Living as a sex-less, conservative Christian in a very sexual world?
December 12, 2017 11:10 PM   Subscribe

As a sex-less, conservative Christian, how do I cope with living in a very sexual world?

(I realize this isn't the best venue for this question, but please humor me! I've found MeFi answers on similar topics to be very helpful in the past.)

I'm a 30-year-old Orthodox Christian male living in a fairly liberal area. One of the tenets of my faith is that sexuality is strictly reserved for marriage and (ultimately) procreation, so I've avoided any sexual activity or even dating up to this point. As a fact, this does not bother me; I have close friendships with women and I don't need to be in a relationship to feel validated or complete. However, I sometimes can't help feeling like an overgrown child in the world of adults. Everyone's having sex. It's a fundamental part of most people's lives. I'm not, never have, and probably won't be in the foreseeable future (if ever). This degree of intimacy is simply inaccessible to me, and I don't quite know how to process this fact. I also don't know how to ignore the fact that if I do decide to take up dating someday, I will be woefully inexperienced and basically an instant DQ for my age group. Simply put, I don't know how to stop feeling like an immature half-person compared to my peers (and shrinking every day).

It's not even the sex per se, but the societal expectations that trouble me. In effect, I need to reconcile my religious belief that sex is nice but optional, with the societal expectation that sex is a vital formative experience and very nearly a basic human need that everyone dips into from 18 onward lest they explode. And obviously, the proliferation of Tinder etc. in recent years has not made this any easier.

Anyone here face a similar quandary? How do you cope with this stuff?

(I guess I could find another Orthodox Christian to date, but I feel like I have too many liberal convictions to enjoy being with someone who was super conservative, but also too many conservative tenets to be with anyone who took their faith less seriously. Also, I feel like I don't really want kids, which cuts my dating pool by like 95%. Basically, I'm in a constant state of unresolvable cognitive dissonance and kind of stuck on that front.)
posted by anonymous to Society & Culture (35 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
I also don't know how to ignore the fact that if I do decide to take up dating someday, I will be woefully inexperienced and basically an instant DQ for my age group.

I think this part at least is mostly false -- I don't think most people find inexperience to be a big deal.
posted by value of information at 11:20 PM on December 12, 2017 [8 favorites]


Maybe you need to reframe what it means to be an adult and look into other ways of "reclaiming" your body that does not involve sex. Take karate? Boxing? Competitive team sports? Meditate on body mindfulness? Power posing? Public speaking? What ever is going to leave you feeling at home in and fully embodying your physical self. You could also explore other modes of intimacy. Journal and get to know your Self, and express it. As they say, the privilege of a lifetime is being who you are. It sounds like a fun journey and I'm excited for you. Good luck!
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:24 PM on December 12, 2017 [12 favorites]


societal expectation that sex is a vital formative experience and very nearly a basic human need that everyone dips into from 18 onward lest they explode. And obviously, the proliferation of Tinder etc. in recent years has not made this any easier.

This is not really true; most people if not everyone is having less sex than you think, and probably everyone is thinking about it less than you think as well. As a part of the human experience, absolutely it's there, but so are lots of things that not everyone does. Sex doesn't have to define you, or others.

If you feel that you are missing out, that's a conversation between you and your god, but plenty of people go without for shorter or longer periods and are fine with it.
posted by smoke at 11:32 PM on December 12, 2017 [34 favorites]


You might be interested in some of the online discussion about being asexual or demisexual - not because I think you identify with those groups, but because at least some of the people who do identify that way have also dealt with your feelings about not fitting the perceived social norms of sexual experience and behaviour. I'm afraid I don't know any specific resources to recommend, but hopefully this helps you find something useful!
posted by the agents of KAOS at 12:24 AM on December 13, 2017 [28 favorites]


Dude, you need to talk to your priest or spiritual father stat. There are liberal orthodox Christians out there (I'd say anecdotally, mostly the cradle ones more than converts who tend to be more zealous early on), but many single orthodox Christians date. Often Catholics or serious Christians, but I know of other interfaith couples.

The startling question for me is about children. To get married without wanting children is very much not orthodox and would be making a false vow. Marriage in the church is largely about creating a family. You may not be able to through infertility or other circumstances, and the size and circumstances of that family is a pastoral and personal decision, but a deliberately childless marriage is deeply wrong. You have to serve the next generation somehow - fostering, adopting, becoming a home, not a couple alone.

