a little feminism, a little catholicism

Let’s clear something up.

Being divorced does not make me a bad Catholic.

We no longer live in a time when women are meant to be white-knuckling it through years of misery for the sake of ‘offering it up.’ We are educated, independent, and now have the resources to pursue our callings in ways that generations before us did not have. There’s no need for us to settle for the facade of holiness when, in reality, our homes are flooded with backwater. 

That being said, you’re not doing anyone any favors, not even God, when you’re staying in a relationship just for the sake of what appears to be a straightforward Christian life. Better for God, and everyone else, to courageously move into the unknown. 

I’m not saying there is no such thing as objective right and wrong. I’m also not saying that love isn’t a sacrifice or active choice. I do believe that even the best of relationships face their challenges, and there will always be ‘offer it up’ days. Please stick around when the Cross is shared in love and the promise of Easter stands above you. 

For today, let’s consider those relationships built on such gravel they could hardly survive a breeze, let alone the storm of real life. These relationships are not going to make it anywhere healthy, no matter who says they hope it’ll work it out. They are plagued far beyond that run of the mill struggle straightened out in therapy. They are fundamentally unwell. 

I had a long, winding talk with a priest about this before I left my own marriage. He was honest, reminding me that God could always work a miracle, and I could stay and hope for the transformation of grace. He also told me that as a woman with intellect, I should feel free to make my decision based on the truth of what had been shown to me in the past and what was happening in the present. 

Based on the facts, our marriage was going nowhere, and had not been God’s plan for marriage from the start. According to this priest, and, I’m sure, Christ, I was made for more. I was made for joy, and freedom, and life. I needed to bravely look at what I believed to be true- all marriages are forever- and walk instead into foreign territory. I had to shift my framework, take a deeper look, and start a new life. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Whatever you believe, please don’t tell me you think I should be back with my husband because it says so in your Christian Marriage 101 textbook. I promise, nothing about what was going on there fit the Christian ideal. None of it was meeting the life-giving, holy-growing criteria of what a mutual marriage should be, and anyone thinking I should stick around for more of that is sick in the head.

Also, for the record, asking me if I discerned my relationship with my ex feels a little weird. Of course I did. I didn’t just wander into a marriage without serious consideration and prayer. I’m still sorting out why everything ended up the way it did, but assuming my lack of proper discernment is to blame for the dysfunction somehow makes it my fault everything sucked.

I did not wind up in this situation because I didn’t pray hard enough.

Basically, this is my long way of saying that staying in a place of decay just because it looks Christian is not always the right thing to do. And anyway, when was the last time we chose the Christian life because it looked good? We choose Christianity because it embraces what is actually good.

I can tell you that since I’ve left, I feel more like myself than I have in years. I am free. I don’t have to hide my faith anymore, and I don’t avoid going deeper into my relationship with God for fear of distancing myself from a husband who resented Him. I’m at a point in my life where I am free to take care of my soul, and I’d say that’s the holiest place to be. Not trapped in a life-sucking situation for the sake of what made me a good Catholic on paper. 

Let’s broaden our idea of what good Catholicism looks like. It’s not always going to be sweet domestic bliss, because life is not always like that. A lot of us don’t have that version of the dream, and even when we have something close, there’s something else lurking in our closets. There’s drugs and depression, scandal and abuse, broken families and loneliness and sin. 

That is the beauty of real, tangible Catholicism: it is for real, tangible people. We are dirty and hungry and walking a road through the valley of death. We are clinging to a God Who is merciful. He meets us, broken and poor, and invites us to a table with Him. He doesn’t ask us if we prayed hard enough or why the heck we are broken in the first place. He didn’t look at Mary Magdalene and ask her why did she became a prostitute, ridiculous and sinful woman. He got down in the dust with her and offered her a hand. 

Sometimes what is right doesn’t look the same as what we thought before. 

It’s time to shift the framework. 

sex and disrespect pt. v

What I Want You to Know

Your body is your home, and you deserve to protect it.

It’s okay to have boundaries. It doesn’t make you crazy, or too demanding, or weird. It doesn’t matter what everyone else is doing or what culture has bred others to expect in bed. I’m sure I sound like a broken record, but it only matters what you are comfortable with and where you want to go. You are not to be blamed for having too many rules, and you are not to take on guilt for making demands. You are a person to be respected, and physical intimacy is not the place to start making compromises. 

Your body is the home to your soul and you deserve to keep it safe. You deserve to choose who to allow into that home, when they are allowed in that home, and what they are allowed to do in that home. They aren’t allowed to make you feel bad for setting the rules there. 

