Andrea Loewen is the author of The Receptionist, a blog that highlights her love of cats, photoshopping Ryan Gosling into her life, feminist musings, and other daily life inspirations. While no longer a receptionist, she is currently a theatre geek who met her soon-to-be common law partner on Tinder… after growing up Menonnite. Here she talks about a life that has taken a very different path since that purity pledge as a teenager…
I am a human with the following physical particularities: curly hair (that’s this stuff on the top of my head), ovaries (female), light skin, and tall. As most humans do, I like to think of myself as special, even though we’re all mostly the same. The things that make me feel special include the fact that I love dancing. I took ballet and modern growing up and even though I mostly only dance now in my living room, it’s still a part of who I am. I work primarily in theatre, but also write and am a certified yoga instructor who doesn’t teach anymore. I like to be very, very organized and much prefer being direct with people to trying to be coy or manipulate them into seeing things my way.
I’m a relationship and we’re about to move in together, which is a pretty big deal for me. Not only is it the first time I’ve been in this place with someone before, but I always thought I needed to be married – or at least engaged – before I lived with a partner. It took me a while to feel okay about making this choice, and to unpack all the weird baggage I had about living together without the promise of marriage.
I was raised Mennonite, with pretty strict views on sex and marriage. I took a purity vow when I was a teenager. I remember taking the vow at youth group one night. There had been a talk about the importance of purity and saving sex for marriage, and then they invited those who wanted to make a vow to stay pure to make it more concrete. They had a bunch of uncut keys that were on cards with a commitment to wait for marriage written on it – the symbolism, of course, being that we, in our virginal states, were all a bunch of uncut keys, and once we had sex we would be cut and that would be it. (Of course, I now see all sorts of phallic symbolism in the cut/uncut key and the whole inserting a key into a lock thing, but that is a new revelation).
I think the card had a thing we were supposed to sign and then give back to our youth leaders, but for some reason I didn’t do that – I just kept my key with the card. It stayed in my desk for a very, very long time. I think I only threw it out at my last move.
I did romanticize it a bit: I imagined that on my wedding night I would go with my new husband to a hardware store and cut the key. (It’s okay, I laughed at myself as I wrote that down).
So, while the purity vow has long been broken with no guilt attached, thank goodness, the concept of living together sparked a lot of inner junk I didn’t realize I had. Hearing my entire life that living together is wrong and unnecessary and that guys who want to live with their girlfriends are just trying appease their girlfriends’ desire for commitment while avoiding the real commitment of marriage had more of an impact on me than I realized it would, long after I’d let go of most of the religious morality I’d been raised with.
I really struggled with embracing morality after letting go of religious morality. As a Mennonite, my understanding of right and wrong revolved entirely around God. That was the filter through which I knew the world. While I had (and still have) a very strong sense of ethics and empathy, it was really difficult to wrap my head around the fact that this morality was within me. This was also a slow, growing comfort that came over time when I saw that I wasn’t suddenly becoming a horrible person. There were always things in traditional church morality (I won’t say Christian morality, because that’s multifaceted) that always troubled me: homophobia/heteronormativity, the “Godliness” of gender roles, activism against abortion, etc. Even as a child I would always feel like there was something wrong with our movement against these things, and it was a great sense of relief to realize that I could now openly support and love things that I once had to see as wrong.
I changed my way of thinking slowly, it was a sort of combination of a sudden event and a long, drawn out process of realizations. Basically, in university I had a sudden moment where I felt extremely let down by God. I had been certain that he had told me one thing, and then the opposite happened, and it just sort of hit me that this whole “God told me this” or “God wants that” business is bullshit. If God was real and had a will and any agency at all, then it was his fault that I, in my honest attempt to follow his will, was misled, not mine. Of course, it’s really hard to let go of your entire worldview. After that moment of anger and clarity, I spent years oscillating back and forth between beliefs.
That said, I am now a weirdo who goes to church regularly but doesn’t consider herself a Christian. After I got through the anger and sadness, I started to miss a spiritual connection in my life, and I realized that all paths to spirituality are completely valid and that I can partake in this one without buying into the whole thing (and I actually found a church where they’re cool with that).
