Valentine’s Day is poorly kept by those who ignore it openly and by those who observe it privately. This past Thursday it came and went and there was no public ceremony accompanying it, which strikes me as strange. Most holidays involve families, religious communities, and countries, but contemporary Valentine’s Day is usually only celebrated by two individuals together, privately. It’s a private holiday, which runs against an essential feature of holidays- their public observance.
So I don’t blame singles who feel apathy towards the holiday. It’s become a holiday about private love among adults (its observance among schoolchildren is different). It’s not always secret love, but Valentine’s Day romances have more akin to Romeo and Juliet’s than Prince William and Kate Middleton’s. Many people think that the day is only about couples appreciating each other, and that any public ostentation is just a symbol to your lover of how proud you are of your relationship. So if Valentine’s Day is about private love, it excludes participation by the rest of the community. I want to make a case for a new observance of Valentine’s Day, which even singles should be excited about.
Last week an anonymous student published this article in the Daily Princetonian. In it, she discusses the mistakes she made her first year at college, and the way they’ve taught her to hate the hookup culture:
I was so sheltered and naive as a freshman that I can barely believe I
am that same person today. And I just wish someone had told me that the
reality of hooking up is monumentally different from what I was
expecting. I wish someone had told me that you don’t get into a
relationship by meeting someone on the Street and taking him home or
that they won’t even text you the next day. I wish someone had told me
that when a guy says, “Hey, I want to show you this really funny video,
but it’s in my room,” he’s going to show you much more than a video. And
the awkwardness that happens when your hookup flat out pretends you
don’t exist the day after? No one warned me about that!
As many of you know, Italian Prime
Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been indicted n charges of paying an under-age woman for sex and using his position to hide
it. Lately, the whole ordeal has begun to sound eerily similar to the Tiger
Woods scandal that rocked his personal life and career in late 2009 and early 2010.
It has become all too common for
high-profile figures to pursue extramarital sexual relationships, almost to the
point where it’s easy to get callous – almost nothing is really surprising
anymore. However, Prime Minister Berlusconi’s story is in fact a tragic one. As
seems to be a fairly common happening, Karima El Marhough, the woman Berlusconi
is alleged to have slept with told him that she was 24 when she was in fact 17.
Despite this, it is very difficult to vindicate Berlusconi at all. His career,
especially recently has been blighted by allegations that he has engaged in
inappropriate relations with women in the past, including one 18 year old
daughter of his friend.
In April, Prime Minister Berlusconi
will go to trial and the issues currently discussed will be formally brought to
a head. But I would like to comment briefly on the actions that have put Prime
Minister Berlusconi in this situation in the first place. I’ll admit that the
Prime Minister looks very guilty, or at the least, not completely innocent. But
giving him the benefit of the doubt, it is evident that the Prime Minister
jettisoned prudence in his relationship with El Marhough. In the light of
previous sex scandals, one would expect that Berlusconi approach every
subsequent relationship with an orientation towards chastity and sexual
integrity. Obviously he has failed to do so, and ultimately, even if by some
strange set of events is innocent, he has truly brought this tragedy upon
In this recent post, the New York Times describes a CDC study which concluded that abstinence in high school is correlated to higher grades. A few fun facts from the study:
-only 32% of students with A averages have ever had sex
-if a student has a D average or worse, there is a 69% chance that he or she has had sex
-a student who averages a D or worse is 6 times more likely to have had sex before the age of 13 than a student with an A average
It’d depressing to imagine that my grades might be inflated, and that they would be even lower were I not abstinent. Therefore, I will interpret this study to say that choosing to abstain is symptomatic of intelligence.
In the interest of truth, however, I should admit that it probably runs the other way. (That is, abstaining is actually good for your academic performance.)
During my senior year of high school, I was amazed to find this NYT magazine article describing the abstinence groups at Harvard, Princeton, and MIT. Before reading it, I had no clue that intelligent human males existed who held principled objections to premarital sex. In my Seattle high school, although I was not alone in abstaining from sexual activity, I was one of the only people I knew who openly expressed a moral objection to premarital sex. This view was generally tolerated as a religious quirk, though regarded as a bit dangerous. (Had my reasoning pertained to mental health it would have been much safer.) This didn’t oppress me much, but it did give me a set of parochial misconceptions about the realities of the dating market.
