Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Sex And The City, Marriage, Faithfulness and God

Back in Singapore with sacks of goodies from a homevisit to Spain, the hostess was eager to share the spoils over a Sex And The City marathon. "Myself, I prefer your countryman Pedro Almodóvar", I said hopefully, not being one for chick flicks. But the gender-bias tilted in favour of SATC, and so it was and an opportunity to hang out with great folk and excellent food.

Anchovies and Roasted Red Peppers on Toasted Bread
Leftover Anchovies and Roasted Red Peppers on Toasted Bread

Hence: a handsome hunk of idiazábal cheese and quince for the ride, roasted eggplant and red and green peppers in good olive oil, jambon thinly sliced, tortilla de patatas flipped by a nice German girl, macademia nut jam - crazily good with toasted baguette and roasted zucchini and thick cuts of cheese, plump anchovies on grilled red peppers, and roasted macademia nuts to munch while polishing off the cava.

Tattinger Cork on CarpetAt 2am, someone accidentally popped an eighth of the Taittinger over the carpet ("I didn't shake it I swear!") and later, in the wee hours, air-kissed goodbyes actually came naturally. :-(

As entertainment, SATC didn't turn out so bad: hilarious situations and witty lines. Rampant product placement made sure the fourth wall stayed solidly in place.

The pulpit bans on the series (and movie) have less to do with the fashion-hell hair and clothes (especially Miranda's) than with the variations on the apparently risqué themes of flirting, foreplay, nudity, sex and sex aids.

The frank portrayal of women as sexual beings might have had been a bit of an eye-opener back in the Victorian 90s (21st century or 20th). But what seemed to have really drawn fans to SATC and pushed its eponymous movie to a US$55.7 million (or money enough to buy one-fifth of the core investment banking section of Lehman's and a few nice suits) high on its opening weekend in the US wasn't just the sex (surely more explicit and creative interpretations of the act can be found online) but sex as a vehicle in whose highly polished windows we see reflections of reality, the fundamental concerns of ordinary women. And men.

Because they assumed their value as people and their security were to be found glowing post-coitally in another's arms, the daily struggles of the four single female protagonists revolved around the complexities of both satisfying their desires as well as finding Mr. Right/Prince Charming/Dream Hunk/True Love/Jackpot (as in "People go to casinos for the same reason they go on blind dates - hoping to hit the jackpot. But mostly, you just wind up broke or alone in a bar." - Carrie). They sought "relationships and not just sex", eager to keep at bay their fear of ending up old maids who died alone and were found only a week later after half their faces had been eaten by their cats.

SATC articulated but offered nothing more than a little mud-wrestling with these complexities:

Finding Mr. Right/Prince Charming/Dream Hunk/True Love/Jackpot
Can you date outside your "class"? What about older women with younger men? Or older women with even older saggy-bottomed men? Does dating divorced men mean dating their families? Can dating fuck buddies work out? Choosing between the nice sensitive stable guy and the wild exciting one. Should size matter or "funky tasting spunk"? Can women hope to change their men? Is it ok to dump bad kissers? How neurotic is too neurotic? Is a relationship a relationship without the "zsa zsa zsu" (that special something that gives you butterflies in the stomach)?

Figuring out if Mr. Right thinks they are Right too
Why hasn't he called? Maybe he just isn't that into me? Why did he introduce me as a "friend" not as his "girlfriend"? Why won't he let me leave my stuff at his place? Does he really prefer a sweeter younger thing?

How to attract and keep Mr. Right
This had a lot to do with dating superstitions and relationship games, all in the fear of missing the bus: When is it ok to sleep with the guy ("A guy can just as easily dump you if you fuck him on the first date as he can if you wait until the tenth." – Samantha)? Are there some things in relationships that should not be said? Is it better to "fake it" than be alone? Do you have to play games to make a relationship work? Is it ok to use another man to make Mr. Right jealous? Can you make a mistake and end up missing your fate (eg, screwing up everything by having a lousy date, thereby dooming the entire prospective relationship)? The Carrie – Mr. Big theme loomed large herezzz.

The actual desirability of desires
When their relationships failed and the going got hard, the girls questioned the desirability of their desire for emotionally stable, faithful, monogamous relationships. Did they really want to get married or were they programmed to want to wed? They tried man-replacements like shopping, drinking, puppies and, erm, éclairs to laugh out loud results.

Yet, when things looked bright with potential husbands on the horizon, they struggled with the reluctant desire to be rescued by a man and the simultaneous fear that they'd lose their own hard-won identity in the process. If relationships were inevitably a series of compromises, when would the art of compromise become compromising to one's self?

And then, the commitment thing: what if they committed to one person and something someone better came along? Plus prior to signing on the dotted line, surely one ought to first test the goods to ensure acceptable sexual performance?

The show honestly concluded that all this resulted in was a series of unstable relationships built on fakery and showmanship: "Practically all the relationships I know are based on a foundation of lies and mutually accepted delusion." – Samantha.

