I was a non-religious young woman.
I’d been raised in church, decided it was not for me, and was content living my quiet life, without involvement in a church. Then I met my ex, and within a few days he was insisting that I had to become a born-again Christian—not only for the salvation of my soul, but because he could not date me, otherwise.
At first, I tried to reason with him. He’d told me he loved me and we’d be married, so any philosophical differences would not be important enough to separate us. The reasons he and the people in his circle gave for needing to be part of that group did not apply to me. The book didn’t seem any more true to me than it had before I met him. It was not right to demand a person have identical views on anything as the price of admission to a relationship you’ve already determined is worthwhile. Religion is a personal decision that shouldn’t be forced on anyone. But he made it clear that if I did not convert, I would not be girlfriend material—all while telling me out of the other side of his mouth that I was the woman he wanted to spend his life with.
He spoke often about how Jesus had saved him from a life of drugs and alcohol. Jesus had helped him deal with a painful break-up. Jesus had saved him from a mother who had neglected him as he grew up, because she’d made it clear she’d always wished she’d had an abortion. He was certain that although I had none of his problems, I needed his solution.
I looked at this hard-working, clean cut, clean-living man who said he wanted to marry me and thought, “If this is what it takes for him to be morally and ethically responsible, OK. I don’t feel any great need to profess this faith of his, but since I love him and it is so important to him, I will convert.”
In my religious background, people who converted to their spouse’s religion were seen as “taking one for the team” in an honorable way. So, while it was not my idea, I agreed to it. It was the first choice of many I would make in an effort to make this man happy.
Religion became an excuse for his lousy boyfriend behavior:
If I didn’t memorize Bible verses well enough, he could criticize me for not putting in enough effort–or just not being smart enough to know how to do it.
If he wanted to spend time with his guy friends instead of me, but also wanted to insist that I not go out and do something enjoyable in his absence—Jesus wanted him in Bible study.
If he wanted to go to a big, public gathering and not admit we were dating—His religious friends would be offended that I had not been part of the religion for very long.
If he wanted to tell me I couldn’t spend time with my friends—Jesus insisted I spend more time with other members of the church.
If he didn’t like my clothes—they were offensive to God.
If he wanted to ensure I had no money of my own—he could name a missionary and tell me my savings should go to their support.
If he didn’t want to hold my hand in public—that was an offense to God.
If he didn’t want to have sex until after the wedding—that was to ensure we were “pure.”
In the weeks before the wedding, he actually suggested we wait for six months AFTER the wedding to have sex, “to show God and each other that we were marrying to please God, not out of lust.” I did put my foot down on that one: I refused to agree to a sexless honeymoon.
On that honeymoon, if he didn’t want to have sex (and boy, he didn’t want to have sex) he could say that it was important that he read his Bible and pray alone for several hours every day, even on our honeymoon.
If he wanted to get out of the house, he could say that he needed to be in a men’s Bible study or prayer group. If he wanted to get out of the house and have a few beers, he could say he was mingling with the unsaved, for their sake.
If I said I wanted something he didn’t want, he could tell me that as his wife God wanted me to quietly submit to him, as if I were submitting directly to God. I was, in other words, never allowed to disagree, complain, voice an opinion he had not already mapped out for me, or express a need for love and sex from my husband.
Anything and everything he wanted was easily justified by religion.
We spent several years as missionaries abroad. During that time I obeyed him. I loved him. I was the best wife I could be. And yet, my missionary husband kept me feeling unloved, unwanted, not good enough, not holy enough, not interesting enough. He didn’t give me affection, or love, or compassion, or kindness, or much in the way of sexual attention.
He did, however, give me an STD, and had me half convinced that I got it from the OB/GYN’s tools.
Many years later, divorced, I won’t date a religious man again. There is just too much room to hide among the laws and teachings of the church, too much insistence that women not call their husbands out for cruel behavior, and too much opportunity for a closeted gay man to pretend his fascination with men, and his complete disinterest in sex with a woman, are marks of holiness.
Georgia Lynne Pine is a writer and editor in Maryland. She is happily divorced from her gay husband, and rebuilding her life as a woman who can trust her own judgment, again, at last. Georgia writes about her experiences as a straight spouse–and as a free woman in the aftermath of divorce from a closeted, gay narcissist in denial.
By Georgia Lynn Pine