Dear Purity Ring,
When I look at you, sitting there in my jewelry box, the memories flood over me.
My dad gave you to me on my thirteenth birthday. He took me out to dinner, held out a jewelry box, opened it, and there you were. You were so beautiful, and I, thrilled to own a real piece of expensive jewelry, put you on my finger with excitement. But you were more than a beautiful ring, more than an expensive piece of jewelry. When my father gave you to me, I promised him that I would not have sex until marriage.
I put you on my finger, a symbol of my purity.
I poured my girlhood dreams into you, dreams of a young man who would see me as a priceless jewel. I fantasized about how pleased he would be that I had kept myself pure. My purity was a gift I would give him, and you were the symbol that represented that gift. I planned out my wedding in my head. During the service my groom would remove you, my purity ring, from my hand, and replace you with a wedding ring. Or, alternately, I would melt you down and use the gold in my husband’s wedding ring, a reminder that I had kept myself pure for him.
So many dreams, so many hopes.
You served another function, too. You signified my purity to others. When I met other girls I reflexively checked their left ring fingers to see whether they, too, bore a purity ring. When they did, as was common in the homeschool circles, I felt a kinship and instant identification. They, like me, were pure, waiting. When they didn’t, well, I wondered. Were they impure, or did they simply miss the purity ring memo? I couldn’t be sure. Even when I left for college I kept you on my finger, broadcasting my purity to the world.
You set me apart as different, special, pure.
When I started dating my first boyfriend he told me that he didn’t care whether I was “pure” or not. He told me that what I’d chosen to do with my body before meeting him didn’t matter to him at all. And he was perfectly serious. I had thought when I put you on my finger that I was keeping myself pure as a gift for my future husband, but here was this young man and I thought the world of him, and he of me, but he didn’t see my purity as a gift in any sense. He didn’t care. He liked me for me, for my unique talents and quirks, and didn’t give a fig for my purity.
And it was at that moment that you betrayed me.
I had poured everything into you, and for what? It felt like a farce. It felt vain and pointless. I felt betrayed and confused. I realized that I had valued my purity more than my intelligence, or my creativity, or my love for others. I had elevated my purity above everything else. I had boasted of it, flaunted it, cherished it. And suddenly I found myself questioning the value of “purity.”And as those questions flooded in, you became collateral damage.
After months of thought and reevaluation came the morning when I took you off my finger. I looked at you, held you in the palm of my hand. I remembered all my girlhood hopes and dreams. And I remembered the feeling of betrayal. And then I put you in my jewelry box and closed the lid. In doing so I closed the lid on those girlhood hopes and dreams, closed the lid on my resolution to be “pure,” whatever that even meant, and closed the lid on my naivete. I took a deep breath and left behind the need to be pure or to label myself with terms like “pure” and “impure,” “virgin” or “slut.”
Putting you aside, I freed myself from the baggage and moved on.
I don’t blame you for all this. I was young, I was naive. You were only a band of gold, an object onto which I imputed the physical purity I had been taught to value so highly. My memories of my girlhood will always be tied up with you and with ideas of purity, and my memories of growing up and moving on will always be tied up in the sense of betrayal I associated with you and my feelings when I finally took you off my finger, put you in my jewelry box, and closed the lid.
You will always be a symbol of my past, and of my break with the past.
Perhaps someday I will take you out and show you to my daughter, and use you as an object lesson in a discussion of sex, choices, and responsibility. I’ll tell her about what I was taught, about my hopes and dreams, and about what I learned when I grew up and why I put you away. And maybe, just maybe, by doing that I can in some sense redeem you.
This post is part of the Purity Rings project, in which young adults who had purity rings as teens and have since come to question the rationale behind them share their stories. For more purity ring stories, click here.