04 February 2016

crush time

So, I just watched this video from Sexplanations:

I love this channel; she has so many good things to say and share, and it's interesting and she's so excited and yeah...maybe I have a tiny crush on Lindsay.

Anyway, I felt like writing a bit of a response to this video because, well, my experience with crushes hasn't always been fun. It is now, but for a while, crushes were a source of shame and anger directed towards myself.

My family is Christian, and while we weren't exactly evangelical (being Lutheran and all), we did intersect with evangelical Christian culture in a number of ways. We homeschooled (not for religious reasons, though we did use some religious textbooks), so that meant we had quite a bit of interaction with more conservative evangelical families. I spent a couple of years at a private Christian high school, and that's where I learned about Christian pop culture. I worked a couple summers at a Christian retreat centre, and that's where I got exposed to heavy-duty purity culture.

I'd run across purity culture in various forms before. My parents did the promise ring thing with me when I turned thirteen, but unlike other iterations of that tradition, it was not public and I signed no contracts. I got to pick a cool ring from the jewelry store (I selected one that looked like it wouldn't be out of place in the Lord of the Rings and I still wear it, albeit on my middle finger), and we talked about the consequences of sex and why my parents felt it was important to wait to have sex until marriage. I was uncomfortable with the thought of sex, so I was happy to promise abstinence. We prayed about it, I got to wear my cool ring, and that was about it.

At fourteen, I started high school and found myself with a painful crush on a boy. The really painful kind - blushing, stammering, freaking out, completely obsessed with him kind of crush that makes you embarrass yourself and your friends and family. My parents sort of sighed and went with it, letting me rant about my feelings and never telling me they were inappropriate. My mom told me to enjoy him as a person and not to worry, though I mostly ignored that advice. For all my interest in this particular boy, I didn't really want to have sex with him. Just the thought of kissing him kind of made me want to explode; sex was absolutely unthinkable.

It took a couple years for my feelings for that boy to run their course. By the end of it, I felt horribly embarrassed about how I'd behaved, ashamed that I'd let my feelings run away with me, and determined to not make a fool of myself again. Some of this was related to the reactions I'd gotten from people. It was perfectly acceptable to them that the boy I liked was trying to pursue a girl who'd made it clear that she wasn't interested in him, but not acceptable for me to pursue him (yes, the double standard is alive and well, more's the pity). Some of my anger at myself came from bits and pieces I'd picked up from purity culture. And then I developed another serious crush.

This crush was on a boy who was really into purity culture. Like seriously into it. I found myself reading I Kissed Dating Goodbye (the book that projected Joshua Harris' issues and opinions about dating and sex onto an entire generation of North American Christian youth) and checking myself in the mirror before I left in the morning to make sure my shirt wasn't too low-cut. The irony of trying to attract a boy that way is not lost on me. Again, my parents tolerated my latest fad, but weren't particularly enthused by it (I remember a conversation with my mom regarding her opinions on parent-directed courtship - she did not approve. I thought it sounded safe, which, of course, is the attraction - it promises a perfect relationship if only you follow these specific rules).

Crushes, in hard-core purity culture, are a failing. They're a sign that you're not focused enough on God, and that you're letting bits of your heart be captured by others, never to return, and therefore depriving your Future Spouse of your entire heart (total BS, yes, but convincing when you know you still have some fuzzy feelings for that guy you used to like. Love isn't a finite resource, which the fundies are happy to tell you when encouraging you to skip on birth control, but they conveniently ignore that when it comes to romance). Experiencing attraction to others is cast as lust, which is bad. That might lead to pornography use, or kissing, or even premarital sex. Or just fantasizing about people. Or masturbating. Though that last one was mostly for boys, since girls totally don't care about sex, they care about romance, which is why romance novels are bad. (And yes, it just keeps getting more ridiculous). And of course, all this is focused exclusively on heterosexual relationships and sexuality.

Eventually, one of what felt like way too many crushes (which weren't really all that many) led to a boyfriend, and kissing and marriage and sex and the realization that crushes aren't bad, and they aren't going to go away just because I'm in a committed monogamous relationship. The crushes that I acknowledged as a teen and a young adult on boys weren't wrong. They just were. The crushes on girls that I ignored, that I tried to rationalize as something else, they weren't wrong either. I wasn't ready to see them for what they were, but there was nothing wrong with me or with my feelings.

It took me a while to be comfortable with crushes, and even longer to learn to enjoy them, but I'm finally there. Crushes are fun now. I can have celebrity crushes, or crushes on fictional characters, or on people I know and admire, and it's not a bad thing. I let myself have crushes now, and I enjoy them. I don't try to ignore them or stuff them down. I don't try to rationalize my crushes on women as something else because I was finally ready to come out to myself and then to others. I can talk to J. about them and he can talk to me about the crushes he experiences, and it doesn't detract from what we have together. It adds to the intimacy we have with each other because of what we can share.

So the advice my mom gave me, years ago, when I was a teenager with my first difficult crush, is the advice that I have finally taken to heart: Enjoy it. And enjoy the person you have a crush on. Don't worry about it.

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