What's Tony Thinking



We had a fairly hilarious evening recently with our 11-year-old grandson, Levi, who is here at the cabin this week. Someone had told him that his astrological sign or forecast indicated he would be good at flirting. So he asked us, “What’s ‘flirting’?”

Grandma undertook to demonstrate the fine art of flirting, by flirting with Grandpa, which sent Levi into peals of laughter. Myself, I kind of liked it.

But on the topic of “to flirt or not to flirt,” we offered different advice. Linda said it was a fun thing to do and Levi should enjoy it. I said, “Not so sure about that. Be careful, you can get in trouble.” Of course, this was all in a light-hearted context. But my cautionary advice was actually serious.

The world of romance, sexuality and relations between the sexes, seems to me pretty fraught, even dangerous, these days. And perhaps especially for boys or young men. You can get yourself into a lot of trouble without meaning to do so. At least that’s my take.

How’d I come to think that? I suspect that years of periodic, required “Boundary Training” for clergy had something to do with it. Overall, the “training” or workshops are a good thing. Clearly, there have been problems, terrible things, which some churches and denominations continue to refuse to acknowledge or really deal with head-on.

But the training had some unintended messages. For example, the only boundary under discussion (at least in my time) was sexual. There are other important boundaries in life and in ministry, arguably as important as sexual ones. I am thinking of role, emotional, financial, authority/ responsibility, and time boundaries. Skipped those. Might as well not have existed.

And there was another unintended, if understandable, message — male clergy are the problem. Even though we were already then rapidly moving toward our current reality, the majority of clergy are now female, at least in many mainline Christian denominations, including my own. Still, the underlying assumption seemed to be that this was a guy problem only.

Meanwhile, not only has the make-up of clergy changed, but in the last ten years a lot has shifted around sexual identity and sexual identification in American society. Recently, I read that 40% of the students at the Ivy-League’s Brown University identify as “Queer.” And in 2020 to 2022 period the number of children and young people identifying as “trans” has doubled.

While some of these increases reflect greater social acceptance and new awareness of choices available to people who are gay or trans, I also wonder if there’s another factor in the rapidly changing world of sexual identity?

Dis-affection, even alienation, between men and women? The contemporary male/ female landscape doesn’t look like a romantic scene of a summer field of daisies with a young couple walking hand-in-hand in the sunlight. It looks a little more like a mined battlefield with people moving very cautiously, if they move at all. Could the growth in people identifying as queer or trans or non-binary have something to do with wanting to avoid what looks like that danger zone or at least one that is not very inviting?

At The Free Press of Bari Weiss and her partner, Nellie Bowles, they pay regular attention to these issues. Next month they are hosting a live on-line debate on the topic of “Has the sexual revolution failed?” (All four of the debaters are women.) Today they have a piece about female on-line influencers and the advice they are giving about relating to men. Here’s what “You Tube Influencer SheRa Seven,” has to say to her mentees:

“Men do not love you, okay? So stop thinking that they do. They tolerate you. They lust you. That’s it.”

The author of the Free Press article, Kat Rosenfield, has another article at the site, “UnHerd,” titled “Has Hetero-Pessimism Killed the Rom-Com?” It begins,

“Men are trash. Or at least, this is the consensus in places where single, educated, liberal, youngish women gather to lament the heterosexual state of affairs. Actually wanting to be loved by a man now represents an embarrassing shortcoming, and dating them an exercise in futility, like choosing the least-bad option from a menu on which everything is a little bit suspect.” (emphasis added)

I have no idea how to evaluate the observations and advice of Rosenfield or SheRa Seven. It’s all way out of my league.

But I do wonder if the alienation of the sexes is a factor in the current landscape? And of course it has other consequences — lower rates of marriage and declining birth rates. These will in time have big implications for American society, if they don’t already. Falling birth and marriage rates are posing huge social/ political/ economic challenges in Western Europe, Japan and China.

It’s sad that innocent flirting has become so fraught. Or maybe there’s no such thing as “innocent” flirting? Add this to the list of things that makes me grateful I’m in my 70’s and not in my teens.






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