The purity culture urges young people to marry not based on lust or romantic feelings, but rather based on a checklist of characteristics needed in a godly spouse. Christian? Check. Correct doctrine? Check. Believes in biblical gender roles? Check. And so on. These ideas are not just abstract. They impact the decision-making of young people raised in the conservative evangelical subculture and create real world pain and damage.
Back in December I gave you some examples of this. I posted an email by a woman who married a man with whom she was not sexually compatible—her had pastor told her that the desires would come and things would work out, but they did not, and the situation was tearing her, and her marriage, apart from the inside. I also posted a message from a friend regarding marriage troubles that stemmed from her husband’s marrying her without feeling romantically interested in her—his pastor had told him not to worry, the feelings would come, but they hadn’t. Today I bring you a male version of the first story and the conclusion of the second story.
The first story, in which a man describes marrying a woman with whom he was not sexually compatible and going on to live with the fallout year after year, was posted as a comment on Lisa’s blog:
Long story short, I married a woman 13 years ago to whom I’m not sexually attracted, and I’ve never lusted after. I knew it before I married her. I knew it the day I married her. I’ve known it for 13 long years in a passionless marriage.
She’s a really nice girl, and I’m devesatingly ashamed that I’ve ruined the woman she could have turned out to be… I see her as the true victim in it all… lack of passion has done that to both of us.
Warped by church teachings, I literally convinced myself that God was going to bless me with sexual attraction for her, by being obedient to marry her… like some magic wand of his would tap me on the head and “poof” …. Happily Ever After.
And, no, I’m not gay… I can sense you all wondering.
I had cold feet right up until the wedding, but had convinced myself that it was “just lack of faith.” … so I suppressed it. The night before the wedding, I got no sleep. I had no peace of mind. I don’t remember too much about that day…. and we left the reception early during the festivities… I was too tired to continue. But the full force of what I’d done hit me during the week… like a cold chill of death running down my spine… I was married… marriage is forever, and I’m unhappy…. forever … the exact opposite of what i’m supposed to be… I can’t get a divorce… divorced people go to hell in the express lane or the handbasket, or something. There may even be a reserved section in hell for divorced people, I thought… like maybe even a VIP entrance.
My married life became one of fear, obligation and guilt.
Well, I don’t have to tell you, that women aren’t stupid. It’s been hard on both of us… and I didn’t become honest until several years and several children later.
I wish I’d never stepped foot in a Church.
I wish I’d never been so easily guided by other people. As a man, there’s nothing more debilitating than that.
I wish i’d never made my wife a victim. She doesn’t deserve this kind of a non-marriage.
I wish I’d stood up for myself, and just spoke the truth to the people pressuring me … Fear, Obligation, and guilt are no way to live.
I wish I’d known that I’m not “evil” or “damned.”
I wish I’d learned to be myself, rather than another cookie-cutter religious dude, prideful of beliefs that aren’t even my own.
I wish I’d learned to have a personal Relationship with MYSELF early in life, before it was too late… to really know myself such that other people’s opinions mattered less to me.
It wasn’t a personal Relationship with Jesus i needed. I needed to know myself… intimately.
I wish I’d learned to trust my intuition rather than to doubt it or repress it… as if it were sinful somehow.
My blood boils sometimes with the desire blame others for their influence over me… but I know that I can only blame myself. Wanting to “please God” led me to not trust my own heart… I allowed myself to believe the Bible literally when it says: “The heart is desperately wicked. Who can trust it.” I think that must make me the ultimate people pleaser, or passive aggressive, or something horrible like that.
So I threw my heart away a long time ago.
I only hope there’s another man actually lurking on the site who reads this, and can learn something from it for his own life.
Because of the teachings of the purity culture, this man married without sexual attraction, and his life has become a shell. Next, Hannah of Wine and Marble explains why she is getting a divorce—her husband married her without being romantically attached to her, and their marriage became a sham.
I got married in January 2011, and I turned my universe upside down and graduated early and moved to a city I’ve never loved for the love of this one guy. He saw me and befriended me and supported me as I walked through the double detox of leaving a spiritually abusive church and setting healthy boundaries and learning self-respect as I left the world of Christian patriarchy. That process has fed most of my writing here.
Then there was the day when I felt a cognitive dissonance when he said “I love you,” and I began to wonder if he had really shaken off the stunted emotional habits of his own childhood and adolescence spent in the sister-church of my former church home.
And we talked and we talked and we talked in circles about what “I love you means.”
Then one day, he told me that he wanted a separation, and maybe we could start over and try again. That the teachings of one SGM pastor who’d told him (shortly before our wedding, when he came to him scared and confused) that it was okay that he didn’t have “feelings” for me, that if we were best friends and he found me sexually attractive, that it would all work out once we were married. That the feelings would come.
So he had married me, telling himself that Love is a Choice, and that Love is Sacrificing Yourself and Your Desires, that Love Is Getting What You Don’t Want For The Good Of The Other.
And I watched him fade away, disappearing into despair and loneliness and self-hatred I couldn’t possibly touch. I cried myself to sleep in the dark many, many nights while he walked alone in the dark, fighting the lies of depression.
We compared notes: how I felt, how I fell in love with him, vs. how he didn’t feel, what he did enjoy, what he knew he was capable of feeling but couldn’t conjure for me.
I’d talk and talk with him, and then fall to pieces, crying, rejected, crushed. He’d look at me, so tender, so sad, so disconnected and completely unable to feel with me.
After counseling didn’t help (“of course you were in love with her! you married her.” “no, no. you don’t understand. did you hear about these books on courtship?”), he asked for a separation again. I decided it’d be best that I do the moving out, since I was dying in the stuffy dimness of our little apartment.
“We’ll work on this, maybe there’s a chance,” he said. “We just need space to recover from the intense tension of the last few months.”
So I moved out on New Year’s day, and I spent two weeks working hard to clear the air, clear my head, be easy for him to talk to.
But a few days before our anniversary, he said he didn’t have the faith for it, that he was done, that he wanted a divorce.
And I walked into the cold and stood by my car and cried when I saw Orion, the companion of my late-night tears since I was small when I would take out the kitchen trash before bed and sit on the driveway and cry from the stress of everything and nothing.
Can we be done now, please? Can we stop telling young people that they should ignore their feelings or sexual desires and look only for “godly” attributes, approaching a marriage proposition the way one does a grocery store, list in hand? How many more people need to be hurt, their lives caught in the gears of a system they unwittingly found themselves caught in, before people will finally wake up to the absurdity that is the purity culture?