Who am I Now?

This originally appeared in the health magazine SexVibe in 1996.

Prior to Shane dying, the last time I remember crying — I mean an all-out, let-it-go-girl cry — was the day I graduated high school.  But it wasn’t just because I was sad that I was graduating.  Rather, I’d come home that afternoon and turned on the t.v., and there was John-Boy giving a poignant valedictorian speech at the old schoolhouse.  Next, I watched in sympathy as Laura Ingall made friends with a crazy old woman whom the town had shunned whose home had burned to the ground, but she lived within its’ remains anyway.  And lastly in my search for solace, I turned to Merv Griffin, only to hear Betty Buckley sing “Memory” from Cats.  I tried to resist the tide of emotions building up inside of me, but something finally cracked.

Once those floodgates opened, I could do nothing but let those dark emotions overtake and completely envelop me.  I laid curled up in a ball, crying endlessly for hours.  Finally, it was over.  I was drained.  Spent.  It took everything I had to drag myself off that couch and head for bed.  That same day I vowed never to let myself give up control of my emotions and feel such horrible things again.  And up until Shane got sick, I’d pretty much succeeded.

I’ve had plenty of rotten days in the months since Shane died.  But, just as my friends predicted in their attempts to comfort, this has also been a time of extraordinary personal growth.  The most predominant and obvious product of my ordeal has been my increasing ability to tap into my inner emotions, such as anger, rage, and sadness, which I had long since exiled to that melancholy graduation day.  But perhaps the most pervasive changes in me are the more minute self-chosen mutations which have occurred as I’ve begun to question who I am now.

Having spent two years with Shane, it was inevitable that our relationship would influence me in some ways.  I’ve become stronger and more confident in my abilities; I’ve also become more aware of the sides of myself that I’m less than proud of, and am working to change them; and I now know that I am the type of person who works well in a relationship.  The latter statement may seem self-serving, but it is something that, prior to meeting Shane, I’d begun to doubt.  And it is this piece to the puzzle of my being that I’ve begun to look at recently as I begin re-entry into “singledom.”

I recently spent a holiday weekend visiting some friends in San Francisco, and the one thing on my mind was getting laid.  It had been many months since I’d had sex, given Shane’s illness and death, and I was extremely horny.  As I passed up opportunities again and again, I began to wonder what was stopping me from following through on my desires.  Then I realized that, as much as I thought I wanted “sex”, what I really desired was an intimate connection that, for me, could not be gained by a purely physical encounter.

Upon my return to the lovely Burbank airport, I was met by two friends.  On our ride home, I told them of my realization, and they both said, “Why didn’t you do it?  As long as it doesn’t hurt anyone…”  But in my mind, it could have hurt both individuals.  Rarely do people hunger solely for sex and sex alone.  Usually, there is another motive involved, even though it may not be readily apparent.  And if both partners walk away without the unspoken needs met, what does that do to our conceptions of self?  For me I realized that, eventually, that inability to connect on the level I desire would begin to make me question myself, my abilities, my self-worth.  And it just wasn’t worth it.

So I’ve decided that the sexual side of me will remain dormant until I find someone with who I share intimate connections on a variety of levels.  And that means holding out on the sex until those levels are established.  That means courtship.  Conversations about family, friends, and feelings.  Whispered confidences and longing looks.

This fairly conservative stance is, upon reflection, not that different from the way I conducted myself in my younger years.  I’ve always considered myself liberal as far as other’s actions, but fairly prudish with my own.  Sure, I had my share of one-nighters, but on the whole I’ve usually been more of a serial monogamist.  Back then, the sexual connection was established early on, and the other elements falling into place (or not) much later.  But I’ve since learned that the quickly shared sexual experience can create a false sense of intimacy that slowly disintegrates over time.

Now that I’ve established some guidelines for myself as I reenter the dating world, I find that I feel very isolated.  Where are those that share my sensibilities?  It’s also difficult to express my decision without sounding like a Pollyanna trying to convert the masses.  I can just imagine people reading this article and drawing parallels to the right-wingers shouting “Abstinence is the answer!”  But that is not my goal at all.  I’ve simply decided that a more conservative sexual stance fits who I am and what I’m about.  But it’s tough to maintain your convictions when you’re met with double takes and doubting Thomas’s.  In fact, I must admit that it is more than a little disturbing to realize that I’ve come to share some of the same moral tenets that I’ve been trying to stop my mother from shoving down my throat all these years.  And now, not only do I share these moral fibers, but I hold them closely and tightly to my chest.

So, you may be wondering, how do I know for sure that I’ll be able to hold out and not hop on the first guy who walks in the door?  Mainly because I’ve realized that in order to connect with someone who shares your sense of values, you must first act upon your values.  That may not seem like such a brainstorm, but how many times have you heard some guy asking, “Why can’t I find a monogamous, committed relationship?”, and then turn around and talk about the cute guy they met and fucked last night?  To position one’s self as someone who wants that type of relationship, the inner thoughts, words, and actions must fall in line as one.  “Commitment,” a word usually associated only with a promise to another, can also be to one’s self and one’s ideals.  And if you can’t commit to yourself, how can you commit to another?

But words are only words, and can only be proven by actions.  Now it is time to follow through on the long, winding course I’ve set for myself.  I can only hope that my beliefs, desires, and strength of conviction will map out the path as clearly, and with as few detours, as possible.  I’ll let you know.

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