You sound like you may be drawn to a monastic life and there are paths for people to follow there too. Neither is better, both demand sacrifice and hard work. But if you feel no calling for children or a particular calling to sexual relationships, talk to your priest or spiritual father. Celibacy is no struggle for some people, who find other things a terrible struggle. You could just be one of those people, on the asexual scale.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 12:34 AM on December 13, 2017 [40 favorites]


In my opinion here is the problem with the cultural idea of sex in the Western world - many of us rarely talk about our personal experiences, it's considered a very intimate topic and not one that we would broach casually* - but our culture is saturated with it, it's in ads, TV, movies, everywhere. As a result most of us probably have felt out of step with sexual 'norms' at one time or the other in our lives. But those norms really only exist on films and TV etc. I've certainly felt a little weird and out of step with the prevailing culture given my own experiences (I probably have less sexual experience than plenty of people my age) but when I actually talk to people, I realise that I'm not actually that weird, there are lots of people like me, and the people who aren't like me don't necessarily think that I am weird. It's only in films that they make fun of 40 year old virgins, people who have never been kissed, etc. In real life, there are so many other things to do than have sex! Why would that, and that alone, be used as the default marker of your success as a human being? You sound like a cool and thoughtful person with the courage of your convictions but also the courage to question them. You are not an overgrown child just because you have not had sex.

That narrative that we have about sex, about when people traditionally lose their virginity, how much sex people in general are having, etc, is fairly meaningless compared to the actual vast spectrum of the human experience. I mean, sure, plenty of people experience sex in a way that seems in step with cultural expectations, but plenty of people start later, start earlier, have lots of sex, have no sex. If you feel comfortable, and if you feel drawn to doing so, talk to people about it; you will see that everyone's experiences are so wide-ranging and different, yours is just one of many unique experiences.

My advice is to try and internalise that fact of the wide spectrum of human sexual experience and know you're not out of step with everyone because everyone has their own unique experience. Perhaps you do this already, but I also like the idea of inhabiting your body in some other meaningful way, be it hiking, bouldering, yoga... something which takes you into your body. The body isn't just something you use to have sex. Meaningfully inhabiting it will remind you of that.

*totally generalising here, but that's been my experience
posted by Ziggy500 at 2:49 AM on December 13, 2017 [9 favorites]


I guess I could find another Orthodox Christian to date, but I feel like I have too many liberal convictions to enjoy being with someone who was super conservative, but also too many conservative tenets to be with anyone who took their faith less seriously.

You know the old saying, I wouldn't want to be a part of any club that would have me as a member? It sounds like your self esteem is suffering so much that you've twisted yourself into an impossible situation: you want to find someone like you, but you are convinced that there is no one like you.

I have news. You are proof, people like you exist, and the world is really, really big. Not only are there other people who are similar to you, there's an even bigger (and not entirely overlapping!) set of people out there who would love all of these things about you that give you so much angst.

I completely agree with others that you need to get involved with your spiritual community. Most churches have a serious interest in finding you a spouse, and I can't imagine that is any less true in a faith like Christian Orthodox.
posted by telegraph at 3:41 AM on December 13, 2017 [14 favorites]


I'm experienced in relationships and sex. But I would love to date someone like you, and I don't date people with a lot of experience. Please don't change. The world needs less Tinder.
posted by thesockpuppet at 5:04 AM on December 13, 2017 [6 favorites]


Everyone is definitely *not* having sex, whether by choice or by chance. You can see from questions on the green that many people get well into adulthood without having had a sexual partner. I've had married friends tell me that they haven't slept with their spouses in years, or only do so rarely. The examples I cite represent minorities, but significant ones.

If you're at all interested in finding a partner, I think the difficulty you anticipate means you should get started now, so you have more time. I would not assume that no other Orthodox singles share your nuanced political views. And just because you differ on some political viewpoints doesn't mean that you can't date or get married. I'm a Democrat and a woman, and I've been interested in Republican men who skewed center and who were able to thoughtfully articulate their positions and hear mine with respect and interest.

Good luck!
posted by bunderful at 5:07 AM on December 13, 2017 [1 favorite]


I share some of your feelings, and I find it helpful to take a historical perspective. We are living in a sex-obsessed time period. One of my professors once compared our culture’s view of psychology to the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages. He said that we are not even aware we are making a choice in our beliefs and that 500 years from now, people will scoff at us.

