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Category: Courtship

I Kissed Dating Goodbye, Said Hello to Courtship, Met a Boy, and Got Married

My parents said they wanted to talk to me one day. I was like 8 or 10 or something innocuous and the thought of boys and kissing was still gross (ew, spit). They said that they decided I wouldn’t be allowed to date, that I would court instead. I said okay, having no idea what this meant and being decidedly not into boys because they ruined my horse parades anyway. They seemed surprised that I took it so well. They explained that courting meant that a boy had to get permission from them to start seeing me romantically, and at 8/10 years old this seemed fine (more barriers to people destroying my caravan of ponies). They spent years extolling the virtues of courting. I was given I Kissed Dating Goodbye and Boy Meets Girl when I was a young teen and read them, absorbed them, and lived by them – most of my friends did as well.

I’ve talked about our courtship and the hell that it was.

I’m going to talk about a different aspect that goes along with all of this, and that is being a Stay At Home Daughter (unless your parents let you out). Many of the stories featured in IKDG and BMG featured women who either worked in their father’s business or church sanctioned place, or stayed at home to learn how to be helpmeets. Few, if any of the women featured had a life outside of their family’s home, or any time on their own before getting married.

I went straight from living with my family learning how to be a helpmeet, to living with my in-laws, to being married. I had no time on my own to discover who I was and what I liked. I have never been alone.

I was never meant to live on my own. My family, like many others bought into the idea that daughters are to live under their father’s authority until their father passes that authority to their husband. Having any time between living at my parents to being married was unheard of. No time was spent preparing me to live without being under any kind of authority because that was never going to be an option.

I was to be married forever, until death happened – and in the result of death, I would move back in with my parents (ha). I would never need to know how to choose things for myself (instead of for/with other people), how to live responsibly alone, how to take care of myself – because I was supposed to have someone there to do that for me, forever.

I Kissed Dating Goodbye and Boy Meets Girl encouraged my parents to restrict the amount of life experience I was allowed to have in the name of godliness. These books, similar books, and purity culture advocated that women stay hidden and sheltered to guard their hearts and wait for a prince (any prince) to come whisk them away to a castle to fill with babies. They never talked about compatibility on any level other than spiritual – these books and this culture have ruined the marriages of those they sought to protect.

By feeding an entire generation unrealistic expectations for themselves – denying our rights to exist and experience human emotion, being told that anything we desire is sinful just because we desire it, and that to explore our identities, feelings, and attractions is wrong and damages our intrinsic value – courtship advocates have destroyed relationships between spouses, and families, and friends. They have stunted our growth, torn us apart, and left us to pick up the pieces of ourselves and each other while learning how to live on our own for the first time.

I courted, I got married, and seven years later I’m getting divorced; on my own for the first time, trying to learn how to survive, and realizing that this was so far outside of the realm of possibility that I was prepared for anything but this. This one, basic thing, that most people experience: navigating life on your own. I was never meant to live on my own, but I’m doing it. I’m doing it clumsily, but I’m doing it, and there are lots more of us out here doing it too.

lmtp5

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Preparing A Visionary Daughter to Do Hard Things (Written in 2010)

When I was 19 I had the opportunity to write out…basically my life story and post it to a website with a lot of readers. It helped me start processing my life and was the catalyst for rethinking all the things I was taught and starting to see my abuse for what it was. I’ve requested the author of the site to take the articles down because I feel the site no longer represents or seeks to aid survivors of abuse like mine – but I still feel like my story – though I have grown and changed massively in the last six years – is important and can maybe still help people like me. So I’m posting it here. It was originally published in 6 parts, but I’m posting it in one fell swoop with handy navigation.

This was my start. I was just out of my parents house and still talking to them, facing a world of unknowns, and clinging to religion and the hope of a healthy family. Where I was then is still important, because it gave me the courage to become who I am now.

  1. Big Girls Don’t Feel
  2. Maintaining Appearances
  3. Critical Thinking
  4. Growing Up
  5. Waking Up
  6. Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

 

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First.

I graduated high school three years before my friends did. I was getting married at the same time they were getting their diplomas.

I felt the eyes of all the parents and their kids on me as I navigated the hell that was my courtship – even the families with kids in their 20’s hadn’t let them do much more than breathe around someone of the opposite gender. So I was 16, and everyone I knew and the few people I saw on a somewhat regular basis were watching, curious. I felt like I had a lot of live up to. There was a lot of peer pressure to “do it right” as defined by Josh Harris and amish courtship fiction.

It added a crushing weight that did so much damage.

I can’t put into words how utterly lonely it is to be the first, and then observed like a test subject, because your life skipped several grades and there wasn’t anything you could do about it, or anyone you could talk to, because there was no one else with a frame of reference for what you were going through.

Accelerating life is isolating and confusing – time is a blur and weird hangups are just waiting for you to sort out. All while you’re waiting for someone to catch up with you so you won’t be the only one anymore. It’s like being an oldest child forever, with no hope of finding people your age.

It gets really lonely, being the first in your group to pass life milestones. Really heavy knowing everyone’s eyes are on you and you’re an example for who knows how many people because that’s how the families you knew operated. It’s complicated knowing your parents are talking to other parents about you and your life as a warning, and justifying their response to your siblings.

I was the first in my group to go through the idea that our parents got wind of and excited about, I felt the heat of people’s eyes like lights on a stage, and I am the black sheep…..because I got tired and couldn’t be the example anymore. It’s not worth it.intimidation

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Well Then, God is a Shitty Author Part 5

And then we ran away and lived happily ever after, right?!

Well….

After I got up to Maine my parents began this routine where they were suddenly super nice! Sent me my clothes, told me I could come back…and then would also be really mean. Back and forth, back and forth.

I had just escaped an extremely traumatic…decade, and suddenly I was so tired. I did a lot of sleeping. Alex made sure I was able to get as much sleep as I could. I stayed between my in-laws house and their pastor (the pastor I had been talking to). At the time it was exactly what I needed, they gave me space and let me talk, let me sleep, confirmed that what I was experiencing from my parents was not okay. My dad even called the pastor and when the pastor got off the phone with him he came to me and was like, yeah, you were not remotely exaggerating about your parents.

