She's Out of Control
Ever been on the verge of buying your own engagement ring? ^Ashley Stockingdale, the charming but always-in-over-her-head patent attorney from "What a Girl Wants," has finally found the man she wants to marry. But after nine months of dating, it...
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Ever been on the verge of buying your own engagement ring? ^Ashley Stockingdale, the charming but always-in-over-her-head patent attorney from "What a Girl Wants," has finally found the man she wants to marry. But after nine months of dating, it seems her commitment-phobe boyfriend will never use the "M" word. Just when she thinks she's got it all together, Ashley is having trouble knowing where to put it. ^A massive remodeling project, a hyperactive puppy, and an ex-boyfriend who wants to be part of her life again all keep Ashley's world spinning. As the mayhem escalates, Ashley's life quickly goes from "What a Girl Wants" to out of control.
Kristin Billerbeck is a Christy Award finalist and two-time winner of the ACFW Book of the Year.
How do I?
By Ashley Wilkes Stockingdale
How do I avoid commitment: Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth except when buying jewelry is involved.
I love thee in the daylight,
as long as my place of residence is not invaded by night.
(Nor any semblance of your grooming materials.)
I love thee freely, except when the guys are watching.
I love thee with all the passion of an engineer.
With my old girlfriends, I avoided the moment of Truth,
But with you, dear Ashley, I may not escape my fate.
And if God so choose, may I go to the Altar with strength-as Isaac did.
I swear this is how some men view marriage, like they're being laid out on the wood of the great Altar, ready to be sacrificed, and just praying the ram will arrive in time. I, Ashley Wilkes Stockingdale, have been dating Seth Greenwood for nine months. And while God can form a new human being in that same time frame, getting an adult male to the jewelry store is an entirely different kettle of fish.
I have a theory on commitment, and being a patent attorney, I'm considering getting the lock on it. I've always wanted to write a book where I state the incredibly obvious and people flock to the bookstore as though I am some psychological genius. Kind of like Men are From Mars, Women are from Venus. Here's my first attempt:
Steps Towards Getting a Male to Commit.
First, you must conquer "Whiplash." Whiplash is when your boyfriend thinks every woman in the vicinity might be potentially better for him. This involves several quick neck sprains while he looks until he eventually come to the conclusion that no, there's a reason he picked you. Allow about six months for this stage.
Then you enter the "Accommodation" phase. This is where Boyfriend discovers that, yes, you are the best one for him at the moment, but maybe God is calling him to a life of foreign mission work instead. He probably can't take you along on his great and deeply sacrificial ministry, so he accommodates you with the theory that some big life change will happen and let him off the hook. Two months for this stage.
You have now entered "Jeopardy." Now Boyfriend must fish or cut bait, and the real pressure begins. You watch him writhe like a trout on a hook, knowing you have the power to release him, but is that the best thing? As you watch the struggle, you begin to wonder, Do I even want to get married enough to strip this guy of his . . . his, heck, I don't know what I'm stripping him of, but it must be important if it's worth all this squirming.
So as it stands, Seth and I are in the Jeopardy phase. He's afraid to be alone with me, afraid I might pressure him to ask "the" question. The romance is gone. Only fear remains, and what's the fun of that? I've almost forgotten why we started dating in the first place. I remember knowing, at the time, that it was God's will for my life. Now I know it was probably God's will because I had some great life lesson to learn. I hope it's learned by now. I don't want to go through this again.
My best friend Brea is reading my first attempt at poetry now, How Do I . . . ? Brea is married. She adopted a baby and poof! she has another one in her tummy. Being Brea's best friend is truly impossible because she lives a charmed life. It's like little fairies drop rose petals alongside each of her steps.
Brea looks up at me from my poem. "What are you planning to do with this . . . this poetry, and I use the term loosely?" Brea waves the paper around. Her little baby Miles grabs it and gums the edges of it. "'How Do I Avoid Commitment?' Ash! Kinda pathetic. If this is how you feel, I think it's time you just broke things off."
Okay, not the reaction I was expecting. "What do you mean, pathetic? I think it's a deep and truthful allegory about Christian men and commitment."
"Um, if you're Sylvia Plath, maybe. Ash, this borders on the mentally deranged." While Brea sounds all concerned, she is actually giving equal time to Oprah, who is blaring over me.
My cell phone is ringing, and I just want to throw it across the room. "Give my poem back to me." I rip the paper from her hands, and little Miles forms a pout you could perch a bird upon. He begins to howl. "See, I can't make men happy at any age! And this," I wave my paper again, "is not mental. It's just my attempt to show Seth there's nothing to be afraid of when it comes to marriage."
