The waiting game

Wedding bells in their ears and nuptials on the horizon, a couple of friends attempted an unusual experiment not long ago. In the lead-up to marriage, their urges suddenly turned old-fashioned. Putting aside many years together, shared home ownership and a stable and progressive relationship, the pair decided to give abstinence a try. I believe “purity” for the wedding day was the rallying call.

For three months prior to the wedding date, separate bedrooms ruled the roost and pecks and hugs fell back into fashion. For three long months, they did their best to trick reality (and biology), turn back the clock and play .

And, I’m pleased to report, something miraculous did happen – a hallowed state of virginity magically descended on one of them. Yep, 90 days (that’s 2,160 hours if you’re an abstaining male) was all it took, and my once virile, masculine pal was transformed into a bumbling, quivering teen-ager. Acne blossomed all over his face, pudge gathered around his mid-section, and light peach fuzz grew in place of a once flourishing beard. Rock bottom hit when I busted him longingly paging through an issue of Maxim and, get this, a copy of Modern Bride during a visit to the grocery store. “Make it end,” he pleaded, trying to conceal the wedding glossie. “It’s just gotten so, so … unnatural.”

The wedding bells finally rang loudly throughout Durango, and even the lead scientist concluded that the experiment had failed in retrospect.

“To be bluntly honest, I don’t know what we were thinking,” the bride confided. “Actually, I’m worried he’ll never return to normal. I just hope we’ll be back to old times in another 90 days.”

About that time, my own bride and I (still happily married and abstinence free after 10 years) started making monthly sojourns to New Mexico’s Ciudad de Amor – Albuquerque. On these recurrent trips, Rachael spends her days pursuing higher education, while our 4-year-old daughter Skyler (one of several fortunate products of forgoing abstinence) and I explore the heart of the Land of Enchantment.

Curiously, the gateway to Albuquerque is guarded by a series of poignant billboards. Each sign pictures a fairly normal looking teen-ager (nothing like the pimply, slobbering chimp my buddy devolved into) standing confidently next to bold letters reading, “I choose to wait.”

The subtext reads: “Abstinence means: … I’m saving the best for my marriage,” according to a 17-year-old girl.

A couple miles pass, and another pops up. “Abstinence means: … I can handle peer pressure,” boasts a 13-year-old boy named Chris.

A couple more miles, a busy exit onto another freeway, another half mile, and “Abstinence means: … We’re focused on our future,” smile three girls from the Class of 2003 adorned in caps and gowns.

The ultra-fine print (the stuff the target audience is supposed to miss) on the “Choose Abstinence” website sends a slightly different message – “Want to win $50? Write a slogan for us.”

Call it what you will – “Choose Abstinence,” “The Purity Ring” or “Wait Training” – the movement is calling loudly to teens to honor tradition and wait until marriage before having sex. And so it was that, on our most recent adventure to Albuquerque, Skyler and I found ourselves passing said billboards en route to the Hinkle Family Fun Center.

For the other country mice in the audience, the Hinkles really know what they’re doing. The 200-acre complex includes an eight-plex movie theatre, a giant laser tag/paint ball facility, bumper boats, go-karts, 36 holes of miniature golf, an arcade the size of a basketball court and nearly everything else American youths lose sleep over.

During that bizarre trip, Skyler and I took a spin in a mini-Indy car, cranked out 20-or-so holes of miniature golf and worked on mastering the art of air hockey. From the moment we got on Hinkle’s little joy ride, we also noticed a disturbing trend.

First, we spied a female hanging between skee-ball and whack-a-mole, a long strip of tickets in her hand. The girl looked to be about 16 and was alone and well into the throes of pregnancy. Around the corner, another girl, looking more like 13, was ponying up for a pink putter and carrying at least six months of unborn child. Outside, a third Albuquerque teen was taking her unborn child for a spin on the bumper boats.

“Where are the babies’ dads?” my 4-year-old asked innocently. I had no answer for her.

On our trip back down the highway, yet another of those billboards came crashing down. “Choose Abstinence,” it shouted once again. But the underlying message was stronger. “So what’s it going to be?” the sign seemed to ask. “You’ve only got another decade until you’re in the hot seat. Choose to wait? Or suffer the fate?”

Sorry guys, I replied, I think the answer might be a little more complex than that. I’m only making one choice for my daughter – giving her the tools to make good decisions and avoid pitfalls. And if this long lesson has to begin in a place like the Hinkle Family Fun Center, so be it.

– Will Sands