How to Pick a Lover

Archive for the ‘Men to Avoid in Relationships’ 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

 

 

Resisting Chauvinism In Everyday Life

The plain English of the politest address of a gentleman to a lady is, I am now, dear madam, the humblest of your servants. Be so good as to allow me to be your Lord and Master.
—Samuel Richardson

On the one hand, chauvinistic males are everywhere. On the other hand, you’re advised not to try to change a man with whom you are having an affair. How then are you to live with chauvinism? The answer is simple: change yourself, not him.

The secret to male domination, at one level or another, is that it’s domination by consent. If he says, “Be so good as to allow me to be your lord and master,” you don’t have to allow it. Women agree to being placed in a secondary role; they submit to being governed. If you don’t comply, he cannot make you obey.

To this generalization, there are two important exceptions. First, obviously, he can make you do anything he wants if you have to deal with physical domination and abuse. You can do nothing in that situation except to leave as soon as possible. Second, and less obviously, he can make you do many things if you are economically dependent upon him. If, however, you have your own resources inside or outside marriage, then most of the domination that is involved is a combination of traditional authority and psychological intimidation.

I'll take my chauvinism with a hint of barbari...

I’ll take my chauvinism with a hint of barbarism please! (Photo credit: jeremyclarke)

While each new relationship brings out in a personality something slightly different than any other relationship, the problems you encounter with one man often tend to reoccur in subsequent ones. A young woman friend of mine used to wail to me as she found herself in the midst of all-too-familiar hassles, “Why does my life keep repeating itself?” My less than sympathetic response to her, “Because, my dear friend, you keep making the same mistakes!” A new love affair gives you a chance to start over. A new love affair gives you a chance to stop making the same mistakes . . . as long as you remain self-aware of your own previous detrimental patterns.

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.

Rule Five: Accept the Inevitability of Chauvinism

There are three choices: to be a celibate, be a lesbian, or love a chauvinist.
—Jayson VanVerten

It would be a pleasant change if one could select as lovers only men who were free of chauvinism. Alas, since it’s the culture as well as individuals who are androcentric (man centered), there are still relatively few such creatures around. Although they are becoming less rare with each passing generation.

The misogynist is a man who hates women. The chauvinist isn’t necessarily full of hate: he simply has a fundamental sense of man’s superiority to women and, therefore, a fundamental belief in the intrinsic rightness of existing traditional sex roles. He views the exchange relationship of man the provider versus woman the nurturer as a satisfactory one, perhaps even an exemplary one. If you disagree, spend some time chatting to a conservative who champions “family values.” Although he may mutter compliance when challenged about equal pay for equal work, he usually doesn’t believe that work done by women is equal to the work done by men.

Gender equality poster

Gender equality poster (Photo credit: leitza*)

What are the signs of chauvinism in everyday life? In the early days of consciousness-raising in the women’s movement, they used to talk about the click, which was a sudden aha insight into a daily event symbolic of the arrangement between the sexes. Once you start to think in these terms, the clicks are everywhere.

A chauvinist is likely to expect personal services which he doesn’t reciprocate. He tends to make unilateral decisions that should be made jointly; he controls the content of conversations by refusing to participate on topics which don’t concern him directly. He seeks emotional support without returning it, he gives unnecessary directions, he assumes that his opinion is more valid and more accurate than a woman’s regardless of his expertise or lack of it on a particular issue. Etcetera. The analogy is that a chauvinist tends to treat women in the same way as an adult treats a child: he may be affectionate and even benevolent, but he isn’t an egalitarian.

If your consciousness is sufficiently raised to be aware of the chauvinism around you, what are you to do about it? You can opt for celibacy and try as much as possible to avoid the company of men. You can opt for lesbianism and the “lavender culture.” (Alas, you will find that some lesbian women are sexist as well, but that is another story.) Or you can resign yourself to the fact that chauvinism is endemic and simply try to minimize its effects. If you decide to become an active feminist and dedicate yourself to reforming and revamping the social system, that’s a fine political decision. It is, however, frequently a precursor of disaster in one’s personal life. You can end up defining almost everything as a political issue, which isn’t only exhausting and inefficient but also chips away destructively at even the most affectionate bond.

