|A woman drags around luggage at an airport. Image source.|
All the rules- abstinence, not kissing, worry over whether it's okay to hold hands, emotional purity, guarding your heart- it's all about avoiding "baggage." If you never experience the heartbreak of a failed romance, then you won't have anything to be sad about, and your future marriage will be GREAT. That's what they said, anyway.
Baggage. Let me tell you about baggage.
Long long ago, when I was dating my first boyfriend, there was one night where we were sitting on the couch together, and he leaned over to kiss me on the cheek. I dodged it, suddenly fully alert and horrified at what had almost just happened. He had almost STOLEN my first kiss. Oh wow. My first kiss- I only have one, and it's so incredibly valuable, and HOLY CRAP I almost just lost it, oh dear goodness, what would my future husband think?
My boyfriend felt terrible and apologized so many times, but I don't know if he really understood or not. He didn't have a background in purity culture. He probably wasn't aware that I believed every moment of physical or emotional closeness between us decreased my value. And I never would have thought to explain that to him because isn't it obvious? Purity culture says this is the way it works, and to watch out for guys because they just want to take and take and take.
I didn't know there was any other way to conceptualize what dating was. And so I saw him as just trying to take and take, to rob me of my irreplaceable purity, because that's what guys do. I even told him directly, "I don't trust guys." And that hurt him a lot, and I couldn't understand why- isn't it obvious that guys are like that?
After that relationship ended, I embraced purity culture even more. Lived that way for a few years- you know, the whole "having a crush is a huge crisis I need to desperately pray about", the whole "can't make even the tiniest of moves indicating interest in a guy without clear approval from God", the whole "daydreaming about a crush is the start of a slippery slope into lust and idolatry." Eventually I started questioning, and I made the completely rebellious decision to ask a guy to be my boyfriend even though God had not answered "yes" or "no" to my many prayers about him.
So he was my second boyfriend. And every single tiny bit of affection I showed him brought shame along with it. I was losing my purity, and for what? Purity isn't something you should just give to someone, out of love or some crappy reason like that- no, it is a currency you use to buy information on whether you should marry your boyfriend. But there I was, texting my boyfriend just to tell him he was cute, knowing that the act of sending a text message brought me no closer to making a decision on marriage, and yet doing it anyway because I had decided I didn't believe in purity culture any more.
I knew I was doing what was best for me, not living in fear anymore, but ... there was so much guilt. And my boyfriend was sometimes patient, listening and wanting to help me feel better, and sometimes he wasn't. He said "just be a normal person" while I tried not to cry about how shameful I felt.
I never kissed him. I had kissed my first boyfriend (after a ton of careful consideration) but I never kissed my second boyfriend. I kind of wanted to, but it wasn't an overwhelming temptation, so I figured it was best to just not- just to be safe, just in case purity culture was right when they said I would regret it forever. I was afraid, actually. And when I moved to China, I was a little bit relieved- now there were thousands of miles between us, now I wouldn't have to make a decision on whether to kiss him or not.
I dated him for over a year, which was longer than I should have. But when he started treating me badly, the idea of breaking up was just way too scary. Even though I told myself I don't believe in purity culture anymore, the fear was still there. They said breaking up is The Worst Thing Ever and you can never really get over it. They said there will always be baggage.
And even though I didn't believe it anymore, the fear still haunted me. Hmm, but wasn't that what purity culture was meant to avoid- you know, something in your past, that you don't even want or care about anymore, but it still makes you feel bad, and those feelings push you to make bad decisions. Baggage.
My third boyfriend, I kissed before we even started dating. (But maybe that's a story for another day.) When we did decide to date, I asked him whether we were going to tell each other exactly "how far" we had gone with previous partners, so that we would each know the other's current purity level. Purity culture says you have to do that- you have to "confess" all of it to your spouse. My boyfriend said we didn't need to, that he didn't really care what I had done with other guys in the past (and it would probably upset him if I insisted on telling him details).
I didn't know what to think. I didn't know if I should ask him about his past. I didn't know if I should care. Purity culture said I should be really hurt about him being "experienced"- I had rejected purity culture, but what on earth am I supposed to replace it with?
And I felt so much shame. Many times I went through a cycle where we did something "impure" and it was very exciting, but then later I felt so bad about it, and I told him we can't do it anymore. So we would stop for a few days. But then do it again- and not because of "temptation", not because we "couldn't control ourselves" or any BS like that- it was because I had made a decision to not believe those things were sinful, and so I chose to do them, consensually and not by accident. But still, I felt so bad- there were many times I thought "I deserve to get pregnant" as punishment for doing something so bad- even though it was all stuff that you can't actually get pregnant from. (And that's as much detail as I'm going to give you.)
And we moved in together, and I told him over and over "we are bad", and I didn't know I had depression- purity culture said that when you sin, you should feel overwhelming shame, so the way I felt was right and normal.
People who date ex-purity-culture girls are taking on a very hard task. Those of us who have rejected purity culture need to unlearn everything we ever knew about dating. We are starting from square 1, with no real understanding of what a healthy relationship is, what consent is, what a vulva is.
I'm now engaged to that third boyfriend I mentioned. He must really love me, because he's willing to sit through one conversation after another where I'm like "but purity culture said..." and I try to figure out how to have a healthy view on whatever topic it is.
Yes, it's true that the pain from failed relationships can last for a long time. But the attempts I made to avoid this pain and "be pure" only caused more dysfunction in my dating relationships. Purity culture left me with stereotypes about men and women, didn't teach me anything about healthy relationships, and told me I was damaged and unworthy of love. That's the baggage I've had to work through- that I'm still working through now.
Purity culture would look at my history, see the two ex-boyfriends and how I had my first kiss and said "I love you" before I met the man I'm going to marry, and count all of it as "baggage" that will make marriage hard for me in the future. Ha. Nothing could be further from reality. I have far more baggage from working so hard to be a good, pure girl.
This post is part of a synchroblog hosted by Life After "I Kissed Dating Goodbye"