Background: Josh Harris has been asking for stories about how his book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, influenced his readers. However, in the asking, he is wanting permission to edit the stories, possibly taking things out of context and getting to decide the impact of his book. But I, and others like him, want control over the telling of our own stories. Read more about it here: http://www.lifeafterikdg.com/
Josh Harris, I wish I had dated without the intention of marriage. And I wish I had had more casual sex.
I am so happy to be married to my husband of two years. We did not wait to have sex – we slept together after our first real date. And we did not have the pressure of it being a relationship heading towards marriage at that point. We weren’t even exclusively defined at that point. The relationship blossomed naturally after that, and the level of commitment deepened as our knowledge of each other grew. Along each step of the way, my husband and I communicated how we felt about each other and what we expected of each other. No cookie-cutter path, no assumptions. Just clear communication.
We had had sex with other people before knowing each other. This has not negatively impacted our relationship – except, sometimes, in my head, due to the teachings of purity culture, and teachings from your book that I am still trying to untangle.
Growing up as an evangelical christian, I got bombarded by purity culture from many angles – youth group, Brio magazine, parents, and your book, Mr. Harris. I learned many strange things about sex and human sexuality. Lessons such as:
- You give away part of yourself when you have sex with someone, and you can never get that part back. As if having sex with a person makes you less if it is outside of marriage
- The lines with physical closeness and boundaries are very fuzzy – is sitting close to someone ok? Holding hands? Touching? Touching over clothes? Kisses that don’t linger for too long?
- Dating without intention to marry is wrong – you’re leading the other person on, you’re just playing with something that is meant to be taken VERY. SERIOUSLY.
- You should be able to decide to commit the rest of your life to someone that you only know in certain lights and certain contexts (because God will magically make it work when you follow his path…). You don’t need to live with them, to see how sexually compatible you are with them, or to have those very honest and vulnerable moments that come from being completely yourself around a person in order to decide whether or not you can be with them. Seriously, fake-it-till-you-make-it is an excellent strategy for making marriage work…
In my naive 13-year-old head, I imagined my first kiss to be at the alter – so pure! So holy! So hot! And I imagined my wedding night being full of steamy perfect sex, even though we would both be completely inexperienced at this kind of closeness with another body.
Luckily I abandoned the idea that physical purity was the holy grail by the time I was 15, but I had many weird ideas that held on for years after that, inspired by the lessons I had learned from purity culture and IKDG.
Having sex makes you lose a part of yourself. I gave up on part of this concept. I decided that there was nothing wrong with sex before marriage. Sex didn’t make me dirty. But I didn’t give up on it making you less whole, or the idea that you give part of yourself away if you have sex with someone else. Mostly, this interfered with how I felt about anyone I was with having had sex with someone else before me. Selfish, I know. There was this trippy head-game: “But he’s had sex with other people. What does he think about them? Does he still think about her? Does he wish he was with her? They’re still connected in that way – is there less of his ‘heart’ for me? Was it better with her than it is with me?” Even though I could look back at (most of) my sexual experiences fondly and with little connection to who those people are today, I had difficulty understanding that my partner could have this perspective as well. Now I can see it more like: I was connected with this person for a time in my life, and we shared these experiences together, and now we have both moved on. Not to say there are no regrets or mistakes, because there are. It’s just that I have peace with my experiences and treasure the lessons I have from them. And I can understand that my husband probably has a similar view of his past relationships. I also know that my husband married me for more than sex – he chose to have me as his life-partner for my sense of humor, my silliness, my kindness, my brain, and my sexuality. I never reached this understanding with my first husband.
The lines with physical boundaries and closeness are very fuzzy. In the version of purity culture I grew up in, kissing was actually ok… unless it became too passionate and started leading to sex. Again, I thought I had abandoned this concept when I decided that sex before marriage was acceptable. Except, it lead to me having an affair during my first marriage. The lines were still fuzzy, and I didn’t realize I had been taught very bad boundaries.