Anyway, when we decided to move in together I had to have a lot of regular, non religious themed conversations with my friends who have lived with their partners about what it was like, why they did it, how it changed their relationship, and all of that, before I came around to it. Plus, a lot of conversations with my boyfriend about those things everyone loves to talk about: where the relationship is going, how it’s progressed so far, do we see marriage in our future, and blah, blah, blah. I still feel nervous about it. A part of me still wonders if my boyfriend will use this as an excuse to avoid marriage down the line. I am terrified of becoming the girlfriend who is setting deadlines on her boyfriend to propose and anxiously wondering if he really wants to or is just doing it to make her happy. I want to get married, but I want to marry someone who is excited to marry me, not someone who is being dragged to the alter.
Honestly, I think the main reason we’re together is because I totally lucked out – not only in the sense that I am lucky to be with the guy I am with, but also because we both actually encountered each other in the first place. I know some friends who just turn around and find a new partner waiting at their door, while I have other friends who are brilliantly awesome humans and have been single for decades. At the end of the day, since I don’t believe in “the one,” random chance just has to be a factor.
To add to the luck factor, we met on Tinder of all places! It is basically pure chance that we came across each other’s profiles and that I, for some reason, swiped right when I normally swiped left to guys who seemed to only be interested in hiking. Of course, then he messaged me using full sentences, so that was promising. The funny thing is we were both on OKCupid at the same time and realized later that we would have never connected on there because there were things on each other’s profiles that we were not even including in our searches. So it really is luck. And maybe being slightly less firm on things that you think are deal breakers, but are really nothing.
At risk of gloating, I have found what I was looking for before: an actual partner. I know it’s a bit of an unromantic term, but isn’t that what we really want? A partner is a person who you can go through life with supporting each other, boosting each other, visioning the future together, and just plain having fun. I always felt in dating that I only ever found people that I could be half of myself with: serious and intellectual, or goofy and weird. Now I get to be both halves of myself and that is amazing.
That said, I’m also pretty nervous. We’re moving in together! We’re going to blend our lives! We’re going to combine our stuff which means that if it doesn’t work out, one of us will have to buy new dishes! What if it doesn’t work out? Oh goodness. I am pretty sure it will work out, but this is the “do or die”, really.
He is not spiritual at all. I used to think it was very important that partners have the same belief system. Obviously, my upbringing engrained that in me. I got worried as my beliefs became less and less “conventional.” How on earth was I supposed to find someone else who isn’t a Christian but goes to a Christian church and engages with spirituality through some mix of Christian practices, yoga, and their own random ideas?
I have been seriously picking and choosing when it comes to my spiritual life and that makes it mighty difficult to match. Then I realized that all I really needed was someone who I could talk to about things. So long as we both respected each other’s views and we could discuss them (I freaking love digging into a discussion of spiritual matters), I was good.
Finding someone with my exact beliefs would be silly because they will probably change over time. Besides, the deeper you get into any spiritual/religious label, the more you see the variations inside. So even if I was still a full Mennonite Christian and someone else had the same label, we might functionally have different beliefs.
I was a little worried about filling him in on my past, just because it’s hard to explain now. Like I said, my beliefs are sort of all over the place. Explaining it is a lot of back and forth, and because of how religious people are generally viewed in society, I am always afraid of being pegged as “religious” and all the stereotypes that go along with that.
Of course, he reacted fantastically. He thoughtfully listened and shared his views. At the time, he said “secular humanist” but basically he’s atheist, and we had a proper discussion of how we may or may not work together with this perspective. Obviously we decided it would be okay.
And in terms of my family’s perspective on my life now, that’s also pretty great. I am fortunate to have parents who prefer to maintain a good relationship with their kids over imposing their views. My sister has already blazed a lot of paths in terms of rebelling and she was never turned away. Although she didn’t really make it easier for me. My role in the family was to be the “good one.” My broader family is equally accepting of each other, something that I believe started thanks to my Aunt, who broke away from the faith and is now an abortion provider. My grandparents set the tone back then of loving and accepting their child no matter what, and the rest of the family has followed suit.
I totally respect my family’s beliefs, as well as the Mennonite faith, now. There are obviously things I disagree with, but for the most part, I see it all as people simply trying to make sense of the world. Since none of us really know what’s out there, who knows, maybe they’re right. Not about gay marriage though, that is just fine for anyone.