I broke my four-year dating fast and dated four men this year.
Call it a response to purity culture.
Call it an attempt at personhood.
Call it whatever you please.
Four times I ventured outside my comfort zone. Four times I decided to let someone inside my wall. Four times I took a deep breath and said, “Hey, yeah, in spite of logic, in spite of even my better judgment,
you have the permission to know me.”
Four times I showed up as myself, and four times I learned how to stay myself when it ended.
Four things stuck out as my take-aways from these experiences. Four quotes come to mind when I see each of their faces. I’m going to share them with you because I am tired of the way that people who love Jesus DO love, and I am trying to change.
I am trying to work harder.
I am trying to be better.
And if I stay single for the rest of my life after this sudden surge in my romantic life, Lord willing it will not be because I never figured out how to love.
Relationship #1: “I’m not over her.”
This one killed me. This one put me through two months of early morning torment,
waking up every morning to lethargically to drive to work and run through that last freezing Friday evening when he told me he wasn’t over her, and he wasn’t ready.
It turns out that wasn’t true. I’m sure he meant it, and I’m sure he really thought he wasn’t.
But this same man just sent out his save-the-dates with some other woman, so I can only conclude that was not quite true.
Here’s what I can conclude, because I still respect and trust the man who told me this particular un-truth.
He wasn’t over the idea of her… and I know a thing or two about that.
I spent three years of my life being in love with an idea, and here’s the thing about ideas:
Ideas can’t spoon you. Ideas can’t hold you. Ideas can’t pull your head onto their shoulder when one too many three-year-olds yell at you one day.
Ideas are the loneliest things to love, and they are also the easiest.
They require nothing of us.
We get to write angry love poems about them and pine for them and route and re-route our potential lives like a thousand Google maps for them.
We’ve gotta stop. We need to do better.
Relationship #2: “I’m not trying to tame you, I just wanna come along for the ride.”
So this was technically the right thing to say.
This is what I always wanted a man to say.
I wanted to be loved for my fire and my quirks and my passionate couch-jumping and my loud voice and my red lipstick and my cut-off t-shirts and my adventurous, wandering, grieving, revolutionary-type soul.
And he did, he really did. Or at least he tried harder than most.
Except he didn’t tell me the truth either.
Because most of us ARE actually trying to tame somebody. We are trying to love a real person while somehow fitting all of their square pegs into the round holes of our well-edited good Christian checklists.
We’re not looking for people, we’re looking for spouses. We are desperately trying – to fill this role of our perfect sexy virgin spouse and none of us – NOT ONE OF US – is good enough to be anybody’s perfect sexy virgin spouse.
Epilogue of relationship #2: also engaged.
What can I say?! I’m good luck.
Relationship #3: “I’m not what you need, so I’m not gonna fight for you.”
He sat across the table from me, one of my dearest, oldest friends,
and before this last quote, he half-heartedly said something about how we weren’t that bad. We could still work things out. Things hadn’t been bad that long.
It only took twenty minutes for him to give up on all that.
Admittedly, my communication skills leave whole worlds to be desired.
Bono said that “the best of us are geniuses of compression”, and I am an expert bottler. My heart is a bottling factory.
All of a sudden all of the concerns that I’d kept inside our whole relationship came spilling out of me.
They were good ones, too. I was fighting for my faith; he was letting his slip away. He was spending his nights bar-hopping with co-workers; I was reading and blogging and studying and arguing theology with people who actually cared. We were growing apart before we even had a chance to grow together.
But what’s sad is… we could have. We could have worked at it.
And when he walked to the door that night, tears gathering just underneath his lids –
when he turned around and said,
‘I needed this, Hannah. Nobody ever calls me out on anything.
I wanna fight for you, but I feel like you’re speaking from the Lord and I need to heed this warning…
… So I won’t’
I couldn’t help but think how different things could be, if he hadn’t walked out just then.
If he had tried.
If we both had just tried a little harder.
RELATIONSHIP #4: “Move across the country for me.”
Finally I had found my soulmate.
I had found him three years too late, but I had found him.
We had tried to date back when I was celibate and heartbroken, and I had rejected him one too many times.
But here he was, knocking on my door, keeping me up late on the phone, and he got me.
He practically WAS me.
We agreed on everything. We cracked jokes about all the evangelicalism and feminism and we questioned all the same things. We were so in sync. I was getting somewhere. I could feel it. Here was a man I could maybe marry…
if I moved across the country for him.
He was real set, you see. He had grown up in his city and he wanted to die in his city. I couldn’t understand that devotion to a geographical point on a map, but I respected it. I could go, right? I could find something to do, something to BE there, right?
And then, just as suddenly as he had happened to me, he disappeared. I was worried about moving for him for no other foreseeable reason, and at the first hint of strain, he just stopped. No more words. No more phone calls. He just
Four relationships later,
I’m wide awake.
I remember what it was like to love.
I remember what it was like to open up my heart and let somebody walk in my gate.
I remember what it was like to beat down somebody’s gate too.
I used to be real good at this, when I was 18 and in love and planning a marriage to a man I don’t know anymore. I asked all the questions and I listened to all the answers. Then I lost him and I thought, maybe, I hadn’t loved him hard enough.
Maybe, maybe, if I had just tried a little harder.
If I had just fought a little longer.
But what I’m learning is,
whether right or wrong, I am
I am condemned to beat down the doors of the men that I love. I am a hard worker. I’m a fighter.
Because love – love is a skill. Love is a habit. Love is something you work at. Love requires effort. Love requires patience. Love requires determination.
Love means deciding, after considering all things, that
“where you go, I will go.”
After four boyfriends in 2013, that’s what I’ve learned.
For better or for worse, it is my calling.
And I am called to stay single, until I meet a man who can handle that kind of commitment, regardless of emotional attachment and regardless of the reasons why not.
And today I realize that I am rehabilitated from purity culture. My project is complete. I have learned how to be me, and I have learned when to withdraw. I have learned to accept my body as the gift that it is – no more, and no less. I have learned that, while everyone must decide for themselves what these are, physical displays of growing emotional intimacy and attraction are actually healthy. Whereas I used to boycott the institution altogether to set myself apart, I have learned how to be in relationship without giving in to the dating requirements of the increasingly obsolete Christian subculture.
I have learned that my well-being is not dependent on my relationship status.
I have learned that my comfort zone is not necessarily the way things should be.
I have learned how to look in a man’s eyes and tell him exactly where I stand, without using God as my crutch.
I have learned how to just BE.
And I urge you, in the same token, not to expect anything more from anyone else. Don’t expect anything more from anyone than being who they are. None of us deserves any better than that. Love – romantic or otherwise – is something we learn how to do.
Love is a skill. Hone it. Develop it. Stay up late practicing it. No one expects you to know how overnight, but you will be –
you ARE –
expected to try.
Friends, it is time to begin again. It is time to start something new. Something real. Something that does not shame us, something that does not inhibit us from being the men and the women that we miraculously, imaginatively, creatively ARE.
And if you’re ready, let’s get started.
Let’s try. Together.