And on the second day we spent together, we had breakfast. At IHOP. I wanted to go somewhere with outrageous omelettes – Wendel’s in Fort Langley, do NOT make it your breakfast spot because I’m already enduring lines that are far too long - I’ve said too much already – but neither of us were up for a thirty minute drive. Five minutes was just about right. Less than five minutes was even better.
The IHOP omelette was ok. IHOP is not famous for their omelettes. I order coffee and water and, as I knew he would, he orders orange juice. (“I always order orange juice,” he’d said at dinner on our first date, and writers and smitten kittens tend to note these things.) The coffee came in a carafe. Quantity over quality.
So breakfast isn’t delicious but what is delicious is looking at him: he is beautiful even as he folds his long body slightly awkwardly into this too-tiny booth for two. This is a little awkward for me, too. I want to touch him, hold his hand, cuddle into his corners, sink into his skin. But. This damn table, this damn booth, all these damn people, and 10 am. And him. I can feel his shell hardening, his personal space expanding, his tenderness retreating. He is back in his own body and locked in his own narrative. He is in The World.
I know the feeling. I struggle to escape that feeling.
Maybe it is just early. Maybe we’re both tired. Maybe Sunday mornings aren’t the best times for second dates – even a second date that’s really still a first date because we spent the night together.
Crossing the street, I slip my arm in his and lean into him. I connect with his arm, his side, his shoulder and feel the brush of his thigh against my hip as we walk. Even in three inch heels, I’m half a foot shorter than him and my head only reaches his shoulder. This thrills me.
“What do you want to do now?” I ask him.
“I need to make a stop,” he says. “Do you mind?”
I don’t mind. But it’s not my neighbourhood so he’ll have to give me directions. He does. He knows that I don’t know my left from my right – that’s why I wear big rings on my left hand, so I’ll remember which is which – so he makes sure to point: left, left, left, right, left.
The last left brings us into a church parking lot. “Is this right?” I ask him. “This is the stop you needed to make? Church? We’re going to Church? You’re taking me to your Church?”
“Yes,” he says.
We walk through the doors. The lobby has been renovated. It looks like Pottery Barn five years ago: chocolates and taupes, carefully abstract framed prints, tasteful neutrals punctuated by burgandies and greens. It looks pretty good if safe decor is your thing.
Safe decor is not my thing.
There’s an espresso bar on the left.
“Oh,” I say. “Your church serves lattes? I’VE FOUND MY PEOPLE.”
He laughs. We’re late so I don’t have time to try out the coffee. We slip into the very last pew, not noticing the “reserved for ushers” plaque until the service is almost finished and the displaced ushers are standing and shifting from foot-to-foot behind us.
The music is really good. There are people playing acoustic and electric guitars and singing folksy-sounding songs. The lyrics are on the screen to the left of the stage – pulpit? podium? platform? – and they’re about grace. They hit me straight in my throat, which thickens as I tear up a little.
I watch a woman in her twenties with an unfortunate bowl cut. She is standing and singing with her hands in the air. She has Down’s Syndrome. She is unselfconscious and she is feeling it. I tear up a little more.
When I was a teenager, my friend Doris explained how she felt about Church. She went there with her grandmother, who was her caregiver when her parents were at work. At church with her grandmother, she felt safe. It was a sanctuary. She felt peace. She felt God’s love. She felt it.
I was incredulous. I was envious. I felt like I was missing out. I’d never felt it. I wanted – want – to feel it. The woman with the Dorothy Hamil haircut is feeling it. So is the almost edgy-looking man.
He’s in his late thirties or maybe his early forties. He has a dyed-blonde buzz cut and he looks like he’s done a lot of dirty living but is struggling to scrub it off. He’s immaculately clean and well-groomed and sporting an Ed Hardy shirt, Rock and Republic jeans, and tattoos. He has his hands in the air, too. I can’t reconcile the wannabe, probably-been, bad-ass look with the worship, so I invent a back story. He’s In Recovery. It’s either drugs or alcohol and lots of illegal doings and he’s doing his best to do better. He probably still smokes cigarettes.
He’s with a younger version of himself. The other man looks exactly like him, only with a dark faux-hawk, half his years but maybe the same number of miles and mistakes. He’s frat-boy/bad boy/big boy stylish, too. He looks like the kind of guy who judges a woman’s worth by her weight. I tell myself he’s also in recovery. Maybe he’s paying for the sins of the father. His father. Maybe they’re cleaning up together.
I tear up a little more. The battles we fight, mostly with ourselves, are unending and epic. I hope they win. I hope I’m wrong about them. Maybe, like the rest of the suburban world, they’re only approximating counter-cultural rebellion with tattoos and the tattooed prints adorning our mass-produced t-shirts.
The pastor is wearing khakis and a golf shirt. I’ve never seen a pastor in khakis before. I have a moral issue with khakis. They’re the sartorial equivalent of safe decor.
The sermon is about welcome.
We were just talking about welcome, the night before. I wondered if one of the reasons we are all so lonely, fractured, and isolated is because we use our homes for impression rather than invitation. We can’t drop by unannounced. We don’t invite people over until we finish furnishing the living room, renovating the kitchen, folding the laundry. We we keep people out so we can keep looking good.
