HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Achsah” is a pseudonym.
I remember attending a wedding. I was maybe eight or ten at the time and the pastor’s oldest daughter was marrying a young man in the congregation. The only real detail I can conjure up is that they made it a point to let everyone know that the couple had saved their first kiss for the wedding.
As I sat watching this first kiss, I remember thinking that it was a beautiful thing and decided to save my first kiss for the marriage altar.
I grew up in a church that was affiliated with Joshua Harris’s church. His books were at our little bookstore, in our homes, and taught like gospel truth. Couple that with my parent’s odd obsession with Vision Forum Ministries, and you have a young girl that knows nothing other than courtship.
When I was about seventeen, my mom realized that I was old enough for the boys to come after me. Or something like that. So, she bought three brand-new copies of I Kissed Dating Goodbye. She kept one, gave one to me, and one to my younger sister. For a few weeks, we would meet in the living room and discuss a chapter. I don’t remember much about the book, looking back. I remember that my younger sister hated everything about it and tried to push back against it all. But I was the example. I had to be the one that agreed with everything my parents believed.
Besides, it sounded good. My younger sister liked guys. But they terrified me. I didn’t want to have to try and navigate a relationship with one of them. Courtship promised a formula that would keep everything in neat little boxes. If I didn’t have sex and saved my first kiss for marriage and made sure to cover up then I would not get my heart broken. If I let my parents lead our relationship, then I would have the perfect marriage. And I wanted it. My life plan consisted of children and my world revolving around them, and, by default, that included a husband. But a man in the picture was just a minor detail in the grand scheme of things.
Well, then I fell in love with my best friend. Suddenly, all of the songs made sense.
The skies were bluer. I walked on clouds. Everything made sense. But me falling for a girl was so confusing. There was no formula for this new development. I wasn’t able to talk to my parents about it. My heart, it seemed, was not something I could hold on to. It gave itself away before I knew what was going on. And it wasn’t only that. I never knew what attraction was. Or consent. Or that I would actually want to engage in sexual activities. Honestly, the thought had never occurred to me.
My wife and I began dating the month after she came out to me, which prompted me to come out to myself. By then, I knew I would spend the rest of my life with this woman and that it would be good and full of happiness.
Neither of our parents were thrilled. I remember my dad saying that if I had only talked to him about what was going on, he could have talked me out of it.
We moved shortly after that.
In the year-and-a-half since we married and moved across the country, I have been slowly extracting myself from the conservative mindset. As I am trying to figure out how to be a wife, I am realizing how much I don’t know. I have found that instead of wanting me to be self-sacrificing for our family, my wife wants to pamper me and ensure my happiness. I found that instead of demanding my respect, my partner gives me hers. I found that instead of worrying about lines and how far is too far, my wife and I have been able to communicate our thoughts, concerns, worries, and desires. Previous crushes were supposed to be a big deal; part of my wife’s heart was supposed to be missing. But past crushes didn’t take something from her; they gave her something.
To me, courtship was about putting on a mask and conforming to a list of rules. It was giving someone else complete reign in my life. When we stripped away those rules and took off the masks, I found that I could finally breathe. I understand the concern our parents had when they decided to raise us with courtship in mind.
But it ended up being a cage.