In April Alex proposed to me, and thus began another round of drama.

engaged

But before I get into that, I want to say. I was 18 and Alex was 20. I do not recommend getting married this early. It worked out for us, yeah, but I am not going to extrapolate that to everyone. We got married because we love each other and wanted to just be together (still do) and that was the only way we knew how to do it. The concept of bounded choice applies here. We wouldn’t have been able to just move in together – legally, yes, but not….while retaining relationships with people we needed support from at the time. So it worked out, but the fact that it worked is a combination of magic, that Alex and I  had a strangely healthy relationship given our backgrounds, and a lot of work.

At the very least, wait until you can actually legally buy the champagne to have at your wedding.

And I do recommend living with the person before hand, because seriously, it’s smart.

Alright, now that’s out of the way…

Within like a month or so of courting my mom took me dress shopping (I told you they rushed it!), and we found the PERFECT dress, ON SALE, so we got it, and it was in my closet. I got engaged and my parents had been nice and so I asked if they’d send it, and they said no – that they didn’t support my marriage and sending my dress would be like giving money to a homeless person (who would spend it on booze). Needless to say they didn’t offer to pay for it either. They then began to sabotage my wedding. Sending my pastor a tome of papers, emails, with notes in the margins, about why Alex and I shouldn’t be married. The pastor did his due diligence and read over the tome and was like, dude, I don’t see anything here. My parents were pissed. They pleaded, begged, tried to garner as much sympathy as they could from everyone. The only family on my side that came to my wedding, were my grandparents, even though I’d sent invites to everyone else.

Honestly though, I’m happy my parents didn’t come. I could do without the sabotage and backbiting and expressing their loathing for me and Alex. I definitely didn’t want to deal with that on my wedding day.

My entire goal for my wedding was for it to be over. I got a dress at a used dress shop, the seamstress also did the photography (she took pictures with a DSLR and gave us the SD card, she’s….not really a photographer), I basically didn’t plan much of my wedding. We chose the vows that were the shortest, I told my Mother in Law that I wanted the colors to be red and white and that I’d like to have roses for the wedding party, but that was basically all I had decided. We had a morning wedding with Hors d’oeuvres and Cream Soda and tea and coffee, and our cake was vanilla with strawberry filling and chocolate covered strawberries as a cake decoration. I walked down the aisle solo, to Concerning Hobbits, and we did not include any room for people to object.

none of that wedding march bullshit
Because I am my own, and no one else can give me away

 

Like 30 people came, we had a small wedding party, and I made a playlist for the reception. Tablecloths and plates and silverware were from walmart and I didn’t give a shit. I was just happy to have gotten this far.

During the reception the pastor asked me how I was feeling and I told him: relieved.

The funniest part is that my Mother in Law was talking to people about how it was our first kiss (it wasn’t), and romanticizes that we had cream soda instead of champagne. But nothing is more lame than having champagne on your wedding that neither you nor your spouse can drink. Seriously. It’s not for lack of wanting it, just lack of ability to acquire legally.

Which is why I said you should wait until you can drink to have a wedding, you will need it.

Told you it was small :)
Told you it was small 🙂

Alex and I work because we both know we’re human, we try not to invalidate each other’s experiences, and we listen. We are equal.

But that we work that way is fucking magic. There are many broken hearts and casualties in the wake of courtship and purity culture. When you start with people who have no business or ultimate involvement in a relationship having the most authority in it, it’s always bad. Just don’t. okay. Just don’t do it.

Date. Have Consensual Sex. Move in together. Get married if that’s what you want. Ultimately, be honest with yourself and your partner. Communicate. Know you’re both human.

But don’t give your autonomy to other people because “authority”. Only you know what’s best for you.

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Well Then, God is a Shitty Author Part 4

I went a couple weeks listening to my parents and not talking to Alex. Making sure they weren’t monitoring me, etc. As they became convinced I had moved on (apparently cutting my hair in an effort to defy them = moving on) I went into planning mode. Alex and I had figured out ways of communication my parents didn’t know about. Living in the basement does have it’s perks.

One of our friends from TeenPact was running for congress in NH that year and asked me to help him campaign, my parents agreed, though were worried I’d see Alex,  I convinced them that wouldn’t happen, and so I flew to Boston and took the bus to NH (my parents also didn’t know about the bus part). Alex met me at the airport. He took the bus from Maine to Logan to meet me, and we put our faces together and smushed our lips into each others for the first time, because fuck it.

He rode with me until the last 30 minutes of the trip to NH, and I went on my way like nothing happened. He met me at Logan on the return trip too and waited with me until I had to go through security to fly home. He told me he didn’t hate me and I wasn’t damaged and he still loved me and it was good.

Came home like nothing happened, no one asked questions, although I did have to lie while I was on the bus, about the bus, which was exciting.

In November I also started carrying my messenger bag around with me (stuffed with a jacket) so my parents wouldn’t think anything of it when I left with it on my birthday. My mom had ordered me to send my promise ring back and I hid it in a drawer and told her I lost it, until Nov/Dec when I started wearing it on a chain around my neck tucked into my bra so they wouldn’t notice. They weren’t overly observant, or didn’t care once they had decided I was over it and they could continue to use me as they had for the last decade.

Meanwhile, I still had a hope chest full of supplies for my future. A hope chest that was in my bedroom as a constant horrible reminder of everything that went down in flames. A hope chest full of things I bought that I knew I wouldn’t be able to bring when I moved out. A hope chest, ironically, full of dashed hopes and broken dreams. I had about $1k of supplies in there, everything from pyrex glass measuring cups to towels and linens, and suddenly I needed a way to get rid of it. I told my parents I wanted to get rid of it because having it bothered me (which wasn’t completely untrue), but mostly, I wanted to have that giant, valuable, loose end tied up before I left.

