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January 2006

Petting, a private and public concern

A young lady of my acquaintance has been concerned lately with the behavior of her dorm-mate, who has abandoned the rules of conventionality and propriety in taking up with a most unsuitable young man, and has allowed him to lead her down a path of sexual immorality. In the dorm room. In her presence.

This has long been a concern among parents, teachers, and health care professionals. Let's turn to information and advice from The Art of Dating by Evelyn Millis Duvall, Ph.D., Consultant on Adolescence for the National Congress of Parents and Teachers, and Joy Duvall Johnson, published in 1958, when everything was good and right.

First, let's look at the nature of "petting."

"Petting is usually defined as anything a man does that is directly stimulating to a female. In marriage, petting is the necessary foreplay that readies the woman to receive her husband. This behavior is complex and varied. It includes the deep and lingering kiss, the "French kiss," the fondling of the woman's body--especially those areas that generally are not exposed to view--and pressing all or part of the man's body close to that of his date or mate. The female may or may not participate actively in the fondling and kissing. She generally is relaxed and receptive, while the male is the more urgent and aggressive sexually.

"Among courting pairs most couples stop before the behavior gets too urgent, in conformity to what is expected of them as unmarried persons."

It's important to establish personal boundaries in your preliminary relationships so that when your "true love" comes along, your standards have been upheld, leading to the nurturing of a healthy and nurturing relationship.

According to Dr. Duvall, the friend of my acquaintance may have no religious roots. She may be from the lower socioeconomic group.

Or she may be emotionally hungry, willing to do anything to get attention and reassurance. Possibly she is of a rebellious nature, indulging in sexual behavior just to prove that she can.

But let's assume she, like most girls, simply believes that she must do anything that will bring her man pleasure in order to prove her love for him. At the same time, girls usually feel that their chances for a future marriage are handicapped by having had premarital experience. So she is caught in a very difficult situation, one from which she may not know how to extricate herself.

"The person who maintains high standards of personal conduct is often a popular, socially active individual with many interests, activities, and friendships. He enjoys the companionship of both sexes in a variety of situations. He learns in action the many pleasures to be found in socializing.

"The maturing individual learns to give and to receive affection in a wide repertoire that offers expression to the many sides of love. He learns how to be tender, protective, comradely, romantic, dependent, nurturing, as well as passionate and erotic. Thus, by the time two people are ready to marry, they know how to love and to be loved in the many ways that it takes to make a union happy.

"At the same time, the person who wants to maintain standards of premarital chastity must guard against those individuals and situations that make it difficult."

A challenge is presented to the campus to provide a variety of wholesome functions in which both boys and girls can participate either as dates or as unaffiliated individuals. If such programs are lacking, "young people should call it to the attention of their adult leaders and request that more adequate provisions be made for the social life of the community." Idleness and boredom may be heavy factors that leads to immoral behavior.

Is this young woman truly in love? When two people love each other, each is a better person for the expression of their mutual feeling. But "such significant sentiments are too sweet to spoil with shoddy makeshifts and promiscuous playing around."

If a boy and girl let the erotic part of their relationship crowd out the other elements in their friendship they find themselves cut off from other activities and other friends, and limiting their ability to build a many-faceted and deeply satifying relationship.

At the very least, my young friend needs to strongly caution her dormmate to ensure both she and her dating companion are fully dressed when in the presence of others who may have a higher standard of behavior.


boy wonder

Boy Wonder

He's truly beautiful.

At first glance, you see merely an ordinary handsome man approaching 40; solid, sensible, just quirky enough to be interesting. Closer examination reveals that he has features distinct and genteel, worry lines overlapping laugh lines, teeth straightened long ago that now reveal slight imperfections of age and character and a mere hint of an overbite, and eyes so crayon brown they appear both solid and liquid at the same time. His whole face crinkles up when he grins, in an honest display of sincere delight.

People are drawn to him--women, men, children alike. He's one of those people who looks like one thing to one person, and another thing to someone else. A woman might see him as trustworthy, easy to confide in. Men feel more attractive when they are with him, like it rubs off on them somehow, and they admire his command of a room, yet he never seems like a rival or a threat. Children, well, mostly the children who get to know him are very ill, and they like his straightfoward manner, and the fact that he never talks down to them.

