Monday, 21 June 2010

Auntie Seraphic & Wounded and Wondering

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

Given your past (& present) experiences, I'm interested in your thoughts on this. I was an NCG until after college when I met this guy that I thought I wanted to marry. We quickly became sexually involved, but my conscience got the better of me and we stopped. We then tried for a couple of years to salvage the relationship, but in vain. I subsequently learned the "why" behind the Church's teachings on chastity, and in the process I realized that I had used him to satisfy my desire to be loved and he had used me to satisfy his desire for sex.

Sometime thereafter I began to date someone I thought was an NCB and we became serious enough to talk about marriage. (I told him the relevant information about my previous relationship.) At one point I found it necessary to ask, "What's going to happen when we get married and you want to have sex but I don't?" He responded, "Well, your body is my body and my body is your body, and there will be times when you want to have sex and I don't, and I will have to do that for you." I ended the relationship not long after that conversation.

Auntie Seraphic, I want to marry and I want to have sex and I want to have children. But I am really, really afraid of "having to" have sex. Any time I see wives sort of roll their eyes about sex, it stirs that fear in me again. I realize that this is part of the consequences of my sin, but I can't undo the past and I'm not quite sure how to handle the future. I liked your vitamin C perspective, so I wondered your thoughts on my situation.


Wounded and Wondering

Dear Wounded and Wondering,

You don't have to have sex when you don't want to.

I think we should get that out of the way first. Your almost-fiance was a bit of a dork. The correct answer to "What if sometimes you want to have sex and I don't?" is "Well, honey, I guess I'd read for a bit and then fall asleep."

Most men are not selfish sex fiends. Most of them are fundamentally sound at heart, if a little inept at meaningful talks, and would be horrified at the very idea of forcing their sexual attentions on their beloved wives when those wives were really not up for them.

One of the things about falling in love is that you can't really imagine not wanting to sleep with the Perfect Man for You. "I'm going to have sex every single day, man," you rave to your married best friend.

"No, you won't," says your married best friend.

"I so will," you say, pawing among the wedding dresses in the shop.

"No, you won't."

"I will!"

"You won't."

And you don't, but that's okay.

What is not so okay is if, for reasons of diet or depression or fury at your husband for never doing any chores, your libido just dries up entirely or you start thinking that your husband's bachelor brother looks mighty tasty. At that point, you will have to talk to A) your husband and B) your doctor about your sex life. However, don't borrow trouble. You're not even married yet.

Meanwhile, I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest--just suggest because I wasn't there--that not only are you freaking yourself out needlessly about the future, you are freaking yourself out needlessly about the past.

First of all, you can lose your virginity before marriage and still be a Nice Catholic Girl. You are a Nice Catholic Girl who should have known better, made a stupid mistake and is now back on track.

Second of all, men who use women just to satisfy their desire for sex don't work on relationships for two years. I am perfectly willing to believe the man was a jerk or a wimp and ultimately not the Perfect Man for You, but I am less willing to believe he was just using you. Do you not think, in his own flawed way, he probably cared for you? And if he did, how does that change the way you think about men-in-general?

Usually I make up the pseudonyms for people who write in, but I kept yours as-is so I could tell you to stop thinking of yourself as "Wounded." Pace Henry Nouwen (author of The Wounded Healer, a book which I do not recommend) I don't think that is a healthy way to think of oneself.

Not wanting to have sex when you don't want to have sex is not a wound, it's perfectly healthy and normal. And what you wanted from your almost-fiance was assurance that he was going to respect your boundaries. And it kind of looks like he wasn't going to, so good call on dumping him. "I will have to do that for you" indeed! He was going to swallow Viagra on command, was he? Puh-leeze.

WW, my dear, the solution is to not get married until you meet a man who is so jaw-droppingly wonderful that it is hard for you not to simply start kneading him like bread-dough, so badly do you want to touch him. And if he is so truly wonderful, you will find yourself so relaxed around him that you can tease and mock and scold him as easily and affectionately as you do your best friend. Saying "Can I take a raincheck?" will be as easy as pie.

I hope this is helpful.

Grace and peace,

Update: Incidentally, many married women find the sight of their husbands washing the dishes or doing any other chore wives usually find themselves doing extremely attractive. This is not something advertisers have yet figured out how to exploit. Diamonds may be forever, but discovering Husband has already done the dishes is... Modesty forbids me to say more.

Update 2: The married-women-eye-rolling thing has been bothering me all afternoon. My guess is that it is usually a facitious, woman-bonding thing that may have very little to do with these women's actual experiences. I don't think married women should make jokes like that, though, especially not around unmarried young women. Once upon a time, well-bred married women were discreet around unmarried women. Meanwhile, if my husband rolled his eyes around about such private things having to do about me, I would go MENTAL.


theobromophile said...

Re: Update #2.

Funny, I was just going to comment on that. The Married Woman Eye-Rolling has always bothered me, but it's tough to articulate exactly why.

If it's eye-rolling about not doing the dishes or changing diapers, there's the issue of degrading your spouse in ways that would be unacceptable if flipped around. (Recently, I listened to a graduation speech in which the college president - like, the old guy, not the 22-year-old graduate - made a joke with his wife's slowness as the punchline. All I thought was, "Not funny".)

