Celibacy in the City

In her Words Celibacy in the City One woman’s journey to a man-free, sex-free life -Holly Mandel About a year ago I realized it was time to make a commitment. If you had a checklist for where I was in my life, it would look pretty good: late 30’s, living in Manhattan, freelancer at a […]

In her Words

Celibacy in the City

One woman’s journey to a man-free, sex-free life

-Holly Mandel

About a year ago I realized it was time to make a commitment. If you had a checklist for where I was in my life, it would look pretty good: late 30’s, living in Manhattan, freelancer at a popular cable network, my own improv school, involved in deeply fulfilling work with a global organization committed to creating a better future, plenty of good friends, travel, health – all dimensions accounted for.

Well almost. I had everything but a man.

I was one of those “date a few times and then be inseparable for two years” people. When I moved to NYC in 2001, Sex and the City was at its peak. The show and its promise of the perfect city life for a young single woman was a factor in my move from L.A. I know; it’s sad. But it shows how deep and powerful the desire is to find – and what fun it is to look for – that one guy.

Soon, I’d created a version of that life for myself: a group of girlfriends, summer nights at the trendiest bars, wearing the trendiest couture our budgets (and credit limits) would allow, all in the name of being happy at being single, knowing we’d be happier when we found our Mr. Right (or Mr. Big, whoever showed up first). And, like most of us, we had a lot less action with guys than the women on the show. Our show could have been called Drinks in the City or High Heels in the City because, frankly, either of those would be more accurate. But that was fine. Because there was almost an unspoken confidence that HE was out there, somewhere.

Fast forward seven years, and I’m on the verge of taking the plunge. I will make a sacred vow – lay my stake in the ground and declare to the world:

“Yes, I am celibate!”

(Insert long pause like the one that comes after I tell my mother.)

That’s right, celibate. It’s a noun as well as an adjective. And it’s defined in a variety of ways, from “abstaining from sex” to “unmarried.” Our friends at Wikipedia tell us a vow of celibacy “is a promise not to enter into marriage or engage in sexual intercourse.” But there’s a lot more to that picture.

I transitioned from being confident that I would find my true love and get hitched to taking a stand against the entire romantic and sexual dimension of my life because there has always been something in me besides romantic longing. It’s a part of me that feels free of the surface identity I have as a woman – free of needing and wanting something to know who I am. There’s also something very attractive to me about a renunciative life – the nobility, dignity, and strength required to withstand the wild sexual force that only wants and needs, that will use anyone and anything to get want it wants, and that supplies an identity. I wanted to find a deeper purpose, and by following that interest I was led on a spiritual journey. As I meditated and learned about habitual ways of thinking and being, I saw that there were other options I could choose – free choices, conscious choices.

Being a celibate is one of those conscious choices that allows me to create something NEW. I’m always amazed when I think I’m one of the comparatively few women in the history of women – thousands of years, billions of women – who even has the option to not get married and bear children. Until recently, if I’d wanted to follow this path, my only choice would have been to become a nun and withdraw from the world. If I wasn’t going to become a wife and mother, my only other option was to take myself out of the game and live an asexual life, basically denying my gender. And there are still many places in the world right now where this is the case – where, for example, if your husband dies, you’re sent to live in a widows’ prison because you’re “unmarryable” and therefore serve no function in the social system. (It’s true – see the film Water.)

So, for those of us who choose to not get married and to not have children, we are bucking up against a centuries-old structure. This is uncharted territory. It’s much easier to imagine a late-in-life romance or adopting a bunch of kids, Angelina-style. But to say, “I want to create a NEW OPTION for what it means to be a woman. An option that isn’t tied to our sexual role, not a mother, not a wife, not a lover nor a mistress nor an asexual, uptight nun” – well, there aren’t a lot of models out there for this type of lifestyle. Not models of strong, bright, successful, attractive, vibrant women who choose this over relationships and children. Usually when I see a woman who is manless and childless in her 50s, part of me feels bad for her and imagines she feels bad too. But what if there were women who, because of our unprecedented freedoms, education, wealth, opportunity and social support, could forego the path our mothers and sisters took and create a NEW WOMAN? One who coexists with women and men in a way that doesn’t involve sex and responding to the sexual forces and motives within us?

Right now, it exists as a potential – one I’m excited to explore and help create. It’s one small step for woman, one giant step for humankind. Preferably in fashionable heels.

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