How to Pick a Lover

Archive for the ‘courtship’ Category

Ways to Screen Out Violent Lovers

This is an earlier post that I felt was worth re-posting in light the current press about Ray Rice and domestic violence.

 Deeds of violence in our society are performed largely by those trying to establish their self-esteem, to defend their self-image, and to demonstrate they too are significant.
—Rollo May, Power and Innocence

 One hazard of intimate relationships is that, because of the intensity of feeling which they engender, they may provide the stimulus for violence. Occasionally, that may involve women being violent with men; but when violence occurs, it’s most often men being abusive with women. Male strength is vastly superior to that of women. Even relatively small
and frail men have a disproportionate advantage, and when that edge is fueled by fury, then it’s a clear and present danger.

Conflict is inevitable in almost all intimate relationships, and some of that conflict is potentially violent. This fact of life, less pleasant than other facts of life, is something that should be taught to all young girls. It’s a reality that a woman of experience must learn to accept and to take into account. She cannot avoid it entirely, but she can learn to minimize the odds.

In our culture, as in many other cultures, there is, for many people, an implicit association between sex and violence. It’s apparent in some pornography, which equates eroticism with dominance and brutality. This sex-violence link is apparent in much of the old folk wisdom, which endorses wife beating as legitimate and even as necessary under some circumstances. Such attitudes are not restricted to the uneducated or to the unsophisticated. The philosopher Nietzsche offers the questionable advice: “When thou goest to a woman, take thy whip.” Noel Coward quips, “Certain women should be struck regularly like gongs.” If a man is not free to beat any woman, he’s often perceived to be free to beat his own, especially if he’s provoked.

Office on Violence Against Women logo

Office on Violence Against Women logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ordinarily, it’s not feasible to ask a man directly whether or not he will hit you. Even if you were to ask, his answer would not necessarily be very informative. You can, however, find many occasions where you can ask him how he feels about corporal punishment for kids. The man who feels that it’s all right to spank, beat, or whip a child “if he deserves it” may very well feel it is also all right to spank, beat, or whip a woman “if she deserves it.” Guess who gets to decide if the deserving child will be improved by abuse? Guess who gets to decide if the deserving woman needs to be corrected?

Some potentially violent men are easy to spot. They tell you outright that they believe that might is right and that their own judgment of the appropriateness of the use of force and pain is justification enough. Don’t be surprised if an argument with such a man eventually leads to him emphasizing his point with the back of his hand.

While you’re talking about life in the abstract, you can always ask a man about his own parents. If he reports that his old man used to knock Mom around, that’s not necessarily a danger signal. Listen to how he describes it. If there’s an undertone of pride in his old man, who really knew how to handle women, then don’t be surprised if eventually he attempts to handle you the same way. If, however, he’s full of sympathy for his mom’s plight and if the story ends as such stories often do, with the boy finally challenging his father successfully thereby being able to protect the mother, then he may be more sensitive to violence against women than are other men. He may, in fact, be the kind of man with whom you will be most safe.

Some philosophers would contend that there’s a potential for violence in all of us and that it only requires sufficient provocation for it to erupt. This may well be true, but it’s difficult to prove or to disprove. If all men are potentially violent, it doesn’t follow that all men are potentially violent in terms of women.

The code of chivalry asserts that although violence is often necessary, it’s not appropriate in those circumstances involving assaults on people who are relatively powerless and defenseless as, for example, women and children. With men living by a chivalrous code, the possibility of violence is virtually negligible. When you fight with them, they will fight back; when you offend them, they make you pay one way or another, but they will not take out their rage physically.

Other men, however, are prone to violence in varying degrees. Many women, at least one in ten, perhaps more, have experienced the violent laying on of hands by a boyfriend, husband, or lover. The violent lover is trouble and is to be avoided no matter what his other attractions may be.

 Related articles

 Ray Rice Is a Reminder Why Congress Passed the Violence Against Women Act

 

 

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Second Caveat: No Bastard Children

There is no word equivalent to “cuckold” for women.
—Joseph Epstein

In medieval times, a man whose wife deceived him with another man was called a cuckold, a pejorative term which fortunately isn’t used much anymore. The origin of the term “cuckold” is revealing. If you are interested in ornithology, the study of birds, you may have come across accounts of the habits of the cuckoo bird. Cuckoos solve the problem of the perpetuation of their species by the simple expedient of laying eggs in other bird’s nests and departing, leaving other birds of another species to raise the young cuckoos.