He's a quiet god in the eyes of those who know him, even those who know better. Those who know better know that his fatal flaw lies in his youthful ability to charm his way in or out of any sticky situation. He takes advantage of that, fully appreciating the resulting irony of being caught blameless in a drama of his own design. Good thing he's such a nice guy, most of the time.

I became invisible the day after we were married. I have my work, my friends, my home and my husband. I manage to keep it all juggling pretty well; but I'm pretty sure I disappeared inside it all once I became Mrs. Dr. James Wilson. While I was a bride, the focus was on me. Once I changed lacy white gown for cool aqua travelling suit, I was no longer an object of desire, or a symbol of life's cherished hope. I was simply one section of a fairly convoluted puzzle.

My identity is fragmented, my direction has faded from view. I loved him, lost myself in him, devoted myself to him, and only recently has it occurred to me that for all the time I've spent wrapped up in him, he's never really been wrapped up in me. He's always wrapped up in something; his work, his patients, his studies, his best friend, and my role is that of providing something consistent, nice to look at and maybe talk to when he's not too tired to even look my way as he walks in the door after a long day at the hospital.

I know why he chose me. I knew why even before we were married. I was no naive young socialite hoping to snare a successful doctor and all the trappings that come with him. He chose me for the same reasons I chose him. We both, having experienced marriages that went up in flames, wanted someone who wasn't too emotionally needy or all that emotionally available. Well, he held up his end of the deal, that's for sure. I'm still trying to figure out what happened to me.


meeting george

"I'll have a gimlet. I want it up, with good gin, and I want it so cold that I have to keep my tongue away from the glass so it doesn't get stuck. I want the surface crystallized, and I want you to need to use tongs to serve it to me. Think you can handle that?"

The bartender stared for a moment, then burst out laughing. "I can handle it," he replied, with a giggle in his voice.

"You have a flair for the dramatic, I'd say." Some guy, a couple of stools down, leaned toward me as he spoke. He was holding a glass of something brown, with no cubes in it. He wasn't tubby, short, or ugly, so I figured it wouldn't hurt to reply.

I leaned my head on my hand, elbow on the counter. "Would you? What else would you say, if given the opportunity?"

The bartender brought me the drink. Using tongs. Smartass. It was really cold, though, with that slightly icy surface I like to see in my glass. I took a sip, and willed myself not to close my eyes. I hate that, when you see those women alcoholics in old movies. They hold the drink in both hands, and when they take a sip, their eyes flutter shut. Gag me. But the first sip of my lovely cold lime-sweetened gin does sometimes cause me to react by shutting my eyes for a second, and I am self-conscious about that. I am no alcoholic, and I have a long way to go before I'm ready to be compared to Madeline Kahn in a bad wig.

The guy down the bar spoke again, "I would say that I am alarmed and tongue-tied by the question. How's that?"

I sighed. "I guess you get a point for not attempting to banter your way into my heart, TV dramedy-style."

So then the bartender said, "This is the point at which you pick up your drink and ease on over next to her, and then either she lets you buy her another drink, or she turns her head and feigns interest in the hockey game on the monitor up there."

What was this place, the bar where everybody knows your name and your business? And so the guy, he actually picked up his drink, finished it off, and asked for another to be delivered "next door." But the gimlet had me warmed up inside, and I wasn't in one of those moods where I go around mentally stamping Ls on foreheads, so I just said, "Come on over, we've been saving you a spot. Set 'em up, Joe."

I don't actually know what that means. But it got another laugh from the bartender, who said, "My name is actually Jack." It would be.

And the guy, who really did have a nice curve to the outside of his mouth, spoke to me, "My name's George. That leaves you." He nodded his head, as if he'd drawn some fine conclusion, but mainly leading me to believe he'd been hanging around there for awhile.

"It's a pleasure, maybe, to meet you both, Jack and George. You can call me Greer. And I will have another drink, but not another gimlet. I need one that will last a good while. I'll have Irish whiskey and soda and rocks, with a slice of lime, and three cherries."

George stared, kind of too long, really, and normally I'd be a little put off, but it was an interesting, quizzical and slightly drunk stare, rather than much of anything like a leer. And then he bent his head forward a little bit, and said, "You are a very decisive individual, Greer. At least when it comes to booze. But I don't know about putting cherries in whiskey. Why do you want to do that?"

"Because the cherries taste really good when they've been dipped in whiskey, pretty much. And they're fun. You can't eat a maraschino cherry without having at least a little fun. That's why people put them on ice cream sundaes."

"Let me try one."

