Alright y’all, it’s almost 2020! Which means I’m very close to being able to responsibly and clear-headedly reflect on my 2019 (S)e(x)scapades. But first, I want to discuss something very imperative to entering my 28th year of romantic and sexual endeavours.
When I first started writing my blog, it was to highlight all the nuanced details of shedding a belief system that had so deeply defined who I was/am as a woman in this world. And while I thought I was doing a pretty great job at that by reading all the religious history books and Tinder-ing my way out of the Evangelical Purity culture shame, I was not actually.
Something I had to realize all too abruptly (but oh so necessarily) is that the process of relinquishing shame and truly TRULY redefining how I showed up in my romantic/sexual life is not something I could do easily or on my own. I needed help. So I got myself a therapist for sexual trauma (you can read about that process here).
As you read through many of my stories written in 2018, you’ll see my sexual trauma therapy involved looking back at my past and realizing how it shaped my present. Then undoing the beliefs of my present to redefine my future. By the end of 2018, I felt ready to begin dating again. But how?
As I entered back into the dating force (lol like the job force, only less fun), I thought my process could be 100% preventative. This was a tactic very familiar to me as I used it in my Evangelical days quite often. Preventative measures were encouraged in order to maintain efforts in remaining pure of heart, soul, and hymen.
I should not voluntarily consume sexual media on TV, in music or books...So anything secular probably isn’t safe. Just listen to Christian music, read Christian literature, and exclusively watch Veggie Tales. Whatta life.
For example, if my goal is to not have sex before marriage, then I shouldn’t put myself in positions (not sex positions, that’s different. Besides, everyone knows hetero Christian couples only do missionary #bu-dun-shhhh) to have sex. Preventative rules such as don’t be alone ever, only hang in group settings, don’t close your bedroom doors, absolutely NO sleepovers and/or naps. In fact, just nix the whole horizontal laying. May even be a good idea to establish a 10pm curfew as a couple. Nothing “holy” happens past 10pm.*
*All of these rules really super make me seriously concerned for the kind of sex adults in my church were having. Like I’ve had lots of sex vertically-fully-clothed-in-broad-daylight-with-the-door-open-sex. But maybe that’s just me. #Shruggy
Or maybe I’m trying not to have lustful thoughts. Therefore, I should not voluntarily consume sexual media on TV, in music or books...So anything secular probably isn’t safe. Just listen to Christian music, read Christian literature, and exclusively watch Veggie Tales. Whatta life.
Following these rules would prevent me from ever getting into a situation where the little seed of sex thoughts/acts can be planted. Therefore, I’ll make it to my wedding night with zero idea how to be alone with the person I just committed my life to, and will probably be the sexually expressed equivalent of Buddy the Elf. Not problematic at all.
Anyway, all I knew as a 27 year old woman is that I didn’t want to repeat the dating and sex patterns I’d had of the 5 years prior. And I for sure didn’t want to get raped again.** So I started making some preventative rules. I told my therapist about my game plan:
**Let me be very very clear about something. I 100% know that a man raping me IS NOT MY FAULT. I’m just saying, I didn’t care if it was my fault or not. I didn’t want it to happen again at any cost.
“I’ll just have a one drink per date rule.”
“What if you want more than one drink?”
“But what if you do?”
“You really like wine, Mattie Jo.”
“You’re getting on my nerves, THERAPIST.”
“I’ll never let a guy pay for the date ever again. Splitskies from now on.”
“Because then they won’t think I owe them anything.”
“What if they insist on paying?”
“But what if they do? Will you feel like you owe them something?”
“They do it on purpose, you know. Men. To make women feel that way. Like they’ve wined and dined us so they deserve our sex things.”
“That’s not what I asked. Do YOU, Mattie Jo, feel like you are supposed to have sex with a man after he pays for your dinner?”
“UGH YOU’RE MAKING MY BRAIN HURT!”
(Pause/me scowling at him)
"Take as much time as you need to answer. This belief is important to unpack. ”
“I’ll suggest going out places that are close to home for me, not him.”
“As in, you’ll never go on a date in his neighborhood? Only yours?”
“Because then he can’t conveniently invite me back to his place.”
“Well, he could. There’s Uber now, you know.”
“Yes, but he won’t if it’s going to cost him money.”
“What if he’s rich? This is New York City”
“JESUS! WHY ARE YOU HOUNDING ME???”
Instead of learning how to manage myself within my sexual wants/desires, I avoided them altogether.
“Because, while I agree establishing parameters that make you feel safe in re-entering the dating world is a very good thing, I think by doing so you’re 1. Manipulating everything in your life in order to prevent something from happening to you that was never yours to prevent anyway. 2. Avoiding a pretty important skill to hone in life.
“Okay. Touche. Also, what skill?”
