On Being Right vs. Being Loved

By Sarah Joslyn

 

{Before we start, I use the word “virgin” when talking about my lack of sexual experience. It is the word that was used to celebrate my body and also used to shame it. For the place and time I grew up, this is the language of familiarity. I now know “virgin” is a heteronormative, socially-defined term that turns persons into commodities. Everyone is allowed to decide what the word “virgin” means to them.}

 

I am 30 years old and I am a virgin. And I think that is a damn shame.

 

I’m not embarrassed about it, because what would be the point? But I don’t celebrate that fact either, because I don’t subscribe to the religious guidelines of my youth.

 

I can’t blame other people for the place I find myself as a grown-ass woman, but I also know the damaging values I adopted as a pre-teen and teenager have been hard to uproot and nearly impossible to recover from.

 

I read I Kissed Dating Goodbye. I read all the books. I attended all the small groups. I signed all the pledges. I wore the purity ring.

 

But can I be super honest?

 

I wasn’t at risk of violating all that sanctimonious bullshit in the first place. I didn’t need the anecdotes. I didn’t need scriptures. I didn’t need the ring.

 

Had I been completely nonreligious I still would have been sexually inexperienced well into my 20s. I wasn’t interested in the drama.

 

I was a snaggle-toothed, stringy-haired, silly and innocent girl who only wanted to be heard. I didn’t trust romantic relationships because I hadn’t seen any that looked like they worked. I didn’t trust people to tell me they loved me and then stick around to prove it, so I just never let them be close enough to try.

 

I was not about to kiss dating hello, so I definitely didn’t need a book to learn how to kiss it goodbye.

 

When my friends were dating in grade seven I watched and wondered what they actually thought would come out of it? Did they honestly think they would keep dating through high school and college and then get married? For me, the statistics alone made me vow to not date until after high school.

 

It was only after I already made that decision that I found myself joining a peppy, fun, charismatic church that valued purity over pretty much everything else always.

 

So the books, the pledges, the small groups… they reinforced the bad theology and stressed-out mistrust of a lonely 13-year-old. You’d think I’d have picked up on the problem a long time ago, but I didn’t because I had so many people who thought the way I did.

 

Now I am learning how much purity culture hurt me differently. I don’t have feelings of shame around sex specifically, but it ruined my ability to trust myself and others.

 

For me, the worst thing I Kissed Dating Goodbye perpetuated was this idea of perfection and Christian excellence. It wasn’t worth it to try something out just in case it didn’t work. I didn’t date because I was afraid I’d fall for the wrong kind of person and get stuck with them, not because I was afraid I’d have sex.

 

If I could go back in time there are three guys I would have dated, just for the hell of it—three for sure, but probably others.

 

But I didn’t do it because I wanted to be right more than I wanted to be loved.

 

I was zero percent worried about having sex. I was worried about keeping my word. About what it means to tell someone you love them and then to later break it off.

 

For a while I thought maybe I was one of the purity success stories. But then I passed the age of 26 and I was unmarried with no children. I became a different kind of failure in church purity culture.

 

At 28 years old I entered into my first official romantic relationship.

 

Twenty-eight.

 

I still can’t shake the feeling of guilt about the choice to date him—about making the wrong choice. It is completely ridiculous and yet it sits there in my brain like the reminder to blink or breathe.

 

The dark humor of it all is that I don’t feel any shame for the moment when I was nearly completely naked in front of him. My brain never had a space to build shame there—that wasn’t on my radar as a teenager. And yet I’m embarrassed about making the choice to be in a relationship with someone for several months and now I barely speak to him.

 

Purity culture required perfectionism. You were supposed to get it right the first time and every time. And that is the most absurd value of all.

 

13-year-old me could have used a little tender pep talk that it was perfectly fine not to date. 16-year-old me could have been told it was ok to change your mind about who to date or that not everything needs to be perfect, because it’s just really not going to happen. 21-year-old me should have been encouraged to give her number to the guy who always asked at the coffee place. 23-year-old me should have dated the one person she trusted in the whole world. 26-year-old me should have dated the non-Christian man who treated her better than any person she had ever met before.

