My dad and his wife are Christians. Liberal Christians, all considered, but Christian enough that a well-worn bible was included in the pile of things being cleaned away from the coffee table by my step-mum as I walked in the door.
My sister, her boyfriend and I, who stayed over at my Dad’s place on the weekend, are atheists.
In fact, we’re almost hate-theists, primarily because of the extreme environment we were brought up in that was the instigation of divorces, career-changes and all round identity crises in our mid-20’s. That stuff takes a while to get out of your system.
The unwritten way to deal with this in our family is to just not talk about it. Possibly writing a blog about it is breaking the rule but hey… it’s working for us right now, tender as we all are from the tumultuous ‘church exodus’ years. I’m a personal fan of recognising that there are differences that will probably never change and just embracing the goodness that can be found in the moment.
Which is all fine until you’re all sitting down to a table of steaming eggshell pasta and Parmesan and rocket salad as a family for what appears to be the first time since your parents separated – since you all separated – and there’s that tiny breath of space, just big enough for the thought…
“Are we saying Grace?”
For those that don’t know, Grace is the saying of thanks to God for food before eating dinner.
Grace was a big deal in my family. No one was allowed to even pick at a piece of food before grace was said.
Every night, we, and whatever guests happened to be over at the time, would hold hands, eying off which dish we were going to reach for first, and Dad would ask from the head of the table ‘Who’s saying grace tonight?’.
Which is like asking “Who wants to present their talk to the class next?”
Because there is such a thing as a good grace and a bad grace.
A bad grace is a lazy grace, “Thank you god for this food amen.” If you gave a performance like that you’d most likely be told to do it again and properly this time.
A good grace typically includes a plea for children across the other side of the world, a mention of one of the family member’s recent struggles brought out from last night’s Sharing Time and a blessing of the cook, always Mum.
Fitting all that in before your sister squeezes your hand off is an art form.
When the final amen is said, everyone at the table chimes in with a hearty Amen and it’s all on for young and old.
I still feel strange sitting down to eat and just picking up a fork to tuck on in. When at a home cooked dinner with friends, I’m always the one chinking glasses or saying something stupid like ‘2, 4, 6, 8, bog in, don’t wait!’ to kick off the meal.
There’s something in that moment of acknowledging togetherness that is even more sacred than the saying of words to a non-existent being.
We try hard not to throw our atheism in Dad’s face without pretending we’re people we’re not. Sometimes though we’re not entirely sure how much of what used to be important to him is still important now.
I figured as a family that they most likely said grace together every night. If it was hard for me to give up the habit, I’m sure it was nigh impossible for Dad.
So we sat, the three of us, bowls filled to the top with pasta, forks untouched, chatting as if we weren’t all wondering what the next move was, until my Dad sat down and smiled around the table. He hesitated, then picked up his fork and began to eat.
We didn’t eat, out of love. He didn’t pray, out of love.
It was just a beautifully awkward moment of respect and space, both parties stepping aside to say ‘No, no, you go first’.
It’s not always the best thing to ‘sweep something under the rug’ or, as my sister would say ‘play happy families’ when you’re not. There’s a difference though, sometimes subtle, between covering up what’s really going on and just having respect for those things that are important to each other. I think you can tell by whether it builds a relationship or goes someway to destroying it.
His wife said out loud a thanks to God for the food as we shucked eggshell pasta onto our fork. The Christians responded Amen. The Atheists didn’t.
And then we all ate food together.
One Big Happy Family. (Just joking, that line’s for my sister. Love you.)
**This is the second of a two part series about saving sex for marriage… by someone who knows what she’s talking about. If you didn’t read the first part, you can read it here.
So, that would be so nice if it were true.
Sadly, more likely, the build up to sex on your marriage night has turned it into some ethereal, life-changing activity that will make you a unicorn before whisking you off into the seventh heaven.
And when you discover it’s not actually that, it’ll be your libido whisked to the seventh heaven instead.
