Here is Part III of my four part series on “Boys, The Good & The Bad.” You can read Part I and Part II here. This series is a look back on my life and my interactions with boys. My purpose for this series is to show both the pain and the encouragement that males can bring to females. It’s to explore the ugliness and beauty of relationships with the opposite gender. It’s a complicated issue, but so many us of struggle with our identity when it comes to the opposite gender. We have a profound impact on each others’ lives, for good or for ill.
Needless to say, I enter Bible college a broken mess.
For two years, I’d loved a boy who never loved me back. I poured my heart out trying to save a broken boy who drained me of all emotion and made me hate myself because he didn’t look at me once in the way I looked at him. I’m recovering from anorexic tendencies, still struggling intensely with self-hatred and depression, and I have so many questions as to why that whole boy mess happened in the fist place.
Now, I’m surrounded by boys. Some of them are interested, some of them flirt with me. I just cant. I can’t do it yet. I stare at myself in the mirror and think, “What do they see in me that I don’t?” I wonder if I’m pretty. I just don’t know. All I can see is a girl who wasn’t good enough for the boy she loved so deeply.
I’m lonely. I don’t want to date yet. I just want a friend. I pray to God one night, “I just want one guy friend who will simply be my friend all four years here at Bible college. Just one friend who won’t expect anything from me.”
A few days later, *Alex, who is in the same First Year Transitions group I’m in, walks up to me after class, shakes my hand, and tells me, “I’m Alex. I don’t like you or anything. But I want to be your friend.”
I’m blown away. I don’t like him either. Phew.
He sees me a few days later, and we sit at a soccer game cheering on our school’s team. He tells me if our team scores a point, he’ll give me an avocado. Our team scores 8 points. He has to ask another girl friend of ours where to get me an avocado. But he gets me one.
As the months pass, he asks me how I’m doing, and I hesitantly respond. But our friendship slowly grows. I know he’s safe. I know he doesn’t want anything from me. It takes a while, but he is a friend all four years of Bible college.
A friend God gives me in His great mercy.
A friend who simply cares.
My sophomore year in college, I date Boy Two. I actually start liking this guy my freshman year in college, and it carries over into sophomore year. I really think he’s awesome. He’s smart and likes theology and art. I am convinced God wants us to be together. I am so attracted to him (which is funny to think about now–he really wasn’t that amazing). I like his facial hair. And….and darn it. I just can’t get him out of my head.
Finally, in a burst of “stepping out in faith,” I Facebook message him my number. I know girls aren’t supposed to do that, right? We’re supposed to let a guy pursue us. Well, I failed.
About a month later, he finally calls (he’s been warming up to me before that). We hang out, we study.
He tells me we’re just friends.
Okay, fine, I think. I can do this again. It’s not like Boy One. I learned my lesson. I don’t have to give my heart away like that.
A day later, he calls me again. We hang out another time. “I think I want to give you a chance.” He tells me. “We’ll see how this goes.”
Suddenly, things are turning around. God truly does want us to be together.
We don’t-date-but-actually-do-date-because-we-hang-out-ALL-the-time-alone-together for a few months. This entire time, he’s up and down. Sometimes, he tells me that he likes me and just can’t stop thinking of me. Some days, he tells me he doesn’t know what to do with me. “I mean, I like you. I just don’t know if I should date you,” he says. “I’m really, really praying about it. God is just going to make it clear. I mean, I want to date you, I just don’t know if God wants it.”
This is confusing to me. I feel as God wants us to date. Why isn’t Boy Two getting the clue? But I like him so much, and so I just go along with it.
One evening, he asks me, “So…why should I date you?” Although I don’t see it at the time, it’s a subtle “What’s in it for me?” type question. He wants to know if I’ll be worth it. If I’m worth his time and effort.
What do I say to something like that? Why should he date me? I was hoping he’d know that without having to ask me.
Because we kind of are dating, whether he’ll label it that way or not. We’re hanging out almost every evening. And if we don’t hang out, he’s calling or texting me.
But it’s not dating, according to him.
I just feel a little sad inside a lot of the time I’m with him. I feel empty. I can’t seem to get super happy. One evening, he tells me, “I like you! I really like you. I really do! And I want to date you, I just need to pray a little longer. I’m just not sure about a couple things.”
I try to get happy. But I can’t. I don’t know why.
“Why aren’t you happy?” he asks me. “You should be happy about this.”
“I don’t know,” I tell him.
