The 4 Steps to Healthier Anger

dealing with anger, anger, rage, bitterness, healthy anger

Everyone has been “mad” before. There are different levels of what being or feeling mad is like. There’s what I like to call “slightly pissy,” which often happens when you’re stuck in traffic. “Highly irritated” is when you’ve been on hold with that dang company for thirty minutes. Downright mad is when you find out someone at the office has been spreading a rumor about you. And full-on, full-blown rage is when you – not your coworker – are fired for that rumor.

There’s justification in most anger. Sure, we could all get over our annoyance at slow drivers on the freeway. But when something happens that our gut tells us is just plain wrong, that anger comes from a place of justice, of a need to change it. Anger is a human being’s reaction to something that adversely affects them. 

However, anger isn’t totally arbitrary. You could see it as a chemical reaction, where you can’t control what will happen when you mix two substances together. But I see it more as a tool. You can choose how to manifest and use it. Oftentimes (regrettably,) my anger manifests itself on the highway as a middle finger. Or a loud, prolonged honk. Anger can quickly become bitter and untamed, causing you to do and say some damaging things.

Several things have happened to me this year that have flown me straight past anger and right into rage. This past winter, a close friend of mine hurt my best friend badly. I saw how it affected her and the term “white with rage” wasn’t enough to describe how angry I was. I lashed out hardcore at that hurtful friend, enough to get me blocked on social media. I regret the things I said to this day and wish I could have thought a bit more before I let my anger get the best of me.

Anger oftentimes goes hand-in-hand with sadness, disappointment, or guilt (all emotions that adversely affect you.) Anger can face inward or outward – it’s probably safe to say that everyone’s experienced both.

It’s not wrong to react angrily to injustice, pain, or unfairness. That’s the kind of anger I’m talking about here – that “pit of your stomach” anger, not just the fleeting annoyance of your fellow drivers, or sigh-inducing hold music on the other end of the phone line. But that real, raw feeling when you know it’s not just going to “pass.” The problem arises when we wield our tool the wrong way. There are two extremes that most people turn to when they’re angry: 

Bottle it up. You might be the kind of person who doesn’t express anger. You just stew in it for awhile until it goes into hiding. But if someone pokes the bear, the claws come out in a nasty way.

Take it out on someone or something. Maybe all of your anger comes out unbridled and untamed – all at once, on whomever happens to be around to bear the brunt of it.

Obviously, neither of these are good ways to work through your anger. But unfortunately, most of us revert to one of these two extremes when we’re angry. So what’s the solution? Is there a sweet spot between the two extremes? How do you communicate and work through your anger healthfully?

It’s sort of like exercise. Doctors don’t recommend that you stay glued to your couch with your eyes on the TV all day. But they also don’t often recommend working out seven days a week every waking hour. They recommend balance between work and rest to maintain a healthy lifestyle. In the same way, we can balance between shutting off and spouting off when we’re angry.

I’ve come up with four steps to release your anger without hurting yourself or others. There are lots of anger management methods out there, but here’s what I came up with after a bit of thought and research.

1. Calm. Think of the last time something made you really angry. Your initial reaction was probably something like clenched teeth or a spike in your blood pressure. You may have been tense and snippy for the rest of that day. The next time something makes you mad, let your gut react. A lot of times we can’t control the physiological, knee-jerk reactions of our body. But once your body has reacted, take three deep breaths (in through the nose, out through the mouth, all that.) This will naturally calm the physical effects of your anger. If you’re able to, separate yourself from the person or situation that made you angry. Stay off social media, don’t check your email – do whatever you have to do to make sure you don’t come in contact with the conduit. Do something that makes you feel calm. That might be hard to do in a workplace surrounded by stressors, but even something like squeezing a stress ball or taking a walk on your lunch break can free your mind from whatever is making you angry.

Conversation. Once you’ve cooled your jets, talk to someone about how you feel. You don’t even have to go to a full-blown therapist. Talk to a parent, spouse, roommate – someone who is willing to listen. And I’d encourage you not to merely “vent.” Ask for advice. Ask them what they do when they feel the way you do. And really listen when they respond. Make it a conversation instead of just a therapy session. A lot of times, conversations like these can help you see the situation from a different point of view.

