dear father ryan

“Ask her how she’s doing sexually.”

A strange question for a priest to pass along to a friend to pass along to me (follow that?). She told me about it months ago, and we laughed. Strange, though, that the question still echoes in the back of my mind. How am I doing sexually? As a woman previously active, now alone? As a woman redefining womanhood? As a person redefining my relationship with my body? My heart? My mind?

I thought I was fine. I missed sex, sure, who doesn’t? But as my youthful I-better-not-die-while-I’m-a-virgin phase was over, I didn’t feel it’s absence quite as keenly as I thought I would.

Something changed last week. 

As usual, I was working on my annulment paperwork, the familiar cluster of moths waking up in my chest, fluttering away in a panic. I’m annoyed; I appreciate that anxiety shows up to send it’s own weird little message- Something is amiss! Protect yourself! This time, though, I can’t figure out what the heck today’s offending object might be. The writing was emotional, but not impossible. Maybe it’s not psychological this time, maybe just a hormone imbalance? Nutritional deficit? Too much coffee? Not enough sleep? Nothing stood out, so the herd of flapping wings took up happy residence in my throat and I carried on.

Enter Scene: Therapy

We circle through the chit-chat and Thanksgiving plans until we come around to the strange, unname-able, unblame-able anxiety. We work through EMDR and, voilà, like magic, the knots unravel. It seems my poor little mind was more upset than I realized by the disturbing process of filing through my poor little marriage. The offense this time? Sex.

In general, I thought we had been having fine sex. Good, even. We had chemistry, I thought he was hot, it usually worked out fine. I was, in general, satisfied, and felt pretty smug about being the sexually-enlightened and active wife he so longed for while we were dating. 

It only took a month or two before things started taking a weird turn. Irregularly, unpredictably, he’d be completely uninterested. I’d try to make the moves until it felt like begging, until it was too embarrassing and I walked away. Some nights I’d be wrapped up in hardly anything but a Christmas bow, and he would look at me and groan, with a smirk and a half-laugh, he was too tired, did he have to? Of course, on other days, he’d be in the mood, but my body would not (recall, he adamantly did not want children, and I adamantly did not want birth control). Those days, he would either get a fix his way or leave me feeling deservedly alone (Useless wife! -Another joke that stopped feeling like a joke). Occasionally, on stranger nights still, I’d wake up the next day with bruises or sore throats or other evidence of a night too-rough. 

We unravel the stories again, me ever-baffled at the inconsistency of it all. He wanted me so badly when we were dating! Could hardly be moved when we were married! Had such lazy, inattentive sex he couldn’t even tell when I orgasmed. Refused to talk about it at all. Wouldn’t when I wanted, wanted when I couldn’t, left me feeling used, at worst, unseen, at best, and all more often than I preferred. 

But there were nights that seemed good, we felt close, it felt real! Until he would hold me after, joking that I was gross.

How dare I feel wanted or seen for more than the moment required for him to get off.

I needed love. He needed control.

Hearing that for the first time – He Needed Control – hits in the sore spot that makes the most sense, and now I find myself grieving for the sex life I thought I had. I thought I knew what good sex was, but now I’m coming to terms with the reality that just because it felt good doesn’t mean it was good. 

Where I thought it was safe to be vulnerable, I was disposable. Where I thought I was seen, I was hardly noticed. Where I thought I was loved, intimately, completely, passionately – I was nothing but an urge met. I was competing in a battle I’d never win- to fantasy, perfection, endless flexibility and excitement. 

I grieve the small pockets of our relationship that I mistook for love. Those smallest of moments, when not riddled with dysfunction, were something I thought, occasionally, we got right. We’d had fun, it’d felt good, I felt noticed, enjoyed noticing in return. Now even those moments are gone. They never were.

So, Father, I am not doing well sexually. I am realizing that I was living in my own fantasy of sorts, and now I’m facing the possibility that I’ve never really known great sex, and maybe I never will. It’s a bit of a let-down.

Mostly, Father, I’m worried I’ll never actually be seen. That’s all I want, really, in the end.

Sometimes I’d like to run to the next man – that’ll be the time it comes together just right.

A faulty urge, on my part.

I’ll only ever be seen by One, I know that theoretically, but I can’t help but want it ever so badly from a man. It annoys me, how much it distracts me.