I’m Catholic, and it makes me crazy that people blame the Catholic abuse crisis on priestly celibacy rather than bad priests and corrupt bishops (not minimizing the horror of this - just wanting to lay the blame where it belongs). As if married men never abuse children. But that’s part of the idea that no one can live without sex. People can and do make that choice and it’s totally ok. I like reading the Catholic monk Thomas Merton when this stuff gets me down. If that doesn’t appeal to you, are there authors in your tradition that you can turn to?
Reading like-minded folks can really help you feel less alone.

And count me as another woman who would love to find someone like you.
posted by FencingGal at 5:47 AM on December 13, 2017 [10 favorites]


I’m not Christian, so I can’t speak to that side of the question. But I can tell you, it is entirely possible to have had sex (and kids) and still feel like an overgrown child in a world of adults. Having sex wouldn’t fix that.
posted by Anne Neville at 6:05 AM on December 13, 2017 [25 favorites]


The dissonance may lie in your view of "living in a fairly liberal area" and "societies expectations". I have gone through most of my life in fairly to strongly liberal areas and have spent most of my career in academic research. At two of the universities I have worked, I don't recall anyone at the work place discussing sex. It would have been highly inappropriate, very weird even among the students and post-docs who were single, dating, whatever. I think if you are in a work environment where people are talking about sex it would be considered a hostile environment, as that kind of talk is never appropriate at work. If, on the other hand, you have elected to hang around friends who discuss sex, then that may be where the dissonance stems. If you are choosing people around you who discuss sexuality, and that makes you uncomfortable in your own skin, you may want to ask yourself why you are choosing these friends. There are likely lots of great people in your circle who are enjoyable to be around except for that one sex talk thing. You may need to decide what is important to you in whom you surround yourself and then be able to close that gap in your mind of dueling priorities.

As an aside, I did have an industry job for several years in an adjacent, very conservative county and invasive sex talk by some individuals occurred quite regularly until I reported it repeatedly to HR.
posted by waving at 6:19 AM on December 13, 2017 [1 favorite]


I guess I could find another Orthodox Christian to date, but I feel like I have too many liberal convictions to enjoy being with someone who was super conservative, but also too many conservative tenets to be with anyone who took their faith less seriously. Also, I feel like I don't really want kids, which cuts my dating pool by like 95%.

I get the impression that you are putting up roadblocks for yourself so you don't have to face the challenge of dating. You don't have to only date liberal Orthodox Christians who don't want kids. Go on some dates, be relatively up-front about your convictions and future plans, and see what it is like. Maybe some of your convictions will change once they come into contact with the world of intimacy and love, maybe some of the other person's will. Maybe you will find the perfect soulmate. Maybe you won't. I think dating is much more of a vital formative experience and basic human need than sex is, and it is perfectly possible for you to engage in that experience.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:16 AM on December 13, 2017 [8 favorites]


(I guess I could find another Orthodox Christian to date, but I feel like I have too many liberal convictions to enjoy being with someone who was super conservative, but also too many conservative tenets to be with anyone who took their faith less seriously. Also, I feel like I don't really want kids, which cuts my dating pool by like 95%. Basically, I'm in a constant state of unresolvable cognitive dissonance and kind of stuck on that front.

I think you've put up a lot of cognitive roadblocks where you have next to no data or experience to validate - there are other Orthodox Christians than you who are socially more liberal but who maintain their own conservative tenets in their own life. There are asexual people in the world who would be fine with a relationship without sex if you can't have it for non-procreation reasons and don't want to procreate. There are a lot of people in general who, for the right person, might be willing to make sacrifices on the way they live their life today.

The only way to know if there is a person who romantically fits you is by going out, meeting people, asking for dates, and being clear on what it is you want. You may have dates or relationships fizzle for non-negotiables, but that's true for everyone else too. Sitting on the sideline guessing that 95% of the dating pool is ineligible and giving up is actually making 100% of the dating pool ineligible. You only need one person (assuming you're monogamous) and not a majority to make dating work for you.
posted by notorious medium at 7:44 AM on December 13, 2017 [5 favorites]


Do you watch a lot of TV by any chance? Sex is a big deal on TV. Less of a big deal for life among grown-ups, in my experience. I mean it’s not nothing. But also not ‘formative’. Having sex didn’t/doesn’t fundamentally change who you are. It definitely doesn’t make you feel like an adult. Having an intimate relationship doesn’t even necessarily change you all that much. You’re still, in a way, on your own. I know it looks like coupled people have it all figured out but...they haven’t. They’re still just two people who (hopefully) spend a lot of time together.

