Tag Archives: marriage

processing thoughts on girls

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My sexuality goes through phases. Since acknowledging that I was bisexual about five years ago or so, I’ve noticed that I go through times when I feel more into women than men. That usually happens when I don’t feel as close emotionally to Chris, so I don’t explore it at all or look at it as anything more than just a passing thing. My interest is also always on a celebrity or other person who I don’t actually know, so there’s never any temptation to act on anything.

Lately though, the “gay phase” has lasted longer than usual. I’ve been confused by it. Chris and I have been very emotionally close lately, we’ve been through pretty intense counseling, worked very intentionally on communication, and I don’t feel like I’m missing anything in the romantic area of my life. What’s the deal?

Yesterday, as I was watching interviews with my latest celebrity obsession, I realized that none of my thoughts were sexual. I was honestly just daydreaming about hanging out, having tea with this person, being gal pals. Okay…so this really doesn’t have anything to do with being bisexual. This is something else.

Studies have shown women are “hard-wired” for friendship. When women become stressed, their instinct is to seek out other women because of biological factors like hormones and oxytocin. They don’t seek out men because men’s brains handle stress differently. Harvard Medical School even showed that women with a close group of female friends develop less physical impairments as they get older. Not having friends is bad for your health, and can have a similar effect on the body as smoking.

*None of this is to say that men don’t need friendships. The studies are also obviously pretty black-and-white in terms of gender, which gender is not, but I think the point is true: humans need friendships. I’m just especially interested in the girl-girl dynamic, because I’m cis, and that’s what I know and experience.*

None of this is surprising to me. When I was in counseling and struggling with my sexuality, one of my counselors suggested it was just because I didn’t have girl friends, so I had started seeing them like I did boys, as unfamiliar, and that triggered my brain to believe it was a sexual thing. I know that wasn’t what it was, but I’m sure it was part of it. I’ve always been more interested in girls than boys; most of my crushes have been girls. I’m sure some of it was sexual, and some of it was just wanting that close friendship.

I think that need for female energy and company has become especially strong because I’m pretty isolated here. I work from home. I’m building friendships from scratch. I have one close girl friend here, but one person can’t be everything, and I have a lot of close girl friends who are further away who I miss a lot. The last few attempts I’ve made to make more friends have not been successful. I think I’m discouraged. So I turn to interviews and TV and movies and music to hear female voices that I like, watch interesting women and imagine they’re talking to me. It sounds really pathetic when I write it out, but it hasn’t been a conscious thing, so there’s not much I can do about it.

Eh. This was a really personal post, and maybe no one else feels this way, but I wanted to put it out there, mostly to process. Thanks for reading.

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With Unexpected Speed

I did not expect to be dealing with all this so soon.

I had recently passed my two-year anniversary and was looking out the car window at the blur of fields and barns. Occasionally we would pass clumps of trees, but they would fly by so fast, it was like they had never been there at all. When I tried to focus on a small detail like a single branch or house in the distance, it would immediately bleed into the oddly-linear hues of gray, green, yellow, brown, and blue. My mind was wandering. It had only been two years since I signed a piece of paper, said goodbye to my dog as he left for his new home with my in-laws, and woke up a married woman. In a lot of ways, it seemed like yesterday. However, it also seemed like forever ago. In those two years, me and my husband have dealt with mental breakdowns, horrendous medication withdrawals, a crisis of faith (ongoing), employment turmoil, sexual identity questions, loneliness, relationship doubts, and looming financial challenges. I was not naive when I got married. I knew all this and more was part of the deal; I just didn’t expect it all to happen so soon and so quickly.

Isn’t marriage supposed to have a honeymoon period? You know, that brief time when everything is rose-colored and you’re just happy to wake up next to your person every morning? I’m not saying I’m unhappy to be waking up with my person, but there was never a time when that happiness wasn’t mixed with anxiety and questions chewing on my brain like termites.