Maybe you can pray me through that bit, if you’re up to it.

Thanks,

Me

thinking and thanking and dating

If you looked into the windows of our first Thanksgiving you’d see us laughing. 

About the turkey I let rot on the counter for a week. About what No-Shave-November had done to his face. About the fish at the restaurant with eyeballs.

Sweet, at first glance. 

Look closer.

You’d see me panicking in the bathroom thinking I’d tracked my cycle wrong and we were going to be pregnant.

You’d see me praying at mass that I wouldn’t be, that it’d all be okay, that he’d be okay, that he’d still love me.

You’d see me leaving for Kroger, telling my parents I needed Midol, buying First Response. Hiding in the bathroom by the check-out, heart pounding in my ears watching the timer tick down.

A negative test washing the anxiety off.

Back to laughing.


I’m sorting through my life again, turning stories into essays for the never-ending ever-involved annulment questionnaire. 

I put down paragraphs on the tangled mess of my marriage; it’s winding the strand of anxiety back around my heart.

Why was I so stupid

Why couldn’t I see

Why did I stay

I was young

So dumb

In love

Maybe love is just as blind as they say. Maybe it shouldn’t have been.

I read a book on annulment the other day, and as I type along I wonder why the author said I’d get through this process and see how I’d contributed to the divorce. 

I certainly contributed the lawyer, so I guess there’s that. 

I look again, but still, no, it wasn’t my flaws that fueled our demise. My error wasn’t in the end, but in the beginning. I’ll take responsibility for that- I knew what marriage was. I knew what marriage should be. I didn’t know enough about what it would be with him, and maybe I should have.

The rest is on him.

Leaving was the bravest thing I’d ever done, and that is the only part of this story I will take ownership of. Aside from picking poorly- I did not deserve the hell he put me through. I did not deserve the callous cold, the manipulation, the fear, the anxiety, the neglect, the rage. Those were not my mistakes. 

I continue narrating my story, the list of questions stretching on like a bad dream.

I wonder why the process wasn’t this thorough before our wedding day.

I wonder how to explain the bits that need explaining without scandalizing the readers.

I wonder what to call it when you’ve been fighting with your husband because he’d lied about the strippers and later when you’d asked him what to do about the day you’d had sex – should you drink at the wedding in case you’d be pregnant in two weeks – his response was a laughing, “Better drink up!” 

What do you call it when you’re so mad you make him a bed on the couch but he’s drunk and wakes you up from sleeping to have awkward clumsy uncomfortable sex you weren’t interested in and you were angry and it didn’t feel good but you don’t tell him to stop because good wives don’t deny their husbands?

What do I call that?

I’m writing it up for a committee to review and I’m not quite sure what else to say.

This whole thing sucks.


Except, a little bit, it doesn’t.

Begrudgingly, after my fuss about the Church’s encouragement to avoid dating, I find it’s possible the advice might be valid. I feel a bit like a harrumphing teenager, skulking off, too moody to admit she was wrong. 

Eventually, though, I stop worrying about finding new men and start worrying about finding myself.

I suppose if I spent last year heart-broken this is a good a time as any for re-building. 

Makes enough sense, so I reinvest in the things I used to love. Ever-so-gently my heart starts putting itself back together.

Instead of men, I’m dating words. I’m writing. I’m reading. I’m soaking up stories. Book after book, I’m eating them up, finishing the ones that’ve been half-done for years. I’m choosing a life of expansion over life with a man who thought he was good enough, who scoffed at self-improvement. 

I date music. I realize this year alone I’ve been to more concerts than I’d gone to in years. I play classical at dinner, pop in the car, country in the shower; I soak in new albums and genres and pianos breath over me like a balm.

I plan to date the world. He didn’t want to travel. Didn’t like it, didn’t want it, angrily planted in America, uninterested in cultures or places or people or putting his feelings aside to invest time in his wife. To that I say – I’m going to Ireland this winter. To Italy this summer. To France next fall. I will see the world, I will see it’s people, and I will learn. I will explore. I will adventure. I will be a student of all this earth has to offer.