Having kids, for me, does fundamentally change all those things, -it’s the societal ‘step up’, if you’re going by conservative values - and choosing to remain childless sounds, in your case, like intentionally choosing to not join society. Is that something you’re genuinely interested in, ie a monastic path? Or are you ‘choosing’ childlessness because the dating thing feels so insurmountable? Because that would be sad, and something you should talk to your spiritual mentor about.
posted by The Toad at 7:52 AM on December 13, 2017 [1 favorite]


If it helps, I wish I hadn't had some of my (more traumatic) sexual experiences. Not that this should/would make you feel better, but my point is - just because people are having sex and talking/writing/filming/cashing in on it, doesn't mean that everyone's comfortable with it. By that standard, your discomfort with not having sex is also not out of the ordinary.

Talking with friends helps.
posted by Spiderwoman at 7:56 AM on December 13, 2017


I'm going to suggest you dig deeper here...IMHE things that you aren't interested in don't bother you, if you know what I mean...

No one can tell you how to eschew the culture you live in, being able to do that comes from inside. I think you have a different concern, and while I might not have pinpointed it exactly, you seem on the edge of totally re-examining your life. If it gets to that, embrace the evolution, don't beat yourself up or get overwhelmed.

To reiterate, it seems time to look at the whole picture of your beliefs and get yourself congruent inside and out by making adjustments to the lifestyle and labels you identify with. Humans grow and change as their life experience increases, this is a totally normal healthy thing to do, it's a common milestone in adult development. I hope this widens the possibility of answers for you.
posted by jbenben at 7:59 AM on December 13, 2017 [4 favorites]


I wrote this comment awhile ago, which may help you. It was addressed to a non-religious man who was simply having a lot of trouble dating, but parts of it would apply to your situation (not the religious bits, though, I don't really feel qualified to comment on that).
posted by breakin' the law at 8:33 AM on December 13, 2017


Sex is not some mandatory marker of adulthood. Developing the capacity for intimate relationships with other human beings is. If you are genuinely capable of having close friendships with women, you are ahead of many, many men who are having sex all the time.
posted by praemunire at 8:37 AM on December 13, 2017 [3 favorites]


I agree that getting perspective from monastic sorts could be very helpful. Because monastic people live happily in my liberal area, and I'm guessing the ones I've known best would be happy to talk about their experience. Many of the ones I've known best had charitable interests that consumed a lot of their time and attention, but I'm sure there are many other answers, too.
posted by ldthomps at 8:38 AM on December 13, 2017 [1 favorite]


I am less orthodox than you, but a queer theologian who thinks that the only allowance in tradition is celibacy, or marriage. It is a frustrating and frankly I have not found a solution. A lot of very smart people have worked out a solution. None of them landed for me directly, but I am an academic, and working through what other people think has been helpful.

I have a lot of thots, none of them coherent. God loves you, and God loves that you have a body, and She made that body for pleasure, but contience is a way that we show devotion, to say thank you for that body. I do not know the balance b/w contience and plesure.

I also think that touch that is not sexual touch is not valued in our culture, and I think that people view friendship as lesser than marriage or love. I think that we need to touch our friens more, to say yes to friendship, to be reckless with the thanks and devotion that we have. These are also gifts

Here is a list of books about Christianity an Sex written in the last few years that have helped me:

Amy Hollywood Sensible Ecstasy
Laqueur Solitary Sex
Rambuss Closet Devotions
Reid A Queer God
Baldwin The Fire Next Time
The first volume of Coakley’s systematics
The Body’s Grace Rowan Williams
Martin, Sex and the Solitary Saviour
Boisvert Queer Saints
Nussbaum From Disgust to Humanity
Burrus Saving Shame

I can find a lot of Pdf's if you need them.
posted by PinkMoose at 9:02 AM on December 13, 2017 [6 favorites]


I guess I could find another Orthodox Christian to date, but I feel like I have too many liberal convictions to enjoy being with someone who was super conservative, but also too many conservative tenets to be with anyone who took their faith less seriously. Also, I feel like I don't really want kids, which cuts my dating pool by like 95

this is the core problem right here: you have chosen an identity and are defining that identity as something no woman you'd like could possibly share. either because you believe you are special in a way that your female co-religionists are not or because you have become ambivalent about your identity and see the things you're unsure about more clearly in other people than in yourself.

