Men--out of my head and bed
Celibacy was a subject I would giggle and snigger at. It was for people who were too ugly or too weird to get sex anyway. So it is with more than a little humility that I admit to having committed myself to a six-month celibacy contract, with an option to recommit for another six months, if I want to.
I have been dating since I was eight, having sex since I was 17. I am now 32, which amounts to a long time with men in my head and in my bed.
It was the end of another high-sex and high-drama relationship that brought it on. I would walk out with him chasing me down the road; a few tears later and I would be curled around him again in bed. I thought I could fix everything with sex. If you think this is romantic and passionate, try doing it five times a week for four years. Exhausting! But I stayed, even though I knew he had been unfaithful. I never trusted him again and had many affairs myself in an attempt to get even.
It was the most damaging relationship I had been in; I had never before stayed with anyone who had cheated on me. But it took me a while to notice how extremely unhappy I was and then another year to walk away from it. At that point a girlfriend suggested I `go celibate for a while'.
`Why the hell would I want to do that?', I asked.
`To give yourself time to think about you and what you want in a relationship. I did it for six months. I had the best time', she replied. Lots of her friends, male and female, were doing it - or rather not doing it - right under my nose, she said.
Celibacy did not conjure up thoughts of having `the best time' - more like loneliness and boredom. `Well, maybe you have a warped sense of what a boyfriend is', my friend said. Slightly below the belt, but I knew she was right. My idea of having a boyfriend is someone who loves me no matter what, who won't get angry with me, someone who will not say no to me and is available 24/7. He's my lover, my best friend, my father, my mother and my career counsellor. Is it any wonder I am constantly disappointed? Perhaps I did need to review the situation.
I sat down with a friend and agreed to be celibate for six months. I wrote down on a piece of paper what celibacy meant for me: no sex with anyone, no dating, no sexual intrigues (aka cruising), no sexual movies or literature and no calling old boyfriends for `a chat'. I signed it and dated it.
I use the term `contract' loosely. It's an agreement and I can cancel it at any time, but so far so good. The first four weeks flew by. I did indeed have the best time. I filled my diary with waxing sessions, make-up consultations, yoga, girls-who-do-sandwich-lunches and cinema dates, and I finally sussed out how to get a library card.
I am now in week six and on the verge of barking madness.
I am still asked out on dates, which is surprising because I was sure that I had `celibate' tattooed across my forehead. I have told a couple of men that I'm on a contract and don't date at the moment. The responses have ranged from an incredulous `What d'ya wanna do that for?' to `Good call. It's the most important thing to have time for yourself', followed swiftly by `When are you off it?'
The most frustrating bit is that I'm also learning a lot about myself I simply don't like. I hadn't realised how much I depended on having a boyfriend as a measure of my self-worth. I have lost confidence because I don't have a man around.
It's a struggle going out with my friends because I think: `What's the point? I can't pull anyone.' But there is a point: I can have a laugh; make new friends; dress up for me. I do feel lonely sometimes but not as lonely as I was in my relationship, and that's progress.
I wouldn't be doing this celibacy thing if I didn't see it working around me. It's not perfect, I admit: a friend stayed on the contract for three months, then went back to where she'd started because she wasn't ready to give up her old behaviour. Others swear by it and they are the people I see forming loving, committed relationships, even though they are still obeying the celibacy rules.
Friends are really encouraging and say the first eight weeks are difficult, but after that it gets better. As I inch into week seven feeling mad, I realise this is pure serenity compared with where I was two months ago.
Alison Whelan, UK
Reprinted with permission from The Guardian