My understanding of things was clear: everyone has premarital sex. Perhaps not everyone will demand it of you as a girlfriend or boyfriend, and you can always freely refuse it, but you must know that everyone has it eventually. Since this is the case, an abstinent person’s romantic life will consist of a series of relationships which end when your partner gets fed up with your abstinence, though perhaps one day one of these relationships will lead to marriage before that occurs. If you do marry, although your spouse will have accommodated your strange practice for a courtship period, he will not take your ideas seriously, and certainly would not have followed any of them before dating you. I found this situation suboptimal, but it was the reality that I had come to accept. Although logistically more complicated than most differences of opinion, I didn’t see why this one should prevent me from dating any more than, say, a difference of religion.
While I still hold that you should not limit yourself to dating only people who share your sexual ethics, I wish I’d know that there are other reasonable chaste people in this world. Given my pessimistic understanding of the dating market, it’s a wonder that I scraped by with my views intact. And I certainly worry that there are many similar high school and college students who, faced with the prospects of a dating market in which everyone has premarital sex, simply give up. Indeed, there is a prudence to such defeat: if everyone else is doing it, how can you compete? How could I expect a man who’s slept with a number of women to marry me before having sex? How could I expect him to take on the risk that I’m worse in bed?
Yet this need not be the case. When sufficient numbers declare their commitment to sound sexual ethics, this alters the dating market and makes abstinence more feasible. This is one of the best reasons for an organization like Anscombe to exist. It might seem silly for us to run around declaring our commitment to sound sexual ethics, but such behavior can combat the hopelessness which might drive other students to forgo their ideals. Reading about True Love Revolution and Anscombe certainly gave me great solace, and we should not disregard the possibility of enabling someone to stick to their sexual ethics.
I had the greatest idea the other day: get a prenuptial agreement! (As it doesn’t look like I’ll wed soon, this plan may take a while to go into effect.) “Why,” you might ask, “would somebody so virtuous and chaste want to get a prenup?” Well, let me tell you! Since I don’t accept the possibility of divorce, my prenup will be designed specifically to make divorce as painful and awful as possible. All assets will be seized by the state. I will own my husband’s right arm, left leg, and right ear, and he will own mine. Because of this, divorce would necessarily entail a sundering of limbs. And let’s face it, if we really took marriage seriously, we would understand divorce to be a similarly violent affair.
In my last post, I proposed a philosophy of extreme prudishness in response to my fondness for affairs. In this post, I would like to explain why this is a reasonable response.
Despite being a total prude, I will readily admit to seeing the appeal of a steamy (literary) extramarital affair. Don’t get me wrong – this is not to say that I think cheating is permissible or that I plan to have an affair; rather, I simply acknowledge that something about an illicit affair is conducive to a good love story. (And based on all of trash literature, it seems that a sizable niche agrees with me.) What’s more, I believe that by examining the appeal of an affair, it’s possible to discover how to better conduct our own lives.
In the typical story, a rule-abiding protagonist is trapped in a loveless marriage or relationship, and finds an escape from it in some forbidden love. This situation clearly attests to the passion which drives the affair, for the conscientious protagonist would not engage in such an ill-advised venture without an overwhelming emotion motivating it. Alternatively, if the affair itself isn’t particularly noteworthy, it can be a testament to the horror of the relationship the protagonist is trying to escape. Although we never envy the protagonist’s hopeless situation, (Anna Karenina, anyone?) the affair’s appeal accentuates our desire for sincere passion, and our aversion to settling for boring, passionless relationships.
Although counterintuitive, I believe that extreme prudishness provides the best chance at finding a passionate and lasting relationship whilst avoiding the horrors either of passionless entrapment or of an illicit affair. Here, by extreme prudishness, I do not mean fear of sex, unwillingness to discuss sex, or any other form of “ladylike” behavior. Instead, I propose a form of restraint which, instead of aimed at sexiness, is designed to oppose the physical and emotional cultivation of romance.
This does not entail any specific rules such as “no premarital kissing” or “thou shalt not declare thy love before the 7th date.” It would, however, oppose these things when done for the sake of cultivating romance. So if I suspect that a particular action, for instance kissing, would dramatically increase my fondness for someone, I should try to avoid such behavior.
(To be continued…)
Written almost exactly a year ago, Robert George’s article on “Gay Marriage, Democracy, and the Courts” is more applicable than ever in light of recent events in California.
“…as a comprehensive sharing of life–an emotional and
biological union–marriage has value in itself and not merely as a means to
procreation…Only this understanding makes sense of all the norms–annulability
for non-consummation, the pledge of permanence, monogamy, sexual
exclusivity–that shape marriage as we know it and that our law reflects. And
only this view can explain why the state should regulate marriage (as opposed
to ordinary friendships) at all–to make it more likely that, wherever possible,
children are reared in the context of the bond between the parents whose sexual
union gave them life.”