Carcinogenic Radioactive Waste and Oranges: Marriage at 19 vs. Marriage at 29

Jake: “So, we’ve been married for four months now, give or take. Do you ever look back and compare it to your first marriage and realize how different it is?”
Me: “Well, honestly, I try not to think about that time in my life, but even if I do, it’s just… apples and oranges. Yes, I was legally married and have never claimed otherwise, but that wasn’t actually a marriage in any way.”

When I was a senior in high school, my mother let my boyfriend move in with us, and a few months later, she took off to live with a man she met on the Internet. Because years earlier, she’d seen to it that I had no relationship with my dad, I didn’t really have anyone else. Sure, my Gramma has always been an amazing presence in my life, but it wasn’t the same as having a parent in the home every day to help me through the huge transition that was the end of childhood. Graduating high school, leaving those friends, going to college: those things are really hard with a supportive and loving family… or so I heard from friends. At 18, though, I felt like I had nothing and no one to hold onto as my mother prepared to sell the house she’d left behind, less than gently pushing me out the door, and my high school boyfriend was… there.

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Looking back on my reasons for getting married at 19, it’s no surprise that said “marriage” deserved air quotes. I don’t know that “apples and oranges” is even a fitting phrase, considering those are both fruit. Being “married” at 19 and married at 29 are more like… carcinogenic radioactive waste and oranges. For instance…

The Wedding Day

At 19, on my “wedding day,” I tried to look five years into the future and determine whether or not I’d still be “married.” I couldn’t picture it, but… I also couldn’t think of any other options. The college I was attending would only let us continue to live in family student housing if we were legally married and I had nowhere else to go… or so I thought. In hindsight, it’s easy to see that I could’ve called off the wedding, even the day of, and the rest of my family would’ve supported me. I’d have been able to stay with my Gramma or my dad (who I fortunately reconnected with in time), until a dorm opened up the next semester. There was always an option besides getting married at 19, when it didn’t feel right, watching a troubled young man become a sociopathic grown man, derailing my life because I didn’t want to make people uncomfortable or be the subject of gossip. I couldn’t see this, however, and there was a chapel full of people…

On my real wedding day, as I like to think of it, I was so excited to join my life with Jake. The only nerves I experienced were the result of knowing that in just a few hours, a lot of people would be staring at me… and I’d have to dance. Jake though? He has never been a question. The day I married Jake, I’d already moved past fantasizing about our newlywed days and well into day-dreaming about the complacency and monotony of everyday married life that everyone dreads. I haven’t just looked five years into the future and felt certain I would still choose Jake. I’ve imagined growing old together a thousand times… and not in some romantic Noah and Ally from The Notebook sort of way, but one that includes the horrors of childbirth and dead pets and money troubles and funeral arrangements and prayers and tears and heartbreak. I don’t need a romantic fantasy. I just need Jake. I’ve never doubted that he was the right choice; not when I walked down the aisle with my dad, as he assured me I had chosen right this time, not when Jake elbowed me in the head during our first dance, not when I was seasick for most of our honeymoon, not even the dozens of times we’ve argued since. Jake has consistently been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

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The Religious Implications

As a confirmed Catholic, for any marriage to be valid in the eyes of the Church and God it has to be blessed by the Church. Now, even practicing Catholics elope or get married in beautiful wedding chapels or at pricey outdoor venues. However, their marriage has to ultimately be blessed by a priest in a convalidation ceremony. I knew this when and after I “married” in a wedding chapel at 19 and yet, something prevented me from ever actually going through with the process. In time, I distanced myself, not just from the Church, but from my faith in general. It’s difficult to call someone Godless without drama or exaggeration, but it’s a fitting term for my ex. Unlike an Atheist or an Agnostic, the man truly lacked any moral center. He stole, lied, cheated, and he did so indiscriminately from friends, family, enemies, and strangers. Simply being associated with him as a person made me feel unworthy and yet, leaving him would also be wrong in the eyes of many. It took two years after my divorce for me to shake my shame enough to return to the Church and I promised myself that my next marriage would be official in the eyes of God.

When Jake and I married, we decided together that with his Protestant family and my Catholic family, moving and career changes, our short engagement due to rodeo season (no really), a Catholic wedding wasn’t for us. We were married at a beautiful and rustic outdoor venue, by a friend of Jake’s, who’s a youth minister and faithful husband and father; which was preferable to me over a minister to whom Jake felt no connection if we couldn’t get married by a priest. Jake might not be Catholic, but on this we agree: God’s authority is superior in every way to that of the government and the approval of my faith, as well as his, is crucial. So,we’ve already met with our new priest and scheduled to have our marriage blessed, the day after Jake’s birthday. Because I’m a confirmed Catholic, my previous “marriage” was never recognized by the Church. I have some paperwork to send in to complete my “defect of form” annulment and then, in the eyes of God, my marriage to Jake will truly be, my only real one.

