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, April 14, 2006

Why we wait

Had a call from the Lickwit last night, inviting me to spur-of-the-minute drinks. I’ll confess: as broke as I’ve been lately, the prospect of probably free drinks with a witty blond held much appeal. (Especially since I’m always shocked when men who’ve passed me by still care that I’m breathing. I know — “protection not rejection” and all my well-intentioned opining — but sometimes steeling your heart against cynicism is might hard to do. Especially in this town.) But since I had much work to do, and had already bailed on plans for Maundy Thursday services, I asked him for a rain check.

Later I was reading an old friend’s new blog (which, if you liked Blogfather’s style, you really might want to check out), and thought how terribly fond I could be of this friend when thus reminded of his strong points. And somehow that brought to mind this time I hurt his feelings once — in a talk about why I wouldn’t consider changing my standards for him. Seen from a secular, masculine point of view, I could understand how it would seem insulting — like, “You’re not good enough for me.”

But I realized last night the slight was caused by my failure to explain myself and the reasons why I wait. It’s not a question of men being unappealing, or those particular guys not making me question my standards, but of esteeming them (and myself) too much to use them like that.

There have been lonely times in the past where I looked at my current closest guy friend and wondered if we could be more than friends — not because I wanted to marry him, or invest deeply in his life, but because I was lonely and wanted an intimate affirmation. That’s viewing sex and human relationships in a mercenary fashion: “What can you do for me?” or “What do I have to do for you to give me what I want?” Self is the underlying interest.

Sex is pragmatically polite instead of more genuinely other-focused and kind. (Not to say the latter is completely altruistic, but as a general rule it tends to be more sincere.) To give a man I wouldn’t marry — in other words, wholly commit myself to — mere sex without much more besides that is to spurn the rest of his personhood.

This is the fundamental difference between the Bible’s approach to relationships, and how we most often operate. The Bible says we should strive for a selfless, self-donating relationship with others — a posture of sacrifice (though this does not mean always giving them what they want, since that’s not always in the other’s best interest). And because it’s a model of whole-self giving, it means resisting attempts to break the other into compartments of emotional, professional, sexual, spiritual. You deal with the whole person.

In most situations, however, we not only fragment ourselves into pieces, we tend to privilege one part above the rest and measure our whole self worth by how that part of us is perceived. Encounter a person who doesn’t acknowledge that part as your most essential self, or offer homage to it like you’re used to, and that’s understandably disconcerting.

I should know; I used to lead with my sexuality. When men took the bait and rejected the rest of me as fairly incidental (before discarding me in a sexual sense as well), I was naturally hurt. But when the Christian men I met refused to deal with my sexuality, and consequently not much of me besides that, I felt even more demeaned and rejected. Not only did they not care about the part of me I thought most central, they didn’t seem to care about me at all!

Then a friend spoke into my life with some of the hardest words I’ve ever heard. Ever. He finally tackled directly the way I had fragmented my self and put sexuality on top. He talked about what that meant for my writing. Ouch. Normally I would have slapped on the band-aid of self-loathing as fast as I could, turning to my self-protective treatment for such wounds. But this time things went differently. There was in his words a gentleness and respect in which I sensed God Himself cajoling me to abandon this self-fragmentation to live as the whole person I was meant to be.

It was perhaps the first time that an unrelated male had shown me what whole-self-giving love really looks like, or how it at least begins. It’s not just caring about who you are right now and what you can do for me, but who you will be two decades from now, and what you are doing that’s hurting yourself and others.

For the Bible, you see, says the love we Christians are called to imitate is the ultimate self-giving, sacrificial love that’s shared within the Trinity, and was demonstrated most vividly when the king of the universe lived among his people in disguise, as it were, risking even the death that befell him, so he could rescue them from their oppressor. It’s a paradox: the fate one always fears such a king will suffer was actually how he secured our freedom. The way he showed us such love was by condemning our actions so strongly as to be deserving of even death itself but serving as our substitute in the gallows since he valued us too much to part with us.

So that, friends and readers, is really why I’m still waiting. Not because I’m better or you’re unattractive, not because I think sex itself is bad or will be better this way. No, I wait because I’ve learned through God and through friends the freedom it is to be whole and how much more lovely and precious the whole of you is than just the favorite part you show to me. I know it’s unlikely we’ll age together, or talk more than now and then, but in what what moments we do share, I want to engage not just the witty, urbane and charming parts of you but what it is that makes you spend your money frivolously, drink yourself into tipsy confidence, or date men you somewhat despise. As much as you’ll let me, in other words, I want to be the friend to you mine was to me. We both know that isn’t sexual, but we also know the true mark of friendship isn’t what favors you’ll trade but if you’d willingly give up your life.

Peace to you on this Good Friday ...