Identify something muddy that kept reoccurring in 2013; what was the truth that was underneath once you washed yourself clean?
I had spent the week stressing out over midterms, and by Friday was in need of a drink (or two). It was my junior year and I had just turned twenty-one about a month prior, but was still getting used to a lot of the perks that came with it; not only could I buy my own alcohol, but I was able to legally be in a bar after ten o’clock and no longer feared getting in trouble. There was also a surge of confidence, particularly in terms of guys. I was slowly getting over an incident from the previous year and felt ready to embrace that men considered me attractive. On top of that, I had just cut my first love out of my life and had a huge hole in my heart. I didn’t expect to find anybody because I was more focused on simply having a good time.
The friend I was with that night had gone to talk to someone else, and I immediately hit the dance floor. It wasn’t that of a typical dance club, but could still get a little crazy. I spotted a guy named Ryan who was in a class with me last semester, so I went over to him to say hello. Much to my surprise, he wasted no time in getting me to dance and I decided to just go with it. Before long before we were all over one another, and eventually he leaned in to kiss me. Without giving it much thought, I leaned in as well.
Though it was my very first kiss that I’d ever had, I certainly wasn’t expecting fireworks. On the other hand, it was weird that I hadn’t felt anything. My friends explained later on that the drinking had probably lowered my sensory levels, despite that I’d only had two the entire night. But in that moment I kind of threw my hands up and didn’t really care. At least until he suggested that we go to the bathroom. In a bar. In a dirty, disgusting, you-don’t-want-to-know-what’s-on-the-floor bathroom of a bar. Now, it was typical for a guy to suggest that we go back to his dorm or apartment, and I was most definitely aware of the concept of public bathroom sex. But this was another first and I wasn’t going to stick around to find out what he meant. The familiar feeling of being trapped started to set in, and I told him that I was leaving before grabbing my friend and not looking back until we’d made it to my place.
As I related what had happened, I felt a sense of empowerment: I had done something because I wanted to and not because of what was expected of me. I didn’t feel bad or ashamed because I was tired of waiting for a boyfriend or a fairy-tale moment. The majority of first kisses don’t even come close to romantic, so it didn’t seem to be a huge deal. But it’s true when they say that once you start kissing, you don’t want to stop. I would go down a path that was somewhat dangerous, but would also teach me a lot about who I am as a person.
Which leads me to say that I didn’t necessarily call it quits right then in there. There were a few more afterward, but it wasn’t necessarily every single weekend. Most of the time it was just awkward, aside from the weekend after finals, where there were no expectations in terms of what meant what and I could just go home afterward. That was a rare occurrence though: the others were often forward, aggressive, or flat-out weird. I get that we live in a culture where anything goes, but some of the conversations I found myself having were just mind-boggling.
On top of that, I was also in a season of dating, which wasn’t going well at all. While these guys did want relationships, it seemed like it was only for the title and not because they genuinely liked me. I don’t like it when people are clingy or in my face all the time; I’m not one who appreciates constant texting every single day, which most of them refused to understand. There were also those who’d recoil once they learned that I didn’t have a ton of experience, which was frustrating. It wasn’t that my parents were strict or that I was scared; it just didn’t happen right away for me, which I’ll get to momentarily.
It was getting to where I was starting to hate what I was putting myself through, but I didn’t want to miss out on anything. I thought that if I gave it time, it would get better. Once I met someone that I found truly physically attractive, then I would enjoy it. Never mind that I usually wound up in predicaments where I was damn lucky to get out unharmed, at least physically. Deep down, I resented that everything was based on assumption instead of communication. I usually felt like shit afterward and kept telling myself that I was done, but I’d constantly end up doing the same thing over and over again.
It took a couple of months, but eventually I gathered the courage to admit to my friends just how much I was struggling. I thought that keeping everything to myself would make it easier to navigate; I wouldn’t be bombarded with advice and various opinions regarding what I should and shouldn’t do. Yet keeping my mouth shut ultimately made it worse because the constant thinking and lying to myself began to cloud my judgement. I needed help, but more importantly I needed accountability.
As much as I believe in personal responsibility, I also stand in friends looking out for and taking care of one another, especially when there’s alcohol involved. It’s not that I needed a baby-sitter or someone to keep me under control; I’m a pretty independent person as it is and by that point had gotten pretty good at navigating the bar scene on my own. It’s more that I needed to be reminded of the reality versus what was in my head. Perhaps it’s the writer in me, but it’s so easy for me to envision something that’s completely different than what actually is. In my case, the guys I met while out on the town were more than likely not the type that I want to have a relationship with, no matter how much time or chance I give it.
I honestly didn’t become truly comfortable with all of that until I took a contemporary women’s writers class, where we discussed the writings of modern-day binaries and problems that many women face. Hearing my classmates stories and viewpoints helped me understand that I wasn’t the only one wrestling with these things. I wasn’t the only one in the unnamed category between being a “innocent virgin” and a “trashy whore.”
Simultaneously, it was also a blessing (and a relief) not to be condemned by the people that mattered: my closest friends and my parents. Mom would tell me to stop stressing out, saying that it wasn’t a big deal because I’d never gone further than kissing. While that is true, why the comparison? What would I be if I had done that?
I think that I would be human. Just like everyone else, no matter what side of the line you’re on.
It has not been an overnight process; with the help of loved ones and a therapist, I’ve set standards and boundaries that I remind myself to follow each and every day. Centering myself in my faith again has been a huge step, because so often we make a point in cutting out the negative, but not bringing in the positive. I feel like I’ve come to a place where I’m learning how to develop a healthy mindset when it comes to relationships and human sexuality. It’s about staying true to my values, but also staying true to myself. And I’m still working on it.
I can’t say that I completely regret going through that phase in my life. I’m not particularly proud of what I did, but I’m wearing a cloak of shame either. In terms of what I could have done differently, I wish I would have been more assertive: saying no to what I wasn’t completely OK with, and being honest with myself when I realized how much it was hurting me emotionally. I realized that I can’t enjoy being physical with someone unless I get to know them and feel a genuine connection between the two of us. And I can’t imagine sharing that part of myself so early on, and on such a superficial level.
I’m not going to advise people to just go out and do what they want, but I do identify with those that feel torn between cultural norms and personal values. Up until I got to college, I had no idea what it was like to be alone with a guy or go out on a date (unless you include my senior prom, which we went as friends). And while it’s normal to be curious and want to figure that stuff out, I can’t overemphasize how vital it is to be aware: once you realize that something isn’t working for you, stop what you’re doing and take a step back. Talk to a friend or relative who might know you better than you know yourself. Pray about it. Just don’t assume that time is going to make it better or easier, because that’s almost never the case.
For right now, I’m focusing on other aspects of my life. I’m definitely open to a relationship, but I want to be in a good place emotionally and spiritually when that time comes. I’m still learning what in means to put my identity and build a firm foundation in my Creator, rather than idolizing a person or a relational status. It will always be somewhat of a work in progress, but it’s also a matter of getting to know someone who’s confident and willing to pursue me, both as a friend and a romantic interest.
Some of you might be wondering why I wrote this; there’s no big reveal or shocker, at least to those that know me well. Yet I felt the need to talk about it because it relates to a much bigger discussion: the demand of perfection and withholding of grace, especially in regards to current generations and dating. That’s a subject that I would like to tackle more in this upcoming year, with the goal of not necessarily finding a balance, but maintaining it. More so that I’ve become passionate about the genders and how we all relate to each other. It’s layered, but not as complicated as we’ve made it out to be.
Have happy (and safe!) New Year!