There was a family at our church who had just moved to the area and apparently had nothing and were sleeping on towels on the floor. This was perfect. I immediately offered them everything (save for one bedding set and keepsakes) in my hope chest and they took it. Everyone was so proud of me and my generosity and I was told I would receive what I had given up 10-fold (yay christianity).

Kitchen
Only a small portion of what I actually had. Also I only took pictures of the kitchen stuff. 😛

 

But I didn’t care, and didn’t count on it. I actually felt a little guilty because I wasn’t giving my hope chest away out of the goodness of my heart, I was giving it away because of practicality. I would rather have had it go to someone else than my family be able to keep it and use as some kind of bargaining chip. I don’t tell this story often, because people tend to attribute philanthropy to something that I still feel was an entirely selfish move. I wish I had been able to keep my hope chest, but I knew it wasn’t possible.

When your entire teen life is spent hearing about how having a hope chest is so important, and it’s such a good idea, and then you don’t have one when you need it, it’s hard not to feel judged. It’s weird. The feeling of being an example for everyone you know because you’re the first to embark on the journey they’ve all been waiting for is intense too. Something I’ll need to talk about more I think, but back to our story.

I broached the subject about meeting friends at the mall by myself for my 18th Birthday in November too, to give them time to get comfortable with the idea and not flip out about it. It took a lot of work but I managed to convince them to let that happen before January, and in January, I went to Florida to get my driver’s license.

I only had one shot at getting my license. To my parents and grandparents, it was no big deal if I didn’t pass the first time, but I knew if I didn’t get it done in January, I wouldn’t be able to again, I’d have to start all over with a new permit at age 18 because I would be living in Maine at that point. So I worked really hard and I passed the test in January, much to my relief. In order to get my license, I needed my vital records (convenient), so I grabbed my birth certificate and SS card to take to the DMV. When I got back my mom asked me where they were, I said I had brought them with me and they were in my room and that I’d put them back….but I actually just hid them away safely, along with my diploma, and thumb drive with my “transcript”.

My mom was due any time in February and I hoped beyond hope that she would have the baby before my birthday. Before I left.

My birthday approached and no baby. I knew I only had one shot at leaving too, and if I missed it…….my life was over in more than one way. I don’t mean to sound dramatic, but that was my reality. I needed to leave, or I wasn’t going to make it. The toxic hell-hole of my existence was becoming all too clear. I had even spent several months talking to a pastor who didn’t know my parents about the situation and they agreed it was unhealthy, so I felt like it was okay, as far as god was concerned (because I was still christian at the time) to leave.

There was this problem though: I was my siblings primary caretaker at this point, and if the baby wasn’t born before my birthday…who would take care of them?

My grandparents came up the week before my birthday, took me to get red highlights in my hair and were around to help with the new baby, so my plan was still a go. I knew if I left without the baby being born, then at least other adults would be around to take care of my siblings, and I wouldn’t be leaving them completely alone. I had some amazon money from christmas, I divvied up my stuff to my siblings and I bought them each a toy and left it in a backpack by my bed. It was, and is still, important to me that my siblings know I didn’t leave because of them, that I love them, that I didn’t want to abandon them, but I didn’t really have a choice. 

I don’t know if they’ll ever know that. But leaving them tore me apart. I almost didn’t leave. But I had to.

One of my friends had joined the military and was stationed in GA and graduated the day or two before my birthday, so Alex came down for that (and to get me), and a couple other friends of mine picked me up and we went to his graduation and more relevant to my interests, I got to chill with Alex for a while. As a group we agreed not to post any pictures or anything on Facebook until Alex and I were safely away.

–aside– my online friend community was THE BEST and I wouldn’t be here without them, they were supportive and understanding, and I am so happy I know them –/aside–

Also, our best man, but he was in his dress uniform for that.
Alex, me, and Jake – also, our best man, but he was in his dress uniform for that.

On my birthday, I convinced my family to celebrate it early because my plan was to go to a movie and I wouldn’t be home until the kids were in bed. So they grudgingly obliged, and my presents were all conveniently travel sized, so I could throw everything in my messenger bag along with a change of clothes, my laptop, and my vital records. Then I hit the mall and my friend and I took pictures outside of Olive Garden while we waited for everyone else to get there, we were adorable.

She was my maid of honor, she's pretty rad. <3
She was my maid of honor, she’s pretty rad. <3

So everything was going to plan, but instead of going to a movie, Alex and I booked it out of GA and called my parents when we crossed the border.

They…..lost it. Threatened to call the police (thankfully, a police officer already knew, and also I was an adult and wasn’t kidnapped, so :P) and even wrote up a fake police report on Facebook, went between love-bombing guilt trips (“we would have helped you pack!”) to calling me a liar and deceiver and otherwise horrible person. The trip up the coast was intense, but finally, finally we were alone and had privacy and could just fucking be.

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Well Then, God is a Shitty Author Part 3

Spring Break was tense, and tension just kept rising. In May, something broke. I cannot remember what it was in specific. As much as I’ve tried to block off most of these memories, that one was just….I can’t get to it. I know it happened, I know I felt betrayed by my parents in a way I’d never felt betrayed before, but I can’t give you the context for it, because there is a wall there. I hope you’ll indulge me in taking my word for it. I decided in May that there was no way I would be able to trust my parents in the future, that nothing they told me was trust worthy. In essence, May 2008 is when I really started seeing their bullshit for what it was. I basically decided I wouldn’t tell them anything personal, anything that could hurt me, from there on out. I knew they weren’t safe and I knew that everything in my life was going to come to a screeching halt, and then crash, and then burn.

I wasn’t wrong.

My parents had started trying to make me doubt my relationship with Alex.

I feel like I should point out here, at any point my parents could have tried to get to know Alex and his family beyond just a casual hello. They chose not to. They would rather just run off of their unfounded assumptions about people than ask questions and believe the answers. They live for conflict.

Still talking to him every night for hours on end, and actually asking questions, and paying attention….none of their issues were founded. Their issues weren’t actual problems with our relationship itself, their issues were with his beliefs and his family’s beliefs being ever so slightly different from theirs!

