I was having a conversation with a friend of mine who is a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints (a Mormon) about being chaste. (About her being chaste, obviously... bit late for me.) Oh and PS, she doesn't agree with her church's stand on gay marriage and hey, neither do I, so lets cut that comment bait off right away.
I have to be honest, defending people's typical behaviors with regard to sex isn't the easiest thing in the world. It's especially hard when you're like me and you don't drink. I'm already in the mindset of not doing things that pretty much everyone does because it's just not something you want for your own life.
The reality is that most single people's personal lives are either a trainwreck or one in the making, and sex is often a complicating or distracting factor. It emotionally binds you into situations you'd probably be better off without and it's often misinterpreted. In fact, I'd venture to say its misinterpreted more often than its presence is interpreted correctly.
I asked my friend a whole bunch of questions about her feelings and philosophy. I made the argument about it's ability to bring two people who are in love closer together, and she asked me if you were in love why wouldn't you get married?
And therein lies my achillies heel in this conversation. I've never had a particularly good answer to that question, because I feel like most people overcomplicate relationships. I've been in a couple of situations where if the girl would have been up for it, I would have absolutely been married now. I just feel like nothing could possibly prepare you for a lifetime committment so the best you can do is find someone you care about that you think you can handle the unknown with and make that relationship into what you both want it to be. The idea that any of that is predictable when the divorce rate is 50% just seems like a lot of insecure indecisiveness to me. I honestly think that my chances of a happy life with the next person I fall for are just as good as they are with any other person I might fall for... or, moreover, that I have no way of predicting otherwise.
So when I see young Mormon couples get married after just a short period of time, I totally get it. In fact, I can't help but feeling a bit envious of people who so actively make their lives what they want them to be and work hard at overcoming the difficulties. It's a lot more admirable than us New Yorkers hemming and hawing about not being able to meet anyone well into our 30's. Our situation is kind of sad in comparison actually.
It's an interesting thing to be introspective about--and I realized something she described the pain of seperation when relationships don't work out--and how that can be exaserbated by intimacy. Physical intimacy doesn't create emotion--it reflects it. On one hand, you could use that as an arugment to support chastity. On the other hand, since it's not creating any, then it's not really making it more difficult when a relationship doesn't work out either. And that's, when it comes down to it, what I realize that I fear and what most people want to avoid in the first place--being hurt. Choosing to be intimate or not with your partner at any given point, in my mind, doesn't increase or decrease the chances of being hurt. Lack of communication, lack of honesty--these are all things that cause pain--not intimacy. I don't want to get hurt anymore than the next person, and I don't take on a relationship assuming it will fail.
So, I think, when it comes down to it, focusing on the act is really focusing on the wrong issue. I found myself feeling like I was making the conversation all about sex, and it's easy to oversimplify it that way. That's a lesson I had to learn about alcohol early on--that you could very easily throw the baby out with the bathwater (bathtub gin?) and make the whole issue about drinking or not drinking, versus the kind of relationship you want to have with others and yourself. By choosing to be chaste to the degree that practicing Mormons do, you're really choosing a certain way of relating to other people--one without a certain level of risk, vulnerability... and it's not necessarily how I want to encounter people--with preconditions, limits, boundries.
Will I find a relationship that naturally developes its own unique path around intimacy? Perhaps. Do I want to be thinking about those limitations on the first date? That presents a lot of difficulty that can suffocate a relationship from the start.