I'm not sure if you actively want to be married. If you do, if you're only willing to date and eventually marry other Orthodox Christians, it may be difficult. though I'd give it a try before being sure. but if you think you might enjoy dating a woman who was serious, religious, committed to certain liberal ideas, and doesn't want children, even if her religion is a different one, you would have many options. because if you want someone who views sex and God the way you do, but doesn't want children, you can find them just outside of religious groups maybe more easily than just inside them. Women, much more than men, are frequently forced to choose between religious group membership and reproductive freedom.

so if personal compatibility is most important to you, you will find that a lot of women who share your ideas and principles have technically left their religions, but only because they had to, and if you restrict your search to women who will self-identify up-front as church members, you'll miss everyone in this group. you can find plenty of women who left their conservative religious group purely for that reason, or because they share some other of the liberal convictions you hold -- maybe ones concerning women -- not because they abandoned their fundamental belief system or rejected the rest of their culture.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:14 AM on December 13, 2017 [6 favorites]


So, I identify as asexual, spent formative years as a devout Roman Catholic (and now am highly-lapsed), and also live in an extremely liberal area. I spent a very long time thinking I was broken or a "half-person" because I just wasn't interested in all the dating and sex my friends and peers were having.

I very much second the advice about looking into the asexual and demisexual literature, because there's a lot there about navigating in a culture that does place an emphasis on sex and romance. I think pop Western culture is saturated with it, and there is dissonance trying to connect with it when you flat-out don't care. The prevailing theme does seem to be that "everyone thinks about/does the sex" once they're over a certain age, and realizing you're outside that norm is hard. (How true this theme is in the real world is another thing entirely, but it's really hard to tell when TV, movies, music, books, etc are drowning out anything else.)

What has helped me was coming up with hobbies that were social but not requiring "a partner". (for example, taking a cocktail class with a friend was fun, and now I have cool party tricks for friends that absolutely require me to be "an adult" to practice) It forces me to not be a total hermit, but was also nicely detached from the assumption that I can only do things if I'm involved with someone else.

In some respects, the apparently-healthy spirituality and relationship with your faith that you have is a virtue, not a flaw. You know that God loves you and cherishes you regardless, that you are a whole person and adult with free will in His eyes. You don't have anything to prove there; maybe that's all the validation you need. And maybe the "right person" will show up and you won't have to justify your "inexperience" because it won't matter to them. You won't have anything to prove there either.
posted by ultranos at 9:46 AM on December 13, 2017 [1 favorite]


No advice, just a "me too" from a mid-40s woman who is a Reformed Christian, virgin, inexperienced dater. (I even live in my parents' basement, to complete the stereotype, but that's a story for another day).

I have the same fears and struggles with the dating world as you, so I just wanted you to know you're not alone. I even tried Tinder and Bumble recently, but deleted both because I just had no idea what to do. You've gotten some great advice here, and I'm favoriting the question to see what else is suggested for my own struggles. There were some excellent thoughts here about setting up cognitive roadblocks and assuming there's no one else in our situation. Good stuff to think about!
posted by jhope71 at 10:38 AM on December 13, 2017 [1 favorite]



It's not even the sex per se, but the societal expectations that trouble me. In effect, I need to reconcile my religious belief that sex is nice but optional, with the societal expectation that sex is a vital formative experience and very nearly a basic human need that everyone dips into from 18 onward lest they explode.


I am assuming you have a home church that you attend regularly. While I know this can seem corny to some, get involved in church activities. Caring for the poor and elderly, gardening, youth programming, whatever is going on in your church. Be around other people who have the same values that you do. This will separate you some from "societal expectations."

Also, as a queer, politically active asexual, let me tell you, everyone around me believes the same about sex, but honestly, I've never considered it a particular challenge. I have a life that I love and don't really give a damn. Most of my friends are extremely sexually active, but they honestly don't talk about it that much and I have other interesting parts of my life to talk about, so we talk about that. Find something you enjoy doing and talk to other people who enjoy doing that thing.
posted by Sophie1 at 11:27 AM on December 13, 2017


Some of this may improve as you age too - you’re 30, and yes western culture does focus a lot on how much time people in their 20s spend having sex.

When you’re in your 40s, the focus is all DIY and mom stuff. Obviously people in their 40s have a broader range of interests than that, but you wouldn’t know it from popular culture.
posted by tinkletown at 1:23 PM on December 13, 2017


(I guess I could find another Orthodox Christian to date, but I feel like I have too many liberal convictions to enjoy being with someone who was super conservative, but also too many conservative tenets to be with anyone who took their faith less seriously. Also, I feel like I don't really want kids, which cuts my dating pool by like 95%. Basically, I'm in a constant state of unresolvable cognitive dissonance and kind of stuck on that front.)