–aside– At some point shortly after we started courting, this family we were home-churching with gave me The Courtship Series, to help me with my courtship, as I was the first in our group to start courting (and I wasn’t even the oldest). This series encouraged women to be quiet and not say anything or express any preference beyond what their suitor expressed. I’m still angry about that to this day. I’ve always been outspoken, and trying to fit inside The Courtship Series, and Josh Harris’ boxes only hurt our relationship. Eventually we were just like, this isn’t working, this isn’t us, lets go back to just being ourselves, and that was much better. –/aside–

Somehow, and I don’t remember how, my parents agreed to let me visit Maine again in June. I think this was their last-ditch effort to get me married and if he didn’t propose this trip (spoiler alert: he didn’t), then clearly he wasn’t interested.

June

It was that June trip, however, where we both knew things were heading south and made a plan. We took a walk for an hour – the only way we could privacy of any kind – and decided that if my parents broke us up, because that’s what it felt like was going to happen, that we would wait, and when I was 18, he would come get me, and we’d run away together. We both sincerely hoped it didn’t come to that.

Barely two weeks after I got back, mom told me she was pregnant. I was devastated. I knew it was only a matter of time before my life ended again. I wasn’t wrong.

My parents couched it in terms of losing their faith in Alex’s commitment and gave me three days to break up with him before they did it themselves. I refused. They offered me money and a car. I still refused. So I woke up one morning to an email from my parents, to me, Alex, and Alex’s parents, saying they are breaking us up and they forbid Alex and I from speaking to each other again. It was August. I was 17 and a half. I only had 6 months.

rewind One day in July my parents cornered me and were arguing with me about Alex and how he really should have proposed by now and disappointed them and whatever their other problems were, I can’t remember now. And I told them the plan we made in June. Because they were like, we don’t want to, but we will break you up if we need to. And I was like, well you can try, but it won’t work.

THEY CONVENIENTLY FORGOT THIS CONVERSATION EVER HAPPENED.

When I got the email I let out a scream like Wesley in The Princess Bride. Inhuman, guttural, the sound of a broken heart. I knew I couldn’t trust my parents. I saw that they were using me now that they were pregnant again (though they would never admit it).

I ran outside to yell into the wind and my mom ran out to tell me to go back inside or the neighbors would think something was wrong (no shit).

She tried to tell me she knew how I felt (nope). The only thing I managed to say to her was “Only for six months“. She rolled her eyes, told me not to talk like that, and left.

I was depressed. I was borderline suicidal – by that I mean, I ideated A LOT, but I never tried anything. I spent 6 months with my life on hold, yet again, being the broom, doing my mom’s job, while she was in her chair being pregnant. I don’t remember saying more than a sentence to my parents on any given day for those 6 months. I didn’t talk except to get orders. I kept my head down and stayed quiet.

I thought about cutting, I thought about killing myself. I had a gun (16th birthday present), I knew where it was, I knew where we kept the ammo but I was terrified of the kids catching me on my way out (there was this empty lot a few houses down that I would go to cry alone and was away from everyone who could get hurt) and also dooming myself to hell. I had a few friends who knew I was thinking about suicide, who told me it would defeat the purpose, and if I went they’d go with me, which staid my hand at the time. First, good point, Second, well, that wouldn’t be okay, so. I didn’t cut because I thought I had a low pain tolerance, and I didn’t want to be caught or noticed. My #1 goal was don’t be noticed. So, I didn’t do anything to cause alarm (read: more lectures).

Lonely
I was not okay. And no one cared.

 

I felt so worthless. So so so unbelievably worthless. My parents, having broken us up, left me to pick up the pieces and they moved on with their being pregnant and shit. Didn’t try to check in on me besides this attempt at comfort: Well, you got to experience love, so.

Because of purity culture, I was sure that even Alex wouldn’t love me still/anymore. Because I was damaged. I knew for sure no one else would. I had loved. I had given my heart away. Therefore, even to return to the person who loved me, I would still be tarnished and unwanted. I would be the glass of water with a drop of milk in it, turned into this disgusting murky substance.

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Well Then, God is a Shitty Author Part 2

Alex’s dad called mine because he wanted Alex not to be crushed if he asked and dad said no. Or so the story goes.

Anyway, not long after, maybe the next day or later that night, Alex called and asked dad The Question (because asking to court is basically asking to marry me. I’m not joking either, courtship is “dating with the intent of marriage, and also with no privacy, and your parents controlling everything” but I think in the actual quote they use the word accountability), and to my surprise, my dad said yes. My mom was ecstatic, because her life-long dream of being pregnant with me simultaneously might actually be a thing.

We started courting (marionette dating) when I was 16 and he was 18, my mom heard wedding bells immediately. We had maybe a month of courting in peace before my parents (mom) started asking when he was going to propose if I really wanted to marry him or not. Something along the lines of, you graduated high school, now you can get married! was said, to normalize, I suppose, the pressure they were suddenly putting on their 16 year old to….tie the knot. And I told them then, and I said this before, it’s not that I didn’t want to marry him, eventually, but neither of us were ready.

To their detriment, in their eagerness to marry me off, they spent the last half of the year I was 16 drilling into me that I was an adult and capable of making my own decisions even though I was still technically a minor.

Sneaking around the SR rules
Sneaking around the TeenPact “Special Relationship”  rules at the FRC Action conference 2007 (if you can call having permission “sneaking”)

I ended up being in the general vicinity of his college a couple times that fall, due to campaigning and TeenPact events, so we got to see each other a couple times, though, never alone (obviously). Which was so nice. We even gasp held hands a couple times. This was happening simultaneously with my leg infection, and one of the campaigning trips I was on (where I walked for 10 hours with an abscess on my knee) was the one he was at, and he hung back and walked at my pace with me, while I hobbled along. Why didn’t he just carry me? because RULES YOU GUYS. RULES. Nonetheless, while everyone was miles ahead and oblivious, I didn’t mind having the company…and the relative privacy.

