Flattery, Actually Part I: When Carl Met Rachael

Because that’s the thing about words: without ordained authority, pretty promises hold no gravity. It’s like expecting protein from candy corn and ending up with a semester-long headache instead.

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When Carl Met Rachael

He was a Percussion and English double major. He had an affinity for sleeve tattoos and comic book superheroes. We met in a writing class my senior year of college, and he started to walk me to my car so he could compliment my work. Eventually, I was waiting for him after every class.

I gave him a ride to the dining hall one day as we asked each other get-to-know-you questions. When I dropped him off, he stepped around the car to peer down the driver’s window.

“I have one more question,” he said.

I nodded.

“Will you marry me?”

I laughed it off and pushed him away, waiting to see him grin in jest. But he shook his head and walked backward, studying me in concentration.

Later that night, I sat my best friend Juny down to tell her about Carl. (This isn’t his real name. Don’t worry, the story doesn’t get vengeful.)

“Stay away from him,” she warned.

I felt all the glitter in my belly drop to a messy heap on the floor.


“Because I know him from the music department,” she said. “And he’s not good for you.”

50 Secret Dates

Carl didn’t smoke or binge drink or pressure me in a bedroom. He believed in God, said he “was too busy for church,” and relied on his emotions rather than Scripture. For someone who swore she’d never date a C&E (Christmas and Easter) Christian, I felt all of my defenses chip away like old nail polish.

I didn’t consider myself just a “good girl.” I didn’t go to church or pray out of obligation; I was striving for serious discipleship. But Carl said he’d never met anyone like me. Carl said I was all he could think about.

“I’ll wait for you, Rachael,” he said. “I’m praying for us.”

So we dated on-and-off in secret. I asked him to not say anything to his friends, and I sneaked out at night to avoid mine. I told Carl it was because he’d just gotten out of a relationship, and I didn’t want people talking. I distanced myself from my community, I took other guys to my sorority functions, and I changed his name in my phone. I did everything in my power to either stay away from Carl or to keep him a secret.

“I’ll wait for you, Rachael,” he said. “You’re more than just my dream girl.”  

I felt as helpless as a kid’s toy in a river current. I wanted to be with him despite all of the reasons not to. And I tried my best to ignore Abba when He gently asked me, “What’s going on, Rachael?”

I’d dated before Carl. I’d kissed before Carl. But Carl wasn’t accountable to God, so he chased me without abandon. He talked about marrying me, about protecting me, about us carrying on his family traditions. He threw everything he had at me, and I felt addicted to the sugar rush.

So when he told me he loved me one December night, I said it back helplessly, knowing he wasn’t mine to keep.

“I love you, too.”

A few weeks later, I had 1,400 miles between us. With the help of a childhood friend, I called Carl over winter break to end things for good. We hadn’t met each other’s parents. We hadn’t even held hands in daylight. But sobering from a high that far up into the clouds felt like crashing into cardboard boxes.

The Break-Up

For a words-of-affirmation lover, letting go of Carl’s confessions was painful and disorienting. I struggled to hold onto their magic and to see it for more than just a cheap smoke-and-mirrors show. But when the glances across a classroom ended, when he didn’t text me on weekends or like my new Facebook posts, I realized I didn’t have much to remember him by.

Because that’s the thing about words: without ordained authority, pretty promises hold no gravity. It’s like expecting protein from candy corn and ending up with a semester-long headache instead. I believe Carl loved me. I believe Carl would’ve married me. I also believe he wasn’t accountable to God, and I had stepped outside of His will. Carl might’ve meant his late-night confessions, but without the Father’s foundation, Carl’s words held no sincerity.  

“You’re my dream girl, Rachael,” he said. “I’ve never met anyone like you.”

One day, my future husband might whisper these words to me. But when Carl said them, he spoke them in pursuit. He used words to further his personal gain rather than to build me up in Christ. It took months for me to realize that immediate proclamations of undying affection weren’t romantic at all.

They were reckless.

Flattery, Actually

“Righteous lips are the delight of kings, And he who speaks right is loved,” (Proverbs 16:13 NIV).

What I’ve come to learn is that a man of God doesn’t jokingly propose to a woman he’s not dating. A man of God respects a woman when she says, “Please let me go.” A man of God doesn’t make his girlfriend his entire world. They are more careful, more intentional with their praises because they have a future wife in mind, and they’re conscientious that you may not be her.

I felt ashamed by how much I loved Carl’s goodnight declarations. I was embarrassed by how much I missed the way he said, “You’re beautiful.” After we broke up, I cried to God, wondering if anyone would want to marry me again. He said, “Yes, of course. The right guy will do it with a ring.”

Godly men still compliment and write letters and whisper I love yous. But their pursuit is under God’s authority, so it’s sexier. Their words aren’t recycled, so they’re credible. Romance is God’s creation, and when it’s protected purely in His authorship, it’s always—and obviously—the best.

Flattery is more of a means-to-the-end than a reflection of the means, showcasing a mirage of God’s intended romance. It condenses the pursuit, separates the commitment, and pours all adrenaline into one toxic shot. So at first you feel seen. At first you feel beautiful. And then the sparkle wears off, and you’re left with nothing to hold onto.

“I’ll wait for you, Rachael,” he said. “You’re more than just my dream girl.”

They were words that had once armed my stomach butterflies with BB guns. But several years later, my only memorabilia is a stack of journal entries and God’s tender stitches on a once-shattered heart.

Feature Image by Joanna Nix

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About the Author

Rachael’s testimony can be summed up in four little words: from ash to glitter. She's witnessed Jesus transform her brokenness into extravagance and now she brings her ‘extra’ self to boardgames, lip-sync battles, and costume contests. Currently, she lives in South Carolina where she works as the Membership Engagement Coordinator for Kingdom Winds and devotes time to writing, teaching, and crafting dangly earrings.