Finding Integrity in the Temptation of Sex

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One short section in the first Travis McGee novel, The Deep Blue Goodbye, by John D. MacDonald gave me pause more than anything I’ve read in a while. It wasn’t the only such passage by this extraordinary author that sucked the breath right out of me, but one which spoke in its own way to an age-old dilemma that women have faced throughout time—should I be intimate with this man or not. Increasingly today the question appears to be falling by the wayside as intimacy occurs more and more often before names are even exchanged. I’ve recognized since I was a young woman that something powerful, connective and intimate was at stake in such casual mating, but I never could put it into words. Enter John D. MacDonald, a master writer—wise and talented.

 

John D. MacDonald
John D. MacDonald

Before we go one step further down this road, I want to clarify. This is not an essay on morality, a word that has very little meaning or power in my life. It is instead about the aspect of our lives that truly matters—integrity.

The scene is one where Travis has just been seductively propositioned by Chookie, a young friend, as she lies in the bath tub, looking at him and suggesting the water is fine.

He replies with what most women would take as a slap in the face when he thinks, then says: It was just a little too contrived. “Who are you trying to be?”

She was startled. “That’s a funny thing to say.”

“You are Chookie McCall, very resolute and ambitious and not exactly subject to fits of abandon. And we have been friends for a couple of months. I made my pass, ‘way back when, and you straightened me out very pleasantly and firmly. So who are you trying to be? Fair question?”

… “Do you have to be such a bastard, Trav? Maybe I was having a fit of abandon. Why do you have to question things?”

“Because I know you and maybe there are enough people getting hurt.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“Chook, dear girl, you are just not trivial enough for purely recreational sex. You are more complex than that. So this very pleasant and unexpected invitation has to be part of some kind of program or plan of action or design for the future.”

44_The Deep Blue Good-By 1964Her eyes shifted just enough to let me know I had struck home.

“Whatever it was, darling Trav, you’ve bitched it good.”

I smiled at her. “If it’s pure recreation, dear, without claims or agreements or deathless vows, I’m at your service. I like you. I like you enough to keep from trying to fake you into anything, even though, at the moment it’s one hell of a temptation. But I think you would have to get too deeply involved in your own justification because, as I said, you are a complex women. And a strong woman. And I am no part of your future, not in any emotional way. …Now you know the rules, it’s still your decision. Just holler.”

… (Great paragraph here as he grapples with desire versus integrity.)

When at last she came out…she looked tired and shy and rueful, and came slowly to me, meeting my glance with a multitude of little quick glances of her own.

I cupped my hand on her chin and kissed a soft, warm, and humble Indian mouth. “What was it all about?” I asked her.

“A fight with Frank. Kind of a nasty one. I guess I was trying to prove something. Now I feel like a fool.”

“Don’t.”

She sighed. “But I would have felt worse the other way. I guess. Eventually. So thanks for being smarter about me than I am.”

“My friend, it wasn’t easy.”

To have a sexual encounter of value, intimacy and some order of connection, both parties must come from a place of integrity – even hot-bodied teenagers. For every act we commit in life becomes part of us and begins to point our ship of state in a particular direction such that turning from that course becomes increasing the maneuver a sea-going freighter rather than the oar-driven swirl of a dinghy. In this encounter, the man assisted the woman to find that place for herself, not the act of your average Joe. Those of us with any age on us, know that doesn’t happen very often, so we must make knowing ourselves a higher priority. Integrity-based decisions must be easier to access, saving us from the emotional pain that otherwise ensues. Decisions about our lives rightly belong in our own hands anyway.

Rather than tell our granddaughters what they should or shouldn’t do, help them instead to know themselves. Show them what it looks like to unearth their motives and experience what being integral feels like. Then integrity will comfort them, and shelter them and let them know life as kind, empathetic and engaging, yet unencumbered.

DyingToKnowFinal (3) with Bleed Space

Please click the book cover image to read more about Christina Carson and her novels.

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  • Caleb Pirtle

    Travis McGee was known to talk the tough talk of a tough private eye, and few ever did it better, but I never realized that he could give us all lessons on the temptation of sex. But it did. It takes a special mind to ferret out that veiled slice of information, and you obviously have one.

  • This is exactly what I love about Travis. In every book he was always thinking, and making the hard choices. It was always the feeling that you would be safe with such a man.

    I do not understand the modern hookup culture – it seems to me that it leaves you high and dry and alone worse when it’s over. And many other reasons. But especially that it makes the original problem – loneliness – worse.

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