Is my unemployment a burden to this clear-eyed, optimistic, occasionally goofball-ish man I’ve yoked myself to?

Will the pharmacy screw up my medication again and disrupt my entire week with crippling muscle pain, headaches, and frantic doubts about everything? Are those bone-shaking doubts just symptoms of an unstable mind, or legitimate concerns I should be listening to?

Should I have gotten married when I did? Am I too young and immature? 

Will I ever be in a place to have kids? Do I even want kids? What happens to us if I don’t want kids? 

Even before we got married, we were faced with having to give up our dog Yoshi and the distinct possibility he would never be adopted. Thankfully, Chris’ parents took him back to Indiana with them, but that raises its own issues, like feeling the self-inflicted internal pressure to make enough money to get a place where we can take him back.

Do other married people have these problems? I’m sure they do. And I’m positive that couples have faced worse unemployment, worse debt, worse mental illness, and so on. I want to always be aware of the privilege I have, but I’m selfish and self-pitying. I see other couples with Instagram-perfect lives and go between feeling glad I’m not a fraud, and then furious that we’re not them. I see other couples having or planning babies, and I’m flabbergasted that they aren’t freaking the f*** out every minute of every day. I envy identity/orientation confidence. I envy white-picket fences and Tuesday date nights and dishwashers. But mostly, I fear.

I fear I will never be happy at the same church as my husband.
I fear 9-5 jobs and “work shoes” and imperfect bosses.
I fear eternal debt.
I fear little pink capsules and inefficient pharmacies.
I fear loneliness because I don’t dare get close to other women.

I fear God and His timing, which is so unlike our own, that to Him nothing is “unexpected, “too soon,” or “too late.” 

A Big Happy Family: The Rules and Rituals of Relationships at a Conservative Christian College

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Let’s go back to my freshman year of college at a conservative Christian institution.

That feeling of “not being good enough” haunted me, though it was more complicated than that. It wasn’t as if I devalued myself, that I thought I was worthless. I knew I was a good catch, but I just wasn’t the fish anyone wanted. Whenever a boy talked to me, threw a smile in my direction, I fell in love. I wrote lists of what I wanted in a guy, which included traits like “quirky,” “honest,” and “confident.” My fixation on a relationship filled me with guilt and my journal was interspersed with lists of valuable traits in a guy and hard-edged promises to focus on God and holiness. I was torn between a desire to be loved and a desire to be autonomous. My school taught me to find my satisfaction in Christ but also continuously shoveled teachings about marriage and gender roles at me, making it impossible to not be aware of how single I was.

I cast myself as some kind of long-suffering heroine in a tragedy. The different one. The one who waits and waits but no one comes. Some people pass by, fascinated, but they never stay. They care for a time, I know they do, but my problems don’t have an expiration date and people get tired. I get that. It hurt to think that people just stick around for as long as they do because they feel sorry for me. It’s pity. That’s the worst. It’s like a zoo exhibit for The Sad Girl. Please do not feed. You visit for a while, feel bad for the poor creature all locked up, but it’s getting late and it’s awkward to just stand around.

Paranoia believes that every kind word or encouragement is a forced gesture. Any sweetness became overbearing. I became angry with people who spouted their buzzwords and vague assertions about hope and pain. It was impossible to connect with someone who didn’t seem to have their feet planted. I just ended up kind of swatting at them, trying to get a grip, trying to cling to their stability. Maybe I scared them away. I wasn’t sure what to expect of people. This was a Christian college. We’re a big happy family, right? Not total strangers. That’s what they told us when we lined up in chapel and were told to sing with our hearts and clap with our hands. All in one room, me with hundreds of other kids, but I still felt like a bruised fruit in a perfect bowl.