Even when you’re married- when you’re opening up your home to another- that is not a license for your spouse to go exploring in rooms and cabinets that they have not been invited to. You are allowed privacy and boundaries and respect. You deserve to create a safe space within which it is fun to explore. 

And when you say no, it means no. Don’t feel guilty for that. Don’t compare yourself to what everyone else is okay with doing, because there will always be someone willing to go a little farther and get a little kinkier than you. That doesn’t matter. If your partner is there for you, to respect and honor and love you, they will do it in a way that serves that love. They will take no for an answer, and they will be okay.

That’s not to say that no isn’t frustrating. It can be frustrating as hell. Sometimes pushing the boundaries can be tempting, and it’s hard to remember why you had them in the first place. Sometimes you’d like to throw a big, crazy party in the place you call home, but you know there will be a mess and a hangover the next day so it’d be best to just avoid it entirely. So when your partner starts bringing in the vodka and the chips and turning up the music, its okay to ask them to stop. No, thank you. This seems fun, but I have something better-for-me in mind. Please go put those Doritos back in the car. 

A supportive and loving partner says okay, sure, I’ll put this away, and I’d love nothing more than a night in our sweatpants because I love you either way. I might be in the mood for a party but I respect that you’re working in the morning and had a busy day running errands. There is no storming out of the house to drink the vodka at a friend’s then blaming you for why you’re left at home alone. I know we’re deep into the metaphor here, but it makes the point. 

Struggle: OK. Abandonment and blame: Not OK. There should be a safe space to be vulnerable and enjoy intimacy without the looming fear of neglect.

So those blurry moments when you aren’t really sure if something is wrong but your gut doesn’t feel right? Trust that. When things are ever-so-slightly off, and you don’t think it’s bad enough to talk about and aren’t even sure what you’re trying to verbalize? That’s a flag. When you are feeling used, when you are feeling pushed, when you are feeling neglected, you aren’t crazy. You didn’t make that up in your head, and it might feel too vague to pin down, but you aren’t wrong. Someone might tell you you’re imagining things or overreacting, but that’s not right. You didn’t imagine it. All those little things you let slide and rationalize- the discomfort here, the odd word there, the ever-so-slightly excessive aggression there…They add up. They still hurt. And just because no one else saw doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. 

You are good.

Love,

Me

sex and disrespect pt. iv

Explicit Content

I’d like to tell you that incident was one of a kind.

Unfortunately, it started becoming more common. We would start down a road under the pretense he’d be okay getting pregnant, and end with him wanting to finish in places that weren’t exactly my cup of tea. He knew I didn’t care for it but asked anyway, which left me in a weird spot.

It can be a confusing place to stand when you feel torn between your faith/self-respect and your husband. I knew I could recover and God would still love me tomorrow, but I wasn’t so sure of my husband’s affection. I wish it would’ve been different.

Eventually I learned that it didn’t matter what boundary I had, he wanted to cross it. I think whether you’re a church girl like me or a girl who doesn’t mind doing a little of anything he’d have found a way to go where you didn’t want to go.

If you can’t tell by now, there was a pattern that just got worse as the years rolled by. He used to ask to finish in weird places when there was pregnancy on the table, but by the end it didn’t matter much what my cycle was doing. He just got bored with normal sex. Sometimes he had stopped being able to finish during sex at all. Regular sex wasn’t good enough, and regular me wasn’t good enough. Not interesting enough, sexy enough, thin enough, whatever.

And then he started trying to get me to do anal. Once in a while he would start trying and I’d have to turn around and remind him I didn’t want that there. Thinking all the while I’m pretty sure that wasn’t an accident, but we can brush it off like it was and move on.

One time was too much to brush off. I couldn’t just laugh and redirect- I actually had to say no, and say no more than once. Nothing about it felt good, and why I had to explain that no meant no to my husband felt even worse. 

Also, I know he said he wasn’t watching porn, but the thing with him trying to choke me seemed a little weird. Especially when that started happening more often too.

Some of it just felt uncomfortable and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it- sometimes I just felt a little used but things hadn’t quite crossed a line so I didn’t know how to talk about it. 

Was it porn? Was it someone else? Was it me? All I know is that it wasn’t good. He didn’t know no. He pushed back. He was disrespectful. He was a lot of things, and none of it was loving. 

sex and disrespect pt. iii

Things Get Weird

I’m going to walk you through a particular evening that sums up years of disturbing behavior. 

It was December, a winter month made colder by my husband’s lack of affection. I thought he was just having a hard time at work, and in the meantime it had been a lonely few weeks. I was desperate for his attention and feeling isolated in a town far from family, friends, and familiarity. 

