These Are the Riches of the Poor

I tell people that if they want to avoid drugs and alcohol, they make their abstinence a part of their selves.  You adopt the lack of substance as a part of your identity.  You weigh the pros and cons and go with what is an inherently better decision, not what makes you a better person.  You get D-R-U-G-F-R-E-E tattoos on your knuckles and force your inner-most character to adhere to the rules on your body.  You play tricks on yourself.  You’re honest, of course, but you still have to play mind games.  One of the greatest things my parents did for me was never keep alcohol around the house.  My parents aren’t teetotalers.  They never sat me down and said, “Son, we expect you to never drink alcohol or take drugs.”  They just didn’t have it there, so when the parties came into my life I did my own research and labeled them poisons.  My parents don’t care if I drink or not.  I won’t be disappointing them if I do.  They showed me that the absence of drink was just as viable a lifestyle as the one where kids take drinks from their fathers and claim moderation in high school but immediately transform into alcoholics in college and come back around to the realizations I was having at fifteen.  I’m proud of that.  I’m proud of me.

My parents used the same tactic for sexuality.  Our house was, again, pure in that regard.  I still haven’t seen The Matrix Reloaded because my dad heard there was clothed sex in it and didn’t let me go to the theater.  When I was eleven or twelve I sat in the backseat of the car and asked my mom why Bill Clinton was impeached.  She positioned her head as to not let the direction of her words hit my sister as she whispered “it had to do with sex.”  I blushed and looked away.  She thought sex embarrassed me, but she was wrong.  I was embarrassed that she thought she had to whisper.

A little baby isn’t destined to become a drug addict.  That baby, though, what parents see as that sweet infant, will probably be masturbating in its room by age fourteen.

School told me that condoms break more than companies like to admit.  That my penis would mold into a crusty husk and I’d die within a year.  True Life Choices.  They used the same acronym as Tender, Loving Care on purpose.  David Coffelt asked why it wasn’t possible to put two condoms on top of each other.  He shot me a mean glance when I bust out laughing.  Hannah Corral told me the point of dating others was to get to know them when I remarked that the whole endeavor was pointless if it wasn’t going to end in marriage and sex.  My seventh grade yearbook doesn’t have any girls’ signatures in it.  I was nervous.  Girls were around for marriage and then for sex and I was too young to want the first and too indoctrinated to want the other.  Girls weren’t my friends and I didn’t know how to talk to them.  True Life Choices told me women were vehicles to drive to the destination of doin’ it.  Smithfield, North Carolina has graveyards where the husband gets to be “Town Mayor” and the wife gets to be “His Wife.”  I expected too much.  I wanted the ending to the story when I hadn’t picked up the book yet.

Greg, an adult from youth group, told us guys that he still remembers the first picture of a naked woman he saw.  He said it wrapped itself up in his mind and he can still recall it perfectly.  That he feels guilty for looking, that it’s a disease.  That it makes his dick as crusty as a STD does.  We joked about it being a mummy.  I’ve seen a lot of mummies in the past month alone.

You don’t want to have sex this early because it’s not true happiness.  It’s not joy.  Joy only comes from a relationship with Christ.  Joy is something deeper, something more substantial and lasting, what sticks with you in the dark times and ultimately proves more beneficial than sex or drugs or getting a material object.  You have to believe in God and do your best to follow the most up-to-date ruleset.  The world is fleeting, the next world isn’t.  I wanted joy.  Hell, I still want joy.  I still won’t do something to make me happy now if it hurts me later.  I can not go to church for three years but I can not get away from Jesus.  And I like it like that.  Church told me to look for deeper meaning, to look at what makes a good life, not just a life.  I was their baby.  I still am their baby.  Christ’s Community Church brought me friendship and love and gave me experiences I’d never exchange for anything.  They taught me how to take up responsibilities and how to talk to girls and how to be interested in them and friendly with them while showing enough grace to not want too much all up front.  They served me and they served others and they also hated the shit out of homosexuals for no good reason.  Sex was fine.  It was for marriage.  I was above sex.  I spent my time thinking about deeper things.  I sure don’t do well in school but I spend free time learning about psychology and history and kindness and that all makes up for sex, which will come at some point but I shouldn’t worry myself too much with it.  And then I look at mummies and I feel awful.  Naked women are a teenage male’s weakness and I am not a teenage male I am above all of that I am a child of God and I have better things to do and maybe I’ll just abstain for good and decide to be celibate and maybe that’s best because I should be following in Jesus’ footsteps exactly and he was celibate wasn’t he well people say he was but it wasn’t explicitly stated and why am I back at this hardcore pornography site

