Every year after my birthday, I try to reassess my life. I write down this reassessment so I can read it. I’ve found my memory slants things in my favor and only by writing down my thoughts can I later be sure of exactly what I was thinking at the time. So this post is primarily for me, put out publicly for anyone who might be interested. In essence, I’m reintroducing myself to myself. If you want to get to know me again, this would be a good thing for you to read, if you don’t there won’t be much you haven’t heard already.
I spent most of my life with what you might call a divided self. To some people, I was a good and serious Christian, to others I was a very liberal Christian, to myself I could be either of those two, but there was also a private life hidden from both my serious Christian friends and my nominally Christian friends. There were two parts to this private life as well: there was young man that desired nothing but the satiation of the flesh, and finally caught in the tension of all of this and man who truly hated his very life, and struggled constantly to avoid physical self harm and deep feelings of worthlessness. I was deeply ashamed that I, a Christian felt that way and struggled as much to keep people from finding out how I felt like trash as I did to overcome those feelings.
It made for a complicated life. I thought my parents were the greatest parents on earth and I loved them. At the same time, sometimes I hated them so much it was purely my fear of the punishment of God for disobeying them that kept me at home much past my 16th birthday. If I was going to choose one word to describe my young adult and adult years it would “confused”. I was never sure who was the real me: the serious Christian, the liberal Christian, the sex freak, or person who was prevented from suicide purely because whenever he put a gun to his head he saw his family around his hospital bed as he was in a vegetative state, clucking their tongues and saying “Couldn’t even get that right, could you?”
I was always on the look out for someone who had the answer of how to live the Christian life. I wanted to truly be a Christian more than anything on earth. Adolescent angst turned into adult depression. Frequently, I would wake up before my alarm went off and stare at the ceiling trying to will myself into facing another day of failing to be the man I was supposed to be. Usually I could. Sometimes I could not, and it cost me more then one job.
This would lead me to join a radical Pentecostal group who claimed to have a corner on knowing God. Some would call the group cult-like, and perhaps it was but, in the end it was good for me. For the first time in my life I was honest with people about the feelings I had about myself and others. There was an enormous rush to being that intimate with people emotionally. The feeling, though sexless, is not entirely unlike the feeling of being courted. (I’ve talked to a few cult survivors who say this remains a feature of their live that they now miss.) When the novelty of those wonderful feeling wore off however, I was largely the same person. This became an increasing source of frustration. Further, the church talked a very radical, revolutionary game, but when I started to ask hard questions about when this so called revolution would start, I was ostracized.
A pivotal moment in all of this, was falling in love with my wife’s best friend. Of course, being 24 and her being 22, part of these love feelings including an intense and acute desire to make love to her. Which at first, made me hate myself more then I knew was possible. It would hardly seem that this could work for good? But it did. Through long conversations with my wife about my feelings, we came to the conclusion that it wasn’t feelings that were wrong but the actions you took with them. That being the case, I just ignored the sex drive and enjoyed loving someone. Always I had seen my desire for sex with a woman I was not married to as sick and twisted, and myself as perverse for having such feelings. Now, I accepted those feelings and enjoyed them but chose not to act on them. This was the beginning of a life of much less self hatred.
This new life of believing that I was worthy of love changed what I expected from a church. I now wanted to be treated as a peer. This didn’t sit well with the somewhat cult-like church we went to. The last straw was when I quit my job (to avoid temptation, long story) and no one would help us. Further, I was reading the Bible as a whole document looking for the whole story rather then reading individual passages to see what I could make it say. Our church wasn’t even close.
We had moved to the inner city to be closer to the people we were supposed to be saving. I sat on the stoop listening to the gun fire and the sirens. I realized that every stupid thing I had ever done was because I thought someone besides me would take care of me, yet here I was unemployed in the projects of Kansas City. I had a high enough ACT score to get into MIT and I was waiting tables and living three doors down from a crack house.
I decided I would start taking care of myself, and that such a thing would glorify God. I also still wanted to help people in the inner city, and it looked to me (after 2 years of hearing about transformation that I never saw) that hard working people getting money into the crappy schools would go a lot farther then prayer meetings.
I joined the Air Force (same pay as the other branches but least chance of getting shot and most time at home). I joined a very sincere Christian who had reached one simple conclusion: If one was going to consistent with ALL of scripture instead of just the parts they liked, then God was a radically different person then most people thought.
It’s unfortunate in many ways that I deconverted after joining, because I think a lot of people have the idea the military experience is what made me an atheist. Not at all. I joined, as I said, primarily to make enough money to make a difference. I came into the military a Christian. It was not the Air Force life that deconverted me but careful study of Scripture and the history of the early church.
That study lead me to believe that one of three things must be true (1.) There is no God. (2.) There is a God but he actively hides from those who seek him (3.) There is a God and I personally can see no evidence because he doesn’t want me to. In any of those three cases, this life on earth is the highpoint of my existence as I am either bound toward nothing or hell.
Logic says to believe the idea which requires the least invention to work. I could invent a God that cannot be found with the scientific method, or say there is no God. I chose no God. I prayed a final prayer, “Lord if you are real, I came to this conclusion with the brain you gave me and the best facts I could get. If you are real and I am wrong, then please keep my daughter and don’t hold my sin against her. I’m going to be true to myself and admit I don’t see you.”
After this, everything got better. (A subject I have blogged on extensively.) I didn’t ache inside because I wasn’t failing anymore. I stopped pretending I was a Christian, so now I had one kind of friends: the kind that liked me for me. Three months later, I woke up and was getting ready for work. I felt strange and it took me some reflection to realize why: I couldn’t remember the last time I woke up so depressed that I couldn’t go to work.
I didn’t immediately “come out” as an atheist. In my life I have been many things and what I am really excited about today is not something that will necessarily have great meaning to me in 6 months or a year or 5 years. I quietly worked out things. One of the things I really struggled with was the meaning of life in the absence of God. Christianity is a pre-packaged world view, the paradigm equivalent of a Lunchable. Atheism is merely a theology. Eventually, two things would move me. The first was existentialism. Sadly, since most existentialists are big philosophy geeks, existentialism has a huge image problem. Existentialism does not say that life is meaningless (that would be nihilism), on the contrary existentialism says life can have great purpose: the purpose you give to it.
