380. Bob redux (part 2): the “blessings” of chastity
(Click here for part 1.)
Someone once asked the painter, Jackson Pollock how he knew when one of his paintings was done. He famously replied, “How do you know when you’re finished making love?”
To use Pollock’s metaphor, I sensed that I wasn’t done making love… to Bob.
And so I bring you…
In my previous post about this metaphor I refer to as Bob, I was able to (finally) recognize it as “the piece of me that’s been screaming for love – God’s love as well as the love of others (more specifically, the longing for a woman to know and love, and to be known and loved by).”
But I also sensed something new – that in the years between encounters, Bob had also become about something more, something edgier, something much darker.
Luckily, this time around, it didn’t take me four years to understand what this new bit of Bob was about. This time, I knew exactly what this new bit represented.
In the past few years, I’ve written a bunch of posts about how damaging church teachings around sexuality have been in my life. But I think the scope of all that I’ve missed out on in life and love is only really hitting me now. And I’ve missed out on so very much. It makes me deeply remorseful. And it makes me furious.
I wish I could find those former purity-centered teachers and ask them:
Did I do it right? Is this how things were supposed to turn out? I’m turning 41 soon and in all these years, I’ve been unable to sustain a relationship with a woman because of the fear and guilt and shame that you cultivated within me.
But I’m still a virgin so it’s all good right?
And that’s not the only thing I did correctly. I’ve also never gotten anyone pregnant. I’ve never had an STD. I’ve never “ruined” my “purity” by having sex outside of marriage.
If these are the blessings of chastity that you wanted for me, congratulations. Mission accomplished. Job well done.
But do you want to know what else I’ve never done? I’ve never held a woman’s hand in mine while walking down the sidewalk. I’ve never felt a woman’s lips pressed upon my own. I don’t know what it’s like to watch a movie with my arm wrapped around the shoulder of the woman next to me. I’ve never slow danced with a woman without being awkward and uptight. I’ve never gone out on more than a handful of dates before having to inexplicably flee from the relationship because of internalized shame.
I’ve. Never. Been. In. Love.
Are you happy now? Is this what you wanted? Are you proud of me? Are you proud of yourself? Did I do it right? Is this how things were supposed to be?
I’ve thought a lot about the problems purity culture has sown in my life, but in my recent crying fit, all the things I discovered about how toxic the church’s teachings have been in this area of my life moved from my head down into my heart and out to rest of my body. I felt the weight of all that I had lost, all that my life has missed out on – all of the missed opportunities for warmth, intimacy, and touch; all the beautiful, amazing women I hurt as I left them hanging, just as things were starting to get good; all the love that I never let in; all these potent, vital life experiences that I let slip by. It all hit me, all at once, in a gush of molten, bloody tears.
O, my God, my God. I have forsaken so much. I have wasted so many opportunities to love and be loved. I have sacrificed so much of my life on the altar of a false Purity idol.
And what have I received in return?
See, all those relationships that I rejected? I didn’t know back then to blame the poor teachings of the church. If anything, those confusing experiences reinforced the idea that maybe the church was right – that relationships are dangerous and harmful and that I should just wait until God drops someone into my life like manna, magically falling from the sky. I didn’t blame the church and so I blamed myself. I would think, “well, that relationship didn’t work out. I must be doing something wrong – that’s what the church would tell me. Or maybe it’s me – maybe I’m just wrong.”
I thought my failure to find intimate, loving relationship was my fault. I thought either I sucked at relationships or I just plain sucked myself. I felt utterly undesirable. I had no confidence, and of course that’s unappealing, so in the few instances when I worked up the courage to ask someone out, it’s no wonder many of them said no. And then I’d feel even less desirable. Or in the even rarer cases where they said yes, we might go out for a couple dates but then my fear-and-shame trigger would go off and I’d flee. And when that would happen, I would blame myself. And then I’d feel even less desirable than before.
It was a pretty vicious cycle of despair.
“…and the book says we may be through with the past, but the past is not through with us!”
And I’m sorry (actually, I’m not) for this bitter, melancholy post, but this is not the end of Bob. Not yet.
There’s a dim ember of hope flickering deep beneath this near-infinite sadness and regret.
I’ll write more on this hope in a future post but for now, I leave you with these lines from The Smashing Pumpkins.
“On a distant shoreline, she waves her arms to me
As all the thought police, are closing in for sleep”