On my floor, there was a group of students who were into a more radical form of Christianity, and being more familiar with that, I adjusted my spirituality to fit in more. I believed there was power in what we did, no appeal to God ever goes to waste, but nothing I did seemed to alleviate the depression or loneliness. I realized that I felt more fulfilled during a simple conversation with a person who seemed genuinely interested in me than with an hour-long prayer session. Eventually, I became exhausted with the hysterical spirituality I found myself involved with, but I still hung on the fringes, reluctant to sever the only connections I had.

Being at a conservative religious school has made me disillusioned with Christian establishments. There were so many rules. We had to go to chapel five days a week; they scanned our ID cards and kept a record, so if we missed more than our allotted number of skips, we got fined. I didn’t even have people to complain to; everyone seemed to think it’s a reasonable thing to ask of students. Some girls said, “If you enjoy going to chapel and it makes your day a bit more Jesus-filled, what does it matter if it’s a requirement?” Except I didn’t enjoy it and it didn’t make my day more Jesus-filled. It was a bunch of announcements mostly, sometimes a special speaker, one who always seemed to talk about marriage.  One chapel in particular annoyed me so much that I live-blogged it to my brother. The speaker talked about how waiting for the right person was important and to enjoy being single, and then ended with a story about how when he accepted that about his life, he met his future wife two weeks later. How very convenient. At another smaller chapel I attended to try and avoid a fine, a young married couple took questions about how to live a Godly life as a single person. A young married couple. They were, I don’t know if I mentioned this, married. Everyone who talked about how to be single was married.

For a class, part of our homework was to keep a journal with a Bible verse each day. I couldn’t even be real about it, I had to turn it in as part of my grade, so it wasn’t even a real journal. It just made my skin crawl, turning worship and the Bible – the two main tenets of the Christian faith – into things that were scanned, measured, and graded. I felt like I was the only one who was really angry about all of this, like really, red-faced angry. It made me feel even more isolated and vulnerable to feeling like I was somehow “better” than other people because I was so aware of the injustices and hypocrisy bearing down on a rabble of young minds.

Was this narcissism? Believing in all of this? Even though being in pain sucked, it separated me from other people. It made me unique. I sat alone and wrote depressing poems, shaking my head at the nuzzling couples and giggling cliques. Oh, you foolish children. How could you understand the depth of life’s agony? And even if you do, you have a symphony of love around you to keep you from drowning. Unlike me. Poor, sad me. Trying to pull myself out of self-pity usually made it all worse. I was self-centered and angry for being self-centered. You. Stop. Stop being depressed and so full of yourself.

Why I Am Not My Husband’s Helpmeet

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How about no

Being in an evangelical/Christian environment for most of my life, I was always familiar with the term helpmeet, or helpmate. It was what a woman’s role in a marriage was supposed to be, if she was a “Biblical” woman. In conservative circles, it usually meant staying at home to raise children, learning to cook, clean, and so forth. In more progressive dialogues, it could also mean going to work to support the family, full-time or part-time.

Even when it’s lived out in a more “feminist” way (going to work), I have major issues with term “helpmate.” It literally sounds like the phrase “helping your mate.” You’re telling me that the whole purpose of my life is to “help” a man? Even if I go to work and put the kids in daycare, none of it is for me, it’s all to further this God-given mission that my husband has been set on? I was created to “help.”

This cannot be true. It contradicts the rest of the Gospel and what we know about God. He creates people for specific, unique, and individual purposes:

Psalm 139:16
Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

Jeremiah 29:11

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

It also doesn’t make sense given God’s track record with women and their purposes. Jael killed the general of an enemy army rising against Israel, Deborah was a prophetess and the highest authority among the ancient Hebrews, Rahab negotiated for the lives of herself and her family with the Hebrew spies she hid from execution, Esther was the queen of a pagan nation and saved the Hebrew people from extinction, Mary gave birth to the Messiah, Lydia funded the early church independently with her wealth…these women were not assisting any man. Would anyone dare ascribe the word “helpmate” to any of these women?

