By Hannah Renee Paasch
Finding yourself single again after a long-term relationship—after the one that was supposed to be “the One”—feels both like encountering a freshwater stream in the desert while simultaneously finding that no amount of water can actually quench the thirst you feel so it’s kinda pointless anyway. It is both relieving and deeply demoralizing. You begin to realize that all the rules that you had followed so meticulously in order to become all the things faith and society had… strongly suggested you become—things like “married,” “responsible,” “sexually pure”—were all completely arbitrary and actually provide no fixed outcome AT ALL.
You can go from being a responsible, married, arbitrary-rule-abiding adult to a dumb and single twenty-something in about 2.5 seconds. You can never be 100% sure, and you can never get it 100% right. Everything is meaningless haha go have fun!
The point is, the only kind of dating I realized that I hadn’t tried when I found myself in this position was CASUAL—the big bad C-word that all vaguely Christian self-respecting females are supposed to avoid like the plague because JOSHUA HARRIS SAYS, OK!?
I come from a generation that kissed dating goodbye before we had a chance to kiss anything hello.
As I re-entered the dating world recently, I realized that everything about the way that I had learned to *relationship* was fundamentally unhealthy. As kids we were taught that the only kind of attraction that was actually okay to act on was the emotional kind, and only then if you were 100% ready to move in the general direction of the marriage altar. Of course that’s not the only kind of attraction we actually experienced, but we—I!—learned to either whitewash my sexual feelings into something that looked and felt more like love and romance… or to ignore them completely.
So as I started swiping right again (except mostly left, though, c’mon let’s be real), it occurred to me that I had spent 70% of my flirting energy on trying to get people NOT to try to sleep with me. Purity culture tells you that you’re supposed to reel ‘em in while somehow keeping them juuuuust enough at arm’s length not to do something that could possibly be construed as “sin.” “Keep them wanting more,” I was always told.
If I had a dollar for every time I was told I was “leading someone on” at bible college, I’d have been able to pay for bible college. Usually it wasn’t true, but sometimes… it was. I mean, you had to! There was no way to avoid it when you’re trying to get somebody to catch feelings for you by way of his sexual organs but to refrain from actually doing anything with them!
Turns out the best kind of Christian girl is a tease, then, after all.
Everybody’s feelings get hurt and everybody is frustrated and the awful stereotypes of women just keep on keeping on. Men get to go on thinking that women are just calculated monsters trying to entrap them and women get to go on believing that entrapping a man in holy matrimony IS the only way to act on their attractions. You wind up dating people that only your body really wanted OR dating people only your brain really wanted. You start thinking that what you do really want is to get married because both your body and your brain crave intimacy and you believe marriage is the only way you can ultimately get it.
This makes for an atmosphere of ZERO CHILL. Everything is dramatic and escalated. Nobody is thinking clearly. If every spark of attraction that you feel for another human being is potentially your future forever mate—every sentence, every moment is charged with feverish anticipation. You have to act. You have to pursue. You have to MAKE FETCH HAPPEN.
But for women, the cost of premarital sexual activity is much higher than it is for men.
The moment that we lose our virginity in purity culture world is the moment that we begin to depreciate in value, like a used car just driven off the lot. And while faith-based shame is very real for men too, their sexual encounters tend to be considered “mistakes” while ours are more permanent stains. In purity culture world, the only kind of sexual activity that does not devalue us as human beings is the married kind—and we’ll be damned if we don’t get some!
What they also conveniently neglect to tell you is that the fear and shame accompanied with sexual attraction pre-marriage follows you into it—regardless of how blamelessly you behaved beforehand.
Now—on the other side of failure—on the other side of trying, on the other side of being left behind by the one who was supposed to be “the One”—I am beginning to realize that attraction is actually pretty easy.
A kiss is not a contract anymore. It is not a promise or a transaction. Nobody owes me their body or their time nor do I owe them mine. It’s ok to feel only brain-feelings for someone, and it’s ok to feel only body-feelings. Nobody has to be made into something more than they are! No square pegs need to be forced into any round holes! We can date or we can not date, and everybody belongs to his or her self. All of the pressure has suddenly dissolved, and I get to treat other humans I’m attracted to as the actual people they are in the actual places they are. They don’t need to be on my timeline, and I don’t have to be on theirs. Maybe all we have is this moment, at an intersection, just before our paths diverge—and maybe that’s okay.
Please don’t hear me telling you yet again, like the people before me, what to do with your body. And please don’t read this as a license to throw caution to the wind or to abandon what your conscience tells you is right. Love and sex mean different things to different people, and I would never presume again to tell you what God’s will is for your body or your heart.
But friends, maybe feel the freedom to just let life happen a little more. You don’t have to get it all right, and there’s no way you could even if you tried.
Nobody is your oasis in the desert.
You are the point of you.
Carry on, and enjoy the intersections.
Hannah Renee Paasch is the co-founder of The Flawless Project and lives in Nashville, TN with the future first female pope and four ridiculous cats. Hannah is also a nanny and the frontwoman of local feminist-blues-rock ‘n roll outfit Ida Grey, whose work can be found here.