Becoming Bethany

Observations on becoming and being

Month: August, 2017

Another Doctor’s Appointment

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“We need to watch these numbers. If they dip too much lower, you’ll probably experience mood swings, depression, and a low to non-existent sex drive. So stay on the supplements,” my doctor advised.

I nodded. Of course I am concerned about staying healthy and will follow whatever guidelines necessary. Mood swings and depression are not symptoms I want but honestly in that moment, a low to non-existent sex drive didn’t sound too bad.

It’s difficult to be a 31-year-old woman who enjoys sex and is also celibate. I was celibate before I married and I have been celibate since my marriage ended. But when I was married I was (happily!) not celibate and would have gladly stayed non-celibate for the rest of my life.

Aside from the strictly biological purpose of procreation, I think the whole point of sex is to draw people together. It’s a deep and almost uncontrollable tug towards a closer relationship with another person. It’s a desire to know someone else more intimately. Sometimes sexual desire serves as the fuel to the courage we need to risk being vulnerable with another person.

I am celibate for religious and personal conviction reasons and I know how strange that may seem. I also find it strange sometimes. Sex is a natural and healthy desire that I am choosing not to indulge. I believe my sexuality and ways of expressing it are part of what makes me who I am. I affirm that a healthy sex life is part of being a whole person. And personally, I believe that abstaining from sexual relationships is currently an expression of healthy sexuality for me.

This personal conviction does raise a lot of questions. From other people and even from myself. Thankfully, I’m not the only one who has looked for answers to these questions. And in this new season, I have been drawn back to the wise words of monastics who have long wrestled with what healthy celibacy looks like.

Kathleen Norris’ book about contemporary Benedictines The Cloister Walk explores this part of monastic life. Monastics describe the wide-ranging friendships they have been able to develop (with both men and women) because they are focused on connecting in deep meaningful ways rather than personal sexual gratification.

One Benedictine sister describes celibacy as freeing her up to love all and to love all well. Rather than focusing her love on one person (as one would in a monogamous relationship), she is free to love more broadly. No one holds claim to her love exclusively.

These monastics are not disparaging sex or sexual relationships and often compare the disciplines of a celibate life with the disciplines of fidelity in a marriage. They do not believe themselves to be more holy because they are celibate and in many ways regard it as an honor to make the commitment.

In my personal experience, I have seen how my friendships have both deepened and broadened since my divorce. Some of this came with the vulnerability I felt free to live with after losing everything I thought I was protecting. Some of this came with my need to depend on others in ways I never had before because I was so personally weak and depleted. But I also think a large part of the change I experienced in my relationships was because I was not focused on intensely loving and caring for one person and had the capacity to love more widely.

And yet even with all the benefits I know I have experienced, I still miss sex. And there are still days I wonder if there is any point to unfulfilled sexual desire. Why is this part of who I am if it is not being engaged? How can I live in a sexually whole and healthy way as a celibate? Will I feel like I have missed out if I continue to be celibate for the rest of my life? Is the intense love and relationship that I miss found only in marriage or can it be channeled to other passions and people?

I don’t think there are easy answers or maybe any answers at all but I believe they are still worth asking and living into the tension they present. So yes, I am staying on my supplements and trying to take care of myself physically, emotionally and relationaly. Even if sometimes it feels easier to be out of balance.

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Love is Not Efficient

Love is not efficient.

Chalk this up to another item on my “List of Things I Really Should Have Learned By Now” but I think I am only beginning to truly understand this. I think I have been somewhat blind to this fact because of how highly I prize efficiency. I hate wasting time and resources. Ironically, most of my drive for efficiency is to free myself and others up from mundane but necessary tasks so we can get back to the people and activities we love. In many ways my passion for efficiency is because of my love for other things. But I am only now learning love itself is not efficient.

It’s not that I mind other people and passions taking my time but I try so hard not to impinge on the time and resources of those who love me. Sometimes I have been so focused on not taking too much time or attention that I forget that that is exactly what love demands. When we choose to love someone or something, we choose to give him/her/it our time and attention. Depending on the level of commitment, that love may take everything we have to give and more.

I have written before about how difficult it is for me to need. I am very comfortable with being needed and have based my career and many of my personal relationships on being dependable, trustworthy, and able to come through in any situation. But my ability to depend on and need others is very weak. It is a part of being loved that makes me uncomfortable and easily injured.

In trying to learn to love well, I am learning to recognize what I need from those who love and care for me and to ask for it – even things as simple as time for a conversation or a ride to the airport. I have lived too long falsely believing that I am an inconvenience and burden to those around me. I don’t think I’m the only one who believes and lives this way. I wonder how much love we are turning down simply because we are afraid of being a drain on someone else’s time or resources.

Love is not efficient. There is no lean production model for love. The amount of energy we give to love does not directly correlate to what we get in return. There may be ways to up our output but it will not automatically lead to increased profits. Thankfully, it is also beautifully true that the love we are given is not based on our worthiness or productivity either. Mercifully, love gives us many more chances at figuring it out than any efficiency expert would give to a failing factory. There is no economy with love.