I was thinking about … well, just thinking, really. I read somewhere, but I don’t know if it is true (because no citations), that women never stop thinking. Our brains always have something going on. I suppose that could be the case. I can’t think of a time when I wasn’t just completely without thought. Not for very long, anyway.
I digress. I got the snippet of an idea for a story, about a woman who has no control over her own life. I was thinking about ways to explore the idea, and as Holle, I think I would have a lot more freedom to explore and express. After all, I’ve kind of already set the expectation that I will get steamy.
The idea got me thinking about something. If you had no control over your own life – over yourself – then would you be responsible for your own actions?
I’ll skip the philosophical discussion and just get into the meat and bones of it. Consider this. You’re a young woman. You’re out with a young man. You’re both adults. You’re in a consensual relationship. He wants to do something. Maybe you’re an idealist who wants to wait until marriage to have sex. Maybe you’re very vanilla in your sex life and he wants to try something new. Maybe you’re okay with premarital sex, but you like to take things slow and wait a while – you’ve only been dating for a couple of months. Whatever the specific case that suits you for this little mind game, you and your significant other are engaging in some nice, consensual activity, whatever your scenarios comfort-level is, and your SO says that he would like to push to that next thing that you are not quite ready for or comfortable with. You say no. He pleads a little more. Maybe he does more of that one thing that you like. Maybe he whispers sweet nothings about how much he cares for you. If he has a little jerk in him, maybe he adds a little of the “if you cared” or “I do this, so” to pepper it up.
It is not that you don’t feel the desire for whatever he is wanting. You do, but you have this ideal or comfort level that you want to keep. As he continues whatever his method du jour is, you begin to feel torn between the physical desire you have to please your lover and/or experience something new with him and your intellectual and/or emotional desire to keep to this ideal or within your comfort level.You know that if you say “no, really, just no” that he’ll stop insisting. The current activity may or may not cease. An argument may or may not follow. What would happen after can vary – by specific scenario, by what you imagine the moods of your hypothetical self and hypothetical lover to be.
In the end, though, you decide to give in. You will let him have his way and get whatever this thing is. You might sigh. You might say “well, okay, we’ll try it this once.” You might just give a silent indication of assent.
And how do you feel afterwards?
Once upon a time, when I was very religious, I would do this. I would be in a relationship, things would begin moving towards sex – and in my religious days, no sex before marriage – and then I would give in. I would feel guilty about doing it, and I would say to myself, well, I “gave in.” Then I would move on to the next scenario or relationship, and I would do the exact same thing. Why? Simple. I did not take ownership of the situation. I happily handed my agency over, after the fact, to circumstance or my partner, in order to not have to examine my own thoughts and attitudes about sex.
Even when I lost my religion, I was still affected by the taboos. What is really, really messed up is that I even denied myself things I really, really wanted. The same basic principle by which I would “give in” to what my boyfriend at the time wanted had me “sticking to my guns” and saying no. To this day, I regret those denials. Thinking back on it, however, I think if I had said yes, if I had given in, that I would have ended up feeling the same guilt/agency shift that I always felt afterward. It would have polluted what otherwise would have been a great thing.
Strange dichotomy there, right?
Well, you see, I had two things working against me. I did not really understand my ideals and I was not internally consistent in them. I mean, I knew them. In my religious days, it was no sex before marriage. Later it was relationship fidelity. Of course, I really enjoyed petting play and exploration. Did you know that it is okay to want to do only that with a partner? Once upon a time, I didn’t – not in any way that I could verbalize anyway. Not in any way that I understood – understood how to set that ground rule so that enjoyment was shared. It did not help that I was never consistent in equating, right or wrong, sexual exploration and the act of sex. When it came to relationship fidelity – well, I had a tendency to lock myself into relationships very early, and for no good reason. And this varies for everyone, in my opinion. For me, I enjoyed playing the field, and I was careful doing it. Only, I would then decide to lock myself into a relationship before really knowing just where that relationship was going to go.
Worse, I am bisexual. So here I was, locked into a relationship, and my perfect woman comes along and what do I do? I say no. And bless her, she was an angel about it. All of my guilt over turning her down is self-inflicted. I can back myself up by saying that I was engaged at the time to a man who was not comfortable letting me explore that side of my sexuality. But then again, I was also consenting to deny a whole part of myself. In and of itself, that is fine. Bisexual men and women enter into monogamous relationships, deciding that they don’t need to pursue those other encounters and relationships. It’s no different than homosexual or heterosexual men and women entering into monogamous relationships, deciding they don’t need to explore other men/women. Often times, however, they already have an understanding and experience of that part of them. I knew better and you can probably guess that the specific relationship, since I did hint that it was a “at the time”, as in “in the past”, had other imbalances as well.
Even when it was not about exploring all sides of my sexuality, though, I still found myself compromising my ideals. I would find someone that suited me fine, and I would lock myself into a relationship. Then something else pretty would come along. If it was pretty enough, and I was bored enough with the current relationship, I would end that and move on to the next. Other times, I might give in to the temptation and play on the side. I did not lock myself into those relationships because I thought they were going to go somewhere. Well, a couple of times I hoped. But looking back, and without the rosy glasses, I did it because that is what I thought I was supposed to do. You’re supposed to just date and/or sleep with one person. Then the next. Then the next.
I was a serial monogamist.
I put a lot of people through heartache and stress that I did not really have to put them through. I could have been mature and said “you’re cute, and I like you, and I’ll probably have sex with you, but I’m young, and I’m pretty, and I’m still learning what I want. So, ya know, I’m going to play the field. I’ll be careful. No worries. But, that’s just how it is.”
In the end, if I had owned and preserved agency in my earlier sexual life, I would have been happier. I probably would have been smarter about some of the relationship choices – long term style – that I made in the past as well. I would also have saved myself a lot of grief in reconciling spirituality and sexuality a lot earlier than I did. On the other hand, I learned a lot of lessons. And sure, I and others experienced some heartbreak. Everything I learned about my own sexuality, though, informs my writing in some way. And while I can look back and think that certain decisions or approaches might have been ideal, I do have to wonder if I would still see Heather the same way.