How to Pick a Lover

Posts tagged ‘dating choices’

New Horizions in Contemporary Relationships

Yet all experience is an arch where through
Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
—Alfred Lord Tennyson, “Ulysses”

Many people spend most of their time interacting in the confines of rather narrow social boundaries. They stick to their own kind and are expected to do so. They interact in ghettos of one kind or another, perhaps not so much because of prejudice as because the kind of people they are most likely to meet turn out to be, by and large, much like themselves.

Several dimensions are involved. White women, for the most part, interact with other white people. They tend to spend time with people of the same social class—be it upper, middle, or lower—that means people with the same levels of education and wealth and with many parallels in terms of lifestyle. Whether or not religion per se is very important, Christians tend to spend time with other Christians and Jews with other Jews. Add to that an expectation of age stratification, which creates almost an age ghetto. Except for one’s own parents or one’s own children, the young associate with the young, the middle-aged with the middle-aged, and the old with the old however these life stages are defined. People in the workplace may interact with various age groups in the course of carrying out their jobs; but at the end of the workday, when socializing outside the workplace, they are likely to do so with those relatively close to them in age.

When you look at your friends, most likely, they will turn out to be a homogeneous group. Most are in the same general age group, most are of the same race and religion, and most have about the same amount of education and money. Often, they are in the same line of work and live in similar neighborhoods. They are people like yourself.

There is nothing wrong with friendships with people like yourself. You understand them easily, you can empathize with their problems, you can make yourself understood. There is nothing wrong with such friendships—except that they can become very predictable. You know these friends so well that they seldom surprise, seldom outrage, seldom enlighten you. The hazard of such homogenized associations can be serious in a friendship and fatal in a love affair. It is the hazard of boredom.

The Graduate Original Soundtrack album cover.

The Graduate (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A man who is different from you is exciting because he provides a contrast to you, a new perspective. The exotic man is mysterious, and you are challenged to solve the mystery. He has the additional appeal, and danger, of forbidden fruit. He may be considered too old for you, too young or too married. In a white community, a black man is exotic; in a black community, a white man is. The exotic lover may be, in some way, unpresentable by virtue of what he does or who he is or where he comes from. He is certainly not the boy next door. The contrast between you, the sense of being different, is simultaneously a source of delight and a source of problems.

In future posts I will talk about the pros and cons  of various kinds of “exotic” relationships.

Lovers of a Different Color: Flaunting Racial Taboos

A poet may praise many whom he would be afraid to marry.
—Samuel Johnson, Lives of the Poets

In recent weeks, the media has given much play to interracial dating – particularly CNN – which  has motivated me to weigh in on the topic.

The sexual revolution, and the revolution in the status of women, are supposed to have occurred in tandem with concurrent revolutions in other forms of inequality, especially with the changes in the inequality of blacks and whites. One result has been an increased possibility of equality across racial and ethnic lines and, with that, an increased possibility of friendship and, ultimately, of romantic attachments.

A lover from a different racial or ethnic background is considered by many to be exotic. Apart from his other qualities, he may be of special interest because his worldview and his experiences are so different from your own. Often, the very fact of difference is an important element in the development of a significant attraction and in the growth of a love relationship.

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

Photo credit: Wikipedia

“Miscegenation” is a technical term used to describe the mixing of different races. It refers to marrying, cohabitating, having sexual relations, or procreating with a partner from outside an individual’s racially or ethnically defined social group. The term is now out of favor and is considered offensive by many. As recently as 1965, there were twenty-five states in the United States that had anti-miscegenation laws that banned “race mixing.” The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled antimiscegenation laws unconstitutional in 1967. Changing the law, however, did not necessarily change the attitudes of many people. It is in the area of sexual relations and family formation where the race issue is most sensitive. The pervasiveness of conservative attitudes about sexuality coexisting with liberal attitudes about other things is well illustrated in a declaration which has now become a cliché: “I believe in equality for blacks, but I wouldn’t want my daughter to marry one.” Or my sister. Or my granddaughter. Many who hold this opinion are likely to maintain that their opposition to interracial marriage is not born of bigotry but of concern for the children born of these unions. They argue that the children will be discriminated against by those in society who are not as accepting as they are. The children per se, however, are not the real problem. The real problem is their belief that such children are unacceptable to society, and by inference, to them, making it a tautological argument. If the children of interracial unions are unacceptable, then interracial marriage is unacceptable. If interracial marriage is unacceptable, then the children of such marriages are unacceptable. Beware. People who use children as their reason for objecting to interracial unions may good upstanding citizens, but they are bigots dressed in sheep’s clothing.