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Our Standing in Life

When I was 19, I had worked a couple of minimum wage jobs and had nothing to show for it. My ex had even less, with no work experience at all. I had no savings, no assets, no real job prospects. I wanted to be a teacher, naively insisting that the money didn’t matter, making a difference in the world did. My ex didn’t and wouldn’t work or go to school, which I hoped would change. I tried not to think too much about the future, because any level of stability seemed so distant. We were renting married student housing, which was about to be condemned by the city (literally) and counting on financial aid to house and feed us. My mother paid for the wedding, because if I was married, she could sell her house guilt free and wash her hands of me. I had no real concept of money, myself, and ultimately accepted all the loans I was offered. It was Future Belle’s problem, as were many things, as I coped with how drastically my life had been derailed since the beginning of my senior year.

At 29, my wedding and honeymoon were always paid in full. At 32 years old, Jake had ample savings from his days in the oil field and zero debt, which of course meant zero credit. At 23, I’d begun working to improve my credit score and after six years, it somewhat made up for my debt, particularly when coupled with my Income Based Repayment Plan and the fact that I qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. While Jake is beginning a new career in hydrology, his bachelor’s degree in the field, his experience in oil, and his crazy work ethic have already been assets to him. Because I make just under $50k myself, in one of the cheapest states in the country, we can afford for him to start at the bottom and I’ve every confidence he’ll move up quickly. We do have debt, but we’re both committed to paying it off and we’re currently saving to buy a home within the next year. The future is looking bright and Present Day Belle handles her problems like a big girl.

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Our Actual Relationship

It’s easy for me to put that first relationship in air quotes, not just because I was 11, but considering the motivation, the fact that God wasn’t looking, and that its primary funding source was financial aid and prayer. I feel those reasons invalidate the union plenty. The foremost reason, however, that my first “marriage” was no marriage at all, was the relationship itself. At the best point, we were extremely codependent. I don’t know that, looking back, I’d claim to have ever loved him, so much as I’d say that I needed someone, anyone, and he was the only one present. 

As time wore on, though, I moved closer to Shetland and my Gramma. Gail and I reconnected after that initial graduation drift, and even any sense of codependency faded. I once explained to Gail, that you get different things from different people, that I trusted and loved her and my dad and my Gramma. All I needed from my ex was for him to work. Literally, I didn’t need love or support or trust or fidelity or goodness or strength of character or a partner or someone to lead me closer to God. I just needed him to feed himself. I was actually completely willing to continue taking care of myself, if he’d stop stealing from me. I used to joke that I’d never get married again, that marriage is miserable, that my next wedding would be on a snow covered mountaintop in hell. However, no matter how hard some readers may judge me for claiming that any marriage can not count (in which case, they can go fuck themselves), I cannot stress enough that the relationship that spanned those four years was not a marriage in any sense. 

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Today, happily and healthily married to Jake, I’ve had to get used to a few things… like the fact that my Gramma and Gail are second and third in my life. It’s strange, having not just an additional person on my list of people I’m willing to see on a weepy and frustrating day, but having someone actually upstage them. Gail has been my best friend since the 9th grade and she still is… but the dynamic has shifted. Jake comes first for me and Terry comes first for her and in neither of our previous marriages was that ever the case… nor could it or should it have been. We were married to scary fucking dudes and were both somewhat distant from our families. It was us against the world… and now it’s not. We still talk every day and have some pretty fucked up shared history, but we’re not 20 and married to psychopaths, eating fish we grilled in a public park because we don’t want to go home. When I get pregnant, she won’t be the first to know. I’ll never drive her and her baby to the ER again… and that’s weird to imagine and sometimes even weird in practice: having someone. Being married.

I’m not driving around with food from The Dollar Tree in my backseat anymore. I don’t sleep with my wallet in my pillowcase. Zetus lapetus, y’all, I trust this man enough to share a bank account with him. What the fuck happened?!? When I went home crying from the stress of my first week at the Cherokee library, Jake was the only person I wanted to comfort me. When I had food poisoning and threw up all over myself in the car, I was only mildly embarrassed that he was present to see me miserable and covered in vomit. If I have good news or a secret to tell or a funny meme to send, Jake is the first person to come to mind and that’s so weird. What is this fantastical adventure they call marriage?!?! I ask, because this is truly the first time I’ve experienced it.

