dear father ryan

the sex wasn’t as good as i thought

“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

questions for the [annulment] questionnaire

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. 

there’s no catchy title for this

abuse, explained; clear, not crazy

I still haven’t found an easy way to explain why I left my marriage.

Especially in casual conversation, especially when I’m meeting new people. I still haven’t found my neat one-liner, my simple solution to drop into chit chat. The classic ‘we grew apart,’ ‘we just weren’t happy’ or ‘we wanted different things’ doesn’t quite rub me the right way. 

Of course, I imagine those are some of the lines he’s fed to old friends or family…Probably something along the lines of him pursuing a military career and me nagging him to stay home and start a family. I guess that falls under the ‘we wanted different things’ category. 

Which, in a way, I suppose is a little bit true. We did want different things. And yes, him telling me he didn’t want kids was my last straw. It gave me pause and the permission I needed to step back and analyze our relationship more objectively. I realized I did want different things.

Was the problem his job? Our lack of a family? My job?

Absolutely not.

This decision I made cannot be reduced to me acting as some neglected housewife begging for children and harping after a man chasing promotions. 

No.

I left because I wanted something new. 

I left because I was abused. 

I wanted that to end.


I’d like to say it again, just for clarity’s sake.

I. Was. Abused.

I’ve tried to avoid those words. I didn’t want to risk sounding melodramatic or like a complainer. I wanted to avoid criticism, and I believed that if I didn’t say it out loud no one could tell me it didn’t happen. No one could say “it wasn’t that bad,” or “it could’ve been worse.” 

This is something we all need to work on- validating someone’s experience without criticism, comparison or judgment. 

I need to show the same grace to myself.

So yes, I am aware it could have been worse. Yes, I’m aware someone else has been through something more painful. Been abused more overtly. More openly. More obviously.

No, that does not take away from the significance of my experience. It does not lessen the impact it’s had on my life, my health, my view of the world, my view of myself and my view of relationships.

I’d even go so far as to say that psychological and emotional abuse was more challenging to notice, escape from, and heal from than I ever would have imagined. 

I always grew up believing that if a man ever hit me I’d be gutsy enough to immediately walk away. I’d know that wasn’t how a woman was to be treated, and I’d move the heck on.

What I didn’t grow up knowing? 

That withdrawing affection is abusive. Neglect is abusive. Manipulation by providing and removing that affection again: abusive.

Creating an environment of fear is abusive. Fearing consequences, reactions, loss of love: abusive. Fearing violence- abusive. Fearing rage- abusive. 

Fearing pregnancy. Abusive. 

Refusing to use condoms but making me feel guilty for choosing fertility awareness? What I wanted to do for the health of my body and the health of my faith? Abusive. 

Using coercion and guilt to gain sexual favors is abusive. Stepping over boundaries is abusive. This should have been obvious -no means no!- but, to me, it didn’t seem like much. Until it got worse, and more frequent, and blatantly, unavoidably, obviously, abusive. 

Making me the gatekeeper of that behavior, like it was my responsibility to make sure my spouse respected me, is freaking abusive. Real respect, real love, does not look like that.

Furthermore, sex that hurts- due to carelessness and drunkenness or uninvited aggression- is abusive. 

Lying is abusive.

Cheating is abusive.

Calling someone names, making fun of their size, comparing them to other women- joke, after joke, after joke- abusive.

Also, there is such a thing as spiritual abuse. I didn’t know that! What I’ve since learned is that it is wrong to shame or manipulate your partner into feeling guilty for their faith. I shouldn’t need to hide my journal or close Scripture or put away my rosaries because I’m afraid of being seen praying. More than anything, I should not be made to feel as if I deserve bad treatment because “I love God too much.” 

What made this all the more confusing? Harder to pick up on? More challenging to recognize?

When he told me I was crazy. 

This is gaslighting: when you present reality to your abuser but they tell you you’re wrong, insane, or imagining things. Your experience becomes twisted and fuzzy and damn-near impossible to sort through. You can’t tell who’s right, who’s wrong, who deserves excusing and who just had a bad day. You start to believe the lies until they become part of a new twisted version of truth.

I’m done with that now.

I didn’t make this up. I didn’t imagine this. I am not crazy. 

I never was.

