Perhaps the biggest turning point in my life in my late forties was when I accepted the fact that I was a sexual being who desired ongoing closeness with another woman.
That woman was not my wife.
In fact, she was a single woman.
But my story is not about my lack of desire for my wife.
I still strongly desired ongoing closeness with Sheila, too. I was passionately committed to my wife. I deeply loved her and continued to see an unparalleled beauty in her.
So here I was having an unexpected post midlife crisis of a sort as a balding, potbellied man who was not only attracted to this single woman but I felt a continuing desire to be close with her as an evangelical. That’s not supposed to happen in contemporary evangelicalism. It was against so much of evangelical conventional wisdom.
I was scared, nervous, excited, tense, uneasy, jittery, absorbed, and reflective. And as day by day unfolded I was questioning myself.
I was also beginning to question what was presented as evangelical certainty in regard to sexuality: in no uncertain terms was a faithful, devoted, mature, late forties old husband suppose to desire a day-in and day-out, closeness with an attractive single woman who was more than a decade younger than him.
Yes, she was single. She was attractive. She was younger than me.
Those were all conventional reasons not to desire closeness with her.
I had come to know her online and had become friends with her before I actually saw a picture of what she looked like. When she moved into the Chicago area a couple of years later, I began noticing her physical beauty.
I enjoyed her when she smiled. I loved looking into her eyes when she was passionately holding forth on an issue. At times, she had this amazing smile in her eyes. I enjoyed the way she dressed. She was not afraid to show her curves. She was not attempting to be asexual in the clothes she wore.
She became a feast to my eyes. I wrestled with shame for a while.
That was supposedly sexually inappropriate in a conservative evangelical world where men were taught to bob their eyes or look the other way.
Was it sexual indiscretion? Was she dressing for sexual and romantic attention seeking to manipulate unattached men? Was I being manipulated and drawn into an attraction because I was naïve and I enjoyed her physical beauty? I didn't find myself daydreaming or dwelling on what it would be like to have sex with her which was my anchor in the sense I was faithful to the sexual integrity of my marriage and to my friend.
But more than that, I was drawn to her passionate mind, heart, and faith. I had this ongoing desire to be close with her.
There were a number of questions I began mulling over about sexuality, spirituality, embodiment, attraction, lust, beauty, temptation, desire, intimacy, marital fidelity, sexual integrity, and a coexisting deep friendship with a woman who was a single woman.
I was becoming increasingly frustrated with standard evangelical dictums.
Some questions came out of my own sexist, patriarchal background and baggage. Many questions flooded my mind as I began to seriously question the certainty of conservative evangelical sexuality.
But at the same time, I was enjoying my wife, committed to her, attracted to her. She was beautiful to me with a much complex beauty. Sheila has this deep, deep smile and delight in her eyes—and she expresses personal delight in me. I was delighted in the intimacy Sheila and I shared.
It was more complex beauty in the sense that we deeply knew each other, had been married for over twenty-five years, been through so much together yet there was still a glowing, resilient beauty emanating out of our delight for each other.
Sheila and I both passionately love each other. It’s not like the passion when we were first married. I think Timothy Keller describes this kind of mature passion well:
“We know each other thoroughly now; we have shared innumerable burdens, we have repented, forgiven, and been reconciled to each other over and over again. There is certainly passion. But the passion we share now differs from the thrill we had then like a noisy but shallow brook differs from a quieter, but much deeper river.” The Meaning of Marriage
So what does it mean to be sexual, spiritual, and human at the same time? What does it mean for a committed follower of Jesus to embody a loving and relational sexuality within marriage? As a single? Within friendship and community?
I could express it this way: my ongoing encounter with this single woman was a form of a new sexual awakening to me even though I didn’t have sex with her.
Awakening to the Mystery and Beauty of Relational Sexuality. That's my next part 2 on Dare to Love.