Don’t Touch Me — A Reflection on Courtship and Purity: Merab’s Story, Part One
HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Merab” is a pseudonym.
We were alone on the couch at his apartment, and his hand moved down my neck, tracing it slowly. It was my fault, utterly my fault. I was the temptress, Leda lying before the swan.
I had made the choice.
I read I Kissed Dating Goodbye when I was 17, not because my parents made me read it, but because I chose to read it. My parents, although conservative in political beliefs, were not legalistic, and actually openly debated legalism and fundamentalism in our household. My mother especially did not like the book, saying it was unrealistic. My mother and father had homeschooled my two sisters and I since I was in the third grade, mostly to give us a better educational opportunity than our rural Colorado mountain school provided. We moved to the city when I was 14, and everything changed—we joined the NCFCA (the homeschool speech and debate league) after meeting some members at a Civil War Ball.
Many of my NCFCA homeschool friends had read the book, and most of the boys (including Stephen, the one I had a crush on) didn’t believe in dating. “I can’t support a wife, so what’s the point of dating anyone?” Stephen told me when we were 17. Because he felt that way, I checked the book out from my church’s library and a few days later had mentally made the commitment to save myself for marriage, never being alone with a man to avoid temptation.
In my mind, I would never kiss a man until we met at the altar on our wedding day. My future husband would ask my father’s permission to court me, and we would date in large groups. As per I Kissed Dating Goodbye, I didn’t want to give myself to a man I didn’t want to marry, and this seemed logical to me. I didn’t want men to view me as a used rag if I had kissed someone before, or worse.
After graduating, I chose to attend a local college. I soon found out that no boys held to the same beliefs I did. No guy wanted to call my father and ask to court me (weird, right?). I finally met a Christian guy who had been public-schooled, and we were able to spend time together in groups at a campus Bible study. After I informed him that I would not officially “get to know him” unless he spoke with my father, he called my dad and arranged a lunch meeting. My father, afterwards, asked me why I thought this was necessary (he thought the whole meeting was humorous). I had no ready answer. In my mind, I had linked being “pure” and “correct” in a relationship with patriarchal consent. Soon after the meeting, the guy and I started dating.
However, I soon found out an unforgivable secret: he had kissed someone before.
I could not reconcile that in my mind. If you kissed someone, you were forever giving a part of yourself, a core piece of your identity and purity, to that person. You could never get it back. He had given a part of himself away, a part I could never have. That always hung over our relationship. A respectful fellow, he agreed to not kiss me.
I also began to adopt his “public-school dating habits.” We hung out alone. We watched movies on his couch until one in the morning. Finally, during one of these movies, I found myself in his arms. He traced my face with his finger, down my neck, my shoulders, my arms. While he did it, I felt like a prostitute. I was giving something to him. What I was giving, I couldn’t say—but I was giving it. I made that choice to be there. However, I also held this against him. If he really respected me, he wouldn’t have taken that from me. It was my fault and his fault at the same time.
This drove a rift in our relationship. We held hands for the first time after dating for four months. I broke up with him soon after, not being able to handle my feelings of guilt towards myself and resentment towards him. During a discussion after the break-up (we still went to the same Bible study), he tried to touch my shoulder. I screamed, “Don’t touch me! I never wanted you to touch me! It’s all your fault.”
I ran out of the building, half-confused, half-feeling like I was finally championing my values. MY values.
Now, I reflect—were they my values, or the values I adopted to be accepted into the only community I knew? A community that gave me a scripted role to play, the role of “pure woman,” a role I internalized to the extent that I still performed it towards a different, unsympathetic audience?
Even though my parents questioned the validity of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, the culture of my local homeschooling community was so strong that I accepted what my friends thought as truth. When I went on Facebook, I saw some of my old NCFCA friends, courting each other, getting engaged, being thrown into some lake at Patrick Henry College. It was perfect for them; I should have done the same thing.
I resolved to reframe my mindset around purity, and everything would fall into place.
I never deconstructed how this mindset created a harmful image of my identity—I was only as valuable as my state of purity, and it was natural to feel a deep sense of guilt and shame for not protecting that state.
Part Two >