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, September 30, 2005

Beer baths vs. babysitting

A few weeks back, a reader directed me to an article lauding the joys of singleness. You know, those things like unmitigated self-indulgence, sloppy hygiene, reckless spending, poor nutrition and — oh yes — “living like a rock star when you can.”

Which apparently involves things like leaving puddles of water in the bathroom un-mopped up and letting your alarm go off in snooze mode for two hours. I don’t know about the author, but most “rock stars” I know still live in community. And — while I’m just speculating here — I’m fairly sure their roommates/wives/neighbors/pets still care about things like treacherous floors and two hours of noise.

Some people I know like to live alone if they can afford it (harder to do in this city, but it happens). I’ve been alone for weeks at a time when my roommate was on a trip, but never have I been inclined to hole up in some pad all by myself. I need someone to approve that new pair of cords I’m reluctant to cut the tags (and all return options) from. The other night my roommate needed someone she could wake at 5 a.m. when the downpouring flood outside our bathroom woke her up (the upstairs neighbors left a toilet running). Without a roommate I would have had no one to swap my beers with for some of her fresh pasta-salad supper Tuesday night. No one to help me drink a voluminous pitcher of sangria or appreciatively devour the molasses cookies I like to make sometimes. No one to question the wisdom of wearing some favorite fishnets to “impress” a boy with you-can’t-hurt-me toughness. No one to laugh loudly with at the late-night reruns of Seinfeld.

Relevant’s author doesn’t seem to see this. Instead of writing a piece on reasons to be grateful while you’re single but want to be married, she winds up advocating a life that’s dangerously independent and suspiciously close to isolationist. That’s missing the whole point. From the Christian perspective, the benefit of singleness is not your freedom from community (or responsibility), but your freedom to serve that community in different ways than you could as a married person. Especially at the beginning of the column, single life strongly resembles the immature early adulthood of late adolescence, against which married life is contrasted as a staid existence full of other lives to care for (ugh!).

No doubt this disparaging portrait is partly that foxy attempt to disparage the grapes which persist in eluding you. “Yeah, I don’t know why everyone is so hot over grapes anyway. They’re totally lame. What a boring thing to eat!” Yet the underlying loneliness must out itself, resulting in this strange advice:
Be totally in love with your future mate, even if you haven’t met them yet. Write them letters when you miss them so badly that you are doubled over on the floor from the ache. Date them, seal them and lock them away in a safe place. They will make a great wedding gift.
So, the family that will probably result from marriage = boring, often not-fun existence in which you finally have to be a real adult (“One day you’ll have to get a sensible vehicle to tow the whole family, but until then you can totally pull off that speed racer you’ve been test driving.”). But singleness — and pre-children marriage = fun, exciting time you should enjoy or anticipate now when you’re lonely. Is this so far from the desperate bachelor who sees a stripper the night before his wedding?

I know this might sound strange for me to be saying — in that I’m a reformed “chaste party girl” and all — but frankly I think all this talk is a measure of how poorly we assess our real needs and deepest desires. Privileging the free, independent life of disconnection from a community that could oblige us to be there for them is much like the way one looks at water who’s sating thirst with alcohol. Water sounds so damn boring and un-barlike when you’re out and about the town, but it’s often what you need most.

A woman who used to mentor me once described how her small son used to get when very hungry. She might be cooking him a nice cheese sandwich on the stove, but he was so hungry he’d start sucking her shoe because it was something he could put in his mouth and seemed better than the “nothing” she was providing. She might be pulling him away from the substitute food in order to put him in the highchair for his real meal, but as fractious toddlers are wont to do, he’d throw a fit because she was denying him what seemed to be his one source of nourishment. Hunger, coupled with a very distorted perspective, made him protest the very delay and detachment that was required to fill his belly.

Looking back on my love life and the hunger for companionship, I can’t say I’ve handled it much better than a 2-year-old. I’ve dated my share of shoes. I’ve spent inordinate amounts of time imagining the fabulous steak dinner and luscious cheesecake that would surely fill me up. But now that I’m an adult I recognize that sometimes what I need more than anything else is to eat my fill of vegetables and find ways I can serve the cook. I now value things like spiritual leadership and passion for God above most other qualification (though friends of mine are convinced this dooms me all the more to spinsterhood). And I can prepare for what sort of intimate community is or is not in my future by maintaining family-like relationships in the present — learning to treat my roommate with consideration, promptly cleaning up after myself. And helping friends who have families care for their children.

The other afternoon I babysat my friends’ young daughter. I had hoped to do the prep work for my class that night while I watched her, but she proved too active for much multitasking. Adjusting to her needs and changes in mood was in some ways better and worse than being an executive assistant. It certainly took the focus off myself! But when we finally settled in a rocking chair so I could feed her, I felt weeks of tension easing from my shoulders. When she nodded off against my chest at the end of her feed, I was suddenly reluctant to return to my affairs. Her mother came home soon after and tried to pay me for my time, but I refused. Who would take money for the gift and peace this chance to serve provided me?

There was a time when I could scarcely bear to see a Friday night pass without “going out” and doing “something fun.” Tonight I’ll be doing the sort of thing I once thought would fit the bill: going out to a bar to meet up with friends for a party. But give me a chance to go chill at my married friends’ house and help them watch their baby and I guarantee I’d have a better and much-less-lonely night.

Community is not the enemy. Very often it’s the answer, though it better answers the question, How can I serve you? than What can you do for me? Indeed, it is by gently forcing you to change from one question to the other that community does much of the healing and the wrinkles in your life and shoulders start to iron themselves out.

Anna visits the West Coast next week, so my usual blogging schedule may be disrupted. Don’t forget to enter the contest! Entries accepted until midnight tonight ... PCT, what the heck. Hint to the stumped: a DTR is a define-the-relationship talk.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Postcard love, sister-style

Sometimes ya gotta love having a same-sex rellie who shares your sense of humor. Here, Sis introduces me to some of the “finer” sights she enjoys while stationed in BFE North Carolina — er, that scenic hamlet of Cherry Pt.

Don’t forget to get your contest entries in! So far we have two lonely contestants, dahlings, two. And a mighty poor showing for female readers at that, I might add. If you’ve had courage enough to comment, surely you can take a guess at the right answer, yes? As I tell my students, you’ve got at least a 25% chance of getting it right — which improves all the more with your knowledge of the blog or facility with Google. ;) (See also: helpful reader definitions in previous comments.) Who wouldn’t want to win the fine Flagship Recordings sampler up for grabs? Not to mention all the on-blog ego-bolstering each month’s winner gets.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Love, leather, denim

Don’t forget to enter this month’s contest!!! No entries accepted after Friday.

Typing this to the mellow strains of several new jazz CDs I picked up last week. As readers of my real-name blog know, I finally started teaching this summer and recently finished my first class (they run about four-and-a-half weeks). Related to which, I discovered a little jazz shop down the street where the proprietor will play anything that’s for sale and, the night I bought my new stash, was practically chain-smoking at his desk in-between playing random selections for me from the likes of John Patton and Don Cherry. When I finally escaped from the eerie déjà vu of secondhand smoke my purse held the precious cargo of Coltrane Plays the Blues, the Dexter Gordon record Go!, and Coltrane’s Blue Train. Hey, I’ve had the poster some eight or nine years; might as well buy the album, right?