Once upon a time, observers might signal the approach of a man who was committing adultery with someone’s wife, or who had designs in that direction, by warning the husband with a whispered “cuckoo, cuckoo.” Eventually, the term got changed around to refer to the betrayed not the betrayer and became “cuckold.”

Calling All Cuckoos

Calling All Cuckoos (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Shakespeare and other authors perpetuated the literary myth that such a man was burdened with a set of horns on his head, which others could see, but of which he was blissfully unaware. It was another version of the truism that the husband, or the wife, is often the last to know. In Italy, one of the most unforgivable insults still is to make the sign of the “cornu” at someone: taking your index and pinkie and putting them on top of your head to resemble horns.

On the issue of bastard children, there are some real legal and moral differences in the situation of single women compared with married ones. If you are single, you might decide to have a child but choose not to get married. You have a right to become a mother without becoming a wife. It’s the contention of many that, as long as you expect nothing of the father, you don’t need to have his consent or, indeed, don’t even need to inform him. It would seem that, if such is your intent, having a child through artificial insemination would be a better alternative, but there is nothing to stop you using the old-fashioned way if this is your decision.

However, if you’re married, any child you have is legally the child of your husband and is assumed to be so socially and emotionally. A husband has the right to certainty of the parenthood of “his” own children. As the lyrics from The King and I caution, “But blossom never ever float from bee to bee to bee.” A basic assumption is that the married woman having an affair has no right to get pregnant by another man. Her body is her own, as is her sexuality; but her children are to be shared for as long as she stays married, and usually after that.

The married woman must be especially scrupulous and fastidious not to let herself get pregnant by her lover rather than by her husband.

 

 

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Secret Affairs: The Extramarital Connection

If you cannot have your dear husband for a comfort and delight, for a breadwinner and a crosspatch, for a sofa, chair, or hot water bottle,one can use him as a cross to be borne.
—Stevie Smith

Adultery: democracy applied to love.
—H. L. Mencken

It’s one thing to reflect upon your life and to decide that you would like to have a lover in it. It’s quite another thing to do that when you are already married. A woman’s husband is, theoretically, supposed to eliminate the need or the desire for a lover; unfortunately, very often he doesn’t. The lover of a married woman is by definition an illicit lover, although he may not be a secret one. The special term for illicit lovers of either sex is “paramour.” The French par plus amour means “by or through love.” The role of paramour seems to have evolved simultaneously with the roles of husband and wife. In some cultures, the paramour was more blatant than others, but he has always hovered provocatively in the background.

Sexual encounters outside of marriage have such a negative connotation in our culture that it’s difficult even to discuss them in neutral and objective terms.

The technical term “adultery” means sexual intercourse by a married person with someone other than a spouse. It’s often illegal and is generally considered to be a sin as well by most major religious groups. In addition, the term isn’t very precise, for it doesn’t include the wide range of sexual experiences other than conventional intercourse.

The Seventh Commandment

The Seventh Commandment (Photo credit: pasukaru76)

The verb “to adulterate” means to debase or to make impure by the addition of inferior materials. It conjures up negative images such as contaminated food. People who have extramarital involvements are said to be unfaithful or to betray their vows or to cheat. The common phrase “sleeping around” implies a very casual and promiscuous behavior, presumably involving more than two beds. “Playing around” has a connotation of something other than serious intent. The most neutral wording to refer to the relationship of a married woman and her paramour, or a married man and his, is simply as an “extramarital relationship,” meaning one which exists in addition to a conjugal one.

Technically, you can only commit adultery if you are legally married. Moreover, if you are legally married, then any sex with anyone other than your spouse is adultery. In the spirit of the law, the relationship inherent in an “extramarital relationship” could be considered the same for any two people who cohabit as husband and wife, whether they are legally married or not. Being unfaithful to a common-law husband is a lot like being unfaithful to a legally married husband, if the couple’s understanding is that they are in fact in a “husband-wife” relationship. “Married but not churched” is how my grandmother would have described it.

The situation is less clear when you have two people who are lovers but are not married or living together as husband and wife. They don’t have the same obligations to each other as would formalized couples that are legally married, living common-law or are registered domestic partners, in that they have not promised to forsake all others forever and ever. They have almost no legal privileges involving the relationship, but they also have almost no obligations. In that context, value-laden words such as “unfaithful” are even less appropriate.

