Thursday, March 20, 2014

Lenten Project: Day Fourteen

At Bob Jones University, the pressure to date is high.  And the definition of dating when I was there was insane: any time two members of the opposite sex are together in a social setting, that counts as a date.  So if you sit with a classmate at dinner, and that classmate happens to be a boy?  You're dating.

If the guy with whom you ate dinner walks you back to your dorm--that's a date.

If you sit together at the Sunday Morning "Mass" in Founder's Memorial Amphitorium, you're dating. 

The literary societies organise "dating outings" each school year, usually a picnic at a local park or hiking or horseback riding. The school has frequent "Artist Series" programs, like musical performances, Shakespearean plays, and operas. All of these are considered BIG dates. 

If you do any of those things more than three times in a row, everybody else around you believes you are going steady and will expect a diamond to appear on your finger by Christmas break. 

When I was a student, the then-President of the school, Bob Jones the Third, repeated his father's words often: "Any boy good enough to be at BJU is good enough to date!" So turning down a request for a date was discouraged. 

My mother echoed this by encouraging us girls to "date around," which always seemed very slagish to me. I mean, if every first date was for the purpose of seeing if this was God's mate for you, then every second date was agreed to with the intention of marriage.  So there could be a lot of emotional attachments right up front. Doing this with loads of different guys each semester would be really heartbreaking, not to mention tiresome. Plus, there was the whole "loose woman" factor. No guy wanted to date a girl who had been emotionally attached to every other guy on campus, right? So I didn't take my mother's advice, and only dated a handful of guys.

The guys, to avoid the whole mess, often just didn't ask girls out, so girls would rove around in packs, like wild dogs, loudly decrying the state of their singleness.

I secured my first "date" when I'd been on campus only a few days.  I went to the social parlour to hang out with the boy, and it was thrilling.  Our first real date came a couple weeks later, just a few months before my 19th birthday. In my mind, it didn't matter who the guy was, really, or his character or anything, because I was certain they only let good guys into BJU, and therefore all I had to worry about was getting one to like me (so I wouldn't be alone for the rest of my life, or have to move back to my parents' in disgraceful failure).

We dated for most of my first semester there.  Early on, while sitting on the dating couches in the student center, some pompous, self-important student approached us and accused my boyfriend of inappropriately touching me.  He'd had a strand of my long hair in his fingers.  We got off with a warning, but it reinforced the idea that all touching is inappropriate, that every interaction between the opposite genders is sexually charged.

It all culminated at the last artist series of the year in 2001, when he held my hand when the lights were dimmed.  It was as illicit as sex, in our minds.  Now I understood why there were so many rules against it!  No boy had ever held my hand before.  I don't even remember the play we saw--all my energies and focus were on his sweaty hand as it held mine.

We look like kids playing dress up...because that's what we were.

A few days later, he broke up with me in a very public manner, right in the middle of the Student Center (not that he could have done it any other way, since we weren't allowed to be alone anywhere on campus, and phone conversations were limited to 15 minutes).  I couldn't understand it!  Everything had been going so splendidly!  But he said he felt convicted about holding my hand and breaking the no touching rule.  I still didn't understand why that meant he had to dump me.

I felt like I'd been used and discarded.  As though I weren't good enough, were somehow unworthy, because I'd let him hold my hand.

I bullied him into taking me back, at least till Christmas break was over, mostly because I couldn't face my parents and admit that I'd blown it and lost my first chance at getting a godly husband.  After Christmas break was over and we were both back on campus, we quietly went our separate ways.  It took me a long time to recover from it, though, because my emotions had been so engaged.  If dating was for the purpose of getting married, we were almost married in my imagination.  So it was pretty devastating to have my dreams dashed.

Thankfully, this happened early on, so I was scared away from seriously dating for a couple years.  It was probably a really good thing, though I certainly wouldn't have agreed at the time.

Do you have positive or negative feelings about your first girlfriend/boyfriend?  How old were you?  How did it end?