Wait a minute, you might be saying, how come there’s no mention of men so far? That jazz-shop proprietor was male but somehow I don’t get the sense she flirted much. And you would be right about that, although the warmth of his brown eyes and knowledge of jazz could almost make one overlook his second-trimester girth and the cigarettes. But really, what’s a blog with such reference point as this without the occasional shopping entry? And I’ve had so many bargains lately, I’m hard-put not to brag.

First it was the shoe guy. Because of course, like any well-educated, totally sane New Yorker, I have no less than ten pairs of heels … and that’s not including the boots or wedge heels. And when you wear such shoes on the streets of our stony city, you wear through the cap or sole of a shoe in surprisingly short time. But as with laundry, I tend to store up unpleasant errands like treks to the shoe guy until I’ve cash and a sizeable quantity of that errand. This time there were six pairs to fix, though I left another two at home.

The nearest shop in my ’hood was on a side street one block up from mine, where I reasoned the rates would be less than six blocks up on the main street corner closer to the park. I never got the chance to compare, as the lumbering middle-aged Italian man whose wife frequently had to clarify his English for me made a persuasive case for quality. And really, who wants to trek six pairs of shoes another five blocks just because this Brooklyn native might not do justice to my Charles Davids (newest fave heels, which came with leather uppers and soles)? It turned out my faith and frugality were worth it. The guy fixed all six pairs for $80, charging only $7 to cap heels. But the real miracle was his work on the bowling-style kicks I bought with contract knitting work two falls ago. A big chunk of the rubber around the back of the heel had totally fallen off, but he filled it in so you wouldn’t notice a bit (even dyed the new rubber to match!) and put new soles on both shoes. Impressive work.

Inspired by how much life he put into my twelve shoes compared to the one pair I could have bought with the same wad, I decided to tackle jeans next. Recently I got a kick-ass bargain from Urban Outfitters: high-end Italian jeans that retailed for $200 but were marked down to only $10 at the store where I bought them. I was up to relocating an extra button from the back to the front of the jeans where one was missing … but not to dealing with the way-too-long hem.

That’s when I remembered a Lower East Side tailor whose shop was not far from my first New York tailor, which Dr. Kook the Visionary introduced me to at the close of a very weird Valentine’s Day double date with Fontinator (before he lobbied to get renamed Mr. Fontastic). Dr. Kook’s guy did an adequate job, but not as good work as the other tailor I found en route to a shoe-repair shop in that ’hood.

I didn’t used to be a tailor girl. I simply accepted the clothes I bought and the fit they had — be it good or bad. But then one summer when I regularly binged on the Banana Republic clearance racks at a Scottsdale mall I sometimes passed on the way home from church, I found a dress. That perfectly lovely little black dress a girl has simply got to have. It packs well, it wears well, and when Might-be-into-me Mentor saw pics of me wearing the dress at Bro’s wedding he hinted that I could be his date if he was ever invited to a White House dinner.

But the dress didn’t have that effect the way it fit right off the rack. Sure the price had quite an impact — marked down to that magic $10 from probably $40 or $50 or more — but the fit was not all that it could be. Someone in the changing room suggested I get it tailored. Normally the store would pay for the work but because of the sale I’d have to cover the cost myself. They gave me the name of the woman they sent all tailoring to, who worked from her home some miles from mine in Mesa. She was well worth the trip, though, and an absolute gem who transformed several pieces for me. Just like that I was hooked.

It’s like falling into a crush, really. You meet someone who seems almost fantastic enough that you want to commit some heart to him or her. All it takes is that sparkling eye or flashing grin for you to snip away all yet-unknown flaws and defects which will henceforth be fully denied by you until the burden of evidence contrary prevails … resulting in a potential lover or spouse who fits your ideal like the dimpled golf ball does its tee (note the inherent instability of such a relationship). You might call such crushing a kind of personality-tailoring. (And as I blogged recently, such love-fits can also make you do a little tailoring on yourself in hopes of snaring the person crushed-on.)

But in the real world, parts the tailor cuts away will never reappear. Most of the time that’s a good thing. I sure don’t miss the cuffs I used to turn on my jeans and at $7 for the two pairs he hemmed, I don’t miss the money I spent on his work! And readers if you live in New York, be sure to check out Mike’s shop on Essex just south of Grand Street. He’s right next to a pickle place.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Monday morning gone awry

Sorry, ya’ll. I’m not in such a funny or presuming-to-be-wise place today. Too busy plotting much-needed ass-kickings I probably won’t have the courage or the context to deliver. Then there’s the more serious battle to fight — against becoming one who wounds in the same way I’ve been hurt.

Since I can’t be like Alanis, Tori Amos or Paula Cole, turning pain into fiery art, no bloggage today. Sorry. :( But meanwhile, take this chance to get your contest entries in! No penalty for googling blog archives (as some resourceful readers have done). Contest closes Friday ...

Friday, September 23, 2005

Looks like that, do we

Before diving into the following, I fear this extended dialogue has sapped much of the froth and fizz from a blog once known for its wit and humor (or so I hear). As today’s post hardly wraps things up, I will — pending reader feedback — continue this as a weekly series, using the other two days of the week for lighter content. If the weighty stuff proves too much to handle, dive into the archives and research your answers to this month’s contest! Seven days left, and a swank Flagship Recordings sampler up for grabs.

Now then. For those of you following this informal series on the Biblical sex ethic, last time I talked briefly about my disinterest in approaching this through a proof-text or word-study line of reasoning (such as has raged over Paul’s use of the word porneia). Here’s the thing: if to make my case I have to rely primarily on one particular word rather than the theme of the book as a whole, that’s a rather weak argument either way.

Besides, as Chad noted (albeit in slightly more technical language), belief isn’t so far from action. I certainly don’t hold to this view of premarital sex because it’s fun or easy. When I began struggling most keenly with things like alcohol consumption, swearing and so on, I sure as hell wasn’t satisfied with “the church says so” or “the Christian cultural view.” There damn well better be a good reason for denying myself the chief pleasures of youth if I was to consign myself to a dry spell during the primary life-season for such revelries! In some places, I did indeed become convinced certain more-conservative views were just inflated pieties based on a superficial reading of texts.

In other cases no such answer has been readily available. Sex is one of those. So on Wednesday I challenged SBC to approach the issue from another angle. What is the purpose* of sex, anyway? Almost any casual observer, atheist or otherwise, would surely be compelled to note its role in procreation and the continuation of species. While it is possible to have sex without having children and to have children without having sex … it would be hard to talk about sex without this creative function somehow being a part of its purpose. So one part of sex is practical then.

Another component SBC alluded to is the unitive or bonding function of sex. Indeed it does this so well we might also conclude that ideally sex is meant to serve relationships and intimacy by drawing two people together. Related to that is a component of pleasure. I would argue part of the purpose is also simple enjoyment of each other and ourselves.

In attempting to highlight the distinction between purpose (ought to do) and function (does or can do), I noted that while the disc drawer in iBaby 1.0 could be used as a cup holder (and if urban legends are true, has been), clearly that’s not consistent with its purpose and could even interfere with operation according to its purpose. But let’s see we disagreed about its purpose. I say it’s supposed to be used to play CDs, my friend says it’s a laptop-side coffee-cup stand. How are we to decide? Contacting the manufacturer would be a logical choice here, for purpose usually gets determined at the origin or something — or even in the pre-origin planning.