Christmas came and my family rented a house near us by the beach. It was a little spot of much welcomed warmth, complete with a plastic tree and decorations from back home. We did puzzles and walked by the water, and while the husband disappeared to work my mom taught me to sew. We were working on a quilt for him made of football shirts he’d been collecting over the years, and I was feeling very thoughtful and wife-y about it. 

We met Christmas Eve as cheerfully as any family, dressed up and crammed into a church hall for the overflow mass. I was glad to have him sitting next to me in a place that I loved, his poor attitude to be ignored. We feasted our hearts out on pierogi after church until we were ready for the looser waistbands of new PJs. It was a happy little bubble where we were all warmed by grace and magic and wine.

As was his tradition, Die Hard went on when everyone else tucked into bed. How cozy were we! How sweet it was to have my husband near me, snuggled in on my favorite night of the year. The tree lights glowing, the candles burning… Could anyone resist a little romance? Unluckily for me, my ovaries were not cooperating and the possibility of Christmas babies loomed large. However, in a surprising turn of events, he didn’t seem to mind. Can you imagine my excitement! My little heart had been longing for both his attention and his baby. And look at us! Reunited and unafraid of the future bathed in the artificial glow of the tree. 

How disorienting when he decides halfway through he’s changed his mind. Instead, he asks me if he can finish in my mouth, and I am pulled out of my Christmas-magic fantasy to the reality of my marriage. Instead of choosing life and a future with a man that I love, I am now explaining why I think that’s gross and makes me feel like a trash can.

So, that Christmas Eve when I chose to say no, he turned away from me and I fell onto the floor. I was naked, rejected, embarrassed, lying on the ground, and emotionally jarred. I was no longer the trash-can, I was the actual trash. He did not care. I pulled my clothes back on, turned the tree off and went to bed. He followed later and did not touch me the rest of the night. I was discarded. Not a mother, not a wife. Just alone. 

The next day he opened his quilt and barely cracked a smile. 

I thought about talking to him about it, but I’d tried to talk to him about behavior like that in the past and it never went well. How do you explain how it feels to be used? Especially to someone who thinks it’s your fault because I don’t do what he likes? He thinks I choose my values over letting him do what he wants because I don’t love him. He feels rejected too. And just like that, I’m in the wrong, and maybe I imagined it. 

sex and disrespect pt. ii

Memory Lane

Dating

I did a lot of rationalizing. I would try to assert myself and my boundaries, even tried to break up with him a couple of times. One time I decided we were breaking up because we were going to stay in a hotel with some friends and I didn’t want to share a bed. Yes, to most people this is not a big deal. I’m not even sure today I’d be that concerned about it, though I do believe it fosters an intimacy that is best reserved for marriage. Anyway, at the time, he threw a huge fit. He was angry and weird, and we got in the usual you-chose-religion-over-me argument.

I realized that more than the actual problem was the fact that every time I had a boundary he could not find it in himself to simply respect it. Just be respectful and and support me if I’m feeling uncomfortable. Don’t act like a crazy person and make me feel guilty for trying to love my God in the way I believe in. No tantrums, no guilt-trips, no arguments. I was being disrespected, so I tried to leave.

Obviously it didn’t work. He fed me some lines about how I was beautiful and he would cope. I believed him and we moved on. Except we didn’t move on! It would come up and up again where he would be a nice little boyfriend until he cracked. He would start being pissed we weren’t having sex and I would say, fine! Go date someone else! Go have sex somewhere else! If you can’t deal with this, then don’t. Be free. Then he would COPE. 

Always coping, and I always rationalized. It was hard in today’s culture for guys to deal with physical boundaries. They have hormones and wild friends and porn. I let it slide. I started carrying the guilt for having so many needs and rules. He was really struggling for me and he must really love me.


Engagement

Then there was a ring. When we got closer to our wedding the reality of natural family planning started to hit home. For those of you unfamiliar, NFP/fertility awareness is a cycle-tracking system where you avoid sex when your body gives you signs it could get pregnant. I’m into science, and aside from the fact that this is encouraged by my faith, I believed in it from a purely biological standpoint. I was always open that this would be the path I would be walking, due to my religion/love of God/choice for what was best for my body. I had been tracking my cycles for years for purely health-related reasons. 

Welcome back, Moody Boy. Beyond moody, actually. Hurtful and angry more than ever before. Isolating me, withdrawing affection, ignoring me. Where there should have been supportive respect out of love, there was hurt. The guilt of enforcing my rules weighed even heavier. Again, I tried to go. Again, I started to feel like it was less about that actual issue and more about the lack of respect. Why was it so hard for him to be kind and supportive? This was my body, anyway. I didn’t want to put chemicals in it! 

