How to Pick a Lover

Archive for the ‘sex roles’ Category

Adulteress as Villainess

A hundred years ago Hester Prynne of “The Scarlet Letter” was given an A for adultery; today she would rate no better than a C-plus.
—Peter De Vries

Throughout history, women who were caught in adultery have suffered grievous punishments. In India, they might have been burned. In Persia, men favored beheading adulterous women. In Turkey, the traditional punishment was the lash, a painful prospect but one offering more hope than in traditional China, where errant wives might be imprisoned for life.

Under Sharia law in a number of Islamic countries, all it takes is two male witnesses swearing that the woman is an adulteress, and she can be stoned to death even if she never committed adultery.

Countries with Sharia rule.

Countries with Sharia rule. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the literature of the Western world, women who are, as they say, “taken in adultery” are not punished as blatantly, but they don’t fare well. The world’s literature is, of course, written primarily by men and may, consequently, reflect more the position of an outraged husband than it does the sentiments of the outraged wife.

In Dante’s Inferno (ca. 1300), Francesca loved not only her husband but also his younger brother, Paolo; and when they were discovered, both were put to death. This sad tale, repeated in other literary versions, is unusual in that both guilty parties were punished. Usually, the double standard results in the errant woman being the focus of concern and punishment.

In Hawthorn’s classic novel The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne was forced to wear an embroidered scarlet letter on her dress to show that she was an adulteress and then required to stand in the pillory holding her illegitimate child. In Tolstoy’s tragic story of Anna Karenina, the social disapproval of the lovers is so pervasive and extreme that Anna disintegrates and ultimately throws herself under the wheels of a train. There are a plethora of other examples of the same ilk, conveying the message that crime does not pay and that the woman who strays from the domestic hearth will come to a tragic end.

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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.

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.

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