Nick and my sister and her friend sit on my basement couch and my friend remarks “She’s hot” when an attractive lady shows up on a shampoo commercial.  I say “HELL YEAH BRO WHAT A FUCKIN HOTTIE CAN’T CONTAIN MYSELF GOTTA RAPE THAT” and go back into my bedroom to play video games.  I couldn’t say someone was attractive.  I just had to lust in my room, in secret.  My room was actually a big closet.  I’m not being metaphorical, it actually was a closet, and I’m laughing now that I think about it.

My mom wanted me to meet girls.  She was excited to see me grow up.  She would pray for me that I meet someone special.  She was praying for me that I’d get a girlfriend in high school, someone who could make me joyful.  She never prayed for me to be happy.  It was about joy.  Even now she wants me to find someone to be my partner for good.  Forever.  Wife material.  Not a nice girl, not a cute girl, not a funny girl or a smart girl.  Patrick Kay, beloved author and ______, his wife.  Only lately have I noticed the pressure.  My words must be authoritative and strong because true life is set in stone.  My darling is the kindest extrovert in youth group and then my darling is the cute and quiet girl I could talk to in study hall but not in math class and then my darling is the friend with similar taste in media.  The third was the only one I ever kissed.  Here we are.  It’s certainty, it’s got to be, it’s all been leading to here.  Her clothes came off easily and I never thought she was easy, I just thought and rejoiced in the not-going-back.

She made me chase her for five years.  When we weren’t together she was vindictive and when we were together she was confrontational.  When we first kissed I dropped the notion that I needed to wait for marriage to have sex.  I knew enough stories and enough people who were able to maintain something healthy, something not diseased physically or spiritually, and still enjoy corporeal pleasures.  They had joy and they had happiness.  And some of them still do have both of those.  And I never wanted to drink.  I wanted to have sex and I suppressed it.  For school and for church and for my parents and for me.  Because I am a good boy.  Because I want joy.  Because I don’t want to screw things up for myself.  Because I am something special and I am above it all.  I am more than the rush of blood.

I kissed her in 2008 and it’s 2014 now.  We never went all the way.  She wanted to wait, not because of any True Life Choices that affected my life but because she was nervous and because she was inexperienced and because she wanted to make sure things were right with me and because in a lot of ways she simply didn’t care about sex.  And I didn’t blame her, because for someone just as inexperienced there is plenty of trepidation.  I waited and when she didn’t want to go further I’d try to cover my selfish feeling of disappointment with a look of understanding and grace.  Because there are always other things to do.  Because we can just talk or go play something or just lay here and cuddle and that’s okay because I care about you as more than just sexuality.  And it was and is true!  I wouldn’t shower someone in such affection if I wasn’t looking for something more substantial.  I wouldn’t give advice and I wouldn’t open up and I wouldn’t take her around both states and daydream about taking her around more and I wouldn’t sit in her uncomfortable apartment feeding her soup when she’s sick and I wouldn’t wrap her dead dog in a blanket if I wasn’t looking for something more than sex.  I wouldn’t get as mad, either.  I wouldn’t have high hopes.

