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I’m sure I could look up the article online if I wanted to, but I don’t. It reflected so much of American Evangelicalism which I have come to detest, and I don’t know if it’s because I’ve tumbled headfirst into this season of flirting with girls and growing my confidence beyond the healthiest measure. You get told that you’re the sexiest man on earth enough times and you start to believe it.

You ever stand on the precipice of a canyon and the amount of things you can see is too large to be real? It’s like the size of all you can take in seems to physically crush your chest as your eyes race to soak it all in.

“Why are you still single?” people ask me all the time. People who, before they got married, had 2 to 3 options for a spouse before settling down. Or maybe they are still single and are focusing all their attention on 1 or 2 singles in their small group.

Me?

After the viral video, my inbox flooded with messages from over 20,000 women (and men) desperate to get their paws on my body or my fame. And the messages still haven’t stopped. They’ve slowed down but they have not stopped.

So, you want to go from 3 options to 20,000? If it doesn’t work out with this woman, I have thousands more. And I don’t say this to my shame or praise; it’s just a fact. It’s 1:50am and I’m girding the courage to write this to you. My mission in writing this is not to cast a perfectly silver light on the modern dating scene; it’s to paint an honest portrait.

Speaking of honest portraits, according to the history books, King Henry VIII heard of a beautiful woman who lived a great distance from him named Ann of Cleaves. He sent a portrait artist to go and paint her visage, and when the king saw the portrait he was wooed. He ordered at once for her to be brought to him to be his wife. Henry did not see Ann until their wedding day, and on this momentous occasion, he discovered that the artist had flattered her quite a bit. The real Ann, it turns out, was not everything her portrait had made her out to be.

Henry later divorced her.

Sounds like 90% of my first dates — the person shows up and they’re not quite how they portrayed themselves digitally, either physically or personality-wise — except these women are painting their own portraits.

Dating, as seen in movies and TV series, is a perfectly scripted 7-act plot. It ends on a high note usually, and if it doesn’t, at least it’s wicked poetic.

The real dating scene is more like the real Ann of Cleaves: It has acne and farts.

And I also know that my experience in dating, at least in the last 4 years, is incredibly unique. Not everyone has been cast on dating TV shows and proposed to by hundreds of thirsty followers. Yet here we are. You’re reading my blog and I’m going to tell you about the newspaper article.

It wasn’t the real newspaper, it was the campus newspaper at my college. It was a very conservative Christian school, and as such, the editorials which ran in the paper were critiquing the finer details of campus life, making sure everyone was staying in line.

It was only a matter of time before someone wrote about my super short shorts and tank tops. I was notorious on campus for sporting the most scant clothing I could find whenever I wasn’t in class. I was always in the gym or on my way there, and dressed appropriately.

Or, inappropriately.

The article’s thesis was this: “Girls can lust too and guys need to be aware of it. In this light, guys need to be responsible for how they present themselves.” The author continued to list off specific instances she had witnessed on campus, and not surprisingly, all of her examples highlighted the one and only Ethan Renoe. She never used my name, but there were no other men on campus sporting shorts as short as mine, tank tops as frequent as mine, and so on.

That was not the moment my status as a douchebag was cemented into my own mind.

In fact, there was no specific moment.

My entire life has been constructed of moments of being informed of how douchey I was being, or that I need to cover up, lest I come across as a choch. Should I play frisbee with my shirt off because I’m sweaty, or will that make me come across as arrogant?

There was no moment this happened, simply the continual reminder that I look better than a lot of other people — and this is somehow a bad thing — was hammered into me across time.

Of course it was magnified when I was caught in a viral video jogging with my shirt off in the rain, and Christians around the globe were quick to jump on me as the unsaved dissenter who was causing women en masse to stumble with my uncovered torso.

Then the twisted pressure became even more poignant: do I continue in good fun in the direction for which I got famous (the sexy shirtless dude), or do I retreat to a safe Christian persona, who is actually little like the real Ethan Renoe, who is often shirtless and rarely giving a rip?

Four years later it’s still a tension I wrestle with. I mean, the biggest push around the globe these days seems to be for ‘authenticity.’ Even in Christian circles, there is a glorified platform given to the most vulnerable and authentic posts…as long as they don’t go too far.

As long as they keep the real you behind enough bars to be polite and unintrusive. I often wonder what would have happened if I spent the last 4 years living out of actual authenticity and had some fun with the “Shirtless Runner” persona, rather than letting religious watchdogs droop my sails before I even left the port.

The whole debate about causing people to stumble has gotten stale. There are countless Christian females whom I don’t follow because it would lead me to stumble. Does it mean I think they’re fake Christians or sly seductresses? Of course not; I choose not to gawk at them and to be responsible for my own actions.

Can you be a Christian and still be shirtless?

That’s not only a ridiculous question, it misses the heart of the issue by a million miles.

Can I be Ethan and still be a Christian?

Now we’re getting somewhere.

Now I’m asking a question along the lines of the heart of this issue.

I wish I could crawl back through time and tell young Ethan to just be himself: goofy, fun, shirtless, whatever. People will judge, but how many people also judged me for being “too Christian?”

So. Here’s the real Ethan. Pushing aside his good boy persona and embracing being, as my friend Heath McNease put it, The Most PG-13 Christian You’ve Ever Seen.

Really all this means is that I’ll be less self conscious about the things I post. I’ll put less thought and worry into whether something makes me come off as douchey or not; if I like it, I’ll post it — within reason, of course. God made me how He did and I’m tired of curating myself.

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