“Well, I told you I really like you. You should be happy.”
The next time I see him, I try to be very, very happy.
Finally, he says, “God says we can date.”
God is good!
He said yes.
So we date.
He’s a guy who tells me I’m wrong all the time, who demands my trust, who expects me to support him and all his emotions, but doesn’t do the same for me.
“Give me your trust,” he says. “I need to know you trust me. I don’t want you to hide things from me.”
He wants to know my hurt, my past, my pains. I feebly attempt to tell him some of the pain I’ve been through with Boy One. I try and trust him because I need someone to show me what trust means. I need him to be healing. I need to learn to trust a guy.
So I give him my trust. Not my love, my trust.
Yet when I ask him about his past, he won’t tell me anything.
He tells me I’m wrong all the time, he treats me like I can’t think logically even when I can, he doesn’t like that I’m smart.
He tells me exactly what our future will look, what the next ten years of my life will be like. He tells me what he’s the leader of the relationship, that he makes the decisions, and that I will follow and support him. He tells me that it’d be weird for us both to pursue our passions, because the guy is supposed to do that in order to provide for the girl.
He tells me a lot of things.
And I listen, like a good girl should, and I obey. God wanted us to be together, I think. So I have to be happy. I’ve got to be a godly woman and submit. I’ve got to make this work.
And he finally breaks up with me because, “God told him to do it.”
God told him to break up with me? It’s painful, it’s wounding. Why use God as an excuse? Why use God as a way out? I’m just confused. “God told you to date me in the first place,” I say. “You said you’d prayed about it.”
“Well, I did. He just told me this now.”
Boy Two takes the trust I began placing in him and pulls the rug out from underneath me.
And he doesn’t really care about that at all.
“I’m afraid you’ll say bad things about me. I’m afraid everyone will hate me,” is what he he tells me when we break up. That’s all he cares about. How he appears to everyone outside. It’s all about him all the time.
(I don’t say much about him at college. His reputation, after all, is so very important, and I don’t want to damage it).
Yet with that break-up, something breaks inside me again.
I didn’t love him.
But I did trust him.
Something about Boy Two and his whole mess has damaged me more. I feel like dying. Especially when he ignores me–literally, ignores me–after we’ve broken up as if I hadn’t even existed.
I am of absolutely no importance.
I am no one.
Just a speck that he easily abandoned.
He moves onto other girls after that. We are all a secret from each other until a year later, when we realize he’d messed around with multiple girls all in a row.
I begin counseling that year.
Because something is really wrong.
Summer after sophomore year. I decide to stay in Chicago for the summer. My friend Alex stays in town over summer, as well as some other guys. We all hang out in groups and do silly things together. We have a Hulk night and dress in green, we watch Band of Brothers, we play Scrabble. We also have serious talks about life and relationships.
They are just there.
They help me clean the dishes when we have parties.
They laugh at me, and I feel a little funny.
They are in awe that I can predict the plot of Iron Man right away. (I’m a writer, so sometimes I just see how someone would write things into plots. But really, Iron Man is not that…hard).
They are just nice.
I begin to see how good these guys are. They simply treat girls like humans. They aren’t how to see how many they can date, how many they can sleep with, how many they can use.
It’s a great summer, even though I feel so broken. Even though I have times where I feel so, so sad.
But I’m glad I have friends. Guys who remind me that there are great guys. Not all of them are disorienting, self-absorbed, damaging.
Junior year hits. It’s just…a hard year.
I secretly like Guy Three all year, and he never even looks my way. And when he finally does, its just this condescending, playing kind of interest. He lusts after me, I can tell. But lust doesn’t make him want to go for it, since he’s a good, Christian guy. I feel like an object most the time when I’m around him. I feel flustered every time I’m around him. I feel stupid and inferior and not cool enough and just…horrible.
I’m a failure at capturing a man’s true, genuine attention. I couldn’t with Boy One. Boy Two didn’t stick around. And Boy Three just kind of flirts with me, condescendingly speaks to me, and in general is just a self-absorbed jerk, even though I genuinely like him. Even though I tell myself he’s this awesome guy who loves God so much.
I feel pretty pathetic.
Because I kind of am.
I go to counseling all year, and it’s the year I begin to get to some painful stuff. Stuff that goes deep into my family and into seeing how imperfect my family is. How I never connected emotionally with my own father, which is why I constantly look for affirmation for it in guys—especially broken guys.