How’s that for a one-liner?

some things i didn’t learn in sex ed

the unfortunate reality of stds (good girls get them too)

Yesterday I went to the eye doctor and got to check the box marked ‘herpes’ in my medical history so that felt just GREAT. Like an extra treat- not only do I get to have this shitty virus the rest of my life, I also get to tell people like my dentist and my eye doctor about it now!

At this point, I figure I might as well tell a couple bloggy people about it too.

My thought process is this: the problem I have is embarrassing. It’s a little taboo and a little hard to talk about, and it all inspires a rainbow of feelings. I figure if I’m having this experience, chances are someone else is too. 

Whether it’s herpes or some other annoying BS, there’s always someone else going through something similar. There’s no need for any of us to feel isolated, especially over herpes, especially when literally millions of people have it.

And to be honest, when I was first dealing with this I couldn’t find anyone to relate to, so I’d like to be that space for someone else.

Especially in a conservative Christian community, talking about things like this feels very off-putting. It’s not quite kosher, not indicative of a life well-lived, doesn’t point to the the white-washed purity that is the cookie-cutter goal. However, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, Christianity is not about perfection. It is where our imperfect, messy, human lives come in contact with grace beyond comprehension. These things we hide in the dark, herpes included, are the very things that deserve to be brought to the light for healing. Jesus didn’t come for us and our perfect track record. He came to meet us where we are weak. He specifically met with the rejects of society, and I imagine they didn’t get ignored or shamed when they looked into His eyes. I imagine they were reminded of their beloved-ness and were invited into love. 

We cannot fully embrace each other, or even ourselves, if we are allowing ourselves to hide in such shame we can’t see our own goodness.  

Of course, I appreciate privacy and protecting yourself from those that will hurt you. I am being open in my experience here, and not everyone is called to do that. That’s okay. Read on and know you are not alone.

In the meantime, I’d also like to call into question the version of Christianity that left me too ashamed to talk about something that happened to me because there are those with uneducated opinions about the way the world works for some of us living messier lives. This content might be too explicit for some communities, but it’s explicit content that I lived, and that doesn’t make my walk towards eternity any less holy. 

Some of us are suffering for the poor decision making of others, and some of us have made our own poor decisions. Some of us got herpes. That doesn’t make any of us less worthy of love, less pure, less whole, or less good.


Stepping off my soap box, I’m going to give you a little glimpse into the experience of someone who’s just found out they have herpes. Exciting!

I see it plenty at work- the moment someone finds out that, yes, those bumps aren’t from shaving/bug bites/allergies. There’s usually plenty of tears. Sometimes the loud theatrical type, sometimes more of the soft weepy display. Luckily for me I was the quiet type (my co-workers would be proud!). 

Anyway, after all the crying and the milkshakes and the wine came the anger. I was angry for a very long time. Silly me, I had thought I had left my marriage behind. Now, instead, I have a permanent reminder that can pop back up for my enjoyment at any moment! A literal permanent mark in my body reminding me, hey, someone loved enough to treat you like shit. You thought you left it all behind, didn’t you?!

I was angry for the future, too. Angry for whatever marriage I might someday enter into; how unfair to someone else to have to risk sharing this affliction. Sharing pain is a normal burden to carry in marriage, but this just felt unfair. And what a hassle, having to add this to the list of prenatal care worries if I ever got to have kids. I could pass this on, I could require surgery, it could complicate things more than I imagined. 

On top of all that was the sense of violation. Something had happened to my body and changed it without my authorization. Without invitation. My boundaries were intruded upon and my DNA altered without permission. 

And then there was the shame. Literally, I was dirty. It didn’t help when I saw a forum where girls were discussing whether or not they’d date guys with HPV. I guess that’s their prerogative, whether or not they want to risk contracting viruses- it’s a choice I didn’t get to make. Still, I hope someone is more open minded towards me in the future. I wouldn’t reduce someone else’s potential to what baggage they carry from their past, so I hope I’d be shown the same courtesy. Whether or not that looks like a virus, a heartbreak, a bad habit (or two), we all carry something from where we were before.

It all seems quite unreasonable. I followed the rules as best I could. I tried to love well and work hard, and instead I got this. I’ve always known there were permanent consequences for certain behaviors. It’s just unfortunate I have to pay the price for someone else’s.


So there it is, in one neat little package. I am less than pure. I’ve been marked, I’ve been violated, and I am always going to have this in the back of my mind with the rest of my relationships for the rest of my life.