If you decide to go with the traditional role and model yourself on “total womanhood,” you must deny a large part of your selfhood and your intelligence. Total women are the scabs of sisterhood. In the women’s movement, they are the equivalent of Uncle Toms in the black movement. We call them Doris Days. Playing this part, even if you were willing to do so, would make you feel most of the time like an actress and a rather miscast actress at that. You might do it but would resent it, and that resentment would eventually sour your love affair.

There is a third alternative. You can learn to live with chauvinism, at least mild-mannered chauvinism, without  sacrificing your independence and self-respect. You’ll not be viewed as acceptable by some chauvinistic men. But you will be increasingly acceptable to enlighten men whose own consciousness has been raised and who, if not exactly feminists themselves, are at least sympathetic to the feminist cause.

Beware of the Great Ghost Lover

There is sanctuary in reading, sanctuary in formal society, in the company of old friends, and in the giving of officious help to strangers, but there is no sanctuary in one bed from the memory of another.
—Cyril Connolly, The Unquiet Grave

There’s nothing quite so wondrous, quite so awesome, quite so interesting as the first time you fall in love. It may not be with the first man whom you take as a lover . . . indeed, such emotional monogamy is more likely the exception than the rule. The intensity is partly due to ignoring or refusing to accept the possibility that such a feeling can end—not only on his part but also on yours.

If, in addition, the thrill of first love is combined with the thrill of first making love and if that initiation is a satisfactory experience, then it sets up the conditions for a powerful kind of imprinting. Newly hatched goslings will imprint on any moving object they happen to see—a moving wooden cube, the heel of their keeper, a ball of wool—and they will follow that object with all the persistence and devotion that nature intended them to bestow on the mother goose that hatched them. In the same way, a woman whose first love experience coincides with her first sexual experience, or at least her
first erotic and wonderful sexual experience, may for the rest of her days be imprinted upon a certain kind of man.

The man who was your first love may provide an idealized model for masculinity in general. If the first eyes that you loved loved you back, and said so, were let’s say, slate gray, then twenty years later, slate-gray eyes across a crowded room will still seem more riveting than they actually are. If the first kisses of great passion were enclosed in a full beard, then twenty years later, a full beard is still a special male plumage of particular appeal. Whether he was tall or short, handsome or gnome-like, muscular or slender, there’s a body type, a body image, which continues to hold for your extraordinary potential appeal.

English: Man with beard sleeping.

English: Man with beard sleeping. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If, by chance, you meet someone who seems almost the same as your first great ghost lover from the past, he’ll almost win your heart just by standing there and breathing in and out. Beware. Looking the same doesn’t at all mean that he’s the same. You pick him not for what he is but for the man he reminds you of, which isn’t very flattering to him when he figures it out. You will then project on to him the other traits of the great ghost lover and will be duly disappointed when, quite naturally, he doesn’t live up to these uncanny expectations.

If you find your first great love reincarnated, recognize the source of your attraction. Talk to him if you can’t resist the temptation to do so or if you should want to spoil your illusion with a little reality shock. Take his picture. But don’t take him to your bed in an attempt to go back in time. Even if he looks the same, he won’t be the same and you’ll both be disappointed—you, by his failure to mimic a vanished man he has never met, and he, by your failure to appreciate the fine and unique person that he, in fact, is.

And while you are thinking about your great ghost lover, remember the words of warning from the often-quoted author Bill Vaughan: “It’s never safe to be nostalgic about something until you’re absolutely certain there’s no chance of it coming back.”

The First Time You Sleep Together, Try Sleeping

Breathes there a man with soul so dead
Who never to a girl has said:
“Let’s go to bed.”
—Evan Esar

You want, in a lover, a man who relates to you on many levels and a man who will not insist on having his own way regardless of your wishes. A lover who understands mutuality.

All married couples know that going to bed together does not necessarily mean they are going to make love. Lots of other wonderful things happen in bed besides sleep. It’s snug, dark, comfortable, and private: an excellent place to think or talk or cuddle.

