Family was my Everything: Alida’s Story, Part One
HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Alida” is a pseudonym.
Moving from Homeschool to College was a lot tougher than I expected. I’m currently in my final year of undergrad, and I think I’m still adjusting.
I was one of those homeschool kids that took college classes in high school, which made me assume I’d have college totally figured out. Of course I was wrong.
Seven years after my first college course, I’m still struggling to find where I make sense and figure out the process of growing up.
Freshman year, I went to a private Christian university, along with a handful of kids from my homeschool, speech-and-debate social circle. I hardly grew as a person at all that year.
Sometimes I can look back at experiences and point out something that started a trend in my life, or a particular moment that was eye-opening in a way that isn’t identifiable until I link it to other events that happened later. There are only two instances like that from freshman year I can look back at.
The first is when I chose not to sit next to these two students in math class. In all honestly, it was because I thought they both looked weird. Those two ended up becoming my best friends at that school. We’re still in touch, and one of them I still consider my best friend.
The second is when I made friends with a person who identified as lesbian at the time. I remember deliberately trying to integrate into a different friend group so I would have an excuse not to hang out with them. As The Bible had been paraphrased to me so many times, “you become like the people you surround yourself with.” The gay agenda was very evil and very real to me at the time. We somehow ended up staying friends, which I attribute wholly to their kindness, tolerance and understanding, not mine.
During this time, I also was suffering from anorexia and bulimia.
When I was growing up, modesty culture influenced nearly everything around me.
I remember all the rules about how I was supposed to dress, talk, behave, and have friends. My shorts had to be at least a certain length. No clothes could be too snug. I shouldn’t speak so loudly now that I was a young lady. I was always to keep a “pleasant countenance” by smiling. Once I turned 13, it was no longer appropriate to have boys as friends.
My mom and dad told me all of these rules were very important because “men function differently than women,” and I might “cause them to stumble by my conduct” if I wasn’t careful enough. I never had a sex ed, but I attended a purity class, went to one of those father-daughter dances where you sign a paper about staying pure, the whole shebang.
For sophomore year, I had to move home and go to Community College for a while. I lived at my parents’ house. Again, I didn’t see myself changing much. I couldn’t see it from there.
And aside from what some covert internet searches had told me, I still didn’t know what sex was, even as a second-year college student.
This was also the first time I joined a sport since Tee-ball.
One day I was stretching with my teammates before a race, and I asked to trade places in the circle with someone else so I could move to the opposite side. When the girls asked me why, I explained that my back had been facing the men’s team, and “I didn’t want them lusting after my body” as we bent over to stretch our hamstrings. All the girls laughed at me. The girl who switched places with me laughed too and said something about how the boys could lust all they wanted- her booty was on fire!
I remember going quiet as my face turned red; I had never been in a situation before where saying something like that was weird or abnormal. But I also remember feeling self-righteous, thinking about how much holier I was than them, how much better of a person I was. I wasn’t the same kind of girl they were, I told myself. I was saving my body in every way for the man it would one day belong to.
Being around those girls was good for me. I slowly recovered from my eating disorders. Looking back, I’ve been able to identify the reasons I developed them in the first place.
All the modesty and purity-related messages I heard for so many years had internalized into the theme that my body was something wrong, something negative, something to be covered, something to be ashamed of.
Something to be hated.
As I started to get more involved in the sport, I started to see my body as something amazing. I lifted weights for the first time, and my body was something strong, something capable. My team started winning races, and my body was something useful, something functional. My body, to me, was no longer something exclusively sexual and therefore inherently sinful. My body was now something I could command to be strong, to accomplish a task, to fight for my teammates every day during practice and during races. I had motivation now to take care of my body, to be the best athlete I could be.
I said I would only ever date Christian men.
Over the years, I had been told many times that it was wrong to be in any kind of emotional relationship with someone who wasn’t also a believer, whether it be romantic or just a friendship.
So I dated a Christian guy from my social circle. After a little while, my parents forbade me from socializing with him, pointing out his “flaws” and “undesirable character traits,” saying we weren’t a good enough match. At the time, I experienced sadness but still firmly believed that as an unmarried woman living under her father’s roof, it was my duty to obey him. It was “scriptural” that I allow him to be my authority, they said.
Looking back on the situation, I see three things. The first is that my parents ended up being right about this guy. The second is that my they felt the need to exercise absolute control over my relationship. The third is that even though they were right about him, they should not have controlled my relationship the way they did.
But at the time, I didn’t know any better.
The next year, I started dating a good friend from my academic program. Tyler was the first man I fell in love with. I knew that he wasn’t religious, so we went to great lengths to see each other at times when my parents wouldn’t find out about our relationship. I made up lies about having to stay late at work or lead a study group at the library. We kissed a lot but never had sex, even though he wanted to. I remember being very proud of myself for that.
The entire time though, I experienced crippling guilt, especially when my mom and dad started to ask questions.
I eventually told them the truth, and on the same day, amidst tears, promised I would break up with him.
But I didn’t break up with him. We talked about getting married one day. As an “informed agnostic,” as Tyler called himself, it was difficult for him to understand the emotional and psychological toll that deceiving my family had on me. He didn’t have 21 years of homeschooled Christian culture and expectations weighing down on him. Family was my everything.
That summer, I fought with my mom more than I could ever remember. Multiple times, she threatened to kick me out of the house. Finally, I couldn’t handle it anymore. It was him or my family. I chose my family and prayed it would be worth it. My brother went into my phone and Facebook, blocking Tyler on both. Even though I knew how to disable the block settings, I didn’t. I told myself that abiding by my family’s wishes would help me.
For my fourth year of college, I earned an athletic scholarship and was able to transfer to the university I currently attend.
I moved to the opposite coast, and it was my first time not living under my parents’ roof.
One day, about a month into the semester, I was messaging a classmate on Facebook about studying for a quiz together. We decided that he would come over to my dorm to study and then watch the Avengers. A few minutes later, I got a call from my mom. When I answered, she started asking me how the day was going, if I had any plans, etc. So I told her about my day, and said that “I was actually about to study for a quiz, so I can’t really talk for long.” I wanted to end the call so I could go let my friend in.
Mom kept pressing me for details. “Are you sure there’s not anything else you want to tell me?” Nope, there wasn’t anything else I wanted to tell her. I couldn’t identify why I didn’t want to tell her that I had a boy coming over. We weren’t planning to do anything ‘bad,’ but for some reason I still felt very uncomfortable. Facebook dinged again. He was waiting outside the building. I felt annoyed with both mom and myself that I had to rush her off the phone.
The next day, mom called me again. “I know that you were hanging out with a boy yesterday, and that you didn’t tell me about it when I asked you point-blank,” she said. She had the password to my Facebook? I’d changed it multiple times through the years since I made it when I was 16.
Even from 3,000 miles away, she still had to control my interpersonal interactions.
She told me that I had sinned by omission and that by hiding important details, had caused her to doubt my spiritual health. I didn’t know what to say. Half an hour later, I found myself sobbing uncontrollably to my roommate, not understanding why I felt the way I did, feeling embarrassed that a situation that felt so stupid had evoked such strong emotions. My roommate told me that I had a right to privacy and that it was ok to keep some things to myself. No one had ever told me that before. I changed my password later that day, hating that I had to do it.