Tag Archives: monogamy

Who said love is about finding “the One”?

Earlier this week I shocked one of my youngest colleagues, when she asked me what I thought of the male character in 7.39, a BBC drama in which a married man and an engaged woman meet on their commuter train to London and embark on an affair. I had told her it was not an improbable situation and I didn’t feel at all critical about his actions.

The colleague, who is in her mid-20s, thought it was unforgivable for a married man to be unfaithful to his wife just because he was bored with life/having a mid-life crisis.

When an affair happens, there is usually far more to it than just a man and a woman in crisis seeking solace/refuge/fun; there isn’t a simple right or wrong. In my 20s, however, I would probably have reacted the same way, as I too used to naïvely believe in fairy tale romances, Prince Charming, and the existence of “The One” – the perfect man or woman with whom you will walk hand-in-hand into the sunset…

What a shedload of bollocks!

This excellent article in the young people’s sex ed site BishUK.com sensibly explains why believing in “The One” can make our own lives harder, make us overly dependent on our partners as our central source of happiness and validation, or trap us in relationships even when they are making us miserable.

On days like Valentine’s Day, it can also make you feel like a failure if you are single because the opposite of having “the One” would be having “zero”, as if not being in a relationship was the most tragic things that could happen to anyone.

The One myth
Someone we fall in love with or fancy may temporarily feel like “the One”, but life circumstances are not static, and, most importantly, we are not static, so how can there only be a single “the One”?

The author, Justin Hancock (@bishtraining on Twitter) rightly says:

“[…]there isn’t just one ‘One’ – but hundreds, thousands or millions of ‘Ones’ all over the place.”

We change on a daily basis. We are influenced by what we see, hear, read, what happens in our commute (ahem..7.39), people we meet, conversations we have, what happens at work, things we remember.

Our needs also shift with time. After a complex and difficult relationship, we may seek relief in an uncomplicated one with an undemanding, easy-to-please partner. But over time this partner’s agenda may also change to one where expectations are of a firmer and more demanding commitment, which may then tip the relationship’s balance; what was easy-going and fun suddenly becomes too serious and uncomfortable for the other.

Is monogamy for me?
If circumstances and people are always changing and relationships constantly reach a crisis point as a result, how can anyone ever be happy in a long-term stable relationship, you ask?

Tauriq Moosa points out in this Guardian column, Dissecting Relationships, that monogamy and the one-partner-for-life model do not occur in the majority of mammals in the animal kingdom. That is not a justification for us humans to become serial adulterers, but if you look at those who call themselves polyamorous, with multiple lovers in open, mutually consenting and satisfying relationships, we can conclude that monogamy is not necessarily the only path to achieving happiness in love.

Even knowing monogamy goes against our animal nature, we can still consciously choose to have a long-term, faithful partnership with a single lover, produce children, and be the “happy family” society expects us to be part of. But that decision, in order to be lasting, should be taken from a place of openness, honesty and maturity from both parties.

Moosa says:

[…] this is showing we genuinely care about our relationships and our partners: we care enough to treat both with the proper adult respect they deserve, talking about deep, hard truths – not bombarding with Valentine’s gestures. If a relationship can’t survive such important discussions, then perhaps it’s a relationship not worth wanting – and then we’ve done ourselves a huge favour in seeing that now, rather than later.

The line between love and relationships 
Having been through marriage and separation, I have discovered the following:

1. not believing in a “One” worked against me; when my (ex-)husband proposed, I was convinced there wasn’t a “One” for me. If I didn’t say yes then, I reckoned no other man would ever love/marry me, so I compromised.

2. once you go through an unhappy/traumatic/abusive marriage/relationship followed by a not-so-amicable separation, it takes a long time for you to recover your faith in relationships again.

3. it is possible to love, and enjoy love, without being in a conventional romantic relationship.

Let me elaborate on point 3. Although love and relationships are often used together in the same phrase, and we grow up thinking they are inseparable concepts, I have come to understand, and personally experience, that one can exist without the other.