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The most I can say, in defense of 19-year-old Belle, is that she was not an adult. Nineteen-year-olds are teenagers, whose brains function differently. They still need guidance and I didn’t have that. In theory, it would’ve been nice if I did, but then I might not be here… and here is really good.

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Being Out of Communion with the Church

 

On a scale of one to ten, with one being the guy who checks the box because his great grandma dragged him to Mass every Sunday until he was eleven and ten being a nun, I am a relatively devoted Catholic, landing at about a six. To define more clearly, I go to church every Sunday and confession at least twice a year. I’ve never blatantly sinned, only to declare that all was well the next day, because I asked for forgiveness with no intention of changing my ways. I try not to say God’s name in vain. I pray and give thanks. I aim to be honest and good. I’m not perfect, but I don’t knowingly break Catholic teachings… or I didn’t, until now.

Jake and I are having sex. I’ve told you that, without too much detail. It wasn’t a slip up and I didn’t get caught up in the moment. I didn’t change some kind of vow I’d made, because my feelings surprised me. No. In fact, I made a conscious decision, long before I met Jake, that I wasn’t going to wait until I was married to have sex: a mortal sin, that requires absolution from a priest, through confession, for one to be considered in communion with the Catholic Church and receive the Eucharist.

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All you non-Catholics are either scratching your heads or rolling your eyes, but as Christ granted the apostles the ability to absolve mortal sins, so goes the way of the Catholic Church with priests. Furthermore, despite all the jokes to the contrary, if the confessor does not genuinely intend to avoid further sin, true absolution cannot be received. That’s the deal for Catholics. It’s non-negotiable and this is my faith.

Having been divorced young, I’ve heard a dozen stories about why others’ marriages ended and a sad number of them directly related to sex. A high school friend’s ex-husband had a general, but whopping porn addiction; another acquaintance waited until she was married to have sex, only to find out her new husband wasn’t interested in the slightest; Gaily’s ex-husband was just into really weird stuff; in addition to numerous other issues, even my own former marriage suffered from my ex-husband’s complete lack of interest, because sex is exercise. Of course, a healthy marriage goes far beyond the physical, and each of the above had other severe issues, but there are so many variables that can make or break that relationship, that I just couldn’t bring myself to promise not to explore any and all that I could before making a lifelong commitment, again.

At 23 years old, I sat crying in a judge’s office and I did make a vow. I vowed that the next time, I’d make an educated decision on my partner and over time, I came to decide that this included sex. I’d often read an online dating profile that elaborated (usually far too much) on sexual preference. One man declared himself a dominant, while others revealed that they’d like to act out rape fantasies, and most would simply admit to their appetites and how often they’d like to engage. I consider myself pretty open-minded sexually. There’s not a lot that I think Jake would suggest, that I wouldn’t try. However, if his suggestion was that we only have sex, missionary style, twice a month, I’d object. I’m young and healthy and have the sexual appetite and sense of adventure to match. I don’t want to be with someone who feels guilty at trying new things or lacks interest in that connection. I also don’t want to be with someone who can’t enjoy it without props and gimmicks. I just want to be with someone sexually normal and I’ve known for some time that I could never discover what that meant to either of us, while clothed.

In a lot of ways, the decision has come down to with which sin I could most comfortably live. My previous marriage was never acknowledged by the Catholic Church, but my next one most certainly will be. I won’t get off so easy if I find myself divorced again, because unless you receive an annulment, you are still married. Any relationship pursued, beyond this point, is adultery, so getting a divorce (and living as such) despite the Church’s teachings, is a mortal sin… and one I can never rectify. With Jake, I can once again be in communion with the Catholic Church on the day our marriage is blessed, typically one year after having a non-Catholic wedding. That may be a couple of years away, but if we waited until marriage to have sex, only to realize that some element of our sex lives would lead to divorce, I’d be out of the Church’s graces for good. I know there are a dozen other factors that could lead to divorce, but we’ve explored those as well. Jake knows my financial views and priorities and I know his. We’ve discussed parenting styles and religion. Why wouldn’t we explore a fundamental aspect of marriage, like sex, as thoroughly as we could?