Compassion. When I’m navigating anger, I go back to the wise words of our good friend Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird. “You can never understand someone until you consider things from his point of view.” If you’re angry at someone, it might be pertinent to examine why you’re angry (unmet expectations, an insult to your character, etc.) and also why the person acted the way they did. Most people are looking out for their own interests, and that’s usually a good thing to keep in mind. Understanding that can turn your anger into your power to negotiate.
The next time you’re angry at someone and have to talk to them about it, first express how they made you feel. It’s okay to be up front about that. “When you said/did this, it made me feel [blank].” Follow up with your perception of the issue. “I understand that you might see it differently, and I want to talk about it.” This kind of conversation avoids cheap shots and arguments that get nasty fast. Do this after you’ve had time to calm down and think about it. Reacting with your knee-jerk reactions is never a good idea.
Note: Have this conversation with the person you’re upset with, not with anyone else. Gossiping is not a healthy way to express anger! 

Comprimise. When you’re angry, there are two ways to comprimise, depending on who/what you’re angry with. Both of them involve resolving the situation so you can go on with your life feeling good about that situation. You can comprimise:
With the other person. Comprimise is the best part of every conflict. Find a middle ground instead of one or the other (the whole two extremes thing) and resolve the issue. Shake hands and be friends/coworkers/aquaintances again.
With yourself. Sometimes you’re not able to confront the person or even the situation you’re involved with. It may be that the person simply doesn’t want to talk, or it’s a project/issue at work that you simply don’t have the power to address directly. Decide for yourself that you won’t go to the two extremes – shutting down or spouting off. Determine what middle ground you’ll use.

Anger will always be tricky. It tends to catch us off-guard, which is inconvenient and frustrating in and of itself. However, anger isn’t something we should be afraid of. Just because something makes you angry doesn’t mean you’re an uncontrollable rage-monster. It means you have a gut that cues you into what’s right and what’s wrong. And that is a very good thing.

If you know how to use it.

a. w.

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The Gracious Breakup

I’ll be the first to admit that I was full-tilt crazy after it all went down. But who isn’t when something that significant happens? When one day someone is there and the next day they aren’t? When it seems like everything you had with that person means nothing at all?

Take it from me, it can make you crazy.

Whenever your brain has something to think about, it will think about it. And a breakup gives you plenty to think about. It revolves mostly around the age-old question – what went wrong? And sometimes, you don’t get a definitive answer. It just went wrong, and that’s it. Not much you can do.

But then comes that fun part called “moving on.” I know we all love that. Trying to go at least one day without thinking about them, without checking up on their social media, without being…well, not over it. Maybe you want to get back together, or maybe you’re just angry or sad. But whatever it is, it ain’t easy to just “get over it.” Whether the relationship lasted two years or two months, it hurts. Because something that was there isn’t there anymore.

I honestly don’t think there’s such thing as a clean break. I think it just hurts – and it’s supposed to hurt. That’s what makes us human. But the key is not to let the hurt consume you. I’ll admit, I let the hurt consume me (not just in breakup situations, but in other “heartbreak” type situations, if you know what I mean.) I wanted to talk about it. I wanted to talk about it so bad that I did some really stupid things. Things that I regret. Don’t let pain do that to you. Honestly, it’s not worth it in the end.

Then of course, comes the Taylor-Swift-ex-rage phase. Where you brush it off and pretend you never had three emotional breakdowns in the last week, where you put on your best red lipstick and pumps and devil-may-care attitude. Everything becomes his fault. He was the jerk. He let it end. He’s probably a sorry sap right now.

I honestly think that fault is usually on both sides. A lot of times it’s communication, or lack of time spent together, or difference of opinion, or all of the above. Whatever happened, one or both parties decided that it wasn’t worth it anymore. Sometimes it’s no one’s fault other than you weren’t compatible. Playing the blame game usually doesn’t make things go any better. It just causes more anger and resentment. And I don’t think you want that after all you shared together.

It’s really easy to compare post-breakup. Who’s moved on faster? Who’s finally happy again? Am I doing better or is he? It almost becomes a competition. Well, if I’m doing all these things and accomplishing all this, they must be failing at everything. They’ve got to be, because they let me go.

It’s certainly okay to be mad. Just don’t get bitter. After I was sad, I got so mad. The anger was almost all-consuming. It leaked into other parts of my life. My days were spent swimming through negativity and cynicism. Honestly, I’m not over that hump yet. I’m mad at everything that happened. I’m mad at the situation we found ourselves in at the time of the breakup.

But don’t let the anger become bitterness. Because that’s a lot harder to heal than a little bit of righteous anger. Bitterness puts layers on your heart, like concrete that hardens over time. It makes it a lot harder for healthy relationships to happen in the future.

So, is there such thing as a “gracious breakup?” 

