How to Pick a Lover

Archive for the ‘sexual freedom’ Category

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.

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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.

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.”

Don’t Have An Affair To Get Even

Revenge is like a boomerang. Although for a time it flies in the direction in which it is hurled, it takes a sudden curve, and, returning, hits your own head the heaviest blow of all.
—J. M. Mason

One of the most usual circumstances that propel women into an affair is the discovery that their lover or their husband has been playing around. Sometimes, they learn only in midlife that while they have been being faithful, their partners have been playing around for years.

It’s commonplace to observe that women have the gift of expressing themselves and their emotions whereas men have no such gift and are emotionally inarticulate. While this is often true, there’s one major exception: anger. Women who feel sad or hurt can cry more readily than men; however, women who feel rage have fewer outlets for it than do men. After-all, ladies aren’t supposed to feel rage, and when training little girls to be ladylike, we also train them to deny their anger and to suppress it or turn it inward.

The trusting girlfriend or wife who discovers her man’s infidelity is usually enraged as well as hurt. Even people who don’t know much Shakespeare are familiar with the idea that “hell has no fury like a woman scorned.” However, the woman scorned has few ways of expressing her anger. Lord Byron, in Don Juan, contends that “revenge is sweet—especially to women.” The sweetness comes in part because of her relative powerlessness.

A woman may be unable to demand justice from her man for real or imagined wrongs. One way she can get revenge, however, is through her sexuality. If her man has a double standard as most men do, then doing the same thing herself will hurt him and will hurt him where he lives. Making him a cuckold gives her a weapon to be used or to be saved and used sometime later.

Revenge can take many forms. Taking a new lover in order to punish the old one may work as an effective punishment, but it’s not likely to work as a basis for a satisfactory love affair. The man involved was selected, not for his intrinsic charm but to make a political point in another relationship. The decision process is likely to be one of expedience. The woman may even select someone she does not particularly like because she knows that choice would be particularly galling to her philandering lover or husband.

English: Photograph of Sophie Tucker

English: Photograph of Sophie Tucker (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The popular burlesque performer, Sophie Tucker, had a number of stock comic routines about a boyfriend named Ernie. One of them went something like this: On the occasion of his eightieth birthday, Ernie called and announced, “Soph! Soph! I took myself a twenty-year-old girl. What do you think of that?” “Ernie,” Sophie countered, “when I am eighty, I shall take a twenty year-old boy. And let me tell you something, Ernie, twenty goes into eighty a helluva lot more than eighty goes into twenty! So think about that, Ernie!”

The woman who has an affair out of revenge is, in fact, prostituting herself. She’s doing sexual things for nonsexual reasons and isn’t likely to enjoy them very much. The man involved is being used. He may be quite willing to be used, but if he does not understand his role as supporting actor until later, he has a legitimate right to feel resentful.

If you discover that the man you thought was monogamous is, in fact, playing around, you may feel justified in playing the field as well. If and when you do, be sure you do so in order to give yourself the pleasure you deserve, not in order to punish him.

Having an affair out of vengeance may work in that it may inflict reciprocal pain, but it’s likely to increase your own disquietude rather than appease it.

Incipient Divorce Potential

Though many, whose church forbids it, believe divorce is a sin, it may be said that aside from these groups, two marriages with a divorce are thought normal; among the rich, three are normal; and in Hollywood four are normal.
—Edmund Wilson, The Cold War and Income Tax

If you’re already married but are nevertheless contemplating an affair, you need to consider how you feel about maintaining your marriage.

Some women who aren’t very satisfied with their husbands are nevertheless determined to maintain their households intact. They have other considerations to think about. Often, the main marital glue is a child, but it can also be financial considerations or other family obligations. “How can I leave my husband?” a woman friend of mine lamented to me recently. “He’s paying for my mother’s nursing home care. I could never afford that, and what would become of her?” A fair and legitimate question for which I had no answer.  Then there are some women who are simply afraid of being single again and don’t think they can manage on their own.

Cover of "Love Affairs: Marriage & Infide...

Cover of Love Affairs: Marriage & Infidelity

An affair can be the first rebellious step on the way to a woman’s freedom. A woman I met at a cocktail party several months ago quipped to me, after hearing about my blog, “Wanting an open marriage is nature’s way of telling you that you need a divorce.”  An affair is one way for a woman to test her wings or to bide her time until an opportune moment arises. The wife of a close male friend of mine confided in me that she intended to leave her husband and that she had a definite timetable. She calculated she would be finished graduate school in fifteen more months and would then be graduated and gone in sixteen. Her departure would coincide almost to the day with her first paycheck. You can well imagine the dilemma this confession put me in. I found myself avoiding my male friend for the next sixteen months.

Some women contemplating an affair are already thinking about what a second husband would be like. Many others have had enough of marriage, at least for now, and are looking for a lover for the sake of a worthwhile affair and nothing more.

For a start, a first requirement that you owe your paramour is to be honest about the state and prospects of your marriage, at least as you understand them at the time. If you’re determined to maintain your marriage at all costs, then don’t let him hope that someday you’ll leave your husband and run away with him. Men tend to feel they’re irresistible, so if you’re serious about remaining married, you cannot stress it too much or too early in the relationship.

On the other hand, if you’re more or less looking for an excuse to get out of the marriage, and perhaps someone who is willing to act as a co-respondent in a divorce action should you be found out, then it’s only fair to say this as well. When later you do leave your husband, you have precluded any potential guilt on the part of your lover that he was a home wrecker who broke up an otherwise satisfactory marriage. Being honest here also warns him that you may not always take the need for discretion very seriously.

Love affairs do sometimes change things, and you may decide later that your initial intent needs to be revised. All you can do is to level with him about how you feel at the time.

Rule Three: Be Honest About Your Intentions

You need not tell all the truth, unless to those who have a right to know it all. But let all you tell be the truth.
—Horace Mann

It would be nice to make a rule that everyone should always tell the truth. It would also be hopelessly naive. The social world depends in part on the white lie and, often, on the blackest of the black in order for the daily round to be maintained. And yet . . . with your intimates, it’s important to believe that they tell you the truth as they see it.

truth

truth (Photo credit: Erick-Pardus)

To your lover, you should tell the truth. You don’t need to tell everything, but what you tell should be the truth even if you must say, “I truthfully don’t want to answer the question now!” He has no right to cross-examine you, but he should have reason to trust you. Trust in this situation doesn’t mean fidelity in the sense of sexual monogamy. It does mean that you can depend upon the accuracy of what your lover is saying.

It might even mean saying up front that your intentions aren’t honorable, if indeed they aren’t. You have a right to change your mind, but meanwhile, you should tell the truth as you see it.It might even mean saying up front that your intentions aren’t honorable, if indeed they aren’t. You have a right to change your mind, but meanwhile, you should tell the truth as you see it.

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