In the face of nearly nonstop messages of romance and couples, flowers and lingerie, love and lust, 37-year-old John Zielinski of Des Plaines wakes up on the morning after Valentine's Day as he always does -- alone, in his single bed, in his parent's home with his virginity intact.
"I'm not 40, so you can't call me a 40-year-old virgin," Zielinski says with a chuckle, heading off the inevitable comparison to the Steve Carell character in the movie of that name. "I have the same weaknesses and desires as every other guy, but I was able to persevere through that."
Citing sobering statistics about sexually transmitted diseases and condemning premarital sex, gay sex, all sex outside of marriage and some sex acts found in marriage, Zielinski rolls his blue eyes while discussing the Valentine's Day marketing campaign that ratchets up the pressure on folks to share romance with someone whether they are married, dating or just a single man or woman venturing out alone on the supposedly most romantic night of the year.
February 14th is special for him, Zielinski says, only because it marks the Roman Catholic Church's feast of saints Cyril and Methodius, 9th Century missionaries who translated the Bible and brought the church to Slavic-speaking nations. Zielinski celebrated the saints' memories at Mass that morning, which might qualify as the most significant activity he's done on a Valentine's Day since he exchanged cards with his grade school classmates at St. Zachary Catholic School.
"I've never gotten anybody any flowers on Valentine's Day or anything like that," Zielinski says matter-of-factly.
He understands that society doesn't necessarily share his view on the importance of virginity. Even the same people who preach about the need for a high school freshman girl to keep her virginity often conclude that a man who hasn't had sex with a woman by age 37 is either gay, asexual, a pedophile or plain-old weird.
"I'm not naive," says Zielinski, who played college baseball, still plays for a semipro team in Addison and acknowledges that he's been teased, ridiculed and called names because he hasn't had sex.
"They'll say, 'You're a loser,'" Zielinski says, recalling one critic who had been married five times. "I don't know, to see people constantly hooking up, who's the real loser? You're not really being a real man."
A devout Catholic who went to Benedictine University in Lisle and Dominican University in River Forest and now works as a baseball coach and substitute teacher, Zielinski points to celebrities and athletes who preach celibacy.
"Jesus didn't have sex," he adds.
But even churches that talk of "family values" often promote the idea that abstinence is a temporary burden and "singles must be married off as quickly as possible because after a certain age, we can no longer say no to sexual activity," writes Wheaton College professor Christine A. Colón in the book, "Singled Out: Why Celibacy Must Be Reinvented in Today's Church," which she co-authored with Bonnie E. Field, an educational consultant in Georgia who has taught at Christian colleges.
"The phrase, 'Wait until marriage,' begins to lose its power when you realize that the 'until marriage' part might never come," they write.
Zielinski, who says he has had only a few dates in his life and is now looking for a partner on CatholicMatch.com, acknowledges that he didn't really have a chance to lose his virginity in high school or college when many of his peers had sex. He wasn't a stud athlete and he had bad skin, he says.
"In the end, not being a chick magnet is a blessing in disguise," says Zielinski, who adds that he might not have had the strength and maturity to resist temptation then. "Should I ever get married, I want my bride to know, regardless of where she was, I was waiting for her and her alone. I want to give myself to her as a gift that no one else could have."
Colón and Field conclude that churches and single people "need to embrace the call to singleness as a blessing rather than a curse" and "uncover a positive biblical understanding of singleness, specifically long-term, intentionally celibate singleness."
"There are plenty of virgins in hell and plenty of prostitutes in heaven," says Zielinski, who adds that he'll be a contented 90-year-old virgin if that's where his life takes him.
"I just want to do what (God's) will is," Zielinski concludes. "Knowing God is better than sex."