It was a habit that started when the two of us would cram into my extra-long twin bed back in college.
We were high school sweethearts. Even my comforter and throw pillows were blue and green: homage to our school colors. We’d stretch our toes and yawn together. And there was something to having him there, at arm’s reach, in the middle of our long-term relationship.
Our lives weren’t just connected by phone lines and hushed middle-of-the-night phone calls echoing along the walls of the hallway outside my dorm. You were there, a warm presence, a mound of a man I loved.
So many of us good Christian girls would do it. For a while our freshman year, it was like a game of nighttime musical chairs. We prayed, we listened to Christian music, we laughed about the days to come.
And then our boyfriends would come to visit us for the weekend in our four-person dorm. We’d forget that it didn’t matter if we were saving the Big Sleep for marriage. We were crossing a serious boundary, we were entering a realm of radical intimacy, whether we were breaking a commandment or not.
This pattern showed up in my relationships after we broke up. It repeated long after freshman year. Long after dormitory life. It echoed into the dynamic of every relationship since, just like the whispering late-night calls with my ex-high-school-honey.
Let me be clear: we know that sex before marriage is wrong. That was an obvious boundary to never cross.
But, every guy I’ve dated since then had a pillow with my name on it. In every relationship, spending the night, no matter how innocent it seemed, has crept back into the tide of my love life. I fell in love with a few men, and fell into the habit of closing my eyes to a face and waking to it again eight hours later.
IT WAS A CONSOLATION FOR THE MARRIAGE I DIDN’T HAVE.
It wasn’t a big deal. It was just sleeping beside someone.
Until I met you.
We’ve been dating for a year now. And still, it happens the same way every night we hang out.
THERE’S NO PILLOW IN MY NAME. THERE’S NO SPACE RESERVED FOR ME WHILE YOU SLEEP.
On our date nights, you look at the clock and watch the minutes drip down to midnight. Then, when the clock strikes twelve, you stand to your feet and offer me your hand.
“Here, let me walk you to your car,” you say. You call this “Cinderella time.” It’s our nickname for the moment when we say goodnight. When you nestle me safely there and wait for my “got home safe, love you” text.
TO BE HONEST, AT FIRST IT REALLY CONFUSED ME.
I thought you loved me. I thought you wanted me around all of the time.
Yes, we’re the “good Christian boy and girl,” but haven’t all of the other Christian men I’ve dated wanted the same thing from me eventually? No matter how devout or respected they were in their communities?
We’ve learned this, these legally-single women and I. We’ve learned that we’re desired by becoming the prom queen. The Cinderella at the ball. There is something about our face, our frames that make us desirable. It’s our faces and frames that get us the free drinks and the phone numbers on cocktail napkins, after all.
And then I realized where my sense of worth was coming from. It was coming from an invitation to spend the night. It was coming from the want of being wanted. It was coming from a ritual that was breaking down my standards. Brick by brick.
You didn’t want this from me. And by this small gesture, by this boundary, by this standard, by this reasoning, you do love me.
You desire to see me flourish. You desire to save that for later. You desire to encourage me. And lead me through a healthy relationship.
And even better, you respect me. Which, oddly, looks a whole lot like love. Real love.
Our relationship will not be characterized by sleepovers. This is something sacred that you want to save, because you’ve learned lessons the hard way, too.
And I’m thankful. Thankful to have someone in my life who doesn’t fall for the “it’s not a big deal” trick. It’s a very big deal, you tell me. You let me know by keeping your word. You let me know by leading me well, and protecting my spirit.
I have to wonder if this is the sign. If this is what makes the difference. If this protection of my heart, this willingness to do things differently than our culture would suggest (even our Christian culture) is what leads to a beautiful life.
SO, TO THE MAN WHO WON’T SLEEP WITH ME: I DON’T WANT TO SLEEP WITH YOU, EITHER.
Because I love you, too.
Brett Elizabeth Wilson, creator of prodigalsister.com, is a “Type-A Hippie” from Virginia Beach, Va. She loves coffee, red lipstick and Broadway musicals.