Personally, I blame Barbie. At least for starters.
I don't have any children of my own and thankfully, the parents of young daughters that I'm close to don't inundate their girls with dolls, so I can't comment too much on what Barbie looks like today (although Yara Shahidi's is pretty cute, I must admit). But back when I was a little girl, Barbie's dream outfit was a wedding dress, Ken was her constant companion and, if you looked really closely at her hand, there was a fake diamond in it. And since her hands were fused together, in order to take the ring off, you had to tug on it. Without the ring, there was a big hole in her hand that remained.
Call it overthinking if you want to, but if basically, all a little girl sees in her room are doll babies—or dolls who have a part of their hand missing if there's not a diamond in it—and Disney flicks that are filled with Prince Charmings and tales of "happily ever after"; and then when she has a crush on someone, the adults in her life immediately refer to said-boy as her "boyfriend"…what are we expecting her to be consumed with? Why wouldn't wanting a man of her very own, even if he is a child just like her, be a part of her little girl goals?
So yeah, between the toy-programming in my home, the irresponsible-albeit-probably-totally-ignorant teasing about "my boyfriends" by some of the adults in my world, the sermons in church that never seemed to be celebratory of the single life (at most, they talked about remaining pure until a husband came along), having friends (in elementary and high school) who were in relationships since I could remember and then not even really being taught (properly) about the purpose of romantic relationships…of course, I wanted a boyfriend. Basically, ever since middle school on.
OK, the irresponsible adults that I mentioned? My mom wasn't really one of them. Although she thought crushes were cute and I got to take a date to school banquets (I went to private schools, so we didn't have proms), I didn't have my first official date with a guy until I was in the second semester of my junior year of high school and, believe you me, there was a curfew. It was innocent enough. Matter of fact, I'm still cool with "him" to this day. That's because we didn't do what I did with a lot of other men who followed him.
Plus, we made being friends more important than trying to become boyfriend-girlfriend. Please bookmark that.
No, it actually wasn't until I was a freshman in college that I had my first real deal boyfriend. The CliffNotes version is a girlfriend of mine at the time whose boyfriend would drive up to see her a couple of times a week, brought a few of his friends up. The friend who caught my eye (let's call him "David") then started making the trips with him. He was fine. He was smart. He liked me as much as I liked him (to this day, I don't think a lot of us realize how rare that is; "like timing" is almost like a UFO sighting). Yeah, things moved quickly.
It wasn't long before we were spending hours on the phone. Hours of talking make you feel like you've known someone longer than you actually have. And so, after a couple of weeks, we had the boyfriend-girlfriend title although I didn't know exactly what came with that. Then, a few weeks after that, we had sex for the first time. I was in. ALL IN.
During a relationship that officially lasted less than two years, things got deep—and sometimes dark. We got arrested together (his cousin had a stolen gun in my car that I knew nothing about). I had an abortion that was totally against David's wishes. Sometimes he would stay with me for days on end. Other times, when I needed money, he'd give it. When he wanted my car, I'd lend it. Again, I was all in. And since that's what my first boyfriend experience was like, that's how I thought all romantic relationships were supposed to be—basically married just…not.
Fast forward about a decade and it's kind of amazing that my last boyfriend-girlfriend relationship was about 14 years ago. Although I haven't had sex in 12 years, my boyfriend and I spent about two years breaking up…you know how it goes. Anyway, in hindsight, I realize that even with him, things were deep and sometimes dark. We were constantly on the phone. He too would stay with me, sometimes for days on end. I would cook for him on the regular. Sometimes even pay his bills. Between my complex childhood, the fallout in my romantic liaisons and the toll both took on my self-esteem, sometimes he rode emotional roller coasters with me that he didn't deserve. Then there were our families all intertwined and caught up in the mix. Ugh.
About three-and-a-half years in, I remember looking at him one time while he was asleep next to me and thinking, "I want out." It's not that he wasn't a good person. To this day, he's one of the smartest and gentlest people I know—well, knew (we use that "know" word too loosely). It's just that he wasn't my person.
Yet, because he was my boyfriend, I thought I had to stick it out, for better or for worse. Like he was a husband or something. I took a long time for me to accept that I did not. Because he was not.
