As I approach my twentieth birthday, I’ve learned to deconstruct traditional concepts of love, sex and marriage.
Last week, I joined Tinder. It was a very weird experience for me because I never imagined myself being on the app. I didn’t even know how to use it. Do I chose a selfie or a full body picture for my profile? Should I include a bio? How long does it take to find a match? Those were some of the questions that flowed through my mind after I created my account. After spending at least thirty minutes of constantly swiping left due to being discouraged about the lack of black men in my college town, I deleted my account.
Having a Tinder account was initially unorthodox to me because it was always hard for me to conceptualize the idea of showing interest in someone by simply swiping right or left. I didn’t think that was the proper way of getting to know someone. My socialization on love and dating, which stemmed from my family’s Christian background, was basically equated to courtship, marriage, sex and children (in that order). I attended many Bible study discussions and church services in which my sexuality was compared to a used car, which was basically meant to be understood as my value as a woman decreasing the more I let someone penetrate me. And abstinence was the extent of my sexual education, so joining an app for hookups was damn near revolutionary for me. My short-lived Tinder experience made me reflect on other traditional ideas of sex and love that I no longer agree with, so here’s a list of some of those concepts that I’ve gradually distanced myself from since being in college:
I don’t believe in virginity
Since I was a child, I was taught that my worth was inextricably linked to my sex life. I was socialized to think that the more I had sex, the less likely I would be considered in a man’s eyes as someone worthy for marriage. And I believed it. I spent most of my teenage years abiding by this rule, and it seemed like everyone around me was rooting for me to fall in that tradition. It was during this time that I learned that the race of virginity leading to marriage is a toxic competition in the black church. It seemed like women who cheerfully announced their marriage in the sanctuary felt like they had one-up on the single women. Meanwhile, girls who had became pregnant from sex out of wedlock were forced to announce their “sin” in front of the entire congregation, shamefully eliminating themselves from this unspoken competition. And girls who had elaborate purity ceremonies and vowed their “virginity” to God until a future husband replaced their purity ring with a wedding ring were viewed in high regard at the church. Those were the type of women who were said to have been aligning with God’s perfect plan for their lives.
Seeing these performative practices in the church instantly made me afraid of anything dealing with sex because I didn’t want to experience the shame and embarrassment of letting people down. The extent of my sexual education was abstinence because the pastors in my church and people in my family taught me that pregnancy would always be the result of having sex. I didn’t learn about birth control until I came to college, so most of my teenage years were spent heavily avoiding pregnancy. For black girls, especially those growing up in the church, being abstinent and not becoming a “stereotype” was met with a great sense of accomplishment. A black girl could be disrespectful, have failing grades, but as long as she didn’t get pregnant, then she was automatically viewed as better than the girl who did get pregnant outside of marriage. And I think that’s why many women in the church did their best to protect their daughter, granddaughters and nieces from being viewed that way.
I remember my older auntie being very concerned with the way I presented myself at church: Wear a dress that doesn’t show too much of your ass. Don’t wear that skirt that doesn’t go past your knees. Don’t show off your shoulders. Remember to wear a girdle so your ass won’t shake in that dress. Wear a shawl over your skirt when sitting down to hide your thighs. Don’t be the only girl with a group of guys.
It’s because of this hyper-surveillance on a girl’s body that now leads me to believe that virginity is a social construction. It’s only purpose is to inhibit a woman’s sexuality and discourage her from exhibiting any type of sexual pleasure for the sake of winning this unspoken competition. Furthermore, the definition of virginity being linked to having an “unbroken hymen” isn’t exactly accurate because the hymen doesn’t typically break during sexual intercourse, and it doesn’t completely cover the vaginal canal. It can only stretch. The hymen also stretches during other activities such as inserting a tampon and riding a bicycle, so why isn’t there the same surveillance when women participate in those activities?
The concept of virginity, at its core, is a heteronormative idea that shames women from enjoying sex and automatically eliminates trans and queer people. It only exists for the sake of controlling women and making them pyrrhic victors of limiting their sexuality.
Marriage, or having kids, isn’t a goal for me.
After graduating from high school, I imagined that my college experience would be the equivalent of Whitley Gilbert’s in “A Different World”---- finding the man of my dreams while achieving my goals. Whitley and Dwayne’s relationship was the first representation of black love that I saw on television, so I wanted my own love story to look similar to theirs. However, I think those representations, along with common discussions regarding marriage, have fueled the socialization of college being a wife school for women. Women are taught that being in college makes them more susceptible for being swept into the happily ever after of marriage and children.
Well, I’ve learned that my value doesn’t rely on my reproductive organs or me being married.
In fact, since being in college, I’ve realized that the only benefit of being married is getting more money from taxes. There isn’t any significant difference between being married and being in a committed relationship. It’s just that when you’re married, the law gives legitimacy to your relationship. This was always weird to me because I didn’t think love needed to be validated by the law. If anything, the law makes things more complicated than they need to be.
The performance surrounding heterosexual marriage is embedded in patriarchy. It’s traditionally acceptable for the man to propose to a woman for marriage, which basically gives a man control over a woman’s desire to be married. Yes, it’s true that a woman has the choice to decline a man’s offer . However, that’s the extent of a woman’s control in that regard because it’s traditionally unacceptable for a woman to propose to a man. This made me realize that if marriage starts with a man asking the question after seeing the woman worthy enough of being married, then marriage is nothing but an institution controlled by men.
When I was younger, I imagined that I would have six children. Being the only child made me want to have a lot of children. However, that number has significantly decreased to zero since last year. The idea of me having a child scares the shit out of me. What would I even say to a child? The idea of being pregnant is even scarier. Another human being being trapped in my body for most of the year and imposing uncomfortable changes on it sounds like something in a horror movie, and I want no parts in it. Maybe it’s because I’m still young, but I don’t genuinely understand the appeal of having children. I’m not naturally maternalistic, so I don’t think there’s any reason for me to have a kid. And I won’t change my mind unless it’s my own choice and not under the influence of wifely performative duties.
Most heterosexual relationships are built in patriarchy
My last relationship was very eye-opening. It was a very gratifying relationship in which I learned a lot about myself and the parameters of what modern-day love looks like. Heterosexual relationships being based on a man’s needs were among those lessons learned. I realized that most men require women to support them in ways that ultimately neglect the woman’s feelings and needs. Men typically want a woman who can they can build with. They often require women to be present when they’re figuring out their dreams and ideas while most women already have their career goals intact prior to entering the relationship.
I’ve seen many relationships in which the women had her life together while the man didn’t. I think this is because we teach women that they have to well put together to capture a man’s attention while we don’t teach the same lesson for men. It’s for those reasons that I can’t see myself in any relationship that abides by those standards. Relationships often require women to sacrifice a piece of themselves, and I don’t have time or energy for anything like that.