“I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.” 1 Corinthians 7:8-9 (KJV)
I grew up in the midst of the “purity culture.” Joshua Harris’ “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” had been out for five years when I first read it. Encouraged by my parents, I latched on to this. It seemed to be the ideal way to achieve “Beautiful Girlhood” and “Godly Womanhood.” I received my first purity ring at 13. That year also saw the release of Leslie Ludy’s “Authentic Beauty.”
I was very eager to follow the strictures set forth by Harris, Ludy, and others—along with my father—when the time for my own courtship came around. After all, if I did this, then I would be sure to have a beautiful relationship and a fairytale marriage.
There was a rough start between February and June of 2006 and it all occurred online. However, in June 2006, official permission was received by “R” from my father. He called me “Miss” and used my last name when he asked me to court me, and sealed my “yes” with a kiss on my hand. We held hands, and I gave him a brief hug at the airport before he left for the other side of the country. Yes. We held hands. We were so very liberal.
As our relationship went on, and I went off to college, however, I realised that someone was trying to dictate my relationship, when they weren’t actively involved in it, and did not know how we interacted, or what went on between my “beau” and myself.
Disaster struck in the form of an all too helpful family at the church I intended. Concerned for my spiritual growth, they contacted my parents and urged them to end our relationship, because they were concerned we were moving to a “physical” level. I came home in May, and my parents informed us of the one year moratorium they were placing on our relationship.
Nevermind that I was eighteen. Nevermind that they never asked us for our side of the story, or for our input, or tried to discuss things with us like the adults we were. Nevermind that a year earlier when he asked for permission, my mother had told me that they would say yes in part because I wanted them to, because I was almost an adult and should make my own decisions.
Playing the dutiful daughter, I—and he—agreed. I transferred to a different college and moved in with friends. The entire summer and early fall I was very depressed and stressed. I was angry over the forced restriction on my relationship—especially because it was due to false accusations. I missed the man I was in love with (so much for guarding my heart’s emotional purity, though I tried, and felt like a failure when I realised I did care for him).
The one decent thing that occurred was that the priest I spoke with told me that marriage was between the man, the woman, and god. Latching onto that, I took matters into my own hands, and resumed communication with my “beau,” informing my parents of my choice and the reasoning behind it. This ultimately resulted in our wedding in 2008.
My fairytale marriage did not occur, however. Things were awkward and hard. There was anger and yelling and controlling. It was far from the picture perfect marriage I had been promised by Leslie Ludy and Joshua Harris. In early 2010, however, we realised that it could no longer continue. I was miserable, I was hurting, and he had no great happiness, either. I, at least, felt obligated to remain married:
“For the Lord, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the Lord of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously.” Malachi 2:16 (KJV)
“And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.” Matthew 19:9 (KJV)
And so I tried my best. I tried to make it work, and the harder I tried, the more strain that was put on. It was a rare day that passed without shed tears or harsh words. I didn’t know what to do. I knew that divorce was a sin. I knew there was only one way out of marriage.
“The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 7:39 (KJV)
I tried to fight the realisation that it couldn’t work anymore, and for my own sanity–let alone other factors–I needed to get out. I remember that morning I told “R” that I wanted a divorce. I remember going into work and crying in the back room. I remember being terrified to call my parents and tell them.
I had failed.
I was a month shy of turning 21, and I had made the decision to get divorced. I was a failure as a daughter, as a wife, and certainly as a woman. I had a stigma, a black mark, my own version of a scarlet letter. I was certain that no one would go out with me again — I was divorced, after all.
Even today, several years later, I find myself doubting. It is hard to accept that anyone could love me, when I am a broken and failed divorcee. Rationally, I know I am not. Rationally, I know I am a strong woman who stood up for myself and did what was right for me, and what I had to do. Rationally, I know that the disdain upon which fundamentalism shows those who get a divorce is wrong.
But, that’s the thing about fundamentalism. It doesn’t speak to the rational mind.