It isn’t only our homes. We walk through the world hoping to be welcomed but are instead contained and restrained. We restrain our responses. We contain our responses, the impact that others have on us, the feelings we experience when we’re around them. We lock down the needy and the need for each other. We aim for appropriate, or we aim to impress.
We hold it in, and we hold it together.
And, sometimes – like when we make love – we fall apart. The world falls away. We fall together. We show. We know. We strip away our clothes and with it our defenses. Naked is not merely nude but a state of being: do you have enough air to lie – to impress – when you’re sharing the same breath?
Do you think about me? Yes. Yes, I think about you. I think about you. Tell me what you think about. This. And this. And this. Mmmmmmmmm. I love that. I love that you want me. Tell me you want me. I want you. I want you. I want you. I want you too. Oh, God, I want you so much.
Tender, scalding sex is the opposite of the urge to impress. To impress is to convince someone that you are of higher social status than he, and thus worth pursuing. Making love is about humbling, pleasing, offering. It is about surrendering to each other. It is vulnerability, embodied. It is even Biblical: to have sex with a woman is to know her.
Of course, this is not always true. I have had soul-less, robotic sex with people I should not have welcomed into my bed or my life. Those are not experiences I care to repeat. They were neither love nor lust. They were mechanics.
But the vulnerability, the permission to touch, the welcome, the naked reality of myself and my other, is what I cherish about sex. And it is what makes me love someone. And oh, how I want to love someone.
And that – beyond just the joyful heat of it – is the gift of lust. Lust can lure us into loving someone.
And that’s why I’ve struggled with Christianity – and with most religions, really. Religions often construct lust as an urge to be fought and suppressed rather than as a gift that forces us to stretch beyond our prickly habits of distant interaction.
There is, however, an ancient and gentle wisdom in such prohibitions. In the movie Vanilla Sky, Cameron Diaz’s unhinged character screams: “When you have sex with someone, your body makes a promise – whether you do or not.” In a less impassioned, but no less truthful way, anthropologist Helen Fisher cautions us about the consequences of casual sex – not from a moral standpoint but from the perspective of sheer self-protection. Orgasm triggers the release of oxytocin which fosters attachment, meaning that what starts as genital machination can end up as inappropriate, consequential – and unwelcome – love. Untrammelled and ill-informed lust can hold our spirits hostage – which, like Fisher’s research, studies and entertaining TED talks, is perhaps from what sermons and tracts of fire, brimstone, prohibition and shame intend to protect us.
But the other side of lust is that it compels – propels – us to tenderness.
Please. I need you. I love that. I want you.
And that’s the overarching, undervalued contribution of lust. That’s why we need lust. It fosters vulnerability and invitation and togetherness – all humanly essential qualities and all diametrically, 180 degrees opposed to our daily urge and cultural mandate to cultivate independence, individuality, distance, impressiveness.
All of this – love, lust, the wisdom and the tragedy of attempting to regiment sexuality from above and on-high – is what I’m thinking about when I’m thinking about welcome. About how, just as we were discussing last night and the pastor preaches this morning, we don’t even welcome people into our homes anymore. For fear of judgement. For fear of our inability to impress.
I wonder how we get past that, with family, friends, lovers, and future mates. And I wonder how unmarried Christian couples who choose not to have sex reveal themselves to each other. How do they bond, get emotionally naked, and stroke each other’s un-shelled interiors? How do they welcome each other’s vulnerability? How do they know each other?
An elderly woman in the pew ahead of us turns around and introduces herself. I give her my hand to shake, and she clasps it, holding it, with both her hands. “You are new to me,” she says, and I am warmed. Welcomed.
“I am new here,” I tell her. “This is my first time.” She introduces me to her companion, another elderly lady. It seems that they know David, because they know he’s from Montreal. “Are you from Montreal, too?” she asks me, excitedly. In the sweetest instant, I see the romantic back story they’ve invented for me. We’re together. I’ve flown out from Montreal to visit him, or maybe to join him. I wish their story was true. I wish we belonged to each other.
On our way out, a man stops David. His name is Peter. “David!” he says, shaking his hand. They talk about David’s job and David’s hope to stay on after the end of his project. Peter tells him to work hard and pray hard and it will happen. “I’ll pray for you,” Peter says, and invites David to a men’s breakfast next Saturday.
We make our way outside. My two bad boys are sitting on the curb, smoking.
We pass them by and my man – that’s a lie – he’s not my man but he’s the man I want to be my man – confesses. “So now you know,” he says, giving me a pretty-pleased-with-himself grin. “I’m a church boy.”
I’m touched. I’m thinking many things: that he’s sharing something personal and important with me and that’s a gift. That maybe he’s thinking that maybe I’m going to be important enough to him that he wants to share it with me. That maybe he really does like me. That I’ve never had a man take me to Church on a date and that it makes me feel valued. Welcomed.
I feel welcome. I realize that I really, really like him. That I like his Church. That I’d like to go to Church with him every Sunday. I almost tear up, again. This is an emotional morning. I’m feeling everything. Maybe I’m feeling it.
Instead, I joke. “Well, Church boy,” I say. “I’m glad you took me…because obviously you can’t be taking a different woman to Church with you every Sunday.”
“Yeah,” he agrees. “In the eyes of those two little old ladies, we’re already a couple.”