06 March 2007

in two parts.

and you're single because...
that's a statement, not just a question. and i hate it when people tell me why i'm single--almost as much as i hate it when they ask me why i'm single. i hate it every bit as much when i have to listen to someone tell men why they are single.

last sunday, a very well-intentioned member of my ward stood to share his testimony. and as part of that testimony he recounted his own experience as a single man. looking back, he apparently believes he remained single as long as he did because he loved his fast car. and after explaining that, he advised all the single men in our ward (which is a stake magnet ward for mid-singles [ages 31-45]) to stop spending all of their time and energy on acquiring and enjoying toys and to just get to it and get married. i hate hearing this. no matter who says it and no matter what position he (it's almost always a he; a he in a priesthood position usually, though not always) may hold. i think it is a gross misrepresentation of why mormon men remain single. i find it callous and uncompassionate. i think it rests on sexist assumptions about both men and women: that men do not have a deep need for emotional support and love, unlike women who live for such things and who are not driven by physical appetites; that they are motivated by physical drives and pleasure, not the higher emotions women feel; that they, not women, are responsible for getting themselves and the women of the church married; that they are lazy freeloaders who will take whatever you give them (whether we're talking food or sex) and never make a commitment unless forced to by depriving them of that for which they have an uncontrollable need. i could go on.

i will not assert that there are no men who are simply too comfortable in their single lives to make relationship commitments or who are more concerned with acquiring things than with building love and family. i'm sure they exist. but i emphatically reject the notion that this group of the male population is anything like a majority. i know quite a few men who either were or still are "older" (in mormon parlance, though that is not always very old in non-mormon terms) and single. and their still being single has nothing to do with their obsession with acquiring and enjoying toys, an innate tendency to freeload, or an unwillingness to commit. generally it has much more to do with the fact that they simply have not yet found a woman they can marry. and i should say that i reject every bit as firmly the argument that if someone would just try, they'd find someone to marry. i suppose that is true if the only objective is to participate in the sealing ordinance. it is not true if by "marry" you mean build a deeply intimate, loving, beautiful relationship with someone who is/can become your soul mate.

{i should thank my bishopric for immediately countering this man's problematic, albeit well-intentioned, comments about single men.}

but touching is like watered down sex...
last wednesday as i was stewing over how to build a bridge between two sections of my paper, i took a quick break from thinking wilkie collins and the moonstone and community, and instead read a couple of blogs. deborah, over at exponent II, sent me on to a beautiful and poignant conversation happening at segullah about being single and not being touched. i read the entry with its subsequent questions and the first two comments before i realized that if i kept going i would start crying and not be able to refocus on my paper. and i had to focus on my paper that day. which i did. i finished it and submitted it and it made me happy to do so. but that post has been hovering in my mind ever since.

not being touched is one of the things i hate the most about being single. this is obviously in some ways about sex. some people have the ridiculous and, in my opinion, incorrect idea that women have little if any need for sex. or if they do, it's just not comparable to a man's. well, i'm not a man so i can't say whether my needs are comparable to men's. but i can say that it's just not true to assert that women have no need for sex. i understand the law of chastity. and i think celibacy outside marriage is a good thing. but i don't think the absence of all sexual touch is a good thing.

but it would be a mistake to believe the longing for touch is entirely sexual. it's not. as the post at segullah and the responses to it illustrate so profoundly, it's also about being human. human beings are social creatures. and they are, in my experience, creatures that express their care and concern for each other physically. at this point in my life, the only person who touches me with any regularity is my mother. but i sometimes go days without seeing my mother in the evening, which is when she usually hugs and kisses me as she says goodnight.

i'm not sure why it is that i have so little touch in my life right now. i'm used to having physical contact with my friends and family. when my brother jared and i were in high school, we'd often lay on his bed and listen to music and talk. and we had this almost ritualized bedtime routine that always included a hug and saying 'i love you.' while i was at byu, i lived with my best friends. a few times a week, late at night randi would climb onto my upper bunk and we'd start talking and laughing. and after not too many minutes had gone by, marguerite would come in (it became something of a joke for her to kick the door open) and join us. three of us curled up on my little twin bed talking and laughing and simply being together. i miss that closeness. i've almost always had friends--both male and female--that i hugged goodbye after spending time together. i have little of any of that now.