Brea is now cracking up, while Miles continues to scream and Oprah offers an indispensable fashion tip. Meanwhile, my phone is still trilling. "Oh yeah, this will do it," she says. "Seth will be completely ready for commitment after this. Just rushing to the altar because he wants a wife who lives part time in the institution." Her laughter slows. "Ash, let's put it this way, if you sent this from jail? You wouldn't be getting out anytime soon. Oooh . . . oooh! Move out of the way, here's the 'after' part." Brea faces the television and her eyes are wide with excitement at a stay-at-home mom transformed into a glamour queen.
I cross my arms. "Are you listening to me?"
"Could you turn that cell phone off? It's really annoying," Brea shouts over Miles's screaming and Oprah's enthusiasm. "I want to hear this."
"I have to leave it on, in case my boss wants me. It will ring differently if he calls."
Brea laughs. "We all know your boss wants you."
"This isn't about Hans. This is about Seth." I am seriously annoyed now. "You never dated a guy afraid of commitment. You got married young, when you weren't 'bus bait.'" Bus bait is my brother's term meaning that I have more chance of getting hit by a bus than getting married over thirty. I'm thirty-one and counting. I take crosswalks seriously.
Brea rubs her belly thoughtfully, like all pregnant women do. "I know you're getting frustrated with Seth, but he's fearful, Ashley. He can't help but worry about whether you're the right one. And there's no real way to know for certain, so he's stuck. It's harder for men as they get older. They don't want to make the wrong choice. I think you should move on. That'll teach him."
"Meanwhile my clock is ticking. Brea, he is thirty-four years old, he's bald, and he dresses like an engineer. I love the man dearly, but who does he think is coming along to rescue him?"
"That only makes him more fearful, Ashley. What if he's wasting your time? He's worried about that, too, I'm sure."
My mouth is dangling open. "Are you kidding me? Whose side are you on? You're saying that Seth is so concerned about me and my biological clock that he cannot force four little words from his lips?"
Brea nods. "Seriously, I talked to John about this. He says men get nervous to date women over thirty because they feel too much pressure. What if things don't work out?"
"Thank you, Oprah. Things are working out. Well, I thought they were anyway." I scratch my head. Little Miles is still screaming at me and my cell phone is ringing again. Oprah is squealing about the makeover's gorgeous results, which Brea is craning her neck to see. I reach out for the baby. "Come to Auntie Ashley."
Miles scoffs at first, but begins to quiet as I cuddle his warm head against my chest, walk, and bounce him. We both calm down. He smells like heaven, and for the moment all my angst is forgotten and my heartbeat slows. There is only this angelic creature and his sweet new scent in my arms. I realize with trepidation that I want a baby. Who woulda thunk? Maybe Seth senses this. Maybe that's what is forcing his retreat.
Brea takes her eyes off Oprah. "Miles just loves you, Ashley. He doesn't take to anyone like you."
"You're going to have another baby soon. Why don't you just give me Miles?" I wink at her, lifting Miles above my head and back down. "You said you wanted a girl, remember? I've changed Miles's diapers, and he is distinctly a boy. So I think you should give him up."
"The doctor said he'd be a girl." Now Brea reverts to child gibberish. "But Mama got her perfect little prince, didn't she?" she coos.
"Do you mind? We want the boy to be a healthy adult."
"Well, that's gonna happen with you telling him I wanted a girl." Brea says, rubbing her belly.
Even pregnant, Brea looks like a fashion model. She's got her thick dark mane pulled into a ponytail and from behind you can't even tell she's expecting. Right before I started dating Seth, Brea had a miscarriage. It about broke my heart. For one thing, I couldn't stand seeing her in such emotional pain; for another, there just never was a woman meant to be a mother like Brea.
Of course when it happened, she freaked out like she'd never be able to have another child, and while operating in crisis mode, adopted little Miles from an unwed teenage mother. Which, of course, turned out perfect, but now the tables are turned. Now that it's my turn to obsess about my own marital status, she's the epitome of calm. I know better than to listen to her Dr. Phil tones. She's a drama queen too. Just not at the moment.
John, her husband, enters the house and stops at the sight before him. His house is complete chaos: Baby toys everywhere, Oprah on full-blast and my cell phone still ringing. He looks at the scene and, for a moment, I think he's going to turn around and leave.
"Brea." John shuts the door behind him. "What's going on?"
"Ashley had the afternoon off." Brea is biting her lip and I can't say I blame her. This place looks like a train rushed through, and it sounds like the locomotive is still in the vicinity. How does Brea handle it? Like a mature wife. She points at me as though I made the mess.
"That's great," John smiles. "Did you girls have a good time?"
"There's probably no dinner then, huh?" He pauses for a moment, then reacts like all men would. NOT. "You want to go out?" John asks. Then he looks at me. "You're welcome to join us, Ashley."
