How to Pick a Lover

Posts tagged ‘Communication’

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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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.

The Rebound Effect

A Frenchwoman, when double crossed, will kill her rival; the Italian woman would rather kill her deceitful lover; the Englishwoman simply breaks off relations—but they all console themselves with another man.
—Charles Boyer

One would think that when suffering the pain of having been rejected in love, a rational woman might foreswear love forever and give up on the whole game. At least, one might expect her to walk around for some time muttering, “Never again, never again.”

In reality, it’s only when a woman has left her man because she’s bored with him or offended or outraged that she thinks seriously of giving up men in general. If the man leaves her, then it’s quite another matter—even if she didn’t much want him anyway. If he leaves her, it becomes a matter of pride. To prove that there’s nothing wrong with her, that although unloved she’s not unlovable, she needs a new love affair—or at least the option of one.

ON THE REBOUND

ON THE REBOUND (Photo credit: Neal.)

To paraphrase the nineteenth-century novelist Barbey d’Aurevilly, “Next to the wound, what men make best is the bandage.”

The rebound love affair involves not so much a quest for love as a quest for reassurance. If you’re acting on such a motive, it’s helpful to be aware of it and to take it into account. When a middle-aged man seduces a young girl in order to prove to himself that he’s still young enough to be a macho swordsman, we tend to think that he’s exploiting her. Although it often occurs that men use women and hurt them badly in the process, it’s necessary to remember that women may also use men and may also hurt them badly.

If your motive in an affair is mainly to seek consolation and reassurance after an unfortunate love affair to bind up your wounds, so to speak, then be sure you don’t exploit the lover you pick. He might well delude himself that you loved him for himself alone and not for the incidental fact of his propinquity.

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.

“Marriage Reminds Me of Death”

I never will marry,
I’ll be no man’s wife.
I expect to live single
All the rest of my life.
—Fred Brooks, “I Will Never Marry”

In the old days, when a man came a-courtin’, a young girl’s father might take him aside in the parlor and inquire, “Are your intentions honorable? Are you seriously considering my daughter as a wife, or are you wasting her time?”

In the new courtship, which doesn’t necessarily lead to marriage, the question is still relevant. While you may harbor no intent to commit matrimony, it doesn’t mean that your lover harbors no such intent. If it so happens that your lover is in serious pursuit of a wife, he has a right to know if you would ever consider getting married, and if so, if you would ever consider getting married to him.

The cultural stereotype in our society affirms that, generally, it’s the woman who wants to get married and it’s the man who must be coaxed or snagged or snaffled into making that commitment. If that was the case in the past, it’s not necessarily so today when unmarried women can lead quite different lifestyles than did the spinsters of the past.

Cover of "The Marrying Kind"

Cover of The Marrying Kind

Some women don’t want to marry ever. They concur with the spinster aunt in Somerset Maugham’s Mrs. Craddock who exclaims, “Marriage is always a hopeless idiocy for a woman who has enough of her own to live upon.”

Other women, once burned, never want to marry again. Yet despite being misogamists—one who hates marriage—they sometimes find themselves succumbing to social pressures to marry again. Such women should belong to Divorcees Anonymous, modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous. When they feel the urge to get married again, they could call an emergency number, and Divorcees Anonymous would immediately send over a fat man in a T-shirt, with a six-pack of beer, who settles down in the living room to watch football on the tube.

Women who are ideologically opposed to marriage would go along with Gloria Steinem’s commonly quoted maxim: “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.” If, whatever your reasons, you are adamantly not the marrying kind, then it’s important for you to make that clear to any man who becomes involved with you. The folk wisdom has been justly critical of the man who seems to court a woman but whose intentions are not honorable—that is, he has no intention of marrying her. A woman is equally at fault if she lets a man hope to marry her when she knows from the start that marriage to anyone—or at least marriage to him—isn’t for her.

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.

Safe Conduct: Guidelines for an Affair of the Heart

It’s a wise man who profits by his experience, but it’s a good deal wiser one who lets the rattlesnake bite the other fellow.
—Josh Billings

In times of war, when it is necessary to venture into hostile territory, one is sometimes issued a “safe conduct pass” which is supposed to assure that the bearer can pass through the danger zone unmolested. Women who venture into the uncertainty of new relationships based on new social norms don’t have any more guarantees of fulfillment than their grandmothers did. There are, however, some guidelines that can serve as a kind of safe conduct pass which, if followed, will help you to actualize as fully as possible your nascent affair with the new lover you have selected.

Love Affair (1939 film)

Love Affair (1939 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Logan Smith, the American epigrammatist, points out, “There are two things to aim at in life: first, to get what you want; and after that, to enjoy it. Only the wisest of mankind achieve the second.” There is no foolproof formula for a perfect love affair. There are, however, guidelines which, like other kinds of safe conduct documents, may offer more protection. In the tradition of commandments, I’ve listed a Decalogue of rules which you would be wise to consider carefully when pursuing an affair of the heart. I will address each of them separately in future posts.

DECALOGUE: GUIDELINES FOR AN AFFAIR OF THE HEART

RULE ONE: ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE AFFAIR.
RULE TWO: ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY FOR BIRTH CONTROL.
RULE THREE: BE HONEST ABOUT YOUR INTENTIONS.
RULE FOUR: PICK THE RIGHT MAN FOR THE RIGHT REASONS.
RULE FIVE: ACCEPT THE INEVITABILITY OF CHAUVINISM.
RULE SIX: DO YOUR PART TO MAKE THE AFFAIR SUCCESSFUL.
RULE SEVEN: RESPECT PRIVILEGED INFORMATION.
RULE EIGHT: MINIMIZE JEALOUSY.
RULE NINE: BEWARE THE MONSTER THAT IS HABIT.
RULE TEN: TAKE TIME TO SAVOR LOVE.

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