I Left A Very Strict Religion And Had No Clue How To Date Normally

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Leaving A Strict Religion Was So Hard Because I Had No Clue How To Date Normally

It wasn't until my most recent breakup that I realized just how much influence my parents' religion still had on me.

On the night I broke up with my ex, he said I was always unhappy. In fact, he uninvited me to his birthday dinner, which I organized, because he said he wanted to have fun with his friends without having to worry about my disapproval.

I was stunned, hurt and angry. Was I really that bad at relationships?

Sure, I can be a bit too serious but mostly I'm fun to be around ... or so I thought. That night, as I drove home I started to think about my life and past relationships, wondering how I'd gotten to this point.

I was raised as one of Jehovah's Witnesses and had been involved with them for 16 years. 

My entire family and closest friends were Witnesses, and I had very few friends on the outside. 

The rules of dating in my religion were pretty strict. We were told that such rules — dating only for the intent of marriage, ensuring that chaperones accompanied you on every date — were set up for our protection and to keep us from being influenced by "works of the devil."

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Kissing wasn't really allowed, maybe a peck on the cheek or on the lips when your babysitter looked away.

I had been a chaperone a number of times before and thought it was a bit silly watching over grown adults.

I always wondered: How could two people get to really know each other if I was constantly giving them the evil eye when they got too close?

When I started dating, I tried to follow all the rules, which also included no sex before marriage; your date couldn't even see you naked until you said "I do."

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The guy I was dating at the time wasn't marriage material so three weeks after our engagement, I left him. And shortly after, I left the church.

I didn't really have a plan of what I would do next; I just wanted to be free from the absurd rules and regulations.

When I started dating my first boyfriend outside of the church, I thought the way Witnesses dated was how everyone else dated. So, I always met my boyfriend at whatever place we were going and we came and left in separate vehicles.

When he leaned in to kiss me, I turned so he could kiss my cheek. He gave me a strange look but I brushed it off to nervousness.

A few months into our relationship, he brought up sex and I automatically thought he wanted us to get married. I asked him when he wanted to meet my parents. It freaked him out and we broke up almost immediately.

It took a few more experiences like that until I realized that "modern" dating was completely different from what I had known. 

I looked up relationship articles, read books, and even found a therapist who specialized in religious transitions.

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By the time I started dating my most recent ex, I was sure I knew everything there was to know about dating.

I was wrong.

Looking back on all my breakups, the pattern was there, but my most recent ex was the first one brave enough to tell me what my problem was: I didn't know how to date. 

All this time I thought the guys I dated had just found someone prettier than me and left me for her.

Now I know the truth. And as hard as it is for me to accept, it left me with two choices: return to my parents' church or stay where I am now and make the most of it.

While I've decided on leaving my strict religion, I knew I would have a long journey ahead of me and while books and therapists can help me along the way, it's ultimately something I have to figure out on my own.

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Udenna Agumadu is a mental health associate at Unity Hospital.