My Apologies For Not Being Flashy Enough, I Guess?

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Years ago, in the parking lot of the Mennonite church, one of the cool youth guys told one of the pretty teenage girls to do something.  I’m not sure the exact lead-in, he probably suggested it was impossible to do, but he instructed her to simultaneously grab her ankles and spell the word run three times.

To my horror, this young woman, my first real crush, in traditional Mennonite dress, voluntarily did exactly as he said.  She bent over, and with her dainty ankles in hand, actually spelled out “R-U-N, R-U-N, R-U-N!”

At the time I had regarded her as a completely innocent party and being exploited.  It has to do with this notion, especially popular in patriarchal purity cultures, that men are more sexually interested and women simply wanting emotional support.  Therefore it was not possible that she would consent to this sort of activity knowing what his actual intention was, right?

This heroic offense that, no doubt, my reserved conservative Mennonite male readers will likely take on her behalf is trust misplaced.

In retrospect, given the various activities that she would later quite willingly participate in, even after marriage, some that included the jokester from the story above, my own assessment of what was truly going on there has changed.  I mean, had he not been an athletic six-foot built, I’m pretty sure she would have decided to be a little more aware of his intentions.  But the reality is that she was enjoying the attention whether or not she knew exactly what game was being played.

Beauty and Godliness

Many men (and women) confuse feminine beauty for godly character.  One of those shattering realizations was that the virtue that I saw in conservative Mennonite women was one of mere outward appearance and not really an indication of their being truly different under the surface.  Sure, those of us raised in this culture are better trained, our lusts are hidden under more layers of religious garb, but this demure and righteous front conceals passions that are no different from those found in all people.

In ‘worldly’ hookup culture, it is all about the physical.  It is blatantly superficial and makes no attempt at hiding this.  Sure it is discriminatory, sayings like “must be 5′-10″ or over to ride” are common, only the hottest guys and girls are going to be especially successful, but it is also honest.  It is a meat market and that’s what you should expect going in.  

But, raised in the sub-culture that I was in, there was this idea that character mattered most and what was being sought after.  Some of us believed that.

My first crush, the girl in the account above, was someone that I had assumed was of impeccable character.  Compared to those high school girls, like those cheerleader friends who (while at McDonald’s sitting with this blushing Mennonite kid) had fun taking turns saying the word “penis” a little louder each time, she was a saint and basically sinless.  Or so I had thought.  However, as it turns out, those ‘bad’ girls went on to be faithful to their partners, and the girl that had left me feeling unworthy ended up being fondled by that R-U-N guy a few years down the road—despite both of them being married.

I had assumed that my crush was of better character because of my bias towards those who dressed and acted a particular way.  I had her, so pretty and pristine, high upon a pedestal.  She had no dirty thoughts like me.  She would love me for my heart rather than my stature or appearance.  And yet my doubts began to grow, she had become unapproachable to me, too good, too pure and too perfect, how could someone with my stumbling words, painfully awkward, ever add up compared to this angelic being?  It is easy to see why my effort was doomed from the start and especially since she was as horny and completely carnally minded as any other young person her age.

Men, at least those in traditional cultures, want to defend the damsel in distress.  So, women, in turn, will play that part.  They are agreeable, they will accentuate their vulnerability and it is all part of the game to attract a mate.  Maintaining an appearance of ‘godliness’ is a part of this trying to be desirable in cultures where such things are valued.

And that’s not to say it is knowingly a pretense either.  It is simply how we frame the experience.  We don’t need to admit to the sexual motivations like the crass (yet wonderfully truthful) young ‘worldly’ women—like those school mates who had delightfully, with giggles, defied my own teenage expectations as far as propriety and appropriateness.  Us born into religious subcultures, especially a purity culture, confuse our merely following the rules for actual righteousness.  It is virtue signaling.  We hang onto that wonderful image, because it is valuable, a social advantage, and yet are as superficial as our ‘worldly’ counterparts when it comes to the true motivation behind our choices.

I’ve learned since that I was lying to myself, this Mennonite girl was a complete knockout no matter how ‘modestly’ she dressed at that time.  That physical beautiy most definitely played a part in my attraction and the virtue that had been projected onto her physical frame.  And, while being genuinely horrified during the parking lot incident, there was also that fascination about what was happening, a curiosity like how we can’t take our eyes off of a trainwreck.  Yes, I might have even enjoyed it in a weird way, so was I actually any better than the instigator?

Seeing Through My Own Projections

The “R-U-N” crush was never a saint, to begin with.  I had projected my own ideas of her purity onto her, assumed that her inner composition matched her flawless exterior, and thus had turned her into more of an idol than a real person.  Not excusing her eventual infidelity and recent divorce, but would it really be any surprise if some do break under this pressure to perform and be her daddy’s perfect daughter?

My disappointment with things not being as they appeared to have long since worn off, I’ve come to accept that even the ‘good’ girls (even those who would never dare cheat on their husbands or even say anything out of turn) aren’t as spiritually oriented as their outward show would have many believe.  Their faith is often shallow and a means to stay relevant or appear as righteous to their religious peers.  I mean, it isn’t all for show either, we’re always a mixed bag of motivation in even our best moments, but ultimately they are as flawed as anyone else and as oriented towards that strapping physique as much as their hook-up culture counterparts.