This helped me understand some of the great confusions of my life. What meaning did my relationships have? The meaning I chose to give them. Guilt I had carried over an ex-fiance for years melted away. But what of the indifferent universe that I now believed I lived in? Well, when I spoke of this to the very wise Doctor Karen Stollznow, she said, Israel, rocks and trees may be indifferent, but we as humans are generally surrounded by human beings who are as authentic parts of this universe as the sun or the earth. Because people can make the choice to care, the universe is not indifferent.
During this period (around this time last year) I began to really hate my parents. I was profoundly bitter with Christianity and I blamed my parents for raising me in it. That was stupid. We’ve talked since and worked it out largely. Though not bitter, I remain slightly miffed at Christianity. I’m 29 years old and it has only been the last few years that I have had a normal sexual relationship. I’ve been in a sexual relationship since I was 22, however it wasn’t normal or healthy until fairly recently as atheism and existentialism helped me come to healthy view about myself. Sex is not very important to some people and incredibly important to others. I am the latter, and it irritates me that I spent the first 25 years of my life when unhealthy, ineffective thoughts and actions regarding sex because of Christianity.
A note here, when I say “Christianity” I am not referring to a code of ethics based on the Gospels, but the unique expression of American, politically conservative protestantism as I understood it. I have talked to many people since deconverting that managed to believe psychologically healthy things as well as Christianity. They managed to believe everything I do, yet do so with a paradoxical belief largely at odds with scripture. More power to them, I’m not mad at them anymore either. (For awhile I was jealous of their ability to keep all the pleasant trapping of Christianity without the madness, but I’ve come to accept that they can do it and I can’t)
This is largely the complete story of how I got to where I am. Next post I will tell you myself (and you all) where here is.
The trip had begun like most of our church youth group trips had, with me working on the 1970-too old, Dodge Crap-O-Van. Was it a new water pump that time or a bad alternator? I can’t remember. I do remember the crunch of gravel under my feet and the singing of the cicadas from the church parking lot’s only tree, so I know it was in August. I remember praying to God for the strength to get through the whole repair without using sinful language, but I prayed that prayer frequently working on old vans.
I can’t remember what the trip was for, either. Were we going to some Bible college? A Christian rock concert? Or was it the trip to Denver where we spent two weeks doing vacation Bible school puppet shows? It’s been so long since then, but those youth groups trips were incredibly important to me, at the time. My father’s post traumatic stress and my mother’s agoraphobia created a home where friends weren’t very welcome. We lived deep in the cornfields, where dad could shoot paper targets until the fear went away and mom could drink in the sun and trees until the strain of normal life was lifted. I came of age not at school, not hanging out with my friends, but at Bible camp, in Sunday school, and on the sticky vinyl seats of our church’s 15 passenger van.
For whatever reason we’d gone, I will never forget the trip back. We were exhausted, and all of us were fading in and out of sleep. The engine was a continuous roar, drowning out conversation and the tires droned out a hypnotic hum down the interstate. I was in the first passenger seat, in the middle between several thousand dollars of sound equipment on the right, and Darcy Trigg was on my left. I laid my head against the cold, hard fiberglass of the roadie boxes, and closed my eyes.
We hit bump and I awoke, conscious only of scratchiness across my face. I moved my hand up to the scratchiness, and confusingly found something soft and warm. The fog of sleep clearing, I realized that in my sleep I had turned away from the hard case, and turned instead to Darcy. My eyes fluttered open, and I froze. The scratchiness was the collar of Darcy’s sweater, stretching across my face from chin to widows peak. Not only had I turned to her in my sleep, I had laid my head on her chest and slid down. One eye looked down the front of her sweater, but the other was on the inside, her ample breasts and white satin bra, cast a warm pink by the sunlight shinning through her top.
She must be asleep, I thought, and there is no way, that if she wakes up she is going to believe this is an accident. She’s going to to know what a disgusting pervert I am, and no girl will ever talk to me again…I will be “that guy.” I closed my eyes, and very carefully and very slowly moved away, sitting perfectly straight, and not opening my eyes until I was in a position to stare straight ahead. Then, and only then, did I slowly turn my head to Darcy.
Her chin was in her left hand, her elbow on the window sill, watching the cornfields shoot by. She’d been awake the whole time! Clearly she hadn’t pushed me off or woken me because she was mortified with embarrassment. I was so ashamed, and yet I didn’t want Darcy to think that I thought she was ugly. I wanted to say that I thought she was beautiful but at the same time I was terrible sorry for violating her. My mouth was dry and I felt shaky.
“Darcy..” I whispered loud enough for her to hear, but too quiet to carry over the road noise to any other listening ears, and leaned towards her for greater privacy.
“I…I was asleep…I…didn’t…” I stammered.
She turned to me slowly, her eyes big and kind, bashful from underneath her brow, a slight smile upon her lips. She leaned toward me, closing the space between us I’d made by sitting up straight, and laid her hand on my knee.
“I didn’t mind,” she said softly. She searched my eyes, her serenity and kindness pitying my confusion and fear. Squeezing my knee, she sighed contentedly and returned to watching the landscape out the window, giving me a last over-the-shoulder smile.
I sat in total confusion. Darcy was the kindest, most gentle soul I knew at the time. Growing up in a world that divided women into nice girls and sluts, Darcy’s credentials as a nice girl were impeccable. She was quiet, demure, modest, and serious. She knew the Word, and walked the walk…and she told me that I had done nothing wrong and she enjoyed me having my face down her shirt. I realized then that maybe good girls did want to be kissed, held, and touched. Maybe, just maybe, good girls might have sex drive, and maybe a girl could want me, the geeky guy with the thick glasses, because I was OK, and not because she was screwed up.
In my last post, I told a story. I told the true story of how I came to no longer see open marriage as evil. Included in that story was the fact that ultimately, my wife and I don’t have what most people call open marriage. I told this in story form, because I thought it would help people identify with what was going on. It would show them a journey that made a little more sense of how a person who used to be a Christian came to think open marriage could be an option, before he de-converted. Instead of making it easier for people to understand I seem to have made it harder so let me try again, laying out the principles I wanted to make clear last time.