I also remember the day when I finally decided to call it quits. I was at one of his cousin's house who happened to be a friend of mine (and also not a fan of the relationship because she too felt he was not my person). When I called to tell him that it was really over and then hung up the phone, I sat in one of the corners of her bedroom and cried and cried…and cried some more. Although I had never been married before, I was a child of divorce (twice) and the pain that I was experiencing? It seemed very similar.
Why do I only have a boyfriend, but this break-up feels like I'm divorcing my husband? To this day, there are very few things that I think compare to break-up pain. To this day, that is one of the biggest self-introspective questions I've ever asked.
Acting married when I'm not is just too much…for me.
Fast forward to now and, whenever people ask me, "Why don't you have a boyfriend?", my initial response is, "I'm too old for a BOY-anything." And, by "too old", I mean too mature and too wise. However, there is some subtext behind that statement.
Believe it or not, I know a couple of couples who were virgins when they got married. I also know a few people whose first love was their current spouse. There's something really beautiful about those testimonies because they haven't gone through the brokenness that I have. They haven't acted like they are married to people they aren't, so there is a loyalty and respect that they have for one another, sex and the union of marriage that I'm still working to rebuild.
Years ago, I heard someone say that the way a lot of us date, it doesn't teach us how to be married; it teaches us how to get divorced. To a large extent, I agree. I can't tell you how many times I've sat in marriage counseling sessions and had couples tell me that they're ready to end their legally-binding-said-vows-before-God relationship like it's…nothing. When I choose to dig deeper, some of them will say something along the lines of, "When I wasn't happy with my ex, I ended it. I don't see the difference."
Just because you might not see it, that doesn't mean there isn't one. Unfortunately, when we treat our boyfriends as if they are our husbands, we don't see (or treat) divorces as being much different than a break-up. In fact, a lot of us see the two is being exactly the same. We gave our all—mind, body and soul—to a boyfriend (or 10 boyfriends) and so by the time our husband comes along, he doesn't get much more than what our boyfriends did. It's hard for us to understand why he should.
To tell you the truth, that grieves me because a boyfriend shouldn't be synonymous with a husband.
There should be certain perks—and levels of loyalty and respect—that the man we promise to stay with until death gets that our "boyfriends" were never deserving of. But because a lot of us aren't told or modeled this, we act married before we are, so we don't value the sacredness of marriage as much as we should.
That's why I'll NEVER have a boyfriend again.
I already know what some of you are wondering. Since I have no plans on having a boyfriend, am I saying that I also have no plans on getting married someday? Personally, I don't see how the two connect; at least, not anymore. Whenever someone asks me how I figure I can have a husband without having a boyfriend first, my first response is, "Who had a boyfriend in the Bible?" (I'll wait). Plenty of people were married all up and through there!
Seriously, though. I want to marry a friend. No abusing the monogamy word (monogamy literally means "married to one person for a lifetime" NOT exclusively dating). No pressure to act married when I'm not. Just the time, space and freedom to get to know a guy that I dig who digs me. That like will turn into love and in the sacredness of friendship, one day, that will turn into being in love.
It might sound idealistic. Personally, I think the more appropriate word is "countercultural". But I know some people who did it just this way. Two of my closest friends were friends—just friends—for over a decade. The now-wife always had feelings for her now-husband, but timing is everything. Anyway, because their friendship was the foundation, the guy-friend was always very real and open with his girl-friend. In fact, they were best friends.
One day, he went on a fast. He came out of it realizing that he was sick of dating around; that he was ready to meet "the one". After a 3-4 hour-long conversation with his girl-friend, they realized they were on the same page with their values, how they saw their future and how they defined family. They got engaged six months later. They've been married 17 years now. See…it's possible to get a husband without having a boyfriend. Even better, it's possible to do it with your heart and parts still intact.
I get that my stance isn't for everyone. That's fine. But on this side of wisdom and healing, I have no regrets with having male friends and removing the pressure (and drama) that oftentimes comes from making some of them my boyfriend.
These days, I don't want there to be a fine line between what a boyfriend gets vs. what my husband deserves. Now, I see a world of difference between the two, which is exactly why I will never ever have a boyfriend again.
I'll act married when I actually am married. Let the church say…amen.
Featured image by Getty Images.
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