No person is just a prop in another actor’s story. “Helpmate” isn’t even a good translation of the original word. Most translations don’t even use that word anymore, they translate it as “companion.” The word describing Eve, the first woman, is ezer. It appears 21 times. It appears as a description for God and the help He gives to Israel.

Deuteronomy 33: 26

There is none like the God of Jeshurun, Who rides the heavens to your help, And through the skies in His majesty.

So, a woman is designed to help a man in the same way God helps His people. That is not a role that should be looked down upon, or squished down to fit into a strict list of rules. The concept that woman was meant to just help man on his big life’s purpose and not have her own thing going on is actually explained RIGHT IN THE NEXT CHAPTER. After Adam and Eve sin, God explains that their lives will not the same now.

Genesis 3: 16

To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”

Patriarchy. Right there. The result of the fall was patriarchy. To adhere to the belief that women are meant to submit beneath their husband’s commands is adhering to a sinful hierarchy that God didn’t establish. He made Eve to be a companion, equal to man. It even explains why the word “ezer” was originally translated to just “helpmate;” the society it was translated in was a patriarchy and would not like women getting the idea that they should be on equal footing with men.

So that’s why I am not my husband’s helpmeet. He does not “lead our household.” So then who does? God does.

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This is slightly off topic, but it really bothers me when people say that feminism has switched the roles and that women actually dominate men now. First of all, in what area of American society is that true? Seriously, name one field or area of media that has more women or men. And now, what area of the GLOBE is that true? There are women in some parts of the world that are fighting for a right to DRIVE A CAR. I also don’t trust statistics and surveys that ask men how they view equality. In a study recently (I looked online for forever looking for the original source because I read it a while ago, can’t find it, but it’s real), when there ratio of women to men was about 30-70, men saw it as equal, but when it was truly 50-50, men perceived that there were more women than men. Society has conditioned us so well to view inequality as “normal,” that our perception on equality is warped, especially when men are told over and over again that women will take over and make things worse for them. If a man and woman are up for the same job, and the woman gets it, a lot of men (not all) will become bitter and say it was just because she was a woman. Maybe it’s because she was better qualified than you or any number of totally legit reasons. The man is under the false impression that he was “owed” something.

Just because someone is being given more rights  than they’ve had before, or even just the same rights as you, doesn’t mean you’re losing your rights.

I Kicked “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” Goodbye

ImageI was around twelve when I encountered Josh Harris for the first time. He was quite the thing at the Northwestern Bookstore. OMG, ya’ll, this young kid wrote a book about not dating, he’s going to start a revolution! The premise was dating was “practicing divorce” because the more you date, the more pieces your heart breaks into and the less you have to give to your future spouse. Josh was also very focused on physical and mental purity. Very focused.

As a young girl who developed early, this book terrified me. Using very specific stories, Josh Harris wove a hideous tapestry of what dating and premarital hanky-panky (which included full-body hugs, playing with a guy’s hair, and kisses) led to. My memory is a little blurry, but I believe it led to the spiritual equivalent of living on the street and training cockroaches to dance for nickels to pay for the porno theater, a fate so dire that only the sweat brought on by the spotlights of abstinence conferences and WOW concerts could possibly heal your soul.

I resolved to never date. I had already held hands with a boy at this point and after confessing my sin to both God and my parents, braced myself for the pure life. Being fixated on school and cats, and possessing what I believed was a holy fear of my own body, sensuality and dating never really came up again until I was fifteen. My resolve wavered. I imagined going on dates with my crush, holding hands and running across the beach. However, he was also a kid raised up in the tradition of Josh Harris, and so as is fitting for a young man, first approached my father to ask to court me. Yes, court. Because dating is for people who can’t commit. I still remember getting into the car after my crush scuttled away and having my dad look back at me with the strangest expression. It was somehow both a mixture of amusement and horror. 