Anyone discussing the virtues and vices of contemporary marriage usually brings up the importance of monogamy. The term “monogamy” does not refer to relationships at all but to a certain kind of marital structure involving one husband and one wife: “mono” for one, “gamy” for marriage. An alternative to monogamy would be bigamy, in which one person has two husbands or two wives, and bigamy is considered illegal everywhere in the Western world. The
person with an extramarital connection is not, usually, a bigamist. He or she has one spouse and one or more other relationships with the opposite sex. Erica Jong does not exactly clarify the issue when she explains, “Bigamy
is having one husband too many. Monogamy is the same.”

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Avoid Invidious Comparisons

Don’t say “And you know, you are the first,” because he would pretend to believe it but it would be sheer courtesy. But say: “Before I knew you, I didn’t know what it was” because that men always believe.
—George-Armand Masson

It’s a cliché to affirm that each man—or woman—is unique. Why is it then that so many women who have found one lover who has pleased them implicitly spend so much time trying to find another lover who also pleases them in exactly the same way?

You’re not the same person you were then; he isn’t the same man you had then. So why do you expect the relationship to therefore be the same? And why do you wail and fret when it isn’t?

The secret of love is to live in the present affair. That doesn’t mean that you forget your first love or your former love. Nor should it. It does mean that you don’t judge your present circumstance by past glories. Each affair has something unique to offer, if you’re attentive and receptive to it. If you’re nostalgic, keep it to yourself or tell it to your mother or a friend. To your lover, all comparisons are invidious.

Love Compared

Love Compared (Photo credit: jah~)

A friend of mine who has had a number of lovers over the years amuses herself with what she calls her Academy Awards. “Harry received the Best Dressed Award; he was always impeccably turned out. Charles was the quintessential handyman; I gave him the Mr. Fix-it Award. I knew a Herman who could always make me laugh, even when I was almost in tears: he gets the Academy Award for Humor and Distraction. And then of course, there is a young man I knew only briefly who was awarded the Five P Award: proud possessor of the practically perfect pecker. Unfortunately, he didn’t have much else to recommend him although he did have that. The most important award in my books is the Boon Companion Award. That’s the Oscar that really counts.”

This kind of game is amusing, and it helps to reaffirm what you should always remember: that each man is valuable in his own way. But keep it as a game of solitaire or for your memoirs when you are old. If you want to minimize jealousy, avoid the temptation to brag about old loves and old conquests. Don’t discuss one man with another, not even if the discussion focuses on his negative points. He doesn’t want to hear it, he has no right to hear it, and you have no right to tell it anyway.

Paranoia, Projection, Protestations

A man does not look in the closet unless he has stood there himself.
—Leonard Levinson

The English have a saying that it’s reformed rakes who make the best husbands. One wonders at its veracity, but whether or not it’s true, it’s certainly true that it’s reformed rakes who make the most suspicious husbands.

If a man is himself a veteran of many affairs of the heart, with many ladies married and otherwise, he knows what duplicity can lurk in the hearts of women and how unflattering and even ridiculous the imposed role of cuckold can be. One might hope that such a man of the world would be wise enough to turn a blind eye to suspicious circumstances. If he doesn’t choose to do so, then he will be very difficult to deal with. It goes without saying that his own behavior, past and present, does little to increase his tolerance for yours.

The best defense against jealousy in simultaneous affairs is to keep one relationship as far away as possible from the other in terms of time and of space. The point is to avoid confrontations at all costs. In the abstract, the idea of another relationship may be vaguely upsetting. In the flesh, it may be enraging. Whether the man in question is a husband or a boyfriend or something in between, he should be protected as much as possible from having to deal directly with the reality of another affair.

The double standard isn’t just a masculine flaw: it’s part of the human condition. If you are having another affair, even if he “knows” that such might be the case and even if he “permits” it, he should never have to deal with finding the wrong brand of underwear in his underwear drawer or a package of incriminating snapshots or a carelessly displayed love letter or e-mail.

The best advice, and very important advice it is, is simple: at all times, act as your own detective.

Cover of "Same Time, Next Year"

Cover of Same Time, Next Year

In Same Time, Next Year, the hit Broadway comedy by Bernard Slade, George and Doris have an affair for twenty-four years. They meet every year in a hotel in California, he supposedly on an annual business trip, and she supposedly at a retreat. As the play unfolds from one year to the next, we see how they share their lives and how the affair is a meaningful part of them. Apart from illustrating how an affair can be incorporated into a marriage and may actually strengthen it, the play provides an ideal circumstance for a tryst. When they are together, both are away from their respective homes and routines, and they relate only to each other. The more separate one affair from the other is, in time and space, the better.