"Get your own."

George rolled his eyes and said, "Jack. Bring me a cherry for my glass. I mean, a glass for a cherry. Or whatever."

Jack poured a glass of whiskey with two ice cubes and two cherries for George. George sneered at the ice, but Jack and I assured him it was an important part of the experience. He carefully pulled one of the cherries out by the stem, and dunked it a few times, like it was a donut in a cup of coffee. Then he very carefully bit down on half the cherry; he didn't even put the whole thing in his mouth and pull the stem out the way people usually do. He sat there, head cocked to one side, chewed for a few seconds, then put the rest of the cherry in his mouth and tossed back about half the iced whiskey.

"Damn, that's good."

I don't know why it struck us both so funny, but Jack and I both burst out laughing then, and I suppose that's what finally broke the ice for George and me. He had a good sense of humor.


airport hotel

When you're married, you don't put yourself in those moments because you know that everything else will fall away. There's no moral line in the sand, there's no anything, just impulse and this fierce, burning energy right beneath your skin. That binding contract becomes misty fog in a background that you simply close your eyes against.

And yes, he drives me crazy! He always did. I have long assumed that he always will, and that's why, putting myself there, inside that moment, was an awfully risky chance to take. Of course, I was halfway inside his coat before I had the slightest inkling of what I'd done, and where it was about to lead. And I found that I didn't care. My attraction to him is too strong, borne of too much history. Good history, most of it.

Sometimes he makes me feel ridiculous. The rest of the time he makes me angry. But in that hotel room, we really were outside of time, and right then, right then, he was wonderful again. He knew I was using him, and he was willing to love me for it.

And then, just like so many times before, reality yanked us both out of that moment just before the trap snapped shut. But oh, how I wanted to be caught. It seemed like such an easy choice to make. Now that the fog has cleared, everything is complicated again, and it's all down to me to figure it out. Only I'm afraid I don't have his gift for puzzles.


tangent, party of one

I can still taste his breath inside my mouth. I don't even know what else I remember. I did feel outside of the usual time and space, which is a good thing, I think. I knew better than to have too much wine, which makes me all languid and drowsy; nice for me, not all that interesting for someone else. Gin, on the other hand, makes me go a little crazy. But that's another topic.


Topic #1: Teenage Sexuality

Topic #1: Teenage Sexuality. Teenagers are creatures who, according to The Child Study Association of America, must seek the rich range of emotion that will give meaning and expression to the new, adult sensations of their bodies. And they are curious creatures, as well.

A teenager might ask, "Can you tell if someone's a homosexual?"

"Except for the people who parade their problem in public, you can't identify a homosexual on sight. The gentle or graceful boy next door is not necessarily a 'fairy' or a "swish;" a tomboyish girl is not necessarily a 'Lesbian.' Nor does a boy's skill at football or a girl's extreme femininity guarantee that they are immune to the problem."

Do you understand, children? No one is immune.

"Is homosexuality curable?"

"Some teenagers may know of, or be approached by, a homosexual and will wonder if there isn't something that can be done for this unfortunate person. Since there are so many degrees and variations in homosexuality, and since the exact cause is not known--and varies from individual to individual--there is no single 'cure.' This much is known: Homosexuals have been cured, but the homosexual person must want to change. Many individuals have temporary homosexual experience, and later move on to normal relations with the opposite sex."

Remember, if a homosexual approaches you, he may not mean any harm. He may wish merely to ask directions to the nearest cabaret or gym club. Just give a friendly shake of the head and walk away.

This information was provided by What to Tell Your Children About Sex, prepared by The Child Study Association of America, and published November, 1958.


tv boyfriend

He's tall, with dark unruly hair and a kindly sincere expression which belies his inability to take much of anything seriously. The kindness and sincerity are real. They just refuse to go in very deep this early in the game. Fine by me.

I'm counting the freckles across his long, long nose as he talks. There are too many to actually enumerate; I'm just counting so I won't notice him noticing me staring at his face. He's talking, I'm listening, not really hearing, because it doesn't matter what he says as long as he keeps saying it in such a delectable way. It's not just the accent, because even if he were merely humming right now, it would burn straight through me.

He stops suddenly; leaning forward and lifting his left eyebrow a fraction of an inch, looking at me a bit sideways, a bit amused, and then he chuckles slightly, mostly under his breath, before setting to work at the food on his plate.

I rest my chin on my fist, and keep on staring.