i have to take the blame for some of it. i have isolated myself emotionally for much of the last three years. it's been a hard time. and i'm sure that my self-imposed isolation has led to the absence of physical contact between me and my friends here (who are wonderful). but i think part of this has to do with this idea that touch is about sex--especially touch between members of the opposite sex. and i hate that--the categorical assumption that all male-female contact (and for some people, all male-female relationships) is by definition sexual. being alone together, touching each other is not the catalyst to some sexual conflagration. it's just two people being people. i'm not trying to argue that there is no possibility of sexual interest or reactions--reactions that are sometimes not meant to be acted upon; i'm simply arguing that it's not exclusively sexual. it's also human. and very, very necessary.

{i want to say, for the record, that at this moment i am very happy. and i feel more peace with where i am in all aspects of my life than i have for a long time. this has not always been--and probably will not always be--the case. but i'm glad for the peace i have right now.}


  1. I stumbled upon this post and found your writing very interesting. Next time I see my sister who is single, I will make sure to give her a big hug. I really appreciate your perspective. And, for the record, I love Emily Dickinson!

  2. yes--emily is wonderful, isn't she? she has such a beautiful, slightly bizarre perspective on truth.

    and i'm sure your sister will appreciate the hug. i honestly think that most people just don't realize how much they take for granted being touched in casual but important ways.

  3. What a lovely post. Your first subject reminded me of the latest entry on Dainon's blog.

    I was thinking about touch. I may do a post about it. I'm the type of person that naturally edges a little bit away from being touched. There's only a few people who can touch me with out permission without me subconsciously cringing a little. I hate bringing it up with new people because I'm normal except for this.
    Yet, I need to be touched-I like hugs--and I like the intimacy of being in close proximity of loved ones, and I find when I have people in my life that don't always initiate touch--I subconsciously draw back from casual unintended touch--and I don't like that.

    Anyway, I'll stop before you think I'm a basket case. ;)

    I agree, touch isn't all sexual. Look how much touching little kids give/receive and need. We all need touch along those lines.

  4. reading this:

    "and I find when I have people in my life that don't always initiate touch--I subconsciously draw back from casual unintended touch--and I don't like that."

    made me think of the way that the aloneness creates more aloneness. the lack of touch makes us more wary of touch in general. i don't like it. because i don't ever want to stop needing other people.

    it's one of the hurtful catch-22's of all of this. that it would be so much easier to deal with if i just didn't need companionship and love and touch. but i don't ever want to not need those things. i don't like what it would imply of me if i could reach a point where i didn't need those things.

  5. Single:
    I empathize with your description. Too much like someone implying that something is wrong with you.

    Impossible for me to know the attitudes of Mormon men, but I've always tried to make myself "whole" as a stand-alone person before trying to be responsible for a committed relationship as well.

    You split touch into a sharp divide of sexual and platonic-social. That's never been my experience, and even a sliding scale between the two isn't quite right. Let me think about that.

    Social touching is healthy and important, as your anecdotes show.

    I wrote more on touch here.

  6. as i indicated in my response to your post, i don't see a sharp divide between sexual and platonic touch at all. i simply believe that both exist; sometimes between the same people. that touch does not necessarily have to be sexual. that it is also platonic. in fact, i think a romantic relationship needs both varieties. and i'm not convinced that platonic is the right word here. the word i keep coming back to is simply human--a touch that simply reconfirms sharing. if that makes any sense.

  7. Indeed, upon re-reading, I see you didn't explicitly made that distinction. Maybe that's a vibe I picked up from your post and the reading I did at segullah.org.

    I very much like the idea that touching reconfirms our humanity, and agree that platonic doesn't correctly describe it.

  8. hey shauna. good to see you again.

  9. absolutely wonderful post

    thank you

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  11. please. comment. all you want. but if your comment is not contributing to a discussion and instead is a veiled insult, it will be deleted.