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, May 24, 2006

Taking the road that’s given

Nope, the sidebar ain’t lyin’. Though I’m somewhat sheepish admitting it, I bought one of the new Dixie Chicks songs. I’ll confess: I was a sucker for the opening line: “My friends from high school married their high school boyfriends.” Get to a certain point in life, at least if you’re still single, and you start saying things like that often — perhaps with exactly the same wry tone the Chicks’ singer takes. But I’m not convinced either scorn or envy is really the best response. Rather, it seems we’re best off (or at least sanest) admitting both courses in life have their benefits and their challenges. And really, when you read the Bible on singleness and marriage, it says a similar thing. Community isn’t negotiable, but what it looks like, and how we grow and struggle can certainly vary.

“I met the queen of whatever, drank with the Irish, smoked with the hippies, moved with the shakers ...”

When I was younger, I only praised my singleness in silly, self-centered terms: “Ooh, that means I can go without shaving my legs for a while,” or “who cares if I clean when it’s just me?” In my mind those who dated and married young had all the advantages: love earlier, more attention, and more sex. Great priorities, no? Sure, I got to complete my degree straightforwardly, then make a fairly uncomplicated decision to go grad school, but I wasn’t all that grateful for my freedom. Even when I finished the master’s and could move to New York quite poor and also jobless — in the riskiest lark I’ve embarked — I didn’t realize how much my singleness was allowing me, how much I was taking advantage of independence.

Now that I am nearing the end of this season — that is, my twenties; of this singless, who knows — I’m finally starting to see what I gained from this “long road,” and what my friends who took the shorter path to love have lost. A lot of my girlfriends are starting to think about grad school, but now they’re married, or seriously dating, that decision is a lot harder than it was for me.

You remember how at the start of college or school, your grade point is fairly easy to change? But once a couple years go by, you’re more locked in with the average; have two many low grades, and it takes a lot to recover from that. I’m starting to think our twenties are sort of like that. When you’re young and at the beginning of them, it doesn’t make all that much difference whether you work right away or get one more degree — or just have some crazy adventure. But once you’re into your middle or latter twenties, it’s a bit harder. The amount of major change your life can sustain is probably less than it was a few years ago — at least in terms of changes all at once.

Because I’ve taken the long road to love, I’ve gotten to spend this decade getting my education, making a major move, surviving poverty, taking trips abroad (now and then, at least), and even writing a book. There hasn’t been a whole lot to compete with that; the main constraints have been my money, energy and time. But for married girlfriends of mine who want to go back to school or move or change careers, it’s all affected by things like their husband’s career, their family plans, and when they want to have babies.

For years these women were the ones I envied, but I’m finally seeing that just because their path is different from mine, it’s not necessarily smoother or better. It’s just different. The odds may well be that when we look back twenty years from now, we’ve all gotten much that we wanted: they have their degrees and what-not, I’m finally married and raising a brood of Broadways. But what may interest God the most is the character He’s produced in us.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve often been struck by how the women I knew who were the most ambitious and had much less interest in marriage than I got snapped up right out of college. Meanwhile, those of us who cared much less for career and wanted nothing more than husbands and babies now have spent our twenties waiting and grousing and waiting ... and doing lots of the other things our married peers aspired to. Perhaps God chooses to hold off the thing we tend to idolize most, until He’s transformed us into people who could actually handle the things we so long for without giving them the glory God deserves.

It may projecting a tad, but I hear in the Chicks’ words a struggle to reconcile their southern, traditional roots with a more feminist sense of self. Independence isn’t bad, but when there’s either defiance or jealousy in it, something’s off. We headstrong ones usually need to learn about what it means to depend on others, and those inclined to go with the flow may need to think for themselves a bit more. But if we’re in conversation, those are lessons we can help each other learn. That learning will happen best if we can be humble and grateful wherever we’re at, and genuinely able to rejoice and empathize in the blessings and struggles of those on the alternate path.

Get the album:
Dixie Chicks - Taking the Long Way