Now that’s over.  And that’s okay.  I’m okay, I think things are okay.  But in the dead of night and the early morning and the middle of the afternoon I remember all that I did and all the time that has passed and that we never went all the way and that it shouldn’t bother me but it kind of does.  I don’t regret being a good boyfriend.  I don’t regret being patient and understanding.  Because even if it doesn’t end in sex, was it ever supposed to?  Was I ever deserving of it, was it ever required?  No!  Of course not.  I wrapped her dead dog in a blanket because I found some joy in it, some greater reward in being a decent person.  It wasn’t for the hope of future physical pleasure.  But I am here and it is 2014 and more people are dying and I have not been laid.  I made much of time with the spiritual and it is fulfilling.  It is not the same thing as what teenage boys think about.  It’s better, it’s best, but it doesn’t take away from my biology.

Virginity is still a ridiculous concept.  We place so much emphasis on having sex for the first time that it usurps more important moments in our lives.  Virginity may as well be “until the first death of a grandparent” or “until the first trip overseas” or something that signifies a clear break from the old us into the new us.  When I first kissed, I remarked that it felt nice but didn’t feel like my world had completely changed.  Even if I loved this girl, even if it led to greater things, it didn’t break my entire worldview.  But that’s what I thought it would do.  That’s what movies and music told me it would do and that’s what a true love is supposed to do and that’s what I set myself up for thanks to school and church and my mom and all that praying.  And if you are asking if I’ve been inside of a vagina I haven’t, and if you are asking if I feel whole I do.  And if you are asking if I still want the girl of my dreams, whomever that may be, I do, and if you are asking me if I want to have fun with someone and get my rocks off regardless that person be significant to me or not, fuck, goddammit, I do.  And that is a massive change and that might be the first time I’ve said something so sexually vulgar with such sincerity in such a public place.  And I’m not saying I will and I’m not saying I know whom with and I’m not sure how to approach such a situation aside from friendly banter and I know I’m not betraying my mom or God when I say that.  I’m just a boy.  I’m just a stupid boy.  My hair is thinning and my beard is growing and the bottoms of my trousers have been rolled, but I am a boy and I am afraid.

I’m not supposed to be a boy, I’m not supposed to have a gender.  I could be an ethereal being floating in peoples’ lives to do good deeds and ask for nothing in return.  And maybe I am that and it’s in me but there’s still this damned exterior that I shouldn’t be so damned ashamed of.

I’m looking to stay away from hedonism.  I don’t need to worship physical pleasure and I don’t need to make it my primary motivator in life.  There’s already plenty.  But it took me 2300 words to write “I have sexual desires” and I knew it would.  It shouldn’t have to.  I shouldn’t be worrying now that any woman who reads this would be disgusted with my vulgarity and keep their distance, for I am a slippery slope.  But when kids were making out on my basement couch and when college partiers looked for hookups and when perfectly happy couples progressed to having sex without fear or shame I thought there was something natural within me that put me above it all.  And I’m not above it.  I’m in the gutter, too, and there are a lot healthier reasons to accept that and possibly embrace it than deluding myself into such a sense of superiority that I can’t function.  My seventh grade yearbook doesn’t have any girls’ signatures in it.

4 thoughts on “These Are the Riches of the Poor

  1. This is a fantastic piece of writing, and I respect the courage it took to display such naked, raw ethos. I hope that the act of writing lends you some degree of catharsis as you strive to become the best possible version of yourself. It’s what we all hope to achieve, yet most people compromise, buckle under the pressure, or make a hollow deal with the devil to get where they want. I respect your integrity because I know how exhausting it can be to continue holding onto it after it seems like everyone else has flushed theirs down the toilet.

    Although each person’s journey through life is unique, take some solace in knowing that most of these thoughts, feelings and experiences are not yours alone to suffer but are shared by others like you who grew up under similar circumstances and who struggle with the same sense of purpose and identity. You were lucky to have grown up in a quieter, gentler part of America, with a good education, a Church to guide you spiritually, friends to laugh with, and the Tender, Loving Care of parents who actually gave a damn about making sure you turned out okay and knew right from wrong. Not everyone is so fortunate.