First off, all marriages are open. There is no magical force imbued in the marriage license that “closes” your marriage. Every person in every faithful marriage is so for one reason only: their feelings. Even if a person says “No, no, no! I am faithful out of a sense of duty!,” it is their feelings about duty that make them think duty is a worthy reason to be faithful. If they felt duty was a pointless concept, they wouldn’t believe it was a worthy reason to be faithful. Being faithful is choice every married person makes every day, based on how they feel about it at the time. As such, ALL marriages are open because everyday, either partner can sleep with whoever they want, whenever they want, The fact that most people chose not to says that most people feel that the consequences are greater then the benefits, not that marriage is magically a “closed” relationship.
Second, if any readers are familiar with personal property rights, they will know that what makes private property “private” is not only the right do do what you wish with it, but also the right to exclude others from doing anything with it. Marriage is as much about who is excluded and from what as who is included. This is why marriage is a legal status, and not just a relationship one. The government is aiding the contract holders (the married people) in enforcing their legal right of exclusion of all others. Because of the difficulty in pinning down anything else, legal marriage is what defines this right of exclusion primarily on the act of coitus.
The problem is when people carry the legal definition as a relational definition, because sexual monogamy is a road, not a point. The confusion is because sexual intercourse and sexuality are not the same thing. Most married people have a huge problem with their spouse having sexual intercourse with someone else. Very few married people have a problem with their spouse speaking to someone else. However, whats the line between chatting and flirting? Not a whole lot. When does flirting (which implies a lack of serious interest) become dirty talk? And at what point does dirty talk become virtual sex? Where is the line between a friendly squeeze and a grope? When does a pat (noun, usage 2) become petting? (usage 2) When does chit-chat become opening your heart?
My point is not that by creating infinitely fine gradients the difference between behaviors is erased. For instance, there is huge difference between chatting and phone sex, and everybody knows it. My point is that each couple has to determine how far down the road of non-monogamy is “too far” for their individual relationship. You will find few people to whom fidelity means merely refraining from coitus. (Bill Clinton famously among them.) This is because despite popular usage the word “fidelity” has no intrinsic connection to sex. Webster’s says fidelity means faithful. So what does Webster says faithful means? Steadfast in affection or allegiance, firm in adherence to promises or in observance of duty. Even the dictionary confirms, couples work out what faithfulness means in their own relationship. As long as you adhere to the promises you made to your spouse, and observe the duties that you agreed to, you are being faithful.
There are intimacies of different kinds, including but not limited to emotional and physical. Since marriage is about excluding others as well as about including one, each couple has to work out where that line is crossed and others aren’t being excluded anymore. I know couples where each person doesn’t have any opposite sex friends because, for them, even a friendly conversation crosses the line of exclusion. I know couples where each person doesn’t look at pornography or read romances because, for them, that crosses the line of exclusion. I know couples that don’t sleep with people of the opposite sex until their spouse has met them because, for them, that crosses the line of exclusion.
Stereotypical open marriage means at least one spouse sleeping around with the consent of the other spouse. My point was not that that is something positive, but that I no longer see it as something implicitly negative . My claim that it is not bad does not mean that I am saying it is good. I am saying, above all, that fidelity is something every couple gets to work out on their own terms, and no person has a corner on what a “good” marriage is.
So, having realized (1.) Every relationship is open anyway. The legal status of marriage does not change this fundamental reality of relationships. (2.) Every couple has to work out their own working concept of fidelity together, respecting both voices. (3.) As such, a loving, healthy, and respectful marriage can include another person.
Understanding that lead to make the MAIN POINT OF THE WHOLE BLOG: “Love fearlessly.” Don’t let the fear of intimacy, be it of the emotional or physical prevent you from making the choice to fall in love with someone–just keep your spouse aware the whole time of what is going on. You are being faithful as long as you don’t cross the line of exclusion. When your spouse says “stop” because you hit that line, then stop, and you remain a loving, faithful spouse. Cross it and you are unfaithful, because when your spouse asked you not to, you did anyway, not because of the nature of the act you were asked not to do. No person has a right to say where that line is but you and your spouse, so don’t fear crossing anyone’s lines but the one you and your spouse marked out and said “This is ours.”
LOVE FEARLESSLY! That was the point.
Now, a note here on my marriage: The legal status of our marriage is merely a tax shelter; it has no say whatsoever on what makes marriage sacred to us. Sacredness comes from feelings. Whether you believe your marriage is sacred because of your feelings about a deity or because of your feelings about yourself and your spouse, either way the sacredness comes from your feelings. My wife and I consider marriage a partnership, a meeting of equals for mutual gain. We hold our marriage as sacred.
We decide the “line of exclusion” on a case by case bases after much discussion. If either partner says “I don’t feel comfortable with X” then X stops. Because to us, the day we desire an act with another person more than the whole hearted approval of our spouse, our marriage dies. The tax shelter would live on, but the sacred union dies. To me that is the only moral foundation for our marriage. When I talk about “open marriage” that is the context I am referring to.
And a note here on open marriage. Other people can define “sacred marriage” how they wish, but I find the way most people live out open marriage would absolutely not be sacred for me. In most of the open couples I have meet, the man can have sex with whoever he wants, and the woman (if she is allowed to have sex outside the marriage at all) is only permitted other women. If I were to live that way, I would be lying to myself and my wife to make such a life appear sacred to me. I can’t say that is the case for other men. But again, when I talk about “open marriage” the normal version is not what I describe. I call our relationship open because we don’t rule out or accept behaviors with others based on a preconceived notions, but on a careful study of facts, our emotions, and mutual consideration and meditation.
Will our marriage go toward the ultimate conclusion of openness with either of us actually having coitus with another person (assuming I am not bound by the UCMJ at the time)? I doubt it in the extreme. But, the point is, it would be ruled as crossing the line of exclusion by both of us, after long discussion and consideration, and not by one person for the other, and most certainly not by arbitrary social limits drawn by strangers about certain acts regardless of context.