Likewise, I find the book of Genesis particularly important to understanding the purpose both of human beings and our sexual relationship to each other. The first passage concerning this is near the end of Genesis 1:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
For the first time in the creation** sequence, we have a creature that is modeled after the divine creator — who apparently enjoys pre-existing community. The very first thing stated is that special imaging relationship to the creator/artist, therefore this must be one of the most important if not the signal quality of that creation. From this immediately follows a special authority over the earth and all the previous creation. But not that filling the earth — paring off, mating and multiplying — is also a significant part of the mandate for humanity.

To summarize what we have so far, mankind was created as distinct from all the other creatures in that we alone bear a special resemblance to — “image” — God and hence occupy a special position of authority and responsibility for all other beings on the earth. This could hardly be the solitary occupation of one man, however. Hence there were to be people — a life in community — which further resembled the divine community and also enabled obedience to the creator/artist’s mandate that mankind “increase in number.”

From this it surely follows that that our sexuality in general is meant to be part of imaging God. Indeed, the two sexes must be complementary for the language indicated that it is only as a unit they succeed in imaging Him; one or the other sex cannot do this alone. But likewise, sexual union in particular must also follow the purpose of resembling God, and is practically speaking a part of obedience to that initial command. It is clearly an inherently good thing (contra those who take the natural-law stance of for-children-only), but also a good thing with a very particular purpose (contra those who think sexual relationships can be conducted any old way).

If resembling/imaging God is so important to all of this, it might be important to take a closer look at Him, no? I’ll tackle that piece next week.

*I recognize that those who think the world resulted from chance feel no need to assign a “purpose” to things; they just are or do such-and-so on. If life resulted from intention rather than chance, it stands to reason things have a purpose — something they were meant to do.
**By which I do not mean to here take a stance on the process of origin. I use this and related words primarily in the sense that a painting is an artist’s creation.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

To text and self be true

To summarize yesterday’s post, I don’t find it very troubling for SBC to suggest my view of sex sounds derivative (which hardly differentiates her position from mine). Such is the nature of thought, particularly for those born into such a legacy of history as we possess. Nor am I even riled at comparisons to the “conservative Christian view” (whatever that is). Granted, I don’t much like being lumped in with the over-hairsprayed folk whose wives are wont to wear denim muumuus … but shuddering at their fashion sense isn’t to say much about their character, opinions or value as human beings, is it?

Of course, it’s rarely other women who bring out my contrariness; over the years men have been far more successful. The classic case is the embittered male cynic who, based on a few bad experiences with women has decided certain damning generalizations can be applied to all of us ... and who (based on a peculiar matrix of recklessness and folly) is also slightly attractive to me. That summer of ’99, Poster Boy was on some sort of “women are the devil” kick; I of course felt that, aside from my mad baking skillz, disproving my correspondence to this profile stood to move me from the “hell no” class he put most women in to the “she’s not half bad” pool where some hope still survived.

The chance to negotiate my standing came one night when the posse was at a video store. As they weighed the script-light aggression flicks available for rental, women’s taste in movies came up. Ah, but here was my chance! What movie was still a recent mass phenomenon of weepy women, bad taste, and wimpy male leads? Precisely the very movie I had not seen as a point of proto-hipster honor. Even against the disagreement of my family who claimed Titanic wasn’t half-bad I had stood firm. Not seeing that movie was a notch on my belt I made sure Poster Boy got acquainted with.

For a moment I seemed to be winning. Then he moved to other female clichés, the musical, and I was doomed. True, I own less than ten videos, but one was indeed (gulp) Sound of Music. In Poster Boy vs. Broadway, the battle was over: Broadway, guilty as charged just like all the other women-are-the-devil.

Mustering such a zealously defensive posture sets you up to be judged and defined by the other’s standards rather than on your merits (some of which the other may disregard) and greatly weakens your position. Moral of this tangent: ladies, don’t be dismayed when some guy tries to diss you because of your movie taste — even if you have seen or owned Titanic. Just practice a careless shrug and make your best “whatever” face. Even if reshaping yourself to be the girl you think he’ll like wins him over, he’ll discover the fraud eventually and then where will you be?

In much deeper, in his bed, maybe in his will. Well, OK, maybe not the last part. But what if you are in his bed in a trusting moment when, unbidden, you reveal those many Titanic movie stubs buried away in some journal? If he’s superficial enough to call it quits on account of that, part of the reason leaving will hurt so much is that (according to the Bible) sex is meant to be part of the glue in that interdependent, whole-self-giving commitment we call marriage — as typically symbolized and formalized not just by sex but by legal marriage. Common-law marriage also speaks to this view of sex as a covenant- or commitment-making act.

So now we are back to the central issue SBC has raised. For those who didn’t read last week’s lengthy comment thread, the key question was whether or not the Bible expressly forbids premarital or merely extramarital (adulterous) sex. SBC argued from one of the Greek words often used by the New Testament writer Paul, porneia, that he was actually referring to perverse forms of sex rather than premarital sex per se. However, as she herself noted, part of the English translation of porneia is fornication. There is simply no way fornication can be parsed to mean a special subclass of sex between unmarried people that is particularly casual. Its conventional meaning — as surely most of us know — is simply sex between people who are not married, regardless of their relationship.

I’m not particularly interested in debating this point in terms of one word, though, and I doubt anyone’s mind on the matter would be changed by learning Paul included semi-committed premarital sex in his use of porneia. Many Christians — conservative or otherwise — are frequently inclined to use proof-text passages or word definitions in their defense or attack of actions. From a textual standpoint, however, this often entails very sloppy exegesis. Word study can be very helpful, particularly to clarify how the original audience understood the passage, but the context of the chapter, the book and the Bible as a whole logically have to be the key resources in interpretation. Likewise, this blog as a whole should give you a much better sense of how I really feel about the whole chocolate-vagina shopping trip and whether I’m particularly proud of it.

Context is particularly important, then, in instances where the Bible reports actions some claim it condemns. For instance, SBC noted the frequency of concubines and multiple wives, particularly among those very kings God had chosen. Is this a contradiction? An endorsement of their marital habits? Far from it. If one were to take the life of David as an example, by the same reasoning the Bible endorses murder (despite the 10 commandments prohibition of this) by reporting how he planned the death of Uriah.

That God chose Bathsheba — David’s partner in adultery — to bear the son through whom God’s blessing would continue to the promised Messiah is not an endorsement of that sexual union but a measure of God’s grace and willingness to use people utterly apart from their sin. Note that David eventually legitimized that relationship before the community by making her his wife. And yet, polygamy is by no means upheld in this. It is quite clear that Solomon’s many wives — particularly the concubines he drew from other kingdoms — led to his spiritual degeneration and downfall. The Bible is also quite frank in reporting the tension which often exists between wives in such cases — witness the competition between Rachel and Leah, and the misery of Hannah.

