Tuesday, September 26, 2006

77. Celibacy Unmasked

So, today I thought I would explore the idea of celibacy.  It’s not a new topic – I’ve talked about it before on and off ever since my very first post.  But I’ve generally talked about how celibacy directly impacts me… not how it indirectly impacts me.  In some ways, this indirect impact is even more frustrating than the obvious stuff (no sex, no life partner, no children, no family of my own, etc…) simply because it is so indirect that no one but me (or other singles, for that matter) notices it happening.  

So, what is it that I’m referring to?  Again, these thoughts were brought on by recent developments in my life.  Not that these developments are anything I haven’t experienced before, it’s just that I’m sort of cataloguing them for the first time.  

The first thing is obvious.  If you are single, and your friend starts dating, you are going to see your friend less.  It makes sense, it’s normal.  You move down the priority list.  If the relationship is a good one, you’ll probably move even further down as your friend begins to confide in their boyfriend or girlfriend.  They start to get things from their partner (and I don’t mean that in the ‘gay’ way) that they perhaps used to get from you… you get squeezed out.  I’m putting this very starkly, I know that none of this is intentional.  It’s natural, healthy even – your spouse should be your primary relationship.  And because most people eventually pair up, the effects aren’t that bad as sooner or later the people who were squeezed out will probably have someone in their lives who will squeeze their friends out.

I should probably mention that in addition to knowing that this isn’t intentional, it also rarely happens that a person gets squeezed completely out… that is actually usually a sign that the new relationship is not healthy.  This “squeezing out”, to keep using that same terminology, happens in varying degrees and in various stages.  But no matter how benign or how minimal, I don’t think anyone who has been on the receiving end of it has ever enjoyed it.  For someone with esteem issues (like I have had for most of my life) it makes me feel a little less valuable every time.  I know I shouldn’t gage my worth that way, but it’s hard not to when you are constantly getting bumped down people’s lists – especially when there is never the opposite happening, I never find myself moving up.  I always start out pretty high and slide down as my friends pair off.

Okay, that got a little more personal than I intended for the purposes of this post… moving on.  

Another indirect effect also results in us single people being squeezed out – only this time it isn’t by the new romantic partner… this is a phenomenon that I must admit I don’t fully understand, having never been in a couple myself… but couples want to hang out with other couples for some reason.  I think I can understand why a guy, for example, might want another guy around while his girlfriend (or wife) is hanging out with her (platonic) girlfriend… but why they have to be another couple I don’t really get.  But I know it happens.  Couples actively seek out other couples to go out with.  I’ve heard married friends of mine complaining about not having couple friends to go out with.  This desire is so strong that I’ve seen friends of mine jump at the opportunity to double date with another couple that they hardly know, or don’t have much in common with (besides being part of a pair).  So we singles get squeezed out not only by this new partner, but by these couples that they seek out.  This one, I admit, frustrates me more than the first point, because, as I’ve mentioned before, I’ve often hung out with couples pre-coupledom.  By this I mean that before a couple starts dating, I am often there, as was the case with my coworkers S and D.  The three of us hung out a lot, and I thought we had a lot of fun.  And then they started dating.  I could process them wanting to be alone and therefore not hanging out with me so much.  What I have trouble with is hearing them make plans to hang out with other couples – especially when it’s this one particular couple that I know they hardly socialized with before.  My thought process goes something like this… “if they’re hanging out with that couple, double dating I guess is what that’s called, then they obviously aren’t wanting to be alone so why them and not me?  I was good enough to spend time with before they were knocking boots, why not now?”  

This, of course, is not the first time this has happened to me.  And it probably won’t be the last.  Wow, that sounds bitter.  And once again, more personal than I intended this post to be.  Whoops.

Moving on.

This last point is probably the most maddening to me.  I understand why it happens, once again there is no malicious intent, it is just frustrating.  What is it?  Well, people who are in a couple want to talk about their boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife a lot.  They want to discuss their relationship all the time.  And of course they do… it generally is the most important (or in the case of Christians, the second most important) relationship in their lives so it’s going to be at the front of their minds all the time.  It’s not that I mind these conversations at all, it’s just that I can’t really participate.  I have no experience to draw from.  I can give my point of view, but I know (and the person I’m talking to knows) that my perspective has really very little value as I quite literally don’t know what I’m talking about.  So I find myself out with my friends who are all in relationships, or have past relationships to draw from, and the conversation inevitably turns to the topic of relationships and I find myself mostly just playing with my food, or staring off into space… bored.  I have nothing to contribute, and if indeed I am to be celibate, the topic  is actually irrelevant to me.  I find myself in the position of realizing that not only am I being bumped down my friends’ lists, but I, myself, am bumping them down because I feel bored by our conversations.   And I hate that.  I value my friends quite highly, I really treasure them… but I know I do this.  Again, I don’t mind these conversations, but it so often happens that they are the only conversations I find myself in.  I didn’t get into all of this in yesterday’s post, but in addition to not wanting to put up with someone I don’t like, part of the reason I’ve found myself pulling away from S is because when I am with her (and the other friends who often join us), I often find myself sitting there, bored, while a conversation goes on around me about their various relationship woes.  I had a quite distinct moment a couple of months ago when we were out for dinner and the thought popped into my head quite clearly – “I’ve got to find new friends.”  I’ll actually talk about that in another post I think, cause this one is already quite long.  

