How to Pick a Lover

Posts tagged ‘relationship’

Beware of the Hard Sell

With women worth being won, the softest love ever best succeeds.
—Aaron Hill

One of the joys of life is that sexual arousal and anticipation are “green energy”.  They are both constantly renewable resources. The person who has turned you on once will very likely turn you on tomorrow and the next day. Unless his regiment really rides at dawn, or his ship really sails with the tide, a love affair is seldom really an emergency that must happen immediately. No matter what Elvis says, sex is never “now or never”: it can wait. If a man is so hot to get laid right now, one way or another, he presumably can arrange it as the “rosy-breasted pushover” isn’t yet an endangered species.

It's Now or Never (song)

Photo credit: Wikipedia

The man who presents you with an ultimatum on your last chance to go to bed with him is, in effect, saying that he isn’t going to waste any more time on you unless you put out. That is unless you pay him back for his invested time and effort by putting out right now. Think about it—unless you are a working girl—do you need that kind of attitude?

And if you say no again, and he stalks away muttering, “Stupid cockteasing slut,” what have you lost? Better to know that kind of bottom line while on your feet than to hear it when you’re flat on you back. The man who does not want to spend time on you beforehand isn’t going to want to spend time on the afterglow either.

The hard sell may not be a bad strategy for doing business, but it is bad business for a friendly love affair. The now-or-never approach is dangerous and counterproductive, whether it’s for sex or for vacuum cleaners being
sold door-to-door. If the relationship is worthwhile, it will continue to be so while you think it over.

Unless, of course, his regiment really does ride at dawn.

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Sharing The Initiative

Courtship consists of a number of quiet attentions, not so pointed as to alarm, nor so vague as not to be understood.
—Lawrence Sterne

The person who makes the first move toward a relationship takes a certain amount of risk. He must declare himself in some way or another so that the stranger knows he’s interested in becoming better acquainted with her. If this is done very casually, then little of his self-image is at stake; if it’s done more seriously and more deliberately, then the person taking the risk is more vulnerable.

In traditional dating-based courtship, it fell to the man to take all of this emotional risk. The first move was always his. I doubt that this has changed very much even today. The very first move is still likely to be a male move, and both people may be more comfortable with that.

However, courtship is no longer only a one-way process, or it need not be. It is nice to be courted and to passively let a new friendship happen; it is also nice to court and to be more assertive about it. The very best scenario is when the two roles are interchangeable from one point in time to the next as they are when friendships are formed between same-sex friends.

Victor Hugo observed that the first symptom of love in a young man is timidity, but the first symptom of love in a young woman is boldness. The two sexes have a tendency to approach, and each assume the qualities of the other. This move toward androgyny and toward mutuality is certainly conducive to better relationships and to fewer misunderstandings. Yet how to go about it is often less than obvious.

The Flirtation

The Flirtation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the initiation of relationships, as in other aspects of sexuality, there remain vestiges of the double standard. The first approach which is made shouldn’t be too forceful for either sex. But being obvious and blatant is more or less acceptable for almost all men—or at least all men who have a reasonable claim to being your social equal. While being blatant may be “acceptable,” it is becoming increasingly less enticing to women, and a more subtle approach is preferred. Being obvious and blatant is equally bad form for a woman—even an emancipated one. More importantly, it is unlikely to achieve your desired ends.

The woman who sets out to court a man has a double task: how to take the initiative, and how to take the initiative without seeming to take the initiative. She must be explicit without being obvious. She must be evocative without being provocative.

It’s no wonder women do not yet know how to act in this role, and men don’t know how to respond.

Freedom Of Choice, Freedom To Choose

You cannot decree women to be sexually free when they are not economically free.
Shere Hite

If you ask a young man his thoughts about being a gigolo, he would likely reply with some scorn that this isn’t a role for a “real man” and that the man who does take up such a role must not be good for anything else. The same young man, however, would be pleased if his sister were dating a rich man who was generous with her, even if that rich man was of questionable physical appeal and devoid of personality.

If you asked the same young man what he would think of finding a rich woman to marry, he would likely reply with some variation on the aphorism, “The man who marries for money earns it.”