I say again, LOVE FEARLESSLY! Please, if you didn’t read anything else, or don’t remember anything from this, remember this:
Love everybody. Fall in love whenever you can. Sometimes you will run into fences, like being straight and/or married. Those fences are there for a reason, don’t cross them. Sometimes you might need to move a fence out a bit, like saying its OK to have emotional intimacy. Sometimes you will get hurt, or run into consequences and realize you need to move a fence back a bit. The important thing is not the fences. The important thing is this: Don’t let the fear of hitting the fence keep you from loving people.
I’ve been meaning to write a blog about open marriage for a while. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to post it on this blog or an anonymous blog I maintain, and I decided I wanted to share this openly. (If you read both, please don’t reveal that here.) It’s a sensitive topic, and I’ve waited so long to write about it to make sure I said exactly what I wanted to say. I want to say why this topic matters to me, even though as anyone who knows me is aware, my wife and I are now, as we have been through out our marriage, sexually monogamous. We have every plan of being so for the rest of my military career (to do otherwise would be a violation of the military code of justice, Article 134).
To understand why open marriage matters me, you have to know a little bit about me. A man is the alloy of his past. I am not just an atheist. I am an atheist who used to be a Christian. It is doubtful to Christians, I’m sure, that a man who can look at a sunset and say honestly, he sees no fingerprint of the Almighty, once believed that in the same God they do, and did so with all his heart.
I was never good at it, but I sought Christ and to be his follower with all my heart. Despite my later de-conversion, I was as sincerely a Christian as I could be. God ways were at the core of everything I thought, and when what I wanted overpowered want I knew I should do I felt an agonizing guilt. Thus at the advanced age of 12 I decided I needed to start looking for a wife!
It was only logical. The Apostle Paul said in First Corinthians 7:9 it is better to marry then be consumed with desire for sex, and around puberty I was consumed. The fact I was 12, unemployed, and hadn’t even started (let alone finished) highschool wasn’t import. God said it was better to marry then to burn, so I needed to marry. This was especially important since I looked lustfully at women and masturbated. To obey God fully, I needed to poke my eyes out and cut my hands off. (Mathew 5:27-30). I felt terrible for so lacking in faith that I couldn’t make myself obey God with regards to mutilation. By seeking marriage, I was able to obey God, yet not hurt myself.
I thought I would never be able to wait till I got married. When as a young man, I was in my first serious relationship (that is to say one where the woman was in as big-a-hurry to get married as I was) I was able to refuse her. Later, when I would meet the woman I would later marry, I found a new dimension to desire that I hadn’t known before. We were both interested in the institution of marriage to get sex, so desire was obviously a component, but there was something else. There was this feeling that I was incomplete and I wouldn’t be complete until I was with her. You’d think that would have made us hop in the sack, but actually it made it easier to wait, because it was something special and we didn’t want to wreck it.
Like all good Christians, waited till we were married. It was (and is) groovy and I don’t regret it waiting for it. The thing is, both of us approaching marriage as God’s blessed vehicle for sex, we didn’t really get the intimacy aspect of it. We’d wanted sex so much, but we’d wanted it as novelty, the way person wants to drive car they’ve only read about. It took us years to understand the intimacy aspect, the way you could love someone so much that you needed to be part of them in the most intimate way possible. When I’d first met my wife, as a product of my Christian upbringing, I didn’t understand how you could feel love and lust for the same person at the same time. Eventually, I would understand the line between merely hungering for sexual release with someone I cared about and needing to drown in her soul.
What of open marriage? Well, my story begins, as I’m sure many men’s do, with my wife’s best friend. She wasn’t just that though. She was one of my best friends too. She was an aunt to our child. She called me brother and I called her sister. She was family, by choice and not by chance. She was part of our life, we all loved one another. I’d been terrified at first, when I realized I loved her, but how could I not? My wife loved her, she loved my wife, she loved my daughter, my daughter loved her. What was I so scared off? Scared of getting hurt? Of disappointing God or myself?
I turned to the Bible, seeking to understand God’s heart about love. What I found was that what made the church different was love. The Bible never says “don’t have close relationships with people of the opposite sex you aren’t married to” that’s a decision the church has made because often such relationships often end badly. Being who I am, that wasn’t enough for me. Morality means doing whats right, regardless of the personal cost. Doing whats right only when its costless is the morality of a sociopath. God commands us to love on another. So…I did.
It was beautiful. I hurt when she hurt. I was happy when she was happy. She was a little ray of sunshine in our lives. A source of continual surprise to me was that I had no desire to have sex with her. It turned out I could love a woman and not be consumed with a desire to screw her! I was ecstatic to learn that. It was wonderful to learn that I wasn’t as broken inside as I thought.
She was a very physical person. She hugged a lot, play fought a lot, flopped onto one of us on the couch a lot, and all the normal things that people who love each other do. It was all just good, clean love. When I finally realized I did want to sleep with her, it was such I totally different feeling then I had expected that I didn’t know when it had started.
I didn’t want to screw her. I didn’t want to ruin what we had or even just have a sexual release with her. I just wanted all of her. As a young man I wanted sex with a woman I loved as a guilt free upgrade from Rosie Palm. As a man who had been married for several years, I wanted sex with a woman I loved because of the incredible power that sex has to bond people who love each other together.
I knew such an act would be a sin, of course. Though the Bible does not forbid polygamy, the Bible does say you must follow the law of your land (Romans 13:1-4) excepting when it tells you to sin (Acts 5:29). Polygamy is illegal in the US, so it would be a sin to do it. What I also knew was the desiring her was not a sin. I didn’t want anything wrong. I wanted to be more deeply bonded to a woman I deeply loved. As I had felt that for my wife, I felt it for our friend. My wife and I talked about it, frequently. When guilt snuck up on me, she would remind me there is no such thing as a bad feeling. Feelings are good, it’s the actions we take that are good or bad.
Eventually, this feeling became so strong that I had to tell her about it, not because I expected her to be comfortable with it, but because there comes a point where if something is on your heart, you have to share it with the people you love. To do otherwise becomes a sort lie by lifestyle. Though I didn’t want tell her, I told her. Knowing it made her horribly uncomfortable which was fair and reasonable.
