There are the stories of Cinderella, Snow White, and the Little Mermaid…and, of course, the men they fall in love with and — depending on which versions of the stories you happen to read — live with happily ever after. And there is the story that I’m most familiar with: Christian Girl Meets and Marries Christian Guy.
Until I began to transition away from Christianity about seven years ago, that story was, I thought, the framework for my own personal love/romance/marriage story. It’s the storyline that many Christian romance novels and movies use, and it’s supposedly what will happen to you if you do just the right things.
In this story, the girl is a Christian, and the guy she is interested in is also a Christian. That’s a given. There have been how many books written and sermons preached on 2 Corinthians 6:14? “Do not be yoked with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?…’Therefore, come out from them and be separate,’ says the Lord.” How interesting, I think now as I reflect on those verses and the poorly formed notion that if two people both identify themselves as XYZ label, the relationship will go well. I see now that there are far more important matters to consider: Can I be my true self around my partner? Do I feel safe? Do we have fun together? Are things in our relationship generally well-balanced? Does he/she bring out a good side of me? I think about how our labels, our interests, and so many other superficial things can change over time; so, is it wise to build a life-long relationship on those foundations?
So, anyway, Christian girl has met Christian guy. Good. In my daydreams, he and I would date for a year or so. We’d get to know each other well (but not too well, wink, wink, nudge, nudge), and our families would give their blessings to our blossoming relationship. He’d have the qualities of a good human being (in my mind, those existed mostly just in Christians), and because I was also a good human being, our relationship would run smoothly, like, 99% of the time. Also, please note that a supposedly very important part of our relationship at this stage was the fact that we would not have sex until we got married.
Yikes. How can abstinence and “saving oneself until marriage” be such important factors in a relationship? Of course, when I was on the inside of Christianity, it made sense: God is holy and pure, He calls us to live lives of obedience to His Word, sex outside of the marriage of a heterosexual couple is dirty, thinking about sex is dirty…but if you wait until your honeymoon to have sex with your spouse, it will be special and magical, you won’t get an STD, and you’ll be more likely to have a satisfying sexual life down the road, too. Since leaving the religion, I’ve revised almost every idea I’d had about sex. I used to think that if I “went too far” with someone, the “right thing to do” was to get married, soon! I used to think that the level of my “sexual purity” determined whether or not I was a good person. I used to think that God cared about such petty things as hugs that last too long or fantasies that bordered on a 14A rating. I used to think that there were so many more rules about physical intimacy, besides “Do what you want, as long as nobody gets hurt” (which is still a pretty tall order).
Back to our little romance story… in my wildest dreams, Christian guy and I would get married — ceremony in the church, reception at a hotel down the road, and, of course, the long-anticipated First Night as a Married Couple, which would be beautiful and sweet…a foreshadowing of decades more of such wonderful bliss.
Well. Again, I am amazed that so many of us thought — and, for some, still think — that this is the magic formula. In real life, “first times” and wedding nights aren’t always fantastic. In real life, having a great sex life at the start of a relationship isn’t a guarantee that it’ll be great for forever, and vice versa. As with other areas in our lives, there often is no way of knowing how something will look in 20, 35, 50 years. We can try our best and we can keep our fingers crossed, hoping for good outcomes, but there are no simple formulas for every single aspect of life. Man + Woman + Waiting for God’s permission to have sex = Satisfaction? Hmmm.
As my CGMAMCG story played on in my mind, my not-yet-real husband and I were happily married. I don’t remember what we did in regards to work, our free time, traveling, and so on. There weren’t any huge struggles (I guess not — this is just a young and naive girl’s imagination, going wild), and certainly never ever any hint of the marriage being on the rocks…disintegrating…
And, reality: Relationships can be very challenging. Given certain sets of circumstances and personalities and other factors, a relationship can be tested beyond what anyone in that relationship ever imagined. And sometimes, things cannot be fixed. Even after counselling and waiting and taking a break and trying yet another new approach, a relationship sometimes crumbles and there is no longer any way of making it work. I grew up hearing that people who divorced just didn’t try hard enough. Or maybe they weren’t seeking God and His will, and therefore their marriage suffered. Maybe their difficult marriage was a “test from God,” and it was something they had to persevere so that, ultimately, their way of coping with it would prove whether or not they were worthy of God. Wow. I am relieved that many Christian denominations no longer strictly follow the teachings in Matthew 19: 6-9: “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate… I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
Last summer, I went to a wedding. The ceremony was in a small chapel behind someone’s house, and the reception was at a community hall (and yes, there was alcohol and dancing!). The man and the woman had been in the relationship for about five years, and I’m pretty sure they had had sex several times. They knew each other well, and they wanted to make their union more official — they wanted the piece of paper, and the vows in front of family and friends, and a big celebration. Fair enough, I think. They weren’t rushing into marriage, and they weren’t getting married just so God or their families would be pleased. Although they hope to stay together for forever, my guess is that they know that, should they decide to part ways someday, it wouldn’t be a sin… and they would probably, eventually, be okay.