HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Salome” is a pseudonym. Also by Salome on HA: Home for the Holidays.
My family, my church, and my homeschooling group were up to their eyeballs in purity culture.
My youth pastor used to say that if he could tell you were dating, you were doing it wrong. That meant no holding hands, no hugging, and no kissing. He’s since relaxed a lot, but the damage was done. Later, we realized just how badly our purity culture had screwed us over when a significant contingent of my grade (most of whom were also members of my homeschooling group where the courtship model was also wholeheartedly embraced) got pregnant out of wedlock, and most abandoned Christianity because of the judgment and the pronouncement that they were now unclean. Some were subjected to epic parental freak-outs, which did nothing but deprive their parents of a meaningful relationship with their child and grandchild.
Most of my friends were homeschooled — well, the few that I had; I have always been extremely introverted, and due to the level of emotional abuse I suffered, I have always been angry, blunt, and kept everyone at arm’s length. Such friends belonged to the same homeschooling group I did. Our parents were all close, and all shared books.
This, unfortunately, included Eric and Leslie Ludy and Josh Harris.
(Interesting side note, here. Years later, I got to know the Harris twins. One of them, I believe it was Brett, informed me that when Josh fell in love, he found out his advice sucked. He ended up ignoring it himself, and didn’t ask his wife’s father for permission before he married her, because his wife didn’t have a good relationship with her father.)
My mother and her friends, however, took it as the gospel truth. My mom regularly told me that she wished she hadn’t had her heart broken by any of her pre-Dad relationships. She admitted that she still occasionally thought of her other boyfriends. Now, years later, I think that she was just unfulfilled and bored as well as supremely unhappy, because I was her confidante multiple times when her marriage was on the rocks (when I was wayyyyyy too young to healthily process any of what she told me). Then, my innocent little mind filed away all of that information, trusting that my mom knew best.
My parents also stigmatized normal relationships.
I don’t think they purposely created an environment where it was unsafe to bring someone home, because they’re pressuring me to settle down, find a guy, and give them grandkids. They were partially victims of their own assumptions – that Dad was somehow gifted with more wisdom than normal (which is bullshit. He’s a fool.), that he had the right to exercise absolute control over us, that his job was to protect me from myself and all of the depredations of lustful young men (even though when I was victimized he attacked me instead of protecting me, and ended up “protecting” me from people I didn’t need to be protected from, while ignoring the real threats), that I had to “guard my heart (a phrase I internalized too well, because I can’t fall in love for the life of me.),” and that anything less than their ideals of modesty, purity, and emotional distance was too “worldly,” which is a criticism my father leverages against literally everything he disagrees with… I still wince whenever I hear it, whether it’s warranted or not.
Thanks a lot, Dad.
They’re also ridiculously awkward and almost Victorian about romance and sex, and they deal with that by joking about it. It’s impossible to have a serious conversation about it. I literally have never brought, and never plan to bring, a guy home with me, because I’m just not sure if my family will chase him away at gunpoint, will be terribly awkward, or will accept him with open arms. And the worst part? They don’t know any of that, and aren’t open to being told, because they hear every criticism of their parenting skills as a judgment of them personally.
My parents also tried (and failed) to enforce rigid gender roles for awhile.
Since I have never been the most feminine woman ever, my parents lectured me more about that than basically anything else. I wear whatever the hell I want, don’t cook unless I have to (and have cussed my father out when he tries telling me to make him dinner), and swear like a sailor. I’ve never been meek and submissive. I’ve never accepted my mother’s demands to show respect to men (which means meekly assenting to whatever they ask me to do and never standing up for myself – which would have been disastrous in my relationship with James.). However, I’ve still internalized those lectures. I still feel like my body is dirty, and my modesty somehow a coat of armor.
I still feel guilty for loving more traditionally masculine things.
Instead of protecting me, the environment I have described led my sister and I to go behind our parents’ backs and seek emotional fulfillment without calling it dating, while taking away the support structures which could identify warning signs early and save us from dangerous situations. In my sister’s case, it ended with a call to the cops, because she was involved with a bad apple.
My experiences are a little more complex. I have consistently attracted psychopaths in every sense of the word (including one knife-bearing sociopath, a drug addict, a patriarchal scumbag, and a raging misogynistic control freak… and those are just the ones I ended up having a close relationship with – with the exception of the drug addict. He was scared away fairly quickly. There are a few more who made unwanted sexual advances, including one who then threatened to kill me when I turned him down. My parents still don’t know.). I swear, they can smell blood in the water, because good God they swarm around me. This tendency is only made worse by the fact that I tend to be emotionally and mentally attracted to someone before I’m physically attracted, and thus tend to want to heal broken men.
Maybe that’s because feeling compassion is the closest thing I feel to tenderness anymore. I don’t know.
Part Two >