Last week at the gym I was dressing after my shower when I overheard a young man talking to his buddy about his sex life.
Before I continue, let me say that I don’t make a habit of listening in on the details of other people’s private conversations. This dude, however, wasn’t exactly going to great lengths to keep his private life private. Eavesdropping may not really be the applicable term here. He was broadcasting his reflections quite openly, for everyone in the change room to hear.
I only heard a few sentences before the two of them were out the door, still talking about their sex lives — but to me, those few sentences spoke volumes. At first I didn’t want to believe that what I had just heard meant what I thought it meant — but the message was unmistakable and heartbreaking. I’ve been thinking about it on and off ever since.
The guy was telling his buddy a story, not about some great sexual conquest, but about what it was like to have sex with a girlfriend whom he already knew he was going to dump because “it” was over. The girl, he said, seemed to want sex all the more — as if she could tell something wasn’t right and she wanted to make everything good between them. As he reflected on what it was like to have to pretend for his girlfriend, he sounded genuinely surprised to discover that at such times he no longer had an interest in sex. It didn’t seem to occur to him that perhaps they could do something to improve their relationship and prevent a breakup, or maybe he just didn’t want to pay the price. What bothered him, seemingly, was not the fact that he and his girlfriend were about to break up, not even the fact that he was being deceptive towards her, but the fact that he was no longer enjoying sex.
What was perhaps most troubling to me was the inference that he had already had several such relationships, and would likely have several more. He spoke about this experience as if moving from one sexual relationship to another were an accepted way of life among him and his friends. It seemed that to these two guys, serial monogamy is a “given” — just the way things are, not only normal but inevitable. Like the fact that the sun rises every day, that’s just the way the world works. In this view of life, faithfulness no longer means a life-long covenant with one husband or wife; it means only having one sexual partner at a time. You can have as many as you want – just not all at once. Although you know that breakups are painful and somewhat messy, you deal with this unpleasant possibility by not thinking about it, hoping that it might be different this time. You enjoy the relationship while it is easy, and move on when it has turned sour or grown old – after all, “it would be dishonest to stay together when the love is gone”. When you and your latest partner have grown tired of each other, you find some other cute guy or girl who seems attracted to you, and without thinking twice you initiate another sexual relationship, hardly knowing each other except as bedroom partners. When you find out what an imperfect person you are shacked up with, you move out and chase another illusion which is really the same illusion in a different form, and jump into the sack once again as soon as you think you’ve “really found it this time” — only to be disappointed by reality once again. On and on it goes, each cycle bringing more misery, more mistrust, more shallowness and dishonesty, more broken dreams.
Judging by his recitation, the young man in the locker room had probably already been through several iterations of this cycle. He was troubled by his own feelings and the behaviour of his girlfriend, and was coming to see that he had a problem. All was not happy in happy-free-sex-land. Perhaps it was beginning to dawn on him that sex is more than just a mechanical function that feels good. My young locker-room raconteur was perhaps beginning to sense that casual sex — which is essentially what serial monogamy becomes — does not satisfy. Tragically, though, he seemed to have no idea what the real problem was, and even less of an idea how to solve it. What he almost certainly didn’t understand is that a sexual relationship can only be truly satisfying in the context of lifelong commitment to a covenant marriage. Finding a different girlfriend would change nothing, because he himself was the one who needed to change.
Contrast this with another young man of my acquaintance, who has decided to wait until marriage before having sexual relations with his bride-to-be. This alone, of course, will not make the marriage a happy one. Like all young couples who commit to life-long faithfuless, Mick and Sue (not their real names) will have many challenges to face as they work out what it means to live in genuine emotional, physical, mental and spiritual intimacy. Living in a fallen world, and growing up with a imperfect parents and a built-in inclination towards selfishness, none of us can expect an easy road to the Kingdom of happily-ever-after. As a young couple, Marion and I found that our own marriage only began to work after we gave up trying to control each other and surrendered our wills to the only One who could repair our wounded hearts. A satisfying marriage takes life-long sacrifice, and a willingness to humble ourselves, giving and receiving forgiveness over and over again as we let our hearts be restored until we reflect the servant heart of Jesus. But as I sat with Mick recently and listened to him tell me of their decision to wait, I said to him “I’ve never heard of anyone who regretted having waited for marriage before having sex, but I’ve heard of lots of people who bitterly regretted not having waited”. Mick and Sue have chosen the hard but rewarding road of faithfulness. My prayer for them is that they will walk that road in dependence on the Faithful One – the covenant-making and covenant-keeping God, who thinks so highly of marriage that he uses it as an analogy of his own passionate, redeeming love for those who have received Jesus as Lord and surrendered their lives to Him.
My locker-room encounter has motivated me to pray for the young couples in my life. It has also rekindled my desire to do more than just pray. Marion and I want to be encouragers to young couples who are seeking to walk the path of faithfulness and intimacy in a world that does little to encourage them. Couples who have learned to walk in faithfulness not only bless each other and their children, they are a great resource to the Body of Christ by providing a safe place for those – married and single alike – who need to experience the covenant love of a faithful God.