an abusive relationship can sometimes only be seen years later. Things have drastically changed for my best friend since then and their relationship has turned around for the better. A lot of growing up happened, a lot of sorry’s and forgiveness, and clearly changing of ways. I am happy for that and thankful she is in a much better, much stable place in her life. Just the same, my resolve against violence is made stronger by these experiences.
To me, when a man becomes physically abusive, there is no more justifying his actions. The principle is very simple: He hits you once, you leave. Because it can always happen again. You don’t stand up to any form of domestic abuse or physical violence. No grabbing of the arms, no pushing or shoving, no kicking, nothing violent. At any point a man shows you this aggressive behavior, then it’s a glaring red flag. A man should never hit a woman and vice versa. When this rule is broken, even when you are still just in a dating relationship, it’s time to head to the exit door. That’s my stand.
Keeping in mind my dad’s advice, it also helps that this person will eventually have to answer to my parents if he were to become abusive in any way. That’s where the accountability and protection happens, and that’s the beauty of submitting to parental guidance when it comes to relationships.
Recently, news broke out of a very famous Korean celebrity who was charged by his girlfriend with domestic violence. This news was personal to me because this celebrity was a personal crush, somebody I had admired and idolized for years. He did not exactly live up to my Christian ideals, but he represented some of the ideals I look for. In a nutshell, He had an almost blameless image, the kind you just couldn’t imagine to be committing something like this.
And just like that, this “image” is shattered. Of course, the truth is that we never really knew the person outside the characters he portrayed on TV. That’s the truth we often overlook: people are different on-screen and off-screen. We don’t know what they really are like and we can only get a few details here and there, but the true “them” are only known by their personal friends and families.
When news broke out of him and his multiple assaults against his girlfriend of two years, I was really shocked. One, because nobody even knew he had a girlfriend, which is typical among Korean celebrities who are protecting their image. Two, because he was the last person I’d ever think of committing something like this. More than the fan in me, it was the woman in me that hurt. My heart bled for the girl, thinking just of what courage she must have mustered to even dare speak about it in public. My heart also bled for the treatment she received. While all these are still being investigated (evidence against the male celebrity is pretty condemning and strong), I sympathize with her because her desperation to get help led her to this brave act. It is never easy to walk away from the person you love and by doing this, she is clearly walking away from the abuse and trying to give back dignity to her life. And she is also walking out of his life, hopefully for good.
I still cannot reconcile the image (the ones I’ve seen this celebrity play on screen, the ones I watch on interviews), and the image of him beating a woman up. I try to imagine the scene, I try to gather some ideas and evidences from interviews online, try to see if maybe he has exhibited this aggression before, and while there may have been some indications, the truth is, it was really so unexpected. I really wonder: Why do some men beat up their girlfriends? How can anybody even do that to somebody you love? It doesn’t make sense. Do they even think about the repercussions of their violence and do they even consider for a moment that what they are doing will hurt other people as well, such as the girl’s parents and friends? Violence is selfish and very self-serving. At that moment, all you think of is what you want to do against the other person. But relationships, as I’ve already said, are never just between you and your partner. It’s the community around you. Just think about what friends and families would say after this. It’s shameful and horrifying and you lose respect, dignity and credibility.
Imagine if, years back, my boyfriend were physically abusive and I kept that from my parents. That would not have been right and it would have hurt them so much because I took away their right to protect me. Furthermore, I would have endangered myself (if things escalated) and the blame would just go to me because I didn’t speak up about it.
There are a lot of discussions going on right now about domestic violence. The hard part is always talking about it in public. In this digital day and age, one mistake can become viral in seconds, and before you know it, the whole world has already judged you. The difficult part is also hearing from people who have distorted ideas, some of which would even shame those that bring domestic violence to light. The girlfriend becomes the bad guy because according to some, “she asked for it.” Some would even say “she’s out to destroy his good name”, “she was dumped so she’s doing this for revenge”, and worse, “she’s just a fame whore.” As if showing bruises on your body is a credit you want to give to yourself for a job well done.
Anyway. I’m just thinking out loud here because the recent news reinforces my belief that it really is important to have a community around you that will support your relationship. There is accountability, and there is protection. When I was young, the idea of a you-and-me-against-the-world kind of relationship seemed appealing. But I see a different beauty and wisdom in not being against the world, and instead letting those that you value in your life, play an important part in building and growing your relationship.
My dad’s offer is a gem: He volunteers to protect me, to take it upon himself to be my shield, my fortress. My mom’s advice is precious: set your standards high, list your non-negotiables, commit them to God.