Hence, a cynical view of relationships (usually expressed by goodtime girl Sam):
"You call this a relationship?" - Maria
"Well, it's tedious and the sex is dwindling, so from what I've heard, yes." - Samantha

There were attempts to convince themselves that as long as they loved themselves, everything was a-ok: "The most exciting, challenging and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself. And if you find someone to love the you you love, well, that's just fabulous." – Carrie

But inevitably, as much as they tried to flee from it, the bottomline remained: the girls were just looking for one special person to share their lives with; "real relationships" not just "lovers" based on "genuine emotions" not just "carnal passions".

LeftoversAll this bizarre behaviour makes for great late-night laughs, but perhaps we are entertained most by painful truths. (As if evidence of the high entertainment value of passion-related crime were needed: one Supreme Court judge specialising in commercial law once confessed that he'd often pleaded to cover the MRT cases - murder, rape and theft, the attractive juicy crimes of passion (don't ask how theft is a crime of passion).)

In the sight of God...
There is no doubt that marriage in some form and the urge to merge have been present in all cultures at all times. This is of no surprise since God created man to do just that. It is not society that has programmed us this way but the Creator who has designed us thus.

And the mystery of finding the right partner (though not quite one of the main goals of life) is solved by reference to God's purpose for designing us to desire emotional and sexual union with another.

In his comprehensive study (and perhaps, despite the complaints of some newly-weds, not quite comprehensive enough!) of Genesis 1 - 2 in Marriage: Sex in the Service of God, Christopher Ash demonstrates that the procreational good of sexual union is set in the context of the task of exercising responsible dominion over the rest of creation (Genesis 1, Genesis 5:1-3, Genesis 9:1-7). Man is blessed by God to be fruitful and multiply so as to rule over the world. Marriage was instituted not for companionship nor to assuage loneliness but for work. For man is set in the Garden of Eden not for sensual enjoyment but to work it and to take care of it. And so the purpose of the man-woman match is not their mutual delight, wonderful as God has created that to be, but that woman is just the helper the man needs for his work (Genesis 2).

Therefore, the SATC girls' error was to make marriage or relationship the end goal of life, not realising that marriage per se is essentially meaningless, though being savvy enough to note that in this fallen world, really a quite painful commitment. Without bearing God's purpose for marriage in mind, a couple, even a Christian couple, working at the project of coupledom for its own sake and mainly in terms of the relational benefit of the couple themselves face the problems of destructive selfishness. When they look primarily to their marriage partners to promote and be the major instrument to provide their own self-actualisation, they become a pair of parasites trying to feed off each other (says the good Mr. Ash in Chapter 7). Church, prayer, the Christian life and even God become nothing more than a means to the idolatrous end of strengthening their relationship with one another.

Post-Fall however, it is naive to argue that marriage continues to serve perfectly the task of humankind ruling God's world on his behalf. The fall of man catastrophically altered the conditions under which the mandate given to Adam is to be obeyed.

Chris Ash's Marriage as well as his much slimmer Married for God deal with what marriage means in the interim. Suffice to say that the creation mandate language of multiplication is now transferred in Bible narrative to the people of God. Instead of a longing that there should be a multiplication simply of humanity, now there must be a multiplication within the people of God, in order that they may work, proclaiming and heralding the kingdom, to order God's world aright.

If this is the post-Second Adam mission, then marriage is no longer essential to the fulfilment of the purpose for which mankind was created. Hence Paul's note in 1 Corinthians 7 that one can choose to stay single for the sake of the mission. But if one chooses to marry, then the Right one would be one able to lead/assist in that mission.

Imho, Paul appears, in Ephesians 5, to articulate another previously hidden purpose of marriage - a foreshadowing of the union between Christ and the church. Therefore, just as the Old Testamental sacrifices became obsolete when Christ the real sacrifice came along, so human marriage will become a thing of the old world (which might explain Jesus' words in eg. Matthew 22:23-30, Luke 20:27-36) when the marriage between the Lamb and his people is consummated on the Last Day. Chris Ash doesn't talk about this in either of his books I think. Will investigate further.

Macarons from Bilbao
Real macarons from Bilbao. None of that dainty Frog stuff.

Chris does however speak of Ephesians 5 as the template for faithfulness in marriage. And how to ensure the faithfulness of one's partner and, if one is humble enough to remember the extent of one's own sinfulness, one's self? Human responsibility ((1) to ensure satisfactory results to due diligence and (2) not to pull an Adam & Eve but to trust in God's word and follow his ways) aside, these uncertainties are resolved like any other uncertainty in life: by trust in God... to be in control and to work for the good of those who love him whatever happens. (Unfortunately too often we forget that God is also in control during the swimmingly good and seemingly certain times as well.)

Teriyaki Foie Gras at Sun and Moon Restaurant
Gratuitous photo of Teriyaki Foie Gras
Because this was discussed over a dinner of teriyaki foie gras, Sun with Moon salad, beef sukiyaki, miso gindara, garlic rice and tofu cheesecake at Sun With Moon.

Sun with Moon Japanese Dining and Cafe
#03-15/16/17, 501 Orchard Road, Wheelock Place
Singapore 238880

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At October 23, 2008 3:09 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would also recommend Jean's list of online resources on marriage


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