Probably not. Simply because the nature of a breakup is, well…breaking. And breaking isn’t a fun thing. Like, ever.

But is there such thing as moving on graciously after a breakup?

Of course there is. A good first step is not being too hard on yourself. Of course you hurt, whether you were broken up with or the one who did the breaking up. You can hurt. Because something’s broken. Broken things hurt.

A good second step is letting yourself feel everything that comes along with the breakup. Hurt, sadness, pain, anger. It’s not healthy to keep that inside. Let it out. Vent it to someone. Journal. Throw darts. Do what you have to do. Even if you feel like you aren’t “getting over” it, that will come with time. There’s no set time limit for getting over someone. But it will happen eventually.

Finally, move on graciously. It won’t be a magical switch-flip, though. Healing something broken takes a long time. You’ll have setbacks. It’s all in how you handle it. If you’re feeling sad, don’t text or call them (guilty party here.) Talk to a loved one instead. If you’re feeling mad, don’t broadcast it all over (also guilty.) Write it down and rip it up, or go for a long run and listen to angry music. Getting through it is what will help you get over it.

And friends, I know it’s not easy. But I do know that whatever is waiting for you on the other side of that pain is good. I think I’ve finally found my Good on the other side of the pain, and it was definitely worth it. So be patient with yourself. Keep waking up in the morning. Keep telling yourself that someday all of this won’t matter. Keep going knowing that you are worth far more than one breakup or misstep.

And that alone is worth knowing.

a. w.

A Not #MeToo Girl in A #MeToo World

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I’ve never been sexually harassed.

When I go on the Internet (which is a lot) I feel like a unicorn. I don’t have a story. I couldn’t tell you a time I felt uncomfortable by the sexual advances of a man. I have felt uncomfortable by people, but not for sexual reasons.

I don’t have a story.

Do I?

Is my narrative important even though it doesn’t involve a #MeToo? Maybe it’s because I’m fresh out of college and haven’t entered the “work force” proper. Is that why? Am I just luckily surrounded by decent men? Do I not play in the same sphere as these power-hungry men who seem to be prowling every corner of the earth?

I don’t know if I will ever be able to come to a definite answer other than – I am not #MeToo. I’ve never been asked to do something sexual in return for something else. I’ve never been propositioned, or coerced, or grabbed. During the height of #MeToo, the closest I could come to #MeToo was a customer at a coffee shop I used to work at telling the female workers to smile, or he wouldn’t give us a tip.

I wouldn’t call that sexual harrassment. I would call that rude. You bet I gave him the most fake, saccharine smile I could every day because that’s customer service and I do that for everyone.

The second closest I could come to #MeToo was being cat-called in Germany while on a choral tour. The men were obviously drunk and several hundred yards away from us as we crossed the street in our formal concert dresses. It was scary, but I was with a group of men and women. I just kind of brushed it off. They were drunk and they were idiots (probably.)

So. I’m not #MeToo. Is my voice still important? Honestly, I don’t know. Because I don’t know what it feels like. Am I privileged for not being #MeToo? Possibly. Once again, it’s strange to be a not-#MeToo girl in a #MeToo world. I watch woman after woman come forward about man after man and I can’t raise my hand and say “me too.” There’s no way for me to relate to her, or her to me. We may as well be from different countries, it seems.

I am well aware that there are still things I can “do.” I can still speak up for women who have gone through these things. There are people in my life who have had these things happen to them. I could speak up for them…but they’re already speaking up for themselves, so how would I help?

But, if I may be so bold…are we glorifying victimhood? Are we inadvertently making it “cool” to be a victim of sexual harrassment? Are we only putting relevance on those that have a story?

I am not #MeToo, but I’m not ashamed to not be #MeToo. I wouldn’t classify myself as a Feminist as the world defines that term. I don’t owe my worth to that moniker. I don’t find my worth in a #MeToo statement or even a not #MeToo statement. I find my worth within myself and within Christ. (Yes, I’m going to get preachy.) Men and women, bad men and good men, #MeToo and not #MeToo are equal in the eyes of Christ. Equally lovable, equally redeemable. Equally sinful, but equally loved.

I have every confidence that our society is redeemable. And ladies: it’s ok if you don’t want to be seen as a victim. #MeToo does not define your worth or lack thereof. I have a lot of conflicting opinions about all of the recent sexual misconduct allegations against prominent men. Which ones are real, and which ones aren’t? Are they all one or the other? Are only men capable of sexual misconduct? It seems difficult to differentiate fact from fiction when anyone can say anything.