    It’s easy to feel a sense of duty and obligation to such profound and positive, formative forces in your life, as well as to God or whomever your deity may be. We owe a great deal of ourselves to these foundations and there is such immense pressure to live a virtuous lifestyle and to strive to uphold the principles that resonated so loudly when the world was small and safe and easier to understand.

    Life, however, unfolds so unbelievably, radically, and unexpectedly. We cannot contain the vastness of the human experience into an easily understandable phrase or philosophy, and expect to abide by those guidelines while retaining our sanity or sense of self. Our minds want to understand, to perfect, and to sculpt our experience into something that has boundaries, is honorable, and has a meaning or greater purpose. Our bodies want to dance, eat, drink, dream, experiment, make love and poop. The two forces are at once fundamentally opposed and yet inextricably linked. It’s the paradox of being human.

    Add that to the inescapable misfortunes that life throws our way, and most people decide at some point in their lives that it is impossible or at the very least not worth it anymore to live as an ascetic, except perhaps monks. But even monks have lapses. The pressure to give in to ‘hedonism’ as you put it, can be close to intolerable. Likewise, the struggle to perpetually abstain for the sake of spiritual clarity and integrity can be equally unbearable. For all their good intentions, sometimes all churches and parents ultimately do is to end up confusing us, deeply, and at the most tumultuous point in our lives.

    Much ado is made about sex. I was a late bloomer, and I remember how excruciating it was to be a virgin, as if there was some fundamental aspect of life about which I had been completely left in the dark. The truth is, sex is sex. It can be great, and it can be terrible, but I can almost guarantee you that the first time will be at once underwhelming and awkward and unforgettably incredible. Another paradox. But it is important to remember that sex is simply a bodily function, like defecating, and merely a byproduct of being a mammal. After a while, it kind of gets old.

    This is why I don’t recommend abstinence. Too much weight is placed on that ‘first time’ which will inevitably be quite odd, and after a while married couples kind of get bored with the whole thing and start cheating or swinging or just not having any sex at all. You’ll probably end up telling yourself, “Big whoop, why did I wait so long? I wonder if there are any good IMAX 3D movies out…” Virginity, on the other hand, can fester into an painful obsession, to the point where it’s all you can think about, and you start to rationalize this obsession with a sense of stoicism and self-righteousness that ultimately start to define you as a person. I’ve been there. This is not healthy. If you want to be celibate, I think that is a perfectly acceptable adult decision. Be aware, however, that it can do more harm than good.

    Our body wants sex because it feels good and because we were designed to reproduce. Porn stars do it because it’s their occupation. It is entirely our mind and our spirit that attaches such grandiose meaning to the whole ordeal, and one quickly realizes that love and intimacy and a strong spiritual connection are far more important to a healthy relationship than sex. Certainly, sex can be and usually is a part of that intimacy, which can make the sex very wonderful, but it is not as crucial a component as it may seem. Most of the time it is kind of messy and weird and it doesn’t really work the way you thought it would and so you kind of give up halfway through and decide to watch a movie instead. That’s a big part of why people drink and get high. It makes sex more desirable and enjoyable, and less inhibited. There it is. The secret of hedonism.

    The truth is, wisdom is not gleaned from preemptively deciding what type of life you will live, but by living one. Experiences and mistakes and regrets are what shape us into multifaceted beings with a sense of self that we can truthfully say is uniquely our own, and not merely an idolization or a construct of what someone once told you that life ought to be. I would rather live a thousand full lifetimes of rich experiences and deep regrets, than one lifetime of confined safety and fear of failure. It is only through failure that we understand–not just intellectualize, but fully comprehend–the actual, real ramifications that our actions have on our lives and the lives of others.

    The Universe is vast and indifferent. We’re only here for a short time before our bodies perish and our consciousness lapses back into the eternal sea. We are spiritual beings having a human experience, and I believe that we should drink up life in great big, joyous gulps. The key, I believe, is not to avoid those aspects of life that might corrupt or hurt us, but to experience them fully, and with grace.

