I was in the passenger seat of my friend’s car and we were driving home from dinner. She was telling me about an experience she had a few summers ago, falling in love abroad. She told me that she felt that the experience of falling in love and feeling a real connection “made her human.” I exploded in an inexplicable fit of rage.
“Wow, I’m so happy for you that you had that wonderful experience of being in love,” I snapped sarcastically. “I’m glad you were able to have the experience that made you human. You weren’t human before that but suddenly you met a man that made everything right. Instead of being a half person with half feelings you could be a real person.”
For some reason, in that moment, I felt under attack by her story. Within the statement that “love makes a person human,” there is an implication that a person who has not been in love is not fully human. Did she mean it that way? Of course she didn’t. She is a wonderful person and close friend of mine who was just trying to tell her story authentically. There was no judgment in her words. The way that I reacted was much too harsh and has much more to do with other interactions I’ve had throughout my life.
As a person who has experienced abuse and sexual assault, I have a very difficult time trusting anyone. I’ve not had a relationship in years. I can’t say that I have ever really been in love. But this culture is saturated in references to romance and sex. You can’t turn anywhere without seeing it—television, movies, magazine covers, books, the radio, advertisements.
The narrative usually goes like this. A woman is lonely and sad, stuck helplessly in a dead-end job or so career-oriented that she is unable to enjoy life. Suddenly a man comes along and “sweeps her off her feet.” She is suddenly able to experience the fullness of life now that she has found the man of her dream. She marries him. She escapes her dead-end job and no longer has to work at all unless she wants to because her husband is a millionaire. She finally has the courage to say “no” to her overbearing boss because she would rather spend time with the man in her life than work overtime—a boundary she never had to set before because there was nothing else worth doing in her life until she met this perfect man.
It’s sickening enough on television, but unfortunately that mentality carries over into real life. I grew up in a small town in Virginia where life revolved around a grocery store, a salon, and yes, a church. The goal for most women within my small community was to get married and raise a family. There is certainly nothing wrong with wanting either of those things, but there is something wrong when it is the expected course for every woman. I chose to further my education, to leave that town, and to pursue a different life. I was the recipient of pity.
At my brother’s wedding a few years ago, I was watching my brother and his wife have their first dance together. It was an emotional moment for everyone there, because they had been in love for years and it was their special day. I found myself tearing up a little bit because I was happy for them. A family friend walked over to me, put her hand on my shoulder and said, “Don’t worry, you’ll find your prince someday. One day that will be you.” I was appalled. She had a lot of nerve, taking a special moment for my brother and turning it into a pity party for me because I did not have a man in my life.
In the past few years I’ve been working toward trusting other people, moving on from my past, and being as healthy as I can. Both my counselors and my friends have felt the need to reassure me that I will be able to “recover” over time and gain the ability to relate to other people on a more intimate level, if I just work at it and “overcome” the obstacles I currently face. What all of them seem to have failed to consider, and what I failed to consider for a long time, is that maybe I don’t want to recover. Maybe having relationships just isn’t for me. Maybe I will live a better life just being on my own, doing other things that make me happy. That’s okay with me, and it should be okay with other people as well.
This society must move past the idea that romantic love makes a person “whole,” “complete,” or “human.” Different ways of living and loving need to be recognized and celebrated as dimensions of being human. Otherwise, people with my experiences and disposition will continue to feel as though we are excluded, somehow outside of the bounds of true humanity.
Lauren Hippert recently graduated from the Boston University School of Theology with a Master of Arts in Theological Studies. After growing up in Goochland, Virginia and seeing the positive and negative impact that her conservative church had within her community and within her own life, she was drawn to the study of religion. She obtained her Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies when she was only 19 years old. She subsequently received the Dean’s Fellowship Award, a full-tuition scholarship from the Boston University School of Theology, and obtained her Master’s degree 2 years later. Her primary interests were Biblical languages and texts during her program. After obtaining her degree, she has developed a deep interest in fundamentalist rhetoric and how it impacts communities, and especially women.