Growing up, I never really talked to any boys until I slept with one. And by that time, they were no longer really boys - especially since I was twenty-one and I gravitated to older men.
In my senior year of college, there was a speaker at chapel who seemed more suited to Junior High students. He neatly categorized the different stages of a relationship through a ladder analogy. The bottom rung was eye contact. The second rung was conversation. The third rung was holding hands. The further up the rungs you climbed, the more dangerous it became. He told us it was best not to go past the third rung before marriage.
I turned to the girl next to me and said, “I started at the top rung and worked my way down.” She gave a nervous laugh. But I knew plenty of people who followed the ladder rule - my sister for example. She and my brother in-law never kissed until a month before their wedding. She was disappointed that they didn’t quite make their goal of waiting. Their friends however, did.
At my college the divorce rate among the alumnus was huge. Years after, I heard women complain that they didn’t enjoy sex with their husbands. From birth onwards – girls and boys were taught that sex is dangerous, taboo, disgusting, perverted, depraved, sinful, dirty. And then one day you find ‘the one.’ You get married and then all of a sudden – sex is beautiful. But actually, often it isn’t. Because how do you shake all of those old perceptions that are ingrained not only in your mindset, but in your body.
Growing up in Christian schools, education on sex was extremely limited, and friends offered silly stories that had no bearing in actual life:
“If you don’t have the gene for curling your tongue, then you can’t French kiss properly.”
“A woman is a rose. To each man she sleeps with, or gives a part of herself, she gives away one of her petals. If she sleeps with too many men, soon she’ll have no petals left.”
This conveniently excludes the fact that a rose is a perennial and comes back every year. There is no direct experience in these ideas. Admitting direct experience is taboo. Denial even sometimes remains after a girl appears to have swallowed a watermelon. And of course, denial is also the reason for the failure to buy condoms or birth control in the first place.
The dangers of repression became glaringly obvious one day when a group of girls decided to streak through campus. Every year it was the tradition for guys to do this, and it was always at a very public event. The first year it was while we were all on the lawn watching ‘The Creature From the Black Lagoon’ in 3-D. All of a sudden naked guys were streaking past the screen – odd because at first it seemed like part of the movie. The next year they rode their bikes through a festival. And the third year, some girls from the Basketball team wanted to join the tradition.
They went streaking through the canyon by the dorms – and strangely enough, guys started chasing them down, driven by mad lust. Something comical and bonding and freeing turned into something horrific. Most of the girls darted down a gravel path, trying to get away. They dove into the bushes to hide, getting scraped by stones and branches. Only one saintly fellow came and offered clothes to get them back to safety.
This all reaffirmed for me my distrust and lack of interest in the guys at my school. I had a long list of issues. For every six girls there were only four guys. Overall, they were unattractive, lacking in life experience, introverted with women, hypocritical. Basically, they were a direct reflection of myself, and I did not want to be who I was. Up to that point, I had always been at the hands of environment and religion - ingrained to think the way I thought.
Among many girls at my college there was a celebration of the infantile. My friends sported the same haircuts they’d had since the third grade. They liked to wear t-shirts and sweatshirts with cartoon characters emblazoned on them – most popular being Winnie the Pooh and Mickey Mouse. My roommate insisted on putting up hideous posters by Ann Geddes of babies in flowerpots and dressed as pea pods. They favored the pastel colors of a baby nursery – pink, lavender, lime green, baby blue. Bedspreads ranged from candy-colored stripes to polka dots. Their binders had pictures of puppies and kittens in the front. And yet – they were adults between the ages of eighteen to twenty-two.
These women preferred to remain in an infantile state because it was easy. One year I asked all the girls on my floor if they would rather marry for passion and adventure or for comfort and security. Every girl chose comfort and security except for my roommate and I. They went to college to get their M.R.S. degree and I listened to them complain if they didn’t get that ‘ring by spring.’ Marriage was protection from the dangers of being out in the world. A husband would take care of them, protect them, control their lives and make the decisions. They would spend their time scrapbooking sentimental memories, making banana bread, volunteering at church. They would mistrust any environment not labeled ‘Christian.’ They would attempt to repeat the entire system by ingraining their children with the same unrealistic worldview. They would secretly acknowledge that their husband was not a prince. They would feel trapped, but the world without a husband is the great unknown. They’d never been in it, and never wanted to be.
I just finished reading Carlene Bauer’s memoir, Not That Kind of Girl. Maybe I was too excited to read a book that seemed comparable to my own developing memoir. But she failed to draw me in. I spent the entirety rolling my eyes, just wanting her to get over herself. Was it because I relate in all the parts of myself that I don’t like, or because I saw so many of the girls that I grew up with? Probably, a little of both.
Bauer grew up in the Protestant church, attended a small Catholic college, and then moved to New York to become an editor, still clinging to her virginity. She eventually leaves religion behind, but not prudery. She excuses it by saying that she is a perfectionist.
“Used improperly, said church, sex could addle you beyond repair. If someone who didn’t love you saw you naked, you would become Natalie Wood in Splendor in the Grass, eyes gone wild and trembling, wanting to drown yourself in the bathtub because your awakened appetite could not be satisfied (Bauer, 176).”
God wasn’t really the reason Carlene Bauer didn’t get out there and throw herself into the depths of life like she really wanted too. It was only herself holding her back – her fears, her introversion, her lack of confidence.
“Maybe my body was what was weighing me down, not God, and if I could just learn to forget about my body, my mind could finally, finally be free (Bauer, 62).”
The title of her book is ironic. Not That Kind of Girl. For the entire memoir, it is strikingly obvious that she has always longed to be that kind of girl – the kind of girl that lives a wild life, with passions and loves, throws caution to the wind, a real bohemian. She relates to Sylvia Plath and looks up to Edna St. Vincent Millay, and chides herself for not being nearly as interesting. Though I am happy that she is a success as a writer and has found her way outside of the beliefs that held her back, I wanted her to become what she always dreamed of being. I saw more potential for her, and I hope she finds it for herself.