    – your old pal, Chris

    • Thank you both for the kind comments, friends. Writing this post has been cathartic for me already. It quickly came to my realization in the past several months that sex is a topic so ingrained in the human psyche that I can’t honestly take a hard-line stance with it. Now something for me to keep in mind is moderation, the word I’ve abhorred for so long, so that I don’t go from a chaste monk to a craigslist casual encounters user. What I want isn’t just “sex,” but a fulfilling life that just so happens to have sex in it. I don’t regret anything previously. I still don’t want to pressure or make anyone look bad because it’s quite frankly such a silly little deal. My life is good and I’m okay (if not totally enthusiastic) about things like friends and friendly ladyfolk. Being a virgin at 24 wasn’t something I had expected and it doesn’t even particularly matter in that grand scheme of my life/the world/joy, but it is strange to consider.

  2. Good post. I’m gonna be brief, but I agree with Chris whole-heartedly. Like you, I was brought up in a somewhat puritanical household. I moved out, and came to the conclusion that really, the only way to become a more complete human being is to experience as many things as possible, and those previous beliefs that I held fell to the wayside (although they certainly left their scars in my psyche).

    What I’d like to address is this shame you feel about wishing your last relationship had been more intimate. I want you to revisit this part of your post:

    “…I wouldn’t give advice and I wouldn’t open up and I wouldn’t take her around both states and daydream about taking her around more and I wouldn’t sit in her uncomfortable apartment feeding her soup when she’s sick and I wouldn’t wrap her dead dog in a blanket if I wasn’t looking for something more than sex. …But in the dead of night and the early morning and the middle of the afternoon I remember all that I did and all the time that has passed and that we never went all the way and that it shouldn’t bother me but it kind of does. I don’t regret being a good boyfriend. I don’t regret being patient and understanding. Because even if it doesn’t end in sex, was it ever supposed to? Was I ever deserving of it, was it ever required?”

    You sound like you are struggling with the prospect of having pure motives for being with a girl while still wanting sex. I want you to be comfortable with the idea that you can be with a girl, treat her well, be a good boyfriend, and do it for her while still having sex. After all, if sex was the end-game for most relationships, the relationship would fall apart the first time they have sex because there’s nothing else holding it together. It’s not like waiting until marriage makes your motives any more pure. It’s not like a wedding certificate validates your ability to have sex without losing interest in each other. Sex is just another aspect that exists in a relationship that you begin to settle into as you spend more time together.

    Your ex may not have been very interested in sex, but many (or even most) girls find sex as enjoyable as men (this isn’t me trying to sound like a player, because I’m definitely not. It’s just what girls tell me). They want it too, so you shouldn’t feel guilty about wanting it to be a part of your relationship. Don’t get me wrong, girls aren’t like a vending machine, where you put in enough “nice guy” coins until the sex comes out, like you stated there’s no way you should look at it like you “earn” or “deserve” sex. HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean that you can’t make sex something you want from your relationship. It’s not something your partner owes you, it’s a quality you look for when choosing your partner. There’s nothing shameful or crude or disrespectful about it.

    That wasn’t as brief as I thought it would be. Take care bud.

    Will

    • Thank you both for the kind comments, friends. Writing this post has been cathartic for me already. It quickly came to my realization in the past several months that sex is a topic so ingrained in the human psyche that I can’t honestly take a hard-line stance with it. Now something for me to keep in mind is moderation, the word I’ve abhorred for so long, so that I don’t go from a chaste monk to a craigslist casual encounters user. What I want isn’t just “sex,” but a fulfilling life that just so happens to have sex in it. I don’t regret anything previously. I still don’t want to pressure or make anyone look bad because it’s quite frankly such a silly little deal. My life is good and I’m okay (if not totally enthusiastic) about things like friends and friendly ladyfolk. Being a virgin at 24 wasn’t something I had expected and it doesn’t even particularly matter in that grand scheme of my life/the world/joy, but it is strange to consider.

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