I thought I was rather abnormal, or at least far too unconventional in my way of thinking, until I read this wonderful blog post, Casual Love, by songwriter Carsie Blanton. It made me insanely happy to find out I am not the only one who thinks it is okay to love outside the context of formal relationships.

Imagine if you could say to a casual partner, “I love you. It’s no big deal. It doesn’t mean you’re The One, or even one of the ones. It doesn’t mean you have to love me back. It doesn’t mean we have to date, or marry, or even cuddle. It doesn’t mean we have to part ways dramatically in a flurry of tears and broken dishes. It doesn’t mean I’ll love you until I die, or that I’ll still love you next year, or tomorrow.”

Despite advocating a casual kind of love, Blanton does not discount the possibility of a long-term commitment:

“…dating, marriage, cuddling, etc – are options, and there are an infinite number of other options (Skee ball, sailing around the world, double suicide). These are all things you can now choose or not choose, as two conscious adult human beings. The important distinction is that none of them is implied just by saying the word ‘love’.”

Love for the sake of love
This ties in nicely with what Moosa says in his piece, basically that committed relationships, marriage,etc are options for grown-up men and women in love, not a compulsory final destination. Why can’t we love for the heck of it? For people like me, still nursing wounds from an emotionally abusive past, the simplicity of it feels like the perfect “groovy kind of love” as Phil Collins would say.

To love in this way is no different from when you love within a relationship.

The other day, while I was away on a business trip, I helped edit a CV for a friend, who I knew had been having a tough time since being made redundant last autumn. I was working all hours of the day and night, hardly managing to squeeze in four hours’ sleep a night, but I still worked on his CV for 15-20 min each evening until I passed out with exhaustion. This went on over almost two weeks with comments and counter-comments going back and forth on email between us until the CV looked shipshape.

My friend – actually an old flame – was so grateful for the help and pleased with the results, he jokingly said I should start an HR consultancy business. “You fool,” I thought, “Don’t you know I only did this for you because I love you.”

He possibly does (know). It doesn’t matter because we have both moved on in different directions, and he is now a father and a husband. It doesn’t matter because time, distance, marriage, kids, none of these things made us stop caring about each other.

I do not wish to ‘own’ him, or claim him from his family; it is not a grasping kind of love. There are no expectations, except I want him to be happy; even if not with me.

Loving casually, loving truly
He is not the only man I love in this way; there are others.

All my life I sought what most people expect from love – loyalty, commitment, attention, gifts, dates – only to find disappointment in the end. The problem was I did not love myself first and was always expecting someone else to meet my emotional needs.

But now…now I enjoy my own company, am happy being single and do not need a relationship to make me feel attractive, valued or wanted.

Loving without following a rule book is liberating and empowering. Relationships become an option rather than a target destination, so you can focus on the love itself rather than on the superficial things that you thought represented love: flowers, sex, meals at posh restaurants, expensive rings, talks about marriage.

I love because I met a guy (this applies to any man) who is intelligent, cultured, and has great conversation, who makes me laugh and thinks I’m funny too; someone who shares many of my interests, my quirks, my dirty secrets. Someone who doesn’t mind my filthy mind and my straight talking. Someone I can be myself with; someone who is always himself with me, and we still like each other like that. Someone I can freely cry and laugh with without feeling ashamed.

I love even though we part and always go our separate ways. I love because even when we’re apart, we’re together, in our thoughts, our energies, occasionally in dreams, and that suffices. For now. I am still healing, still learning to love – and trust – again.

Sometimes I wake up from a dream and cry because I miss him so much, because I miss being in love.

It has been so long since I truly loved. This may be my Sehnsucht, my yearning for the unknown.

The Casual Love blog concludes:

“I suggest we take a page from the casual sex book [….] lift some of the weighty grandiosity off the shoulders of love, and allow it to be what it is: a sweet, ephemeral, exciting feeling to experience and share.”