Most importantly, I spend time dating God. Where my husband made me choose between love of God and him, where he yelled when I chose God and put a hole in our bedroom wall, where he told me I was selfish for choosing my faith, I was uncompromising and hateful and made him feel unloved because I wanted a life with children in it- 

Now I pray. And I pray and pray and pray. I go to holy hours without sneaking out of the house. I go to church events and confession and mass. I play Lauren Daigle and Audrey Assad and hymns and podcasts and there is no shame. I read about saints and philosophers and Scripture and faith. I rest. 

There is no more fear. 

I am free.

I am me. 

I am thankful. 

a prayer for frostbite

What do we do when the Church feels cold?

When it starts to feel like no, after no, after no?

No sex outside marriage. No birth control. No same-sex relationships. No IVF. No surrogacy. 

Even in the smaller things- no meat on Fridays, no food before mass. No getting high, drinking too much, eating too much, shopping too much.

In some circles, the more ridiculous things- no bikinis, no shorts, no working mothers.

It can all start to feel a little heartless.

I won’t pretend to understand the struggle of those in the world sorting through heavier things, but recently I’ve been faced with my own small ‘no’ and I’m a bit at odds.

See, according to my Church, I’m supposed to avoid new romantic relationships until my annulment has been finalized. 

For those unaware, an annulment is basically the Church’s way of confirming that a marriage was, at the time of the vows, not sacramental- not a free, total, faithful, fruitful, holy union at it’s inception.

In ‘guilty until proven otherwise’ fashion, we are meant to assume the marriage was sacramental until Step One: The divorce is legally finalized and Step Two: An official Church tribunal reviews the case (comprised of documents, testimonies, questionnaires, and supporting accounts from outside observers).

In the in-between state of a marriage dissolved by law and not by faith, involved parties are advised to “remain faithful to the wedding vows” until an annulment is, or is not, granted. 

This process, tacked on top of my already never-ending divorce, promises to be another lengthy, involved, and emotional one. 

In reality, holding off on dating is probably for the best, as I’m not really interested in exploring vulnerability with men. And to be completely honest, I’m enjoying this space for myself.

Even still, it feels rather harsh to encourage me to “stay faithful to my vows” when the male half of this situation was not faithful to any vows on any level. Not in dating, not in marriage, and absolutely not now. 

So what am I staying faithful to? Lies? Deception? Cover ups? A sham of a marriage and a liar of a husband? And why am I the punished party? If anyone needs a little churching here, I think it might be him. 

So I’m annoyed. 

And I’m tired. 

I’d like to feel free to move and make decisions of my own volition, not as a slave to an abusive husband, the inefficiency of the Californian legal system or the intricacy of an annulment process. I’m tired of being manipulated and under control and out of control, financially and emotionally and spiritually and physically.

On top of that, I feel like I’m grieving again. I’m just starting to realize that- surprise!- I’m really, really, single. A mental spiral triggered by the settlement submitted last week for final legal processing.

I’m relieved, but a little more broken than I thought I’d be. 

I feel abandoned. 

I keep thinking, over and over,

but what if he’d loved me?


There’s a voice that follows, whispering is this it

Is it?

Am I going to be alone? Forever?

I suppose I was alone before. Loneliness in a marriage was certainly painful in its own special way, leaving me by myself at church, with family, in prayer, in thought.

One of those last summer nights found me alone in my home, again, calling him over and over at three am, wondering where he was, again. I tossed and turned, coming to terms with a truth I’d been avoiding: I’d rather be alone forever than live like this. 

So what if this really is forever?

I don’t want to hear that God has a plan or it’s all going to be okay. 

This might be the plan. 

Is it ok?


I try to look beyond the rules.

I put it all away, and I try to look to Jesus.

I try to sit in mass, sit in adoration, sit in prayer.

I try to get beyond the sterility of rule-following to the heart of it.

I sit, and sit, and sit, and stare into the face of God until as much as I wrestle, I can’t help but rest.

There’s something undeniable; it’s tangible, concrete peace. It’s grace.

There is a real encounter with a real God, and real love, so maybe- maybe- singleness is not synonymous with loneliness. 

Maybe these rules aren’t the iron-cold bars of a cage, but the warm walls of a home within which I encounter love in the most healthy, human way possible. 

Maybe here, in this home, there is a life of abundance waiting around the corner.

Or maybe that life is right here, waiting for me to live it.