We had walked around historic downtown for a few hours when we decided to just stop for a while. A granite bench, under a blossoming cherry tree, overlooking the river, called to us—it couldn’t get much more perfect. We sat, soaked up the sun, and just . . . talked. We asked about each other’s families, told some of our funniest stories, but the silence—the silence was the best. I reveled in soaking up the sun, enjoyed feeling my tense muscles melt and all the pressures of grad school slide away.
Suddenly, a spring breeze picked up and rushed through the cherry blossoms, swirling thousands of petals around us. I could feel them landing in my hair, floating over my skin. I gasped, startled by the beauty, and turned to see Handsome’s reaction. With cherry blossom petals flying everywhere he reached out, touched his fingertips under my chin, and pulled me toward him. For a moment that felt like it stretched into infinity, I could feel his heat, his fingertips on my skin.
And I shattered.
For the rest of the day, the only thing I could think about was his kiss. It was gentle, and wonderful, and overwhelming. I could close my eyes and be consumed. I could get lost in everything he made me feel. The only words I had were things like magical, and that felt, ridiculous, but it fit somehow. I was giddy.
I’d only ever been in one other serious relationship—a relationship that had left me broken and bleeding. It had been three years filled with every kind of abuse possible, and had convinced me that I was broken. I thought of myself as frigid, as asexual. I wasn’t interested in that—the very idea of kissing someone twisted my stomach into knots. For years, I cringed at the idea of being touched. All my girlhood day dreams of being held and cuddled had evaporated over three brutal years.
When Handsome kissed me. . . . everything changed. Everything inside fluttered, and I could feel sparklers under my skin. I was excited, and for the first time, I wanted more.
We were standing in my kitchen while I put dinner together. He came up behind me, wrapped his arms around me, and once again the earth stood still. I wanted him to hold me forever. I turned in his arms, he brought me closer, and I forgot about making dinner. His hands touched the small of my back, his thumbs brushing against my skin. Higher, go higher, I thought, and it wasn’t until later that I realized what had happened. There hadn’t been any fear—it had been just us in that moment. I didn’t have to fight myself, fight nausea, fight to ignore a deeply buried terror. There was nothing else.
The two onscreen lovers shared a passionate kiss, and in a burst of impulsiveness I leaned up to kiss him. It was the first time I had kissed him, had felt brave enough to do something that felt so shockingly bold. I’d never voluntarily initiated a kiss before, and the liberation I felt was exhilarating. In what might have been a matter of seconds we were fully absorbed in each other, and the movie was forgotten.
I stared up at the ceiling, absolutely shocked to my core. What I had just experienced was so far beyond words I was struggling even just to recall it. I didn’t really understand what had just happened. His arms were wrapped around me, and I buried my face in his chest, surrounding myself in his scent while I recovered. It took me, I don’t know how long, just to put a name to what had happened.
I thought I couldn’t have one. That I had experienced that with him, that he had given that to me without any sort of expectation, that he didn’t care if I “returned the favor,” that there was absolutely no pressure to perform whatsoever . . . it had had culminated in comfort, in security. I had been able to lose myself because I trusted him. He would never hurt me—the thought of doing anything to hurt me repulsed him. He made me feel beautiful, and cherished, and safe, all while we explored each other.
Safe. I felt safe.
Handsome and I are now married. To make a long, wonderful story short, we decided to have sex before our wedding, although it wasn’t something we leapt into. It was a slow progression—months of us taking it one step at a time, experimenting and exploring.
Before I’d met him, I thought any sort of physical relationship was entirely beyond me. For years before we began dating, I worried and obsessed over what I’d be able to offer a romantic partner. I was terrified of the triggers and flashbacks I knew I’d probably encounter. Who in the world would want to deal with that? I was positive the second that I had my first flashback that whoever I was with would start running for the hills. No one would possibly want to be with someone who had that much baggage.
But Handsome proved to me, over and over, that we had nothing to be afraid of. Oh, the flashbacks happened. At times I dissolved into sobs and everything stopped while he held me and brushed my hair. But, over time, I realized that what I needed was his tenderness and compassion. I needed his strength, his confidence that everything was okay, no matter what happened, no matter what we had to face together.
I come from a background steeped in what the internet circles I run in calls the purity culture. If you’re at all familiar with conservative evangelical Christianity, then you probably know that deciding to have sex before marriage… wasn’t something we did lightly. Engaging in anything physical at all was a huge risk for me. I’d been taught that if I allowed romantic physicality to develop (and it’s always the woman who “lets” this happen), that I’d be ruined. He’d lose all respect for me and our relationship would spiral into chaos. We wouldn’t be able to talk about things—we’d cover it all up with sex. We’d stop getting to know each other. Our relationship would be stunted, dead before it could grow.
That’s what I believed sex does.
At least, sex before marriage.
What I found, however, was that sex, at least sex with Handsome, was beautiful. It was healing. It brought peace, and comfort, and bit by bit it helped restore pieces of my identity that I’d lost. We’d lay in bed for hours, talking, listening to music, watching TV, giggling and touching and simply enjoying the fact that we were close. Physical intimacy—it wasn’t a false intimacy. It wasn’t cloaking anything about who we were, it wasn’t robbing us of anything. It was discovering pieces of who we were and then learning how they fit together.
Looking back, I know that because of how I was raised that I’m supposed to feel shame, or embarrassment, or guilt. But I don’t. The physical part of our relationship was necessary. If we had held off on touching and kissing and fooling around, if I had shoved all of those feelings even deeper than they already were . . . I can’t imagine what would have happened. I would have fallen apart on our wedding night. There’s no possible way we would have been able to consummate our marriage for months. We would have been dealing with all of the flashbacks, and all of the nightmares, with all of the times we’d had to stop so I could put myself back together. Instead, because we were able to take it so slowly, one step at a time, Handsome was able to show that he valued me, that he loved me, that my past didn’t matter to him, that he wanted to be with me no matter what.
I learned that I needed to be touched and held and made love to, and that there was nothing to be afraid of.