I was a full-time evangelical Christian missionary in Mexico, preaching about Jesus to families who lived in Mexico City. Now I am a spiritual atheist and life coach for people who practice ethical non-monogamy.
Did I plan this? Nope. In ten years, I doubt I will be able to say I planned wherever I am then either. Life is fluid.
In the 1990s, I was coming of age. When I entered my teens, the internet also came of age, and I discovered pornography and masturbation. I attended a church in Roseville, where I was told in a youth group that every person we had premarital sex with was like a piece of paper being glued to another piece of paper and then ripped apart. We would lose parts of ourselves to the other person that we would never get back.
When I was a freshman at an evangelical high school, the dissonance I felt about looking at porn and lusting after classmates compelled me to confess, to my peers in a Christian religion class, that I had sinned, had masturbated, and had lusted. It was humiliating, but I thought it was the only way to get back to being “pure” for god.
I felt so much guilt and shame while going through this typical development stage. I was naturally a seeker. My culture, my faith, and my generation felt very limited.
Already insecure from undiagnosed Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), I realize now how harmful it was to be taught to be submissive, deferential, and codependent. I also did not learn how to have intimate relationships, because my faith taught me that god would provide the right person. Instead of starting conversations, I would sit quietly and pray that god would send someone to me so that we could talk. I did not develop the ability to connect, to be vulnerable, and to assert myself with others.
Not feeling secure enough for college, I moved to Mexico to be a Christian missionary. My goal was to convert Catholic Mexicans to evangelical Christianity. Eventually, however, a secret crush I had there started to date someone. I immediately lost interest in the missions, wondered if god had ever meant for me to go to Mexico — and whether god even existed at all.
After I returned to Minnesota, I started dating someone, had partnered sex for the first time, and got married to him — all within one year. Retrospectively, I believe I chose that path to rebel. I was still Christian, but that was fading. Five years later, my partner and I divorced. Six months after that, I started dating someone who basically moved in on the second date and eventually became my second husband. I still had not dealt with the trauma of internalized “not good enough” narratives from my childhood. I continued believing that my sexuality was a commodity that could be used up. The relationship was benevolently codependent.
Eventually, I began to have panic attacks and sobbing fits when my husband would initiate sex. I pursued help with a sexual health doctor and therapist. In 2016, I concluded that I needed to essentially go back in time and date like I had never allowed myself to before. My husband agreed to open up our marriage and be ethically non-monogamous.
In 2017, I went on dozens of first dates, only one involving a kiss — since I was still terrified of relationships. At first, I dated one person at a time.
In 2019, I began working as a life coach for people who practice ethical non-monogamy and for those who suffer from religious trauma. I started a podcast, “Marie, Myself, & I” — where I talk about the intersections of insecurity, religious fanaticism, and the need to gain approval — using radical vulnerability as a way to navigate.
Eventually I came to relate to the philosophy of relationship anarchy — basically deferring to the nature of fluidity in all things. It allows me to show up in a relationship needing nothing, expecting nothing, and being delighted when I can connect securely with another person. It allows me to let go of clinging to the idea that a relationship needs to have longevity. It allows me to learn about my limited views. It allows me to continue to evolve as a person and not feel like I need to hold back who I am becoming in order to protect a relationship. It puts the control of my life solidly into my hands. It allows me to be honest about what I am interested in sharing with a variety of people, instead of feeling compelled to find everything in one core relationship.
Ethical non-monogamy is not about having more or kinkier sex, which is often the stereotype associated with it. For me, it is about profoundly seeing and valuing all kinds of people without attachment to a particular connection or outcome. It allows me, after a stunted childhood and adolescence, to exist in the fluid state that I believe is natural.