So honestly, I don’t know what else to say other than what I’ve already said. Ok, maybe just one thing: let’s not make this about revenge. Let’s make this about becoming better. Better together.

Remember who you are and Whose you are, first and foremost. Whether you are #MeToo or not #MeToo, be strong, but be kind. Try to understand as best you can. If you are blessed enough to be a parent now or someday, raise your sons to be respectable and raise your daughters to be strong.

And while you’re at it, be strong and respectable yourself. You deserve it.

a. w.

What’s So Funny About Virginity?

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It’s a typical Hollywood trope. Teenage boy goes on search of self, navigating the trials of high school and, before his senior year is out – getting laid. Usually with the help of his friends. Antics ensue, sometimes involving hookers or porn, often involving alcohol and that one hot girl in his class. By the end of the movie, he’s transformed from a dorky, invisible boy to a full-fledged man. All because he “did the deed.”

At the risk of sounding like a Puritan, teenage, pre-marital sex is the norm in pop culture and in society in general. It’s cool to have popped the cherry, and it’s almost a competition to see how young you can get it done. Granted, this post isn’t going to be just me wailing about how all teenagers are degenerate now, throwing around their bodies to whomever will take it, but I’d just like to get that fact out of the way: when you’re a teenager, it’s not really cool to be a virgin. It’s certainly not cool to be a virgin in your 20s – and if you listen at all to pop culture, it’s really not normal either. I mean, seriously – when was the last time you watched a sitcom or network drama and two unmarried twenty-somethings didn’t have sex?

Somewhere along the line, the whole idea of virginity became funny. In movies, virgins are shown as the socially inept and often naive counterparts of their cooler buddies – usually the same buddies who are trying to get him (or her) laid. Take The 40-Year-Old Virgin for example. Just the title alone. The title is supposed to be surprising – he’s in the middle of his life and he’s never had sex? Gasp. He’s depicted as the most wholesome human you could possibly meet – including playing with dolls and, according to an IMDb synopsis, “doesn’t even watch porn or masturbate.” The audacity. While there are layers to the story, the main point of the film is that the main character is socially inept because he’s a virgin. And that’s hilarious. Once he reveals to his work friends that he’s a virgin, they immediately go on a quest to try to “fix” that, like virginity is a problem that needs to be solved.

Because you’ve never really lived until you’ve had sex, right?

I could go on with a plethora of other movies about the rite of passage that is being “deflowered.” American Pie (the ultimate buddies-get-laid comedy), The Virginity Hit, and Cruel Intentions (not necessarily a “funny” example, but one that has a little bit different implications.) A few years ago, a documentary called How to Lose Your Virginity examines virginity as a societal (and patriarchal) concept meant to supress your sexuality. The organization behind the documentary even gives out “V-Cards” to schools and organizations, which acts as sort of a punch card for every time you have a different sexual experience.

While there are patriarchal implications to virginity (a lot of times women feel more pressured to be virgins, and men feel more pressure to conquest), I don’t think that’s the right way to look at it. By dismissing it as a societal construct, we dismiss some people’s deeply-rooted personal beliefs and values. Do not read “rigid moral code” here. I’m not talking Virgin Suicides.

I’ll put it this way: we all know stereotyping is wrong, right? Stereotyping racial groups, sexual orientations, and social classes is frowned upon in media. So stereotyping a virgin as being socially inept, sexually naive, and irrevocably awkward doesn’t seem very tasteful.

“Okay, Audrey, calm down,” interrupts the Internet. “Don’t you believe in expression? Why are you advocating for people to supress their sexuality? Virginity is funny because it’s such a ridiculous concept in this day and age.”

It might be for some, but for others, it’s a choice they’ve consciously made, and it’s a moral code they’ve stuck by (I know “morals” don’t really hold much weight in this day and age, but I’m going to use it anyway.) In other words, I don’t care what people do. I’m not going to tell you how to live, but I am going to tell you that some people live differently than you, and it doesn’t make them awkward or laughable. While sex isn’t such a taboo topic anymore, virginity is. People get uncomfortable (or even apologize) when they find out someone is a virgin. People think it’s weird when a boyfriend and a girlfriend haven’t had sex yet. That’s just kind of how things are nowadays, and I understand that.

My hope is that we can change the conversation about sex, especially as Christians. It’s not suppression to be a virgin. It’s not naive to be a virgin. It’s not wrong to choose to be a virgin. It’s also wrong to shame Christians who have lost their virginity. All things, even virginity, are redeemable through Christ.