–aside– My brother went with me on one of the TeenPact trips (the one pictured) where Alex got a pass from his school to go because it counted for some class or other, and at first I was annoyed, but then figured out that siblings can totally piggyback and no one cares. So that was the best. Honestly, I feel bad that I didn’t want him to come, because it was actually fun to have him there (not just because I didn’t have to walk in heels the whole time). Go figure.–/aside–

The first time we held hands, it was like trying to put together a puzzle while blindfolded. It took us a while to figure it out. I’m not kidding. It was awkward and weird, and we were trying to be sneaky, and anyway. We eventually DID figure it out, but man, fingers, guys, they are complicated.

I went up to meet his family in December. It was intense because my parents and his parents (who to this day, have never met) were already starting to have issues with each other. Mostly because his parents were like, no, you can’t get married yet, and my parents were like, YEAH HUH THEY CAN. And they pressured Alex into buying me a promise ring, if not an engagement ring, because…my parents really wanted me married.

First Maine visit
The ONLY reason I’m not wearing a jacket is because it was 70ºF that day, weird, right?

 

 

Being as excited as they were, however, they wasted no time in taking me to turn in my bonds and fully stock my hopechest.

You know, because two months into courting is totally the time to fully prepare for your future together.

When I came home from Maine and I wasn’t engaged (keep in mind, we’d been officially a couple for barely 4 months) my parents were disappointed. There was other drama, that at the moment is sort of blocked out. Needless to say both sets of parents were draining me and I wasn’t thrilled with them. My parents started questioning his commitment to me because he didn’t ask me to marry him that trip.

They started being more outspoken about their reservations when he still didn’t propose after he came to surprise me for Valentines day. Not that he would have been able to anyway, because I and everyone else had the flu and I sort of willed myself better to hangout with him but still. Funny though, because it was a surprise, so I didn’t know, so I was chilling on the couch being sick and my mom kept asking me if I wanted to brush my hair. All afternoon she asked me this, and I was like no, I don’t want to brush my hair, I’m sick. I don’t care if it’s messy. And then Alex came and she was like THIS IS WHY I SAID YOU SHOULD BRUSH YOUR HAIR. And I was like, eh, he won’t care. He didn’t.

Alex came to visit me over spring break 2008 (we’re 17 and 19 at this point), met my paternal grandmother, who’s still the strongest woman I know and it was one of those weird trips where it’s like, well, Gramme has to like him, and she did, even though she was like, months away from parting. At the time, both sets of my grandparents lived in Florida, so that meant a 10 hour car ride south, Alex, my brother, and I in the back seat of the 15 passenger, to meet my grandparents and go on our annual “vacation”/fulfill some of our residency requirement, to Florida. I showed him around the city I grew up in sorta. We went on an incredibly awkward and overdressed date, but we looked cuute.

We went to Ruth's Chris, it was a bad bad idea.
We went to Ruth’s Chris, it was a bad bad idea.

Short trip to my hometown and to see my Gramme aside, most of what happened was Disney World and Sea World which sounds like it would be THE BEST THING EVER, but in reality was…not. My parents had unspoken expectations of things they didn’t communicate (not unlike the time the year before, they said we could do whatever at a GA park thing and were livid that we didn’t hang with my brother, despite not having told me to), said we could wander and got upset over stupid stuff that wouldn’t have been an issue if they told us ahead of time. Were mad about my phone dying, and mad about Alex and I talking (just talking, not anything questionable) at the timeshare my grandparents had gotten for everyone, and about us getting stuck on a ride (mechanical failure). Generally, it was a horrid trip, my parents were insane and tense and ready to explode at any given thing – even the kids were on edge and anything they or I did just……it was bad. I don’t remember a lot of details, just a lot of awfulness.

I need to go back to Orlando without my family there to enjoy it again sans the horrid baggage and guilt that came with that trip.

The ride back to GA was even worse. My parents stopped at chick-fil-a near the GA/FL border and sent the kids to the outside climbing area and sat down with Alex and I and gave us a stern talk, because we had fallen asleep in the back seat. All three of us had (my brother was there too), and my parents were like, WE NEED TO BE ABLE TO SEE YOU, YOU COULD BE DOING WHO KNOWS WHAT BACK THERE. And we were just…aghast at the violent outburst in such a public place. My parents were angry, because Alex, my brother, and I fell asleep on a 10 hour car trip and all three of us were leaning on each other. They said we were doing foreplay and didn’t listen to us when we said 1) no, we weren’t and 2) we didn’t even know what that was. Which was TRUE. Because we were homeschoolers who’s parents thought it best to give NO EDUCATION TO AT FUCKING ALL and decide that meant we were equipped for life.

Your teenager hearing the word foreplay for the first time during a lecture from you in which you are mad at them and then you refuse to explain what it is and also disbelieve them when they tell you they’ve never heard of it. Just no.

I didn’t learn about what foreplay was until months later, on fucking wikipedia thank you.

Things went south (even more) quickly after that.

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Well Then, God is a Shitty Author

cracks knuckles

So, I was looking in the archives and realized that in the ~5 years I’ve been blogging here, I’ve only mentioned courting like, 4 times (swear it feels like more though), and it’s such a huge part of my story….but also an intensely emotional and painful one, which is why it’s referenced but never really talked about. This is going to change. Probably. Maybe. If I can stick it out long enough to finish it. My locally crafted whiskey and moonshine may be coming in handy for what will most likely become a series – so I can’t promise the best writing ever (which, actually isn’t something I ever promise), but, I think it’s time.


We met at TeenPact National Convention, but we’d followed each other’s blogs before that. He was SmartHomeschool and I was Politically InCorrect. We and a handful of other people were first timer’s at the camp and everyone else we knew had run off to hang with their already established friends, and as we wandered, we kept running into each other and finding a handful of other loners at random times to make our group more TPA. We called ourselves The Magnets, because, we just sort of all ended up at the same place at the same time, snacking on skittles and starbursts.

The Magnets 1.0
We had *all* the homeschool moms concerned about us.

