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Category Archives: Marriage

The Escape

Over the past 9 months I’ve covered the subject of The Odd Life of Jehovah’s Witnesses quite thoroughly.  Although I will most likely continue to add to this blog, it’s time to move on to other subjects.

This week’s post is the first 1000 words of my forthcoming book, “The Escape,” soon to be e-published .

 

The Escape – A True Story

April, 2004 Time to Leave

Phil’s rage boiled up inside of him and his alter-ego, “The Commando,” glared at me from his eyes. For the first time in our 27-year marriage I was afraid of him. I knew with absolute certainty that he hated me and was going to kill me.

I knew why I was seeing “The Commando” instead of the Phil I usually saw. I had changed significantly in the past 6 months, and he felt threatened by the new me. I was definitely not the same girl he had married; I was no longer willing to be the passive, obedient Jehovah’s Witness wife. I had found my personal power and was expressing it boldly regardless of Phil’s or anyone else’s opinion.

For example, six months earlier I had joined an online community for Clay Aiken fans and had made friends outside of Jehovah’s Witnesses. These ladies embraced me, and I found that JWs weren’t the only people in the world that could show love. In fact, these ladies showed me more kindness and love than any of the JWs I’d known.

Additionally, through the online forum I had begun writing and receiving accolades for it. The self-expression involved in writing conflicted with the self-repression that is part and parcel of life in a cult. I was feeling powerful and free.

And then, probably the icing on the cake, I had recently traveled alone and attended a concert with these new friends in a distant city. We acted silly and fangirly, went out for drinks at night, and had more fun to the inch than I’d imagined was possible. I felt lighter, happier, and I had a bunch of new friends.

To Phil my online activity was tantamount to rebellion. Worst of all in his eyes, I had contacted and renewed my friendship with my disfellowshipped friend, Laurel. That alone could have landed me in serious trouble with the local elders, if he decided to tell on me.  I had distanced myself emotionally from both Phil and the cult of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Now all that remained was to remove myself completely from both.

However, my hand had been forced. I didn’t want to be the subject of one of those terrible headlines, “Man Who Killed Wife was ‘Nice Guy’ According to Neighbors.” My life was in danger, and I had to leave, not in 6 months or a year, but now. I didn’t let on to Phil that I was afraid, but I went online and told my friends about the change in my situation.

We quickly formulated a plan. Since I had been working as a home-based medical transcriptionist I could move anywhere and take my job with me. I arranged temporary shelter with Laurel and her partner. I purchased a plane ticket to Dallas where I would live with Alicia (one of my “Clay friends”) and her daughter until I could get my own place. I made up a story so that I could ship my work equipment to Texas without Phil being suspicious.

The next day I took my usual late-afternoon walk down to the lakeshore and stood there gazing at the familiar boat-filled marina while the cold wind whipped my hair and reddened my cheeks. I strolled through town and stopped by an ATM where I withdrew half of the $400 in the account. Then I continued along the shore path, looking out to the horizon realizing it would be a long time before I ever took this walk again. It was a beautiful place to live, but it had been my prison.

I quickly decided what I needed to take with me. Everything had to be either shipped or checked on the plane to Dallas. The eventual plan was for me to live alone, and being prone to anxiety attacks, I knew I would need distraction. Phil didn’t watch much TV, so I decided to take the TV and the VCR. He didn’t use the Internet, but he did research using a DVD of the Watchtower Society’s (corporate entity of Jehovah’s Witnesses) library of publications. I decided he could use his PC at work for those projects, so I wouldn’t be depriving him if I took the PC.

There wasn’t much more I could take except some of my clothes and a few books.

I wrote him a note explaining that I had left and giving him some practical advice: Close the checking account, change the utilities to his name, and so forth. I left him our only car and our cat. Although I loved my kitty dearly, Phil and Socks had a special relationship that I didn’t want to break up.

The next morning after Phil left for work I quickly unplugged and gathered the electronic items, packed my bags, and waited for Laurel to arrive. She was late, and as time ticked by my anxiety grew. I sat on the living room couch trying to read a book, but none of the words were sinking in. I was worried that Phil might pop in for some unknown reason and there would be a messy scene. Then the phone rang. It was Phil calling from work.

 

Conditioning

Many people wonder why an intelligent woman would remain in an abusive relationship for decades.

The answer is: Conditioning. And it starts young. I was conditioned by my mother’s passivity and coldness as well as my father’s verbal and sexual abuse to accept poor treatment without complaint. So when, at eighteen, I married a man I did not love and found myself bound for life to a likeable guy who regularly raped me, I accepted the situation. I didn’t even consider leaving him.

(Copyright 2013 Sally Cottle)

Courtship and Marriage

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JWs live by a very strict moral code, rather Puritanical in nature, that forbids any type of sexual contact between people who are not married to each other.  Once engaged to be married, the rigidity of that policy slackens only the tiniest bit.  As a result JWs do not engage in what most non-JWs would consider normal dating.