 

Then maybe 30-year-old me would actually trust some people and wouldn’t still be a “virgin” for goodness-fucking-sake.

 

 

 

 

Sarah Joslyn is more likely to answer to Sars than Sarah. That’s because years ago her brothers started calling her Sars and, as the name implies, it was infectious. She is a self-proclaimed writer-photographer-painter-adventurer-foodie. She also has near obsession with ending injustice and is a sucker for a good cause. Sarah blogs about life and living in a tiny house at sometimesscreaminghelps.com.

  11 comments for “On Being Right vs. Being Loved

  1. Kelsey
    August 4, 2016 at 4:07 pm

    “Purity culture required perfectionism. You were supposed to get it right the first time and every time. And that is the most absurd value of all.”

    This is exactly what I’ve been needing to hear and one of the most harmful side effects of IKDG and purity culture. Thank you!

    • August 4, 2016 at 4:51 pm

      Right? It was the fear of getting it wrong that I’m still carrying everywhere I go.

  2. August 4, 2016 at 4:23 pm

    “Purity culture required perfectionism. You were supposed to get it right the first time and every time. And that is the most absurd value of all.” << THIS is such a great point, friend. And on the flip side of your experience, this standard of perfectionism is hard for people who *did* date, who *did* marry the first/only person they dated, because so many of them had to face the shame of admitting to their communities that it was the wrong choice. The way that white evangelical American purity movement treats divorce is deeply unkind and reinforces all your fears about "getting it wrong". Purity culture (and specifically IKDG) leaves NO room for grace, for people to fuck up and learn and grow and change.

    • August 4, 2016 at 4:52 pm

      Yes to all of that. It hurts all of us. Those who try to follow the rules and those who break them. 🙁

  3. August 4, 2016 at 4:37 pm

    “For a while I thought maybe I was one of the purity success stories. But then I passed the age of 26 and I was unmarried with no children. I became a different kind of failure in church purity culture.”

    This. This. This.
    Thank you.

  4. August 4, 2016 at 5:01 pm

    Wow, thank you, yes, all this! This is how purity culture got me too. Always having to get it right and missing the point.

    • August 4, 2016 at 5:24 pm

      Yup! And the new covenant is all about freedom. Except that is isn’t.

  5. Sarah
    August 4, 2016 at 11:27 pm

    I remember feeling after my divorce that any new man I dated should be someone I met in church, or otherwise needed to be a Christian man. It was fleeting, because as I started dating men, Christian and not, I realized that the religious label they adhere to says nothing about the character of the man. I saw the same scenario play out with a friend in the dating world trying to date Christian men as well. The point being; all those things that get indoctrinated into us are all bullshit. Go for the one that treats you well, whether he fits what you think is supposed to be right for you or not. Be vulnerable. It’s scary and hurtful and wonderful.
    I love seeing you shake up religiousity. I’m proud to know you and grateful I get to hear your voice.

  6. August 5, 2016 at 2:27 am

    I can totally relate to that “fear of getting it wrong.” In college, I would worry and worry and pray and pray about crushes- I needed a clear “yes” from God because if I made a mistake, it would ruin my purity forever. I was so incredibly afraid of dating, romance, etc.

    There were times when I was interested in a boy, praying about maybe “acting on it”, and I would imagine a scenario where we dated for a little bit and broke up, and after the breakup I would be thinking how sinful it was to get into the relationship in the first place, how back before the relationship started, I *knew* on some level that God was saying no, but I wanted to sin instead of “trusting God.” Ugh. Yeah. Before any hint of a relationship even started, I was interrogating myself about whether there was any small sign it wouldn’t work out, because in the future that would be the proof that I knowingly sinned by getting into the relationship.

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