Next time I’ll say more about the texts I consider crucial to laying out the Bible’s view of sex/marriage. Meanwhile, don’t forget to enter this month’s contest! Nine days left.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

I am a (rather recycled) rock

Last week, as mentioned, my post on why I didn’t want to start conversation with Tall Drink o’ Water prompted a lively conversation. One of the more challenging voices was SBC, who concluded from her reading of my blog: “All you do is regurgitate material from sermons, particularly because you’ve so emersed yourself in Christian religious culture (rather than Christian belief) that you can’t form an opinion that hasn’t been fed to you by someone else.” I’ll get to the chief issue concerned in her remark (whether or not the Bible really prohibits premarital sex or just casual and adulterous sex), but not today.

For now I want to talk about the larger issue, in which independent thought is presumed superior to received tradition passively and uncritically absorbed. Oops, sorry; slipped into academicspeak there for a sec. But seriously: it’s all about rebellion vs. conformity; what the truly “alternative” lifestyle is, and why (or if) that’s supposedly better. According to a professor I TAed for in grad school, Confucius talked about this: sometimes the majority’s right and you’re wrong; sometimes you’re right and the masses are wrong. Education is how you know the difference. I always liked that.

Ah — but that’s not very independent of me, is it? In fact, I even betrayed how much I’m riffing someone else by providing detailed attribution. Not that you’re much helped by that, perhaps, but in journalistic and scholarly circles we do have this habit of noting our debts to those who’ve informed our thought. Sometimes advisors or others even respond to a supposedly “independent” thought by saying you’ve just relayed some central thesis of Freud or Marx so widely dispersed in the cultural conversation its originator mostly goes unacknowledged. One man’s independent thought is sometimes just his ignorance of the larger conversation he’s summarizing. Or his blindness to a widely accepted cultural paradigm. If you wear glasses, you know what I mean — after a while you get so used to the frames, you’re barely aware of the fuzzy boundary of what’s in focus.

That visual amnesia is analogous to our forgetfulness of history, underscored in a great scene from To Sir, With Love. Sidney Poitier informs his blasé class their rebellious late-60s threads and ’dos are straight out of a previous century — and takes them to the museum to prove his point. We can never escape received tradition’s impact on our habits and thoughts. So the question is not, “Do I have an independent or derivative perspective?” but “Whom do I trust, and how much?” Put another way, it’s a question of certainty — how much weight we’re willing to put on the opinions and assertions of others versus our own.

Let’s say you choose to doubt the views of others. Doesn’t it all come down to the fallibility of the human perspective? And it’s not just a question of suspecting ideas. We often distrust people, period. One woman burned you good, now we’re all suspicious and “as a kind” to be held at arm’s length. Or: “That guy treated me badly so now I’ll just hold myself aloof from all of them; not let anyone in.” Absolute statements are mighty tempting, no doubt. And many of them come down to dissing the other precisely because he or she is human.

So what makes you so trustworthy? All of us have had major changes of mind. You go through a phase where you’re convinced So-and-such is It and will be It for time immemorial. Until some other detail (which to your friends was glaring all along) comes into focus so sharp all “It-ness” is lost forever. The problem wasn’t really Mr. or Ms. So-and-such, it was you and the limitation of your perspective; your inability or unwillingness to see the fuller reality. Which, I’m sure some philosophy prof would tell us is the beginning of the path to nihilism. Or something like that.

Sure, you miss a lot of things in life with an unbending either/or stance, and probably lose a lot of your humanity, but at least you don’t have to think and hurt as much, and the course is fairly set for you. But to accept that some men and women have more integrity than others, that some people are fairly deserving of your trust (though they’ll invariably let you down sometimes), is hard. It’s also the stance in life I’ve chosen at a couple critical junctures.

Intellectually it happened in the fall of ’99. At that point, a relationship with God was about the most inconvenient and painful commitment possible. My spiritual life was so different from what the religious culture said I could expect from knowing God that I reached a turning point. Either this gap existed because I was putting my trust in something that did not exist and therefore had no power to meet those expectations (hence I would become an atheist), or I had been given bad, bad, bad information about this Being (hence much questioning and partial uncertainty). I chose the latter because I sensed that for me atheism would have been more an escape from pain and inconvenience than a total cessation of belief.

But this forced me onto the problem of who I could trust to tell me about God. Which was when I realized I’d have to engage everything I was being told — including what I thought was or wanted to be true. And it meant accepting that this was probably not a one-time deal. Key parts of my operational paradigm will always stay the same (such as the permanence of certain relationships), but my knowledge of certain things and beings in those relationships will probably undergo major change at various points.

Relationally I chose the harder but healthier path during my painful friendship with the Married Man. Accepting that the closest man I’d ever met to what I thought was my soulmate (which I believed in then) could not ever be mine in the way I wanted was devastating. I could either shut off my heart and numb even greater parts of myself to avoid the pain (further jeopardizing the chance of love in the future), or allow the wound to stay open until it healed in a more healthy way. I chose the latter. I didn’t pursue a romantic relationship with him, but neither did I cut off contact. It hurt like hell in the process, but I emerged from it stronger and much wiser about the importance of self-giving love and seeking another’s well-being over your own, even if that means pulling away so as to protect his marriage.

Bottom line, I try very hard to consider and engage all the messages around me — secular and steeped-in-religion alike. Sure, I accept other people’s ideas sometimes (or the particular way they’ve phrased another’s thoughts), but I’m not ashamed of that. It’s not a question of whether or not I can avoid a fairly derived-from-others life, but whether I take ownership of what I’m building my life on and out of.

Monday, September 19, 2005

New playlist

As you might guess from the playlist it generated, this was an interesting weekend “off.” Normally I’d make myself a nice Monday-morning latte to recover (fresh coffee beans bought yesterday, so no more using up the hotel-room grounds the roommate’s parentals left behind — yes, I really was stubborn enough to drink the horrid stuff) ... and have a new post by early afternoon. But today I’ve gotta squeeze in an appointment to sign my book contract so the advance can begin its merry way from the Random House accountant to my bank account.

And as I’m really behind on a freelance writing project that’s supposed to be occupying me nearly full-time (and paying enough to justify such demands upon my time), it may be a few hours until the “fun” writing. Sorry, dahlings. But in the meantime, sample the playlist, consider reader VJ’s lengthy response to Friday’s post (I think he underestimates the caliber of certain Jesus freak men, rare though they may be) ... and plan your entries for the September contest. Or better yet, submit them! Only 11 days left.