I think some of the issue is snitting down at a gift; as you mentioned in another commbox today, Seraphic, BA is a GIFT to you. Treating that gift like a dog that pees on the carpet is disrespectful to the Giver of that gift, to the human himself, and to Marriage. In a small way, it's also disrespectful to Singles, many of whom are all thinking, "How I want your problems," at least when the problems are about dishes and diapers.

The sex part is especially irksome, given both how private a thing it should be, and how the eye-rolling is rarely done by women who tried to be chaste when they were Single. Yes, sweetheart, you had sex with him on the third date and he happens to hope that it will continue after marriage! Men do not turn on and off at a woman's whim (nor do we, at theirs), and, aside from the respect asymmetry, I'm not sure how Searching Singles can hope to find a man who respects our sexuality if we (the more emotional ones, in theory) cannot respect theirs.

So, killing hope for Searching Singles, snitting down at the gifts one is given, and disrespecting one's spouse, all in one snide remark and gesture... yeah, it irritates me.

(Now it's lunch time, then chocolate-time....)

Alisha said...

Hey Seraphic,

Was just wondering...why don't you like The Wounded Healer? Had it reccommended to me by a friend whose opinion I really trust...would like to hear your take.

Jessica said...

I read somewhere (I honestly can't remember where -- Seraphic, if it happened to be here, take credit it for it!) the idea that while a husband and wife may disagree in private, the wife's job in public is to help her husband save face for any mistakes he made. My first reaction to this was that it seemed a little unfair -- the wife doesn't ever get to say "I told you so" or even separate herself from his mistake? Looking back over mistakes I've made, however, I realized that I'm much more grateful and felt more loved in situations where somebody merely stepped in and helped me fix something I had messed up. Obviously, in an equitable marriage I would expect both sides to be doing some "face-saving" for the other, but I do think it often matters more to men.
Long story short, it makes me very uncomfortable when women criticize their husbands to me. It makes me feel like I'm trespassing, even though it's really the wife that's crossing the boundaries. Frank and honest conversation is one thing; whining is another.
Same rule applies to boyfriends -- besides being a bad habit to get into, it's annoying to us singles who would love to have someone to complain about! :)

Seraphic said...

Alisha, I was worried someone would ask that! My copy is still in Canada, and so I can't trash the book--I can only say I don't recommend it.

I will only say it is terribly risky when people minister to people from a state of woundedness, healing their wounds while healing the wounds of others. Only healthy people should minister to others in significant psychological ways. (I'm thinking of priests, specifically.) A young priest pal and I had a conversation about this, and this was his thought. Nouwen wrote his book before the sex abuse crisis; after the sex abuse crisis, we need to examine better the fitness of men for ministry: "the wounded healer" might not be the man we need.

But I can't say any more without the book beside me. I don't want to misrepresent the book. Read the book if you like, but test it out against your experiences of people, particularly people in positions of influence over vulnerable people (teachers, etc).

"Wounded", incidentally, was Jesuit-school-speak for someone who behaved irrationally or immorally.

Seraphic said...

Jessica, it may have been Loretta Lynn: "Stand By Your Man" and all that.

Anyway, yes, husbands and wives (not just wives) are supposed to stand with each other in public and never, ever, ever say (in public) "I told you so." Spouses should try to laugh at jokes they have heard a thousand times. Whether or not they are allowed to praise each other or insult each other in public shifts from culture to culture. (In my part of Britain, it seems, dinner guests think displays of marital harmony are vulgar and tht marital scrapping is a high form of wit. In my part of Canada, the opposite is true.)

I am fortunate in that my mother praised my father to us kids day and night and still says, "Oh, clever Michael!" at least once a day. So now that I am married, I seem to praise B.A. (privately) as a sort of reflex. He likes that. In general, I think the primary role of a spouse is to shout encouragement at the other one. Running away from them at a socially awkward moment is just not on.

WW said...

Thanks for the feedback, Seraphic & others! Very helpful and thought-provoking.

Yes...I do wish married women - even the chaste ones trying to live by the Church's teaching - would keep such discussions amongst themselves. Even if unmarried people are "mature" and "know all that stuff," some things are just best left to be learned by experience.

fifi said...

Hey, for what it's worth, George Weigel has a really good critique of the "Wounded Healer" book in his book "The Courage to be Catholic." In a nutshell, he says that a generation of priests was encouraged to think of themselves (and "support" each other) as "wounded healers" to the point where any idea of sinfulness or proper sense of conscience was nullified. It's an interesting theory as to why so many priests then justified their sexual misconduct to themselves.

That said, Weigel doesn't explicitly trash the book itself or its author, and neither would I. I've read a bit of Nouwen, and had some friends who really enjoyed him. Also, I'm intrigued by the news that he apparently struggled with SSA, and lived a chaste and by all accounts holy life, which is commendable.

Sheila said...

I have come up against that notion before -- the idea that if one spouse doesn't "want to," the other one has to just "put up with it." No, no, no. The notion of "marital right" doesn't mean that you can just make demands on your spouse whenever you like! (In fact, I am not 100% certain what it does mean -- just not that.)

I asked my husband, before we were married, how he felt about this issue. He said, "I would never, ever want you to do anything you didn't want to do." End of discussion! And believe me, when one is pregnant and sick and tired, it's nice to have a considerate husband who knows when you'd rather have a foot rub than anything else in the world.