I live as a virgin because I am called as a Christian to honor God in all things, including my body. I don’t always adhere to that calling. Sometimes I eat way too much nasty food or abuse my body so that I get sick. Your life is about more than just sex. Your sexuality should never define who you are. It should also not define how you see other people.

For now, I’m done spouting off one-sidedly about this. But let’s keep the conversation going.

a. w.

My Adventures in Online Dating, the Conclusion: Mars & Venus

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“Welcome to my world.”

“Good job with the face.”

“You have a nice smile! *winky face*”

“Did you know that cows have best friends?”

These are some examples of the smooth ways I’ve tried to initiate conversation on Bumble. Each of them failed at least once. (Disclaimer: “good job with the face” and “nice smile” were the only ones that merited a response. I bet you can guess why the other ones didn’t.) Some of my more successful attempts have been a bit less interesting, like “You don’t have a bio, so what do I ask you?” or “Tell me about yourself!” Or even the typical “Hey!” Which apparently guys don’t want to respond to…but, hey (!) do guys even know what they want?

Not on Bumble they don’t!

And neither do I…?

Or maybe I actually, secretly do know what I want and that’s what makes online dating so difficult.

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I definitely didn’t want that.

After online dating for about two and a half months, I have gone on a grand total of three dates. I haven’t kept track of how many people I’ve matched with, but it hasn’t been an astronomical number. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t expecting to be ambushed with men as soon as I logged on, but I have to admit, it’s been a little discouraging. One of my dates turned out to be an atheist. One now has a girlfriend. And another brushed me off after dangling the possibility of a second date. There are a few I haven’t even met but kinda sorta really want to but can’t for reasons.

So yeah, it’s hard.

But it’S hard offline too. I realize that. The dating game is the same in the real world – you usually have to anticipate rejection, unless you want your self esteem kicked around. But after awhile, it sort of helps you grow a thicker skin, so you can continue to enter the dating pool with confidence.

In short (but not short, really), I’ve learned a lot about myself through online dating. I learned things that I really didn’t expect to learn, to be honest. When I joined the online dating scene, I thought I was simply going to be swiping left and right and going on cute, fun dates all the time, just to test the waters. But it’s actually been a rather emotional (and, dare I say, spiritual) journey for me these past few months.

I’ve never really been ~on~ the dating scene. I was an awkward-as-heck high school student who never had a boyfriend and asked her own date to prom. I wasn’t the victim of freshman frenzy in college. I’ve never really been the “chased-after” one. And that can do a number on your heart sometimes. You see everyone getting with everyone else and you wonder what’s wrong with you. (I’ve talked about this before, haven’t I? I’ll bury the dead horse now.) So to jump into the dating scene at this time in my life, when I’m still becoming the adult I’m meant to be instead of the teenager/juvenile I was, was like jumping into a cold lake, when I thought it was going to be like wading into a tropical seaside.

But life is never quite what we want it to be, is it?

So, before I get any more tangential, here’s a few things I’ve learned while surfing the web for a husband (not an overstatement):

1. 90% of men are really bad at online dating. Ok, that’s not an official statistic, and it’s probably not accurate. But I feel like I’m weeding through a lot of roughs to find the diamonds. Here’s some reasons why they’re bad at it (let the meta-lists begin!):

  • Ya’ll don’t specify who you are in a group picture. If all your pictures involve multiple people, I have no idea which one you are. And that makes a difference. Are you the one cuddling the puppy or holding the liter of beer? I need to know these things.
  • YA’LL POST PICTURES THAT INVOLVE YOUR EX (or multiple women.) If there’s anything that’s super unattractive to me, it’s when guys on dating apps post pictures of themselves a) with their ex (or a woman who is draped over them for some other reason?) or b) multiple women who are apparently competing for who can wear the least amount of clothing, or bleach their hair the brightest. That’s a huge turnoff for girls who are looking for something real. Unless you’re not looking for something real, in which case…as you were. I’ll pray for you. (Only slightly kidding)
  • You don’t post anything about yourself. Seriously, a bio goes a long way. I tend to swipe left on people who don’t have bios because I’m not much of a risk-taker. I do understand that some people are on dating sites for much…different reasons than I am, so maybe a bio doesn’t matter much to some people.

2. I’m bad at online dating too! Be you not afear’d, men. I am also terrible at online dating, as you’ll see by my awful conversation starters. I’ve done really jerk-y things, like unmatch with someone after a conversation (essentially “ghosting” them.) I’ve gotten unnecessarily angry at people I’ve matched with. And I’ve been hecka impatient. That’s been my biggest pitfall so far. Even now, I’m beating myself up for something I texted one of my matches weeks ago. What the heck possessed me to say that? 

