About a month ago I ran into my friend Grace Chu and she told me that she had been celibate for nearly a year and that it has been wildly successful in terms of grounding her and focusing on her photography. She popped open her smart phone to show me an email from a huge publication asking for her to photograph something.
Now, Grace Chu is all about internet anonymity of her photo, so just know that she’s a hot dyke–the kind that every gay girl I knew in college would have dropped to her knees for. She’s really social and has an endearing awkwardness. Also, I have totally noticed over the last year that she seems a lot more serene, grounded and happy.
I checked in again with her last week and I asked if I could interview her on the occasion of her official one year of celibacy and I hope you enjoy her insights!
What inspired you to get celibate?
Around a year ago, my ex and I broke up, and like every other idiot after a breakup, I started looking around immediately. I’ve seen people fire up OK Cupid minutes after a breakup. (Like, gurl, really?) But it’s natural to want to maintain a level of closeness with another human being when you’ve become accustomed to it, and when you’re in an impaired emotional state, sometimes you don’t make the brightest of decisions. So right after I had a dumb fight with my ex over who could show up at what girl party, I was in a bad mood and decided that I was going to get into trouble, and you know “YOLO, so whateva!” I brought a girl home, and it turned out she’s so drunk and high I ended up having to peel her off the floor as soon as we got to my apartment. So I gave her some water, and after a few minutes of almost incoherent conversation, and without getting into identifying details, I discovered that this girl was in a dangerously bad place. And she’s in my house. And AH MAH GAH, nothing happened but was I really going to go there? Is this real life? I know she’s mental, but I’m also a factor in this situation, so egad – I must also be mental! Nothing good can come out of the pairing of two people in a bad place. Ever!
How long did you initially plan to be celibate? Did you have any parameters around your celibacy (for example, making out is okay but no sex/it doesn’t count as sex if it’s outside or something)?
It wasn’t really a plan. After the above-mentioned disaster, I decided that the best thing to do was take a break from all the madness of dating, focus on my work and nurture existing friendships. Clearly, my judgment was impaired due to physical and emotional neediness, so I figure I’d get back out into the dating scene when I was emotionally at 100%. The parameters you mentioned didn’t even cross my mind. I just shut out all unhealthy distractions or band-aid solutions, period. This also included cutting loose friends and associates that were toxic or gave me anxiety. It was more of a life-cleansing period of time. Simplifying my life. Cutting the fat. Celibacy just came with the package. I don’t really consider making out “hooking up” but I haven’t made out with anyone since last October. No one believes that, especially those who saw me make out with just about everyone during my 20s, but it’s true!
What was the first month like? What activities did you start out doing to fill up your previously used dating/cruising time?
I don’t know what came first, the chicken or the egg, but right around the time I decided I was going to focus on myself, my night job started gaining momentum. I was picking up new photography clients right and left, and people were offering me gigs outside of my comfort zone, and I really just didn’t have time to think about anything else. I still have a day job as well. At some points that first month I really missed having intimacy, and I wanted to claw my eyes out, but I just didn’t have the time to dwell. Photography is really competive in New York, and if you miss an opportunity, someone hungrier is quite willing to take your spot. Whatever little free time I had left I devoted to friends who have been with me for years. If, god forbid, everything in my life falls apart, those people are the ones who are going to be around, come hell or high water.
Did you turn down any dates? Were girls pounding at your door now that you weren’t available?
I didn’t give myself opportunities to be approached, so I really have no idea if anyone intended to ask me out. When people complain that they’re being harassed for dates, a lot of times that’s bullshit. Some people who complain that they’re being holla-ed at all the time secretly want the attention and give out mixed signals. You have the power to let people in or not, by your words, by your body language. You can set boundaries immediately. Also, I’m generally aloof and not touchy feely or flirtatious to begin with, so no one really asks me out unless I’m on a dating site. It stinks when you’re looking, but since I wasn’t, my default demeanor was a blessing. I contemplated going back on Ok Cupid for a hot second but the thought of having to sit with a stranger and pretend to be interested became increasingly unappealing as time went by. During this time, I got into a better and better place financially, professionally and emotionally, so I didn’t want to mess with the formula. If your life ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Did celibacy get easier over time?
