How to Pick a Lover

Archive for the ‘fidelity’ Category

Pardon My Plurality

In matters of the heart, there may be two kinds of people: those who know that it is possible to love more than one person, and those who know that it is not.
—Jayson VanVerden

If a woman can take a lover, we now come to another nitty-gritty question: can she take more than one lover? What happens to a love affair when one or the other partner—or both—are also involved with someone else. There has been a lot of material, written mostly by men, implying that men are naturally polygamous whereas women, god bless them, are naturally monogamous. The man insists that his passion for another woman doesn’t have anything to do with his feeling for his wife, or doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with it. The woman typically takes this assertion with a whole pound of salt.

In reality, however, it’s not so much that all men are polygamous in intent and all women monogamous as much as it’s that there are some people—men and women—who can and do harbor love and passion for more than one person simultaneously.

Some people—men and women—can feel love for only one person at a time. If they fall in love with a new person, they must, by necessity, fall out of love with the first. At the very least, they must love the first one less. If they have more than one love affair, therefore, it must be in sequence with the old love being replaced by the new.

In Marriage and Morals, Bertrand Russell points out that “the psychology of adultery has been falsified by conventional morals, which assume . . . that attraction for one person cannot coexist with a serious attraction for another. Everybody knows that this is untrue.”

Women as well as men may follow a pattern of simultaneous affairs. If you understand in your own heart the possibility of love for more than one person at a time, then when your lover has an affair, you may be hurt and unhappy; but it’s comprehensible to you. When you wail, “How could you?” it’s a rhetorical question, for you know quite well how he could do that and more. You also know, although you may choose to forget it in the heat of the moment, that his having slept with another woman, or even loved another woman, does not necessarily mean that he loves you less. The one love is different from the other: it has a different place in the psyche, and it fulfills different needs.

Not necessarily just being attracted to one person

Photo credit: theslowlane

A woman has a right to a lover. Indeed, she has a right to more than one lover. While it’s quite possible for many women to love more than one man at a time, it’s also important to remember that not everybody believes this or is willing to accept it. You have a right to do it, but you must expect a wide range of consequences, some of which will be unfortunate.

To a committed monogamist, male or female, the reaction to infidelity is often a sense of total betrayal, however inappropriate or over-the-top you may find that reaction. If your male lover thinks this way, then love that’s really love, in his mind, means love that is exclusively with one person. In deciding to embark on an affair, you need to realize that, for him, even one involvement with one other man will be viewed as an absolute end of your relationship with him. Such an arbitrary stand is quite likely to be associated with a lot of pain and ultimately with loneliness, but the decision may be so fundamental and so emotional that it’s non-negotiable.

In most instances, though, the acceptance of the plurality of love and lovers is part of the more sophisticated wisdom that comes with experience. Even with married couples, it may be painful, but it’s not necessarily outrageous.

Many people would tend to agree with Oscar Wilde when he asserts, “People who love once in their lives are really shallow people. What they call their loyalty and fidelity is either lethargy of custom or lack of imagination. Faithfulness is to the emotional life what constancy is to the intellectual life, simply a confession of failure.”

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The Penultimate Test: Take Him Home

A woman’s home is her hassle!
—Jayson VanVerten

When you have found a prospective lover who seems in many ways to be the real thing, or at least close to the real thing, take him home. Well, not necessarily home to meet your mother unless you are only seventeen, but home to where you live or work.

If you are in a relationship contrive some situation in which he’ll meet your husband or your current lover dangerous as that may initially seem. See him when you’re with your children. Put him in the same group with other significant people in your life, be they coworkers or a brother or whomever. This strategy is, of course, irrelevant if all that’s involved is a one-night stand or a one-afternoon tumble.  This strategy is only important for a lover that you hope to keep for a period of time.

Lover

Lover (Photo credit: Squirmelia)

First of all, you’ll see how well he behaves under moderate pressure before there is any real pressure. Can he talk baseball scores with your husband without glowering? Does he show deference to your husband and his domain? Does he treat your children as miniature people or as little irritants that get in his way? Can he be cool and poised in a situation in
which, you hope, only you and he understand the real nature of the dynamics that are going on?

If a man bungles initial meetings before any events of real significance have occurred, you cannot trust him to be cool and to remain discreet when at some future date there may be more violent emotions and more significant events to cover up. What’s really involved here isn’t only a test of sophistication but also a test of potential possessiveness and jealousy. Some unworldly boys of twenty can manage the situation with good grace and good humor; while some apparently worldly men in midlife are transparent and awkward.