And at the same time, it doesn’t bother me as much today as it did before. This illness is only a symptom of the primary one: the sickness of a dysfunctional relationship. There are other things that left deeper scars and, hopefully not, but what feels like more permanent damage. This was a byproduct, and really, there is a part of me that just shrugs my shoulders and says, well, of course, this is what I expected, isn’t it? I’m honestly not that shocked.

In the end, it doesn’t matter what rules you did or didn’t follow or who gave who what. It sucks either way. I’ll still be your friend. 

And, guess what? Either way, you’re still good. I’m still good. Someday somebody will love me anyway and, really, plenty of people already do.

lying and cheating

the secrets that follow you

The other day it occurred to me that maybe he’s glad I left him. I’d never really considered the version of the story where he wanted me to leave… Somehow in my mind he was missing me more than I was missing him and he was sorry. Strange to think he could move on, too.

That’s not the way the world works, though, and, really, it shouldn’t feel new to me that he doesn’t want me. There were a million little ways he didn’t want me before. 

For today, I find myself considering the less-frequent-but-more-significant ways he didn’t choose me. Maybe that’s not the right way to say that- I’d like to think it was was less about not wanting me and more about just wanting someone else. 

However you want to say it, I think it happens more than we realize. Infidelity, that is. None of us can talk about it- sometimes to protect the integrity of a relationship, sometimes because we’re afraid. Maybe a little of both. Sometimes that’s okay. What isn’t okay: when secrets are kept so well that we isolate ourselves, unable to talk to those we trust about the blurry lines between normal and intolerable. This hyper-privacy breeds isolation and only allows bad behavior and poor decision making to perpetuate. We shouldn’t be shutting out the wise guidance and input of those we trust. 

Either way, secret or not, I hate that cheating happens. I hate it for me, and I hate it for everyone else who’s had to deal with it. I hate that it calls into question everything we thought we knew. Trust. Worth. Desirability. Are we good enough? Are we worth loving? Are we worth faithfulness if we’re busy, or tired, or not having as much interesting sex as other girls in the world? If we are covered in baby spit-up or tired from night shift or we forgot to shave our legs one too many days in a row? 

It’s sad. Sad and hard. However, truly, I don’t think it’s impossible to come back from unfaithfulness. I really don’t. I think if there’s respect and transparency involved, real vulnerability and love, there can be redemption. I believe in redemption. I have to.

So do I believe that once a cheater, always a cheater? 

I think not. If that were the case and we all were stuck with the sins we committed on occasion, we’d be doomed to the faults of our childhood. Once a liar, screamer, biter, fighter, etc., etc., etc. We grow up and grow on. 

On the other hand, I wonder if I didn’t so passionately believe in second chances if I would have let things get so far. Sometimes I wonder if I brought this on myself. Maybe I treated my relationship with a boyfriend with a grace and permanency it didn’t deserve. I put in the work, poured out forgiveness, and took back what I probably should have let go. 

Or maybe I just got damn unlucky when I tied myself to someone who forgot to grow up and just grew worse. Or better, possibly, but at lying. You tell me.

* * *

The first time it was just a kiss at a club that I found out about a couple months later. When I got home from studying abroad he told me about it: it was nothing, really, he was drunk, it was quick, he didn’t even know her name. Somehow, though, he was able to Skype me, email me, call me, even visit me overseas without mentioning it. For months? Weird. But whatever. It was small. He was probably lonely. He was drinking, he didn’t mean it, fine. Somehow the delay in disclosure was because he was worrying what I’d do. Okay. I lighten up. I don’t tell anyone.

But then it happened again. 

Let me put a disclaimer in here. I’m telling this story to remove the isolated secrecy of the past, however, I am also aware that this one-sided story telling might not lend itself to a balanced narrative. So, in the spirit of fairness, I will admit my own weakness. I will tell you that this was the moment that should have been the red flag in the damn mountain of sand. This was what should have told me to run for the freaking hills as fast as I could. This was when, instead, I pulled that flag out of that sand and promptly buried my head in as far as it would go. I was hopelessly naive, stupid, young…All of it. All in the name of love. I take some of the blame. No, I didn’t deserve to be treated the way I did. And no, this doesn’t excuse shitty behavior. But should I have been smarter? Probably.