I offered him a way out and told him if he couldn’t find a way to respect me then he could find another woman to be with. To be clear, this wasn’t an ultimatum, it was honesty. There are many women in the world who are happy to go on the pill, but it just wasn’t for me. I didn’t feel like he could manage to meet me where I needed, so maybe this wasn’t going to work out. He told me no, he’d cope, he didn’t want to lose me. After months of arguing, we didn’t talk about it again. 

And again, I rationalized. He was just struggling with the stress of engagement and graduation. This would be fine. 


Marriage

We did fertility awareness and it did work fine. He didn’t make a big fuss about it anymore, but things were worse in a different way. Every month I was anxious. Whenever I couldn’t have sex because he didn’t want to get pregnant, I would hold my breath, hoping he didn’t want to that night. If I said no, sometimes he was fine. Or sometimes he would tease me and tell me I was useless. Sometimes he would roll away and not even want to hold me. It was everything or nothing, those nights. Message received. If I wouldn’t be available for sex, he wouldn’t be available for love. 

I can’t tell you how long the weekends were when we both were off from work and I was fertile-myrtle. It was constantly in the back of my mind. What a relief when I was in the clear- I wouldn’t have to be on guard, I could relax, I could be available to him whenever he wanted. 

And the relief when I got my period month after month! I can’t tell you how many pregnancy tests I hid in the bathroom garbage. Because, obviously, if we got pregnant it would be all my fault for choosing NFP. If we got pregnant he would be mad and it would be my fault and then I would really be alone, and so would that baby. 

How twisted that I lived in this place for so long. I was the gatekeeper ready to serve at the pleasure of his moods and somehow felt I deserved it. He was burdened by my rules and my faith, and he was really great for not making me go on the pill. What an angel. 

Unfortunately, whatever he wanted sometimes didn’t mean sex. This is personal and probably a little graphic, so if you’re feeling easily scandalized or aren’t in the mood, wander somewhere else or fast forward to part five.

sex and disrespect pt. i

Pick your Player

I asked my therapist today (shout out, hey) if sex would be too much to talk about here. Verdict: this needs to be talked about. The times are behind us when it was okay to stay in the dark. Now, when a man (or anyone) does something shitty we can shine a light on it. We get to say we didn’t like that. We didn’t want that. We didn’t ask for that. I don’t care that other girls are doing it, all your friends are doing it, or porn or Chive or Barstool says its normal. I said no, and that meant no. And now I get to talk about it. 

As a Catholic girl growing up in a Catholic world, I was raised in the purity culture. Yes, I went to the talks, signed the pledges and wore the ring (slight eye roll, I know). Thankfully, I grew out of the trendy purity bit and matured into an adult embracing chastity. In short, choosing chastity was choosing to love my partner and myself according to where I was in life. This meant when I was dating, sex was for marriage. For a little while I fell for the “we can do other stuff” line until I raised my standards and started avoiding the “I’ll take what I can get” bros. 

Insert Nice Boy. I let him know right off the bat what my boundaries were. Sex was in marriage, “other stuff” not going to happen, and it wouldn’t be “I’ll take what I can get.” This would need to be a joint endeavor. This was something I believed in and I truly valued intimacy enough to save it for the man who could commit to me for always. Nice Boy might not have understood it or believed in it, but I expected support out of respect, at minimum, and love, at best. He agreed. 

They say actions speak louder than words. They are correct.

Over and over we struggled with this. Obviously, we were attracted to each other and tended to be touchy-feely people anyway. We never had sex, but the “other stuff” still found its way in. Not for lack of trying to avoid on my part, but he had started enforcing a system that followed us into our marriage. We would start toeing the line. I would put the stops up and re-direct the situation. Either a) it didn’t work and I was left feeling guilty or b) he was moody. This taught me several things. 

Option A. I couldn’t talk about the guilt or make suggestions on how to improve in the future. He wasn’t on the same page and wasn’t as invested. It stopped being worth it to talk about. I would swallow the shame, go to confession, muscle along quietly trying to choose what I believed in. Lesson: It wasn’t worth the discussion. I am alone here.

Option B. Moody Boy. Withdrawal of affection, a little or a lot of anger depending on the day. Conflict. Loneliness. Blamed for choosing God over my boyfriend (fiancé, husband). Lesson: Don’t do what he wants and you are isolated. It’s your fault you have so many rules. 

Good luck making your pick!

anger management

Dear Soon-To-Be Ex, 

I’m angry today. We’re going back and forth between lawyers about the house and other things you’ve decided are non-negotiable. Who the hell gave you the power to decide what we negotiate on? Look, when we bought that damn house I was under the impression we were starting a family together. Also that you wouldn’t continue to be a completely shitty husband.