Links provided for albums/bands not available on iTunes. Otherwise click
icon for a preview.
  1. “Monkey Man” The Rolling Stones/Let It Bleed
  2. “You’re Gonna Lose That Girl” The Beatles/Help!
  3. “Give Me One Reason” Tracy Chapman/New Beginnning
  4. “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” Norah Jones/Come Away With Me
  5. “Undun” The Guess Who/The Best of the Guess Who
  6. “Where To Now St. Peter?” Elton John/Tumbleweed Connection
  7. “Alone Again (Naturally)” Gilbert O’Sullivan
  8. “Lost Cause” Beck/Sea Change
  9. “Sexy Sadie” The Beatles/White Album (Disc 2)
  10. “Not A Virgin” Poe/Haunted
  11. “Romanticide” Tal Bachman/Tal Bachman
  12. “Like A Rolling Stone” Bob Dylan/The Essential Bob Dylan
  13. “The Great Gig In The Sky” Pink Floyd/Dark Side of the Moon
  14. “Fools Rush In” Rosemary Clooney/Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
  15. “Brother, Where Are You?” Oscar Brown Jr./Verve Unmixed 2
  16. “Ruler Of My Heart” Norah Jones/Come Away With Me
  17. “Cry Me A River” Harry Connick Jr./Come By Me
  18. “Salt In My Wounds” Shemekia Copeland/Three to Tango
  19. “I Will Remember You” Sarah McLachlan/Mirrorball
  20. “Let It Be” The Beatles/Let It Be
  21. “Mercy” The Clumsy Lovers/After the Flood
  22. “I Can See Clearly Now” Johnny Nash
  23. “Don’t You Worry ’Bout a Thing” Stevie Wonder/Innervisions


Friday, September 16, 2005

Befriending on the mend

Well. Those of you not reading the comments on Monday’s post have missed out on some major action. Not since I threatened to ditch my dinner with Poster Boy for tickets to Tom Jones has there been such lively discussion. As it is, that comment record’s been obliterated by now. Rather than carry on the dialogue in the comments, I’ll try to clear up some of the confusion. First off, reader VJ has stalwartly refused to let go this matter of my not saying “hi” to Tall Drink o’ Water. How Victorian! How worse than Victorian!

Can’t a girl talk to a boy?
Actually, it’s not as bad as it sounds. I do talk to him unchaperoned, I just don’t like to be the one who initiates such conversations. Yes, I said “initiates.” See, the thing (which new readers understandably may have not picked up on) is that Anna Broadway is basically a recovering hussy. Why a hussy?

Well, for one thing, I’m not exactly meek and helpless. I maintained my own car (break pads and oil changes alike), have such confidence in my opinions I later learned high-school classmates used to time how long I’d gas on for, and have traveled the world alone in most cases. Such moxy is great for getting jobs and scholarships but if it doesn’t scare away the timid men, it makes you impatient with those who hang around but fail to act as you think they should. So Anna Broadway, hussy, used to do everything short of asking a guy out to encourage “friendship” where I thought great compatibility existed.

Predictably, this blew up in my face (see: the Captain’s fall from favor), or a friendship proved impossible. But with the freaked-by-Jesus (whom, mostly, I knew better than to pursue), the Broadway M.O. of wearing sexual tension like a name tag drew the horniest men like flies to barbecue. Not only did passive pursuit of men I’d like to be with leave me hurt and disappointed (since, really, I hoped they’d be wowed enough to chase me), relational “successes” proved that when men want, they’ll pursue, and it’s usually their interest that establishes the direction and duration of the relationship.

In case it’s not already clear, neither of these approaches was so healthy. Pursuing men so aggressively demeans a woman’s worth. If a gal really has so much going for her, why should she have to sell herself to get dates? She needs a gatekeeper, not a PR rep. Because I was so focused on self-marketing in the one case, I had almost no defenses against the freaked-by-Jesus who gave chase. In dating such men, I “cheated” on my commitment to God and compromised much of what I claimed to stand for. That was Anna Broadway, hussy.

The case for change
But as I described in “Stages of Broadway,” this last year the hussy has embarked reform. I try to swear less (except when I spilled coffee beneath the bed a bit ago), I’ve reigned in my inner hooch (so as to stop encouraging the freaked-by-Jesus), and I’m trying to wait on God and the sort of man who won’t need an all-out Broadway PR campaign to see I’m worth getting to know. As the Double-date Survivor can attest, at least one or two such men exist so far.

That’s part of why I figure Tall Drink o’ Water can start the conversation if he wants to chat (so far he seems to every Sunday). The other part is, while I want to be friendly, I’m not interested in encouraging friendship as an alternative to romance (if that’s what he has in mind). I’m not talking about the sort of casual friendship carried on exclusively in group settings like the church services where we talk; I’m talking about the one-on-one friendship transacted through emails, chats and coffees or dinners like Guy Friend #1 and I share. Such relationships are a hotbed for mixed messages. And in almost every case, I’ve enjoyed them only when I was the one who could be flirty if I felt relaxed, but otherwise hold at bay a guy who started out “getting to know me” because he secretly wanted more. Girlfriends will aver: we’re fairly sure Guy Friend #1 had at least a smidge of interest when we first started hanging out. Sometimes I clearly used such friends, and that was not right. Another part of my reform campaign.

But the other reason I’m so wary of those one-on-one guy-girl friendships is when you’re on the other side of the flirting. Usually I didn’t land a “friend” I would have been interested in dating … but it has happened. Either I concealed my interest better this time, or on some level he wasn’t quite as opposed to more-than-friendship than he might have claimed. Hope and trust blossomed in that seemed to be heading-toward-romance sitch. When I should have been guarding my heart and holding him to casual chit-chat unless he was willing to explicitly go for more, I caved at the first hint of intimacy. Our contact nourished unfounded expectations, which in turn made it harder and harder for me to be satisfied with what was genuinely good about the friendship, and rendered me increasingly needy and demanding.

The mixed messages were his fault, but plenty of the mess was also mine. So when I talk about emotional promiscuity, I mean letting “friends” into parts of my life where only a boyfriend or husband should rightfully go. C.S. Lewis, as my pastor observed in a sermon on friendship, remarked very sagely in The Four Loves:
... [W]e picture lovers face to face but Friends side by side; their eyes look ahead.
That is why those pathetic people who simply “want friends” can never make any. The very condition of having Friends is that we should want something else besides Friends. Where the truthful answer to the question Do you see the same truth? would be “I see nothing and I don’t care about the truth; I only want a Friend,” no Friendship can arise — though Affection of course may. There would be nothing for the Friendship to be about; and Friendship must be about something, even if it were only an enthusiasm for dominoes or white mice.
The problem with most of my guy-gal friendships is that we spend far more time face to face, talking about each other’s lives than we do side by side, talking about the very things I’d love to hear the guy’s perspective on. We’ve dropped into quasi-lover mode, rather than learning to be real friends. That’s what I want to guard against. If my stance on all this sometimes seems extreme it’s because this change is such a dramatic departure from who I was and how I once behaved. But how will I find true intimacy unless these habits are broken?

None of which addresses the questions posed by SBC, which I’ll get to next week. Ta for the weekend … and don’t forget to enter this month’s contest, donation or no donation. ;)

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Anna’s new man

Yes, dahlings, it’s true. iBaby 2.0 has arrived and thanks to an early morning visit with the Macstuds at the Apple Genius bar, all settings, files (even programs!) from iBaby 1.0 were copied over in roughly the time it took to finish my latte.

Because, of course, what morning would be complete without a visit to see my favorite coffee man? (Who’s Irish, as it turns out, and always asks about my Cali relocation aspirations and, now, the book-in-progress).

All in all, I think I could fairly expire of happiness right now. That or exhaustion. Getting up at 7 a.m.’s about 4 hours earlier than I’m used to. I mean, on West Coast time, that’s still wee hourszzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Why gauge the stage?

Monday’s post sure made for lively discussion! Thanks for your remarks, ya’ll. Today, as promised, my larger point concerning life stages.

