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’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.
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.
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.
And then we ran away and lived happily ever after, right?!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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–
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.