Anyway, let me set the scene. We’re juniors in college. He’s at a military school, stressed and busy. I’m in nursing school, stressed and busy. I’m having significant problems with anxiety and mood swings (nursing brings out the best in us, amiright?).

Somehow we make it to Christmas break, where he tells me a story about a party he had at his house that fall. There were some friends over from high school, some of them girls he used to know. Everyone’s drinking and ends up spending the night, and one of those girls sneaks into his room. She comes onto him, starts fooling around, he manages to fend her off in his drunken stupor. I buy the story, wondering why he waited so long to tell me. Wondering why I only heard about her persistent phone calls weeks after that.

I tell the tale to some friends, really very proud of how loyal my guy was being. So tempted! So amazing! So loyal! 

They pull me aside a few days later and ask me if I’m sure I’m getting the truth. They don’t really buy it and something isn’t sitting right. 

I ask him about it again. Is there anything else I’m missing? Any parts of the story you want to fill in? No, that was it. 

Let’s fast forward some. We’re engaged. It’s summer time. He was able to hold onto his damn lie for that long and had the balls to PROPOSE to me in the meantime. Turns out, they had slept together. She convinced him I was going to break up with him soon. We’d been fighting a lot, mood swings are a bitch, school sucks for everyone. We were obviously donezo. 

My consolation prize was that he was too drunk to finish.

I wish I had left then. Not just because he had cheated. Not just because I was betrayed. Not just because I was working really hard to save sex for marriage and he turned around and gave it away to some girl he barely knew.

The real problem was the lie.

It still blows my mind that someone could be capable of such deception. To go day in and out telling me they loved me, telling me they were faithful, picking out rings and promising forever, when all along they were carrying that shit around.

And still, I didn’t talk about it. 

Even after we got married, as much as I tried, it was always in the back of my mind. If I was too busy, if I was too anxious, if I wasn’t cute enough or fun enough or just enough, there would be trouble. And I was gullible enough to buy his stories once, what was to keep it from happening again?

It didn’t help that there were a couple bizarre things that fed my pet suspicion. Not enough on its own to ring alarms, but enough all put together. Like how I wasn’t allowed to look through his phone. Couldn’t know his password, couldn’t look at his messages, couldn’t look at the browser. Wasn’t allowed to track him, even when we were on road trips. 

There was the girl who called in the middle of the night once, wanting to know where he was, wanted to know if he would meet her out. Was shocked when I picked up the phone while he was sleeping. Said she was from college and didn’t know he had a wife.

And then, like times before, he couldn’t keep it together during sex and was getting withdrawn. Wasn’t telling me when he was coming home or picking up his phone, wasn’t inviting me out anymore or putting any effort in to talk to me. 

And of course, there was that weird bump I thought was a spider bite. Found it right after our anniversary last summer. I remember making a joke to him about herpes and we both laughed. 

L to the O to the freaking L.

Even at the end he said there was no one else. I’ll never really know for sure, which sometimes makes it worse. Even when that bite came back last February and, shocker, wasn’t from a spider, he still denied it. I get it, that shit is a virus and it can come up anytime from anyone. Just unusual to have that first outbreak when you’ve been in a monogamous relationship for four years. 

But, again, whatever. You can draw your own conclusions about where it came from. I tried to ask about it, and all I got in response was “leave me the fuck alone” and “watch out.” 

Interesting. Ok.

Anyway. 

Infidelity sucks. 

I’m sorry if it’s happened to you.

I’m glad if you can find a way to heal. I’m glad if you hold out hope for redemption.

Just know, more than anything, that you are not alone. You don’t have to hide. I see you. And you are good. You are loved. You are beautiful. 

You are enough. 

And that’s the truth.

regrets and apologies

a goodbye to what might have been

I still think about it.

I don’t even know if it was real, but somehow I think it was. Somehow, somewhere in the universe, I think you still exist, and I’d like to say I’m sorry. 

That summer I thought you might have started to settle in I was scared. It sounds small, I know, and now I find myself amazed I could have ever been so feeble. I should have been stronger than that. I’m sorry.

He and I had been arguing for months. Over a lot of things, but mostly the turmoil and misery was all because of birth control. I didn’t want to be on it. I wanted to learn about my body and let sex be raw, stripped down and respectful of the way it all worked. He didn’t care much about that, but also didn’t want to take it upon himself to invest in his own version of “protection.” That was for high schoolers, and he wasn’t a high schooler. So it was on me to get it right, or else. 

