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.

Friday, November 25, 2005

On sumptuous repasts, and fasts

Back from the holiday break at last. For this week unofficially devoted to all-out indulgence, it seems apt to tackle a reader question regarding a sort of fast:
For the first time in my life I’ve met a man who has turned this proverbial table on me by holding off on sex until he is ready to have it. He could be doing this/saying this for a number of reasons but ultimately I believe he is doing it to keep things less complicated while we get to know each other. I realize you aren’t an advice columnist, though you probably get hit up for it all the time, but sounding boards are good. I do agree with him but am also at a loss for how else to express my “primal” desires for him. Because, for me, it’s a way of expressing more than friendship and it’s sort of an offer of future possibility. Being sexual can be very beautiful and sacred and safe outside of marriage. The frustration that’s coming with lack thereof is difficult to deal with. It’s new for me and while I am willing to experience it for this guy but I just don’t know of he’s worth it and how honest he is being with me.

-Reluctantly Sexless
Dear Reluctant:
We both know I can’t really try to answer this from experience (of my own, anyway), so let me respond from the opposite (bolstered with things I’ve heard from friends). But first off, let me congratulate you for digging up maybe the only man in town who’s neither a Jesus freak (I presume) nor bent on sex as condition of dating. Lord knows, I tried to find such men but always failed.

I realize there are some who think it’s practically a crime to not have sex before marriage, but I’ve known several people who chose temporary abstinence for reasons like those your man cites. One of those was Guy Friend #1. When I first met him, sex was just a thing he expected relationships to have though he was over 30 and vaguely aware he’d like to marry sometime in the nearish future. Then things in his life started to change, church mattered more to him, and he met a girl with whom sex just wasn’t an option.

At first it wasn’t conceivable to him — a relationship in which nothing could be conceived besides, well, friendship, kisses and a gradually shared life. He’s still not sure if she’s the one he’ll marry, but they’ve been dating — and abstaining — about two years now. For what they’ve “lost,” he has gained much in clarity. Without the sex to keep them sated and careless, it’s been hard to wander aimlessly through relationship, and easier to reckon with those questions of a future (like, should there be one?). Without the sex, she’s more than disposable girlfriend tossed aside when things get sticky or he bored.

While it’s hard to say just where your man is at, I think you’ve got yourself a winner — or if he’s not a winner, the chance to tell that sooner than you would if sex was involved. Every relationship, if it lasts that long, becomes much more than just the fireworks in bed. Too many people go on just that first display, expecting a life together will be just as exciting and dramatic. Then when the smoke inevitably clears, they can be devastated the stuff that’s left behind is not the fizzle and dynamite they’ve come to expect. By letting you see the stuff behind the smoke before you launch the Roman candles and light the sparklers, I’d say this guy is being more honest with you, not less.

And it gives you a chance to be more honest yourself. Do you have more than “primal desires” for him? If that is all you’ve got, and that would be the basis of relationship, what do you do when those desires take a vacation (which they will)? I doubt you’ll lose your sexual desire even if it’s put on hold, but waiting gives you a chance to cultivate other desires — like those for his companionship, his laughter, his opinion — that will carry you through the fits and bursts of libido.

Waiting (for now) also gives you a chance to better figure out what’s really in your best interest. We women have a tendency to lose our minds in love — and often we quite like it that way. Recently I’ve been getting over a major, yearlong crush. Now the dust is settling some, I realize most of what made him so exciting wasn’t him at all, but me. I know we like to act as if attraction is a simple response to stimuli — a frame of mind or thesis that results from certain data. But really, the way we often respond to that data isn’t so much a consequence of the stimuli, but our overall assumption going into it (No matter what, I’m going to find him attractive). Losing my mind for this guy was not due to something so intrinsically exciting in him (something I couldn’t find in other guys), but my desire to lose my mind, period. We women like that crazy feeling so much we’ll often do almost anything to get it.

The real question is not, Are you crazy for him? but Does he make sense to head and heart alike? I reckon that, without the sex, it will be easier answering that second question. No matter who you marry — if you marry — you always get your mind back eventually. Wouldn’t you rather have a man your mind is fine with than one only your heart approved?

As for expressing what you feel for him, while sex may be the easiest way to do that, this could be a chance to learn to give (and receive) in other ways. Think about this limit as a chance to creatively explore other expressions of your affection for him — and whether you even have affection to begin with. If sex is truly as sacred as you say, waiting for it won’t decrease its value but increase it. Hang in there. I think this peculiar challenge may bring good things for both you and he, no matter how long it lasts or where you end up as a couple.

And finally ...

Obligatory contest reminder. Readers who are still stumped may find some clues here. Just five days left! Be sure to get your answers in by midnight PST next Wednesday. Good luck!