Running Towards, Not Away
Well, Tim Gunn, clearly we have a new champion for History’s Greatest Monster. Everybody knows that you cannot be happy or fulfilled without having sex, even if the kind of sex you are inclined to have could make you very sick, and even kill you. They ought to find a home for weirdos who have sworn off sex, where they can sequester themselves and think about other things in their sad, meaningless lives.
First, there’s a rabbinic dictum that strikes me as apropos:
- With food, the less you have, the more you want; the more you have, the less you want.
- With sex, the less you have, the less you want; the more you have, the more you want.
- With wealth, the less you have, the more you want; the more you have, the more you want.
In my own personal experience, none of those are strictly accurate, but there’s a kernel of truth in each. And I just think it’s kind of a cool saying.
Second, while the “sexuality expert” quoted in the L.A. Times article sounds like a jerk (what would you expect, though, of someone willing to opine on the mental health of someone she’s never met?) I think it’s an interesting question whether and when it is essential for us to confront our fears, as opposed to building a functional life around accommodating them. Which is basically her point: it’s okay if he’s not interested in sex, but it’s not okay (in her opinion) if he’s avoiding it. Personally, I think a model of mental health that says “you can’t be afraid of anything” – as opposed to a model that says, “know yourself, including knowing your fears” – strikes me as significantly over-stringent (and even my alternative is more a model of “how to live consciously” than of “mental health” per se). But if we’re going to go around saying you “must” confront your fears, I should hope we’re genuinely comprehensive about this, and not just using it selectively as a bludgeon for social conformity, which certainly sounds more like what she’s talking about.
But third, all of the above having been said, I should like Dreher to reconsider his parting shot. I’m not a Christian, so it’s not really my place to opine on this, so I’ll let Leo Tolstoy make the argument that if you run away from your worldly fears into religious seclusion, you will find yourself alone with precisely what you are running from. The sacrifice of a sexual life might be an easy or a difficult one for a novice to make – and I can see the value of the choice in either case – but I’m pretty sure that, easy or difficult, it should be a sacrifice for something, and that that something is what matters. And that one source of the sexual scandals in the Catholic Church that Dreher is very familiar with was a refusal to recognize the problem with someone choosing a religious life precisely because that life seems to be a refuge from an unintegrated and disturbing aspect of the self.
“Know thyself” strikes me as a very good starting place. Whether Tim Gunn has started there or not, I have no idea (and neither does Dr. Berman), and I’m not going to presume to infer an answer from where he has chosen to go from that point.