The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Sunday, July 06, 2008

Seducing Ourselves

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I still want to talk about relationships, because I believe our relationships with others are our best mirror to our true relationship to ourselves for about 99.9% of people. It's a great place to start. And I have a hard time thinking of someone with a healthy, lusty committed relationship that has been stable for say, 10 years who doesn't have the other major aspects of his/her life under decent control. On the other hand, I know people in GREAT shape who are broke-ass and alone. And people with lotsa money who are in terrible shape, and have travesties for relationshps. So...it is very possible that our relationship with ourselves, USUALLY (but not always) expressed through our relationships with others, is the core of the entire question.

First Question: does this seem reasonable?

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The reason this comes up is that last night I woke up at 3 in the morning (even with air conditioning, somehow I don't sleep as well in hot weather) and remembered a conversation I had with a student.

He was complaining about how his wife won't give him sex. I asked more questions, and it was obvious that he had his hat on backwards on this one. She works a hard job, and when she gets home, she is tired. She made it clear to him that if he wants sex, she needs to be romanced a little. Her request was really quite reasonable. But he pouted and sulked: she should give it to him when he wants it, without hesitation. Because he won't slow down and give her time to depressurize and get in the mood, sometimes they don't have sex for months. I happen to know this is one VERY lusty lady, so in my mind, the problem is all his.

But you know I think that men and women are the same spirits having slightly different experiences in biologically different bodies, so I ain't blaming the guys. I've had three different family therapists/ councelors/relationship seminar leaders say something similar to me:

Asking men and women about the relative importance of sex in relationships, men invariably list it as first, second, or third most important. Women invariably list it as third, fourth, or fifth. You know what, being a guy, I forgot to ask? What is the relative importance of ROMANCE? I'd bet anything that those numbers would be reversed.

Recently, there was an article about a reality-show couple, where the guy was complaining that they hadn't had sex in six months (Jeeze, and they're only 30. That's freakin' scary.) The woman is always "busy" with their multi-million dollar empire, or their kids. Six months? That is NOT busy. I have a suspicion that that isn't even a "neutral" (I don't care one way or the other about sex). Because if there is something that means nothing to you, but means a lot t your partner, you do it just to keep harmony in the relationship. I mean, no one likes taking out the garbage, right? I hate to put it like that, but if you have a neutral charge on something, maybe you do it less often than something you like, but...six months?

My strong suspicion is that there is actual aversion. Call it...resentment. In other words, he withdrew the romance, and she withdrew the sex. When men are courting women, they try everything to trigger the sexual response. They try words, actions, scents, sounds, different touches. Once they find "it" and she responds, huzzah! Then...either they stop trying, figuring that THAT wall is breeched, deliver the goods, babe. Or, they keep doing the same thing every night (or week. Or month.) and get frustrated when it doesn't work.

Of course, men have the opposite complaint of women: in the beginning they are experimental and red-hot. After kids and marriage, the sex almost ALWAYS drops off and gets more perfunctory: several men and women have phrased this the same way: she is "servicing" him. Frankly, I can't clearly remember either a man or a woman talking about the man "servicing" the woman in quite the same way.

Another piece. I have a friend who is wealthy, and provides all material needs for his wife, but they aren't strongly connected emotionally (actually it's gotten better these days). But back in the day, I noticed that her bookshelf was packed with romance novels, while his was packed with Playboy and Penthouse-level semi-porn. I thought: hmmm. They love each other, but he's not romantic, and she, well, she had let herself get rather dumpy. So my guess was that they were giving themselves the vitamins they needed to be able to stay in the relationship: she needed romance, he needed visual 36-24-36 stimulation and "nasty" fantasies.

Now, obviously there are exceptions, and the lustiest ladies and the most romantic men will protest that THEY aren't like that...but I don't think that in general, I'm generalizing too much.

And this is really most important because I want to look at the aspects of our personality that might be called "Male" and "Female"--not because there is actually a man and a woman inside us, but because we separate things into dualities so that we can discuss them. Language sucks at discussing undifferentiated wholes, even though that's the way we actually experience reality. So pardon, please: I'm not trying to confine men and women to boxes, just to discuss a phenomenon that strongly affects our relationships with others, and with ourselves.

Because my tendency is to consider the different aspects of our personalities as regards a particular outcome. If "Fitness" is the child, might the "Parents" be Self-Love and Discipline? If Income is the child...well, maybe the same. Romance is a mood, a feeling, a communication of softness, while sex is an action (yes, I know that sexual stimulation is more mental than physical, but I'm just trying to understand something here.)

What we know about the patterns of male and female stimulation, their reproductive imperatives and so forth, makes sense of this. But try using evolutionary justifications to get your lady to drop her undies on demand, guys, and see how far THAT gets you. You have no more right to demand that she yield to your imperatives than she does to demand you yield to hers.

And that biological stuff is just the base level. Marching up the chakras, you enter the levels where sex and romance are expressions of power, love, human communication, artistic expression, and spirituality. Complicated, no?

A woman told me once, a long time ago, that the difference between male and female sexuality could be described as follows:

Women are like a combination safe. The combination changes every day, and even she doesn't know what the combination is.

Men are like a balloon. You just blow it up until it explodes.

Now, that's obviously an oversimplification, and overlooks the fact that both men and women have male and female aspects...but it contributes to understanding, I think. And if our internal worlds mirror our external relationships, it suggests that there are aspects of our creativity, intellect, and self-discipline which must be "romanced", "seduced" or approached directly. The danger in a relationship is when we assume the other person will find satisfaction in what satisfies US. I suspect that in th relationship between different aspects of our personality, the conscious mind assumes that the best way to service or coax varying guests at our "parts party" is to approach them the way IT wants to be approached, rather than observing and asking questions like:

1) Under what circumstances do I take the best care of my body in terms of diet and exercise? Under which do I take the worst?

2) Under what circumstances do I do my best work? Worst? Under what circumstances do I manage my money the best? Worst?

And so forth. Observing the results, remembering the precursive actions and emotions, and duplicating them to the best of our ability until we figure out our "combination", always remembering that it changes slightly every day.