Yesterday, I had a rather nasty encounter with someone regarding my past. Mind you, I had told her about my past several months ago because I wanted her to trust me, and to know that I am a different person than I was before. This appears to have backfired – terribly. According to her, my history has forever tainted me, making me unworthy of love from the man I care about most in this world. I am damaged goods. And she is offended that my current boyfriend would ever date someone like me.
Her attitude, unfortunately, is not very different from many other Christians’. While our culture tells us that there’s something wrong with us if we’re still a virgin, many Christians simultaneously tell us that there’s something wrong with us if we’re not. To so many who are lost and trying to find their way to happiness, it seems like an utter lose-lose situation. Even in secular literature analysis, we refer to a woman’s virginity as her “purity” or her “innocence,” even though neither of these things necessarily has anything to do with one’s virginity. You can be a virgin and be incredibly impure; you can be a non-virgin and be a saint.
So, what is my story? What would lead someone to condemn me so harshly?
When I was 17 and nearing the end of my Junior year of high school, I started dating a young man who I considered, at the time, to be my best friend. While I recognized that he had been severely hurt and that he was addicted to many unhealthy things (such as self-harm and pornography), I cared very deeply about him and wanted to help him get better. In a nutshell, I believed that I could fix him, that I could convert him from his agnosticism and save his soul, and that one day we would get married and have a perfect, holy family. Instead of me helping him, however, I got broken down.
Over time, we went physically further and further in our relationship. By our first winter as a couple, we had already had sex. I was crushed, but still I hoped to save him. As long as I married him, everything would be okay – it would be understandable that we had sex before marriage, because we really loved each other and it overwhelmed us, right? I tried over and over to justify what we had done, terrified at the possibility that I had given my virginity – my “purity” and “innocence” – to someone I would not end up married to.
The relationship started out with plenty of unhealthiness, but it only got worse as time went on. I cried every weekend, like clockwork. I slept very little because I was frequently up all night trying to calm him down after he had a fight with his parents, or he was struggling with cutting himself or thoughts of suicide. I began to internalize the constant messages that I wasn’t doing enough, that I was hurting him, that his pain was somehow my fault, and that his salvation, well-being, and survival depended solely on me. All of this, at the same time as a sexual relationship that only served to strengthen my desire to stay with him.
We went to college together, and during that first month of our freshman year, I got pregnant. That single event started to change me – suddenly it wasn’t just me who was getting hurt in this relationship, now my daughter would too. Did I really want someone like this to be her father? I tried multiple times to break up with him during the first two months of my pregnancy. The first time, he called my parents and convinced them that I was being irrational because of my hormones, and that it wasn’t fair to cut him out of his child’s life. They, having no idea what was really going on in my relationship, agreed with him. I felt utterly trapped and alone. I started drowning in self-hatred, and sinking into a pit of despair. When I tried to talk to him about how I felt, he would hit me and tell me to “snap out of it” and that I didn’t sound like myself. Eventually I hit him back and thought he was going to kill me – I had never seen him so angry, so out of control. And then suddenly, he dissolved into tears. He never hit me again.
When I miscarried the baby at the end of the first trimester, I broke up with him again, intending it to be final. Now he couldn’t use my child against me, to keep me tied to him. He walked to my house that Christmas break in the middle of the night, and the next day convinced my dad to let him come and talk to me. The entire time he was there, trying to get me to take him back, I screamed and cried at him, finally able to express my feelings without being shut down. He took everything from me. My self-worth, my virginity, my innocence, my connection to God, my closeness to my family, my ability to have any friends apart from him.
About two months after that last encounter, he contacted me asking me if I wanted to study with him, if we could try being friends again. We met in a study lounge, and I pulled out my notebooks. He didn’t even open his backpack. When I asked him what was wrong, he told me that he felt uncomfortable studying in public places and he would feel more comfortable if we went to my dorm room. Against my better judgment, I said it would be fine as long as we left the door open.
He raped me that day.
For the rest of the school year, I struggled with cutting, suicide attempts, and pornography. I hated myself. I felt dirty. I should have known better, should have been stronger, smarter, anything. It was all my fault, just like everything else was.
Things didn’t get better until an acquaintance from my parents’ home parish invited me to go to a Catholic Youth Conference in Steubenville, Ohio during the summer of 2012. God really touched me there – He took my pain, my grief, my self-hatred. He gave me hope. I resolved to start over and be a new person, to regain my purity and change my life. About two months after that, I cut off all contact with the young man who had caused me so much pain. I haven’t had sex since, and won’t until I get married.
So what does this woman know about me, that she could condemn me as no good for my current boyfriend? She knows that I was abused, that I was raped, that I was sexually active, that I got pregnant. She knows all of that, but what she sees is someone who deserved what she got because she could easily have just never dated that abusive guy. The last thing that my current boyfriend deserves is someone with my history, because I am just a force toward corrupting him and destroying his innocence. She sees me only as I was, and has no interest in who I am now. I only wish she could be reminded of this passage from the Gospel:
“Now the Scribes and Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and setting her in the midst, said to him, ‘Master, this woman has just now been caught in adultery. And in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such persons. What, therefore, dost thou say?’ Now they were saying this to test him, in order that they might be able to accuse him. But Jesus, stooping down, began to write with his finger on the ground. But when they continued asking him, he raised himself and said to them, ‘Let him who is without sin among you be the first to cast a stone at her.’ And again stooping down, he began to write on the ground. But hearing this, they went away, one by one, beginning with the eldest. And Jesus remained along, with the woman standing in the midst. And Jesus, raising himself, said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned thee?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ Then Jesus said, ‘Neither will I condemn thee. Go they way, and from now on sin no more.'” John 8:1-11
In my mind, I am doing my best to follow Our Lord’s command: to go forth and sin no more. That is why I have been very careful to protect my current boyfriend from who I was. There’s nothing I would love more than for him to go to heaven and become a saint – in fact, I daresay that I desire his eternal life ahead of my own. But if you look solely at who I used to be, you would never know that every time I see the man I love, we pray together, we go to Eucharistic Adoration or Mass, we take care not to pass any of the boundaries we have set for our chastity, and that we work constantly to grow toward Christ together. If we judge others based on their pasts, and view all sinners as people who are damaged or disgusting, unfixable and incapable of changing for the better, then we are not Christians. To condemn someone just because they struggle with different sins than we do is completely unchristian and defies Christ’s urging that we examine ourselves:
“‘But why dost thou see the speck in thy brother’s eye, and yet dost not consider the beam in thy own eye? And how canst thou say to thy brother, “Brother, let me cast out the speck from thy eye,” while thou thyself dost not see the beam in thy own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam from thy own eye, and then thou wilt see clearly to cast out the speck from thy brother’s eye.'” Luke 6:41-42
I am not perfect, and neither is anyone else (except for God and the Blessed Mother, through her Son). But if there is one thing for certain, it is that Jesus is the Lord of second chances. We all deserve eternal death for our sins, but He suffered brutally and died painfully so that we could turn around and try again; we all have fallen short of the glory of God, and all are in need of His mercy. We all die; it’s up to us if we join Christ in His Resurrection.
And you know what? I forgive the woman who insulted me yesterday. As much as it hurts for someone to tell me that I am essentially worthless because of my past mistakes, I can’t imagine the hurts she has been through that might have led her to believe that that is true. All I can do, I suppose, is pray that one day, she and all who believe as she does will eventually meet the Savior who rescued me and gave me another chance.