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On the Romance of Restraint 
by Amy Hassinger

The most romantic evening I've spent was on my second date with my now-husband. We had been to a David Wilcox (a corny but endearing singer/songwriter) concert for our first date, and had ended the night with a chaste hug, which left me wondering if it had been a date at all. A week later, I met him at his house. He cooked me dinner, and then we made some music together -- he played guitar, I sang. Dinner was delicious, music-making sweet. The night wore on. Things became a little less chaste.

Around midnight, the moment of truth arrived: do we spend the night together or not? I have to admit that I was all for staying; he suggested we slow things down. I was disappointed at first, slave to my appetites that I am. But when he offered me his helmet and the seat on his bicycle and pedaled me over the steep San Francisco hill that rose between his place and mine, I was completely charmed. We kissed goodnight -- chastely again -- and I watched him pedal back uphill in the warm midnight air.

That night is a key one in our mutual creation myth, and we've often returned to it when we reminisce about our beginnings as a couple. My husband, a scientist and hard-core Darwinist, explains his behavior as typical of males involved in courtship rituals: he was displaying both his physical strength (biking us up the hill) and his capacity to protect me (the helmet). It was all so much feather-ruffling. I'm more mystically-minded, and tend to think of his actions that night as being a gesture toward the sacred. We were both experienced lovers -- we'd had other partners, and had been in relationships that were almost solely physical. It would have been easy to slip into that mold, and we would both probably have had a great time, for however long the relationship lasted. But instead, we (or, more accurately, he) chose to set our relationship apart, moving it from the realm of the mundane to that of the sacred -- and the undeniably romantic.

Let's face it: sex is confusing. That tempest of hormones and rapid heartbeats, all that blood leaving the brain and traveling netherward. It's complicated enough trying to get to know someone -- someone sweet and interesting, who you enjoy looking at for long periods of time, someone you hope might feel the same way about you -- without trying to manage the all-consuming distraction of wanting to keep your body parts tingling. It would have been so easy to succumb to temptation. Why not, after all? We had protection, we were adults. I had a vague notion of a waiting period -- as if it were a legalistic clause printed in some bulletin I'd read long ago -- but what was appropriate? A month? A year? Two days? It seemed too artificial and I have never been enamored of artifice.

But that night I learned something new -- or maybe remembered something I'd forgotten. When indulgence is the norm, a little restraint is special. And, I can say that when we finally did get down to it, it was so, so worth the wait.

Copyright © 2006 Amy Hassinger

Author Bio
Amy Hassinger is a graduate of Barnard College and the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She is the author of The Priest's Madonna (April 2006; $24.95US/$35.00CAN; 0-399-15317-9) and Nina: Adolescence. She teaches in the University of Nebraska's MFA Program in Creative Writing and lives in Illinois with her husband and daughter.

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