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.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Surviving a season of sexlessness

Whether because they saw my segment on “tips for having the talk” or figure a nearly-30-year-old virgin must be good at something (ahem), I’ve been getting requests for advice lately. Today I thought I’d share a few tips I’ve learned for practicing chastity.
  1. If you’re going to be abstinent, give it your best shot. Don’t use dates, make-out buddies or significant others as your science lab to figure out where the “How far is too far?” line is. That also means no porn, no masturbation and ... well, your conscience can be your guide. But seriously: if you’ve chosen to be selective about the circumstances for having sex, techhnical adherence is basically cheating. Rather, you ought to press into and ponder the ultimate reasons for reserving sex for the ultimate commitment of marriage. If you don’t like what it means, then have the courage and candor to admit you’re not really on board with chastity, don’t trust God to know what’s best or don’t [insert your issue/objection]. Then, deal with that issue, rather than faulting something you never really gave a fair chance to begin with.
  2. Don’t use friendships as a substitute for dating someone. In my experience, intimate, opposite-sex friendships often function as emotional substitutes for the real, romantic relationship both friends might desire -- often leading to ambiguity, confusion and hurt. Again, have the courage to admit what you’re really looking for and using that friendship to provide. If you want romance, but not with that person, don’t use him or her to slake your thirst for intimacy. It’s not fair to that other person, and may even be a hindrance to finding the thing you really want. (See my post on emotional chastity for more clarification on what type of friendship I really think needs the most caution; it may not be what you think.)
  3. Do take advantage of brothers/sisters and other safe, clearly defined relationships you have with the opposite sex. I’ve been fortunate to have siblings of both sexes, but even if you don’t, you probably have some unambiguous, fully-platonic-and-couldn’t-ever-be-otherwise relationships with the opposite sex. While these certainly aren’t a substitute for a romantic partner, a lot of times our loneliness is partly spurred or exacerbated by a longing for more contact with the opposite sex. Treasure the blessing of this contact whenever you’re able to enjoy it. I’ve been amazed how much good it sometimes does me to just hang out with my brother or dad. Even if I someday marry, I hope I never lose sight of how much relating to the other men in my life enriches my community and helps meet emotional needs.
  4. Cultivate your whole self in the present. One of the traps of being consumed by your singleness is that it’s easy to start believing your whole identity revolves around your sexuality and its (un)fulfillment. This often comes at the neglect of all the other things that make you you or enrich your life, work and relationships. Pursue your other passions! Explore non-sexual ways to serve and relate and, most importantly, do what you can to maintain relationships beyond your generation. Within the circle of other 20- or 30-somethings, it’s easy to forget how little importance the question of sexual “need” has for the very young and the very old or sick. I’m often humbled and amazed by how much good it does to be around a child whose great worry is this week’s soccer game, or to catch up with a grandparent or other senior who’s dealing with losing much of his or her health and friends. Both give you a lot of perspective, and call on parts of yourself a lover may never access. If that side of you exists, though, why not nourish and encourage it? We never know who or what we’re capable of until we become that.

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