Thus began my first foray into romance. Since we were “courting,” more was to be expected. My boyfriend (we did agree to use the term because no other term seemed to fit) even wrote up a plan for what his intentions were. Courting meant intentional dating, the intention being marriage. By the way, I was sixteen years old. I’m pretty sure my parents only agreed to this because I had been madly in love with this boy for three years and to deny me would result in World War III.

My dreams had come true. I was holding hands with a boy. I had my arm around a boy. As our relationship progressed, my Josh Harris-planted fear followed. What was ok? Could he touch my leg? No, that was too close to “that area.” Ok, taking note from Josh Harris’ other book, “Not Even a Hint,” anything that led to sexual thoughts was to be avoided at all costs. Soooo….being in the same room as each other? Instead of barricading ourselves in separate rooms, I decided that anything I wasn’t sure about, I should ask my mom. She essentially confirmed most of my worries and I spent the rest of my romantic relationship going back and forth between what was allowed and what was heading into cockroach-training territory.

Only once did I really falter. Toward the beginning of what would be a catastrophic breakup, I asked the boy to kiss me. He would not. My ego a little more than bruised, I retreated, and the relationship dissolved shortly after that. Looking back, I’m very glad that he wasn’t my first kiss, but we’ll continue with that story a bit later on.

Now being single, I had time to think about how Josh Harris’ plan for my purity had worked out. Honestly, not very well. It was exhausting and saturated with guilt. Trying to keep track of all the things we could or could not do sucked the life right out of the relationship. If, as Josh Harris says, anything that makes you feel turned on is bad, then yeah, you probably should just leave the room. When has the suppression of natural physical responses ever worked out? I’m not saying to just let natural physical responses  run wild, either. Obviously, there is a line. It’s different to hug your boyfriend/girlfriend goodbye and get a twinge than it is to make out for two hours. The twinge is not the devil poking you with his pitchfork. The feelings you get after making out for two hours will be a little stronger, and if you’re trying to attain a certain level of purity, you’re certainly not helping yourself, but I’d say you’re still not bathing in hellfire.  And people’s bodies and hormones and twingy things are different. Josh Harris acts as if everyone is the same, which they are not.

Since the boy and I begun with the intention of marrying, or at least thinking about it, the breakup was truly like a divorce. If we had casually dated, as Josh Harris discourages, the breakup would not have hurt as much. “Dating” doesn’t have to be like a mini-marriage. It can just be going to movies or out to dinner. To say that when you stop doing that is a divorce, is saying marriage is nothing more than a series of Olive Garden visits and rollerskating some Friday nights. It also implies that anyone who has dated a lot and doesn’t feel especially devastated, should be ashamed. Josh, just because you feel bad that you had a few casual girlfriends before meeting your wife, doesn’t mean everyone in the world has to feel the way you do.

It took me a good three years to get over my first love. When I met Chris, I was concerned (though wary is probably the better word) about the physical aspect. Now knowing that my body was not the devil’s playground until it was sealed in marriage, I was less terrified. It had just been a while since romance had played a part in my life and I was not sure how I would respond. On our first “real” date, Chris held my hand. I did not burst into flame. On the third date, he put his arm around me, and after leading me to my dorm, tried to kiss me. I panicked and stealthily turned the kiss into a hug. It was pretty awkward. I immediately ran upstairs and typed up an email that explained that I was saving my first kiss for when I was engaged. I hadn’t actually been planning that, I just sort of wrote it. The funny thing is, the minute I wrote it, I knew that Chris was the person I would probably end up kissing. A few weeks later, he was.

Chris was my first kiss. I was not Chris’ first kiss. Guess what? It was just as special for both of us! Because it isn’t just “the kiss” that’s significant, it’s the person you’re kissing. Josh Harris makes kissing seem like the equivalent of sex (he actually uses the word “penetration” when describing it), but it doesn’t have to be. He has made so many kids afraid of their own bodies and urges, that if they do so much kiss someone, their hormones erupt like a volcano and pretty soon we’ve got pregnant teenage bellies popping all over the place. It’s all or nothing. 