The good lover must have a certain amount of guile, a certain talent for ambiguity. It’s paradoxical, but what you want is a contradictory qualification: the ability to dissemble to the world at large and the ability to project to you that with you, he speaks and shows only the truth and all the truth.

In 1984, George Orwell called it double think, a dubious trait you must both possess. You must be willing to believe: “Yes, we lie to the outside world, by omission if no other way. But no, we don’t lie to each other.” Like good theater, a good affair requires a certain suspension of disbelief.

Taking a prospective lover home also helps him to concretize the day-today reality with which you have to contend. Not just a husband, but Harry the husband. Not just three kids, but Mollie and Mattie and Maryanne. When you have to get home for a Girl Scout meeting, he knows who it is for and what it will be like. When you have to get home to make cunning
little stuffed mushrooms to stuff into your husband’s cunning little stuffed business associates, he can visualize the kitchen where you work and the room where they are served. The obligations are made real, and the more they are made real, the more he’s able to take them as seriously as you must.

You also need to take your lover home to demystify him for the people you work and live with. A mysterious gentleman caller is quite romantic and attractive if you’re a single girl who delights in collecting beaux just as your grandmother did. But if you are of a certain age and especially if you are married, collecting beaux isn’t exactly what you’re supposed to be doing, however delightful that pastime may be.

When someone finally asks, “Who was that man?” you need to be able to say casually, “Who? Oh, him. You remember him. That’s Tony. You met him at the Smith’s party. He’s in landscaping. He’s trying to talk us into a new pool.” Or whatever.

The best alibis are those you create before you need them, not afterward.

The Oldest Profession

It is a silly question to ask a prostitute why she does it. These are the highest paid “professional” women of America.
—Gail Sheehy, Hustling

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with selling your body. It is, after all, the oldest profession. And it is, after all, your body and you have a right to do with it what you will, including making some choices that others may think unpleasant or unwise.

There are a number of circumstances in which some or another variation of prostitution may be a rational choice. If you are young and powerless, if you are young and powerless and poor, then you use what you have. Eva Peron, who became a political icon in Argentina, was a major spokeswoman for los descamisados (the shirtless ones). She herself was born into a slum family and, it’s alleged, began her career as a teenage prostitute. Under such circumstances, when all that a woman has is an attractive body, it’s difficult to condemn her for doing the best she can with what she has.

Cropped screenshot of Marilyn Monroe from the ...

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On a less dramatic level, the trade-offs involved in sexual exchanges can be very useful. Using your sexuality for nonsexual goals is a question of individual choice and is often a legitimate way to get what you want. In Gentleman Prefer Blondes, Anita Loos quite rightly points out that “kissing your hand may make you feel very good, but a diamond is a girl’s best friend.” It’s more or less acceptable for nice girls to prefer men of wealth. While they may be considered gold diggers, they are also considered smart.

Granting sexual favors may not be necessary for survival, but it can be expedient. If the sex acts involved are at least not unpleasant, then having sex can be a convenient way of paying for dinner or of being nice or of exerting control or of creating a useful obligation.

If you want to get money from men, then there is no question about the kind of lover you should pick. Pick a rich one. The richer, the better. If you want to get favors from men, then there is no question about the kind of lover you should pick. Pick an influential one.

The exchange of sexuality for other favors can have important consequences. The legendary Hollywood “casting couch” is based on reality and has its equivalent in many other industries. Television celebrity Barbara Walters assures young women, “I didn’t get ahead by sleeping with people. Girls, take heart!” Perhaps she did not, but many have.

Many young women have come to realize that like Sally Stanford, the last grand “madam” in San Francisco who later became mayor of Sausalito, they too are “sitting on a fortune.” The folk wisdom is full of references to such exchanges, which don’t involve explicit prostitution but which do involve the trading of sex for nonsexual considerations.

It’s not only that one is advised to “go along in order to get along.” Women are also advised to “give head in order to get ahead,” and that happens at all levels. In a 1981 book The Intimate Sex Lives of Famous People, Irving Wallace reports that when Marilyn Monroe signed her first major contract, she is alleged to have exclaimed, “That’s the last cock I’ll have to suck.”

