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

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Stitching together a self

Substantially overhauled, 10 a.m. Wednesday

This weekend, my friend Blogyenta pulled together another stitch-n-bitch. It’s basically a girls’ night in with wine and women and handcrafts — and sometimes it’s as bad as you’d expect it to be, right down to someone’s thigh-master which we discovered and passed around. But in one of our less-giddy moments, someone mentioned that book that’s so big now. You know, the one with the code and the girl and the grail, that’s coming out as a big movie or something.

I know a lot of churches and groups are responding to it, with sections on their website, books and events. Me, I haven’t read it. Not sure I will. I hear the plot is riveting, but stitched together by mediocre writing. So why do I mention it here? Because someone hit on an interesting point at our stitch-n-bitch — one which I’ve been mulling over a lot.

From what I’ve read, the book supposedly takes a fairly liberationist stance toward women, revealing all sorts of “prejudice” in the Bible, and how God’s book consistently puts down half of His creatures. But one astute friend who’d read the novel said she disagreed — not just with how it skewed the Bible, but the alternate vision of womanhood. Which apparently means the woman involved has sex with various men. (I’m putting this forth on hearsay, I acknowledge, so bear with me.) At any rate, my friend was rightly scornful of this, both as something new and something all that appealing. Being sexually free, or frequently “loved” is somehow supposedly better than how the Bible’s celibate Jesus treated women?

This question has come to be a crux of lots of things for me: what does it mean to live life to the full, to have a fully realized humanity? The sexual revolution claimed that the only ones getting that real deal were the men, who got to work and play and sleep around as they pleased. And so we begged to join their “fun,” and now we’re supposedly having quite a blast — I mean, aren’t we? It taught, in other words, that to be fulfilled meant largely sexual fulfillment. Pity the virgins, the widows (and I might add, all those sex workers, whose pleasure never is the point).

I’m not bashing equal pay (though I think that gets complicated), or things like the right to vote, but frankly I question how good for women a lot of “advances” supposedly made on our behalf have really been. How did we get to think that men had figured out what a whole life looks like, and that to have it too we must be like them, succeed like them, compete with them? If everyone tries to lead on the dance floor, you don’t do too many waltzes or foxtrots or tangos. Same thing if you all try to follow. So that’s my first point: even in trying to be liberated, we women have held to a broken view of our humanity, and related our identity to men in broken and fairly destructive ways.

Secondly, we’ve become attention whores, and the only kind that counts is primarily sexual. Think about that for a moment. Not that I’m saying attention’s bad, or that it’s wrong for two people to flirt, but I know women who cannot rest unless they’ve been acknowledged as sexual beings, which usually takes more than flirting. The irony is, what we really want more than anything is to know that if you took that all away, some guy would still want to be in our lives, would be committed to sharing the journey with us.

Perhaps that’s why sex seems to matter so much — not so much because of itself, but because when added to a certain level of caring, it shows commitment. Traditionally, that package has been publicly commenced as marriage. But even in the case of long-term partners, we see that same striving toward exclusivity and whole-self giving. In other words, I think we long for sex to be both sign and consummation of commitment — but we don’t want that commitment without it because that would fall short of giving wholly.

The act involves the whole body in ways few other activities do. Maybe that’s why we want so to believe that having sex means really giving and receiving all of ourselves, not just bits. But just because I give you my largest and most heavily charged bit doesn’t mean I’ve given you much of me at all. In fact, I’m not sure anything but Jesus can really help me become the whole I want to give. You can rarely fix your brokenness by dwelling on it, or trying to fix it with equally broken ideas. The way for me to finally lose weight for good was not by focusing more on discipline, but moving beyond my food-focus altogether. Sex wasn’t meant to be ultimate; God is. It’s no coincidence His method of saving people most often involves looking past ourselves, our needs, our wounds.

The striking thing about Jesus’ encounter with women — when you actually read those Bible stories — is how many of them were socially shunned for sexual sin, but treated as whole beings by this teacher. He talks to them of theology, attends to their needs before those of more powerful, prominent men in the crowd, and defends their right to sit and hear his teaching. All this, mind you, in a culture that so scorned women they could not even be used as witnesses in court.

Somehow I keep finding these blogs of women who strip for a living. I really don’t go looking, but somehow I find them. And as I read their stories of pain and scorn and determination, I hear my own old fixation with sex in their words. It is so easy to define yourself by that part of identity, leverage it for all attention that it’s worth. But I wonder, as I read their sometimes rather-eloquent words, what would these women tell me if we ignored that topic? That seems to be what Jesus pushed for. Sure, he would always gently deal with the women’s sin in the end, but that was not the path to knowing him, it was a consequence. I’m grateful that I’ve known him long enough now he’s finally turned to me as well, and dealt with this oh-so-warping sin.

And when people read that book or see the movie, I hope some realize — as my friend did — that it’s just packaging a lie, and not even a new one. I hope that somehow in between the distortions and the cheap shots, there’s something that makes them wonder exactly who the Bible says Jesus is. For if you read it with an open mind, and really engage what’s there, you’ll find a kind of man who was radical in many ways, not least of which because he could help us be whole again, transform our broken tiles into a mosaic.

Monday, May 15, 2006

the long and the short of it is ...

Still being worked out. “It” being today’s — or last Friday’s — post, that is. Sorry for the delay on this one as well!! Still recovering from a busy week and weekend. In the meantime, check out these 5-minute distractions:

BBC gets the wrong “expert” in an Apple v. Apple story

Norah plays in disguise

Thanks to Godric and Family Friend for the tip-offs ...