What wasn’t fair and reasonable we her insisting the desire was wrong. I didn’t mind being told “no” or “Ew gross”. I minded very much being told that I was somehow broken for wanting to be deeply connected to a woman I was in love with. We worked things out but, not perfectly. At some level, she thought I was a pervert for desiring her. When the person you love looks at your insides ands sees damage in the places that make you love them, well that hurts a lot. We drifted apart over the years and my atheism (when I de-converted) broke her heart and scared her. As an atheist, I wasn’t just a man who desired her, I was a man who desired her and no longer had the holy spirit to help control his lusts. Again we tried to keep going…but in the end it just hurt too much. We got sick of hurting each other, and parted ways (mutually and peacefully) each hopping the other person would change.
So, in the end, loving two woman (even though I was only sleeping with the one I married) didn’t work out. Nor do I think it works out for most people. Why, oh why, would want to talk about this? Because I loved. Most relationships don’t “work out”. Very few of the people we are friends with are going to be there forever. People move. People change. People grow. People live and people die. That’s life, and life is better when we love.
I feel for her because I let myself love her. There is an easy solution: I would have never wanted to make love to her if I hadn’t let myself love her first. I could have had safe, empty, riskless, shallow “friendship”. Instead I let myself love, and that love and my honesty about it ultimately cost me the friend. But I would have never had that friend in the first place if I had never loved. The three of us had a great three years together. I wouldn’t trade that for three years of nothing with no heartbreak at the end.
I loved courageously. It was beautiful. I won’t do it the same again, and I highly, highly doubt there will ever be another like her again. I will probably die having never made love to any woman but my wife, and I am totally OK with that. It’s just, I understand now how two people could love someone else so much, that they want that person to part of their marriage. It was so great, even in the little, chaste way we experienced it, I would love to meet a person like that, even as I am at peace with the fact the chance of it is nigh impossible.
Just a quick, throw away post about current events. (Health Care IV will come soon.) Ok, I don’t follow celebrity news, if fact I don’t follow celebrities at all. I’m a big believer in Cintra Wilson’s theory “Celebrity reexamined as a grotesque, crippling disease” . But I feel a need to weigh in on this one.
Miley Cyrus does not disturb me. What deeply, deeply disturbs me is what the world has done to her. She is a goddess of sexless purity. Parents make her hero to their daughters because she is pure, and clean, and good. We know that she is pure, and clean, and good because she is unsullied by any sexuality whatsoever. She has no sexual identity. Her gender exists completely in following social convention. She is the plastic, sexless ken doll of the age, to be dressed and positioned however the narrative of her sexless perfection demands.
The problem of course, is that I am describing a fictional character. This is not the flesh and blood Miley Cyrus, but the highly successful Miley Cyrus brand. Let me steal from Wikipedia here…
Careful brand management, supported by a cleverly crafted advertising campaign, can be highly successful in convincing consumers to pay remarkably high prices for products which are inherently extremely cheap to make. This concept, known as creating value, essentially consists of manipulating the projected image of the product so that the consumer sees the product as being worth the amount that the advertiser wants him/her to see, rather than a more logical valuation that comprises an aggregate of the cost of raw materials, plus the cost of manufacture, plus the cost of distribution. Modern value-creation branding-and-advertising campaigns are highly successful at inducing consumers to pay, for example, 50 dollars for a T-shirt that cost a mere 50 cents to make, or 5 dollars for a box of breakfast cereal that contains a few cents’ worth of wheat.
Ford doesn’t really have a personality. Diseny doesn’t have a personality. These are massive, multinational conglomerates. But people treat brands like people: they have personalities, values, wishes, etc. And the key to the $3.5 million per annum Miley Cyrus brand is the perverts’ idealization of childhood: A perpetual thirteen, one foot poised on childhood, one foot poised on sexuality. Perhaps Britney Spears said it best with the song “I’m not girl, not yet a woman”. Unfortunately for the Britney Spears brand, a perpetual gum chewing, curl twirling 13 year old did not appeal as much to the brand’s name sake as growing up. Britney Spears first real controversy? Her development of full breasts. She went, as most young women will, from a B cup to a C cup.
The spokes person of the brand shattered the sick fantasies of nation by having hormones. The response? Unchecked rage, which only grew worse as she committed such horrible sins having sex drive, or having adult relationships.
Back to Miley Cyrus. Her first controversy was a “topless” photo in Vanity Fair. The words “child pornography” were thrown around. Pornography has a fascinating entomology, being Greek for “Writings about whores”.
If this image is pornographic to you, you need to talk to a therapist. There is nothing sexual about this image at all. (See comment). Unless you’re a pervert. But by doing this photo, she make clear that she had intentions of becoming a woman. That at some point in the future there would a person who was experiencing sexuality instead being totally oblivious to it. And for that, all the perverts were up in arms. They wanted her to stand between girl and woman so they could desire her, but tells themselves it was a pure healthy desire. The image forced them to admit they were sexually attracted to her. And for causing that revelation, she had to become “bad”.
But the point here is Miley Cyrus’s most recent flub. SHE WAS POLE DANCING…SEE
Words like “pole dancing” “leather clad”, “provocative” “dressed like a hooker” were bandied about. Of course, the less popular version of this photo is this…
Yeah, see she wasn’t “pole dancing” she was hanging onto a pole on top of a moving cart so she wouldn’t fall off. It’s called a “stage show”. Her ability to do that, while lip syncing, dancing, smiling, and not smudging her make-up, is one of the reasons she makes a couple million a year and most of us don’t.
But the public has to do this. When ever Miley Cyrus the person (who actaully exists and has needs and desires) conflicts with Miley Cyrus the brand (which is pure fabrication to sell shitty merchandise) society at large must lose it’s pathetic little mind. Because if Miley Cyrus isn’t child anymore, she forces people to admit they are getting old and their attraction to her is a bit perverse. Thinking she is “dirty”, “slutty”, or “bad” is much easier then admitting they have problem. Miley Cyrus’s (TM) owners however, make a lot more money if this pathology is encouraged. Tellingly, the first person called in when she was accused of making child porn was not a lawyer specializing in anti-liable cases, or even a PR rep, but Disney brand consultant.
Oh, and my original thought, before this turned into a multimedia, decently researched post? Just because someone is famous, doesn’t mean they are a role model. In fact, it might just mean they’re not.