You see, Tall Drink o’ Water not only inspires me to teeter up onto my tallest platforms (at risk of great ank-ular peril), he’s fairly new to the city. So new there might still be enough fingers to count the weeks here. The city’s not his own yet; it’s still a sticky ball of clay he’s learning to get a feel for.

The upside of such a status, for a man-mad woman who should happen to come his way (clears throat), is that he’s probably very open to new things. The downside: a relationship is the sort of “new thing” that can create some very defined ruts. It may shape your social circle and habits, limit what sort of activities and restaurants you explore and discover in the new city, and significantly reduce the time you have for individual acquaintance with the city.

Not that any of those things are bad. But jumping into a relationship shortly after a move is both a major commitment in terms of your life in that place, and a commitment undertaken on a slightly unstable foundation. I thought about this quite a lot when weighing my decision to move to New York. Earlier that year, I had made my first trip here for a conference at which I met a dreamy Catholic vegetarian film student who took me to lunch at the famous diner from Seinfeld.

Upon return to Arizona, I proceeded to swoon the rest of the summer over what might be if I moved there and should become “friends” with the likes of Tall Boy Veg. This moving saga was so inspirational that later that summer I decided to put my plan into action. Clearly nothing achieves this quite like shopping. So one day when I passed a shoe store with a “great” sale, I went in and found myself strangely drawn to a very tall but otherwise hooched-out pair of shoes. Twenty-five dollars was the “sale” price which, compared to the $200 pair of jeans I fetched for a Ten at Urban Outfitters this week, wasn’t much of a “sale” whatsoever.

But was that really putting things in perspective? It was not. In the grand scheme of things, how much was $25 to pay for reducing the distance ’tween Tall Boy’s eyes and mine to a mere 3” (a lanky 6’3”, he towered over even my flat-footed 5’8”)? Clearly improving our chances of eye contact was a strategic way to advance the likelihood of Relationship, should I move to New York despite my then-impoverished, unemployed state. Swallowing my shame and footwear standards, I splashed out for the strappy ankle-sprainers.

I did indeed move to the East, but while I was debating these fashion and love-life dilemmas, Tall Boy Veg was even further east in France, falling for the woman who is now his wife. I have only the shoes and a badly rewritten Carly Simon verse to show for my pangs that summer. Well, those two things and thoughts on life-stages. You see, it had occurred to me that, eager as I was to become a special friend of Tall Boy’s, doing so promptly post-move might not be the savviest strategy. What if things went badly? Five months later I could find myself alone in the city, acquainted mostly with people and places I had gotten to know through and in association with him. Even if things didn’t go badly, I might never get to know the city quite the way I would while unattached, depending on how (in)dependent I proved in the hypothetical relationship.

I realize this is an awful lot of what-iffing, but surely some of it holds true in a broader sense. Sometimes you simply find yourself in a place where, horny and lonely as you might be, a relationship or other commitment just isn’t very realistic. Within weeks of my arrival here, I auditioned with the founder of the Lunch Club [expanding this fall to San Francisco!] to be a backup singer. While he liked my voice and we got along well enough, he wisely declined to sign on someone as unsettled as myself.

Now when I see a guy like Tall Drink o’ Water, I think, “Yeah, he’s cute and even entertaining to talk to ... but he’s too new to the city.” I doubt he’ll be ready to think of dating — or more than dating — until he gets more settled. And likewise when I gave advice to Still Waiting a couple weeks ago, the bottom line was probably that Young Love isn’t at a stage in life where dating someone in his place in life makes sense.

And me? I’m not sure. A year ago, I probably wasn’t ready for anything since I was so vocationally and financially unstable. Much of that has smoothed out now, but such that I look to be quite busy in the next 6-9 months. I may still not be in a life stage where I’d have much time to build into romance. Then again, they say love always arrives when you least expect it, so maybe this could be my golden season!

As Sis likes to say, “Good thing you’re not overanalyzing. GOOD thing.”

Monday, September 12, 2005

Why Italian’s no good for the (dance) floor

Welcome back from the weekend! Before we get into the meet of today’s post, a few business matters...
  1. The Sexless monthly contest is back! 18 days remain to determine your answers. And don’t be put off by mention of donations; the friend who suggested it had in mind the $.25-$1 range.
  2. Don’t forget to keep sending in your questions for advice! Reader Q&A archive updated this weekend to give you inspiration.
  3. If you wanna show your love in other ways, help me earn some free iTunes from OK Go! Almost as easy as (eating) pie: click here, enter your email address, click send, then click through the email to hear the song or see the vid. Sign up to invite your friends too! One free iTune for every 10 listeners.
Now then. Those who checked in since last Friday were most interested (and in some cases, concerned) about my foiled rendesvous with Tall Drink o’ Water. Reader VJ expressed great dismay that I might be setting the gennelman up for an unjustifiable gauntlet. Can’t two people simply have a casual cup of coffee?

On one level the answer is, yes. But in general I’m inclined to be very Harry/Sallyish about it. I can think of some cool guys I met casually in the last 6-12 months. We even had some sort of beverage together. But you know what? There will be no follow up. There may be occasional email exchanges now and then, but if what we truly desired was casual friendship I predict that will henceforth be satisfied in impromptu group hang-outs. It’s exceedingly, exceedingly rare that men and women seek each other out for companionship without on some level exploring romantic possibilities or trying to satisfy the hunger for Companionship until the real partner comes along.

Guy Friend #1 is the one exception to this model, but he has a) an exceptionally high need for female attention and b) achieved a kind of older-brother status in my life, reinforced by his acquaintance with almost all the Broadway siblings. On account of this, we share that rare, quasi-girlfriend need to occasionally catch up on each other’s lives and commiserate about our follies. Tellingly, these meetings occur much less frequently now that he’s in a serious relationship than when he was still single. Also, his relationship puts clear boundaries on our friendship. When both people are single, the ambiguity of that unspoken “What if...” is almost always there, in at least one person’s mind.

For women that’s especially dangerous. As soon as the “What if” thought has infected our brains, we tend to start operating as if the “What if” is. We start giving our hearts to the guy as if he were more than a friend, trusting him the way we’d like to someday trust a boyfriend or husband. Which is partly why, at least in the Jesus-freak tradition, there is this concept of guarding one’s heart.

This is not to say emotional aloofness is idealized as a virtue, but that unduly overstepping a sibling-like relationship is approached with caution. And frankly, such caution is in the best interest of mystery, if nothing else. If I freely bond emotionally with any guy as long as he’ll be my “friend,” how does such emotional promiscuity prepare me to give myself wholly to a husband? How much is there to give that man exclusively?

And this is why I think a chap like Tall Drink o’ Water is good for me. I see him regularly but infrequently, and have few means of initiating contact with him (which, considering my track record with the Captain, is a mighty good thing). Our chats always occur at church, and revolve mostly around my book — a safely nonintimate topic. There’s enough possibility in these exchanges to lend a frisson of tension, but I’m learning to guard my heart with him. I don’t seek him out, I let him come to me to chat me up (though I may linger longer than necessary to facilitate this).

It’s like learning to dance, really. Too often I’ve either had spaghetti arms, allowing the “gentleman” to pull me along much faster than I’d prefer, or I’ve responded to a spaghetti-armed partners by pulling him harder and harder my way. With Tall Drink I’m learning to keep the tension roughly equal to what he’s giving me. If he’s only pulling slightly on me, I’ll only pull back slightly on him.