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It’s official: women are (as) horny and slutty (as men)

What Women Want 2During a conversation about books with a male friend, the subject turned to the erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey, which propelled its author to the top of the Forbes Magazine’s highest-earning authors’ list, grossing in US$95 million only in the past year.

He was protesting against the number of women he used to witness every morning, on his commuter train, reading a copy of Fifty Shades. The idea of women reading a sex book on their way to work was, in his opinion, distasteful. This made me laugh out loud. Did he never think about sex on his way to work? Aren’t men supposed to think about sex every seven seconds? What was wrong with women getting lost in sexual reveries any time of the day?

In fact, journalist Daniel Bergner’s new book, What Do Women Want?, says that women actually desire sex as much as men, that “female sexuality is as raw and bestial as male sexuality”; only their urges are less known because they are stigmatised by society.

In one experiment, women reportedly experienced arousal even while made to watch two monkeys copulating, while men did not. Their arousal levels were measured through contraptions placed inside the women’s vaginas. The studies conclude that females are “naturally more promiscuous, voracious and predatory” than men, breaking the long-held myth that women are staunch defenders of serial monogamy and chastity.

Bergner’s book has been widely reviewed and talked about in the press and in the blogosphere, but the most balanced commentary I’ve come across was in the New York Times’ review:

Why is female lust getting such a big dose of scientific legitimacy at this moment? Are these theories influenced by women’s and men’s evolving social roles? By women’s increasing economic and political power? By feminism itself? Many of the scientists are, after all, women, a novel situation. The history of the study of women’s sexuality tells us that when many scientists are finding the same sorts of things at the same time, it is because they have gone looking for them; a cultural shift has already taken place. For some reason — maybe for many reasons — the story of the libidinous male and sexually indifferent female doesn’t make sense to us anymore.

We shouldn’t mourn its passing. As long as we continue to think (in the back of our minds, to some degree) that men are hard-wired for sex and women for intimacy and babies, then we are stuck with the logic that only men really want to have sex; women want to trade it for something else. This makes straight couples into hagglers: self-interested, ungenerous, wary of being played. Better for men and women to approach each other as more or less equal partners in lust, and work out the rest in the morning.

Any sweeping generalisations that men or women are randier than each other should, I think, be taken with a large pinch of salt, but that men and women are finally finding equality in the lust department, I find liberating and refreshing.

Libido
Truth be told, I think about sex a lot these days.

On the one hand, my “thinking” is pure fantasy. Women like to fantasise about fictitious situations they would never encounter in real life, and that is probably why Fifty Shades of Grey was so successful. That is also why every summer I daydream about me and the ‘goh-juss’ Roger Federer having a shower together at Wimbledon…

On the other hand, the “thinking” is about an increased awareness of my sexual needs. Whereas I have always been conscious of my need to eat and sleep, I had never been quite attuned to my body’s sexual desires.

Such thoughts had never crossed my mind when I was married. Come to think of it, already in the years preceding my marriage, I had become detached from sexual feelings within myself.

Several factors contributed towards it: the trauma of going through a couple of serious health scares, dysfunctional relationships with men with whom I was ill-matched, which also meant sex was lacklustre, a long period of unemployment, which shattered my self-esteem, and led me to depression and loss of libido.

For a long time I simply didn’t find sex appealing – to do nor to think about.

Of course being trapped within an unhappy marriage with a man who was prone to episodes of extreme aggression did not help. I now know that in order to be able to enjoy intimacy I need to first and foremost feel ‘safe’ with the person I am with. If I harbour any suspicions they may hurt me, physically or emotionally, I shut down, detaching myself from my body; I can fake, but I don’t feel a thing.  I might as well be a prostitute having sex with a client.

Awakening
Since I walked out of my marriage, I have evolved from a state of ‘being able to tolerate sex’ to actually ‘desiring sex’. That is as revolutionary as an anorexic discovering hunger and the pleasure of eating for the first time. I feel like I have turned a gigantic leaf in the history of my sexual awakening, and I love the new sensual me that has been born as a result.

