How to Pick a Lover

Archive for the ‘dating rituals’ Category

Begin As You Mean To Continue

Meet the first beginnings; look to the budding mischief before it has time to ripen to maturity.
—Shakespeare

Each new relationship makes its own rules, its own interpretation of the ageless game of man and maid. In effect, by the time you can begin to talk of a relationship rather than merely an acquaintanceship, the rules have already begun. For all the abstract talk about the role of women and the role of men, in real life, all that really exists is the role of a woman as defined by her interaction with one man: her expectations of him, his expectations of her.

The same woman may play several different versions of the so-called role of women with different men or with the same man at different stages in their lives. The tricky part has to do with inertia. Whatever the script that a couple writes for each other or accepts as having been written for them, it very soon comes to be written in indelible ink rather than sketched out in pencil. Once a habit or an expectation is allowed to develop, then whether or not it is fun or fair or practical, it tends to persist.

SOPHIE'S CHOICE ...

SOPHIE’S CHOICE … (Photo credit: mrbill78636)

It is easy to look at past relationships and see the scripts that you have allowed yourself to play and to wish them in some ways different. Such an insight does not necessarily make it easier for you to change, or easier for you to change him, although that won’t stop you from trying.

But—and here is the magic part—with a new man, you get to begin to write a new script for your lives together. You can create habits and expectations which, although probably similar to your scripted scenarios with other men, can be slightly different in ways that are important to you.

How do you go about creating new scripts? For a start, you don’t let the old and undesirable habits from old and undesirable relationships repeat themselves. Suppose, for example, that one of your perennial laments with your high school steady was that he always decided where you would go and when so that you never got a vote or participated in planning things. If you later married that high school steady, as an amazing number of heads-up women seem to do, is it surprising that twenty years later, he is still automatically taking charge even though you are now thirty-six instead of  sixteen? With a twenty-year habit, he’s not now going to change. Attempts to take control may make him angry or confused or amused, but it will not change him.

A new lover, however, doesn’t know that men always make the plans. If you don’t want to get into that pattern again, you must begin immediately in the relationship to show initiative. If he makes the first invitation (and in changing times or not, this is usually the case), then you make the second. If he suggests one alternative, suggest a modification. “Yes, I’d love to go to a movie, but I always go to the gym to exercise on Tuesday nights. Would Wednesday be OK?” Or “It’s nice of you to offer to pick me up, but I’d rather go right from work and meet you there.”

These little modifications are polite, reasonable, and trivial. They do, however, make an important point in the politics of everyday life: events are something that we plan together, not something organized and structured by only one person.

On a more important level, consider the issue of initiation in lovemaking. If you have slept for ten years with a man who always made the sexual advances and if you now begin to come on to him, if the man in question is your very own husband, then he may react with startled embarrassment. However, your new lover doesn’t have that response set. If you want sex to be more mutual then, from the beginning, be sure that while you are sometimes responsive to his approaches, you also expect him to be responsive to yours. Many women who think they are assertive or even aggressive in bed don’t notice that they take on this role only after the man in question has said, by word or action, “Hey, how about it?”

The same principle applies in all other areas. It is difficult to change established habits, but it is not so difficult to establish new ones in a new relationship.

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Don’t Play Pygmalion

Men will never disappoint us if we observe two rules: 1) to find out what they are; 2) to expect them to be just that.
—George Iles

Some people view their intimate associates as promising material from which they can make interesting people. Like the legendary Pygmalion, they want to create others in their own image. This is called teaching or helping or guiding or improving or a number of other euphemisms, but it still boils down to trying to change the other person. People, however, resist being changed . . . especially adult males.

The quest for change has two pitfalls, both equally serious. It is possible, but rare, that you do succeed in changing a person. When that happens, you may have created someone other than the kind of person who attracted you in the first place. Barbra Streisand asks rhetorically, “Why does a woman work ten years to change a man’s habits and then complain that he’s not the man she married?”