Rule Eight: Minimize Jealousy

Yet he was jealous, though he did not show it, For jealousy dislikes the world to know it.
—George Noel Gordon, Lord Byron: Don Juan

In any relationship, whether or not the couple is married, there is the specter of jealousy. The woman may be jealous of the man’s money and the power it conveys; the man may be jealous of the woman’s education and cultural refinement. A husband may be jealous of his wife’s right to stay home and not confront the rigors of the marketplace; his wife may be jealous of his exciting career which contrasts too sharply with her own dull domestic existence. A father may be jealous of the affection the children shower on their mother, while the mother may be jealous of her husband’s ability to reap the benefits of parenthood without contributing sufficiently to its physical and emotional demands.

In other words, there may exist in a given relationship a state of barely suppressed outrage that, for one reason or another, one person is getting more than his share of joy and the other more than her share of grief (or vice versa). It’s not fair! If you add to that the possibility of one person having a lover or lovers, then the potential is increased many fold.

In our culture, men, even more than women, have been socialized to think of love in terms of possession. Nearly any man will rebel at the thought of any other male being with “his” woman. The man with whom you have only a casual relationship may well be presumptuous when he regards you as “his”: the husband or the long-term lover has a more valid case. The most legitimate kind of jealousy and the one the world most readily understands and takes seriously is jealousy stemming from another love relationship. Sexual jealousy, although strong, is not necessarily more or less intense than jealousy from  other sources. The root of jealousy is in whatever one partner feels insecure about. Once you have assessed what that is, then you have some insight into what the sources of trouble are likely to be with a particular man.

Jealous Girls

Jealous Girls (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A problem with minimizing jealousy is that many women rather like their men to be jealous. They view it as a sign of love, and the more intense the response, the more loved they feel. Sometimes, a woman will deliberately go out of her way to provoke jealousy: when her man reacts to the red flag she is waving, she feels desirable and powerful.

Creating jealousy isn’t only an unkind and inconsiderate act, but it’s also a tactic of dubious worth in terms of providing emotional reassurance. The intensity of a man’s jealous response doesn’t necessarily tell you much about his love for you or lack of it.  As de La Rochefoucauld points out in one of his many maxims, “Jealousy is always born with love, but it does not always die with it.”

A man’s jealousy may tell you more about his own insecurities and his possessiveness than it does about his feelings for you. Unless your intention is unkind and you wish to torment and punish, deliberately creating jealousy is playing with fire, which is always a dangerous game.

Rule Seven: Respect Privileged Information

I lay it down as a fact that if all men knew what others say of them, there would not be four friends left in the world.
—Blaise Pascal, Pensées

One of the crucial components of the intimate relationship is the sharing of the self. With a mate or with a lover, there develops a sense of trust which means, among other things, that there’s a willingness to let down your guard and reveal more of your true self, including some components that do not make you especially proud. The willingness to be psychologically naked in front of the other is an important component of love. It’s also an important part of making yourself vulnerable to being loved.

The sense of knowing the other in an intimate relationship comes not only from this voluntary exposure but also from having seen that other person, backstage as it were, in a number of unflattering circumstances. If you have lived for years with someone, you know that knowledge carries with it an obligation not to reveal what you know.

100_1162

100_1162 (Photo credit: Pega.WHORE.us)

There’s a real temptation with a lover to discuss intimate details. If you are married, you may well be tempted to reveal details about your marriage; or if you are in the process of dating someone new, all the intimate details of your recent breakup. Remember in doing this that you have a right to reveal what you feel, what you want, what you have experienced, and other things about yourself. You don’t have a right to reveal the inner life of one man to another. If you do, he will justifiably wonder how much of his inner life you may later reveal to some other man. The secrets of the bedroom should be seen like the secrets of the confessional or of the psychiatrist’s couch. Inviolate.

The prohibition against discussing the details of one relationship in the context of another is difficult to maintain since a major motivation for having an affair may be to have someone to discuss your marriage with, meaning someone to complain to about the troubles you’ve seen. When you’re tempted to launch a diatribe against your marriage or ex-boyfriend, remember the observation offered by the American Jewish writer and publisher Harry Golden: “The ultimate betrayal is not a wandering wife, but a wandering wife who tells her lover that her husband doesn’t make as much as everyone thinks.”

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