 

Alex, I will have you know (the tall one in the middle FYI – I only look appropriately scaled because I’m 12″ in front of the dudes. IRL I was shoulder height to them), was a tough cookie to crack. Super shy and awkward, I made a point to open up his little clam-shell-self that week, because I just REALLY wanted to know what was inside his brain. Which sounds weird, but I’ve never really felt that much curiosity for anyone else. Plus he was cute to boot, but I would never have admitted it. boops baby alex’s nose SO I MARRIED HIM. THE END.

Just kidding.

If only it were that simple camp love story.

Anyway, back to reality.

Alex was a cool person, we became fast friends, not just because we were more or less stuck together for a week, but he was thoughtful and smart, and interesting to talk to. He argued with me when no one else would, and didn’t just take whatever I said and leave it. We were equal. Which is sort of an unheard-of dynamic in our circles. When we went back home, we would spend hours every night IMing each other about everything under the sun. We had a lot in common, and we had a lot not in common. Eventually he brought me on the board of the magazine he started with some other homeschoolers and everyone basically started shipping us immediately.

We, of course, didn’t see it. We were friends, best friends, equals, that’s it. Everything we knew about marital relationships involved whatever sex was and submission (and not the fun kind), so, we went about our lives as best friends.

Alex came to visit me for my graduation party the week before TeenPact National Convention 2007, and that was when things started changing.

That visit was intense for reasons that actually have nothing to do with Alex and everything to do with my extremely pregnant mother.

It was that trip that Alex learned things weren’t sunshine and rainbows with my family. The day or two before National Convention, my parents sat me down upstairs and started yelling at me about laundry and shirking my responsibilities (Alex, who had been staying in my room while I camped with my sisters, heard everything from the basement). I came downstairs in tears to do the laundry they had exploded about – really the whole thing was a miscommunication, as was…..well, usual. I hadn’t done the laundry because I had to take a shower, mom had told me to do both without specifying the order, but then I had to make dinner and get the kids to bed and do all her other work, so I was going to get to the laundry, but apparently I hadn’t done it fast enough, or enough of it.

I got downstairs to the laundry which was adjacent to my room, and I just collapsed into a pile of tears. I forgot Alex was there and he came over and I tried to brush it off like everything was fine. I think I told him I deserved the verbal abuse my parents had just thrown at me, loudly, for an hour. I sat there and took it and apologized to them. I apologized to him for crying in front of him, and told me it was okay (to cry). He helped me with the laundry (he actually attempted to help me with all of my chores that week, but as soon as mom noticed she’d give me more shit to do), and was just there. I….never had anyone do that before. I always tried to never cry, because my mom told me crying was weak and would get me made fun of. Alex didn’t make fun of me, he was just present and calm and…helpful.

Anyway his visit with my family was full of shit like that happening, it wasn’t really awesome and I felt really bad about it, but then we went to camp again and I got to escape it for a while, even if camp was full of religious guilt that just reinforced that my parents were right about me.

TPNC 2007
Oh yes, The Reb pose. Very edgy. WE WERE ALMOST TOUCHING.

After he went back to Maine, and the life of being a mother resumed for me, things just….I felt halved. I powered through one of the most intense pregnancies my mom had ever had, probably the most intense actually, because she had an emergency c-section after having essentially a one-month long contraction. I had slept everywhere but my room for a large part of June (NC was end of may), including often the floor or a couch upstairs so my parents could wake me to man the house if mom went into labor.

But that’s another story. Anyway, time to myself after that was really scarce, I would be up until 2am because the only time I could talk to Alex was after everyone else had gone to bed and most of it involved him trying to tell me I wasn’t loosing my mind because of everything that was happening.

rewind When we were saying our goodbyes at camp, he told me to look under the coffee cup full of Reece’s in my room (his graduation present to me. Seriously, best. ever.) so that was, naturally, the first thing I did when I got home. He’d written me a letter that…reading it now, basically just said I love you for two pages, but at the time mostly was just the most validating thing I’d ever heard and desperately needed. That I wasn’t a horrible sister, that I was really strong, that what my parents were asking of me was insane and I didn’t deserve to be treated poorly.

I miss you” was said with all the weight and meaning of “I love you” when it’s said for the first time.

blah blah blah pregnancy, june, july, GenJ camp, CPS visit, all other stories….September.

Alex and I had written each other letters by hand over the summer because it was fun and….I don’t remember why we started, but anyway, he was heading off to college in the fall and I was worried he’d fall off the planet and I’d be alone without anyone I could talk to about life who would really understand. All naturally platonic, stupid shit, jokes; we were basically pen pals who were madly in love with each other and refused to acknowledge it (but secretly hoped).

So one day in September, out of the blue, Alex’s dad calls my dad, and asks what his answer would be if Alex asked him for permission to court me.

And so it began.

 

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My Elaborate Plan

Five years ago, on my birthday, I left home.

Obviously, there’s a lot of backstory to this, and, I guess, this is that story.

I didn’t say goodbye – I couldn’t say goodbye. I was terrified that if I did, if I told them I was leaving, that they would shut me in my room, and jam the door and not let me out. That they wouldn’t let me out of their eyesight ever again, despite my having reached legal age where they couldn’t do anything – and I would have fought, you bet your ass I would have fought. I would have called whoever I could, police included, if they locked me up when I was 18 – but I didn’t want that to happen, I didn’t need that delay, I didn’t need that pressure or the guilt trips that would then ensue and cause me to acquiesce.

My mom was 9 months pregnant with the last child, due any day – I prayed that my mom would have the baby before my birthday, so I didn’t have that weight on my shoulders. I talked about how praying never really worked for me, this wasn’t any different.

I had spent the last three months planning my party, working on my parents to let me go to the mall by myself without a sibling. I told them of my plans many times – how I was going to hangout and eat dinner with friends and then we’d go to a movie and they could pick me up at like 10 or 11 when the movie let out.

I started carrying a messenger bag with me everywhere I went months ahead of time too, so when I packed what I was bringing with me, and brought it to the mall, they wouldn’t notice anything different. I always had a jacket in there to keep it looking full, no one thought anything of it. On my birthday, I packed my vital records that I had kept/hidden after getting my driver’s license the month prior, my HSLDA diploma, my laptop, a pair of clothes, and my conveniently travel sized birthday presents.

