The following post is raw, honest and might be a trigger for some and offensive to others. But, I know without a doubt that what the author shares is the untold story of countless numbers of Christian women who haven’t felt safe sharing their experience. We are all part of the body of Christ and we all make mistakes. James 5:16 tells us to confess to each other so that we might be healed. So if you relate to today’s post, don’t be ashamed. You are loved. Reach out to a trusted friend or counselor and begin the healing process. *Name of the author withheld to protect her privacy*
Yesterday I awoke after vividly dreaming about my ex-husband. Years after our separation and divorce, these dreams are unexpected but always disturbing. The uncomfortable feelings on waking are reminders of old wounds now suddenly fresh and raw again.
In this particular dream my ex was warm and caring. He apologized for all he had done to hurt me. Stunned, I apologized in turn. The naked emotion got me. I had rarely seen it in the 13 years of marriage we had. I don’t remember all we discussed after, but a deep connectedness compelled me to hug him. Then I woke.
The problem? It was only a dream, yet the feelings were profound and real. Reality set in to remind me of our “malignant” divorce- one that seems to never end. Secondly, I am also remarried. Awkward.
I laid in bed separating realities. I mourned a personality that didn’t exist and a marriage that never materialized as intended. Can you imagine the internal conflict of feelings for an imaginary ex-spouse while married to your current? Some distance of time has given me the advantage of quick clarity, so I rolled out of bed and soon forgot about it.
Later that morning, I sipped tea with my friend Barb. We caught up and discussed our deep desires for helping women recover with confidence from divorce. The commonality of one-night stands and divorce arose in passing comment. As we talked, a remarkable parallel struck me. The moment of waking up from my morning dream is much like the moment of waking from a one-night stand. The parallel:
We have deep desires for connectedness only to wake to a different reality.
To be brazenly vulnerable with you, divorce and one-night stands are something I understand too well. If my admission incites judgyness from you, the reader, then I’d ask you to keep reading. Instead hang with me while you set aside your judgement and repent (See John 8:3-11). If you identify with my admission but are shocked that I admit it publicly, then this writing is exactly why I am here. I bridge understanding with the goal to end shame and secrecy from swirling in our faith cultures.
“Begin at the beginning, and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” -Lewis Carrol, Alice in Wonderland.
Genesis 2 relays that although Adam had a perfect companionship with God and creation, and it wasn’t enough for Adam. Part of me is astonished that Adam was still lonely within perfection, and, somehow this was also God’s perfect design. We are humans and made for connectedness with each other, not just God. Our hearts want to feel love, our brains want to believe we are desired and beautiful. Perhaps Adam needed to realize his longing for companionship in order to be grateful upon its divine fulfillment. I identify.
Once Adam saw Eve, all of his check boxes were complete- including sexual desire. And it was holy.
Chances are you didn’t marry your spouse or ex-spouse for only physical intimacy. Instead you felt an emotional and spiritual connectedness too. This bond results from vulnerability and trust with each other- an emotional and spiritual “nakedness” is required. The best physical intimacy and desire for one another starts right here.
Waking from a one-night stand is like waking from a dream (or possibly nightmare). Reality reminds us that we didn’t escape the truth of our disconnectedness, or fantasy of who the lover would be. Our brains are no different than Adam’s. Seeking connection is not an indication of brokenness. Rather, we long to connect as designed. Waking from the one-nighter means we made a mistake in our search method- an easy thing to do in the wake of tremendous loss and heartache.
Divorce is Death’s Trifecta
Divorce is the death of more than just marriage. Death of emotional and spiritual intimacy, as well as the physical cohabitation, may feel crushing to the new single person. Some folks don’t know how to be alone. They haven’t lived healthy single life before and certainly haven’t gone long without sex.
We, divorcees, notice the careless comments indirectly aimed at us which circulate among religious communities. For example, implying that we “throw away the marriage so easily” while boasting about another year of successful marriage marginalizes the truth of what most of us endure. The second pervasive theme we see is to “not fall into sexual sin.” Yeah, we are painfully aware of this need and abundant warnings throughout the Bible. I have yet to meet anyone who ‘merely “threw away” their marriage without care and who cannot wait to become the town whore,’ and I am 9 years since my separation.
These themes illustrate the divorcee’s ongoing bountiful problems with integration in faith communities: the ‘shalt nots’ of shame in divorce and the inaccurate assumptions of their state of affairs. There is a considerable lack of true and good understandings of our challenges, especially among our non-divorced friends.
Church leaders attempting to minister to this group will relay truths in God’s word as best they can. However, I’ve noticed many marketed and published materials come from married, non-divorced men and women. While I’m sure intentions are whole-hearted, the authors’ perspectives are often quite different than the reader. These religious materials can unintentionally abandon the divorcee right where they need the most help. Several times I have stopped reading midway to conclude “they still don’t get it.”
This is my story.
I was the problem, he was 100% sure. Counselors pushed for me to stay in the marriage, and this was the answer to all my marriage problems. God will “fix” it if I do the right thing and stay.
So, when I ultimately exited my marriage, I was ghosted and/or rebuked by my family and friends. My mother was convinced I was going to hell. I received ample comment how my actions hurt them but few kind inquiries about me. My ex was happy to be the more favored party and I stayed quiet and let him be. The religious community had spoken; the marriage was apparently more important than I was.
Truth be told, I loved being alone and I still do. The ex could no longer control everything I did in the guise of “submission.” There was no more mess in my home (my ex was a compulsive pack-rat). There was less fighting over money, chores and responsibilities, and far less shame. I didn’t have to talk to anyone unless I wanted to so I cut off many relationships and worked to find a new normal.