3. It’s really overwhelming. It can feel like online shopping at times…which is probably not how it’s supposed to be. (But if you think about it, IRL dating can be like shopping too…) It’s almost like that scene in The Emperor’s New Groove (I’m very cultured) when Kuzco is choosing from a row of women for one of them to be his wife. And then when you do swipe right on someone, you get hopeful that you’ll match. And sometimes you don’t. And that can be draining or discouraging. In the last week I’ve talked to only two people on Bumble, and both conversations were unfruitful. I matched with several guys, but those people let the conversation expire. And I keep thinking why? What’s wrong with me? (Wrong way to think about it, but I’ll get to that later.) It can do a number on your self-esteem.

All that to say, my journey on Bumble has been a journey of the soul. (Cue candles and ambient music.) It sounds canned, but it’s kind of true. I’ve learned a lot about myself. I learned that I get attached really fast. After matching with people, I sometimes imagine what our first date will be like, or what our first cute Instagram photo will look like. I imagine what it’s like to drive in a car with them, listening to their favorite music. Audrey, that’s ridiculous. You haven’t even met them yet. (Cue Michael Buble music.) I know it’s ridiculous. It’s friggin’ ridiculous.

Which is why I think I’m going to call it quits on online dating.

I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, but I don’t think I’m at a good spot in my life to be doing it. However, I’m really thankful that I made that decision to join a few months ago, because I don’t think I would have learned about who I am or what I want if I hadn’t. Here’s the way I see it: Online dating sites are for people who don’t know what they want. But I’ve realized that I actually do know what I want, which is kind of a weird thing for me to say, because I feel clueless half the time.

Secondly, no matter how hard I want to look ~authentic~ on dating sites, it’s almost impossible to be 100% real online. (Like I said, I went on a date with an atheist and didn’t realize he was an atheist based on his profile.) Sometimes I think the more we try to be authentic, the more fake we are. And yeah, I try really hard on dating sites. So it’s not doing me any favors to show that “me” to potential dates. You can fake it all you want, but just remember there’s no screen when you go on an IRL dates. It’s all you. And it’s exhausting to try to keep up an ~authentic~ facade.

I’ve made some good connections on Bumble. I still talk to some of the people I went on dates with. One has a girlfriend now (we figured out after one date that we weren’t super compatible, but are cool as friends) and is giving me advice on future romantic pursuits. I still talk to some of the people I haven’t gone on dates with, because hey, you never know.

So, in short (1440 words later), online dating is a great thing. But remember, you might not be ready, and you might learn the hard way that you’re not ready. Be patient with yourself and with all those left-swipers out there. Don’t take every rejection personally. Continue growing and cultivating who you are first and foremost.

And most importantly, be the realest you you can be.

What if when he sees me
I like him and he knows it?
What if he opens up a door
And I can’t close it?
What happens then?
If when he holds me
My heart is set in motion
I’m not prepared for that
I’m scared of breaking open
But still I can’t help from hoping
To find someone to talk to
Who likes the way I am
Someone who when he sees me
Wants to again

– When He Sees Me, Sara Bareilles

a. w.

 

 

It’s 2017 and I’m Still Wearing a Purity Ring. Here’s Why.

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I was 18 years old and working as a grocery store clerk. As I scanned an older couple’s groceries one evening, we exchanged some banter, as one does with near strangers. They were talking about how usually the wife does most of the shopping and making witty quips about it. The husband then looked me dead in the eye and asked:

“How about you? Do you do the grocery shopping for your hubby?”

The question startled me. But not as much as it could have. When you wear a silver ring on your left hand where a wedding ring would be, you get questions like that. I got them at 18, and I get them at 21.

“Are you married?” is a question I’m not unfamiliar with hearing. After that comes the awkward clarification that I’m not married. Sometimes I just stop there and avoid the further awkwardness of explaining what that ring is. Because then I’d have to talk about…sex. 

Well, I’d have to talk about it implicitly. I’d have to say, “It’s a purity ring.” And then you see it behind their eyes.

Oh. She’s one of those people.

I went to a Christian school growing up, so abstinence was in our curriculum. In eighth grade, twenty-five sweaty and slightly hormonal eighth graders gathered weekly to listen to a woman talk about the dangers of premarital sex (a bit more tactful than the Mean Girls coach, I might add.) Eighth graders tend to giggle at the s-word. (Not to mention all the other words that go along with it.)

