I wake from my sleep suddenly, we’re passing the Rocky Mountain range as we chase the fading sun west. In complete awe, I find myself whispering my gratitude at witnessing such an overwhelming creation. The sight pulls parts of my brain back to the fourth grade and I feel the memory of my hand reaching out, touching the mountain range beneath my fingertips as I study a topographical map. The painted-on snow looked just like this view! I think.
I tell God about how curious I think it is to see this vast untouched land. I’ve just spent a week on the east coast, ending with a long weekend in D.C. where I watched people angrily, hurriedly move throughout their day. Why do we cram ourselves into big cities, losing sight of this quiet beauty? I wonder. My imagination takes a nose-dive and I find myself wondering if people have been lost in this wilderness. Would they think to find a space beneath the flight path? Would I see someone waving around a piece of brightly colored fabric trying to get my attention from this distance?? Scenes from The Mountain Between Us flash before my eyes and I’m vaguely aware of the passing thought of an uncle who’s entire crew died when his plane crashed into a snowy mountain side.
Pulling my face from the window, I look around the full plane, trying to catch another’s head bent toward the window in this same wonderment. Is anyone else is seeing this? Can’t you feel what’s happening beneath us? Look! I think, but every person I lay eyes on is either asleep or deep into their phone. Most of them have the shades pulled down, clueless to this incredible thing that has captured my full attention. In that moment, a familiar sinking perception of loneliness begins to seep unbidden into this space.
I stay inside those fleeting thoughts for a few minutes, noticing the difference in my body between gratitude, imagination, aloneness. I have chosen to remain in this space, I remind myself. I think of the sacrifice I’m currently choosing in saving myself for what may very well never enter my life: true partnership. My chest constricts at the thought a little.
I said yes to celibacy knowing that I would find loneliness in this path.
I was surprised at how soon after my marriage ended that the question of dating started coming up. I was fairly caught off guard and I started wondering at the fear that chases after these well-meaning and yet misplaced inquiries. Was there simply something about singleness or was it just a single woman that created this assumption that the immediate goal was finding a new mate? I’d think. I assure you, dear reader, that’s not the goal nor will it ever be.
With a measure of mercy, I’ve realized the curiosity that surrounds dating is likely just a conversation starter offered by the well meaning. After all, coupling soon after (or even in the midst of) divorce is pretty status quo, don’t you think?
This curiosity toward coupling/uncoupling hasn’t left me. Instead, celibacy, dating, and what I’m calling the art of intimacy have become topics of conversation I’ve started to push into. It’s creating a different mindful dialogue as I uncover what it is my deepest awareness craves, my curiosity is also toward those who might mindlessly ask about a facebook status update. Maybe they are simply looking for a playful connection unaware of what it is they’re actually implying?
From the beginning of my memory, it seems, I have always yearned for human attraction. (Yes, you read that correctly: attraction.) Not connection, not intimacy, but attraction. Previously, anything that would require true relationship wasn’t really anywhere on my radar. I’m not even sure I was aware that true relationship existed, I had become much more acquainted with the familiar experience of being used and using people to mediate my own isolation as I ran blindly into the conformity of social norms.
In these moments where my body is asking me to notice the absence of partnership I, in turn, ask my mind to wander back to those people who have said yes to sharing life with me. My heart warms a little recalling moments of felt wholeness in their presence. I pull up the faces and voices of those people that I love, and that love me. I can feel the memories of the tendernesses that we’ve created start to rise within me. I am cultivating intimacy.
Finally from my 30,000+ foot view, I spy a single light shining far off in the distance. A smile reaches my lips, I take delight in finding this sign of life.
Soon, a small city also appears below. There is life in this wilderness too, I think. It feels like my internal dialogue is coming to life in this view from above.
Choosing to remain single was built on a lot of careful thought. I have begun to really know and embrace that what I had experienced in my marriage was broken covenant and harm. That though I had done a lot right, had followed a lot of rules, had shown up per wise advice, and had prayed fervently for change, my partnership was anything but intimate or safe.
My markers for intimacy have been necessarily created outside of that bond. Intention and care are the backbone of what I call community intimacy, my term to start the conversation that is the experience of choosing healthy, conscious relationships that heal and fulfill my human need for connectedness. Part of this new existence has been discovering what is different about my closest friends. The felt sense is a concept I have been leaning into as I make decision to either say yes or no to new relationships.
Within those friendships where tenderness and choosing reign, there is a reciprocal feeling of being known and one of being truly seen. Where once my chest constricted at the thought of singleness, in this space I recognize a blossoming as if the hand that once gripped itself closed so tightly is loosening its fingers, gingerly opening each one to give and receive this gift of intimacy. I have decided that, for now, that is what I will rest my decision to remain single on: that felt sense I have with these few. It requires the act of mindfulness, of noticing what exists, and of what is missing.
Celibacy isn’t just the act of refraining from sexual intimacy.
Rather, it’s the act of resounding yes to the self; it’s getting familiar with the tensions that exist within and outside of the self.
We’re descending quickly into Portland now, the top of our beloved mountain visible above a dense bank of clouds. I’m back in the city, pulled from my reverie.
I realize that I’m so thankful that I’m choosing to be single, and that I have found repair in so many. Mostly, though, I’m grateful to be finding me. It turns out, yeah…celibacy can truly lead to magnificent intimacy.
((Plus, now I get to make people self-consciously laugh with my current favorite introduction: Hi! I’m Kimberly, a celibate sex therapist 💁🏻))