Hold onto your bonnets ladies cause I’m about to dish.
PERPETUATING FEMALE CULTURAL STEREOTYPES ALL NIGHT, GO ME.
I’m not a good feminist. But part of doing rehab – a Purity Culture Rehab Project, to be exact – is learning how to be me again, on my own, peeling off the scarves and hats and overcoats of my well-constructed ideologies, laid uncomfortably bare before the eyes of myself and well, now, you.
I’ll rebuild later. For now I’m tearing it all down.
[Trigger warning: SO MANY CAPS ALL THE CAPS ALL THE JUDGERS STOP READING RIGHT HERE.]
I hardly blame myself for the way this all started.
I mean, I was set up with him in the first place, ok?
The boy who set me up with featured boy was not in the habit of matchmaking, and consequently, I was intrigued. He listed off a bunch of superficial things that I LIKE OK, I’M SORRY – things like tattoos and Jesus and a coffee shop.
[Which, on a rather enormous side note, girls, BOYS WITH COFFEE SHOPS ARE CRACK. Intoxicating, arresting, golden caramel CRACK. Avoid them like the plague. I don’t know what it is about them. I think it’s the fact that they create this beautiful, “third-place” atmosphere and they draw you in with their cappuccinos and their peacefulness and and gross, it’s just gross. STAY AWAY. I have been enamoured with at least half a dozen and it’s the pits, I swear.]
I met him at church like the BIG FREAKING CLICHE MY LIFE HAS BECOME. There was nothing particularly engaging about the words we exchanged, but I sensed that there was a lot of him to unearth, if only anybody ever tried. I also sensed that nobody had much tried.
So I did.
I was attracted to him, sure, but that almost felt beside the point. I started driving way south every morning I could find the time, in between morning and afternoon jobs, to go find him at his quiet little shop. He’d make me something foamy and then come out from behind the bar to spend his lazy summer mornings talking about himself. I didn’t get a lot of words in edgewise – other than a question here and there, encouraging him to continue – but I sensed that he hadn’t someone actually listen in a while, so I lent him my full attention.
Sheepishly he’d pull out the Moleskine that housed all his most secretly laid plans – little snippets of thought and poem and entrepreneurial ideas that he’d never had a chance to run past anyone. Disjointed and scatterbrained, he’d read through them out loud to me, and I watched as he’d connect the dots and the light that neither of us even knew was missing returned to his eyes, or perhaps shone for the first time. Either way, I’d leave every morning with a heart beating out of my chest with all the excitement of danger and I-probably-shouldn’t-be-doing-this-but-I-most-definitely-am.
One morning I pulled into the parking lot as usual, and sat for a moment as I tried, like every other morning, to compose myself and catch half a breath before I saw him. I walked in a beeline to the coffee shop door, not even noticing that he was already in the parking lot having what we’ll call “a moment” with someone much older and blonder than I.
Waiting at the counter, I sighed and looked around, thankful for an extra moment of breath-catching, when I caught the unnerving reflection of this heartwarming little tableau in the parking lot I’d just come from.
Panicked, I froze, immediately trying to strategize paths out of side doors and around adjoining buildings to my car and out of that cursed parking lot and away from this most awkward of situations I’d willingly put myself in.
What was I doing?! More importantly, what HAD I been doing these past six months?! Frantically I searched for a safe description for my behavior, which now struck my enlightened mind as altogether forward and desperate.
How could I have misread the signs so entirely?
How could I have allowed myself to chase the soul of a man who had never (I realized now) really looked at me twice?
He was walking back inside and there was no escape. Starstruck, he fell into the nearest chair and began to spill the story of his budding romance with blondie in the parking lot. As soon as I could make even a shadow of a graceful exit, I did so, and never did I darken that two-syllable curs-ed coffee shop door again.
A handful of months and one solid heartbreak later, I heard his voice on the other line one summer day. To my pleasant surprise my voice no longer caught in my throat when I tried to answer him. He told me that he’d missed our conversations and that talking to me had actually led him to take action on a few of his more inspired redemptive endeavors.
i had misunderstood the prompt my Spirit Father had sent me, but I had still listened and I had still followed. I had been called to love him and my impatient heart had jumped to romance, because it was the easiest kind to give. [I wrote a post recently about overcoming romantic love in the interest of friendship.] Still I could hear in his bright tone that the light I’d seen kindle hadn’t gone out.