Still, it was this realization that left me feeling betrayed by my idealism and needing to let go of this falsehood of their loftiness compared to my own shortcomings.  They were no different from me—not better, not worse. 

This sinless young woman myth is as harmful and as completely patriarchal as the idea that a woman being ‘undefiled’ is her only value.  Being beautiful, not being openly aggressive or disagreeable, does not make an outwardly well-behaved woman a better person.  And, truly, at this point, I would rather deal with the ‘slut’ that is real than the ‘saint’ that is only skin deep and fake.  It is much better to start with the baseline that all have sinned and fallen short of divine glory than to treat anyone as somehow above or beyond.  Religious women may not sin in the same ways or as openly as their male or secular counterparts, but they still do.

Man certainly looks at the outward appearance, but Jesus said this concerning the deception of those who kept up appearances:

You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

(Matthew 23:27b‭-‬28 NIV)

What I’ve found about myself and others raised in a culture with high expectations is that we tend to keep two sets of books.  One to keep up the prescribed cultural standard and impress our peers, and another hidden account book that contains our more carnal imaginations and base desires.  Pretty on the outside does not mean a pure heart.  It could simply be manipulation or a way to benefit from the protection provided to those who conform and not evidence of good character.

Character Is More Than Skin Deep

So, anyhow, once burned, twice shy, right?   And, having learned that exteriors do not always match interiors, when stumbled across Charlotte’s profile, saw this shy and adorable looking woman beautiful amongst the flowers, I asked:  “Are you as beautiful on the inside as you are on the outside?”

I know. 

Not much of a pick-up line, right?

Nevertheless, it was exactly the right question for someone struggling.  It signaled to her that I actually cared about more than her physical form and wanted to know about her as a whole person.  Of course, her beauty is indeed more than skin deep.  And, although she confesses that I’m a good person while she’s my “imperfect bhest,” she’s golden.  Her humility alone, in realizing that she is flawed and admitting it, is proof of her beautiful godly character.  And, as our relationship progressed, it was her soul that I wanted to protect and not merely some projected cultural ideal.

Charlotte, for her part, is also well aware that I’m not the epitome of manliness.  She knows that I show my emotions, sees me as a little soft compared to those stoic Igorot men and had to make some adjustments to my dress style in Taiwan so I didn’t look as much like a dweeb.  There’s very little pretense with her.  Maybe she’s more plainspoken being that English is a second language?  But it’s also cultural.  Or, rather, a lack of the cultural facade where people have learned to say the right things and yet lack actual substance.  She is refreshingly real and appreciates me for my character rather than care too much about my missing-in-action six-pack abs.  

I’m not flashy enough to attract the Tinder date nor the goody-two-shoes who conceals her carnal appetites under layers of sanctimonious bullshit.  And yet do have enough of something to keep from giving up on true love despite the painful distance and wait. I’m not her perfect bhest, but I do love that she is more concerned with my faith than my physical perfection.

The Lie of Sexual Liberation

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My parents, like my grandparents have remained faithfully devoted to one person their entire lives.  This was not always easy, people grow and change, there were failures and financial hardships along the way, and those initial feelings of love faded long away ago.  And yet, through these trials of life and tribulations, there has been a stronger bond of love that emerged that is far more profound.

My own life experience has been different from that of my father and grandfather, both whom married in their early twenties and never looked back.  They remained fully one woman men.  And it doesn’t even seem as if the serious possibility of another woman has ever crossed their minds.  That is what I had wanted.  Unfortunately, life had different plans for me, I have both imagined myself with many women and have had none.  I’m a virgin, having never been married, but have also had my thoughts of liberation from this system that has disadvantaged me.

Call it egalitarian or call it egotistical, but there has also been this alternative of being intimate with multiple women does have some appeal.  For me, outside looking in, it could feel a bit unfair that some men could hoard for themselves what some of us could not have at all.  So wouldn’t it be better to erase this patriarchal structure entirely and make manifest that heavenly ideal of Matthew 22:30, when we “will neither marry nor be given in marriage” and all are one?

It is no big surprise that sexual liberation is a feature of many ‘Christian’ reformation attempts, including a more radical faction of the early Anabaptist movement in Münster, where they indeed shared more things in common than mere material possessions in their rejection of stuffy tradition.  And such things, polygamy and sexual sexual orgies, have been a regular feature of various contemporary cults as well.  For whatever reason it does feel right, in theory, but in reality is a self-serving disaster.

From ‘Free Love’ To Hook-up Culture

The 1960s and 70s were supposed to introduce this wonderful new age, free from the bonds of organized religion and stifling tradition.  The communal living, the flower children, Woodstock, it all seemed so wonderful in that generation.  But, besides music, it has left very little in terms of true positive legacy and ended up an ideal as naïve as the 1950s culture it was supposed to replace.  The old hippies are a sort of comical absurdity anymore.