Every kid wants to be a hero. We all ran around the house with a bath towel cape at one point, thwarting our imaginary nemesis, enlisting an annoying little sibling or long suffering family dog for our trusty sidekick. At some point, we lose the towel and the spider-man underoos but for at least few the dream never dies. Some us do grow up to be everyday heroes: firemen, cops, EMTs, etc., but most of us don’t. We go to college or get a good union job in the local factory and with time we stop thinking that we sold out. We change our definition of success until the daily grind meets it.
For me the desire to do something great and noble that I could truly be proud of never left me. I believed in a great story, written by the unerring hand of God and that God had a role for me in his unfolding drama. God was the decider of human affairs. If I was to amount to anything in this world, it would be by the hand of God. I’ve been a very relational person my entire life, always aware of my emotions and the emotions of others. I could be carried up to the heavens with a single compliment or beaten down with a single harsh word. However, I had deep sensitivity to reality, an almost hyper-awareness of how feeling that something is true does not make it true. I poured myself into Christianity because it was the only context I had for greatness.
Adolescence didn’t cure me of these thoughts, but it did change me in two ways that weren’t compatible with Christianity. First, I became sexually aware. I thought about sex constantly and frequently while masturbating. Also, I began to struggle with occasionally despondency. God’s commands about sex and sexual fantasy are clearly withing marriage, and a Christian should be full of peace and joy, even in the midst of anguish, echoing Job’s “The Lord gives and takes away. Blessed be his name.” Relational as I way, this deeply concerned me. Love is shown in actions, sin “nails Christ to the cross again” so every time I was lusting I was hurting my friend and savior. I wanted a girlfriend and friends, and had none and few respectively. Christianity teaches that ones relationship with God is the fount from which all relationships flow, so when I was hurt, and lonely, and blue my pain was magnified by my additional failure to be totally content with God.
When high school was over, I was a full blown neurotic. The only thing I knew that I wanted to do with my life was to be great. I had heard college was full of sex, drugs, and rock’n roll. To me, my inability to shut off my sexual desire showed my lack of self control. I knew the guilt that I would feel if I partied and slept with strangers, and out of fear of suicide in response, I went to Bible college instead.
Like so many young men away from home for the first time, the next part of my story begins with “So, I met this girl.” She was a little blond butterfly, social, friendly, and bouncy. I was so proud that she would even talk to me. At the same time, sensitive as I was, I knew she’d be hurt badly, torn apart inside. I could see it on her like a shadow. Now in part I pursed her because she was cute, in part because she was aching. And I pursued because she was wounded in part because I wanted to help her, but in part because I hated myself. I thought I was trash, and thought when she realized what a filthy, disgusting person I was, only if she was desperate for man, only if she was broken inside, would she not leave me.
However, in the end, I broke up with her, believing her not to be a part of God’s plan for my life. I came home, and got a crappy job, followed by some random college classes. This became a pattern: work pointless jobs and fail out of college classes. I worked talentless, pointless jobs for almost nothing. I did it for two reasons. First, because I believed this was my path to greatness, from the lowly and humble to the top of the company by hard work and godly decisions making. The other reason I believed this was because I still thought I was trash. I needed approval so badly and handled rejection so poorly that I took jobs any sane person would have turned down, because only when my peers were drug addicts, the developmentally disabled and the mentally ill did I feel I was appreciated enough in comparison.
During this time, I met the woman I am now married to. We did marry for love, but alloying that love was lot of desperation. For sex on my part and to get started having babies-for-Jesus on hers. I failed out college a last time, saying God needed me somewhere else, not that I hadn’t been proactive enough with my advisers about my needs as a student. We were called to an inner city mission in Kansas City. The pain of previous failure would be worth it when we got to partner with God to save the city from Darkness. My daughter was born.
We went to that inner city saving church for 2 years. In many ways they were good years, but in the end, the church was a lot more interested in feeling like they were changing the world then changing it. Also the work environment I was in was filled with pornography, dirty stories, drugs, and cursing. To obey God and flee temptation, I quit my job, fully expecting God to give me a job that paid better, perhaps one SO nice, we wouldn’t have to take welfare anymore. The whole church prayed for us, but no one would help us.
Needing to hear that I had done the right thing, I called my brother, a pastor. He called me a fool and said that I was a failure as a father and husband. I hung up the phone and sobbed like a little girl for three hours. When I could breathe again, I walked outside and sat on the porch. I looked at the clean new Cadillacs and broken beer bottles. I watched the drug dealers and the prostitutes mingle. I thought of my little girl upstairs. And the weight of it hit me. I was twenty five years old. My life was a third over and I had shat it all away.
In the words of Social Distortion “Well I’ve searched and I’ve searched/To find the perfect life/A brand new car and a brand new suit/I even got me a little wife/But wherever I have gone/I was sure to find myself there/You can run all your life/But not go anywhere.” It was all my fault. I had done this all to myself. I was everything that Christianity said I was supposed be, possessing all the values that the Bible said I should have. I had lived in constant, slow, misery trying to find my place in God’s plan. I said out loud “American Christianity is a black hole. It’s never going to change anything. I’m going to find God on my own, and I am never trusting anyone else to take care of me or my family again. I’m never taking anyone’s word on what Truth is again, because the people that told me to obey God are sitting on their asses with good jobs and safe homes and I am sitting in fucking hole with loaded shotgun behind the door.” Three months later, the Air Force paid me for the privilege of moving all of my belongings to a prestigious a training school in Southern California.
I kept a promise to myself to truly understand scripture on my own. I read the Bible cover to cover and investigated the history of the early church. A child could tell you it’s all just make believe. I didn’t make the cut in the 95% fail rate program, and for the first time in my life, the failure didn’t crush me because I didn’t care. I’d made my decision, I’d done my best. I took another career in the Air Force. I studied more and more about the Bible and began to study the things the Bible had argued with science. Science won.
And then I told my dear sweet wife, the one who had married me to raise sweet little Christian children with that I was atheist. It broke her heart. She would not have married me 5 years previous if I had been an atheist. I told her she could leave me, if she wanted a divorce I would give her one and she could have any portion of my income she wanted as long as I got to keep my daughter with me. She declined, and instead we began to get to know each other. And she fell in love again with the new me. The me that didn’t think it was sin to sleep with other women, but chose her anyway.
