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When love and sex divorced

April 22nd, 2005 · 8 Comments

Sexuality Education teacher Kathie McCarthy in a piece posted at Bainbridge Buzz expressed her concerns over the definition of being sexual and the intimate activities kids as young as 13 pursue with each other in a casual, recreational way. While not surprised by the separation of sex and love (quoting lyrics from the musical Hair), she is disturbed by the idea that teens could believe physical intimacy does not affect them in other ways. Kathie McCarthy questioned: How did this happen?

While considering Kathie McCarthy’s questions, earlier this week I read Jay McCarthy’s link (no relation to Kathie, I’m assuming) to Dave Gordon’s interview with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. The rabbi, author of books such as Kosher Sex seemed to offer an apt explanation:

Something changed. It’s the inability to be vulnerable. No one can make love with their clothes on. How much moreso you can’t fall in love with your clothes on. We have this great fear of being dependent.

I’ve asked women in female audiences around the world, it’s so funny to see this – no matter where you are, be it a non-Jewish audience in the Netherlands two months ago, to Jewish audiences in New York, “who here needs a man?” You will see three or four hands go up. I don’t mean three or four percent, I mean three or four hands. And then I say to them, “Do you need a refrigerator?” All the hands go up. The inability to be vulnerable is the problem: it’s the depth personality not the surface personality that has to fall in love.

Now that we no longer see love as a need, but as a luxury, what’s the definition of a luxury? A luxury always has to be the best.

Vulnerability is not a value of our society. I know for myself that it was the way I felt crushed as a child that led me to vow I would never marry. I never wanted to be dependent on anyone. How I ended up where I am today is a long story of love.

Love requires vulnerability. Love is not a luxury. Love is a need. Love leads you to becoming dependent, not co-dependent, but needing someone in a way that feels uncomfortable according to our cultural standards. [note: even using the word dependent here seems strange – it;s a word that seems more appropriate for tax returns than marriage, but perhaps that is my own bias. What word best expresses that deep bond?]

I was frightened when I realized I loved Ted enough that it would hurt if our relationship ended. I had to let go in order to let love work in us. It is scary to be dependent, to see that I had released part of myself to someone else, to know that I had become fragile and vulnerable with another person. As a girl, all I wanted was to be a woman. I wanted to be an independent adult, someone no one would hurt again. I made detailed plans for a life that would make me successful and strong but also ensure I would stay single. It didn’t take many years of womanhood to show me that the life I thought I wanted was a lonely one, devoid of love.

When we give of ourselves in an intimate way with another person, whether physical, emotional or spiritual, a bond is formed. I believe we can separate the physical from the other aspects of ourselves. Or at least we think we can. Love and sex divorce. We can seem to separate our bodies from our souls. Yet no matter what we do with our outsides, invisible imprints are left inside us.

Like Kathie, I also am disturbed to see children experimenting in a casual public way with what is private, personal, intense and intimate. However, I wonder whether these adolescents who seem to separate their outsides from their insides and deny their own vulnerability have been forced to grow up fast. Perhaps if we treasured our children in their dependency rather than encouraging independence as soon as possible, they would understand more the intricate and intimate connections of relationships. Protection is crucial. In my own childhood I didn’t feel protected, and the pain led me to long for a life of impermeability. Perhaps if we protected our children better, they would protect themselves more.

Postscript: Insight from Dave Pollard on emotional disconnection:

I’ve known a number of very wealthy people, and in those environments emotional disconnection seems almost endemic. Parents are detached in showing affection (or any other emotion) to their children, they’re often physically absent, the kids go to private schools where they associate only with others of their ‘station’, they learn all the social graces but never seem very comfortable with other people, almost as if they’ve lived their lives in a bubble. They tend to either conform to a disturbing degree or all-out rebel at some point in their lives, and substance abuse and other addictions are common among them in adolescence and early adulthood (sound like any politicians you know?)

Tags: family

8 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Tamara // Apr 22, 2005 at 2:59 pm

    “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully around with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

    CS Lewis-The Four Loves

  • 2 Derek // Apr 22, 2005 at 7:31 pm

    If the term “dependence” seems bothersome, how about “interdependence”?

  • 3 Neil K // Apr 23, 2005 at 1:38 am

    I’m not sure I buy your timeline. So once upon a time, children were warm and loving, and only interested in sex as part of affection? Kids have been interested in sex for its own sake forever. Because that’s what a large percentage of *people* are after, and kids are just small people.

    I don’t quite get it myself. But I know some emotionally healthy people who can easily separate sex and love, and recall having such thoughts even in the tween years. People are just wired differently.

    I agree that it’s weird how our model of couplehood has radically shifted. We used to expect the blissful fusion of two lives (or the absorption of the woman’s life into the man’s). Now we are told that a healthy relationship is a series of transactions between individuals who could do almost as well on their own. Both extremes seem wrong to me.

  • 4 Neil K // Apr 23, 2005 at 2:05 am

    In the previous comment, the first two paragraphs are arguing against something you didn’t say. Sorry.

    I should not be reading blogs at 2am.

  • 5 Tamar // Apr 23, 2005 at 8:16 am

    I bought a magnet today – about an hour ago:
    “Dance as though no one is watching you,
    Love as though you have never been hurt before,
    Sing as though no one can hear you,
    Live as though heaven is on earth.”

    I thought about how “Love as though you have never been hurt before” could almost have been the title of this post. You say such important and meaningful things here, Julie. And you share a depth of yourself that I appreciate so much.

    Really, really interesting. It inspires me to reply in a blog posting of my own sometime soon.

  • 6 Julie // Apr 25, 2005 at 7:54 am

    Tamar: Thanks for the excellent C.S. Lewis quote! Ted and I read that book together years ago.

    Derek: Thanks – “interdependence” is a great word!

    Neil K.: Thanks for reading, even at 2 am! I agree that our model of couplehood, what it means to be together, needs to be considered.

    Tamar: Thanks. Yes, “love as though you have never been hurt before” would have made a great title for this post – and is a wonderful idea, worthy of its own post. 🙂

  • 7 Sophie // Apr 25, 2005 at 6:26 pm

    Who is this “we” you’re talking about? (If we protected them more they would protect themselves more?) Individual parents? Or our community? Our culture? It starts to dawn on many people after their kids are teens that no matter what “we” have done as individual parents, they belong to their peer group, to the culture and to the future (remember Kahil Gibran…”For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow which you cannot visit even in your dreams.”) I’ve learned that it is good to pour all your love and creative energy into them when they are little, and it will live in them somewhere. But it won’t be an insurance policy against teen culture, and it won’t give you the control over them when they’re 15 that you thought it would when they were 5. Parenthood is good at teaching surrender and humility.

  • 8 Bob V // May 14, 2005 at 8:51 am

    I wonder if there is perhaps something more sophisticated going on. It seems to me that 13-year olds couldn’t possibly be insufficiently vulnerable (though I am not certain.)

    How about this explanation? We start of vulnerable and dependent (both in the tax-return and the social way.) In our dependent state, we have difficulty with love since we don’t have the wherewithal to give it freely. Eventually we grow up and become independent. At this point, some of us may indulge themselves in serious relationships, but we don’t want to give ourselves away; we relish our independence too much. In the third stage, we have become confortable with our independence–comfortable enough to allow ourselves to be vulnerable.

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