Duets (Barbra Streisand album)

Duets (Barbra Streisand album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The second pitfall, and one infinitely more common, is that you will keep expecting and hoping that he will change; but of course, he never does. There’s a continual sense of rage, which comes down to the demand, “Why can’t you be different than you are?” If you want a man who is different, go and find yourself a different man. Don’t waste his time and yours to everyone’s distress and disillusionment, trying to make a better model citizen of the one whom you have. This is one case in which the most appropriate solution is “love him or leave him.”

When you pick a lover, you pick someone who is as close as possible to your ideal man, and remember your ideal lover may be very different from your ideal boyfriend or husband. Once you have done that, learn to accept him for what he is and insist that he accept you in return. Lovers should be involved in trying to discover each other rather than trying to reinvent each other in a new image.

The Rebound Effect

A Frenchwoman, when double crossed, will kill her rival; the Italian woman would rather kill her deceitful lover; the Englishwoman simply breaks off relations—but they all console themselves with another man.
—Charles Boyer

One would think that when suffering the pain of having been rejected in love, a rational woman might foreswear love forever and give up on the whole game. At least, one might expect her to walk around for some time muttering, “Never again, never again.”

In reality, it’s only when a woman has left her man because she’s bored with him or offended or outraged that she thinks seriously of giving up men in general. If the man leaves her, then it’s quite another matter—even if she didn’t much want him anyway. If he leaves her, it becomes a matter of pride. To prove that there’s nothing wrong with her, that although unloved she’s not unlovable, she needs a new love affair—or at least the option of one.

ON THE REBOUND

ON THE REBOUND (Photo credit: Neal.)

To paraphrase the nineteenth-century novelist Barbey d’Aurevilly, “Next to the wound, what men make best is the bandage.”

The rebound love affair involves not so much a quest for love as a quest for reassurance. If you’re acting on such a motive, it’s helpful to be aware of it and to take it into account. When a middle-aged man seduces a young girl in order to prove to himself that he’s still young enough to be a macho swordsman, we tend to think that he’s exploiting her. Although it often occurs that men use women and hurt them badly in the process, it’s necessary to remember that women may also use men and may also hurt them badly.

If your motive in an affair is mainly to seek consolation and reassurance after an unfortunate love affair to bind up your wounds, so to speak, then be sure you don’t exploit the lover you pick. He might well delude himself that you loved him for himself alone and not for the incidental fact of his propinquity.

“Marriage Reminds Me of Death”

I never will marry,
I’ll be no man’s wife.
I expect to live single
All the rest of my life.
—Fred Brooks, “I Will Never Marry”

In the old days, when a man came a-courtin’, a young girl’s father might take him aside in the parlor and inquire, “Are your intentions honorable? Are you seriously considering my daughter as a wife, or are you wasting her time?”

In the new courtship, which doesn’t necessarily lead to marriage, the question is still relevant. While you may harbor no intent to commit matrimony, it doesn’t mean that your lover harbors no such intent. If it so happens that your lover is in serious pursuit of a wife, he has a right to know if you would ever consider getting married, and if so, if you would ever consider getting married to him.

The cultural stereotype in our society affirms that, generally, it’s the woman who wants to get married and it’s the man who must be coaxed or snagged or snaffled into making that commitment. If that was the case in the past, it’s not necessarily so today when unmarried women can lead quite different lifestyles than did the spinsters of the past.

Cover of "The Marrying Kind"

Cover of The Marrying Kind

Some women don’t want to marry ever. They concur with the spinster aunt in Somerset Maugham’s Mrs. Craddock who exclaims, “Marriage is always a hopeless idiocy for a woman who has enough of her own to live upon.”

Other women, once burned, never want to marry again. Yet despite being misogamists—one who hates marriage—they sometimes find themselves succumbing to social pressures to marry again. Such women should belong to Divorcees Anonymous, modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous. When they feel the urge to get married again, they could call an emergency number, and Divorcees Anonymous would immediately send over a fat man in a T-shirt, with a six-pack of beer, who settles down in the living room to watch football on the tube.