I’ve never called God my Spirit Father before, and it has sort of a wild, polytheistic ring to it, but some days, when I’m sitting in coffee shops waiting on boys, it helps me to think of the persons of the Godhead as different names for the same thing. i knew it was the Spirit that had led me, and there was a very parental, commanding tone to his voice as my heart heard it that had Father written all over it. I’ve probably got this whole Trinity thing all wrong and I’m okay with that, but just because I can’t wrap my troublingly slow brain around all that goodness doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t engage it. It? Him. They. Help.
Culture at large only presents us with a couple of words to label our interactions with our fellow souls.
These are all the categories i’m allowed? This is it? How disgustingly safe.
And by the way, I hope I’m not the only one who is personally affronted by the whole “just friends” thing. Just friends?! Just co-dreamers and partners and late-night drivers and coffee drinkers and prayer warriors and co-conspirators towards the very great ends of justice and dinner? How can we so belittle such vast expanses of joy and possibility and dress them hopelessly dowdy in the guise of some grand disappointment?
I once said that nobody should have to apologize for offering their friendship in place of romance, and a few meagre weeks later I had to sit across a coffeeshop table from a boy I wanted badly and affirm that statement all over again, when it counted. what i’m saying is, i paid in full for those words, but I stand by them because, in the end, when he sat, eyes filled, across that table from me and gently handed my heart back, I didn’t stop wanting to know him. I didn’t stop rejoicing in the knowledge that someone as brilliant and knowledgeable and caring as he was actually existed. His whole self was still valuable to me.
It’s exhausting trying to draw the lines of what we should and should not be to each other.
I’ve been told, as a marriageable Christian twenty-something that the only way for me to get a husband is to sit in quiet contentment and watch a lot of proverbial TV while I wait for that elusive him to knock on my front door. I’m not sure where we came up with this, because I can’t come up with one holy lady in the great stories of Scripture (which, while we’re on the subject, are hardly prescriptive) who just chilled on her back porch and drank Arnold Palmers and languidly watched the horizon for her knight in shining armor.
[UPDATE: I cannot come up with any women, but I can come up with at least one passive man who sat around and waited for a SPOUSE TO SHOW UP ON HIS THRESHOLD. Recently I heard a Christian “dating specialist” list Isaac as one of the emblems of good solid Christian dating, and I’m over here like, does anyone remember that dear heroic old Isaac sent a SERVANT TO GO PICK HIM OUT SOME MARRIAGEABLE PIECE OF MEAT?! Question mark!?!?]
I read about Ruth, who set her sights on one man and broke into his house in the middle of the night to win her prize.
I see Esther take a deep breath and put on her best dress and compete with thousands of her peers for the heart of a godless king. WHAT?!
I see Deborah and Jael and Mary Magdalene, who chased Jesus everywhere he went, and a thousand other courageous, flawed, unsure, trembling, woman-warriors who girded up their loins and pursued the very strange individual journeys their Spirit Father had prepared for and walked with them.
I’d challenge you – and myself – to stop seeing some invisible hierarchy of information where the men receive the firstfruits of any word coming down from the Lord and us poor womenfolk must a) immediately trust that any male claiming “God told me ______ ridiculous statement_____” absolutely must cave to his God-painted whim and b) must not act on the direction we do receive from our Spirit Father because of our SEXUAL PARTS.
BECAUSE ‘PURSUE’ IS NOT A BAD WORD & LADIES, IT IS NOT FORBIDDEN US. Just like we are not puppets in some cosmic sadist’s show, we are free moral agents and as a person you are free to be the leading lady of your own story. (Somebody cue Kate Winslet’s personhood discovery from The Holiday right meow.)
You are free to wrestle with God and you are free to end up with a limp.
You are free to pursue hearts and souls and follow the wild prompts of your Spirit Father.
You are free.
If you need me, you may find me in a coffee shop, pursuing someone or else’s soul relentlessly like I hope my Father would mine.
For more Purity Culture Rehab Project, check out my punk rock roommate @softlysoaring’s post on pursuit this morning, “On Asking Out Boys and Other Perversions” over at emilyjoyallison.com.