Gold Diggers

Gold Diggers (Photo credit: Thomas Hawk)

For the man who thought of this homily, it was, perhaps, an insight. For women, however, marrying money and then having to “earn” it is a fact of life that every girl of sixteen has already considered to be a clear and present option as well as a clear and present danger. If she marries for money, she expects to earn it. She is expected to give up control of her life in exchange for a comfortable lifestyle which will be afforded her as long as she submits to her husband’s will.

The young man who arbitrarily rejects a money marriage for himself sees no inconsistency in his profound hope that his cherished little sister will have a “good” marriage, which means a marriage to a man of means even if he is a little dull. For the woman of few resources, a husband to take care of things may be the only solution. With limited education and paltry self-confidence, it may well be better for her to marry for money than to work for peanuts.

If a woman is financially dependent upon a man, she is in his power, no matter how generous he is with her. It’s the degree of financial dependence which determines, in large part, the degree of power. Women need to obtain their own resources and to be content to live on them, however modest. If they can achieve a minimum standard of living for themselves, then sexual barter is not necessary.

If a woman has sexual freedom and has a degree of financial and social independence, then she has a new option. She has the luxury of choosing someone to love, and perhaps to marry, not because he is rich and not because he desires her, but because she desires him. Or better still because they desire each other.

Billie Holiday says it well when she sings ruefully, “Mama may have, Papa may have, but God blessed the child who’s got her own.”

Love, Oh Practically Perfect Love

Infatuation is when you think he’s as sexy as Robert Redford, as smart as Henry Kissinger, as noble as Ralph Nader, as funny as Woody Allen, and as athletic as Jimmy Connors. Love is when you realize that he’s as sexy as Woody Allen, as smart as Jimmy Connors, as funny as Ralph Nader, as athletic as Henry Kissinger, and nothing like Robert Redford—but you’ll take him anyway.
—Judith Viorst, Redbook

In the best of all possible worlds, it would be ideal to find that a lover who was just right for you in terms of emotion and affection was also just right for you in terms of erotic fulfillment. Unfortunately, in real life, that’s often not the case. The man with overtly tender and affectionate concern for you, the emotional marathoner, may not make love with you at all or may do so very seldom or may not do so very well when he does. The swordsman, who is turned on and gives of himself freely in bed, may not have much love or even much affection once dressed and out of bed.

Many a maiden is still dreaming of the perfect prince who will one day come, who will make her come, and who will love her at all levels all at once. But later, many a woman realizes that love in the many forms she desires isn’t to be found all at once in the arms of any one man. She gives up on the perfect prince and begins to look around for a make-do prince instead . . . maybe a mere duke, or maybe a mere commoner. The road to love is a series of compromises from the fantasy of girlhood to the world-weary cynicism of old age. There is Mr. Right, but there is also Mr. Right Now, Mr. Right for Me at this Moment, etc. Fortunately, in affairs of the heart, even mistakes can be glorious.

Cover of "Mr. Right Now"

Writer Suzanne Jordan is correct when she asserts that “the perfect mate, despite what Cosmopolitan magazine says, doesn’t exist no matter how many of those tests you take.” However, Merle Shain is also correct in asserting that “some men are more perfect than others.” What’s needed is a new oxymoron: things don’t have to be perfect; they only have to be perfect enough. A lover who is perfect enough is just fine. Finding him is a much easier task than finding the absolutely perfect man of your fantasies.

Our technology is so proficient that we can get quite carried away with our expectations of what we need—or think we need. With an imposed sixty-five-mile speed limit, we still delight in buying a car that can cruise at a hundred miles per hour without effort. Almost every kitchen has an eight-speed blender when most cooks only need one marked Fast and Slow. Home audio systems can be so elaborate and powerful that only your dog can hear the differences, and the speakers can never be turned up more than one-tenth of their volume capacity. A camera used for family snapshots nevertheless is selected because it is capable of shooting at one-thousandth of a second. This kind of technological overkill produces products which are far more perfect than necessary. A camera shooting at one-five-hundredth of a second produces satisfactory pictures for half the price. The man who isn’t perfect but who’s perfect enough may well be the one to love you throughout a lovely love affair.

The philosopher Søren Kierkegaard is widely quoted as reflecting philosophically: “If you marry, you will regret it; if you do not, you will also regret it.” The same applies to your decision of whether to picking a lover. If you take a lover, you may regret it; if you don’t take a lover, you may also regret it.

