Wednesday, August 12, 2009
The Experiment (Harold’s response)
Well, Rob and Celia had their "half-way" experiment. And, apparently it has left them both in a half-satisfied state--although for different reasons. Celia is not fully satisfied because she is concerned about Rob. Rob is not fully satisfied because their boundaries restricted his full sexual expression.
I imagine that Rob and Celia will eventually become content with their "half-way" arrangement as they grapple with each other's boundaries and expectations. But, I still wish they had just waited. I appreciate the mutual boundaries that they have set--even if they have led Rob to a cold shower. But, I can't help feeling that it still somehow cheapens the "real deal" after they are married.
In the end, it will all be about the meaning that this couple attributes to this and future sexual encounters. This will not make or break their marriage. But, I know that some experiments raise more questions than they answer. In this case, I'm not sure.
Friday, July 31, 2009
Keeping Cool Heads (Harold’s response)
OK. I admit that my conservative bent has left me feeling pretty uneasy about Rob and Celia's dance around this submit of premarital sex. But, I have to admit that I appreciate the honesty and forthrightness of their conversation. Talking sex has traditionally been taboo. Not only do couples not talk about it (just do it) premaritally they also don't talk about it after marriage. A lot of what is needed in the bedroom is honest conversation about wants and needs. But, sometimes these conversations are difficult.
Rob and Celia have gotten off to a good start in their own conversation around the topic of sex. Just as their cool heads seem to prevail right now. I hope this conversation opens the door for more honest conversation ahead.
And, of course I still hope that they wait until they get married to have sex.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Keeping Cool Heads (Joanne’s response)
I love what is going on for Rob and Celia right now. I love that as Celia talks about her concerns, Rob is feeling understood by her while at the same time getting more in touch with thoughts and feelings he has not yet articulated. They are doing something healthy couples know how to do, which is to hear the other person's perspective without getting upset or defensive about it, and allowing new parts of themselves to emerge in the process. I believe this is how, as the Bible says, "iron sharpens iron" in relationships. By acknowledging two truths -- that Rob's sexual desire is valid, and that Celia's desire to wait until marriage is equally valid -- they have been required to move farther into the space between them. This has increased their emotional intimacy significantly and in ways that I doubt would have happened if they had refused to engage the topic of what sex-or-no-sex meant to them. In the process, though it is almost incidental, they are stumbling into some significant insight about the meaning of sex as well.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Walking a Fine Line (Harold’s response)
I'm curious as to Celia's response about meeting Rob halfway on this one. I think her answer is going to enlighten me and Rob. Call me "old-fashioned" or maybe you have something worse to call me. But, I see Celia's "halfway" as the proverbial "slippery slope."
Many of us who have been in these "halfway" situations in intimate relationships can relate to likelihood that things don't stay "halfway" for long. It is incrementalism. Your brain/body becomes "bored" with what was previously exciting. You then want to get a little more to boost your excitement. And, before you know it "halfway" becomes "the whole enchilada"--which in Celia's case is where she has said she doesn't want to go before the wedding.
Yes, I'm disappointed in Celia's response. But, it is interesting to watch her efforts to satisfy Rob's needs. And, to Rob's credit, he has done a credible job of letting Celia know that she means more to him than sex--although that sure seems to be all he thinks about these days.
I guess we guys can be singularly-minded when it comes to the subject of sex. Can't we?
Monday, July 20, 2009
Walking A Fine Line
Still talking sex or no sex. Rob has determined that sex with or without marriage is fine as long as the couple agrees it will grow the relationship.
“But what if one of them doesn’t want to?” Celia asked. “Is that a deal breaker?”
“Obviously not,” Rob said, clearly implying that if it were, he would have walked a long time ago. From across the table, in the fluorescent lights of the cheesy taco place, Celia thought Rob looked very sexy as he thought about whether sex was or wasn’t a good thing for them before the wedding.
“Rob – are you hurt that I don’t want to have sex yet?” she asked.
Rob shook his head as he slurped at his root beer. “No. Not in a way that makes me mad at you”—he thought again. “Well, maybe I am mad at you. I’m mad that this goofy ceremony we are planning means more to you than my word about what the rest of our lives together mean.”
“You don’t look mad.”
“I am a paragon of self-control,” Rob said. He smiled at her.
Celia was aware of how difficult the last months had been for Rob, and how flexible he had been for her. He had been steadfast.
“It would be all right with you if we waited, wouldn’t it?” she asked.
“It would be hard. It is hard. But it’s not a deal breaker.”
Celia had barely started eating yet, but now she wasn’t hungry. “Be right back,” she said. She picked up Rob’s empty root beer cup and her own empty cup, and headed for the drinks station.
Maybe I do want more, she thought as she refilled her ice tea. Maybe that’s what I needed Rob to say – that it’s not a deal breaker. He would wait if I said we had to. Celia refilled Rob’s root beer and sat back down.
“I appreciate that you are willing to meet me halfway on this,” she said.
Rob raised his eyebrows.
“OK. I appreciate that you have been willing to meet me on my side of the court.” Celia considered her food and pushed the plate back. “So let’s meet halfway. Not the ‘whole enchilada’ as you said before, but something more than kissing.”
