Don’t Touch Me — A Reflection on Courtship and Purity: Merab’s Story, Part Three
HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Merab” is a pseudonym.
< Part Two
After the Stephen incident, I relocated and began teaching eighth grade language arts. One day, I went with a friend to a local church Halloween party, dressed as a nerd. At the party, I met a tall man dressed like Felix Baumgartner (the man who has the record for the longest space jump). He was a meteorologist, and when I told him I was terrified of tornadoes, he got my phone number in order to put me on his “tornado notification list.”
The next morning, I woke up to a text from him. We spoke over text and on the phone, and the next week, he took me on our first date. We didn’t talk at length about whether we were ready for marriage; we talked about time travel. We went on several other dates throughout the week, and I didn’t ask him to call my dad for permission.
And then he dropped a bomb on me.
This man felt comfortable and vulnerable enough to be open about his past: He had been married before. He was divorced, following a five-year relationship and two-year marriage during which his ex-wife was unfaithful and left him.
My mind only heard: He had sex before.
He wasn’t pure. He wasn’t whole. He could never be fully mine. How would a relationship work? I still hadn’t kissed anyone. Our first kiss should be at the altar, but he’d had so many kisses before that ours would not even matter to him.
(Now, how convoluted that mindset seems to me, thinking that I wouldn’t matter to him and that he had nothing to offer me because he had sex with someone else before. It is exactly what I Kissed Dating Goodbye taught, though; I still remember the dream Joshua had in which he realized he had given everything away and had nothing left for a significant other.)
Crying, I left. Later, he told me he felt I would never want to see him again.
I called my mother, convinced that she would tell me to run, that this man was tainted goods. She told me I was acting crazy, that God loved everyone regardless of circumstance, and that this man was allowed to love again.
He wasn’t pure, I said. She said, what even was purity? What right did I have to say that someone wasn’t pure?
That night, I began to seriously evaluate my mindset towards purity and the courtship movement.
I viewed myself as being on some pedestal, looking down on the world at all the fornicators who were happily kissing their significant others. I speak out of my own experience when I say this; I am not implying that all people who choose not to kiss before marriage are judgmental in this way.
I allowed my interpretation of the courtship movement to condense a relationship into two all-important factors: physicality, and the avoidance of it. I was not thinking how this man could be affected by his divorce or how much I appreciated his honesty about it; I could only think about him kissing his ex-wife.
After much prayer and discussion with him, I confronted this mindset. I told him how guilty I felt holding hands or hugging for too long, and we deconstructed the guilt through conversation. He and I continued in our relationship, and I kissed him after four months. Even now, writing that, I still feel the need to justify why I kissed him: we loved each other, we wanted to get married, we were committed.
Lastly, I want to be achingly real about my experience with sex. Partly due to the fact I would have felt too guilty and unclean, we waited to have sex until our wedding night. On our wedding night, I felt so bad about finally losing my virginity, losing the purity I had “fought for” for so long, that it was impossible for me to just give it up simply because I had said a few words in a vow. I was so tense and unyielding that we did not have sex until we were married for over two weeks, and even then, I felt guilty. I was frank about this with my husband (who is a saint), and we have worked through this. Adhering to the courtship mindset and its purity reliance made having a physical relationship with my husband more difficult.
I can’t wait to teach my children that sexual experience does not dictate their dignity and value.
End of series.
Thank you for sharing this story. I hope this creates many bridges for others to step out of the shadow experiences with a very real christian fundamentalist belief system. The chasm is vast for those stuck in the fears of the purity culturalized, socialized experience. The ideology is sadly real. Others without this socializied experience look on an laugh and think “how stupid”. . . when this is all you know (a person wanting to be “good”) the isolation is real. It is not stupid when you are stuck within the “purity culture”. Stories like these may prove very helpful, for those still finding their voice. It takes courage, tremendous courage to risk old beliefs, and explore new ideas for ones self. It’s totally worth taking the risk. I think many happy endings can be imagined for this person as they continue to explore who they are.
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Merab, thank you for sharing your story. Your description of adjusting to married life made me think of an interview that Jonalyn Fincher of soulation.org conducted with Dr. Tina Schermer Sellers, a certified sex therapist.
The interview was intended to answer a question about how to enjoy sex in marriage after internalizing the idea that sex is bad. During the interview, Dr. Schermer Sellers said, “I will talk about the purity movement like it’s a kind of sexual abuse, because the process of reclaiming your own sexuality and your own body and then reclaiming it in the couple relationship—that process is the same process that I do in therapy with somebody who has experienced sexual abuse.”
I’m in a church (RCC) that’s known for being very straitlaced when it comes to divorce, and even they would consider those to be valid grounds — Adultery plus Desertion.
From what I understand about the article, the author didn’t seem concerned about whether the divorce had valid grounds; regardless of the cause of divorce, the man was still not “pure,” and that was the main issue.
I’ve read “I Kissed Dating Good-Bye”, and I don’t recall reading anything in there that talked about sex in marriage being bad or impure. I don’t think Josh Harris argues that marriage/sex makes people “impure.” (Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, though; it’s been a few years since I’ve read it.)
Of course, it sounds like the author may have possibly taken to heart the interpretations of this book that those around her held to?
(For the record, I don’t subscribe to the “no dating” and “no kissing until the wedding day” of “I Kissed Dating Good-bye”.)