I’m 26 and single, but not for lack of trying.
Several months ago I met a girl in a coffee shop and we had instant chemistry. We sat in the same booth from 10pm until the shop closed at 1am, supposedly getting work done but really just talking late into the night.
I came home that night and couldn’t sleep. The creative and emotional side of myself was awakened, and on nights (or mornings) like those, it seems like every sentence from a podcast and every note of a song is heightened exponentially. Like something about the way this other human sees the world makes me come so much more alive.
That night I felt like I had known her for decades.
She made me feel nostalgic.
I wanted her, bad.
Despite the apparent feelings of nearness and intimacy I felt with this girl, in reality, I had known her for three hours. My mind was high on the possibility of what may someday be a reality.
I didn’t know the secret, intimate bits of her, but that didn’t stop me from making them up for myself. As time passed, I realized I didn’t really know her as well as I thought (Naw, really??). What had seemed like such immediate intimacy was really projection of myself and what I wanted her to be like into the mysterious parts of her person.
To be honest, she really just reminded me of someone I used to love.
I had filled in all the pieces of her I didn’t actually know so that in my mind, she was exactly what I was looking for.
Time will cure you of this.
The longer you get to know someone and their weaknesses and their small, icky bits and the nooks and crannies of their soul which reek of selfishness and ignorance, the more you realize the realness of their humanity.
Last night I was with some friends in a pool and had a revelation of sorts. We were splashing around and wrestling, ‘drowning’ each other, and just having a blast in the chlorinated water. It was in this small neighborhood pool that I realized the vast difference between real humans and the two-dimensional images of them which seem so arousing.
Every so often I’m reminded of this: How vastly different the people portrayed in pornography are from real, stinky, heavy human beings. It’s a difference so large that mere language alone cannot convey the disparity between the two.
Pornography robs not only the actors of their humanity, but the viewer of theirs too.
Sometimes we think of pornography as a substitute for a real man or woman in your bedroom when you’re alone at night, yet when you’re actually in the presence of another person’s body it is so unlike the two dimensional images that the two are not even comparable. The word ‘substitute’ implies that there is some similarity or correlation between the two, but in this situation, the two aren’t even on the same planet.
Even pornstars wake up with bad breath.
My pastor once told me that “You’re longing for this beautiful four-course meal of marital intimacy, but you’ve gone and acquired a taste for crap instead. It’s literally like you’re trying to fill yourself up on this handful of feces instead of this delectable, satiating meal of real love.”
The more I think about it, the more I realize how weightless and flighty pornography is. It is faint and ethereal. Not only does a real human body have weight and smells and smoothness of skin and roughness of whiskers, but the intense presence of other humans is richly intimidating. Being around friends in person carries with it weight which runs deeper than mere sensory perception.
When we are with other people, we are, to some degree, exposed and watched in ways we never will be by our screen-centric relationships.
Every relationship is essentially an experiment in how real, raw and honest you can be in front of this other human.
One time someone asked me how I would describe “feeling the presence of God.” I thought for a second and said, “It’s like this. You know when you’re in the same room as someone but you’re both reading? You’re not looking at them or hearing them or interacting with them in any way. But the room is still different because they are there and you are aware of it. The air shifts when they walk in or leave. That’s how it is with God. There comes a point in solitude when you just become aware of His presence in a way you can’t describe.”
When we are starved for human contact of any form, we tend to try to find replacements. We try to make up for this lack of human intimacy by acquiring a taste for crap rather than pursuing deeper intimacy with others and with God.
As a single person it’s easy to forget the rich beauty of being in community and the realness of being the tangible presence of others.
One of the first times I realized this was when I went to see the film Noah in theaters with my friend Lila. I had spent the last year and a half getting to know her pretty intimately as a friend, but that night something seemed to shift. In my eyes, she was slipping from the friend zone into a place of deeper beauty and richness as a person because of how well I was coming to know her.
Now, Emma Watson starred in the film and she had long been a celebrity crush of mine. I would sometimes see films of hers and leave sad because of how beautiful she was and how I would never know her. That night when we sat down in the screening of Noah, I expected the same thing to happen. Yet when she came on screen I internally shrugged.
Because what does this two-dimensional character have on this beautiful woman seated next to me whom I’ve come to know at a deep level and who can actually love me back?
It wasn’t her photogenic beauty or the measurements of her body that drew me to Lila, but the richness of pleasure I experienced just by being around her. In time I found myself wanting to be around her no matter what. Even if she grew old and saggy. Even if she got sick and all her hair fell out.
I just wanted to be with her.
But our eyes are deceptive and it’s easy to forget the depth of this intimacy and how much more satisfying it is than simply looking at girls on screens and pleasing ourselves in isolation.
In many ways, I’m coming to see the work of God in our lives as one of unfolding us from ourselves. Lifting us up from being people who strive to pleasure ourselves into people who are patient. People who find true joy in the presence of others, in His presence.
May we be people who seek to please ourselves in the rich presence of others rather than the fleeting and imaginary presence of pornography. May we come to appreciate the weight of those around us in place of the unbearable lightness of distant 2-dimensional actors. May we pursue intimacy at all costs and retrain our taste buds to crave wholesome meals more than the flavor of feces.
PS- Lately I’ve been thinking heavily on the true definition of beauty. We tend to think of supermodels and sunsets as beautiful, but I think that definition is two centimeters deep. I have some thoughts for future posts, but I’d love your input too. What is beauty? What makes something beautiful? Is it deeper than what we can sense and perceive?