Truth be told, I doubt he’ll prove the sort of partner to seek me out more deliberately than this, but that’s OK. For far too long, I’ve had such tension mismatches with the men I’ve “danced” with, no quality partner would probably have had the patience to seek me out for more-serious commitment. At this stage in life, my main love-life focus should be learning to keep the appropriate tension with a nice, decent, could-be-something-more Jesus freak. With my record, that’s a helluva good start.

I’ll say more on life stages Wednesday.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Reader Forum

The Sexless Q&A archives. Updated 5/2006.

The good, the cads, the chastened | 5.9.2006
Do good men really exist? Anna tries to talk a female reader down from cynicism by describing her own change in outlook.

If he, should you, could you? | 4.1.2006
A reader wonders whether a man who’d probably dislike her standards is worth compromising for ... if he ever gets it together enough to ask her out.

When geometry bedevils | 2.10.2006
What do you do when you like the same guy as your friend does, but he seems to like you more? Anna advises a female reader on friendship, love and patience.

In search of the cool | 1.30.2006
Where do all the groovier chicks hang out? A reader asks where else, besides bars, to meet girls.

On Sumptuous repasts, and fasts | 11.25.2005
A reader wonders what to do when her boyfriend doesn’t want to have sex.

Restraining the pain a gain? | 10.5.2005
Safer Alone debates the wisdom of stifling his loneliness when picking up chicks goes awry.

nightBlogging: the dating advice episode | 9.1.2005
Still Waiting asks for help deciphering a younger, long-distance love interest’s response to him.

When seeing is deceiving | 8.29.2005
A married reader seeks counsel on his wayward heart.

How far will mar | 8.26.2005
The Broadway view on walking or not walking the “purity” line.

One to daydream, two to disclose | 8.24.2005
Suppose you happen to be in relationship ... Almost Bored asks how much is too much, when, as information exchange goes.

Sexual balance, pt. 3: Romantic caution | 8.9.2005
The reason fireworks sometimes require a license; readers suspect Anna verges on an arranged-marriage view of relationships.

Sexual balance, pt. 2: Sensual healing | 8.5.2005
Patience may teach you to savor the prickle of grass beneath bare feet ... and other lessons from abstinence (a continued response to Sincerely Curious).

Sexual balance | 8.3.2005
Doesn’t leaving out sexuality result in relational dysfunction? Anna defends the virtue of patience.

Loving the distance? | 8.1.2005
The perils and perks of love that pays in frequent-flyer miles.

More sexonomics | 7.29.2005
Anna defends her claim that abstinence is a harder sell to freaked-by-Jesus suitors.

Batty on a hot twin bed | 7.27.2005
Anna finds better fantasies than sex and ponders why the slightly freaked-by-Jesus might choose to abstain from sex.

That mysterious man who poo-poohed you | 7.15.2005
Still Waiting demands to know more of Anna’s mysterious “love-life counsel.”

Reader marathon, pt. 2 | 7.1.2005
Only moderately militant, or deeply perverted? Readers grill Anna on the Rolling Stone article.

A reader-letter marathon | 6.27.2005
Masturbation, the virgin army ... and why there aren’t more New York women like herself: a flurry of reader queries.

Bothered? Kinda hot | 6.23.2005
A reader chides Anna for basing her identity on abs(tin)ence.

Love that’s out of reach, pt. 2 | 4.14.2005
Anna dishes from experience: the pain of getting over Married Man without bitterness.

Love that’s out of reach | 4.13.2005
Paid to Pine laments his crush on an unavailable office mate, and wonders why he can’t accept this awkward, frustrating friendship.

The sweat test: why it ain’t all the pits | 9.13.2004
The Politician emails, and readers offer poetry, repeat offers. Anna assesses how their e-dating strategies stack up against the Sexless September BOTtoM.

The age dilemma | 8.26.2004
Anna offers tips on tackling a Sexless addiction.

Where the love is | 8.21.2004
Anna consoles San Francisco readers a visit might be in the offing, and encourages a reader to start promoting Sexless on bathroom walls in upscale hotels.

Why all ‘threesomes’ are not equal | 8.13.2004
Do men from the side column know they’re being blogged? We-ell, most of the time, no.

Back to the male bag | 8.12.2004
Anna skirts a reader question as to why she can’t get laid and clears up the front-view, back-view confusion over her pic (that “yummy arse” is really full frontal).

Celibates wear orange | 7.28.2004
Mentioning the Muslim lady who watched her strip provokes weird reader mail. Anna worries she may start attracting randy would-be terrorists.

Gettin’ quippy wit it | 7.23.2004
Looney Tune’s would-be dates write back. And he replies. Anna reports on the email train wreck.

The spam approach to pick-up emails | 7.22.2004
A reader emails Anna ... along with eight other women from Craigslist.

Stop or he’ll go blind! | 7.21.2004
Too much o’ the pink threatens a reader’s eyesight.

Anna responds to readers | 7.20.2004
A middle-aged Buddhist artist is horrified to find a woman half his age so solipsistic. Another reader asks for e-dating email advice and how to buy cologne.

I Can't Believe I'm Buying This Book: A Commonsense Guide to Successful Internet Dating
I Can’t Believe I'm Buying This Book

A Commonsense Guide to Successful Internet Dating
The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less
The Paradox of Choice

Why More is Less


Friday, September 09, 2005

Treating the family

This hasn’t been such a great week for Sexless, has it? Today’s excuse: I had to make an afternoon trip to pick up essential reading — a.k.a., the contract for the memoir to be based on this blog. Seeing as how said document is in hand, perhaps this would be a good time to formally announce to you all that, yes, there will someday be Sexless in the City the book ... and maybe the musical. (OK, just kidding about the last part; would you have believed me if I said, Sexless in the City, the clothing store?)

I had high hopes the week would produce fine bloggage, oh yes. You see, last Sunday Sis and I went to the evening service of my church. The very service at which a newish chap I like to call Tall Drink o’ Water (imagine a brainy and unafeared-of-cussing Jimmy Stewart) almost always makes a point to greet me. Even if I arrived mid-service and found a seat in the pew behind him. Perhaps he has special Anna radar?

In any case, Sunday I spied him across the row, not far from his usual place. But Sis and I were especially late, hence seated in a zone possibly out of range of his radar. No greeting smile or wave occurred; the service actually ended without acknowledgement. I found excuses for us to hang around afterward, chatting up my various girlfriends. Perhaps he’d manage to spy us in the cookie room. We waded through the mob to the beverage table, but Tall Drink o’ Water didn’t notice.

Sis and I escaped to less-crowded quarters in the hall where I found another girlfriend to chat up. Maybe he would see us on his way out? The lad’s a friendly one, though, so I started to lose hope. You see, him meeting my sis would be especially crucial seeing as how Sis constitutes the crack back-up suitor-vetting team. Sure, Tall Drink o’ Water hasn’t actually hinted he might like to be a Broadway suitor ... but he’s been friendly. And when we’ve joined a group for post-service supper, he always finds a way to sit by me. Should he eventually ask me out sometime, I will — in keeping with my new policy — have to direct him to the parentals. In this uncertain meantime, I figure any contact with my vetting squads is key. Since Pops Broadway turned down a chance to bond over sushi (he doesn’t like it), getting Sis to meet and size up the man was key.

