A professor I never had, was the first person I never met, to have taken a vow of celibacy. Her name was Diane, she was my old roommate’s favourite sociology professor and all I heard about her were stories; stories about her open-mind, about her extensive knowledge, about her travels and about her self-imposed decision to be and remain a celibate woman throughout her entire life.
That radical choice and the label it carried intrigued me, I showered my roommate with questions that she could not answer. Was it a religious decision, or a spiritual one? How far does it go? Can she have flings, or casually date…can she cave into a one night stand? Of course, I grasp and agree with the general concept that monogamy is a rather old fashioned concept, I understand that companionship and long term relationships are not for everyone and that an individual has the full capacity to be self-sufficient, and that as a matter of fact, is only self-sufficient and has full awareness when on his (or her…don’t worry!) own.
What phased me about her decision was the label. I don’t mean the label the word “celibate” bears in itself, but rather, the self-imposed label of a choice that the person she will become in 10 years will still have to hold up to. It left no place for randomness, coincidence and happenstance, in the romance department! How could she promise something so big and defining to her ever-changing self?
Last year, I took a train from Lisboa to Porto. I was sitting in a four-seater, when I caught the eye of the older woman sitting across from me. She smiled, I smiled. She noticed that I had a french book with me and addressed me in French. She was Portuguese and has left Portugal in the 1960ies when the colonial war began. She fled to Switzerland, learned French and worked as a seamstress there for nearly a decade. She then traveled a fair bit of Europe and North Africa, and lived in several other places in the world, for decades, before retiring in Portugal. She had my undivided attention and I wanted to hear as many of her stories as our two-hour-something journey permitted. And so she spoke. She spoke about the girls she met when she first moved to Switzerland and how she lived with them in a big flat, how they would go out, where they were from, she spoke about the languages she learned and how she learned them, about being the only woman to work in a restaurant kitchen in Morocco, she spoke of the men she met, the men she never loved and the men she chose to never be with.
She told me she has decided as a twenty-something year old girl to not only never marry, but to never pursue intimate relationships. When I asked what prompted her decision she told me she simply never had the desire to share herself with someone. She always felt best on her own, celibacy was a luxury that allowed her to explore the world, to learn about the world, about people, about herself and to retain a sense of freedom. Her “vow” had absolutely no religious connotation or background, she was of opinion that strong love did not require a romantic exclusivity and she loved and was loved throughout her life by many. I quickly understood that she retained her child-like curiosity and an incredible open-mindness, to that day in the train to Porto. We spoke honestly, and I asked “Do you have any regrets?” And with full conviction she answered “Absolutely none. I would do it the same way all over again.”
I got off that train, she directed me to the tram, we hugged goodbye, and I never saw her again.