Katie Heaney’s Never Have I Ever: My Life (So Far) Without a Date first came on my radar towards the end of 2014; it was a finalist for the 2014 Goodreads Choice Awards in the humor category. By the age of 25, Heaney has had a lot of things: college degrees, a social life, general happiness…but no boyfriend. Ever (and not for lack of trying). The book’s subtitle is extremely misleading — she’s gone on plenty of dates, makeout sessions included, and was even in the unfortunate position of having of one potential boyfriend who kept stringing her along without committing — but Heaney has never been serious enough with anyone to consider having sex with them. Hers is a book about social and emotional awkwardness; her friends are always several steps ahead of her. They seem to intuitively know all of the rules.
At 35, Nicole Hardy was in a different place entirely. She was raised to be devoutly Mormon, and as a woman who had not yet married, she had also never had sex. Unlike Never Have I Ever, Confessions of a Latter-Day Virgin grapples with some of life’s bigger questions, especially those relating to deeply held religious beliefs. Unlike Heaney, Hardy has dated. Quite a bit, in fact. The fact that she had to abstain from sex until marriage was never a question, but she did acknowledge her desires and seek out information. She even dated outside her religion, something that put her partially at odds with her faith (if she wanted to get married in a temple — which she did — she’d have to marry another Mormon). For a long time, especially in her twenties, she thought she could wait. As her twenties became her thirties, her natural sexual desires grew stronger, and she remained unmarried, that religiously-mandated waiting game started to become unbearable.
For all intents and purposes, these are two middle-class white women who both seem to have come from fairly stable middle-class backgrounds. They’re each dealing with different subject matter but are similar in that they’re late bloomers, so to speak, in one area of life that’s important to them.
But oh, what a difference a decade and some actual life experience makes.
While there are a couple of wise ideas to come out of Heaney’s book, more often than not, she’s writing about things that haven’t even happened; she’ll discuss (at length) romance-related fantasies she had when she was younger or vapidly ruminate on dating fiascoes. When she does divulge some of the lessons she’s learned, they’re couched in the language of a young twentysomething (or younger):
Guys who would make fun of girls for sexual inexperience are terrible people, and when girls do it to other girls it feels even shittier. Guys who shame girls who haven’t had sex want them to feel like they aren’t doing their job, which is to be sexually available and attractive to guys. (And never mind if they are gay, or just uninterested.) Girls who shame other girls for these reasons are helping those guys. They are saying this: You are not accomplished where it matters, and I am better than you. I have proven that men find me attractive, and that is what counts. These people, boys and girls and men and women alike, are all dickheads.
That may be fine, considering her intended audience and the fact that she’s a twentysomething, but overall, the book left a lot of substance to be desired. Heaney seems to have lived a pretty happy, typical life with typical problems. The biggest drama she faces is that a guy can’t be up front about not being interested in her. Plenty of people have been in similar situations, and really, there’s just no real point to the book if most of it is going to be padded with fluff.
Hardy’s book, however, is filled with nothing but life experiences: they’re part of the reason why she can’t/won’t settle. As her peers all marry and have children, a central tenet of her religion, she shudders at the thought of settling down into the drudgery of housework and child rearing. She wants to travel and write and embrace her sexuality. If she meets someone, she wants to be their equal. She also desperately wants to remain Mormon. Her parents both had rocky childhoods and found solace in Mormon principles, so they don’t understand the difficulties their daughter faces:
“Sex isn’t everything,” my mother says lightly…
If I say no, sex isn’t everything — those mechanics, that act — but it affects everything, she will say, “Be faithful.” If I say sex casts a monstrous shadow over my life: the visceral wanting of it, the religious sanctions against it, the looming threat of disfellowship or excommunication, and the damaging ways I’ve devised to resist it, she will tell me to follow the prophet’s counsel, and that of his apostles. If I say sex keeps me from getting near enough to a man to fall in love, because non-members are the ones who want me and I can no longer trust myself around them. If I say I’m unmarrigeable in the Mormon community. If I say the crisis of celibacy is a crisis of isolation, that I am wrong in both places, judged by both sides, she will say wait for my spiritual reward. “Look to the afterlife,” as if this life means nothing.
Hardy’s book is beautifully written and has substance galore. Don’t be put off by the cover; her memoir has a distinct arc that’s filled with humor and relatable insight. If you want a better taste of it, she wrote this essay for the Modern Love column in The New York Times (which eventually led to this book). I highly recommend it!