Just as we were refilling our paper cups a final time, the man in question finally emerged ... closely trailed by a striking but not youthful woman. Oh yes. We had hit the parental jackpot. We easily found a four-part banter that somehow led to talk of Starbucks (probably since Sis and I share such an addiction). But Tall Drink o’ Water disdained said business, which somehow led to talk of American companies abroad. One such example was mentioned, resulting in a mother-son dispute. Each side proved so convinced of the respective position (she: that the business could be in Paris and Paraguay, he: that it could not) that a bet was struck. Sis and I were key witnesses.

When they decided that the stakes should be set, a breakfast was mentioned. My ears perked up. “Will this take place in time for your two witnesses to attend?” After all, we surely had an important role in verifying results. And just like that we were in. The bettors granted assent, inviting us to join them for a 9 a.m. breakfast in SoHo, loser’s treat. As they were departing, his mother repeated the invite “especially if she won,” so as to increase the gloating faction.

Once we reached home that night, several fine German beers from the local Austrian bar later, internet research commenced. Sure enough! The business in question not only had operations in Paris, but also in that Paraguayan neighbor Uraguay. We were golden.

I persuaded Sis to rise early so we could make the 9 a.m. breakfast, but her consequent preparations were mysteriously lengthy. By the time we reached the subway, missed a train and finally made our way to SoHo, we were 20 minutes late. Both agreed Tall Drink and mother seemed like they might be the punctual type.

Not to mention, the swift-eating type. When we reached the breakfast counter at only 20 after, it was deserted but for a slightly wistful gentleman in late 20s or early 30s. (In earlier days, I probably would have flirted with him.) Dejected at our loss of free breakfast/great story (well, OK, those were mostly my regrets), we settled on a breakfast at Balthazar.

And frankly, I guess I really haven’t recovered from that terribly great disappointment. All week, it’s hung over my blogging like a faint but indistinct hunger left unsatisfied. Don’t the best stories come from adventures I have engineered? Certainly I’ve been learning things this last year, but the key takeaway must be that I simply tried to lure the wrong men. It’s not like those failures resulted from my initiative itself ... right?

On the bright side, Tall Drink will doubtless be at church Sunday night — which may result in rather-thrilling blogging next week. But just in case it doesn’t, be so kind as to continue sending your love-life questions.

Ta for the weekend ...

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Sex really worth talking about

Disclaimer: Normally I try to assume a broad audience for this blog, while writing from an undeniably Jesus freakish perspective. Besides, addressing conservative critics/questioners of my position is just exhausting. But in the last month or so I’ve faced rumblings not only against the project of this blog in particular, but against most writing on chastity in general as “unchaste” (interestingly, secular people, too, have made this criticism, based on a peculiar conflation of chastity with modesty with silence). As Lauren Winner’s book Real Sex has become a particular lightning rod for such critiques — particularly in certain religious circles — today’s entry will show a hopefully rare disregard for my secular readers and address those critics in more “insider” language than I usually use. The Sexless tone and focus you’re accustomed to should return with Friday’s post.

I stopped reading chastity guides a while ago. Not that they’re all bad reading, but let’s just say my sentiments lay with a P.K. friend who joked he’d “given the dating the tongue” (he’s had more love-life success than I). Doesn’t it say something when that paragon of purity Elizabeth Elliot has one of the raciest treatments of sex and desire out there? Most such books read as if written in the rarified air of Colorado Springs.

A typically indoctrinated sort might agree with the reader who warned: “If you're going to send ‘sexy’ signals to guys on dates and not (to be vulgar) ‘produce,’ then you're going to lose the guys who can wait and you're not going to satisfy the ones who want it.” I had broadly implied that Jesus freaks endure sexless dates, while the freaked-by-Jesus do not, but he assumes Christian men are either so overcome by desire (owing to the woman’s “sexy signals,” no doubt) they expect sex just the same or if they’re waiting till marriage barely want to have sex anyway.

Clearly we have a problem. It would be great if we could all learn about sex — not to mention, the Christian sexual ethic — from our parents or the church, and forget dating-and-mating guides altogether, but not everyone’s parents plainly inform adult children that they were having a “romantic evening” when you tried to call earlier. (Seeing as how mine didn’t start such announcements till I was an adult, my views on sex were already formed by then.)

Which views were formed less by the likes of Lauren Winner’s Real Sex and much more by James Dobson’s Love for a Lifetime, in which he breaks sexual intimacy into an elaborate 10-point schema. Imagine my shock when a frisky date’s advances showed me the portion between waist and neck was one contiguous zone, never mind breasts lay between. Dobson implied progression from stage to stage was well-marked and that somewhat-innocent kissing (from which one could easily slip to neck-contact, I reasoned) was far removed from high-intensity hand-to-breast contact. Recalling post-date that Dobson also put hand-to-head contact close to intercourse, I decided his outline might be somewhat flawed. What’s so hot about hair?

Winner’s “steps of the rotunda” approach to “how far is too far?” could not be further from Dobson’s detailed schema. But maybe that’s because her book is more honest about the struggles we face. Unlike many of the chastity-guide authors — whose hard-to-handle standards and recommendations proceed from apparent lack of either sin or sexual desire — Winner candidly acknowledges her own failings and the difficulty of honoring God’s high standards.

Which they are — high, and difficult. But this can only be discussed if you acknowledge the strength of the desire one seeks not to sublimate but to serve God by embracing and reworking. In its tendency to emphasize the intellectual over the emotional and physical, however, the evangelical church has hewed to a bankrupt theology of desire and sexuality. To its downfall, Real Sex follows that tradition in emphasizing the Pauline perspective on marriage more than the Hebrew Old Testament teachings, minimizing the God-imaging (pro)creativity of Biblical love-sex-marriage. Thus Winner’s arguments against masturbation and for the communal aspects of sex (whereby why my neighbor has a right to care how — not just how loudly — I’m having it) sound labored at times. If she explicitly rooted human sexuality and community in the character of God and the Trinity (instead of our bodily creation), these points would have flowed with greater ease. Nevertheless, Real Sex stands to move the discussion of chastity out of the pallid rut of undesire — and all the hypocritical deception such denial often produces in Christians — toward a more candid, convicting, fruitful dialogue about how to honor God with our relationships and bodies.

Perhaps most significantly, Real Sex has also moved the Christian discussion of sex outside the coffee shops and, yes, bars where it’s raged thus far to the pages of the New York Times and elsewhere. Why does this matter? A few years ago I reviewed a promising but mostly dismal collection of scholarly research called Sex, Religion, Media. In the concluding essay, the editor bashed religious perspectives on sex as unhelpful rot best reserved for the private sphere, never mind the failings of the sexual revolution which my generation is just beginning to realize and rant about. We could use a few books like Winner’s to help both the Christian and the secular own and improve on their failings to adequately form sexual beings. May hers contribute to a more honest discussion of sexual ethics across the spectrum of belief. If honest, we just might begin to meaningfully and productively talk about sex in our homes, churches and formative communities, reducing the need for books such as this one altogether.

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