The question you need to consider is this, when you are an old lady of ninety-two, reflecting on the past decades, which will you regret the most: the sins you committed or the sins you omitted? In my conversations with old ladies, guarded as they are, they usually suggest regret for opportunities lost, for time wasted, for doors not opened, and for experiences not enjoyed.

The poet Robert Herrick gives timeless advice, “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.” He is speaking “to the virgins, to make much of time,” but he might well speak to other women too. It’s healthy to enjoy the men of the world while they are as eager to enjoy you. It’s healthy to experience as much as you can of what life has to offer. And the devil take the hindmost, whatever that is. The philosopher Bertrand Russell offers a sound conclusion, “Of all forms of caution, caution in love is perhaps the most fatal to true happiness.” If you must love, love bravely.

First Wife, Second Wife

Many a man owes his success to his first wife—and his second wife to his success.
—Jim Backus

In traditional courtship, unmarried women were pursued by unmarried men with the explicit intent of getting them paired off and safely wed. When this ideal norm was broken, as it often was, the most common variation was the situation of an unmarried woman being courted by a married man. The triangles that resulted from this pairing have been the subject of many stories, plays, and movies. The wife was compared and contrasted with the mistress, and the question was would the man leave his wife and children.

The unmarried woman in this situation was usually advised not to believe any of his stated intentions because in the end, he would be won back by responsibilities and respectability, and the disillusioned mistress would have wasted her time.

Cover of "Marital Affairs"

It’s interesting that a belief that the mistress would be used and abandoned has persisted despite the evidence that in nearly half of all marriages, somebody does leave somebody, and it isn’t at all uncommon that the precipitating event involves the husband leaving his wife for another woman. In any case, if the goal of courtship was supposed to be marriage, the man who was already married was a poor risk. From the woman’s point of view, his marital status was critical. The same applied to the less common situation of a married woman being courted by a single man. If one begins with a different perspective and approaches a love relationship as an end in itself, then the issue of marital status makes a difference mostly in terms of the logistics of the affair.

The married man who makes a good lover is the one who can handle the complexities of loving more than one person and who gives the mistress a legitimate place in his life. He recognizes the legitimacy of her claims on his time and attention. However, you must cope with the need for secrecy and must adapt to his unpredictable time schedule.

The problems of the backstreet mistress have been documented endlessly. In fact, there was a 1941 film, later remade in the early sixties, called Back Street, which, predictably, ended in the mistress being cast aside. However, in fact, an attentive married man might even be preferable to an unmarried one. He will, of necessity, be less possessive; and he does not have the option of trying to turn you into his wife.

If you’re  married, the main advantage of having an affair with a man who is also married is that he has as much to lose as you do if the relationship becomes public. He will, therefore, be most rigorous in taking precautions and most understanding of your circumstances. The disadvantage, of course, is that instead of having to worry about one set of schedules, you have to worry about two, and both may be relatively inflexible. There’s also no safe and obvious trysting place. He has to take you to the no-tell motel, and you can only hope that sometimes, there is truth in advertising.

Freud observed that in every marriage bed, there were really four persons to be concerned with: the bride, the groom, the bride’s father, and the groom’s mother. In the adulterous affair between two married people, the hypothetical marital bed is even more crowded: you must make room as well for his current wife and your current husband. When four people rather than two must be taken into account, the situation is made more than twice as complex. Add children of various ages, and it becomes a scenario worthy of a double agent.

Fortunately, the rewards for both the errant wife and the errant lover are often so delightful and so sustaining that it’s worth it all. Indeed, the very poignancy of an impossible situation and the necessity of love expressed from afar may add intensity and a magic melancholy, which is the essence of romance. The drama of star-crossed lovers may make their occasional coming together that much more marvelous, both literally and figuratively. In the long-running Broadway play The Fantasticks, two young lovers are presented with as many deliberate obstacles as possible, so their love for each other will be that much more intense and romantic for having had to overcome them.

These lines,

Two households both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hand unclear

begin the prologue of Romeo and Juliet, the world’s most celebrated star-crossed lovers.