I’m devastated by this. My family is supposed to be perfect. I love them so much. Yet I never told them anything about my pain. And they never really asked. I was so alone in high school so much of the time. I hid so much from them. I wonder if I can ever repair our relationship. I wonder if I can ever work through my father hurt–which wasn’t intentional at all, but has still deeply wounded me.
The end of junior year come. I am officially rejected by Boy Three, who tells me that we are just friends and he is interested in another girl. Yet he was playing with me. He was really attracted to me. I saw his eyes. I know the looks.
But I wasn’t enough.
I’m never enough.
The whole thing is so confusing to me.
And I realize a guy can be attracted to you, lust after you, use you, and still not care once cent about you.
Alex and I do homework one night together (he likes that I take good notes). He sees I’m not doing well.
“Can I just tell you something?” he says. “I’m engaged now, so I can tell you this. I’ve always been your friend, so you don’t have to think this is weird. But you are beautiful, and you are talented, and you are godly. You’re better than most the girls at this school. And if a guy doesn’t see that and admire it and pursue it, then he’s not worthy of you. You’re worthy of being pursued, of being treated well, of being loved.”
I nod tearfully as he gives me this speech. I realize it’s something I’ve always needed to hear. But no one ever told me this. I go to my room and cry and cry.
A few weeks later, I tell another friend what Alex told me. She needs to hear it, too.
There are so many girls who need to hear it.
His words are healing, his words are true, his words are caring.
And I’ll never forget them.
It’s the summer after junior year. I’m not in a good place. I can feel myself hardening. I sometimes cry in our apartment when no one is there.
I’m feeling a lot of anger. Anger towards my family, anger towards God, anger towards men. I’m feeling angry towards myself and how I just can’t seem to get a guy to stay to save the life of me. I’m feeling anger towards guys and all their stupidity. How they use girls and lead them on and drop them when they feel like it.
All I want is to be loved. To feel safe.
I’ve never felt loved and safe with a guy (romantically). Never!
I don’t know it at the time, but that summer is when I make the vow: “I will never love a guy again.” But I do. My heart hardens, the walls go up. It just seems too hard to try and work through my issues. It seems easier to just…stop. To stop trying.
Guy are never sincere, I think. They always just want what they want. They never really care.
(It’ll be two years before I realize the silent vow I made to myself that summer).
This is the summer I begin having weird panic attacks whenever rape is mentioned or I see it on movies. Seriously, I watch four movies that summer with graphic rape scenes (on accident), and I start shaking every time I watch them. I start crying. It’s like this visceral reaction. It’s so strange. I know I haven’t been raped, but for some reason, I’m reacting so strangely to these things.
Something is wrong.
I just don’t know what.
My roommate is engaged to a great guy that summer. He looks at her with that Look. He has eyes only for her. I see how much he loves her. This warm, full look. It gives me comfort to see it. That’s the way a man acts who is really in love, I think. When he truly doesn’t seem to see anyone else but his woman in his mind.
You can tell.
You can tell when a man looks at a woman and loves her and sees her. You can tell when a man looks at a woman and simply sees her alongside plenty of other women.
Isn’t a woman just another woman to most men?
The whole thing makes me sad. Because guys are always looking at someone else, always lusting after things they don’t really care about. I can tell because I know I’m beautiful now, and I see guys stare at me all the time. They don’t do anything but stare. They never try to get to know me, they just look. And it’s not the nice look, either.
And I’m tired.
This is not a good way to start my senior year in college.
Senior year in college happens.
The Year From Hell.
Everything comes to a head.
Some guy friends I truly thought were friends abandon me at the beginning of the year. They move onto other girls quickly and with ease, as if they hadn’t cared at all (which I guess they didn’t). But I cared, and I’m devastated.
It’s the last straw.
I don’t understand how guys can just easily abandon girls—even girl friendships, I shout to myself. I don’t understand that kind of inhumane tossing aside of relationships for whatever else comes next. I don’t understand why guys use girls all the time for their own gain and pleasure. Even Christian guys who are supposed to be so much better than Non-Christians, right?
Christian guys suck just as much as Non-Christian guys. They’re just better at pretending they’re not!
and I’m jaded,
and I’m bitter
and I’m angry.