If anything was a non-negotiable it should have been: Thou shalt not be an eternal man-boy who only cares about himself. FYI, when you tell a woman you’re going to have a family with her and let her make a permanent commitment to you that also includes real-estate, you don’t turn around and say “I married you because I felt bad.” Fuck that. You didn’t accidentally date me for four years then randomly wind up with a ring then stumble upon a church for a wedding. You were an adult male with a brain. You should have done the negotiating back then. 

If only we all had the balls you have. I think you really believe you’re in the right and need to get everything you deserve. Certainly the last thing you deserve is to keep that damn house. Honestly, I don’t think you can be trusted to own your own property. You’ve left a little snail trail of rage everywhere we’ve lived and I think it’s time we looked at it.

House One. A lovely little place across the street from the ocean. The first week we lived there we were working on getting internet installed and you lost your damn mind on the phone with the help-line people. Obviously, I know, they can be extremely frustrating. I can’t say I’ve ever screamed at any of them though, let alone ripped the TV mount out of the wall. That shit was nailed in pretty good, too- a jerry-rigged mess from the tenants before. I think that was the first time I was so close to such explosive rage. I quietly snuck out to the other room to wait for things to simmer down. It’s normal to be stressed during your first move, right?

House Two. Look, I know this house was falling apart and had a weird smell and I’m sorry I picked it out. Actually, I’m not sure if I should be sorry, since we both looked at it together and signed the lease. Sure, I was stressed about the short time-line we had to move and there weren’t a lot of options, so I guess I was in a rush, but you were there too. If you didn’t like it you could have slowed down and talked to me about it instead of being pissy the whole time we lived there, blaming me every time you stubbed your toe or had trouble getting a pan out of the kitchen cabinet. Such a treat, being there for two years. 

I can’t really remember what triggered this particular blow up, but I know you came home from work one afternoon and walked right into the kitchen to punch the freezer. The freezer! That thing is metal! And you dented it! Honestly, the most jarring part was how unprecedented it felt… There I was, minding my business folding laundry or something, then BAM! RAGE! Such an intrusion into my space. An unwelcome visitor in my day and my home. 

I think this was the first time I mentioned you could be a little frightening. This made no sense to you, which, in turn, made no sense to me. If I’m married to someone who could dent the freezer door in the middle of a nothing day, how am I to know what turns that anger on and off? How am I to know when it’s going to be turned on me? We didn’t talk much about it again, and I covered the dents with some magnets and pictures and wedding invitations. Bury that, no one will know, probably shouldn’t tell anyone though. Here’s a clue, past-Becca: if you have to hide shit like that, it’s probably not great.

House Three. I was in the kitchen having a glass of wine with my sister who was in from out of town. We were chatting and laughing, doing the sister thing. Out of the bathroom walks my husband, tripping on something and hitting his shin or toe or whatever. Naturally, very uncomfortable, I’m sure. Did you really need to punch another fridge, though? Multiple times? This time took a lot more magnets to cover up. My sister was there for this one too, which was interesting. Because now it seems you have a weird little habit, and now someone else is watching. And this time when we moved out the landlord noticed. You really weren’t interested in paying her back for the damage. Please. If you’re going to throw tantrums like that over bruised shins, just man up and deal with the consequences. You were man enough to punch the shit in the first place.

House Four. Last house, I promise. This time was special, because we were actually arguing about something important. It was towards the end, and you were pissed because I wouldn’t say I loved you more than God. You were mad and let me know “I can’t even be at home because it reminds me I’m always in second place.” Simultaneously you managed to blame me for your constant absence (not my fault), make me feel guilty for loving God (not a bad thing), and tried to make yourself more important than God (narcissism, much?). 

So, there we were, me refusing to deny my religion, and you refusing to accept it. And then you punched a hole through the drywall. Probably not hard to do, but it was a bummer because the house had just been purchased. Also a bummer because this time I was right next to you and your rage was directed at me. Not that it hadn’t been pointed in my direction before, but this was the first expression beyond purple-faced screaming I had earned. I made a joke, told you to get a less expensive habit. We both laughed. It seems while you developed a habit, I developed a coping mechanism. Humor diffuses all. 

Thanks for developing a pattern I could pick up on. Thanks for teaching me that I shouldn’t have to wonder when my husband will stop punching walls and start punching me. 

Maybe instead of worrying about what is non-negotiable in our divorce, you crazy asshole, you can start working on that. Anger management: non-negotiable.