Rob shifted in his chair. “I’m not sure what that means,” he said. But he looked very interested.
“I’m not either,” Celia said. “But I’m game.”
What does Rob say next?
Saturday, July 18, 2009
Tacos for Two (Harold’s response)
I like the conversation that Rob and Celia are having. Rob has thought through his feelings about premarital sex and concluded that he's fine with it since the relationship is firm (in his mind). He was able to communicate this to Celia (kudos).
But, I also love Celia's response because it shows that she is secure enough in the relationship and in her own position that she can challenge his assumption--by stating what if the "firm" relationship diminishes?
Celia's position is as valid as is Rob's. And, I appreciate that she is willing to fight for it. Ultimately, it is her body that Rob wants (even if that is couched in the genuine context of intimacy). And, if Rob is really seeking to empathize with her (a skill that will suit him well in marriage), he will hear her reservations. He will do what he can to make her feel comfortable--prioritizing her desires over his. And, isn't this the ultimate test of success in any marital relationship?
Friday, July 10, 2009
A Bridge Too Far (Joanne’s response)
I don't see Rob looking to any religious source for guidance on the pre-marital sex issue, which means Rob is not looking for, as Harold writes, "an absolute standard" in his relationship. While Harold and I surely have different views on what he might call "moral relativism" and what I might call "post-modern perspectivism," I will avoid that discussion for now. I see Rob trying to figure out what is right for him, right now, in this relationship, on an issue over which he and Celia disagree, and on an issue in which agreeing to disagree is not really an option. One of them will be hurt by the outcome of this, at least in the short term.
I appreciate the degree to which Rob and Celia are wrestling with the issue, though. Jack and Judy Balswick, retired professors of Harold's and mine from our grad school days at Fuller Seminary, offer guidelines regarding "singleness and moral decision making" in an age of tolerance in their excellent book "Authentic Human Sexuality," which I will summarize here.
"Do I have the right reason?" This includes questions such as will either of us get hurt by this, are we emotionally ready to deepen our relationship to this level, what happens if one of us wants out of the relationship after we have sex, will psychological harm be caused, what if pregnancy occurs, etc.
"Will it enrich our relationship?" Does the couple believe "good" will come from this "mutual decision," considering whether adding intercourse will help them "keep the relationship in focus and to assume mutual responsibility for it."
"Is it the right time? Biblical norms about sexual intercourse aren't meant to deprive one of sexual pleasure, but to ensure the sanctity of a mysterious union embedded in a deeply satisfying covenant relationship."
On the more complicated theological point of when covenant begins, which I have discussed in previous posts, they note, "One could argue that there is no such thing as 'premarital intercourse' because the act of intercourse itself... seals the union whether or not the couple intends to marry." In this view, I (Joanne) would suggest that intercourse is the covenant act and marriage confirms it, rather than the view generally accepted in Christian culture that the marriage is the covenant act and intercourse confirms it.
In short, I believe the non-Christian can make moral, relationship-centered choices that do involve premarital intercourse, and the Christian can make similar decisions, though their reasoning may be different. I do believe, in disagreement with Harold, that there are many issues around which what may be right for one person is not right for another. When to have sexual intercourse is merely one of those issues.
Reference: Balswick, J.O., and Balswick, J.K. (1998). Authentic Human Sexuality: An Integrated Christian Approach. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press
Monday, July 06, 2009
A Bridge too far?
Rob and Celia are in an extended
conversation about sex. Celia’s
position had been to wait until marriage, which Rob had accepted but with
hesitation. He has since changed
his mind and is tired of waiting, but now it is apparently no longer a wait or
don’t-wait question. Celia
challenged him with the question, “If not religion, then what guides your
feelings about sex, Rob?”
sat in his cubicle at work, head in his hands. The Monday Morning Meeting was being held in the next
cubicle this week. This was not a
real meeting. It was a group of
usually three or four twenty-something men in the office who got together to
share the best porn clips from the internet they had seen over the weekend. Up until about two months ago
there had been filters to prevent this, but a major system upgrade had left
them bare – as one of the Meeting founders, from IT, had been quick to let on,
although not to anyone who would do anything about it.
was no prude, and he could not wait to finally have sex with Celia, but he
hated this. He had a mother and a
sister and a fiancée and many women he considered friends and respected
colleagues. Pornography, he felt,
demeaned them. And – he was at
work! Rob knew he had inherited a
work ethic from his father that many of his generation did not possess, but
this was wrong on so many fronts.