Women who are ideologically opposed to marriage would go along with Gloria Steinem’s commonly quoted maxim: “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.” If, whatever your reasons, you are adamantly not the marrying kind, then it’s important for you to make that clear to any man who becomes involved with you. The folk wisdom has been justly critical of the man who seems to court a woman but whose intentions are not honorable—that is, he has no intention of marrying her. A woman is equally at fault if she lets a man hope to marry her when she knows from the start that marriage to anyone—or at least marriage to him—isn’t for her.

Rule One: Accept Responsibility for the Affair

The Guilt of Janet Ames

The Guilt of Janet Ames (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Responsibility: the high price of self-ownership.
—Eli J. Schleifer

The decision to take a lover, like the decision to get married, is a decision which a woman makes for herself. Except for the aberrant circumstances of rape, she is the one who says yes or no. She decides what she’ll do with her body. The price of that privilege is that she alone is responsible for the decision.

When women are in a servile position, with no resources and little self-confidence they are justified in attributing their misfortunes to what some man has done to them. They were seduced or bullied or beguiled or, in other ways, misled. They were ruined or knocked up or conned or despoiled. Such women adopt the role of victim, playing opposite men who they cast in the role of villain.

While some men certainly are villains and some women certainly unfortunate victims, in many circumstances, women’s misfortunes aren’t so much the result of what men have done to them as they are the result of what women have done to themselves. Children and the very naive are, of course, exempt. Statutory rape is viewed as rape because the teenager is often not yet self-aware enough to give informed consent. For grown-ups, however, the flaws in relationships and the harm that sometimes results must be shared by both men and women.

Once a woman is of age, she must accept responsibility for the consequences of her decisions. The relationship with a lover is an unconventional one. It doesn’t encompass the institutional protections associated with marriage. It doesn’t come with guarantees. The woman must rely on her own judgment about the kind of man she gets involved with, and she must anticipate some negative consequences. She is a willing participant in an affair. If he pressures her in some way and is successful, it’s because she let him pressure her. If he has seduced her, unless she was drunk or drugged or raped, then she must have let herself be seduced.

The relationship with a lover is not only an unconventional one but is something viewed as immoral by many people. It’s defined as out of bounds by virtually all of the major religions. Some groups, such as the Unitarians, might regard it with only mild approbation; but none would advocate it as the best alternative. If you are a fundamentally religious person, such a relationship can inspire a considerable amount of guilt.

Some types of guilt are small and nagging and go away in a short while, but others are more consequential, and some stay with you for a very long time or even a lifetime. If thinking about the various moral consequences of an affair makes you feel any guilt whatsoever, then resolve how you are going to feel in the morning before the fact, not afterward. Try the idea out in your mind; talk with someone you trust who knows you well. Read some books or more blogs about relationships and affairs.

Above all, don’t let someone talk you into a relationship before you are ready. Only you really know how you yourself feel, and you can only know that if you take the time to think things through carefully and clearly examine and understand your own feelings. When in doubt, wait. Sex is never an emergency. If you change your mind later, there will still be willing men out there.

If, however, you decide to have an affair, then remember that it was, indeed, your decision. You cannot transfer the blame to your lover or your husband or children or even your mother. You must take responsibility for your own sexuality. Once you can do that, you can truly begin to enjoy it.

Safe Conduct: Guidelines for an Affair of the Heart

It’s a wise man who profits by his experience, but it’s a good deal wiser one who lets the rattlesnake bite the other fellow.
—Josh Billings

In times of war, when it is necessary to venture into hostile territory, one is sometimes issued a “safe conduct pass” which is supposed to assure that the bearer can pass through the danger zone unmolested. Women who venture into the uncertainty of new relationships based on new social norms don’t have any more guarantees of fulfillment than their grandmothers did. There are, however, some guidelines that can serve as a kind of safe conduct pass which, if followed, will help you to actualize as fully as possible your nascent affair with the new lover you have selected.

