Last night I had a long phone conversation with an old friend (I'll call her Emily) from bible college. She's been having marriage problems for the past year and has finally started seeing a therapist. Despite her misgivings and embarrassment over having to go to therapy, it has allowed her to look at factors in her Christian upbringing and experience in bible college that may have played a part in her current problems.
Her therapist, who attended a similar bible college for her undergrad, pointed out that the pressures to find a spouse ASAP and to do things "the right way" in those environments leads some people to choose to marry the first person they have a mutual attraction with. That is something I've assumed for a long time, but it was news to Emily. Now she's asking herself if that was what happened with her relationship. Her husband was her first serious boyfriend, they were young, and they had little other relationship experience. They met through work during her senior year of college, and were married the Christmas after she graduated.
They've been married for seven and a half years now. For as long as I've known her, last night was the first time she admitted to me that she and her husband had sex before marriage. Maybe she felt more open to sharing after I told her that I was planning to move in with my boyfriend this summer, but whatever the reason, I'm sad she didn't feel comfortable sharing that until now.
She said that since they both believed in saving sex for marriage, they rationalized what they had done by deciding they would get married. The guilt of having done it wrong pushed them to try to make it right the only way they knew how: marriage. She now wonders if the relationship could have naturally gone a different way if they didn't feel the pressures to stay "pure." Even after getting married, the guilt of having had premarital sex made her feel like sex was still wrong.
Once she left bible college and started work in a non-Christian setting, she was surprised to learn that most people thought it was crazy to get married after only knowing someone for a year. That was completely normal at bible college. But now she is faced with another normal. A lot of them in fact. It seems to have taken the breakdown of her marriage to make her question everything she was taught and to see her life from a different perspective. She now realizes how skewed her perception of reality has been due to the Christianity she grew up in.
It makes me sad for her. And sad for me. It took me until 26 to open my eyes the way she is doing now at 30, so I can relate. Even today, I still find lingering warped perceptions in my head that I need to deal with. But she is suffering worse consequences than I did, because she invested in a marriage and baby while under the veil of purity culture, while I, as a single person, escaped relatively unharmed. Being single in purity culture was its own form of suffering for me, but now I count it a blessing.