I’m going to counseling. I begin to sift through the mess that is my emotions. I begin to realize that I have suffered abuse in the past from guys. No, not physical abuse, but spiritual and emotional abuse. I feel violated. I feel alone. I feel as if Boy One and Boy Two just took, took, took and left my heart lying in this mess on the floor. It still lies there, unprotected and vulnerable. So then Boy Three was just such a stupid, pathetic mess because I just let him play around because I just didn’t know how a guy should treat me.
“There’s such a thing as emotional rape,” says my counselor gently. “It’s where you are violated emotionally, where a guy demands emotions or trust from you, then takes those things and leaves, just as he would physically taking you.”
Emotional rape. I’ve never heard of it before. But suddenly, everything makes sense. The summer movies where I started shaking when rape was addressed. The ways I clench up when people talk about it. The ways I silently relate to girls who’ve been sexually abused, even though I have no idea why I relate so deeply.
A boy doesn’t have to force himself physically on you in order to violate you and take things he never should’ve taken. A boy can take your emotions, and your love, and your trust and leave with them. It is, in a sense, rape. Yet it’s so much more subtle. So much harder to figure out than outright physical violence. Boys can just as deeply wound through emotional aspects.
I begin to understand why I’ve felt so broken ever since Boy One and Boy Two.
I freak out. I start having black outs and panic attacks. I feel like I’ve failed. I’m not a good, Christian women. I’ve been abused. I’ve abused myself. I truly think I shouldn’t be loved. God’s going to leave me if I make one more mistake. No one will ever love me. I’ve messed up. It’s all my fault. If I’d just been a good, perfect Christian girl who wasn’t so broken, none of this would’ve happened.
I victim-blame just like victims usually do.
Another of my friends since freshman year, *Sam, sees something of the pain and starts telling me he’s praying for me. He’s a fun, great guy. I never tell him what’s truly going on because I’m so ashamed about the abuse stuff, but he sometimes listens and he sometimes prays for me. And just knowing that is helpful.
We sit on the bus on the way to senior retreat, and we talk about things, and he tells me about a book called The Ragamuffin Gospel, by Brennan Manning. I know I need to read it. I ask him if I can borrow it.
A few days later, he comes up to me. “I was going to give this to you in a few weeks once I’d finished it,” he says. “But I just really felt like God told me to give you this book now. You need to read it.”
So I eat up that book. It’s all about love and grace and forgiveness. How we are all broken, yet God still loves us through the brokenness. My life is changed because of that book, my relationship with God changes because of it.
I will be forever grateful to him for helping me even though he didn’t know how important it was that I read that book.
The impact you have on people through simple acts of kindness can be astounding.
My friend Alex also talks with me. I don’t tell him what’s really going on, either. I just can’t tell anyone—especially a guy. But he sees something is wrong, and he talks to me. “You can cry, you know that?” he says. “It’s okay to cry.”
“I know,” I say.
He’s about to get married, and he’s about to graduate in December, and I know our friendship will never be the same. It’s ending, in a way. I’m okay with it, because it has to be that way.
Yet he’s the one guy friend I have all four years who I really trust. The one guy who asks me questions and isn’t afraid of the responses I give him and who stays by my side even when I get really, really broken.
I’m so grateful for him.
And I will miss him when he graduates.
Because now, I’ll have no one to talk to.
My last semester at college is a painful one.
I’m alone. I have no guy friends anymore that I can really talk to. I have one girl friend left at school (most my other good friends have graduated) who knows what’s kind of going on.
The only one who truly knows is my counselor.
I want to shut down. I don’t want to feel anything anymore. I don’t want one more person to leave or abandon me. I don’t ever want to love or be loved.
I feel numb. I don’t care anymore.
People really suck.
Christians suck the worst.
(LARGE PARENTHETICAL STATEMENT:
This is the year I like Boy Four. I’m not going to say much about this crush. It’s actually more painful than any of the others, because he’s actually a good guy. The first good guy I’ve liked in a long, long time. I never even show him or tell him I like him. I feel too broken to do much of anything anymore when it comes to romantic feelings. It’s a very secret crush that lasts most of senior year. Sometimes, I think he likes me, but I never know for sure.
I wasn’t going to mention him in this post, but I have to be honest. So there. Boy Four.
It’s different this time, though. Because I know in my heart of hearts it’s not going to work out–no matter how much I like him. No matter how much I pray or try and make God say yes.
God says no.
And it’s the first time I don’t fight it as much as I’ve done in the past.
Yes, it’s hard. I make some mistakes during this year with Boy Four. I do try and tell myself God wants it, I do try and control the situation. But I recognize these things in myself now. I’m fighting them for the first time.
