Sunday, August 22, 2021

OF COURSE Dating is Different as an Adult

A man and woman on a date. Image source.

From time to time, when my friends tell me about their dating lives, I ask them questions about their views on how dating is supposed to work. I do this because my background is Christian "sexual purity" ideology, which left me with a really twisted and bizarre perspective on dating/sex/etc, and I am very curious about what "normal people" think instead.

Recently, though, while talking to a friend about her new partner, I realized a huge flaw in my thinking. I was asking her about the choices she made about dating and the reasons why, and comparing that to my life back when I was dating. Back when Hendrix and I first got together, about 8 years ago, and also my views on dating before that. Back when I was just beginning to question all that "sexual purity" nonsense and work my way out of it, back when I was clueless, back when I had never had sex, was terrified of sex. When I had just gotten out of a long-term relationship where I had never even kissed my boyfriend because, well, probably purity culture was wrong when they said kissing would ruin my life, but let's not risk it, just in case. Back when I had depression because Hendrix and I were living together, and I was sure God thought that was the dirtiest sin anyone could ever commit.

When I was in the "dating" phase of my life, that's where my mindset was. But now Hendrix and I have been together about 8 years, married 4 years, and a lot of things have happened to change my views on sex and dating. I've had sex, and discovered it wasn't some monumental transcendent experience that totally changes who I am as a person- discovered I didn't need to be so scared of it for so long. And I've been getting farther and farther away from purity culture, and developing a healthier view of consent and sex and how I own my own body- yes, even in marriage. And I came out as asexual. And I gave birth vaginally and that changed things too.

So I asked my friend about her experiences and her thoughts on dating, and then I realized I was comparing her "mature adult with years of experience" dating with my "clueless 20-something who was never allowed to even explore her own desires" dating.


And realizing, everyone changes as they grow up and get more experience. Of course everyone's independent-adult approach to dating will be different from their naive-teenager approach to dating. Of course! And my discussions with friends were less about "were you raised religious or not" and more "do you have enough experience to know yourself and know what you want."

It's not about being religious or what kind of sex ed you were taught- it's about growing up.

And this is just astonishing to me, the idea of "growing up" being a significant factor in one's approach to dating. Before, it just never occurred to me at all. That idea is nowhere in purity culture. People were categorized as "single", "in a relationship", "engaged", or "married", with different rules on "how far is too far" for each category. There was never any awareness that being single and 15 is a much different thing than single and 25, which is a much different thing than single and 40.

I believed that "God's plan" was that I would only ever date 1 person, the man that God had chosen for me, and that maybe God's plan was I would meet him at age 20 and maybe God's plan was I would meet him at age 50, who knows? If it was age 50, then no I am not allowed to have any romantic or sexual experiences at all until then, and that's that, I don't have any choice, this is God's plan. Imagining I'd get to age 50 just as naive and clueless as I was as a teenager, and then dutifully pray for God's guidance as we started dating... carefully following all the same rules I had learned in church when I was 14... really?

I remember someone told me that when older adults are dating, they tend to date for a much shorter amount of time before getting married, because they know what they want. I had no mechanism to understand this little factoid; all I had was a rule I had heard from some "purity" teacher, that said "you should date for 2 years before getting married."

I remember reading an article in a Christian magazine one time, basically it said "Bob and Carol were both in their 40's when they started dating. They had both been married before and both had made mistakes, but this time they were committed to sexual purity, and they waited till marriage to have sex, even though it was hard." It sounds so strange to me now... if you have already had sex and therefore know what sex is, generally, then why would you wait till marriage? I guess I'm coming from the perspective of "the choice to have sex or not is about how sex is this big scary unknown thing." But everyone's situation is different, and there are valid reasons to wait till marriage, but, in general, I don't think it makes sense for older adults to wait. 

And I remember reading blogs questioning purity ideology, and one commenter asked what purity culture has to say about widows. Specifically, this commenter was in her 20's when her husband died. I have no idea what purity culture has to say to that. It never came up. Turns out all the teaching in purity culture was targeted toward clueless teenagers, but they said it was for all unmarried people. Can't believe I'm just realizing now how wrong that is.

And if I was single again, hypothetically, there are things I would do differently now. But that doesn't mean "there are things I should have done differently back then." No, it just MAKES SENSE that at a certain age you would act a certain way, and at a different age you would act a completely different way. It MAKES SENSE that with more knowledge and experience, you would make different choices. Of course. That's normal, that's healthy. 

But in purity culture, experience is bad. Experience is the worst thing you can have. Experience is the opposite of purity. That's just... so weird to me now, because I've found it's so good and healthy to know yourself, to know what you want, to really own yourself- and you get there through experience. Growing up.

They taught us "here are the rules" and there was no concept of getting to know yourself and what you want. It was all "here's God's plan for you" and you don't have a choice.

But wow. Of course that's wrong. How did I never notice? Of course dating is different as an  adult.



I’m Really Really REALLY Glad I Had Sex Before Marriage

For This Asexual, Purity Culture Was All About Fear 

My Husband Is Not The Entire Focus Of My Sex Life

"How Far Is Too Far?" My Story, And What I Wish I'd Known


I wrote this post for the August 2021 Carnival of Aces. This month's topic is "Second Chance at Any Past Topic." I guess I am writing for past topics related to relationships/dating.

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