Unfortunately, arguing long-distance allowed for an awful lot of terrible texts and calls and made the silent treatment all that more easily executed. The isolation was the worst part, when I was desperate for the yelling because at least he was engaged.

Then we were together again, the week before our wedding, and the arguments dissolved into nothing. He never acknowledged the fierceness, the screaming, the silence, the coldness. Even that conversation, just weeks before, where I told him I didn’t feel respected and didn’t think we should get married went ignored.

Did it even happen? Did I make it up? That night he held me and laughed and bought me a beer while we watched the Stanley Cup with his friends. It all got tucked into a closet, and every effort I made to find some kind of resolution got shut down.

Maybe it wasn’t real to him. Maybe I was making a big deal out of nothing. Maybe it was just stress. Whatever it was, it followed me. It lurked over my shoulder, waiting to rear its head again when I deserved it. Probably when my plans failed and cycle tracking didn’t work or was too hard or required too much effort. 

We got married and I was extra careful. Better be, or else the closet would creep open and the clouds would sweep into our sunny North Carolina home.

One July afternoon he came back early from a work trip. Inconvenient for me- it was one day too soon for any care-free sex days, but we wanted each other. How nice it was to be loved and wanted by the sweet man I knew was there all along. Do I tell him it’ll probably be fine, and risk a pregnancy I could be punished for, or do I say no, not today, and risk adding another no to the pile of no’s I could be punished for?

We went with probably fine.

Science can be rather predictable, especially when it comes to sex. Turns out one day early bought me a period that was a few days late. 

Not super late, not enough that most women would even notice, but it was enough that I did.

My sister was in town that week. We went to the beach a lot, and I went back home to pee a lot, hoping and praying that this time would be the time my period would come.

I stopped taking my meds, the supplements I took to keep my mood stable and my cycle regular. Those ones I knew I’d need to keep taking if I wanted to keep a pregnancy stuck.

I should have been braver. And I know my doctor said that it shouldn’t have mattered, that the medication wouldn’t have made a difference that early anyway, but I still have the guilt. I’m sorry.

I should have stood up for you, and for myself. I should have been able to tell him that my boobs were killing me, and I thought I was a little late, and maybe I needed a pregnancy test. But then he noticed the way my bikini top fit and the off-handed jokes- you better not be pregnant – started making me nervous. It didn’t feel that funny. And I didn’t want to be alone again. I didn’t want to be blamed, I didn’t want to be wrong, I didn’t want to be resented, I didn’t want to be hated every day of the rest of our lives for the bills, and the sleep deprivation, for the mess, for the responsibility. 

Even still, I shouldn’t have chosen fear. I should have chosen you. 

There was an afternoon when I started to. We all went swimming on a friend’s boat, him and me and my sister. I dangled over the edge and somehow the way the saltwater held me up made me feel like grace could hold me up a little, too. I felt like I could really be okay. I would go to the store and just pick up the damn test and face the future like a damn adult. Face my husband.

But then we went tubing, and I think that might have been the problem. I’m sorry for that too. I wasn’t thinking. 

The next morning I had the most painful and terrible period of my life. Probably not a period, really. Probably you leaving, but I’ll never know for sure. Instead I mostly just hold onto the guilt. I should’ve been more responsible. Braver. Smarter. 

And I know I was in a manipulative, abusive mess of a marriage, but I still think I should have known better. I don’t think that should be an excuse. Or maybe it should be. I don’t know.

I don’t even know if you’re really real. If you are, a small product of the blip of time when he and I were in some kind of love, can you pray for us? I’m a little tired of always thinking of him, and maybe you’re there in heaven with endless light and grace and all the energy for that. And I guess he’d be your dad, after all. I’m sorry I never did anything good for you, but I still hope you’d be kind enough to help me here.

In a way I’m glad you aren’t around for this. This heartbreak would have been infinitely harder to have you suffer too. But then sometimes I think about whether or not you’d have curly hair or hazel eyes or dimples. I wonder what your name would be. I wonder if you’d have liked dogs and cozy jammies and bedtime books. If you’d have liked my sisters and Easter eggs and Jesus. And then I’m sorry. I’m just sorry. 

sex and disrespect pt. iv

patterns and habits

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

a moment of confusion, the conflict made clear

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

the issue isn’t rules, it’s respect

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

a first pushback on boundaries

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!