After those uncomfortable four weeks, I made the purity pledge (I still have the ATM – “Abstinence Til Marriage” – card in my wallet. Judge me and judge me hard) and then after eighth-grade graduation, went to a Christian bookstore and got a small silver ring to wear on my left hand. It has three words on it. “Love. Purity. Trust.”

Fast forward to today. I’m typing this and it’s still on my finger. I haven’t taken it off much since then. It peeks up in many of my Facebook photos, has made a handy prop for a few plays and musicals, and has been the subject of many questions and comments over the years.

You might say it’s become a part of me.

And that was the norm for Christian school kids. Many of my friends had or still have purity rings. I thought the Silver Ring Thing was a thing of the past, until I Googled it before writing this to find it’s still in fact…a thing. Their mission statement says: “SRT defies the meet-up, hook-up, break-up mindset of today and inspires students to a pure life centered in Jesus Christ.” And that’s great. I’m glad that it’s still around. 

But is it still…relevant?

It was when the Jonas Brothers wore them. But now they don’t. Because it’s not cool anymore. (Or they’re married. But I’m talking mainly about Nick here. You know, the one who used to be the cute and innocent one.)

Purity rings became a Christian norm in the 1990s, when millions of Christian teens were taking purity pledges, only to (fairly quickly) break them.

Teens and sex go together – it’s always been like that. It’s hard to tell a teenager “no, don’t touch that, wait for something better.” Teens want everything now. Which is why teens have sex. Which is why adults tell teens not to have sex. Which is why the purity movement seemed repressive to some, and many adults are now coming out about their experience with the purity movement – that it was forced upon them by their church groups, that they were made to believe sex was inherently bad, that it prevented them from having a healthy sexual awakening or full knowledge of their desire for intimacy. You name it. The purity movement messed them up, apparently.

But for me, it’s not a fad. And it’s certainly not repressive.

That’s not what it’s about. At least not for me. And maybe we as Christians are just getting the whole sex narrative wrong.

See, I don’t see my purity ring as a ball and chain, enslaving me to some doctrine or ideology of “do” and “do not.” It doesn’t make me fear sex or intimacy, or feel guilty for having impure thoughts or looking at things I shouldn’t. I intend to wear it until it is possibly replaced with a wedding ring, and even then, wearing it still.

Because above all else, it’s a reminder.

There are so many allusions in the Bible to Christ being a bridegroom. Can you grasp how intimate of an image that is? God chose this language – the most intimate relationship a person can have – to describe the relationship of His son to us. Because His love is unconditional and intimate. It penetrates our hearts and permeates every square inch of who we are.  And if you think that’s explicit language, read Song of Songs. (Guess what? Song of Songs isn’t just about sexy time between a king and his bride. Guess Who else it’s about.)

Also, in modern translations of the Bible, a euphemism for sex is “knowing” someone, particularly in the KJV. In the time that version was written, that was a common way of politely saying “they did the nasty.” But isn’t that an accurate way of talking about sex? It’s not just your body. It’s your mind and your soul merging with another person. You know them as no one else knows them. And Christ knows you even beyond that.

Our culture tends to focus on the carnal aspect of sex, which is degrading to both sex itself and the humans who do it. Sex in its carnal form isn’t the point of human sexuality. That’s for the animals. We were given senses and souls to “know” sex in a much different way. With strings attached, if you will.

Let me put it this way: When a buck and a deer, well…come together, the deer doesn’t have to worry if the buck is going to call the next day. The deer doesn’t have romantic feelings toward the buck. She doesn’t have to worry if she took her birth control or if she ruined her possible future relationship with her future buck husband.

She’s meant to have sex and make babies. No strings attached.

And people are too, but not in the sense that animals are. Our sexuality goes far beyond that of carnal animals. Ours is rooted in love, not necessity or instinct. Hence the Christ-bridegroom allusion. If our sexuality was meant to be casual and carnal, that allusion would fall apart and cease to have meaning. But because of the importance the Bible puts on marital sex, it infuses that beautiful allegory in all its fullness. Rules can be good, y’know.

Animals weren’t designed for intimacy – just for sex. Humans were designed for both. Human sex is more than just making babies.

(And that’s why R&B was invented.)

All that to say, that’s why I still wear a purity ring. I haven’t given up on the notion that we are more than animals, and that we are infinitely loved by a Man who wants us to live in His image. He loves us as a groom loves his bride. How amazing is that? No other religions can claim to have the same allusion.

I wear a purity ring to remind myself that, before anything or anyone else, I am infinitely Loved.

a. w.