Love Affair (1939 film)

Love Affair (1939 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Logan Smith, the American epigrammatist, points out, “There are two things to aim at in life: first, to get what you want; and after that, to enjoy it. Only the wisest of mankind achieve the second.” There is no foolproof formula for a perfect love affair. There are, however, guidelines which, like other kinds of safe conduct documents, may offer more protection. In the tradition of commandments, I’ve listed a Decalogue of rules which you would be wise to consider carefully when pursuing an affair of the heart. I will address each of them separately in future posts.

DECALOGUE: GUIDELINES FOR AN AFFAIR OF THE HEART

RULE ONE: ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE AFFAIR.
RULE TWO: ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY FOR BIRTH CONTROL.
RULE THREE: BE HONEST ABOUT YOUR INTENTIONS.
RULE FOUR: PICK THE RIGHT MAN FOR THE RIGHT REASONS.
RULE FIVE: ACCEPT THE INEVITABILITY OF CHAUVINISM.
RULE SIX: DO YOUR PART TO MAKE THE AFFAIR SUCCESSFUL.
RULE SEVEN: RESPECT PRIVILEGED INFORMATION.
RULE EIGHT: MINIMIZE JEALOUSY.
RULE NINE: BEWARE THE MONSTER THAT IS HABIT.
RULE TEN: TAKE TIME TO SAVOR LOVE.

Keeping Score

How many arms have held you,
And hated to let you go?
How many, how many I wonder
But I really don’t want to know.
—Don Robertson, Howard Barnes

Sooner or later, everybody always asks, “How many men have you slept with? How many affairs have you had?”

If you are about to enter into your first affair and are still virgo intacta, then you probably should tell your prospective lover that you have chosen him for your first time. The loss of one’s maidenhead can be a momentous occasion, and if he knows of your innocence, he may be more solicitous of it.

If you have had one affair, you can say demurely, “Only one.” Nowadays, only a minority of men is likely to insist upon a virgin bride although they might prefer such a circumstance. Unless you are about to marry a Mormon missionary, admitting to one previous affair is probably safe.

The trouble with the more-or-less-acceptable answer of “only one” is that you can use it only once. When the truth is that there has been more than one previous lover, the truth becomes more treacherous. Under those circumstances, you might admit to “a passel.” This term is appropriately vague, referring to an indeterminate number. And if he insists upon a specific number, then there is only one correct answer, which is to give a range: more than one, less than five hundred.

Why does your man want to know? What difference does it make to him what your scorecard reads? Why does he want to view a scalp collection? Don’t buy the “I’m-just-curious” answer from anyone except a researcher from the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, and then, only after you have seen his interviewer identification badge. The man to whom it’s not very important he will not press the issue; the man for whom it’s very important he will keep pressing, and that alone tells you that any answer will be the wrong answer.

Don’t be led into the trap of the man who confesses all (all?) of his affairs and then insists that since he has told you, so you must tell him. Wrong. If he wants to confess his sins or brag about his conquests or whatever he is doing for whatever reasons, fine, but that doesn’t obligate you to do the same. The entire game of “Did you ever . . . ?” is a dangerous one. It leads to other games like “Who all did you sleep with? Did you ever make it with Jack? Did you ever have a black man?” (Or a white man, depending on your race.) That leads to still more games like “Who was the best? Am I the best? Was Jack better than me?” Some conversations are just not worth having, and this is one of them.

Ashley Madison 74%

Ashley Madison 74% (Photo credit: thelampnyc)

It would be nice if teenagers could fall in love once and once only and then live happily ever after, remaining true to each other year after year for fifty years. It would be nice, and it does happen, but it isn’t the way to bet. Men, including husbands, have long retained the option of pursuing more than one woman. More recently, women in general, including wives, have begun to realize their potential to do the same. Evan Esar, the American humorist, predicts, “In the future, a woman who sticks to one man will be regarded as a monomaniac.”

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