How to Pick a Lover

Archive for the ‘Modern Relationships’ Category

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.

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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.”

Rule Six: Do Your Part To Make The Affair Successful

Women claim that they want equal rights, equal respect . . . You don’t get respect because you want it; you get respect because you earn it; by being competent, intelligent, trustworthy, flexible, and generous.
—Marion A. Asnes

Women, especially young women and especially attractive ones, are used to being courted. They’ve often been encouraged to sit back and be entertained, to sit back and evaluate various offers from various men, and to take their time weighting one offer against the next. They expect to bring to the relationship first of all their beauty and then, if the price is
right emotionally or otherwise, the gift of their sexuality. They expect men to make the effort to amuse and to entertain; they expect to let themselves be won and not much more.

If women are going to move beyond a role in which sexuality is exchanged for many other things to a situation where sexuality is mutual and where they are allowed to court as well as to be courted, then they must also take responsibility for making the resulting love affair successful and satisfactory. Throughout this blog, I’ve been listing and describing the various things that make a man attractive. I’ve outlined the intrinsic attributes that he should have and have suggested many nice things which he could do. Now for the surprise: let the woman do the same.

Love & Respect

Love & Respect (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you like to hear him say your name, learn to say his as well. If you like clever, funny little love gifts, think of some to give him. If you like a man as well-groomed as possible and wearing some exotic scent, then come to him as well-groomed as possible, with an exotic scent of your own.

If you hate unilateral decisions on matters of joint interest, make sure you don’t make such decisions for him. If you rage at inaccurate generalizations about women, be sure you don’t make equally inaccurate generalizations about men.

If you hate the feeling of being pressured into having sex when you don’t really feel like it, be sure you don’t try to pressure him into it when he doesn’t really feel like it. If you need someone to understand the cross-pressures inherent in trying to juggle a marriage and a career and children and a love affair, then take note of the fact that he may have the same sort of juggling act to perform.

The golden rule isn’t news and it’s not perfect, but it’s still the best guideline there is. If you treat your man the way you would like to be treated, most of the time, he will be delighted. And most of the time, it will come back to you many times over.

“Your Place or Mine?”

Visit, that ye be not visited.
—Don Herold

A complication of chauvinism is that the conventional dating rule that requires a man to invite a woman on a date—making him the host, and her, his guest—also govern the interactions of host and guest relationships in general. The person who issues the invitation and is the host owes many little services to the person who is the guest; and this dynamic can reinforce chauvinist ideologies. The solution to this dilemma is to alternate the roles of host and guest.

The one who issues a dinner invitation decides where to eat and picks up the tab. Sometimes, that will be him; and sometimes, it will be you. You make dinner when you invite him to dinner at your house; he makes dinner when he asks you to his house. The person who owns the car you are using is the person who drives it, puts gas in it, and decides how fast to go. The man who can never be comfortable unless he is in the driver’s seat, literally and figuratively, is acting out yet another subtle form of chauvinism in everyday life. Sometimes, you both go in his car; sometimes, you drive your own.

For two single people, one habit of consequence is imbedded in the cliché question: “Your place or mine?” If you take him to your home for the all-important first time, you have the all-important “home advantage” of being on your own turf and in more control of the situation. You look around for a razor for him the next morning and hope that you did remember to buy bacon after all and that you have clean towels. And you wait for him to leave before you go to work so that you can lock the door without giving him a key.

The Dating Game

The Dating Game (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you take him home the second time and the third and the tenth, then you have created a habit that when the two of you make love, you “always” do so in your space. Maybe that’s how you want it for one reason or another. But if you would prefer to have a more reciprocal arrangement of the roles of host and guest, don’t wait until the tradition is established, and then try to change it.

Men are very comfortable with a double standard when it comes to homes: your home belongs to both of you, but his pad is his own. Whatever he does, he does with your consent. He cannot communicate with you by e-mail or text if you choose not to respond. He cannot phone you at all hours unless you answer the phone and are willing to chat. He cannot drop in without notice unless you give him a key or answer the door. Early on, be sure that “Your place or mine?” remains a real question rather than a rhetorical one. Shared space should come from both of you.

Reciprocity: The Elixer of Mutuality

Watch out for men who have Mothers.
—Laura Shapiro, Ms.

The chauvinist is long accustomed to the idea that women will serve him and take care of him as in the personal service that used to be provided by servants. Indeed, in this expectation, he’s not far from wrong.

While the worlds of men and women have changed significantly over the past 50 years, men still routinely encounter waitresses, secretaries, clerks, chambermaids, receptionists, and others in service occupations—the majority of whom continue to be women. Women fetch and carry, they tend and attend, and they take care of him often in much the same way that mothers take care of children. Certainly in the same way that mothers take care of favorite sons.

Emancipated women who are sensitive to chauvinism in many other areas may make exceptions for their sons. The more devoted the mother is—and the longer the son has been at home—the more pronounced the attitude becomes. Guess who later gets to play Mommy and take care of him? The traditional attitude in marriage is that the provider brings home the bacon and the little homemaker cooks and serves it . . . after she has gotten him a beer, found the TV guide, answered the phone, and quieted the children.

In traditional marriages, a man who would leap to his feet when a strange woman comes into the room is the same man who, at home, automatically takes the best chair in the room, asks his wife to bring him the paper, and does not move until dinner is served.

Providing personal services is a way of being considerate and of showing affection. No one would want to have lovers and friends give up such nice little touches as making dinners and drinks, helping someone on and off with a coat, and putting the coat in the closet, running a bath, lighting a fire in the fireplace, fetching the mail, answering the phone, charging the cell
phone, plumping up the pillows, arranging a footstool, getting a sweater, finding your glasses, and a thousand and one other ways of making someone comfortable. What’s important in a lover is that these touches are reciprocal, not one-sided. And that they are not expected or demanded.

Quid Pro Quo

Quid Pro Quo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Unless you’re a commercial sex worker, you don’t have to continually give more than you receive, and you shouldn’t. If you are clear from the start about your expectations of quid pro quo and consistent in their application, most men will learn quite quickly how to scratch a back back.

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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