The game when you were single and in purity culture was: how far is too far (for God)? The game continued when I was in that relationship through college: how far is too far (and considered cheating)? I fully realize and disclose that this is the part in the relationship that made me a horrible person. I also realize that I really should have ended that relationship years before, if not just before we got married. There was one person I didn’t have sex with but I think I cheated because we cuddled and held hands, and given the chance I would have definitely had sex with him. But we didn’t, and the lines were blurry, so at the time I didn’t call it “cheating.” And my partner didn’t care that I was hanging out with this single guy friend often. So it was fine, right? (So. Wrong.) I also did have a sexual affair with another person which ultimately lead to me ending that marriage, but that’s another story.
It’s difficult to write about this and make peace with this part in my life. At the time I still had very bad ideas about commitment, marriage, and sex. Combined with low self-esteem. It doesn’t change that I was in the wrong. To paraphrase a good friend, “When all you know is what’s wrong, you don’t even have a concept of what it means for things to be right.” I didn’t have enough of a sense about appropriate boundaries and healthy relationships to know what “right” would look like. The pendulum swung between “This is ok, right? I’m fine, right?” and “I have problems in relationships and I don’t deserve to be fulfilled.” And all the lines were fuzzy because the focus was so much on physical sex and not having it. Purity culture didn’t actually teach me what an emotionally healthy, intimate, physical relationship looked like. It just told me what I was NOT supposed to do. Once I decided that sex was actually ok, I still had no foundation for what else was morally ok. Purity culture said, “Wait to have sex until you’re married,” and everything would be fine, because God. Purity culture did NOT teach me about how to find a fulfilling relationship, and what it felt like to be with a person who is actually a good match for you. I had to figure that out through a variety of mistakes – including my first marriage.
Dating without intention to marry is wrong. This is a concept I didn’t give up on until after my divorce from my first husband. I wish I could have those college years back and get to enjoy dating without the pressure. When I entered a relationship, the question was always, “Could I marry this person?” That goal was in mind from the beginning, and it determined the course of the relationship. Also, my fulfillment was less important than figuring out how that other person felt about me. I think this has something to do with the idea that marriage means sacrificing yourself for the other person. I knew (read: naively thought) I was ready to do that, and I was always watching for signs that the other person would do that for me. (In some ways, I feel like during my high school dating relationships I had a better perspective – possibly because I could not get married at that time.)
I wish my adult dating relationships had been lead by a variety of different questions, such as, “How does this person make me feel about myself?” “What am I enjoying about being with this person?” “How is this person affecting my life overall – positively and negatively?” After my first marriage ended, I did approach dating this way. I just wish I had done this during college as well.
God will make your marriage work, if you have enough faith. Though I abandoned the idea that God had one sanctioned path that you should follow to marriage (like courtship teachings), I still had the idea that two people who believed in God could make their marriage work. Things like personality, sexual compatibility, open and honest communication.. those were all secondary to faith. Faith was the #1 factor in making a marriage work. But that simply isn’t true. My first marriage was a complete failure, and it should never have happened. But I had faith. Growing up with teachings about being a horrible, sinful person, I thought that the problems in my marriage were my fault because I was a sinful being, and I had to keep praying and trying to make the marriage work.
Of course, this is one of those un-falsifiable statements. A Christian could say I just didn’t have enough faith, and that’s why my first marriage failed. And it’s true now that I don’t have any faith.
I look at my marriage now, however, where my husband and I are both atheists. We communicate. We connect sexually. We are honest with each other. We are more compatible, personality-wise. My husband builds me up, makes me feel good about myself. He never shames me for my emotions, or makes me feel guilty about, really, anything. He calmly and patiently listens to me, even if I am complaining about something he has done. This is how we make it work – with respect, communication, and love – in our faithless marriage.
While I couldn’t be happier about how things have turned out, there is a part of me that wishes that I had dated more casually before meeting my husband. I feel like I would be able to enjoy dating, instead of going through the disaster that was my first marriage. I could have explored different types of adult relationships more – casual hook-ups, going on fun dates or fancy dates, having the courage to stand up and say “No, this relationship isn’t what I want,” and break up with the person because there’s no expectation of marriage. Instead of learning these lessons through an incredibly painful and humiliating experience, maybe I could have been taught better lessons about sex, love, and self-respect.
Can I get those years back? No. Can I try to share my story to hopefully influence other people, and maybe one day be able to talk about these kinds of things with my nieces and nephews to help them make better choices about relationships? I will try.