Not that I’m speaking from personal experience *shifty eyes*
And, my friends, if there’s one thing that’ll kill a sex life, it’s an inexplicable lack of libido…
The other panelist on the Huffinton Post panel ran an abstinence website and seemed to think that if he saved sex for marriage, the rest of his 20-30 years of copulating were going to be a blissful honeymoon of happy, true, lovemaking…
…he’d never find himself in the position of needing to ‘spice up the bedroom’ with clown outfits or some other sort of low-grade activity.
To him I say, firstly:
– in a few years, you’ll be in the same position as a couple who had sex before marriage, except all the mystery and surprise that makes sex exciting will disappear sooner because you’ll be peeing together and balancing finances.
You’ll never have these experiences and I’m sad for you.
– although I’m pretty sure clown outfits are wayyy down the list of sexual fantasies there’s nothing wrong with them. Maybe this imaginary couple you’re so judgemental of is so sexually free they’ve discovered they like clown outfits.
Maybe YOU like clown outfits. Don’t you think it’s a shame you’ll never find out?
This is absolutely true. But we’ve jumped a couple of steps.
To be able to communicate you need to first have a) the confidence to communicate and b) something to communicate. If you’ve never had sex before it’s likely you have neither.
My ex and I could, and did communicate about sex. But agreeing it’s not all that crash-hot is like agreeing global warmings not a myth. It’s a step but it doesn’t change anything.
Communication comes into play when you’re able to actually use it.
Without ruining the mood or hurting someone’s ego.
That takes a special kind of comfort with yourself in the bedroom and, contrary to popular Christian opinion, that kind of comfort it not necessarily found by knowing the guy married you. It’s found from… well, being comfortable with yourself.
Definitely not a guaranteed outcome peoples.
There is such a thing as just simply being sexually incompatible. Anyone who has had a modicum of sexual experience will agree with that.
I really don’t need to say anything more on this subject. There’s a reason there’s such a big deal about good sex and that’s because it’s hard to find.
There’s only one thing that equals good sex and that’s good sex. You have to actually do it to discover it.
The reality is that some of you, not all of you but a good some of you, will get to a time of your life where you wonder what you might have missed out on? You’ll hear stories of people who experimented sexually and – shock horror – still seem to be whole and sane human beings and realise that you’re now in a pretty awful position…
The position of loving your spouse and not wanting to hurt him/her and at the same time desperately wishing for experiences you will now never be able to have without hurting him/her.
It’s hard to explain the heartache of this situation and I would never have believed it possible if I hadn’t had so many people tell me their own stories of experiencing it. Here it is in one commenter’s words on my original ‘I regret saving sex for marriage‘ post:
“I know this is an older post, but I need to comment. I totally agree with this, but I feel extremely guilty admitting it. I feel like this is something nobody wants to talk about. I have a wonderful loving husband who I adore. I wouldn’t trade my life with him for anything in the world. But waiting for all those years was lonely, humiliating, and emotionally damaging in so many ways. Now I feel like I never experienced my previous relationships fully, and now that I’m older I feel like I have missed out on experiences that should have been special memories. “
So there it is. Once you realise that sex outside of marriage is not going to turn you into an evil, horned person you realise you do actually want to experience it, like a normal person.
It’s Not Nothing to give up sexual freedom and exploration.
It’s a big deal.
Especially when you’re committing to do it for the rest of your life.
So… if all of that stuff you’ve been told by parents and teachers and leaders is actually bullshit, you have to ask yourself why all those people would tell a young generation that their lives will be better if they saved sex for marriage when actually it’d just be better if they:
Aside from big Daddies wanting to protect little girls from scary boys (who could possibly use a good chat with this dad who wrote a blog titled ‘Dear Daughter, I hope you have awesome sex.’) the answer of why mature people encourage young people not to have sex before marriage is unfortunately super simple.
It’s because they have to.
They HAVE to make up reasons why saving sex for marriage is better than not because… wait for it… it’s in the bible.
And we all know how I feel about that as a reason to do anything.