Yes, think of it like getting over a drug addiction. (Ok, I was never addicted to sex – I’ve actually been with only five people in the last ten years, with periods of down time – but this just happened to be the longest period. I’m just trying to make an analogy!) You’ve seen Trainspotting? At first heroin withdrawal gives you acute pain, but over time, the physical pain goes away. It’s all mental after that. And then you just stop thinking about it.
Did any new interests develop as you had more time to pursue them?
Photography and the day job take up 80+ hours a week now. The last two months have been especially rewarding and lucrative. I have some exciting projects coming up!
What surprised you most about your year of celibacy?
Well I learned quite a bit. A lot of what drives people to pair up is a result of societal pressure, like you’re not a whole person if you’re single and not intimate with anyone. That’s ridiculous. You can find fulfillment in so many ways, and if you’re spending time chasing phantoms and trying to make the wrong people the right people, you’re taking away time and energy from other activities that could bring you happiness – and the people who you already have in your life that love you.
I’m going to go on a bit of a tangent now, and it’s going to be kind of heavy. My friend passed away from cancer this past year, but before she died, around fifty people from around the country showed up at her birthday party. She made such an impact and was such a decent, generous and kind hearted person that people recognized it dropped everything to come spend time with her. A week before she died she told me that she wished she had spent more time trying to find a boyfriend – or working on making her old relationship work. (That relationship, by the way, was unhealthy bordering on abusive, so I am happy she didn’t.) But in the last days of her life, she was surrounded by so much love and laughter, more than anyone could ever imagine. I guess you had to be there, but I was blown away. Sometimes all we need to do is take a step back and realize we are already loved and connected and to appreciate it.
Since I’m no longer in a fog, I’ve become more in tune with what works with me in terms of friends, and possible lovers. I reflected on what didn’t work for me in the past and what kind of emotional makeup in other people is healthy for me. Some people, as nice as they might be, just don’t work with me on a fundamental level, and that’s fine. I’m much more in tune with other people’s energies now, and I am aware of and I am assertive about my own boundaries. It’s like being fitted with glasses when you’ve been myopic.
How does someone know they should adopt a period of celibacy? Would you recommend this to others? Any advice?
I mean, if something is causing more harm than good, cut it out of your life. This goes for everything, not just dating and sex.
What are your plans around breaking the vow? Do you have anything lined-up?
Yeah, I’ve got honeys on the speed dial ready to go! Just kidding. I don’t have any plans, really. I’m definitely back to 100% emotionally, so while I’m not actively looking, if something happens by chance, so be it. Many times, we use sex or intimacy as a way to heal ourselves or escape or fill some sort of emptiness, when it should really enhance your life. My life has become pretty damn sweet, so I guess if someone comes along who is also in a good place, and we end up clicking in that way, I suppose things could get sexy – but it has to happen organically or as a happy accident.
This past year, after taking the pursuit of sex and dating off the table, I’ve become closer to some people who had just been acquaintances, and some new fabulous people have come into my life. It was refreshing to get to know people as people in a leisurely manner without stress or expectations. I am also good friends with my ex now! Everything just becomes easier and lighter when you’re grounded and in a good place.
I am super impressed with Grace’s ability to identify what wasn’t working in her life and take steps to change it and become more in tune with what makes her tick. The process of becoming real–shedding the layers that society puts on you or that you put on yourself to get the attention you think you want–is really hard. But I think once you get more in touch with who you really are you’re able to attract genuine, lasting partnerships (if that’s what you want) into your life.
If anyone out there has a story about changing something that didn’t work for you, please get in touch with me! I’d love to interview you!