[By Alice Owens]
What’s a twenty-something woman in New York City doing living the religious straight and narrow?
I remember a friend bluntly asking me this question one day. Perhaps I had just mentioned that my out-of-town fiancé was visiting and staying on a guy friend’s couch instead of with me. By the standards of the modern world this made no sense. But there I was, happily drawing lines and holding boundaries, doodling pictures on my love letters and innocently holding hands—just living, as I saw it, the way a good Catholic girl should.
I remember thinking that the answers to my friend’s question would sound too earnest and uninteresting. Because I want to live the Gospel? Because I care about following the Ten Commandments? In the greater scheme of things, my desires didn’t seem all that novel. People have been striving to do these things for more than two thousand years. But to spell it out for him would probably come across as evangelizing—and make me sound even dorkier than I needed.
Still, I tried to give him an honest response. He wasn’t satisfied with my quick answers, though. There’s a story in there, he encouraged me. I ought to share it. The story’s already been told, I thought. Over and over again by people trying to follow their faith. Look at all the saints and martyrs throughout Christian history. They chose to live a life that the world didn’t understand, right?
My answers felt true to my heart, but I didn’t realize back then that they didn’t tell the whole story. I didn’t come to my deeper answer for some time. And even if I’d known it then, I would have been too ashamed to share it.
If I had told my friend something closer to the full truth, I would have said that before my straight-and-narrow adulthood, I had lived by the world’s standards of happiness and found them wanting. That I tried sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll, but they ultimately brought me heartache, pain, and emptiness. That it was fun in the moment, but it never lasted. After enough lows followed the highs, I couldn’t fool myself anymore.
Had I told him—and myself—the absolute full truth, I would have gone even further. I would have said that my liberated sex life paved the way to my rape. That my magic carpet ride of recreational drugs led to a bad trip. That if I could do it all again, I honestly wouldn’t do any of it, but failing that, I can start now, in my twenties, to choose a better way.
A lot of the damage my previous choices caused didn’t click for me until far later. But now that it has, it occurs to me: maybe the story of my journey toward a dating life that included “waiting until marriage” is as much a modern woman’s tale as it is an ancient one.
My story is one of a prodigal daughter. Raised in a stable home and educated in Catholic schools, I prayed my rosary at night. In fact, more than once, I woke up with its shape imprinted on my face. The numerous Hail Marys never failed to lull me to peaceful sleep. I often wrote to God in my diaries, and when I was on vacation I’d seek out the town’s chapel to pray. I knew God loved me very much. In short, I was a pious, possibly annoying, little girl.
But something changed over time. We moved. I lost a dog and some old friends. And the unforgiving devil that is teen hormones overshadowed me. I felt misunderstood and got in shouting matches with family members. I’d get stuck in selfish mental cycles, licking my wounds and feeling betrayed by everyone. I began to doubt that God loved me. If He did, He’d shower me with happiness, right?
So I decided to make my own happiness: to deviate from the script of Church teaching and choose my own adventure, as it were. You could say I listened to the snake in the Garden, because all of a sudden, the forbidden seemed tantalizing. Around age fourteen, I hung out with other moody teens and started smoking marijuana, partly for the thrill of doing something rebellious, partly for the relaxing qualities. I started lying to my parents about where I was going when I went out. I started looking at online porn. In various ways, I began to seek my own little escapes. On the outside, I largely kept up appearances. I got good grades and went through the motions of churchgoing. But I had mentally checked out.
When the time came to go to college, I was more than ready. Soon after I arrived, I met friends who also liked to smoke weed. But these kids weren’t moody teens; they were upbeat and friendly. I’d go out at night with groups of partyers and drink and smoke. And drink and smoke. And sleep and shower and repeat. The freedom of college could be summed up by the phrase “Hakuna Matata” in The Lion King—it was a life of “no worries!” all the time. I had a blast at the time, but I did so at the expense of remembering where I came from.
(Continued in Thursday’s blog post.)
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[This is the first of two excerpts from Good Catholic Girl, by Alice Owens. This ebook is available for just $0.99 on Amazon. Your purchase and Amazon review could help this eye-opening critique of the hookup culture reach more readers.]
(Image: GeorgeRudy, istockphoto.com)