Since I had slept alone for many years, sleeping alone was not new. I had cleared my obligations to a man with whom I had zero intimacy, so enduring it’s lack of all forms became amplified with time on my hands. Lack of really great sex was also not new.
As is the case with many who go through divorce, I had lost a considerable amount of weight. As a tall woman, I had a figure that I hadn’t had for fifteen years. Suddenly random strangers were making comments, and offering their phone numbers wanting to talk. Can I be honest? It felt amazing.
You see, my ex talked badly to and about me for years (I have so many awful stories). Being alone gave me pointed clarity to how bad it had become. I began to realize I wasn’t as dumb and inept as he claimed. His actions had rooted a deep-seated anger toward men, and I wasn’t interested to sit in his passenger seat any longer.
Assigned Blame and Intents
Commonly men propagate a paranoid myth that women leave them with intent to “cheat.” Its actually manipulation in order to gain sympathy and favoritism and shift blame away. While that can be true, it is not always the intent. I had no intention to be with anyone, I simply didn’t want to be with him any longer. After years of emotional abandonment, I was taking care of me.
At one point, I decided to try online dating. That was interesting but short lived. It never felt normal to me so I quit that.
Still, I don’t have to remind a grown divorced woman that lack of physical intimacy can be really hard to live through. Chastity isn’t a sexy word especially when you haven’t had good sex in really long time. I was also in the throes of what we call “sexual prime” which made life abundantly harder.
Most of the time, my hook-ups were chance meetings with no intent to end up in bed together. Usually we would talk, share stories, maybe have one too many beers and I’d invite the man back to my apartment. I’m sure some may wonder how a Christian girl can do such a thing. All judgement aside, the bottom line was always a desire for connectedness. And let’s be real; no vibrator or well-intended chastity pep-talk offers human connectedness!
I’ll be frank; the sex was friendly but awkward at best, and rape at worst. Most men acted like they saw in porn. Few knew how to actually pleasure a woman, although I’m sure they were trying. There were a select few who realized I had too much to drink and assumed free license to do as they pleased. I’ll not mince words; I was raped a few times.
The first time I was raped, I made the mistake of confiding to my ex. As many religious “Christian” men believe, he said it straight up: it was my fault. I should not have been there, wearing that, and doing this. “What did I expect?” Shame was his mantra.
These shaming and blaming tactics leave people trapped in spiraling self-destruction. After this particular comment from my ex, I did not communicate personal detail with him anymore. Neither did I stop having one-night stands, nor did I report the next time I was raped. If you need any insight into the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements, my experience summed them both up in a nutshell. I get why women don’t press charges. Why invite more embarrassment?
I wasn’t until after a few of these escapades that I began truly understanding sex without healthy relationship leads nowhere but an awkward morning. Waking from a one-nighter left me feeling as lonely and disconnected as I was before, maybe more. The conquest and attention felt good in the moment, but satisfying sexual gratification comes from a safe loving committed relationship. And that foundation begins with emotional and spiritual intimacy.
You thought I was going to say “safe loving relationships come from only God?” I’d argue the best ones do, but certainly there are loving intimate relationships where others do not share our Christian faith. The key lies in our ability to be nakedly vulnerable with each other on all levels- spiritually, emotionally, and physical- and then trust another human to hold safe this delicate truth. Christian faith has the most power when both invite the Holy Spirit to supernaturally guide the relationship through our inadequacies using his wisdom, and not ours.
Is a mate safe? Does he display your embarrassing secrets as a tool to manipulate you to do what he wants? Does he hold over your head your sins and errors? Or does he sit by your side and support you in your struggle? Does he cover your sin when he could easily shame you instead (Prov 17:9, Mat 1:19)? When you find a safe person, you find connectedness. And when the moment is right, that connectedness becomes intimate. Remember love is always kind (1 Corinthians 13:4). There was no exception to that description.
My one-night stands taught me valuable lessons about who I should or shouldn’t be naked with -in all senses.
My husband today never touched me when I had too many beers. He also knows about the one-nighters, rapes, and all, and he never blamed me. But then- our story is redemption best shared another time.
The best intimacy I’ve ever experienced only came once I found my value in Christ, apart from any marriage or relationship with the opposite sex. I’ve realized that people are more important than an institution of marriage or the acts of sex. It’s understandable that I would confuse flirtation and sexual attention for connectedness. It’s understandable if I didn’t know how to break the cycle until the Holy Spirit began to renew my mind (Ephesians 4:23). I make mistakes.
In the meantime, my heart goes out to you if you identify with any or all of what I wrote today. What you are looking for is connectedness without shame. Relationship without blame. If we were sitting next to each other, I’d buy you your beverage and take you by the hand, look you straight in the eye to repeat this truth: “You are valuable to Christ. Who you have slept with, how many times, and how long ago holds no bearing on the wholeness we have in Christ.”
Every waking day is an opportunity to ask the Holy Spirit to renew your mind- even if upon waking from a one-night stand. And for goodness sake, read your Bible. The Lord can’t renew a mind that is not filled with truth. Together with the leading of the Holy Spirit, and backing of the Word of God, he can help lead you to a place where it’s easy to say no when the wrong kind of connection is offered. Robe yourself in righteousness and wait for being vulnerable to the right person. The breastplate of righteousness does exactly as Ephesians 6 says; It protects your heart.
Connecting physically, emotionally, or spiritually with the wrong people steals precious time and emotion that would be devoted toward the right person. Be satisfied with nothing less than God’s best plans and his schedule- there’s an abundance of grace there. Be chaste when the world tells you to be loose. Be patient. I promise you that this kind of intimacy is far more exhilarating, deeply satisfying and worth every moment of waiting. I promise.