Thursday, July 13, 2017

Being strong

At a wedding reception about five years ago I found myself seated next to the clergyperson who had presided at the wedding. She was an exceptionally beautiful woman who, as sometimes happens, had remained not just exceptionally beautiful and also highly attractive sexually well into her fifties. She was much-beloved of the women of her parish. She was also relatively rich. She was rich by marriage, the clergy are rarely well paid.

Something about her rubbed me the wrong way. Not in any profound way. I had a good time. But there was an undercurrent of something there—a feeling that I didn't bother to analyze so it never rose to the level of an emotion. If I had thought about it, I might have detected envy in myself. Or, to be less humble, perhaps she gave off a certain smugness. I didn't, though, so I can only guess at what it was now.

At some point in the conversation she was discussing how people responded to her as a clergy person and I said the reactions she got might be a function of her being a sexy clergy person. She didn't like that. I don't know what response I expected. I suspect the truth is that I didn't particularly care. What she actually said was, "I wish my sexuality didn't have to enter into it."

I had read pieces where women expressed that thought before and perhaps heard speeches or media interviews where it was said but I had never heard a woman say it in casual conversation like that. Sometimes, you need to hear something in a context like that to be able to evaluate it properly. For the first time, I realized what an utterly delusional notion it was to think that sexuality wouldn't "enter into it". Sexuality always comes into it. When two heterosexual men or two heterosexual women get into a car together, sexuality comes into it. It's part of being human and it could no more not come into it than breathing. We are sexual beings right to our core.

I saw her again at a funeral this May. She was a smaller, quieter and much humbler woman. And the reason wasn't hard to determine. She no longer had that intense sexual attractiveness that made her the centre of interest everywhere she went. I don't know if she'd figured that out. She must have felt it whether she bothered to understand what was happening. I didn't bring it up for compassionate reasons.

She did not remember our last conversation. She did not realize who I was even though it was my father's funeral we were attending. I stood and talked to her as no one else was paying her any attention. She'd become mildly bitter over the ensuing years. Again, it was not hard to figure out why. Her sexuality, the thing that she had claimed not to want to "enter into it", no longer did and people took her a whole lot less seriously as a result.

Yes, life is cruel. At the same time, it's often a joke when men lose their vitality so I have a hard time working up a lot of sympathy. And this change was coming. Any fifteen-year-old girl can tell you about what effect aging has on women and what the different decades of a woman's life mean in terms of sexual attraction. Every once in a while an aging feminist will bemoan the fact that she no longer gets much sexual interest and the Internet will promptly find quotes from the same woman thirty years ago bemoaning the fact that she couldn't go anywhere without attracting sexual interest.

Everyone gets older and loses the special attraction that goes with youth. The question I have is, why did feminists think it was going to help the cause of women to denigrate sexual attraction?

I'll leave that thought there and jump to something else.

When I was in high school I seriously wondered if I might be trapped in a play where everyone else had a script but me such that I had to improvise while they always knew what was coming. It wasn't entirely crazy. A lot of my friends had older siblings or parents who actually took an interest in their lives beyond worrying that their children might mess up and reflect poorly on them as parents. These older siblings and/or parents took the time to let them know what changes were coming in life and how to prepare for them. I had neither and I was left to figure out things for myself. Then again, some others were no better off than me and some others were worse off.

As I grew up, though, I discovered that many others thought I was the one in the strong position. Over the years people, including my parents, came to me whinging that I was strong and others were weak and, therefore, I should make special allowances for them. That's not crazy: self-confidence should lead to compassion. Alas, the people doing the complaining had contributed less than zero to any sense of self-confidence I might have had and, indeed, I had little in those days.

The temptation is to say that it's all perception and we all walk around fearing that everyone else is more assured and comfortable in their skin than we are. But it isn't that way. A lot of time in life we appear strong to others for reasons we don't bother to analyze. We don't bother because we think it is unearned. And to some extent it is. It's a tragedy, however, to have not made something of it when we had it.

I had to bluff my way through a lot of things as I grew up because there was no one there to support me. I was often lonely and I could be bitter about it now except that I turned out to be strong, stronger than most people I know.

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