Sexless in the City

Sometimes reading romance novels doesn’t quite prepare you for a love life...

For this 30-year-old urbanite, love is always a misadventure: The Harvard Lickwit, Hippie the Groper, the 5% Man, and the Ad Weasel. These and many other men wander in and out of her life — but never her bed.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Sexual balance

Before getting into the meat of today’s post, a few observations.
  1. I should really hire an intern to come pelt me with ice cubes at strategic intervals. It is hot in this damn town today, and the airflow in Sexless blog HQ is practically nil. Since iBaby has no wireless card and the battery needs viagra, there is no recourse to a ceiling fan-cooled room, alas. (Faithful Roommate, however, has been dispatched to Target on a mission that may hopefully result in the carting home of a larger and more-powerful fan for the living room. And I only have to make her guacamole! Plus share some of my swank German beer, more than likely.)
  2. I must be an easy mark, love-wise, because I am heels-over-head addicted to OK Go’s infectious pop and I don’t just mean that great video! Tall, gangly lead singer dude (not the baldy in “A Million Ways”) looks like a younger, hotter Mick Jagger in one of their older videos, a saucy Warholesque frolic that shows off the band’s versatility. The music starts, and my shoulders gotta dance ...
And now that you know how Anna’s doing today, a reader question.
I’m so completely intrigued by this anti-sex ascetic you have adopted – it’s just so completely Desert Fathers-retro. Completely ironic at this cultural moment.

But, seriously, isn’t there a case to be made for developing all facets of a relationship in balance, i.e., over time, as one person moves closer to another emotionally and spiritually, ought the physical follow, keeping all facets of our humanity in balance? I mean, in my life and experience, relegating the physical to the forbidden wound-up stunting the physical/sexual dynamics of the relationship – in ways that ultimately ended in divorce after a 5 year marriage. I mean, we dated for 5 (long) years – with zero intercourse and only the slightest petting – I swear to God, no orgasms.

And I don’t think that was healthy or honoring to the fullness of our humanity. Do you think a relationship can truly be healthy if it has gone deep in every area except the physical orafaces?

— Sincerely Curious
Dear Sincerely:
I agree with what you’re saying about balance, reciprocity, etc., but that’s actually part of why I’m so committed to taking my time. As I may have mentioned in previous posts, most men I’ve been out with started getting to know my body when we’d barely even begun to explore a basic banter, much less exhaust such conversation. Generally, physical intimacies were considerably out of step with the knowledge in the rest of the relationship.

I also think our sense of what is “deep” in a relationship can be misguided. We live in a very bizarre moment where much of life is expected to follow a peculiar formula:

raw ingredients --> machine [performs special magic] --> desired result

For instance:

weight-loss drug --> pudgy body [performs special magic] --> instantly sexy body!

books & assigned reading --> brain [performs special magic] --> “knowledge” (signified by degree or great test score)!

passengers --> airplane [performs special magic] --> doors open on the tropics!

internet-profile/blog data --> mind of the lover/obsessee [performs special magic] --> deep and intimate knowledge of the “beloved”!

Doesn’t that seem a little weird? Personally, I tend to think deep knowledge of a person comes when you reach a point where you can get past their PR to start recognizing tendencies, strategies of communications, patterns of behavior not even they themselves might be aware of. I know in my friendships with most women — even those who have functionally been my best friends — I don’t usually reach that point until at least two years in.

And that’s another thing: it’s possible to have deep, meaningful, intimate relationships with people of the same sex without it becoming sexual. The difference, I think, is the nature of the interaction and whether or not you’re actually giving yourself to another person. That doesn’t happen in friendship the way it does in a romantic/marital relationship. In the latter, there’s a possibility of giving your whole self to another — but that very notion, whole, implies that it can only really be done once. Thus, friendships and familial relationships strongly imply that yes, it is possible to have healthy relationships without sex, and that withholding sex can have a positive, healthy motivation rather than one that sees sex as bad/forbidden/etc. (Note my language; I’m not naive enough to claim this happens all the time!)

As to the case you mention, why exactly did you wait five years? That sounds a little long. The problem is, sometimes it’s easy to get stuck in a comfortable relationship which we like for its present noncommital state; to be reluctant to either push to the commitment of whole-self-giving or acknowledge that no such commitment will ever transpire, hence the relationship should probably be broken off. Either way, it takes a lot of courage. Generally, I tend to think the less physicality ties a couple together, the more incentive there is to decide where a relationship is going, and the more clarity you have about whether you like the person in more than just a sexual, you-give-me-access-to-fun-experiences kind of way. In your case it sounds like there were a range of issues going on.

Breaking news: A breeze has come to Brooklyn! Woohoo!