 

My Adventures in Online Dating, Part 2: If You’re a Christian, Swipe Right

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Give me a little time and, take all my money, take all my money

You’ll come around and someday, I’ll be the one you love.

– “Broke,” Bear Attack

Hey!

According to most men on dating apps, that’s not how you should begin a conversation with them. But I think I can say hey to all y’all, instead of thinking of a witty pickup line. (I mean, what do they want other than ‘hey’? A deep question about systematic theology? Very confused.)

But I’ll get to “what men want” in another post. What do Christians want?

In other words – should Christians use dating apps?

Well, my obvious answer is probably “yes,” since I’m currently using one myself. BUT like most topics, different people have different opinions about it.

The Bible isn’t cut-and-dry about dating apps…obviously. We all know Hosea didn’t have an awful marriage because he accidentally swiped right. Ruth didn’t get Boaz’s attention with…well…~pics.~

And then there’s Song of Songs.

BUT ANYWAY

Dating is different now than it was in Biblical contexts. It’s more different than it ever has been before. Until the later part of the 19th Century, most women were still given away by their fathers and/or the patriarch of their family – sometimes to someone they’d never met. ~Love~ really didn’t come into play all that much. It was more mutuality or convenience that drove most courtships and marriages. (Not always…I mean, we’ve all read Jane Austen. I hope.)

What I’m trying to say is, the dating game has changed. But the name of the game is the same. (Lame.)

So has Christian dating. There was that whole courtship phase we all collectively went through in the 90s, until that was overruled by both Christians and non-Christians alike. Courtship is a bit stressful, with a little bit too much commitment far too soon. (It was so bad that the guy who wrote the book apologized.) And we have our ideal, “celebrity” Christian couples, like the Duggars or the Robertsons, who we then found out each have their own fair share of problems just like the rest of us.

So now what? Now what phase are we in? If we’re not being given away, or being courted, what are we doing?

Are we being swiped? 

Well, in a word, yes.

The game has changed, and I don’t think we need to sit idly by and let it change without us. Of course there’s dangers to online dating, but there’s dangers to live dating too. And I’m not even saying you have to limit yourself to an exclusively Christian dating website. Put yourself out there.

So that’s kind of my answer. Yes. Of course a Christian can date online. But, like all aspects of living in a fallen world…you have to be careful.

Actually, I would encourage Christians to date online. The great thing about dating online is you’re spreading your net further than if you simply mingled among your work, school, or church friends. (Because to be honest, sometimes the pickings are slim. Especially at church. Everyone’s already married. Or maybe you go to an old person church.)

So yeah, definitely set up an account on a site you deem appropriate and go on dates.

But here’s the “no-duh:” only if you actually want to. 

If your female relatives keep asking you why you’re still single, that’s not a good enough reason. If your guy friends are telling you about their amazing wives, that’s not a good enough reason. If you’re just plain lonely and want someone around, that’s not a good enough reason.

The church definitely puts undue pressure on single Christians to get married. (You can’t graduate from your 20-something small group into a couples group until you do.) So if you’re seeking a partner just because you feel like you have to (or your grandma keeps asking) don’t do it. That goes for both offline and online dating. Just don’t do it. Wait til you are ready.

And only you can know if you’re ready.

That took a much more serious tone than I meant it to. But the song remains the same: I invite my young, single Christian friends to check out the online dating scene. I’ve had more interesting conversations on these dates than I normally have. And I’ve met other Christians who have different opinions than me (gasp.) So even if you don’t find your soulmate, you’ll probably meet some pretty darn cool people that you wouldn’t have met otherwise.

One last thing before I let you go. When entering the dating scene, whether it’s for the first time or after your last-breakup, remember this (another no-duh clincher:) If you like someone, don’t change your convictions for them. This can come into play especially in online dating. You see a cute guy’s profile and see what he’s interested in, and you might be tempted to, well, change. Maybe he smokes marijuana, and you’re not comfortable with that. Maybe he doesn’t mind sex before marriage. Maybe he has vastly different political opinions – or even some opinions about the Bible that you disagree with. Even if he (or she) is a Christian, that does not give you a free pass to change who you are in order for them to like you “more.” Seriously. It’s super easy to do online. I’ve definitely done it a few times.

So, my Christian brothers and sisters, go on dates. Talk to people. Swipe left. Swipe right. Remember what you believe and why you believe it. If it doesn’t work out, it’s okay. God has something better in mind for you.

Now you kiddos go have fun.

a. w.