I’m rationalizing. I know I am, just as I rationalize using birth control, because I’m already breaking one cardinal rule and can’t imagine being pregnant and feeling so alone again. According to the Church, my priest, my fellow practicing Catholics, my reasons don’t matter. I don’t know better than God and I am truly remorseful for the weakness and pride behind my decision. I am not criticizing the Church. I love the Catholic Church and I understand and agree with their rules, even this one. God does not negotiate. I just can’t bring myself to risk the pain I felt, sitting in that judge’s office. It far outweighed the pain I feel sitting in the pew, as everyone else partakes in Communion… and I’m sorry for that, as well.

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How the Word “Biscuit” Made Me Cry: the Beginning of a Dating Hiatus

I’ve had some really bad dates, y’all. You know this. You were there for them. There have even been a few that have left me crying in frustration, because I’m convinced that “I am going to die alone!” Just as Gaily knows that “I wish Kitty Foreman were my mom!” means a mommy issues day, the above sentence is code for “ask me about my bad date.” That’s all the tears have ever been, though: the product of frustration. I’ve never actually been so hurt or offended as to cry… until my last date with Assistant Manager.

Assistant Manager was the 34-year-old Catholic, with whom I had a decent first date last Thursday. We chatted at Starbuck’s and seemed to get along well. As much as I wanted to take some time off from the dating world, the situation seemed promising, so I made a second date. Once again, I’d talked myself into dreading meeting up with him. He’d seemed a bit over eager (wanting to plan multiple dates at a time) and had some mildly irritating mannerisms and habits, like calling every time I texted him. Dude, if I wanted to talk to you, I’d call. You pretty much have to be related by blood or offering me a job to get me on the phone.

However, I knew I was being ridiculous. I prayed about it and tried to get myself into a good mindset, since the plans had already been made. When Assistant Manager asked what I wanted to do, because men are incapable of making plans anymore, I just said that getting a drink would be fine, because I had somewhere to be the next morning at 9:30. I even got cute and actually put on shoes, despite the fact that it’s summer.

On the phone, Assistant Manager had mentioned that he’d been working all day and was “nasty,” because it’s so hot. Way to turn a gal on, dude. I gave him plenty of time to shower and even mentioned that that’s what I was doing, but he still showed up to the bar looking disheveled and unwashed. He didn’t smell much better, but I felt like I was being shallow to fixate, though he’d been quite polished on our first date. He asked where I wanted to sit and seemed put out when I chose a table instead of a booth. So far, he’d done a complete 180 from our first date, but I sat and we talked, as I breathed through my nose and sipped my Diet Pepsi. We chatted about what jobs he’d held before his current one and he essentially gave me his life story, which was fine, because I’d wondered why he wasn’t further in his company at 34 if that was his goal. Then, I brought up another issue I felt was important: religion.

Y’all, I have atheist friends, Protestant friends, Christian friends who don’t call themselves Protestant, Jewish friends, et cetera. I legitimately do not care what other people believe, but this man’s main attraction was Catholicism and the fact that he was specifically seeking a devout Catholic woman. I’m also not raising kids with my atheist and Jewish friends and think I could accomplish doing so with someone who was any of the others. I just feel that any major theological disagreements, such as The Jesus Thing, are too big of an issue for a romantic relationship. End disclaimer.

On our first date, Assistant Manager had made a quick comment about disagreeing with a lot of ideas and practices within the Catholic Church. As someone who is pretty Catholic and has few to zero problems with the Church doctrine, I wanted to know more about this. Does he resent the Church? What exactly does he think should be changed? Well, in addition to admitting he didn’t even own a bible, the short answer is… yes and everything. Here are just a few problems he has with the Catholic Church:

Women can’t be priests.
Priests can’t marry.
You must confess mortal sins to a Priest to receive Absolution.
Homosexuality is a sin.
You must receive six months of marital preparation to receive the Sacrament of Marriage, or it’s not a Sacrament and is not recognized by the Church.

Assistant Manager: “So, have I made you mad yet?”
Me: “I’m not mad or offended. Most of my friends don’t agree with those things. I just don’t understand why you identify so strongly as Catholic, if you disagree with everything the Church teaches. The main thing that sets Catholicism apart from Protestantism is the acceptance of the authority of the Pope and all of those things are under his authority.”
Assistant Manager: “Well, I don’t disagree with everything.”
Me: “Do you believe in transubstantiation? Do you believe that the bread actually becomes the Body of Christ?”
Assistant Manager: “It’s just symbolism. Everybody does it. They all take Communion, but it’s just symbolism.”
Me: “But that’s like the defining feature of the Catholic Church. It’s one of the primary teachings.”
Assistant Manager: “It’s still just symbolism. Do you seriously believe that a biscuit becomes the Body of Christ?” :laughingly:
Me: “Yes. I do.”