Even Martin Luther King Jr. had reservations about intermarriage. One of his most widely quoted statements was his affirmation: “I want to be the white man’s brother, not his brother-in-law.”

Although the number of mixed marriages are at an all time high, it has been gradual but slow increase over the past two decades and the incidence is still relatively low outside of large cities. Of all couples, only about eight of every hundred consist of a husband and wife from different racial backgrounds. Outside of marriage, cross-racial friendships and love affairs are presumably much more common although many of them remain clandestine.

In some social circles, a racially mixed couple may be readily accepted. In many instances, however, a lover from another racial group is going to mean trouble for both of them. A white woman who is involved with a black man may find that he is considered “unpresentable” to her associates as she is to his. A black woman who is involved with a white man may well be considered by her peers to have sold out to Whitey, and she may find that his associates greet her with, at best, stony silence. These realities of contemporary social life do not necessarily mean that you should avoid such relationships, but it does mean that you should be aware of the possible consequences.

The kind of mixed couple which seems most threatening to the greatest number of people is the stereotypic one of a white woman with a black lover. If you enter into such a liaison, you must be prepared for the unpleasant fact that many people who are sexually liberal and tolerant, and who seem to be racially liberal and tolerant, will not necessarily tolerate miscegenation and will sometimes go out of their way to make life difficult for you. Being part of a mixed race couple, or in some places a mixed Jewish-Christian couple, can be seen as a political act.

To sort out your romantic motivations from your political ones, ask yourself this question: If the exotic trait of your lover were to be magically  removed, would he still be as interesting? If the answer is yes, then you are probably responding to the man and not the social category he happens to belong to.

Taking a lover because he is black and you are white reflects as much prejudice, albeit in a different way, as rejecting a potential lover because he is black and you are white. Both alternatives deny the person the right to be assessed in terms of his own personal traits.

Women in Contemporary Relationships

I think we can all agree that romantic relationships have changed dramatically over the past 50 years.

A mere two generations ago relationships and marriage were rather vanilla. Couples were heterosexual, of the same race/ethnicity, religion, social/economic and political background – so much for diversity. Also, marital roles were fairly circumscribed – men were the breadwinners and women the homemakers. There were shared expectations about sex roles for men and women, which were primarily based on what constituted masculine and feminine behavior. Premarital sex was taboo – at least for women. There were “good” girls and “bad” girls, and I don’t think I need to tell you what made a good girl good or bad girl bad. In any given couple, the man was usually older, taller, better educated, and financially better off than the woman.  All things that defer more power to the man than the women. Few women worked outside the home. And when they did, it was to supplement her husband’s substantially larger income.

Well, so much for the good ole days. Today’s relationships run the gamut of the rainbow – heterosexual/gay, interracial/ethnic, interfaith, binational, older women and younger men, couples from widely different social, economic, political backgrounds. Women have full fledged careers and they are financially independent. For women, being a virgin – or almost a virgin – is no longer a prerequisite to marriage.  All in all, women today have a range of options and opportunities that far outstrip those of our grandmothers or even our mothers.

It all sounds wonderful.  However, as we enter the second decade of the 21st century, many of our social values that govern love, sex and marriage remain markedly different for men and women in many ways. While both men and women may openly and freely engage in the pursuit of love and sex, how they reach their quest is not always the same.

"The world turned upside down" (gend...

“The world turned upside down” (gender-role reversal) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our cultural traditions are strong and differences in the socialization and physiology of men and women remain a reality. And unfortunately, or fortunately – depending on your personal views–many traditional sex roles remain deeply embedded in modern-day relationships – straight and gay. When these traditional roles collide with the realities of modern day – which they often do – couples find themselves in conflict.

While contemporary relationships may be much more rewarding than the those of our parents and grandparents, they are also much more complex and difficult.

Through this blog, I want to explore the relatively new emotional and sexual freedoms that women have gained through their struggle  for equality and freedom of sexual expression in contemporary relationships – including a woman’s option of having a lover(s) if she so chooses.

Each week I will post some specific thoughts about women in contemporary relationships for comment and discussion. Hope you will join in on what I believe will be a fun, enlightening and rewarding blog.

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