I recently read an article about an interview with Josh Harris, author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye and other similar books. He somewhat apologized for his part in the harmful Purity Movement of the 90’s. Good for him, because honestly, that book messed me up, along with so many others. Obviously, he was only one small part of a movement that, while maybe started with good intentions, was very damaging to many young people. But, for me, his first book was the only one on the subject that I read cover to cover and was used heavily in my youth group to inform our ways of thinking on dating/courting/relationships.
My take away from the book was that “courting” was a purposeful form of dating/being in a relationship and that sounds okay enough. But the implementation was incredibly flawed. I was never outgoing enough to want to go on a lot of dates, but there were times that I turned down offers solely for fear that it would fall into the dating category. And wouldn’t that be horrible of me to want to go out with these boys if I hadn’t thought long and hard about their marriage potential? What would people think? What would my future husband think when I told him that I had been out to the movies with a boy and his friends and I never considered marriage with him?! Oi. (Thankfully, my real life husband really would not care. He would actually probably laugh at who it was.)
To see how this all informed my relationships, let’s talk about my first real boyfriend. I was 17 (yeah, 17), he was 21. But it was okay, because he was on the worship team, then the worship leader and he heard from God that I was his future wife. (yeah, I know.) And because I was the good little naive Christian girl, I thought, who knows, maybe he did…I can get to know him and it could be great. So I start dating?courting?deceiving myself? with this guy that I have just met. But hey, it was super cute how we met; he heard me sing an interesting note and stopped playing to exclaim, “what in the world was that?!” cause he hated it so much. Ah, love at first insult. The relationship was full of over the top romantic gestures, saying “I love you” way too early, pouting and calling me a tease when I would only kiss him on the mouth. One time he told me that he was it for me, the only one that I was meant to be with and if I left him that I would probably never get married.
One gem of a memory is when we were met my best friend and her boyfriend at the movies. (I’ll gloss over the fact that I married that guy 3 years later.) My boyfriend shows up with his hair matted down with the most severe part ever. I tried not to make a face and playfully messed it up, cause lord, no. Apparently it had been a test because I was wearing my hair in a ponytail and he had a told me before that he didn’t like the way that looked, yet I still wore it that way. … So, that started the night off on a great note. And it only got better as he was sad and offended that I pushed his hand away from my crotch as we were watching the movie in the crowded theater, sitting beside my friend. And then to cap it off, he wouldn’t get out of the car at the bowling alley afterwards because I would not take down my ponytail for him. I was so embarrassed at the thought of him leaving in front of my friend and her boyfriend that I went to the bathroom and took my ponytail down and tried to salvage the weird bump that a high ponytail makes. But, even after all that, I thought we were supposed to stay together. Surely it would get better, right? And how could I tell anyone what was really going on? That would out me and the worship leader. We weren’t even “supposed” to sit too close for crying out loud. Thankfully, he moved away for college and I realized that I was so much happier being single than dealing with the day to day mess and long distance. Unfortunately, the damage done in that relationship would stay with me for a long time.
You can’t talk about the Purity Movement without talking about the purity contracts. You get teens all hopped up and emotional and have them sign a contract to stay abstinent, but if you’re really in love with Jesus, you have them sign and say they won’t date. And if you really want to drive the point home, you don’t let them continue to be on the worship team unless they agree. Well, I signed that contract, my new boyfriend did not. Ha. My genuine thought process was that I had no intention of casually dating as I was in a serious relationship with my now husband. But, somehow I was in the wrong, I was given a good amount of side eye. I signed a paper and now I was supposed to break up with my boyfriend. This is where I really got lost. I was in a genuine relationship with someone I had been friends with for 4 years (and had a crush on for that entire time) and somehow I was doing something wrong, unholy, shameful. Did I mention I was nearly 19 years old at this point? All this did was make me feel like there was something inherently wrong with me, my thought process, my feelings and wanting to be with someone who actually treated me well. This pushed us into sneaking around to see each other. The sneaking around was fun and “dangerous” and that led us to sneaking around to make out and so on and so on. I never felt more shame heaped upon me than when I was trying to get to know the boy that I had wanted to get to know since I met him at 14 years old. Those first years together were laced with shame and hiding when they could have been accepted and celebrated and kept in the open. But for so many, that is what the purity movement did. It damaged and darkened what could have been healthy relationships and interactions with the opposite sex. It was coercion, shaming and legalism. Honestly, I was fine waiting until marriage. Why in the world wasn’t that enough?
But, here I am 17 years after the start of that first abusive relationship, more happy with my marriage than I ever thought possible. Happier than I was told I would be for the fooling around I did before I was married. But I would be lying if I said I don’t still regularly fight the deeply ingrained shame and condemnation from issues ranging from sex, not reading the Bible enough, and more. I fully believe in boundaries and healthy relationships. I desperately want to raise my sons to respect others in every type of relationship. And when they start showing interest in dating, I hope and pray that Justin and I will have laid a strong enough foundation of respect and a strong sense of boundaries. So they will be able to have healthy interactions with others, that they won’t be embarrassed or feel guilty for having a crush on someone.
As an aside, I did not write this to shame my ex or to talk badly about Josh Harris. In that article I mentioned, a man expressed the shame that never goes away, even to this day, when he is intimate with his wife, it is so deep within him. I wrote this because it is part of my story and it is something that I learned to overcome. There is hope and acceptance, grace and love, even if we weren’t always taught that when we were younger.