And with time, the questions she had always had about Christianity became insurmountable to her. She progressed from Deist, to agnostic, to atheist. For the first time in our lives, our future was what we made of it, not what our God ordained leaders said it was, not what the Bible said it should be, not what the Church said it was. Our future was whatever we made it to be. We worked our asses off. We got out of debt, became full time students, and began saving money. We started writing our own story.
That’s the key to atheism. I’m not a nihilist; I don’t think life has no meaning. I’m an existentialist. I think my life has the meaning I give it. For the first time in my life I am writing my own story. The things I did, the things I valued never belonged to me. Atheism has not cured me of occasionally struggling with despondency or even the rare depression I fall into. Importantly, neither did Christianity. Atheism gives me the freedom to accept occasional bouts of blue funk without feeling like a moral failure. Nor does atheism require to me to reject my emotional sensitivity and relational orientation as not manly enough. It takes away the right for others to tell me the best way to be…me.
Am I happy? Yes and no. As I said, atheism and existentialism have not cured me of situational depression or high strungness. What is had cured is my belief that I need to be cured of my own identifying characteristics . I will make no apologies for what I am anymore, and ultimately, being content with who I am is a long way toward happiness. My whole life I wanted to do something great, something noble, something worth remembering. Now, I am. I am making something wonderful: me.
I am worth working on. And starting from that single point, my dreams matter and are worth making real.
Aching loneliness in my soul
Led me down paths strange
Shoveling cinder and coal
Burying me in burning shame
It seemed a simple thing at first,
Images of women’s kindness
Did amply slake my thirst
And restore in me fineness
But my thirst would not be stayed
By such innocent mintage
Twas like sipping lemonade
But wanting headier vintage
Searching out stranger strangers
Seeing things which ought not.
Watching clips of varied dangers
Finding not that which I sought.
Then, forgetting mad dreams
I flesh and blood pursued
In hope and without schemes
I let myself be used
Steamy pictures o’ erotic tangles
Had awfully prepared me
For a real relationships’ tangles,
Arguments, tears, and pleas
Porn and I then parted ways
Religion was my watchword
I fantasized not of other lays
And followed always cross-ward.
Religion didn’t heal me
From the aching at the start
In fact, it just buried the real me
And broke my aching heart
Investigation of church’s claims
Left me scratching my head
The church had nefarious aims
Obsessed with others’ beds.
So I left the sacred fold
Trading one lonely for another
Finding bits of soul I’d sold
And myself, and my lover
When porn was viewed
By more secular angle
Without religious skew
Or tempting fallen angel
I realized I was never seeking
some erotic chemical high
Twas on beauty I was tweaking
Eros when most shy
To strange pastures I went
Not for tolerance built
To creepy content I was sent
Driven by crushing guilt
Atheism, ironic blessing
Freed me from guilt’s’ bully
To be myself without missing
The parts that are not “holy”
Free from guilt and shame
I view what I find lovely
I’m not driven by pain
And skip what misogyny makes ugly
And I can see clearly
With all the women I view
Real women I loved dearly
And almost always you
My taste has improved
I’m not looking in dark places
With all the shots perused
Trying to find you in their faces
But such an awful thing to say
And even worse to do!
To shape images like clay
To dream of loving you
The dream I often visit
Is us physically together
But, somehow, not illicit
A love that time could weather
I would be scorned
I seek images in replacement
I want to love and be loved in return,
You’d gag at my abasement.
None of them are right
None of them are you
All of them are right
All of them are you
So, to what cannot be
Between us, (though we love you)
Onan and I will see
What can I substitute
But it would misleading,
To blame only the ‘net
Your image is fleeting
For we’ve nott met yet
Morning dew gleams
Moon beams shine brighter
Life is better it seems
When love’s circle is wider.
I don’t want love to still
At some arbitrarily limit
I do seek a thrill
But only if love gives it.
I want love’s full expression
In context of friendship
Where physical affection
Is compassions apprentice.
So, I am seeking another
to have and to hold
Addition and keeping
Not substitution of old
I want to love with depth
A true equal and partner
But also with breadth
A circle out farther
Several months ago, I was reading an ongoing message-board about feminism. A lot of the guys were saying things that I found reasonable, and a lot of the women were pretty distraught with the guys’ statements. One women, a self proclaimed feminist, made a point that went something like this…
“You have no idea what you are taking about. You aren’t even entitled to an opinion because you don’t even have the facts to form one. You are reacting to what you think feminism is, instead of what it is. Take a single semester class in women’s studies. Read a single book on feminism. At the least, go to feminism101. Just please, don’t ask a feminist to take the time to argue with your strident ignorance of the most basic principals of feminism. Know what the hell you are talking about, and we will go from there.”
I was offended, and yet…Did I really know anything about feminism besides what I had heard from Rush Limbaugh and my pastors? I had no real facts, instead I had my feelings, about second and third hand “facts”. So, I sat down and read through the Wikipedia article on feminism, read through the feminism101 site, and took a cursory pursing of women’s studies.
The majority of expectations feminism holds for society and the individual strike me as both reasonable and moral, so I make an effort to meet these expectations. Most of them are very simple, like “Women should have the same value as men.” or “Rape is caused by the addition of a rapist.” Some are more complicated, like “Don’t view women objectively”, the subtleties of of which are little difficult at first. Observe the following images…
In this image, the woman’s breasts are the center, the focal point. The eye naturally goes to the central portion of an image. In fact, if you draw an imaginary line from the top left corner to the lower right, and another from the upper right to the lower left, you will see the lines cross almost perfectly in her cleavage.
Now, compare that to this image. Again, the cleavage is perfectly centered in the “cross” of the image. The total focal point of the image is the breast. It’s superficially similar to the first, except something uniquely subtle and horrifying has happened in this image. It’s not a woman anymore! The first image is a naked woman, and breasts are the focal point. The second is just a picture of breasts, completely divorced from the human being that is them and the sum of all her other parts and thoughts. There is no mouth to speak, no eyes to communicate subtle emotional state, no hands to suggest ability, and little body to express body language, age, or strength. The breasts are completely dehumanized, an independent object with no humanity.
I agree with feminist ideology that objectification harms the objectified and the objectifier. That said, I love me some boobies. Often, I make eye contact with women not because I want to, but because my desire to stare at their breasts reminds me to. I find breasts captivating.