“Knowing and acting on what you want! Okay, you told me that you weren’t even going to hang out with Rugby in London because you were afraid him asking to see you was a sexual advance. In your mind, getting drinks equated expectation of sex...”
“It usually does...”
“...And if by the end of the evening, you didn’t want to sleep with him, you weren’t confident you’d be able to say no and remove yourself from the situation. I mean, where do these ‘rules’ end? And don’t you think by making these rules, you’re never really present in these situations? How can you acknowledge and do what you want if you’re always in prevention mode? I just...I don’t want to see you unnecessarily avoiding life out of fear. I want you to have positive dating experiences because you know how to manage yourself within them, not exclude yourself from them.”
Again I say, support non-profits. THEY ARE DOING THE LORD’S WORK.
And then I probably cried.
Because my therapist was right. Instead of learning how to manage myself within my sexual wants/desires, I avoided them altogether. First as a purity-ring-wearing-active-Evangelical and now as a sexual-trauma-therapy-going-Recovering Evangelical.
Furthermore, I realized something pretty awful. I learned to believe everything that was “bad” sexually --since my purity ring wearing days to sitting in that therapist office -- was to be prevented by me. The woman. First to make sure I stayed a desirable, virginal wife. And then, to make sure I never got raped (again).
Men never seemed to get responsibility for this shit. They were allowed to have sexual (or anything) urges and act on them, even at the expense of the other person’s consent. And without consequence! Meanwhile, I was sitting in therapy sobbing, processing, and undoing all the lies I’d been told about my sexual (and otherwise) wants/desires, and the okay-ness of acting upon them.
So instead of making a hard set of rules for re-entering the dating scene, my therapist challenged me to 100% stay true to one thing in every dating situation: Unapologetically behave the way I want. And let me tell you, as a Recovering Evangelical who was subtly and grotesquely conditioned to detest and vilify my sexual (or really, anything outside of what was “Biblical”) wants, this was very difficult. So I can’t really blame me. I didn’t even know “unapologetically wanting” was an option. But I slowly started to practice this whole unapologetically wanting thing. And over time, it got easier and easier:
During one date, I was having an incredible time but I was getting nervous that I was a little too buzzed, so I stopped drinking. Not because I was afraid of the guy taking advantage of me, but because I was enjoying myself with him and I wanted to keep being fully Mattie Jo - not intoxicated Mattie Jo.
Hardlining rules, instead of checking in with myself in each specific scenario to see what I really want, is a great way to never know what I really want.
On another date, a dude asked if I wanted to stay the night. I said no, not because I didn’t SERIOUSLY want to fuck that guy, but because I was really into him. I personally wanted to give it more time to make sure he was going to stick around, not fuck and duck (more on this topic in another blog: Fucking Too Soon Isn’t Real. A Working Title).
On multiple dates I offered to split the bill. Some declined the offer and I still didn’t sleep with them. You’re welcome for my company, bro.
On one of my dates, I had a decent enough time. But the guy was sort of boring and definitely voted for Trump. After the date, he invited me back to his place. I said “Uh, no thanks. I’m going to get some french fries at Shake Shack.” And then I did.
Let me be clear. There is absolutely NOTHING wrong with taking preventative measures. Like, setting yourself up for financial success by saving and/or investing consistently is a solid preventative measure. But maybe not so helpful in learning the art of personal agency?
Hardlining rules, instead of checking in with myself in each specific scenario to see what I really want, is a great way to never know what I really want. And if I never took the time to learn what I really wanted, I would keep powerlessly flailing in the throes of romantic and sexual relationships. And I really REALLY didn’t want to keep flailing in the throes of romantic and sexual relationships.
Navigating adult dating as a recovering Evangelical woman is tough for a myriad of reasons, but I’d say the biggest one is because in Jesus Culture, my personal wants/desires were deemed “of the flesh” and therefore sinful. It was incredibly difficult to ever know what I actually wanted because I never asked myself, let alone honored it.
So maybe you’re thinking this whole moment-to-moment-staying-super-aware-and-following-the-impulses-of-my-wants-approach to dating seems tedious and/or frivolous. But I had to do it. Because unlearning years of lies about my personal desires being evil meant I had to practice practice practice practice 1. Identifying my wants/desire 2. Acting on my wants/desires.
So I encourage you, Recovering Evangelical readers. Go into 2020 with a commitment to two things.
1. Learning/identifying your wants/desires
2. Honoring your wants/desires (without being an inconsiderate dick or being dishonest. Another blog about this here)
Let me know how it goes over on the gram (@mattiejocowsert). In the meantime, Merry Christmukkuh and Happy New Year! Talk about my blogs with family if you really want to have an exciting holiday! Oh and find someone to kiss before you get champagne drunk so you at least know they’re actually cute.