I convinced my family to celebrate my birthday early, before I left for the mall because I would be home after the kids went to bed and we had church in the morning. They didn’t really like it, but they went along with it.

I had bought all of my siblings presents with some leftover amazon money from christmas or something, and put them in my backpack by my bed with a note dividing up my stuff and saying I love them.

I got to the mall, and my closest friends met me and we had an early dinner and that was as far as the plan I told my parents about went, because after that, my actual plan came into play.

This plan, the escaping part, had been in the works for over six months.

In August of 2008, right before the olympic opening ceremonies, Alex and I woke up to an email in our inboxes from my parents saying “we have decided to end the relationship between Alex and Kierstyn and are forbidding them from speaking to each other.”

This happened conveniently after my mother had yet another positive pregnancy test (or whatever it was that indicated to her that she was pregnant and had every reason to control my entire existence again). Things had started going downhill since that May, and the last time Alex and I had seen each other in person(June), we created this plan.

If my parents broke us up (because they had been acting like they were about to and causing a lot of drama and being suddenly very negative and pushy and ridiculous) that on my birthday Alex would come get me, and we would run away.  If it was on my birthday, there would be nothing legally my parents could do, since I was legally an adult – we would be free to do whatever. We hoped it wouldn’t come to that.

July happens, Alex is asking about a proposal (the earliness, yeah, okay, they were pushy) twice is what sent them over the edge – twice because they didn’t respond the first time and the vacation he was planning on proposing to me on was coming up soon and he needed to buy tickets.

Interestingly, when Alex asked my dad in general about proposing, my dad gave a whole-hearted yes that lasted until the next morning when my mom took me aside and told me that my dad had changed his mind. This wasn’t the only time this had happened – dad endorsing something, then going to bed and “changing his mind” I knew it was bullshit, I knew my mom was actually behind it and the subsequent announcement of the pregnancy sent me over the edge. I was livid that my mom was having yet another baby, I cried on the phone to Alex telling him that my life was over – because in many ways, it was, this was the one that was going to do me in, if there was one that was going to do that. I realized I couldn’t keep living as my parents slave but I also had no choice. At this point I didn’t realize that what was happening was abusive and wrong, I thought I was wrong. This pregnancy is when the shit hit the fan.

So August, the email happened. The email obviously created an email fight and I was too emotionally distraught to deal with it, so I told people to stop CCing me. I screamed and cried uncontrollably, I went outside where I was alone and there was room only to have my mom come out and tell me to get back inside or someone will think something is wrong (ya think? asshole). I went in, and she sat on my bed and deigned to tell me she understood what I was going through (um, she has no idea what it’s like for parents to decide they can retract your adulthood, control every move of your life, and break you up with your boyfriend just by being parents – her parents didn’t do that). I glared at her through streaming tears, and managed to muster “only for six months”, she said “no” shook her head and left, as I watched her, still glaring.

This triggered a borderline suicidal depression, or whatever it is that results in suicidal ideation – because I did that a lot. I was already depressed (but I didn’t know it until I started meds and realized what not depressed felt like, and realized that was not what I had ever experienced), but this was just, every time I thought I hit bottom, the bottom caved in and I fell deeper deeper deeper into an increasingly dark abyss, of confusion and self loathing and numbness. I was always waiting for another shoe to fall because they kept hitting my head, it was unbearable, and the entire six months, that went unnoticed. No one said anything. In fact, I barely talked to my parents at all except to go over my birthday plan and be demanded of. I felt so alone and uncared for and every day I felt like I was dying inside, and every day I was reminded just how much my parents really didn’t give a shit about me as myself, only in relation to my service to them.

Interestingly enough, I had told my parents, after my trip in June, that Alex and I were planning on running away together should they break us up, because they were all like “we feel like maybe if things keep going this way we’ll have to stop it” and I was like “yeah, well, if you do, I’m leaving” and they didn’t believe me, or remember this conversation. I remembered it because I thought I was screwed – turns out my parents don’t have much of a memory for things I say, unless it makes them angry and/or bent on punishing me. And before anyone dares get into “but parents are wiser” territory, this was about stuff that had been completely resolved, stuff that happened because I was projecting things (my parents) onto people, and stuff that was cleared up because I was apologized to. And also about petty theological disagreements my parents had with his parents. Nothing that had anything at all to do with the relationship or the relationship dynamics between Alex and I – just them and his parents (again. my parents destroyed so many of my friendships because of their disagreements with parents).

So, I bode my time, I flew under the radar, I became what felt like invisible – I made plans to get my driver’s license in January, started carrying my messenger bag around in October or November, and started birthday planning in November, and was beyond that, never noticed.

I told some people I trusted about my plan, and was supported, mostly – except for one person who was supportive at first, and then was like, you have to tell your parents because youth pastor said and I was like “…” but all my close friends, all the ones who’d been with Alex and I from the start, knew sort of what was going on and were super supportive – which meant the world (and still does <3). Then I left, I left on my birthday without saying goodbye, before my mom had the baby. My grandparents had come up for the baby/to be around to help, so I wasn’t leaving them hanging. I don’t know what it says about me that I still, five years later, have to justify my escape with but my grandparents were there, so I knew the kids would be taken care of, and I wasn’t abandoning them altogether.  I think I feel like people will still be like, but you left your siblings! Which, I’m pretty sure is not the reaction people should have, because I shouldn’t have had to have been my siblings’ (essentially) primary caretaker in the first place. Strangely enough, I’ve never had that reaction, but it could be because I always pre-emptively answer it.

It killed me though. Leaving without saying goodbye killed me. I mean, I said goodbye, but not with the “I’ll never see you again probably” ending, but I hugged and kissed them before I left, because I needed to. Because, I was leaving everything. Leaving didn’t trigger a change of heart on my parents, it just enraged them. I didn’t know if I’d ever see them again, honestly, I still don’t know if I’ll ever see my siblings again. My grandparents paid for our plane ticket to see my family in the December of 2009, and that’s the last I’ve seen of them.