Single Men, Married Men, and Sorta Married Men

No man worth having is true to his wife, or can be true to his wife, or ever was, or ever will be so.
—Sir John Vanbrugh, The Relapse
The world is always more complex than it first seems. At first glance, it would be natural to consider single men, and perhaps married men as well, as potential lovers. Among single men, we could include those who have never married as well as the divorced and the widowed.

Cover of "Married Men"

Cover of Married Men

Alas, it is not that simple. A man who is separated is still technically married in that he cannot yet remarry. However, he usually thinks and acts single and is socially considered that way.

A man who is living with someone is outwardly viewed as a married man by society even if he is not legally married. The U.S. census calls him a POSLQ, which is ungainly bureaucratese for “persons of the opposite sex sharing living quarters.” He is, perhaps, not quite a common-law husband, which is a matter-of-legal definition, but he is certainly more than a boyfriend.

To make matters even more complex, there are also degrees of being married. Some men seem to be “barely married” in that they come and go as they please and, in general, act as if they were single in spite of a wife and children who technically live in the same place with them. On the other hand, some men are “dreadfully married” in that their wife is a constant presence to be taken into account whether she happens to be physically present or not.

If you’re a single woman who selects a single man as a lover, you’ll find that he presents  no real problems. In this permissive day and age, lovers can be quite open about their affair, and few people are likely to object openly. The end point of the affair is also open: it could easily lead to marriage, or it could easily not. The situation is balanced and relatively uncomplicated.

If you’re a married woman with a single man as a lover, you’ll find that he presents a number of advantages. If you’re constrained by when your husband gets home or by when you can get a babysitter (and many other domestic details), your lover can arrange his time to suit your erratic schedule. The disadvantage is that in a very short time, he will resent having to do so. Men are used to being the ones who make arrangements and call the shots even in such trivial ways as deciding the time for a date. The married woman with an unmarried paramour reverses the roles and must do so with considerable tact. Conveniently, the unmarried man has to live some place; and often, his own home will provide a safe and opportune location for the affair.

The unmarried lover of a married woman is in a relatively powerful position in that his relationship is not balanced by a relationship with a wife. Almost always, that means he will exercise his right to have other women, just as you, as a married woman, have another man. The jealousy you may experience is made twice as hard because you have no legitimate grounds for complaint and because you are never exactly sure whom you should be jealous of or why. On the other hand, with a married man, his wife provides a clear-cut target for any jealousy you might feel.

The most common kinds of affairs, however, involve two other possible combinations: a single woman with a married man and a married woman with a married man. The subject of upcoming posts.

Being Single Can Be Boring

If your morals make you dreary, depend upon it they are wrong.
—Robert Louis Stevenson

When we think of the life of the modern unmarried woman, we see her as having many more options for excitement than would have been her lot in earlier generations. She doesn’t have to live at home if she doesn’t want to. She’s most likely free to go to college or to get a job, and there’s a wide range of courses that she can take or occupations she can choose. From the outside, it can seem quite interesting, and so it is for many women. It’s also true, however, that even relative emancipation doesn’t prevent quiet desperation and doesn’t cure ennui.

There are many things that she can theoretically do, but in actuality, the daily round may be quite repetitive. Going to college sounds like fun until you remember that even with a college degree, very few women who work are international CEOs or fashion buyers just off to Paris to see the spring collections. Most of them, in fact, are confined to cubicles or small offices working as midlevel managers, executive assistants, or accountants committed to routine and repetitive tasks day after day. Computers may be fascinating, but writing software code or conducting systems analysis offers limited intellectual creativity or emotional appeal.

English: A bored person

A bored person (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When you cannot change the circumstances of your life or are not yet willing to try to do so, then one aspect of your life, which is open to change, is your love life. You can consider a new lover. If as a history major you must spend all of Tuesday morning listening to someone recount the development of the Civil War between the States, then you can at least spend Tuesday afternoon in bed with an aspiring physicist who promises not to breathe a word about reconstructionism or carpetbaggers.

Being an unmarried woman with a career of some sort, or at least a job, may make it less likely that you’ll be bored than if you’re a housewife; but it’s no guarantee that you won’t. You may still have to work forty hours a week at a boring job that provides few emotional rewards. With the right lover, you can at least look forward to an exciting Saturday night and Sunday morning.

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