The problem with all or nothing thinking is that it is hard to fit grace into the picture. 

 

Silly Gooses

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Our first photo together // November 2011

I knew Chris and I would probably be stuck together when, on our second real date, I was stabbing the ice cubes in my water with a straw and looked up to see him staring at me. His expression was dreamy, as if I was the most perfect thing he had seen. That’s when I knew he had already fallen in love with me.

He loves the little things about me, the oddities, and that’s what I love about him, too. We play these night word games for hours, just lying in bed, games like “The Weirdest Movie Cast Ever,” where we just say stuff like, “Starring Angela Lansbury, Sean William Scott, and Meatloaf.” Or, if we’re really tired, we’ll just say words that rhyme – “Blame.” “Flame.” “Dame.” – until we run out of rhymes. We constantly quote snippets from our favorite TV shows or just speak in sounds, like Furbies. If people could see how weird we are when it’s just us, they would probably question our ability to function in civilized society.

This kind of goofiness is what keeps me happy during my more depressive days. Chris can always make me laugh. It’s pretty impossible to stay super low when your favorite person is doing a spot-on impression of John Goodman or Robert de Niro’s face
(it’s the frown-smile look). Not that Chris is just a piece of silly string when I’m crying about the hopeless of life; he knows when to be serious, but he also knows how important humor is for me when I’m sad. Humor is also something I employ when I’m sad, to deflect my negative feelings. I’m always able to make my psychiatrist laugh.

Whenever Chris and I have made each other laugh hysterically for a while, we always say the same phrases. It’s one of our ways of saying “I love you.”

“You’re a silly goose.”

“YOU’RE a silly goose.”

 

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Food to the Body, Food for the Soul

ImageI have a confusing relationship with food. I love it, but it doesn’t always love me. I can’t eat red meat more than once a week or I start getting chest pains, foods high in fat or oil make me sick, and artificial sweeteners give me terrible stomach cramps and insanely itchy skin. It’s unfortunate for a person who loves hamburgers, onion rings, and the new Sparkling Ice drinks.

So I’ve had to adapt. I eat mostly chicken, wheat bread, yogurt, and cereal. I loooooove cereal. I would eat it for every meal if I could.

I haven’t always been so methodical about food. When I first went on medication, my appetite was suppressed. All food tasted like ash. It took a lot of focus to eat and to eat anything besides sweets. My body had grown silent and refused to tell me when it was hungry and what it needed. After several medication changes and six years, it has awoken and although it’s a little more sensitive than before, we essentially understand each other.

Now that I’m married and primarily responsible for making the food (Chris is the dishwasher), the new challenge is summoning up the energy to think of and prepare meals. If it was just me, I would eat an assortment of random things for a meal (vegetables and dressing, toast with an egg, etc), because it takes focus and time to put together a coherent dish. However, it’s not just me. It’s me and a 26-year old man who can eat a whole pizza by himself and was raised on the hearty meals of the southern Midwest. He needs food.

It’s weird to think about the appetite of another person. Sometimes it’s really stressful. If I’ve had a particularly bad day and haven’t been able to move a frozen chicken breast to the fridge because I’ve been asleep all day, I worry about what Chris is going to eat. Even though he is perfectly happy with his meal, I don’t like seeing him making three peanut butter and jelly sandwiches when I had planned on coconut chicken and rice. Other days, it’s extremely fulfilling. I’ll pull myself together and make an inspired sloppy Joe recipe with brown sugar, zesty Italian dressing, and chili powder, and watching Chris eat three of them is food for my soul. I never thought I would take pleasure from cooking; I even rebelled against the idea because it sounded too close to submitting to a life of “a woman’s place is in the kitchen.” In practice, it’s not about that though. Chris loves food and so to be able to make something he likes makes me feel good about myself. It’s also a tangible accomplishment during a day that otherwise seemed pretty pointless.