So, there you have it.  My answer to the question that I’ve been asked more than a few times (and always, incidentally, by married people), “What’s wrong with the celibacy option?”  

The answer?  A lot.  A hell of a lot.  Beyond the obvious, being celibate, or even just single in this world (not just in the West, by the way, every where you go in the world, being in a couple is the norm for adults) puts you outside.  Unless you are in a convent or a monastery (or some other variation of a celibate community), you’re going to feel it, feel your otherness, feel your outside status… maybe not every day, but you feel it a lot.  And I know that the solution is apparently to rely on the ‘compassion’ of the church, those people who will take us single people in, but… well, how is someone’s pity supposed to help with making me feel more valued?  Pity does not equal intimacy, it is not a replacement for the relationships that most people have at some point in their lives.  And it is a lie to say that it is enough.  

I know the response to that, by the way.  Christ is enough.  I know that.  I just don’t know that having merely ‘enough’ to get by is what my life is supposed to be.  Other people get Christ and the joys (and responsibilities) that come with marriage.  It doesn’t mean their faith or relationship with Him is any less significant.  I know that this is a juvenile thing to say, but it really just isn’t fair.

Okay, now I’ve done it again.  I’m going to stop writing now.  

Monday, September 25, 2006

76. Joe

Okay, so it has been ages since I posted.  Long enough that the last post was during my last vacation in the Philippines, and this one is coming just prior to my next vacation to the Philippines!  

My time there kind of shook me up a bit, made me think about what I’m doing with my life and what I want to do with my life.  Just to reassure you all, I do think I’m doing the right thing being here right now.  It is the financially responsible, adult thing to do… and I do think I need to do it for a little while longer (until I’m out of debt).  But I have to say that even thinking about teaching in the Philippines, or a place like it, makes me ridiculously happy for the few seconds that I’m thinking about it so I am fairly certain that that is what I am going to end up doing… I almost finished that off with the phrase “with my life”, but I’m leery of making committal statements like that.  I have trouble planning ahead.  

That having been said, I have a lot of blog-relevant thoughts to share, and I’m hoping to get back into the swing of things blog-wise.  Today I was writing a dear friend a letter explaining a minor ‘revelation’ I had yesterday.  I don’t quite know if ‘revelation’ is the right word… it’s just that yesterday I figured out how to explain something I’ve often tried to explain and never could.  It came on the heels of realizing that I’m pulling away from my neighbour S., not because of any conflict or problems in our friendship… I still think she’s awesome and love hanging out with her… it’s just that while we were in the Philippines (along with my other coworker – “Lick-my-boob-girl”, who I’m going to call A. from now on because it’s much shorter) I discovered that I don’t really like hanging out with A. at all… she’s not a bad person, but you can’t like everyone… and she sort of chafes me.  While I was discovering this, S. was discovering how much she likes A. and now whenever I hang out with S. it almost always has to involve A. and I’ve recently noticed myself pulling away from that.  Because I’m rather introspective (hello, I have a blog for crying out loud!), I thought about this for a while and realized that as much as I like S., I guess I don’t value our relationship enough to put up with spending time with A.  (I should point out that it’s not like S. has a lot of free time anyway, between her now fully flourishing dating relationship with D. and work, and her tutoring, her spare time is rather minimal… and I understand her wanting to cram all her friends in at once.) As I was thinking I suddenly realized I had an answer to a question I get all the time.  “Did you hear what Jerry Falwell/James Dobson/Exodus/Your mother just said about gays?  How can you still be a Christian?”

I’m sure the savvy among you can see where I’m going with this, but here it is (basically transcribed from the letter I wrote today).

Let’s say I’m friends with Joe.  Joe is an awesome guy who enriches my life.  He challenges me, he helps me grow as a person.  He helps me understand myself and the world around me.  I really enjoy my time with him and feel my life is better with him in it.  Let’s say that Joe, being this awesome guy, has lots of other friends – and the vast majority of them treat me like shit – as less than, as unworthy, as a threat… I will now have a decision to make.  Is my relationship with Joe worth the aggravation I will have to endure when I am forced to interact with his other friends?

I’m sure this analogy is easy to see through.  Joe, is of course, Jesus… and I have decided that He is worth it.  The analogy works on other levels though… In my little story, Joe’s friends treat me badly, lie about me and make ridiculous demands of me that they wouldn’t even consider making of each other… and I can’t help but have questions about Joe because… well… aren’t your friends a sort of reflection of you?  If I can’t trust many of the people around Joe, it’s going to be more difficult for me to trust Joe himself, because why on earth would he surround himself with such people?

Of course, here is where the analogy breaks down… because I don’t want Jesus excluding people from His “group of friends” because of character flaws… because then I’m out, and despite what many of His ‘friends’ may think, I really don’t want to be out.

So, what do I do?  I continue to relate to (and with) Christ despite all the crap that is spewed out by groups like Focus on the Family or Exodus… or, for that matter, my mother.  Christ is worth it.