Elizabeth Smart recently commented on the evil of teaching people that their worth is tied up in their sexual inexperience. I agree wholeheartedly with her. Of course, "teh interwebs" has glommed onto her words and twisted them to attack the Church. Which is all really quite boring to me, same story different details. Except for one thing.
I have been a victim, too.
I have written before why I stayed in my marriage. When I was married, I felt like the least wind could shatter me. I was constantly worried about what I said and did. I would hang up with friends and family as soon as my husband was due home because I wanted him to feel my love and attention. I would do activities only after they had been suggested by my spouse, because I wanted to be available for him. I endured two years of torture because I wanted him to be satisfied and pleased. I watched our money drain out like water through a sieve, and felt guilty that I wasted money if I bought something for the house. I went to counseling in hopes that I could be fixed so that the "communication issues" in my marriage could be resolved. But nothing I did made him feel loved. No changes I made helped me communicate with him. Things only got worse the more I tried. Eventually, the marriage deteriorated. I ended it only at the strong promptings and counsel of the Lord, and to protect my ex-husband and my children.
The news can give people a wrong idea about domestic violence. Only the most egregious and horrifying stories hit the news. But once someone has been injured or killed, the entirety of the work of abuse has already been wrought. Abuse isn't first about being hurt. If it was, anyone would get out. But abuse is first about duty, love, obligation, about feeling like if only you worked a little harder, did a little better, things would change. It is an emotional landscape which is carefully terraformed by the abuser. And it works best on loving people who try to be selfless.
For this reason, I keep chewing over the discussion surrounding Elizabeth's comments. You see, I believe that I'm damaged goods, too. It's not something that counseling can help me with. Because it isn't in my mind or reason. It's in my heart and experience. They are a lot harder to convince. Especially after I've tried to convince myself time and time again, only to fail.
I have dated slightly more after my marriage than I did before. When I married my ex, I'd been "serious" with only one other man, and been on dates with only two or three others. (The reason for that I'm not going into this time.) Since then, in the period of about two years, I have been serious with two, and been on dates with a couple of others. Until I stopped.
The first man I was serious with broke up with me after a disagreement about the legal obligation and powers regarding couples in domestic violence situations. I believed that the law and community should have the power to forcibly and temporarily separate the couple and require them to go through counseling if the police have been called to a domestic violence situation. (Remember what I said earlier, that by the time it's serious enough for people to notice, most of the abuse has already occurred.) He disagreed, believing that the government should never have the power to separate a couple unwillingly. After this disagreement, and after I refused to back down, I never saw him again. He broke up with me via telephone, saying I didn't inspire him to be good enough, that he didn't like who he was around me. He was married shortly afterwards to the girl I insisted he date before we became exclusive.
The next man I was serious with was amazing, a truly nice guy. So nice, he wouldn't speak up for himself. After trying to discuss it with him, I saw that it wasn't going to change. That and the fact that our relationship was overly public and scrutinized by other people combined with my feelings that he didn't really know ME, only his version of me, and I broke up with him. That was really hard for me, because he was such a good guy and there were many things I valued in him. I hoped that by backing off the relationship for awhile and being friends we could get some perspective, get the interested parties out of our relationship, and maybe work things out later. But he stopped attending the activities we had previously both enjoyed, and was engaged only three months later.
I wouldn't share these experiences except to give a background for what I'm going to say. These experiences, and the others that never got as serious, proved to me the impossibility of finding a man who could value me as a whole person and not just for the role he delineated for me. Every man willing to date me wanted to get serious VERY early in the relationship. Every man disliked my insistence that we not be exclusive until we were ready to marry. Not one valued me enough to remain my friend even when there was no promise of romance.
This is partly why I know that I am damaged goods. I have heard single LDS men emphatically state they don't want to marry a divorced woman because she is not pure, or has children. And while I know a few divorced women who have found good, loving men to marry again, they are also generally drop-dead gorgeous and a lot less hardened by their experiences. I'm pretty well acquainted with my physical and emotional limitations on that front. So while I know with my mind that my experiences in my marriage have not damaged me, but made me stronger, wiser, and closer to God, my heart knows full well how much value that has to prospective eternal companions in this life.
My time and experiences in the singles ward and with dating only served to further corroborate and validate that feeling. This is a large chunk of my decision to cease seeking an eternal companion. After what I've been through, I don't need a culture or a group of men and women telling me that my value is damaged. I know it already. What I need now is to survive, to raise my girls with hopefully a little more wisdom than I had, and to serve the Lord in the few ways that remain open to me.
I am a failure, yes. But I intend to grow as many plants as I can from the compost of my life. And if it is even just one tiny plant, I'll count it a success.
Because I am damaged goods. But I don't care any more.