Monday, May 08, 2006

The good, the cads, the chastened

In the other news from this weekend, a reader wrote with a question that coulda been torn from my journals two years ago.
Hey Anna,

Do you date men that aren’t believers or nominally so? The trend here lately has been that I’ve met men that are are nominal believers sort of picking and choosing what they believe and don’t want to believe. My biggest problem is that the Christian men that I do know...who are supposedly committed Christians are so freaking boring...yawn and totally not “real.” Once more, they don’t have the cahoonas to pursue a woman like a man. I’m not making a blanket statement here. But that’s been my experience at least lately.

[...] Am I destined to meet boring Christian, wimpy men? [...] I just can’t seem to meet a Christian SINGLE man who has balls and a little grit. The last Christian Christiangton I was contemplating going out with, said to me, because of my somewhat salty sense of humor and mouth [...] “Are you really sure you want a relationship that has Christ as the foundation?” That bothered me a lot. [...] And hell, I’m not so sure he’d know what to do with me and my passion if we ever did get married. I don’t think he could handle me. All I can picture is him expecting me to wear pretty dresses and white shoes to that woman on Everybody Loves Raymond. Amy’s mother. The sweet, mousey Christian woman. Icky...
Yeah, I’m fairly anti-flower dress myself. But first off, do I date freaked-by-Jesus men now? No. Did I used to? Oh, yeah. Not that it was a good thing, mind you, but at the time I thought what little attention such men gave me (before moving on in search of someone more like-minded sexually) was as good as I could get. Clearly God could not be trusted to meet my needs when it came to romance. Since those secular men were pretty much all I ever dated, I can’t say I’ve had the experience you have, of dating supposedly Christian men with values much like every other guy’s.

For which I blamed them, of course: those wimpy, self-righteous, cowardly Jesus-freak men who almost never asked me out. I had plenty of reasons why, even if they had pursued me, they never would have been good enough. That I might not be good enough for them didn’t cross my mind. But one day a long-ago crush stopped by the blog, to read for more than one or two days. I probably should have wondered why he put up with my salty mouth and sadly broken view of sex, but I was more impressed with the way he stuck around this time. Unheard of! And other than his tolerance for my titillating talk, I saw much to admire in him. Here was finally a man I could respect, whose passion for serving God revived a long-dormant hope perhaps my longings for a godly man weren’t a curse after all. And something made me hopeful he’d be harder to scare away than all the other Jesus freak men had proven.

Then, a month into my giddiness, he blogged about what was wrong with all the women he met. None of which applied to me ... so what kept him from liking me? Well, I should say, none of his main points applied to me, but one disturbingly frequent comment mentioned how unattractive swearing made a woman to him. Then and there, I resolved to cut all profanity from my blogging — at least for the most part. But though this was a superficial fix bent mostly on bettering my chances with him (which tanked, despite my clean-up program and his occasional willingness to curse), his post raised a bigger issue. I’d always assumed the problem was with men — that they were more broken, sinful and flawed than me. But suddenly a man whose zeal for God caught my attention more than his sin had shown me a rather disturbing reflection of my own sin.

For the first time I had to consider if the sort of man I claimed I really wanted would be drawn to the uncouth, defiant woman I was becoming. Which wasn’t just an issue of a blog-persona makeover or a change in certain habits. It was a question of character. What I’ve realized in the nearly two years since then is that while the Christian men I disdained were full of faults — usually on the conservative end of the spectrum — I had just as much sin. Sure, maybe I could fault them for being self-righteousness and even legalistic. But in my excesses I did no better at living the self-sacrificial life Paul says defines the Christian who understands both God’s grace and His holiness.

Sure, I’m still single, but maybe I was less ready for love and marriage than I thought. And since I’ve allowed God to work on my character, I’ve also come to see that those things are less essential to living a fulfilled life than I once thought.

I think you see where this is going and no, I probably wouldn’t have liked this advice any better than you when I was in my “Christian men are lame-o, boring hypocrites” phase. We can never know enough to reasonably claim God’s making “mistakes” in our lives by not providing as we think He should. Nor are His gifts in any way based on our worthiness or obedience. However, I’m learning it’s far more fruitful to spend my singleness learning how I can better serve God than griping about why good-enough men don’t exist. They do. But instead of focusing on why others don’t meet our standards, I think it’s time we remembered how much we all fall short of the only standard that really matters — God’s — and humbly focus more on living to please that ultimate Beloved. Perhaps as we do so, we’ll find in time that the humble fellow servant at our side is looking better all the time and strangely thinks the same of us. But that part’s really in God’s hands; the only part we can change is ourselves.


When blog-reading pays off

Still hoping to post today, dahlings, but work must come first, alas. Meanwhile, I am thrilled to announce the very first Sexless engagement. Yes, it’s true — Almost Bored found himself a girl ... through none other than yours truly! Well, through this here blog, anyway, and specifically the comments. Props to Jeff Sharlet for the article that led them here.

Who knew? Turns out clicking through to this site now and then could be good for your love life!! Congrats to the happy couple. Full story here (her side) and here (his side).

Friday, May 05, 2006

Back with my baby

Sorry, dahlings, light posting today: iBaby 2.0 came home from Tekserve yesterday (strokes case fondly), but setting him back up again put me behind on some of my work. With proper inspiration I might yet crank out a full-length post this weekend, so don’t forget to send me your latest love-life queries. Otherwise this space might just return to bargain blogging and other tales of shopping.

Which reminds me to brag that I got new jeans at the Gap yesterday, just for simply checking my email! For real. If you don’t mind clicking through to the odd online ad now and then, and you haven’t yet joined MyPoints, you should. I’ve earned at least a few hundred dollars’ worth of stuff through them over the years, since you can redeem the points you acquire for gift cards from the Gap, Barnes & Noble, Home Depot, Macy’s and lots and lots of other places. If you do sign up, tell ’em Anna Broadway — er, DANZFOOL — sent ya.