The only actually lasting legacy of that era is the American cultural institution of marriage becoming a mockery of the relationship that my parents and grandparents maintained throughout their decades.  Fewer young people are even bothering to say vows as they’ve basically become meaningless in this age governed by immediate feelings and shunning of any type of binding commitment.  Many today have never experienced the stability that I have had with two parents who didn’t quit on each other when times got tough.

Worse many in the current generation have gone a step further and pretty much entirely given up on love.  They go to Tinder looking for a hook-up, or the whole “Netflix and chill” short-term sexual liaison, which makes very little attempt to treat physical intimacy as something special.  It is crass, it is completely centered on the body and cares nothing about the soul.  The young and beautiful can trade partners as casually as deciding what fast-food to order in.

Most young people today, even if they do not hook-up per se, think nothing about serial monogamy or living with multiple sex partners over their lifetimes.  I’ll hear things like, “how can anyone really know what they want in their early twenties?”  It is simply an expectation now that relationships are transitory and not meant to last.  Although, for some reason, most do seem to cling to exclusive rights or at least so far as they themselves can’t find anything better.

The Harsh Realities of the Sexual Economy

In the religious subculture that formed me there was always this idea of “meant to be” that accompanied romantic relationship that ended in marriage.  Divorce was not an option.  The relationship of a man and woman was spiritual.  We would barely talk about sexual attraction as a factor in this decision making process.  We were told that our being pure and being the right one would bring about success.

This denial of the sexual motivation is what would later lead to my disillusionment when I discovered things truly weren’t as they were being framed.  The reason I had been overlooked did not have to do with my character, the impossibly (before I had expressed any interest in her) had told me I would make a “great husband” and wasn’t the first to say so either, but for some reason they weren’t lining up for the opportunity to experience my greatness first-hand.

The reality is that marriage is not only about the completely virtuous pre-destined love of two people as advertised.  It is also about climbing the social ladder, gaining access to the resources that another person has, and basically being able to routinely do the nasty with the hottest piece of Mennonite asset available.  Yes, it is sexual.  Yes, there’s a reason why my Mennonite marriageability rating blog struck a chord with so many in my former religious culture.

Marriage is a type of economic transaction, there is a sexual economy, and some simply bring more to the table in terms of excitement than others.  There areas where some of us got the short end of the stick and could not compete.  This was not spoken about honestly, for many years it felt like a judgment of my character rather than what it was and would have been much better if it had been acknowledged.  At least hook-up culture is honest and doesn’t pretend to be about more than it is.

Why Hook-up Culture Does Not Work

On the surface being able to sleep with anyone seems like freedom.  I know it would not take much convincing for me to have sexual relations with multiple women.  I mean, there are many different women that I appreciate, with unique personalities, black, white or Asian, all beautiful.  Why not take turns, spread the love and share a little, right?

Unfortunately it doesn’t work like that.  First, there’s this thing of STDs, multiple partners means a wildly increased chance of an incurable and painful disease.  Second, hook-up culture is not free love.  No, it is actually more exclusive than traditional monogamy in that only the most superficially desirable specimens have a chance of success.  Fall under the height requirement, have a few too many extra pounds, and you’re out of luck with no chance at all.

Yeah, sexual promiscuity may have been good to Wilt Chamberlain, who claimed to have had twenty thousand female sexual partners, but it doesn’t work out the same for the average guy who ends up going home with nothing.  This is, in fact, the biggest issue with polygamy, some men get more of what they want, even the women may be satisfied with the arrangement, and yet there are also many disgruntled men without a chance.  Marriage increases equity by helping with the fairer distribution of a limited resource.

And, considering how many young women get chewed up and spit out by a world full of guys willing to say anything to “get in her pants” only to change their tune later, the traditional arrangement doesn’t seem so bad after all.  It is simply mind-blowing how many women, otherwise intelligent, believe that giving a guy what he wants upfront, without anything in writing to prove he is not simply playing around, will help their chances of securing his continued interest in them.

Marriage is About Equity and Protection

Multiple partners and sexual liberation only benefits some.  The current paradigm favors attractive men, who are able to select from a large group of willing women, they get what they want and then are on their way again to the next hot body as soon as things become a little difficult.  Meanwhile the guys who fall a bit short of female aspirations get nothing at all, permanently friend-zoned, with no chance of sex.

With traditional marriage there’s also some equity there, or at least in theory, in that the hottest players don’t get everything for themselves.

More importantly, saving sex for real commitment means that a woman is not stuck raising a child alone.  It also helps to establish consent.  Marriage is truly a safeguard against the exploitation of women.  Women literally bear a larger burden from sexual relations, emotionally or otherwise, and are often better off with the less flashy faithful men than those more likely to sweep them off their feet.

Lastly, it is also an arrangement that considers the long-term good.  And not only of the children who are provided security from a stable established relationship, but also of an aging woman who no longer has that youthfully attractive body and would be left with nothing.  Sure, traditional marriage never guarantees success, nevertheless it is better than the alternative of loveless sex and no commitment.

The nail in the coffin of sexual liberation is that sex is more fulfilling in the context of a committed relationship.  This is what makes me most sad about the current pursuit of carnal appetite over a selfless and more satisfying (over time) alternative.  My parents and grandparents had it right, that’s what I want more than anything else.