And ruin my manifesto on single men. Forget it. "No, thanks. You two have a good time. Do you want me to stay with Miles so you can go somewhere nice?"
Brea giggles. "Nah. They always hold him at the Chinese restaurant while we eat. But I'm glad you came by. It was nice you got a day off." she smiles at me.
"Yeah, the first one in eighteen days. I don't know what I'm whining about, I can't commit to Seth anyway, I'm currently married to my job."
"You're whining because you love the man, and you know you want to get married. It's not a crime. That poem, however-I think that's a crime."
John walks into the kitchen, and I lower my tone. "How long do I have to pretend that this doesn't matter to me? That I don't want to be with him for the rest of my life? It's one thing to monitor what I say, but my heart is beginning to betray me. I love Seth, and yet he continues to hurt me every day by telling me that I'm not good enough to be his bride." I snuggle Miles closer.
"It's only been nine months. You have to be patient."
"He'll come around," John offers as he reenters the room.
"I didn't get my law degrees by being patient," I say.
"Yes, you did. I would have taken a sawed-off shotgun to school by the time you finished."
"Point taken, but Brea, would you have married John if he took that long to make up his mind? At some point, wouldn't you have thought, If he doesn't love me enough to ask me to marry him, he can stuff it? It's not like we're children, or we haven't known each other for years."
Brea pauses for a long moment and then looks at her husband with an expression on her face most of us only dream about. "I can't imagine John doing that to me, Ash," she finally says. "I know a lot of guys take forever to ask women to marry them, but they're usually sleeping with them. It's different with Christians, when they aren't doing that. Nine months is more than enough time considering how long you and Seth have known each other."
Knife to the heart. "I can't imagine John doing this either, Brea, and now you see my dilemma. If I have any self-worth at all, is sticking around the best thing? Or am I enabling him?"
"I am here," John says.
Brea's quiet. Miles is sucking on his lower lip, and I am about to burst from his cuteness. He's got a shock of auburn hair that sticks straight up in a baby Mohawk. He even looks like he belongs to Brea. He's got her big, dark brown eyes and a ready smile. The disparity suddenly grips me.
"You're going to have two babies in less than nine months, and I'm going to travel to Taiwan again, worry that I've called Seth one too many times, maybe have dinner with the Reasons . . ."
The Reasons are the singles group at church, I call them that because they all have some particular reason that they aren't married. Some of them choose their status. I obviously don't. "This is not what I thought my life would turn out to be," I continue. "I was doing fine until I made the romantic decision to be with Seth. Before that I had made up my mind to be independent and forget about men. Now I think it's time to move on with my life."
"Maybe it is. Ashley, I hate to see you pining away like this. Seth is a great guy, but what he's doing to you is criminal. Every time you start to venture out on your own, he gets scared and pulls you back in with some fleeting romantic gesture."
I'm nodding. What else can I do? It's true. I've become codependent without even realizing it. I have turned myself into a Dr. Phil show.
"So you think I should break it off?" This is not an easy question for me. I love Seth. With all my heart I want to be his wife, but not if I have to wait till I'm fifty years old. Seth takes an hour to make up his mind on a lunch beverage. I just don't have his kind of time. Maybe there's a little pride mixed in as well-I'm embarrassed that Seth hasn't asked me by now. The Reasons are all waiting, and if our engagement doesn't happen, Seth will just be rotated back into the open market.
"What do you think God wants you to do? Are you forcing something that isn't meant to be?" Brea's face looks pinched.
"Now, there's the age-old question. I don't know what God wants me to do. From the looks of it, He wants me to drone away my life in a high-tech company, writing patents that don't matter in the grand scheme of things."
"That's not true. You made your last company a fortune with that last patent."
"I didn't invent it, I just wrote it up, like the scribe I am. I have everything I thought I wanted. I have my Audi convertible, I have a great place living with Kay, and I'm well on my way to my own condominium. I have succeeded in the Silicon Valley, one of the hardest places on earth to make it, and yet I don't have the one thing I really want." I hold up baby Miles like Simba on Pride Rock.
"I didn't know you ever really wanted to be a mother, Ash."
"Neither did I."
Brea's husband pouts and kisses his wife like something out of a soap opera. Oh yeah, this is helping me. He notices Miles in my arms and reaches for the baby. "I'm going to go upstairs and get ready for dinner."
Brea reaches up and kisses his cheek. "I'm sorry the place is such a mess, John. You deserve better when you've had a hard day."
"You're entitled to your fun days." John winks and kisses her cheek. "Besides, I feel like Chinese food, anyway."
There was a time when I was content to be single. What I'd give to be back in that place. To not feel with every breath that my life is missing something. Seth changed that for me, but unfortunately, nothing else about him has changed-including his ability to make a commitment.