PinkMoose is speaking from an interesting frame of reference that you should consider: the queer and/or LGBT+ one. Queer people who grow up in or later join religious communities are faced right up front with the quandary that no amount of faith or faithful adherence to orthodoxy will resolve their institution's assessment of their fitness. There are gay, bi, trans orthodox christians in the world who have parsed this question as a matter of routine. Their collective wisdom is a resource. I encourage you to seek them and their fellowship in your neighborhood, city, region.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 1:33 PM on December 13, 2017 [3 favorites]


Nthing the suggestions above to bring this up with your spiritual father at your next immediate opportunity. "I feel like I don't really want kids" is the kind of thing that either marks you as monastery material if you're serious about it, or is a fear that you need to struggle with in prayer while at the same time finding a future partner and starting a family.

Forgive me if I'm reading you wrong, but my intuition is that you came to Orthodoxy from an intellectual, theological road, and your model of romantic partnership seems to require very close ideological agreement. My experience with Orthodox Christian communities (Eastern European ethnic congregations) is that there is an unquestioning dedication to family, and the path of family, which generates the kind of support network that makes having kids a lot less scary, but also folds in a lot of antifeminist stuff that may rub you the wrong way (as it does me). Spouses aren't expected to agree on a whole lot, politically and theologically, since their main concerns are the logistics of "be fruitful and multiply," and all that entails. Men and women can have radically different spheres in the lived experience of the Orthodox church, so these ideological non-alignments don't matter as much. This goes completely against the grain of contemporary dating culture, so I'm not surprised that you have a lot of cognitive dissonance.

It sounds like your problem is feeling like an "odd fellow" socially, with your peers. Going down the path towards the monastery or the priesthood won't make you less odd, but it will give you some justification for your past and present approach to sex that could be psychologically nourishing to you. Yes, statistically speaking, almost everyone your age is having or has had or plans to have sex, but if you don't, there is still a role for you in the community. FWIW, there are Benedictine monastic oblates in the Orthodox church.
posted by All hands bury the dead at 2:45 PM on December 13, 2017 [1 favorite]


A foundation to any good relationship (even short ones) is that you're on the same page as to what you want. I think YOU need to figure out what you want first.

What is your priority? How important is each thing?

It's very likely you may find someone who is liberal and of the same religion. There are many people who also wait for marriage/serious relationships for sex. There are also likely many people who do not want or cannot have children. There are likely people with minimal sexual experience who are fine waiting.

So, what's the priority? That they share your religion? That they have never had a sexual relationship? That they never want kids?

What can you compromise on within that range? Would talking to people within your religion help you find areas of compromise? For example, how do you feel dating outside your religion if everything else is a match?

And go from there. If you feel like they must be a very narrow match, then that's your right and then approach that, being upfront about your desires and preferences.

But right now you're not even casting a net into the dating pool. I don't think you'll magically have some woman appear who matches all these things automatically. You have to date and talk to women as humans and learn THEIR preferences and desires as well. You don't know anyone's sexual history, religion, child preferences until you talk to them. Dating, or friendship if you don't want to engage in romantic relationships right away, is how to find out if someone will work for you. But I think you need to figure out what that means for you first.

(As an example, I was raised christian, am atheist. It was important to me to find someone who was atheist/agnostic, liberal, doesn't want kids, is a nerd, funny, matches my sexual preferences - including views on porn. And I stumbled upon my husband. We talked about these things when we first started dating which is why the relationship was able to continue and grow.)
posted by Crystalinne at 4:11 PM on December 13, 2017 [3 favorites]


You probably ought to read Rod Dreher, particularly The Benedict Option and Crunchy Cons. The former is about living as an Orthodox Christian in modern America, and the latter is about reconciling an essentially conservative Christian worldview with urban liberal practices like, to cite the most obvious example, eating organic food (spoiler: there's not as much contradiction as you'd think). The sex thing is something you should talk to your priest and/or therapist about, but Dreher's a great starting point for contemporary orthodoxy.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:53 PM on December 13, 2017 [3 favorites]


As far as inexperience - I started out not having sex because I was a passably devout Evangelical, and by the time I'd lost my faith, I'd pretty much lost interest in dating too. A few months ago, and past forty, I gave dating another shot. And honestly, it just wasn't a big deal for the people I connected with that I was a virgin.

