I continue to be amazed by the fantastic submissions sent to me for the What Marriage Means to Me series. Today's contributor goes by "Alice" and is one of my good friends from Twitter. I am guessing many of you can relate to her description here of how she grew up with a very traditional view of marriage but found that her life experiences slowly poked holes in everything she'd been taught. Enjoy, and leave her some comment love if it resonates with you!
~~~Growing up, I had a super-traditional view of dating and marriage. I was raised in a very conservative Christian environment and was sent to parochial school my entire life. Traditional views on dating and marriage were the norm, and I never really questioned any of it until much later in life.
Dating was only for the purpose of marriage.
Sex was only for marriage.
Having a child before marriage was the most scandalous thing ever.
All of those messages simply assimilated into my mentality because there was no reason to think otherwise. My parents were together, my maternal grandparents were together, and my paternal grandmother was a widow. All of my aunts and uncles were still married to their first spouse. All of my cousins were conceived within marriage. None of my friends had divorced parents. Even when I got to high school, only one of my friends had parents who were divorced.
And so I went around in my little traditional marriage bubble throughout childhood.
There was a little "blip" when I was nine or ten and my uncle lived with my aunt before they were married, but it didn't really register with me. I only remember asking about it because Dr. Laura, whom my mother listened to on a daily basis as she picked my brother and I up from school, said it was wrong. I really liked my soon-to-be aunt, so I didn't think it could be too wrong, because I wouldn't like her if she was doing something naughty. I forget how my mother explained it away, but I was satisfied enough and didn't think of it until later.
A year or two later, I heard James Dobson speak on Christian marriage, and I became terrified. It sounded like the most awful thing ever, and because I was going to grow up into a woman, it made it even more terrible than if I were going to grow up to be a man. There seemed to be a never-ending list of things that I had to do and an equally long list of things that I couldn't do by virtue of being a woman. I lay in bed and cried and cried, horrified at the prospect that I had to grow up. I couldn't believe that was going to be my life, because of course I wanted a good Christian husband. Marriage seemed like the end of the world.
The first time I started to really question this whole uber-traditional model was when my best friend started dating. We were fifteen. She did all sorts of things with her boyfriends, and I was in awe. She was dating them for fun, not in order to get married. I was afraid to even mention a boy at home, and she was telling me all about what could be done. In a household where sex was a forbidden topic, it was almost surreal to know someone who was having sex and wasn't married.
I questioned the model more and more as other friends started to have sex with their boyfriends. I loved these girls -- they weren't the horrible nasty sluts that I had been led to believe all girls who did things with boys were.
Still, I held some exclusivity, if only for myself. I was a virgin, a good girl, pure, and exactly what I should be on my wedding night. I expected that of my future husband as well. After all, fair is fair. I didn't buy into that double standard. If I had to sit on my ever-growing sex drive, so did he.
That went to hell in a hand basket when I fell for a guy in college. He wasn't a virgin, and that rocked my little world. There I was, all "I'd have sex with him" and he wasn't a virgin and I didn't care. It didn't matter to me. All of those charts I'd been scared with, about how many people you're actually sleeping with, became irrelevant. It didn't change who he was or what he was. And with that went the whole "come hell or high water I'll be a virgin until I get married" mentality. It's caring about someone that matters, not if they have ever been with someone else.
After that, it seemed as if I was forced to reevaluate what marriage meant at a staggering rate.
The first major catalyst was realizing that my parents' marriage was basically over. Who knows how long it had been, or if I was old enough to pick up on it happening as it crumbled. However, they won't divorce because divorce is against the rules, and my mother would never be able to support herself. I realized they still had that piece of paper that made everything okay, but really... nothing was okay anymore. Playing by the rules didn't guarantee anything.
The second catalyst was much more powerful. I became friends with a gay couple. Here were these two men who were "married" in a church, having everything but a piece of paper. These two men were absolutely devoted to each other. They were two men who made a life together. They actively loved each other and stood by each other in the face of massive opposition. They were kind and warm and loving to others. That was the last blow holding tight to traditional marriage as the only legitimate way. Here were two men, men who by virtue of being gay were not suitable for me to know, much less associate with, and they had a more stable marriage than my parents.
Around this time, my best friend moved in with her boyfriend. Her family was upset, and I still haven't had the courage to tell my family. She is married to him in every sense but that piece of paper. At first I was a little upset, and then I asked myself "Why?" After realizing that I couldn't come up with a compelling reason, I let it go. We've often talked about why they aren't married, or engaged for that matter. I completely understand her reasoning.
The same went for my cousin. While she didn't live with her boyfriend, they were sleeping together for years before they got married. I was a little bit upset when I first figured it out, but again, why? They were very much in love, very much cared for each other, and respected each other. It was everything that I could possibly want for myself, so why begrudge it to those people I love?
While I was in school, I earned a degree in women and gender studies. In addition to my personal thoughts on marriage, I studied it academically. I read books and case studies approaching the topic from several different angles. I became aware of the history of marriage in American culture, all of its twists and turns and shifts. This added a whole new dimension to my awakening. I was gaining a language and a forum to articulate what I was thinking and feeling. It was liberating.
This would probably be the time to mention that for all of this reevaluating of dating and marriage, I'm a virgin. In fact, I am twenty-five years old, have never had a boyfriend, and have never been kissed.
Only once have I had enough courage to kiss someone, but I was very drunk and the tiny sober part of my brain yelled at me that I wasn't going to have my first kiss while fall-down drunk in a loud club. I am well aware that I am a walking anomaly, and while it would be a lie to say I'm completely at peace with this fact, I'm mostly okay with it.
Now I really think marriage is what you make of it. What makes it legitimate is completely up to the couple. I've seen too much to think that it only has to be the way I was taught as a child. I don't see how I can nullify others' experiences because they don't fall in line with how I was raised. What I'm doing currently works for me, and I want to extend that to others. Life is challenging enough on its own without breaking each other down over something that was meant to build us up.
~~~Alice is a Yankee transplant to the South trying to find her way down the Rabbit Hole of Dating. You can find her at therabbitholeofalice.blogspot.com or follow her on Twitter @therabbitalice.