Tit for Tat: Sexuality and Exchange

The women who take husbands not out of love but out of greed, to get their bills paid, to get a fine house and clothes and jewels; the women who marry to get out of a tiresome job, or to get away from disagreeable relatives, or to avoid being called an old maid—these are whores in everything but name.
—Polly Adler, A House Is Not a Home

George Bernard Shaw, who was a master of one-liners, had a widely quoted conversation with a woman of note in which he asked if she would sleep with him for one million pounds. She said, “Of course.” “Well,” he said, “would you sleep with me for two pounds?” “Certainly not,” she said. “What kind of woman do you think I am?” “Madam,” said Shaw, “we have already established what kind of woman you are. We are merely haggling about the price.”

Cover of "Working Girls (Widescreen)"

If we define prostitution in terms of its minimum components, involving merely the performance of sexual acts motivated not by sexual desire but in exchange for some form of gain, then we cast a wide net. The impulse to go to bed, or to be taken to bed, is then based not on anticipation of joyous passion but on some other motive. The incentive may be as blatant as cold cash or as subtle as an improved chance for promotion, but it’s for something other than the sexual experience for its own sake.

One of the reasons it’s difficult to discuss prostitution objectively is that so many of the terms used to describe it are pejorative. Old-fashioned  terms like “tart” or “fallen women” or “harlot” sound strange in modern usage. The term “whore” is straightforward but very negative in tone. The terms “hooker” and “call girl” are less negative, but they refer to very specific kinds of activities.

The most neutral term is one now often used by prostitutes themselves, who refer to each other as “working girls” or “commercial sex workers.” By describing themselves as working girls, they convey the neutral attitude that prostitution is an industry like any other industry and that they are merely workers doing a different kind of work.

The New Courtship

The pleasure of love is in loving. We are happier with the passion we feel than in that we arouse.
—François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, Maxims

For decades, for centuries, for a millennium, men have had the right and privilege of choosing as sex partners women who turned them on. If they wanted a partner who was young or mature, short or tall, blonde or dark, quiet or bold, curved or slender, they could pursue the women most pleasing to them.

Of course, not all men were successful in winning the kind of women they most preferred. And of course, some men didn’t allow themselves such indulgences but made pragmatic choices of wives who were heiresses or the daughters of bosses or women who were otherwise useful for disparate ends. Such marriages did not necessarily preclude their simultaneous quest for other women who would be mistresses. In most instances, the women selected as sex objects or as love objects were selected because they were judged to be sexy or lovable.

In contrast to this pattern, women for a millennium have selected men for practical considerations. A woman needed a provider for herself and a provider and father for her children. In most instances, the most valuable commodity a woman had, to negotiate with in the world, was her body. She used this marketable asset to her best advantage, offering virginity and then fidelity in exchange for protection and security.

It wasn’t so much that men had to be attractive as that they had to have attractive compensating features, such as money or power. For the good wife, sex was business, and sexual intercourse was work. Many good wives were happy in their work, but it was work all the same. If she refused her husband, she could be out of a job. In fact, she couldn’t refuse him. He provided for her, so he had a right to her body. She had been, in effect, sold to him and couldn’t be used by anyone else without his permission.

Supposedly, North America has experienced a social and sexual revolution over the past thirty years. Supposedly, there are now different options for women – compared to our grandmothers and mothers –  who are liberated in many new ways and who have given up old stereotypes. If this is indeed the case, then, shouldn’t we now think about sexual encounters from a new perspective.

sexual revolution

Photo credit: cdrummbks

Let’s assume for a start that the new woman is enough in tune with her body and its erotic potential to really like sex. Touching feels good, arousal feels good, and orgasms are nonproblematic. Sex for her is or can be joyous. Fun. Wonderful. At a minimum, nice.

Let’s further assume that the “new woman” is enough in charge of her life and destiny that she can make her own way. If she has enough resources to support herself and her children at a level she considers to be adequate, she can then afford the indulgence of evaluating men as sex objects in the same way that women have been evaluated over the centuries. Whether she works as an executive secretary or is herself an executive, she has a living wage which comes to her in some other way than trading her body for favors or protection.

Such a woman can afford to pick a lover because he’s sexy or lovable, not because he owns three apartment buildings in prime locations. She can try to find the kind of man most to her liking, using intrinsic rather than extrinsic criteria. She’ll have to pay her own bills, but in return, she has control of her own body and a wide range of opportunity for personal and erotic development.

The woman who is not physically or psychologically forced to have sex when she doesn’t want to has a new kind of freedom. She can opt for celibacy if she wants, but she can also opt to have sex for purely sexual reasons. For many that is a revolutionary idea. It’s an idea that is long overdue. It’s an idea whose time has come. It’s an idea that needs to be openly acknowledged.

I will explore this paradigm shift in female sexuality in future posts in greater detail.

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