My parents have spent the last five years telling my siblings not to be like me.

In 2010 my parents decided they wanted nothing to do with me until I apologized to them for the hurt I caused. It destroyed me. I didn’t leave my room for two weeks.

I don’t know how to say this emphatically enough, leaving was hard, it was brutal, it wasn’t something I did willy-nilly, it destroyed me, there were times I re-thought leaving at all because I knew it meant leaving my siblings and believe it or not I do give a shit about them. Ultimately I left, because it was a life or death choice. I could stay, and wither and die – internally, definitely, and with a daily increasing possibility of physically – or I could leave, and have a chance at life and then be there on the other side for my siblings when they get older – or at least have that chance. So I left. I left on my birthday five years ago, and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done (to. this. day.).

I just wish that maybe people really understood what that meant – means – feels like.

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Child Marriage: I dodged the bullet

OMG THE CUTEI don’t know that I’ve written much about the process of the relationship Alex and I had before we got married. I started this blog after the fact and before I had even begun to process the hellmouth that was my childhood.

With three creepy-as-fuck-patriarchs coming out in favor of child marriage – something they’d always been in favor of, I suppose, but just now coming to light – I keep remembering how close I was to that being my story, our story.

This might be timey-wimey.

Ever since I can remember, my mom really really really wanted to be pregnant at the same time as me. I don’t know why, I just remember her telling me this, often, and it creeping  me out before I was 10 – and after I was 10, but I remember being REALLY damn young when she was telling me this. I feel like I was 8.

When we started homechurching, my mom become obsessed, I mean obsessed with jewish culture. Like everything about it was perfect and not at all weird, and by jewish culture, I guess I should clarify, I mean old testament jewishness, and whatever of that was referenced in the new testament. Yes, how women were property and bought/traded for dowries, and how they were surprised for when they were getting married, and their parents picked out their husbands (my mom is also obsessed with betrothal), and then how they wait for the couple to do it, and then they bring out a sheet that had better have a bloodstain on it to prove…virginity – because, obv’s everyone bleeds (<nope).

She had, before I was a teenager even, basically planned out my wedding to be like that. Complete with my future husband building an apartment attached to their house, and even as a kid who knew nothing, this was the thing I fought against, this was the battle I always chose, I was NOT going to allow my mom to pick out my husband, and dictate my wedding and create the most humiliating ceremony I could imagine – just so she could get her jewish fix and fulfill her dream of carrying children simultaneously.

For context: She had also decided that I would marry at 18 to ensure that pregnancy thing would be feasible. She was pregnant when I was 18 (I’m 18 years and one-week older than my youngest sibling) and I did end up getting married at 18, but the simultaneous pregnancy hasn’t happened (and never will, thanks to my own birth control and my grandparents stepping in after the last baby and paying for my mom’s sterilization).

Anyway, back to the story…

So, my childhood was already riddled with disturbing fantasies from my mom in relation to my future love-life, and I had been fighting this battle for as long as I can remember. Thankfully, my dad was on my side here, and also thought that my mom’s whole wanting to control all of that thing was ridiculous, which made it easier to just look at her and say no whenever she mentioned it (that was the only thing I was ever able to do that with) even though she ignored it.

I had read too much Elsie Dinsmore to be cool with the idea of betrothal. 😉

Anyway, after we moved to Atlanta I went to TeenPact State Class and then TeenPact National Convention where I met Alex and we became fast friends over the course of the year. Later that year my parents told me they were done teaching me/had taught me everything I needed to know when I was 15 and they said I’d graduated. It was 2006. I turned 16 in February of 2007, had my graduation ceremony at the state homeschool convention in May, and Alex came down for camp, and that fall we started courting (which is, in our case, another kind of hell). Because he lived in Maine, our relationship was Long Distance and we saw eachother less than a handful of times a year – which means most of our relationship involved lots and lots and lots of talking and getting to know each other over IM/Email/Phone calls.

Nonetheless, as soon as my dad said “okay” to us courting in September of 2007, my parents – especially my mom- heard wedding bells. Courting is basically like, “dating with the intent to marry” but with everyone sticking their hands and ideas into the situation but without actually caring about or getting to know the two people involved – they just want power and think they can because they’re parents, so they must be right, right? (no)

My mom, at this time, had just had my second brother, and so, my broom services weren’t as desperately needed. By december they were pushing Alex to propose, made him buy me a promise ring, and kept asking about when we were getting married, and don’t you love him? (yes) don’t you want to marry him? (sure) but why not NOW? (because I’m 16) We’ll sign the paperwork! eventually I just looked at them and told them, I feel like you’re pushing me out, and I don’t know why. They were like, we’re not pushing you out! and I forget what else they said, but in retrospect, that conversation, and me not coming home engaged after visiting and meeting his family for the first time after christmas changed things.

But one thing remained, they wanted me married. STAT. They wanted him to propose like, right away, and when he didn’t propose by my birthday, in February (because we both decided it wasn’t a good idea to get married at like, 17 and 19) they got pissed and over the course of the summer of 2008, decided to do everything they could to sabotage our relationship.

It was brutal and nasty and deserving of more than one post because it was fraught with verbal and emotional abuse, withholding, and bribery – complete turns of opinions and demeanor’s, saying one thing and then the next morning saying something else, the last pregnancy that ruined everything, and the reason I had to run away.

If I had complied, as I did in every other thing, my relationship with my parents would have been less strained for a short time, but neither Alex or I would be in a healthy place. 16 is too young. Much too young.

So when people talk about child-marriage proponents, I remember being 16 and pressured, unbelievably pressured by my parents, to make my boyfriend propose and marry me.

because it’s better to marry than to burn with passion 

I wonder if some of the logic of Swanson, Maranatha’s dad and husband, and Creepy Duck Guy wasn’t part of the logic my parents had too: female independence is bad, marry them off young so they can do what god commanded women to do – be fruitful and multiply.

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