There is no real reason to be captivated by them. I haven’t been in middle school for a long time. Seeing something I enjoy no longer produces any fantasies about it. Nor am I in high school anymore, I have no urgency to see women I don’t know, in any state of partial undress. If the opportunity provides itself to glance, I take it, but I’m not out looking for it.
In fact, it’s mildly frustrating. I wish I could turn it off sometimes. Today we were at the grocery store and a woman was going up the same isles we were, but from the opposite directions. Her breasts were just really interesting. I successfully didn’t ogle, stare, ect., but the amount of effort it took not to was irritating. It wasn’t a sexual thing, but a bouncing bosom is simply more fun to observe then rows and rows of nearly identical consumer food products. Why? I dunno. Some people say evolution. Some people say sin. All I know is that for two swinging sacks of mostly adipose tissue, they sure get my attention.
Ultimately, that relates to my greatest disappointment with feminism (and several other ideologies, for that matter). For most males, the female breast, in almost any context, is more fascinating than any other viewable item in that context. When feminism seeks to teach society acceptable and unacceptable ways to act upon that fascination, everyone wins. When it seeks to pathologize that fascination, everyone loses.
My apologizes to the vast majority of feminists who respect the makeup of both sexes and merely seek to see women valued equally to men, you folks are not whom I am referring to. Thanks for reading, all.
So the last post was actually supposed to lightly touch on feminism and talk about an experience I had recently. I realized that I would have to explain what I meant by values so much in the comment section I made it another post of it. Anyway…
Feminism means different things to different people. Ask one person what it means to be a good feminist and they will give you different answer than another person. Despite the lack of clear guidelines, I think “feminism” is an implied value system. Like all value systems, the resident values thereof are self evident to the practitioners and somewhat arbitrary to everyone else.
I have over the last 6 to 9 months become functionally aware of some basic feminist thought. Aware enough that I know some feminist would say that parts of my thought life are wrong (ie, a sin against the feminist value system.) So I want some feedback (preferably from feminists) on the following story.
A while ago, I had had some things to do which required me to sit through the standard “boiler plate” reading of some instructions. The task took seconds, the instructions took about 20 minutes. Even though we were all done, the person had to read all the instructions. This had to be done twice. So, I had about 40 minutes to do nothing but stare at the person talking.
The speaker was a woman. The first thing I noticed were her eyes, they were the deep brown-black of espresso. She had glossy, black hair which bounced on its slight wave as she spoke. Her skin was a creamy camel brown, with a dusting of chocolate freckles. The makeup and clothes she wore were very tasteful and classy. She was full figured, and I thought she was beautiful.
My form was filled out, and my mind wandered as she spoke. I thought about how beautiful she was. I thought about how I would like to be seen with her or someone who looks like her. I thought about how lovely her skin must feel. I wondered if she was married or single. A glance at the enormous rock on her platinum wedding band told me she was married and to someone of some comfortable income. I wondered if she was clever or funny, if she was a good story teller, if she knew good jokes. If I could magically take her out to dinner without it being wrong for either of us, I wondered what we would talk about. I wondered what she would look like naked, and wondered what kind of partner she would be in bed. I wondered if her husband found her as desirable as I did.
At the end of it of the instructions, I had to turn in my papers to her desk at the front of the room, and wait as she looked them over. I’d noticed earlier, she was wearing a low-cut blouse, and I took a fraction of a second’s view at her cleavage, which I found quite pleasant.
Now, I pose this to any feminist who wishes to help me understand. Did I do anything wrong by your values? Never once did I think I had a right to stare at her, nor did I stare inappropriately. I was supposed to be looking at her, and I spent the vast portion of the time looking at her beautiful, brown eyes and freckled face. I didn’t oogle. I didn’t think then, nor do I now, that she was an object. I did think about sex with her, but I thought about it in passing, and in the context of a relationship.
Was I not supposed to notice that she was attractive? Is there something wrong with desiring sex with an attractive woman? Is anything I did or thought, somehow unethical?
I welcome all comments on this one.
I know when you say “I am atheist” people think, “Ah, you don’t believe in spirituality at all.” Actually I do. I believe, with the existentialist, that things, in general, have whatever meaning you give them. From time to time, I have these incredible dreams. One such dream is one of the first things I blogged back on my crappy Yahoo360 account and can be read here.
I was in little cabin, a shed almost. The wood was weatherd a dull, lifeless gray . Sunlight was pouring the open door, and I was looking out into these green, rolling hills. My wife was out there somewhere, waiting for me, but I couldn’t make my self go. Some darkness, some inner dread, kept me from walking out the door. I turned back to the cold fireplace, the fire long gone and stared at the ashes.
There was a captain ladder behind me to the attick and I heard the squeek of someone coming down. I turned, and behind me stood three women. The first was my highschool sweetheart. The second the woman I dated in college, and very nearly married. The last, a stranger to me. They were all beautiful, but etheral somehow.
They smiled, bitter sweet, slightly hurt smiles as they walked towards me. The two I knew gave me a speech, and it went something like this.
Dearest, we are your ghosts, ghosts of relationships long dead. You have kept your ghosts well and held our memories dear. But it’s time to grow up. Please let us go. Stop keeping the memories alive. We’re not real. The women you remember are long gone, and we can’t ever be them again, not in body, not in spirit. You can’t ever be the man we loved again.
Darling, you don’t need us anymore. You’ve held our memories because you were sad and broken then. To a broken you, our love, our compliments, our attention was the greatest thing you ever had. It’s not anymore. You are loved now, respected, treasured. You don’t need us anymore. Let us go.
The one I didn’t recognize stepped forward. She touched my face, gently. As I looked I recognized her. When I got kicked out of Bible college she was the waitress who offered to take me home at the end of her shift, the girl who folded my laundry when I forgot it at the laundry mat, the CNA who rubbed my shoulders as I charted the worst shift ever, the girl who put my arm around her at a hayrack ride in youth group when I was too chicken to do it. She was evey female that ever made me like I was someone special instead of trash.
They all held me.
“Goodbye, my dears,” I said.
“No hard feelings, beloved. Goodbye.” They said
I stepped to the door, and woke up