Ass: “Well, um… those are your beliefs and that’s fine, of course.”

Um, dude, that would hold a lot more weight, if you hadn’t guffawed at one of the fundamentals of my faith. He laughed y’all! He called the Eucharist a biscuit and laughed at me! Texan Engineer unwittingly implied that I was unintelligent for believing in Christ, but as an atheist, he did not laugh in my face. I could actually deal with the fact that Assistant Manager didn’t believe in Transubstantiation. I just didn’t understand why he still considered himself Catholic, if that were the case. In fact, the only answer he ever gave to that was that he likes traditional service. When I pointed out that many Protestant churches offer traditional service and described Janet’s church, he mocked her for believing the earth was only 6,000 years old. You don’t have to agree with someone (unless it’s the Pope, the issue is Transubstantiation, and you call yourself Catholic), but you don’t get to openly mock them. You sure as heck don’t get to giggle about my spell casting and call Christ a biscuit!!!!!!

biscuitThe Second Coming.

Assistant Manager: “How do we even know he ever existed? What proof do we have?”
Me: “We don’t. That’s what faith is.”
Assistant Manager: “Fine. You have all the faith in the world. What if, when you die, you close your eyes and there’s just nothing?”
Me: “Then I’ve lived a good life. I’ve helped people and done as little harm as possible. The flipside of that is ‘what if, when you die, you burn in Hell for not accepting Christ?’ That’s obviously not a reason to believe, but that’s the counterargument.”
Assistant Manager: “Well, people will accept him when they get there and they see him. I don’t believe Jesus is enough of a dick to do that… to cast them into Hell just because they don’t believe. If he wanted them to believe, he should’ve proven he was real when they asked.”

…. anaaaand now I wanna know how you identify as Christian, when you open a conversation with debating whether or not Christ ever existed. Once again, I don’t care what other people believe, but this guy made it clear that he wanted a devout Catholic. The Church teaches that the only way into heaven is through the acceptance of Christ. You know what, though? I could deal with his disagreement on that. Most Catholics have one or two teachings they don’t fully accept. If he believes that being a good person will get someone into heaven, regardless of their acceptance or denial of Christ, fine. He’d hardly be alone in that. But this man disagreed with every issue I mentioned, which makes him, by definition, not Catholic. If you do not recognize the teachings or doctrines of the Catholic Church, it doesn’t matter how you were raised. You aren’t Catholic. I can date a non-Catholic (who is aware of this fact), though. That’s fine. We’ll do Wednesday night Protestant service and Sunday morning Mass. I cannot emphasize enough, though, that Assistant Manager called Christ a biscuit and laughed in my face.

Ultimately, I changed the subject. He told me about how great his people skills are and how wonderful of a communicator he is, after offending the waitress with the way he told her that his beer was warm. We spoke on that topic for about 10 minutes and then I sort of just gracelessly got up and left. I have never left a date more offended or upset, and that includes the guy who had five beers in one hour

Ass: Well shall we go out again?
Me: I don’t think so. I’m really just not feeling it. I think I’m gonna take a break from dating for awhile. It was nice meeting you, though, and I wish you luck.
Ass: I figured you just bolted
Me: Well, I actually do have to be up tomorrow. Honestly, I deleted my free profiles a little while ago. I really do just need a break. 
Ass: So if I may ask what was it
Me: It really wasn’t anything. About a week into talking, I decided I wanted to delete all my profiles, but I felt like I should give it a shot.
Ass: You really are a great girl. I hope you find what you are looking for.

Part of what I’d prayed for was to be kind, no matter how the date went. So, I did not respond with “SERIOUSLY?” when he asked why. I did not tell him that I hope he realizes what he’s looking for, because it ain’t a devout Catholic… or even just a semi-serious Christian. I lied. If I’d have told the truth, he’d have continued with his pathetic backtracking efforts and nothing he could have possibly said would have made up for cackling about my pastry worship.

Through my tears, I told several friends what had happened, none of whom are Catholic or believe in Transubstantiation.

Never-Swears Karol: Sounds like a douche.

Catherine: How are you going to SPECIFY that you are a Catholic and that you WANT A CATHOLIC GIRL and then blaspheme the entire concept of Catholicism?!?!?!?! And I’m not even Catholic!!!

Lacy: I am sorry he laughed at you. I realize we have some instances where our faiths/denominations differ, but I would never laugh at someone it’s disrespectful and cruel.

Gail:

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