But it’s also a triumph. Because in the end, I walk away from the feelings, the feelings that I know are wrong, and I say no to myself.
It’s the first time I feel God calling me to something else. Not dating, not marriage (at least not now). Not those girlish dreams of my romantic youth.
But other dreams.
Dreams I can’t see yet. Dreams I can hardly imagine.
And I take God’s hand and start surrendering. (It’s a painful surrender, to be sure).
There’s nothing I can control–not love, not life, not anything.
I die to self.
It’s the first time in my life I truly do so.
END PARENTHETICAL STATEMENT)
Last semester, I take this drama class.
In the class, we have to feel. We have to do these creative projects that make us express emotions and pain. It’s a hard, hard class, but God uses it to help me get through that last semester. He helps me realize how deeply important art and creativity is in my life. How He made me so expressive and creative for a reason. I’ve stopped really doing creative things because I feel that a grown up doesn’t do those things. A good Christian doesn’t do those things.
The class begins to heal me, because it’s the first step I take toward embracing myself as a creative, artistic, expressive person once again.
I come up with a project for this drama class’s final exam. It’s a experiment in facing my wounds. I’ve begun to realize that for so long, I’ve placed my identity in others–especially men. It’s been painful. But because I’ve placed my worth in others, I’ve nearly been destroyed. I let them walk all over me. I let them use me.
And it has to stop. I must find my identity in God.
I ask this guy to help me with it. I need a painter for the drama I’ve written. A painter to represent Jesus. This painter will paint a painting entitled “Loved.” This painter will paint over horrible words people have given me. He will show me a new identity.
I don’t know this guy very well, but he’s in my class, and he’s an artist. A good artist. I don’t think he’ll help me—I mean, who would? I’m just a mess. But I guess he doesn’t know that. I ask him, and he says yes.
We work on the project, and that is, in a way, healing. He sees some of my pain. I have to show some of my emotions to this guy in order to make the drama effective. I’ve shut down so much at this point that I hate showing emotions to guys (to people period).
But I do. And we perform our drama about being Loved, and it’s a huge success. Beautiful in so many ways.
This guy gives me the painting he paints for our skit. “This is yours,” he says. “This is your story.”
Another moment of healing.
The painting says “Loved.”
It’s a needed reminder as I graduate and start another life.
A new life.
(And it is this project that inspires me to begin my blog, Identity Renewed.)
A few years later, I ask myself: Why are relationships about control so often? Why can’t we let people we date be who they are meant to be? Why can’t we let them dream and encourage their dreams? What makes us want to stifle them?
Is it fear? Jealousy? Pride? Or all of these things?
To truly love someone is to hold them in an open hand. To truly love someone is to want to see them succeed in their passions. To see them flourish and grow and become more like Christ.
If someone you are with doesn’t listen to you, stifles your opinions, stops your dreams, treats you condescendingly, plays around with other people even as they date you…If they tell you, “God told me you need to behave that way or go along with my plan,” or just use God as a trump card all the time for their own actions….
Something is wrong.
And God is not okay with that. God gets really ticked when people use His name as excuses for their own immature, selfish, controlling behavior.
God isn’t the cause of these things.
God probably doesn’t want you to to be with someone like that.
In fact, He doesn’t.
But so often, we place our identity in the opposite gender, and we stop truly listening to God, because it seems so much easier to put our worth in a guy or girl.
But we are Loved. God loves each and every one of us. And yet, if we don’t understand His love for us, we will let others treat us any way they want. Our relationship with God, the truths we believe about Him, are so crucial to every other human interaction. When our identity is in Him, things begin falling into place.
Because to live in His love, to place our identity in Him, is to learn what Real Love is.
I learned this lesson over those four years of college. I learned to start placing my worth and value in God, not men. And yes, it took some hard, painful things in order to do this. But now, a few years down the road, I’d never take back those experiences.
I also learned to surrender to God. I start learning to follow Christ in my heart of hearts. I stop fighting Him and telling Him what to do when it came to life and love. I took His hand and truly started walking with Him in the direction He was walking. It was a novel idea, I suppose, to follow Him instead of the other way around. To begin trusting Him to direct the course of my life instead of me.
Yet this changes everything. Because I am Loved, and God has a better plan for my life than any I can dream up on my own.
Tune in next week for Part IV, the last part of this series!
*Names changed for privacy.