I see this however and I pause:
but also too many conservative tenets to be with anyone who took their faith less seriously.

I'd encourage you to examine your assumption that someone who does not ascribe to the conservative tenets that you pride yourself in takes their fair one bit less seriously than you do. There certainly are tenets of faith that are non-negotiable, but I've met as many people who ascribe to the tenets of their faith out of sheer laziness as I have people who interrogated their faith carefully and seriously.
posted by wotsac at 8:33 PM on December 13, 2017 [4 favorites]


Look, I don't know anything about religion. But I know a lot about not feeling like a full adult, or even sometimes a full human. The internal feeling of being an adult is...probably not real? As in, I don't think anyone actually has it?

The external perception of being an adult can seem to lie in hitting certain mile markers. I often feel like a child with a credit card, because I don't own a home, or have a spouse, or have kids, or a car. All of these things are cultural signifiers of "adult" in the same way having sex is. HOWEVER. One day I realized that all of the descriptions I applied to myself above, to justify why I'm not "an adult" also apply to my boss. And she is an adult, to me. So what is it really?

Ultimately my boss 1) gives the impression of having agency in her life and career; 2) demonstrates a kind of forward-thinking attitude re: spending and saving, self-care, and balance. She just generally behaves like a person in control of, and with an understanding of, herself. That, more than a mortgage and a husband, makes her seem like an adult.

One thought I had reading your post was, "this dude should spend some more time with childfree women." Not as potential mates -- but because we face a lot of the same kneejerk stigma as you seem to be. That we're "missing" a fundamental human part, that we're not mature, etc., etc. And like you, we also feel strongly enough about our reasons that we are not about to compromise. If it's a matter of gaining perspective on how many people are "out of step" with the culture in one way or another, that's an option.

I will nitpick one specific part of your post:

I guess I could find another Orthodox Christian to date, but I feel like I have too many liberal convictions to enjoy being with someone who was super conservative, but also too many conservative tenets to be with anyone who took their faith less seriously.

I mean, as folks have pointed out above, this just doesn't hold water. If YOU can be this kind of person, someone else can too. Do you honestly think nobody else, in your entire religious community, could have come to hold similar liberal convictions while still taking her faith as seriously as you do? YOU have those convictions, and also your faith; it's clearly not an impossible task. If you really think it is, for everyone on Earth except you, interrogate why. And if you don't, interrogate whether this false logic is truly serving you well.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:52 PM on December 13, 2017 [3 favorites]


I'm interested in the bit where you don't feel like an adult. In my mind, I wasn't an adult until I was responsible for someone else. I'm not sure if I got that from religion, or from my family, or if everybody feels that way, but it was just one of my assumptions about the world.

If you're not interested in having kids, and you share my sense of adulthood, maybe you need to find another way to be responsible for someone else. Maybe you could do some organizing - become responsible for a community. (Maybe a community of liberal Orthodox like yourself.) Maybe you could get a pet. Maybe you could pick up litter, or moderate a forum, or volunteer at a homeless shelter, or answer calls for a crisis line, or help out at a senior's home. Maybe you could take on a leadership role at work, or in your church.

What thing bigger than yourself could you put your shoulder to?
posted by clawsoon at 5:37 AM on December 14, 2017


[This is a followup from the asker.]
Hi everyone, thank you for your very helpful thoughts and advice!

In terms of kids, there’s several factors here. One: it seems the world is starting to unravel. Some scientists, with good evidence, expect global warming to cause complete societal collapse in the next century. Wars, famines, and death are on the horizon. Maybe I shouldn’t concern myself with such thoughts, but it seems somehow wrong to welcome kids into that kind of world. Two: especially in regards to identity and sexuality, the Orthodox Church stands in direct opposition to modern thinking. If you are born gay but the Church does not condone your feelings, what is there to do? I would absolutely, 100% love my gay child, but it would also be my Orthodox duty to steer them towards the faith and I would have no answers in that regard. We all know that conversion therapy does not work. Many other Orthodox will misunderstand, resent, or even loathe them for their sexuality. What would I be able to say to my child? "Sorry, you get to have a solitary life if you want to be Orthodox?" LGBTQ conservative kids regularly commit suicide. How could I weigh that kind of psychological burden on my own child?

And there are dozens of those kinds of questions. This is what I mean by cognitive dissonance. I completely understand and empathize with liberal social movements, especially in the context of sexual liberation. But I also follow my faith in believing that a) your body is not your own, and b) sex is meant for procreation. Assuming my kids would grow up in a liberal society and not a monastery, there seems to be no way out. (And I certainly wouldn’t want them to grow up in a Southern-style conservative culture laden with homophobia, racism, and sexism.)