Let me make it clear: I have not become a sex-starved hussie, ready to leap on the first male that shows a flicker of interest in me. Nor does the sight of humping apes excite me. All I’m saying is I am now deeply in touch with my sexual self and am able to recognise when my body longs for intimacy, the things that turn me on, the things that turn me off.

I welcome the points made in Bergner’s book in that it make us women exercise our right to think about or want sex as much as men, without the fear of being labelled ‘sluts’. But the true nature of female sexuality and desire is far more complex than any lab gizmos shoved up women’s private parts could ever gauge.

Sex in the brain
The research questions the belief that women always need an emotional connection in order to want to have sex. I call this ‘male researchers’ wishful-thinking bullshit’. C’mon; excepting cases of women with actual sex addiction, who may want to sleep indiscriminately with multiple partners, sex for a woman always happens in the brain. Even if she is not looking for a deep, meaningful relationship, in order for a woman to enjoy sex, she needs to be mentally turned on, that is a fact.

I have asked girlfriends and female colleagues in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s what they found most appealing in men, and got a wide variety of answers. Some women (usually younger) do mention six-packs and gym-toned bodies as a first point of attraction, and those will usually be ladies who also spend a lot of time and money on their own appearance. In other words, likes attract likes. The intellectual women always say “the brain” is the most attractive part of a man’s body. One, who’s married to a professor, even said “the mention of PhD and thesis papers” was an instant trigger for her to fall in love. A woman in her 60s said “kindness” was what she was mostly looking for in a man, and she did not care what he looked like. Others rated financial stability highly so what the man did for a living and the size of his paycheques could increase or decrease their interest. Needless to say these women were also proud of properties they owned and tended to buy designer dresses for their wardrobe.

But all of these answers still make it seem like women use sex as a trading tool for something else, not that they want sex for the sake of sexual enjoyment. We are probably biologically programmed to select men who can provide us with physical protection, economic stability and good genes to be passed on to our progeny. But I was surprised that none responded they wanted a man who satisfied them in bed.

I am sure it is something all women secretly hope for, but perhaps, when they are looking for a long-term life partner, it gets pushed down the priority scale because survival of the species is paramount. What a shame…

Liberation
For me, going through a kind of late-life journey of sexual self-discovery, sexual fulfilment is high on my priority list. Not that I intend to become promiscuous, but I feel entitled to a fantastic sex life, with a considerate lover for whom giving is as important as taking.

I once joked to a friend that in future relationships I wanted sex to be so steamy and wild that the bed wouldn’t last a month. Her response amused me: “Well, you’d better find a rich man then, who can buy you a new bed every month.” Money again! Too much realism for my fantasy-loving mind.

Even with so much scientific evidence now available that women are as lustful as men, women are still shy of exploring their sexuality and eroticism with brutal honesty. Centuries of social conditioning are not easy to shed. But those hundreds and thousands of women taking to openly reading erotica in public transport for a flight of fantasy make me think women are screaming to come out of their shells and reclaim their right to truly ecstatic sex, not the mechanical mating routine they may be having at home with their husbands/boyfriends.

How much can we really achieve in reality? Apart from our social programming, we have our own personal fears and insecurities to grapple with. We also have to deal with an entire male population out there, who may not be able to appreciate the fine balance between respect and daring we want in bed. Not to mention that communication between men and women tends to be ambiguous and turbid at the best of times.

Forget the women. What do men really want? – is what women would like to know.

There is one immediate and simple solution for men and women to achieve sexual truce and enjoyment without the need to hurt each other, and that is for them to be able to answer these two questions with total honesty: What do you want? Do you want what I want?

Nothing else, in the end, matters.

“Honesty is such a lonely word.
Everyone is so untrue.
Honesty is hardly ever heard.
And mostly what I need from you.”

(from Honesty, Billy Joel)