A guest post by Kacy of The Ex-Convert
“Come pick out your rings for the True Love Waits ceremony,” said my mom, holding a James Avery catalog.
I was 17, and the ring ceremony would be held at my church in a few weeks. I wasn’t particularly looking forward to the ceremony. Although I actively participated in my school’s theater program, I always felt awkward and embarrassed in front of my church congregation when it came to religious proclamations. My cheeks would become rosy when asked to lead prayers at youth services. Even when I was 9 and newly baptized, I felt so embarrassed by the event that I denied the whole thing to my friends the next day at school.
The ring ceremony struck me as particularly humiliating because ideally, the father would be giving his daughter a ring after she signed a pledge card. (The boys participating in the ceremony would only be signing cards, but the girls would also be getting purity rings from their fathers.) I knew my father would not be there. He was recovering from clinical depression, following a manic episode, associated with his bi-polar disorder. He preferred to stay away from church. While manic, he attended a faith-healing church and stopped taking his medicine. Now that he was taking medicine for his manic/depressive disorder, he referred to that time in his life as being “messed up on religion.”
My mother would make excuses for my father’s absence. She always did. No one at church knew about my dad’s struggle with mental illness, and it was a taboo subject. As soon as we walked into church, we were expected to smile and stop talking about all the family problems.
Thus, the ring ceremony felt like a big lie.
I also felt like a liar for taking the “True Love Waits” pledge. Although, I had never had sexual intercourse, I had participated in some teenage fondling with my boyfriend. The campaign mentioned letting go of past mistakes, but I still felt like damaged goods by signing the card and wearing the ring.
At this point in my life, I was trying desperately hard to be a good Christian girl. Even though I hated the public nature of the event, I wanted to make the pledge to get right with God and become “pure” again. The cards we signed read:
Believing that true love waits, I make a commitment to God, myself, my family, my friends, my future mate and my future children to be sexually abstinent from this day until the day I enter a biblical marriage relationship.
I took this pledge very seriously and, deciding that time heals all wounds, swore off dating, at least until I got to college. At that point, I figured I would have time and distance away from my perceived sexual “sins” to begin a new start, looking for a godly husband.
While in college, my interest in theology and church history led me to convert to the Catholic church. In an act of rebellion against my Protestant past, I purged my life of Protestant kitsch. I left all my Protestant bibles at my parents’ house, burned the poster in my room depicting John Calvin, and sold my Protestant apologetics and devotional books on Amazon. But for whatever reason I continued to wear my purity ring.
The strange thing about this is that as a Catholic, I no longer felt the same way about “purity” and sexual sins. Sure, the Catholic Church was more strict on things like birth control than my old Protestant Church, but I held to a very traditional, dare I say, Medieval, version of Catholicism, which held that activities such as fondling were some of the more benign sins a person could commit (venial, rather than mortal sins). I suppose this was part of my attraction to Catholicism, even if I would later reject that as well.
I continued to wear my purity ring on my wedding ring finger until I became engaged my senior year of college. At that point I moved the purity ring to my right hand to wear my engagement ring on the left. I can’t say that I stayed completely “pure” by Evangelical standards until my wedding night, but my fiance and I did refrain from sexual intercourse until we were married.
Although I am an atheist now, I still keep my purity ring in my jewelry box, a crucifix hanging above my bed, icons adorning my walls, and Catholic head coverings hanging above my dresser mirror. I’m not sure why I keep these things around. Too lazy to get rid of them? To remind me of my past? Or perhaps an irrational, sentimental liking for Christian kitsch.
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.