You can tell a lot about how your interaction with a man is going to be by going to bed with him with the expressed, explicit intention of not having sex. You say, “Yes, I’ll sleep with you tonight, but I won’t have sex with you tonight. All right?”

Some men will bristle indignantly at this; some will be amused, being certain you will change your mind; some will be secretly relieved as this strategy allows the growth of intimacy without any performance demanded on his part or yours.

Without those words, it’s understood by everyone that he’s obligated to try to make love to you. And you cannot really say no without hurting his feelings and creating misunderstandings. By saying no in advance and meaning it, you create an atmosphere of no pressure. You can be sexually deprived for twelve hours. It helps, in this, to have a good excuse for not making love, something outside the relationship and something non-negotiable. An obvious one is to be having your period. Even if he says he doesn’t mind, it’s understandable that you might, at least the first time. Any kind of physical impairment is an understandable excuse. Or you might simply avoid going to bed at all and lie down and eventually sleep on the living room couch. It’s not as comfortable, but it is much less ambiguous, and you avoid the critical point of confrontation when you have to negotiate who is going to sleep where and what it means.

If a man agrees to your arrangements and then gives you a night of constant hassle—groping, nagging, whining, and otherwise carrying on—you have lost a night’s sleep. You may, however, have saved yourself a lot of trouble in the future because you now know how he’s likely to behave on other occasions when he doesn’t get what he wants when he wants it.

Listen ... Rape is a polictically volatile top...

Photo credit: marsmet451

There’s a pattern of psychological bullying, stemming from incredulity that anyone, any woman, could actually oppose him with a will of her own. That attitude is the opposite of mutuality. Whether or not you give in on that particular night and let him have his way with you, as the Victorians used to say, you can know what to expect on future nights should you happen not to feel like having sex.

The best kind of lover acknowledges the fundamental idea that sexual encounters should involve two people who, if not equally enthusiastic, are at least compliant enough to be willingly involved. He doesn’t want to impose himself upon someone who is reluctant. He may be disappointed that the evening isn’t going to end with you as the dessert, but he’s willing to wait for a time of mutual desire.

A man with that attitude usually does not have to wait very long.

Picking a Lover: Taking Chances

Why not go out on a limb? Isn’t that where the fruit is?
—Frank Scully

The process of picking a lover is a process of prediction and projection. You think: “If I were to have Robert as a lover, how would he be? Would we fit well together? Would he make me happy? How would being with Robert compare with being with Michael? Who knows?”

Cupid

Cupid (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

No one knows. It isn’t that we are left with an inexact science. We have no science at all. Cupid is, by definition, capricious and sometimes mischievously puts together two people who are complete opposites of each other. The most unlikely couples can be blissfully happy, drawn together by a magnetic attraction no one else can understand.

On the other hand, sometimes a marriage which seems made in heaven is, in fact, a private hell for the man and woman involved. Richard Needham, a former Canadian humor columnist for the Globe and Mail, puts it well when he points out, “You never know the truth about anyone else’s marriage; you only know the truth about your own, and you know exactly half of that.” Generalizations based on experience and common sense can suggest that some kinds of men are probably a better bet than others. There are guidelines about the kinds of men who might make better lovers for you than others. Alas, there are no guarantees.

Each man and woman is a complex individual; each relationship unfolds under unique circumstances. Since predictions must be made without the aid of a crystal ball, any advice which can be given is less than crystal clear. You could have selected some men for all the right reasons, men who had all the right attributes. Nevertheless, your choice led to a disastrous affair because something unforeseen happened. He crashed his car or lost his job or succumbed to a numbing midlife depression or encountered some other hazard no one could have predicted.

Or as often happens with young marriages, the man you picked may have been exactly right for you at the time, and then you grew up and changed your mind—or he did.

Sharing the experiences and perspectives of others will not give you absolute answers about what you should do next. It will, however, give you something to ponder as you sit by the phone, waiting for it to ring. Or in a bolder mood, as you scroll through your Blackberry or iphone address book, trying to decide whose number to call.

Tag Cloud