As for monasticism or priesthood, I simply do not have that degree of faith and asceticism. Is it really the case that family and outright monasticism are the only ways forward in the Orthodox life? In a quick search of Orthodox forums and blogs, many people seem to believe otherwise. Surely it is possible to lead a faithful, secular, single life?

In regards to my faith, I was born Orthodox but had to decide one day whether to start taking it seriously or abandon it altogether and fully embrace secular society. I went with the former option. It’s no longer something I "believe" but the immovable foundation of my life and personality.

Thank you again! I really appreciate your words and I hope I have not made too many enemies here.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:11 AM on December 14, 2017


So, I'm Orthodox, and single and a few years older than you and male and yeah, it's no fun from a sexual frustration point of view. I take my faith seriously, and for whatever complicated reasons, it is a struggle. Self-restraint (of all sorts) is of course meant to be something that's hard work, and clearly you've chosen this (straight, narrow) path.

But: I do have a few thoughts. I feel that I'm probably going to communicate them too obliquely, but hopefully you can unpick the sentiments behind them and how they apply to you. It's not because I'm not trying to address your problem, it's because I'm nothing like close enough to knowing where you are emotionally and spiritually to address anything head on. Here goes:
  1. More so than most ways Christianity is practiced in the world, Orthodox Christianity matches abstention from being in thrall to your sexuality with the abstention from being in thrall to your physical and psychological desires. There is also a lot more physicality in the presence needed for worship, especially if you're going to church more than once a week.
  2. There are an awful lot of people who take their praxis far too seriously. I don't mean that in the sense that you're OK to just go ahead and act out sexually. But just because it's extremely important to you doesn't mean that you should be pompous and po-faced and make yourself look as though you're too important for physical passions. You must live life with the joys that a Christian life offers. There are many.
  3. Go to a monastery where the monks or nuns are clearly joyful and where the elders aren't especially keen to give advice for a weekend or so. Go to the services, sit in the quiet, think, pray. Once you're comfortable, and you've found a monastic who you get on with, ask them who you should talk to. And when you talk to the spiritual elder, don't say "what should I do", say "pray for me in this struggle".
  4. You say Orthodoxy is a conservative Christianity. With a small "c", I agree with you. (Well, if I was being pretentious, I'd say we're not conservative, it's just that everyone else thinks people who take 500 years to make a decision are taking things too slowly.) But an awful lot of what passes for Conservative Christianity in the US is all about an authoritarian patriarchal power structure. And Orthodoxy matches that power structure in a lot of very obvious ways. But it's always also had the principle of making sure that there's enough flexibility in the structure to allow for people's circumstances and needs. So Orthodox spiritual advice is "this is your most spiritually beneficial path. Try your hardest to stick to it, and try your hardest to confess and come back to it when you fall off it", whereas Conservative Christians may well be so much more strident about declaring what's wrong, and much more strident (and capricious) about deciding who gets forgiven for being wrong. Superficially, the rules look the same. In detail, I think Orthodoxy allows for a greater breathing space for the true soul to grow, to allow it to love creation without falling into the passions. Good Orthodox spirituality allows that, I'd say. I've seen an awful lot of the Orthodox I know in the US who are still unrepentant about voting for HerodTrump.
  5. I suspect that it's not unheard of for faithful Orthodox married couples to be intentionally childless, under the guidance of their spiritual father. I can't comment for certain. All the teaching I've heard about sexuality's been extremely clear that sex is for joy and bonding as well as for reproduction, though.
  6. If you have Facebook, the people who moderate Orthodox Hipster Coffee Hour take their faith extremely seriously and know it well. You'll get extremely helpful advice about this question here. Far better than I've given you. And you'll meet interesting people. People who won't make you feel like a worldly liberal. People who'll make you laugh. People who'll talk about church in a way that makes you really look forward to going there.
  7. There's probably people at your parish who are always asking the priest for advice what to do, and being extremely self-denying, and humble and sacrificing themselves for others. Try not to do that. Make sure your internal struggle's far harder that it appears from the outside. Be a person of light.
Hopefully there's something in that for you. You can do it. You can find things and people to give love to. You can probably find your true love. There's everything to hope for.
posted by food of the sock gods at 4:15 PM on December 14, 2017 [6 favorites]


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