Rogers: In a world of choices
Celibacy and monogamy look a lot like close cousins — both being not about sex.
That’s literally true if you think about it. But I’m not thinking that way. I’m thinking about the value of a commitment to a love deemed so important as to not give in to a fundamental human drive. Also, in a symbolic adult sense, we’re talking about the marshmallow test.
I’m thinking about this in conversation with two stunningly beautiful, very bright women in a bar.
On a Friday night.
In downtown Aspen.
I’m wondering if I should be thinking like this.
But I am, and they are nodding, so I must have been thinking aloud. Fortunately, this is neutral ground, a sort of DMZ moment, our conversation a bridging between genders, a mutual quest toward better understanding free of, well, all of that.
Glasses clink. Some kind of whisky and water. I last ordered beer, long empty now.
Here we are in softer light, that distinctive hushed buzzing in this kind of room: a recent divorcee, another once married and now partnered with a lifelong friend, and me, loyal for nearly four decades and far from home, alone.
So, we’ve established what isn’t about sex. I’m also learning both women have lived through what isn’t about love, not remotely. I confess I’m horrified.
Husbands who cheat. Husbands who rob their wives of material funds as well as the most basic kindnesses. Husbands who use their children as pawns.
This is not a world I understand.
But I knew that world all too well as a child.
My parents unleashed their demons upon each other while my sister and I cowered among our stuffed animals in a dark bedroom, the doorway an eclipse to a house ablaze beyond. They shouted. Mom cried. Maybe they threw things, I don’t know, peering down this abyss of uncertain memory and clear angst.
Of course loyalties are divided. Dad’s fun (until he’s not). Mom’s a scrooge, only she’s looking after our best interests by being mean and making us do our homework, brush our teeth, make our beds, taking away most of our candy from Halloween to dole out later.
Finally, on a Halloween night during a hellacious tropical storm, she took us away from our father on a plane that left Honolulu and landed us in a whole ’nother life five, six hours away.
As far as I can tell, she refrained from love or sex until we were grown and gone, though there are hints dropped now of stolen rides on motorcycles, men we never saw, the occasional suspicious twinkle in the eye.
She never remarried. You can’t be sure as the child, but I believe she went from monogamous to celibate. She saved her fun for later, and with a much, much younger man. Go Mom!
CHOICE AND COMMITMENT
We do what we want. Ours is the age of agency. There are fewer priests and nuns taking their vows. More couples breaking theirs. Or creating much different ones or expanding such partnerships beyond strictly what we might call a “couple.” The world is wide, a possibility to match every choice.
Our hormones, our wandering eyes, our fragile hearts and restless souls all conspire against monogamy. It’s not natural.
But we also are ordered beings who prize our light grip on rationality and yet crave to fit in, too. Strange bedfellows there. We live in a funhouse of rationality, superstition and social pressure.
Modern society’s bizarre influences might be so pervasive we don’t realize how far from “normal” we’ve strayed or boldly gone.
But here we are, we three in the bar, going deeper, asking ourselves a modern question: Are you happy?
Aspen is a place intent on this question, or least geared to fun — outdoor, indoor, ingested — as the answer. Here the marshmallow tends to be gobbled, visitors and residents sharing a propensity.
But running a trail a few days later, uphilling Buttermilk in snowshoes a few months later, what struck me was pain, the price for getting fit.
Every joy we earn involves pain. This is improvement’s wages, and gifts come with them, as well. A short list: grit, discipline, skill, odds of success. The pleasure of seeing I’ve hacked 10 minutes off my time to Cliffhouse.
And so it is, I’m thinking, with love. There is virtue in the long run, so long as one is not abusing or trying to control the other. Misdemeanor faults may or may not be forgiven. Relationships are fingerprints, after all, with their infinity of calculations between the partners.
The vow we take in marriage is the same as the nun and the priest’s. It’s not strictly about sex or to the point, it is a promise about not sex. Do you give yourself entirely to God or to your partner in love and give up something you will crave, surely, at some point?
I’m well aware how attracted I am to these stunningly beautiful, bright women at the bar in the low light, this moment in a kind of breakthrough conversation.
This is just life, and we all make our choices.
Aspen Times Editor Don Rogers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org