– and Rob was the most uncomfortable about this – however quietly the men tried
to be, Rob couldn’t help but hear the clips and the comments made about them,
and this frustrated his already pent-up sexual energy. It was worse now than when he had been
in college, before he had dated Celia exclusively, before he had been faced
with the need to restrain himself.
opened his desk drawer and grabbed his wallet, deciding he needed better coffee
than the break room provided. He
thought again about asking them to stop, but one of them, though only in his
late twenties, was one of Rob’s supervisors. Rob had ambitions with this accounting firm so he did not
know what to do. He did not want
to go over this guy’s head, but maybe an anonymous note to HR? That seemed cowardly, but it was
got in the elevator and pushed the button marked “lobby.” What made him different from those men
in the Meeting? Celia wanted to
know what Rob did believe about sex and when its expression was
appropriate. Rob realized that he
believed something, that he attached some meaning to sexuality. He knew it fell into the broad chasm
between waiting-until-marriage-to-move-beyond-the-kiss stage and this
sex-as-adolescent-amusement that he had faced since puberty.
that, he had no idea what he based his beliefs on. It was not religion.
It was not parental guidance – his parents had not said much to him on
the subject. It was not societal
expectation, because there did not seem to be anything like that. And he knew he did not want to have sex
just to have sex. Not anymore.
ordered an espresso from the vendor in the lobby and watched as he prepared
it. He wanted to have sex with
Celia because he loved her and he wanted to express that love beyond words and
hand-holding and wedding plans.
What could possibly be wrong with that?
decides that his position on sex is that it is right and good when:
Monday, June 29, 2009
Rob and Celia are in the middle
of a conversation about sex, with Rob wanting clarification from Celia on her
reasons for wanting to wait until marriage.
noted that the more she opened up about her reasons for waiting to have sex,
the more Rob, who was driving them back to Columbus from her mother’s house,
what is your religious belief about sex, then?” he asked.
knew she was supposed to believe that sex before marriage was wrong, but she
was no longer sure about that.
Perhaps sex with multiple partners is wrong, or maybe sex with someone
you don’t care about is wrong, and certainly sex that is irresponsible about
birth control and STDs is wrong.
But sex with the man you are marrying shortly? It was hard to work that one out morally.
sighed. She wanted to answer Rob
honestly but she feared he would use any hesitancy she conveyed to logic her
into agreeing with him.
never understood what changes the day the girl walks down the aisle in a white
dress, that now sex is OK,” Rob continued.
know. Neither did I,” Celia said,
and laughed. She and Rob had
different religious upbringings.
Rob’s family belonged to a church, but more often than not his parents
played golf on Sundays in good weather and read the paper and drank coffee in
bad. Unlike Celia, Rob had never
attended bible school and youth groups and retreats, so while he was respectful
of her beliefs he did not profess a personal faith as Celia did. Because Celia worked as the choir
director at a church, church was her “job” and therefore the fact that Rob did
not attend with her had never been an issue.
church attendance and professed faith beliefs had not prevented her parents’
divorce. Further, Sundays on the
golf course seemed to be foundational to Rob’s parents’ togetherness. They just enjoyed being with one
another, all the time. That was
something Celia aspired to, after a childhood during which her parents’
relationship seemed to come in only two flavors: Moody or Angry.
what do you think?” Rob said.
am thinking that we should have been talking about faith issues long before
now,” Celia said. She wondered why
it did not bother her that she and Rob didn’t have a similar commitment to
Rob sighed. She could tell he thought
she was trying to divert him from the sex conversation.
not trying to change the subject,” Celia said. “This is important, too.”
does Celia take the conversation from here?
Friday, June 26, 2009
Waiting to Exhale (Harold’s response)
If you follow these posts regularly, you probably notice something of a difference in the way Joanne and I think about relationship matters. This difference is actually an important reason for our collaboration. Joanne and I hope that our differences in gender, ethnicity, and perspective provide meaningful insight to couples who sometimes (or always) differ as they grapple with important relationship issues.
Joanne is an excellent marriage and family therapist (MFT). What makes her so is her ability to stay relatively unbiased and allow the couple to guide the course--while still being a validating presence, a source of positive encouragement, and sometimes an interpreter.
Though trained as an MFT, I am not one. I am a marriage educator. I approach this role with a measure of idealism. While I tend to see myself as a pragmatist, I often find myself being critical of the temporal nature of cultural preferences. As a Christian, I use my interpretation of scripture to guide this cultural critique.
So what does this all have to do with Rob and Celia and the current issues surrounding their decision-making about premarital sex? I tend to agree with Joanne about the need for conversation about needs and desires. However, I suspect this is a very difficult conversation for most couples to have. And, because it is difficult, it is highly unlikely to happen. What is more common is couples simply reacting to the moment. They simply progress (slowly or quickly) from less intimate (e.g., the good night kiss to which Rob referred) to more intimate (e.g., the sexual intercourse that Rob desires) driven more by libido or some desire to placate the spoken or unspoken expectations of a partner rather than a thoughtful exchange of needs and desires.
Rob thinks that the lack of sexual intercourse is going to "kill" him. Well, I doubt it. I don't think I've ever heard of that happening. While I certainly think that Celia should be sensitive to his feelings on the matter, I think they both should use this next three months to invest in the spiritual direction of their relationship--which really has gotten little attention. As they do so, I believe that the sexual desire of each of them will be enhanced. And, I personally feel like the sensuality and eroticism fueled by this anticipation for the next three months will be something that they will talk about and cherish for the rest of their lives. Will the next three months be tough without sex? Yes! But, it will be a memory that lasts forever simply because of that.
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