In order to be eligible for their brand of “dating” one must be of marriageable age and, as the Bible calls it, “past the bloom of youth” when hormonal urges might cloud their judgment and lead to an imprudent marriage.  Therefore, teenaged JWs do not date.  No prom; no, “Hey, wanna catch a movie on Friday?”  If they socialize at all it is in groups and chaperoned by a responsible adult (preferably a small army of adults).  This means that the normal process of exploring one’s own sexuality never happens until marriage.

A more mature JW (let’s call him “Don”) who desires marriage and sees an attractive prospect (let’s call her “Sue”) will have to angle to make sure they are invited to the same social events which, depending on the congregation, may be few and far between.

Lacking the requisite social events necessary for the desired contact, Don will attend meetings at Sue’s congregation whenever possible, engaging her in conversation or, perhaps just gazing longingly (at which point we must vigorously poke Don in the side and push him in Sue’s direction).

Once friendly contact has been established and mutual interest ascertained, the pair will have to create social events at which to mingle or press their married friends into service as chaperones on visits to museums, dinners out, and shopping excursions.  No hand-holding, kissing, or other physical contact is allowed except, perhaps, a supporting arm when walking across an icy sidewalk.

So, Don and Sue are smitten, and Don manages to find an opportunity to slip away from the chaperones and ask for Sue’s hand (having obtained her father’s permission).  Now they may hold hands and sit together at meetings.  Kissing is not recommended, although not forbidden.  No fumbling hands amongst the shirt buttons, now, Don!  Be a good boy.

A brief engagement is preferable in order to prevent lust from causing the premature loss of chastity.  In order to use a kingdom hall for their wedding, Don and Sue’s conduct during their courtship and engagement must be above reproach.

In practice, this repression of natural urges results in many early marriages, which leads to a great deal of unhappiness down the line.

In my own case, I was married at 18 to a 25-year-old man who, I found out some 25 years later, only wanted me for the basest of reasons.  I’ll write more about that in my book.

The wedding ceremony itself consists of a talk given by an elder and then the reciting of vows.  Oh gosh, let’s see if I can remember how it goes.  “I Sue take you Don to be my wedded husband, to love and to cherish and deeply respect for as long as we shall live together on earth according to God’s marital arrangements.”  Don uses basically the same vow, except he leaves off the “deeply respect” part.

Weddings are supposed to be fairly simple, especially if held in a kingdom hall.  Customs vary in different parts of the world, but lavish decorations are not allowed, you must use a Kingdom Melody (JW “hymn”) for the processional, and writing your own vows is not allowed.

Likewise, the reception is to be modest and controlled.  If the whole congregation is invited, probably there won’t be any alcohol served.  Weddings I attended in Maine back in the ‘70s usually were potluck affairs with square dancing.  By the ‘90s they were more likely to be catered and invitation-only with a hired band.  It is extremely unlikely that any JW in good standing would hire a wedding planner.

In my case, we had to do things on the cheap, even though I was engaged for nine months with plenty of time to plan.  Of course, I was only 17 for most of that time and had been trained not to expect much.  As was customary back in the ‘70s in my part of the world, I made my own wedding gown, and my groom wore his best suit.  I had two bridesmaids who also made their gowns and the male attendants wore their best suits.  We had a small reception at my parents’ home, mainly for family and close friends.

Once married, the JW wife is expected to be in subjection to her husband.  If there is a heavy decision to be made he will listen to her opinion and concerns, but it’s his decision, and she must support him no matter what she thinks of it.  As you can imagine, for a modern woman with a brain in her head this is nearly impossible and requires a huge amount of self-control and self-repression.  Now, there’s a recipe for lasting happiness!

A striking example of this dynamic in action occurred when my supervisor, a JW, received permission from her superior to attend a national trade association conference in a distant city.  It was shortly after 9/11, and her husband was uneasy about her taking a plane anywhere.  Of course, his fears were irrational, but she had to obey him and send someone else in her place.  Her chagrin was obvious, but she was forced by scriptural law to knuckle under.  The non-JWs in the office were astonished, and the ultimate result of this inexplicable turn of events was that the boss was diminished in the eyes of her staff.

As you can imagine, this dynamic works well only if the husband is a reasonable, loving man who follows the example of Jesus Christ.  Yeah, right.  Often, what you find in JW households is an abuse of power on the part of the husband/father.  Conversely, there are some women who will not be silenced and run roughshod over their husband’s authority – in private.  In public, they will put on a show of submissiveness.

The children in the household are subject to their parents’ authority, at least until a son gets baptized.  Once that happens, while still required to be obedient to his mother, he is considered her spiritual head.  Newly baptized boys tend to let this teensy bit of authority go to their heads and start trying to order their mothers around, a situation that never ends happily.

Girls in the household are absolutely the lowest forms of life on earth.  They have no voice whatsoever.  If an autocratic father rules the household, life can be pretty unbearable providing yet another reason for early marriage and escape.

More on a woman’s place in JWs next week.