“I’ve always thought it would be less sinful to look at porn every night than to just kiss a girl.”
He was young and handsome; just the right amount of devil-may-care mixed in. Burnished bronze skin, the longest lashes and that one black pea coat he wore into the ground but always managed to still wear everyday. His hair was combed up and to a hard left, with just the sort of careful nonchalance to effectively resurrect shadows of Dean and Presley. He was one of those friends that have been with you for so long that it’s okay to let the unnecessary words die on your lips and just sit in the pregnant silence for a bit.
And so we did. We sat there we two. We sat in the smoky night as I tried to decode his experience with the light cast in from my own.
Crestfallen, I knew before the silence even began that I had nothing to contribute.
His eyes were bright, his dark cheeks flushed with all the sparkling excitement of a nubile teenager just discovering that romance and attraction and intimacy were things you could have and want and enjoy without all the latent . He had discovered GIRLS – real, live, breathing, smiling, kissable ones – and this statement he tacked on at the end, as a sort of apology for the exuberance that he was all too aware of but could not, at the same time, hold back.
I couldn’t help feeling like we were both too old for this. We were both beyond the age where this sort of discovery is appropriate or warranted. I mean, I’ve seen the Breakfast Club, people! I knew that we were both far past the period in our lives where kissing is a new-found, innocent diversion that we’re just trying on for size. By all conservative Christian estimates, we were both marriageable, marketable adults – too old for casual dating or casual kissing or “game-playing”, an epithet we throw around liberally to describe young people who aren’t pinning every detail of their supposedly near-future wedding on Pinterest and courting their future spouses already.
And it frightened me to think that he and I were both what our culture would deem well-groomed and “well-prepared” for marriage.
We had no experiences with which to fuel informed decisions for our future love lives.
No knowledge of who or what we were looking for in a relationship because we’d spent 22 years of our lives actively avoiding them. We had no track records.
Except for how I was all regrets. They weren’t supposed to be there for me, your standard well-behaved evangelical good girl, but there they were, assaulting my senses and paralyzing me from any and all baby steps forward.
Missed kisses. Loves lost. Every opportunity to express my extreme care and desire for anybody else’s whole self grown old & rusted over, bittersweet relics of a bright-eyed, simpler time.
So much for a pure heart – mine was a rancid abscess of rotted desire and memories of a thousand carefully skirted rules. While my reputation as a law-abiding evangelical remained intact, I knew that the once good and true wishes of my body and heart – to be close to somebody I could want all the way, mentally, spiritually, even physically – had devolved into self-gratification and lust.
I was no longer surprised why so many of my friends had developed addictions to various expressions of lust and pornography and other corrosive ways of expressing their tired and dormant and originally good desire for another person. What did surprise me, though, that all this was done in the name of purity and holiness!
They don’t read you that fine print in the dating books, do they?
DO NOT TAKE IF YOU SUFFER FROM HUMAN SEXUALITY. CALL YOUR DOCTOR IF YOU BEGIN TO EXPERIENCE DEPRESSION, LUST, OR SIMILAR DYSFUNCTION.
We paint every intimate moment before marriage like the defrauding of someone’s future spouse of something that is inherently theirs – as if anyone’s body somehow belonged, by some invisible lock & key, to the husband or wife they may or may not ever have. It perpetuates the idolatry of marriage; that there is somehow no acceptable alternative, no equally valuable journey to venture on than the get-married-early, hurry-up-and-make-a-family suburban lifestyle.
And I find that I cannot live like some man’s future possession.
So one of the assignments that Emily & I gave ourselves for this Purity Culture Rehab Project – the real kicker, in fact – was losing our kiss-ginity. She’ll tell you all about her reasons at emilyjoyallison.com (surprisingly, they vary quite a bit from my own!) All I know is that I felt that an important step in my journey towards personhood and autonomy and maybe actually having a relationship that I would not flee like the plague from would require me venturing outside of purity culture’s exhausting list of do’s & don’ts, and allowing myself to want a whole person.
See, I had broken down all of my previous non-boyfriends and organized parts of their selves into careful categories that would help me see them the way I saw myself: fragmented. Broken. Just as no one had ever grabbed me by the shoulders and looked me square in the eyes and said “I want all of you”, I had no idea how to extend that same consideration to somebody else.
Until, one night, under an alarmingly star-filled desert sky, I sat with an old friend who had always wanted me – just me, all of me – and I sheepishly told him I wanted the same.
And we kissed a frightening, chaste, holy kiss under that alarmingly open sky.
After a long while, he took my hand and helped me up, holding it close to him as we walked back to see what had become of our little bonfire. A few steps away from rejoining our friends, he brought it to his lips while his eyes stayed locked with mine.
I knew, in that brief moment, that I had never felt so overwhelmingly cherished and dear and like I completely, all the way, 100% mattered. In that one gaze, I heard echoes of a Creator designing his ultimate handiwork and saying, loudly, lovingly:
“THAT… is very good.”
I learned more, in that fleeting moment about the all-encompassing love that God has for my whole self – and how to offer that whole kind of love to another human that I could no longer carefully categorize and trivialize and sweep into easily explainable bits – than I had ever learned in all the dating books and all the sober seminars that I had once so pored over.
And I came to the conclusion that holiness cannot be found in one’s tally of kisses. Holiness cannot be found in stringent rule books and the harried, desperate cries of those who hide in caves of their own creation from the expanse of alarmingly open sky that the Cross has created. Holiness is not found in “what we can do” or “how far you’ve gone” or “how much I’ve failed”.
Holiness can be found, however, in our deep holistic care for another image-bearer of God.
Holiness can be found in our refusal to devolve into numb, mindless self-gratifiers.
Holiness can be found in our kisses and in our refraining from them.
Holiness can be found in our joyful celebration of wide, open, free Gospel sky –
and in the cultivation of our whole selves – minds AND bodies – into closer communion with God and with one another.
And I think,
somewhere between that vast starry night and our little spark of a bonfire,
I found purity, as she really was,
in all her glorious,
overwhelming big-sky freedom.