Posts Tagged 'relationships'

Until they don’t

Inspired by the new films Friends with Benefits and No Strings Attached, Tracy Clark-Flory at Salon asks “Does ‘friends with benefits’ Work?”.

Since brevity is the soul of wit, I will be brief:

As one of Clark-Flory’s interviewees (her one-time FWB) pithily says “I’ve been in so many of these situations and, basically, they work until they don’t.”

And that is the point.

All relationships, whether they are serious/monogamous/long-term, open, sex-only, sex-free, or entirely platonic, work until they don’t.

People change. Sometimes changes affect compatibility, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes people decide to work through changes together, sometimes they don’t, for an infinite number of reasons or no reason at all.

To pretend that FWBs and NSAs are the only relationships subject to human mutability is fatuous.

image from the



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Sexism is bad for everyone.

Why? Because everyone has a sex, and the stereotypes accepted and perpetuated apply to men and women, with negative repercussions for all.

The rampant and offensive results of sexism for women are amply documented and discussed elsewhere (feministing, feministe, F-word, et al.); at the moment, I have been thinking about the subtler and less seemingly ‘negative’ aspects of the stereotypes at the root of sexism, and how it affects (hetero, though it probably holds true in the LGBT communities, too) romantic and sexual interactions.

Although the ongoing sexual revolution has promoted the sexual freedom of women, in accessing and expressing their desires, gaining access to contraception, and the increasing (though ever-fraught, as with the current debate over hook-up culture) acceptance of these liberties, stereotypes about sexual desires and roles remain present and damaging, even among those enlightened pro-sex, pro-choice, pro-contraception types who should know better.

For example, this terribly offensive video is meant to encourage women to use contraception – not because they and their sexual partner might not be ready for children or due to the risk of STDs, but because, apparently, the men by whom they might be impregnated are coarse, misogynistic, immature, insensitive, and generally obnoxious cads.

To portray men this way is insulting. It also suggests that women making the decision to have sex with men are gullible and completely ignorant of their character.

It falls into the logical nullity of the most basic form of sexist thinking – men are walking penises with no thought other than sexual gratification (and swift escape), and women are commitment-craving baby machines.

Diluted, this manner of thinking can make its way into even the most sensible and respectful of relationships. Women, embracing their sexuality within a social milieu that suddenly celebrates it (Cosmo, Sex and the City, etc – the validity of these as vehicles for sexual normalcy is obviously problematic), are astonished to find that men don’t, actually, want to have sex all the time.

Moreover, women are offended when they attempt to initiate a romp to be met with a polite but firm negative. Suddenly they doubt whether this person finds them attractive, and wonder if they are going to leave them, or have already sought gratification elsewhere. Especially since the media that celebrate their sexuality also insist that their value in relationship is largely a factor of their appearance and sexual attractiveness.

Why do they think this? Because the sexually insatiable male is an accepted stereotype: the male is meant to be constantly sexually interested and available.

If men want sex as often as possible with women, and this man does not presently want to have sex, therefore he no longer finds this woman attractive, possibly does not even see her as a woman (for the stereotype also includes an implied ‘any port in a storm’), and therefore does not value her, or is impotent (id est, is not a man).

If anyone takes a moment to think about it, they will recognize that this false syllogism is beneath their sudden insecurity, and that men are as susceptible to fatigue, stress, inebriation, headache, or simple lack of arousal as women, and this is a reflection not of impotence or disinterest, but of life of an individual in the world.

It is virtually impossible to imagine a partnership wherein both parties have perfectly synchronized libidos. The thoughtful and polite thing to do if rebuffed is to back off without reproach. But when so much in our culture insists upon sex as the be all and end all of conversation between the sexes, it is difficult to maintain a logical outlook.

Sexism is just one of the many isms that get in the way of fair and compassionate human interaction, by creating false expectations (of oneself and others) and encouraging subsequent judgments.

To quote Ferris Bueller: -Ism’s in my opinion are not good. A person should not believe in an -ism, he should believe in himself.

This would, of course, also apply to feminism, but then, every feminist wants a world where Bueller’s paean to individuality is a given, where everyone is regarded as an individual and not labeled as belonging to a particular group with an associated cloud of character traits.

Resist Relationship “Math”

Newspapers love relationship science. So do women’s magazines and pop psych mags, because love (and sex) are, if not universal, certainly near-universally desired. And because we live in a scientific age, we keep hoping that there will be some magic formula that will dictate human interaction. I’m the same – the teen mags I read as a kid with ‘how to tell if he likes you’ quizzes and bizarre high school chat-up lines I read like a script. After three or four awkward moments, I decided that, following that sort of vague and romantic advice was ultimately unhelpful.

Now there’s a new study out that supports this kind of thinking. Marriages succeed or fail based on the couple’s “type” in terms of how they deal with conflict. And there’s a mathematician, so obviously it’s waaaaay more valid that those Cosmo quizzes. The Daily Mail article and an op-ed in the Times today (I couldn’t find it online) both started out comparing the simplistic thinking to those mockable magazine quizzes, then backing up the findings since, you know, it was a big, math-y, science-y, study.

Who doesn’t want to believe that by taking a simple quiz (or being observed by people with clipboards and labcoats while having a discussion on a heavy topic), one can determine the sort of person with whom one is most compatible? Or rather, whom one would be the least likely to divorce? Unless, of course, you’re ‘volatile’, in which case, it’s a crapshoot. That caveat alone should have sent off flares.

Because the methodology was 1) watch couples talk about a ‘fraught’ subject 2) judge their manner of discussion as one of 4 types of behavior 3) watch for several years to see who gets divorced.

All right class, who can point out the flaws here? Let’s start with

1) Choosing what is a fraught subject is highly subjective, and time sensitive. A couple just starting out on a tight budget might find talking about money a little more tense than one where at least one person has a massive savings account or inherited property. The selection of the matter under discussion presumes that everyone will find the subjects more of less equally important. Obvious logical flaw.

2) In coding behavior and speech in a discussion in one of 4 ways automatically presumes there are only four categories. If I say everything is either red, white, or blue, and something turns up green or black, they’re both going in the ‘blue’ column, even though that’s not necessarily accurate, it’s just as close to accurate as you can get given the methodology. Ergo, saying people’s behavior proves they fall into these categories begs the question.

3) Just wait? No checking to see if discussion styles change over the years? No looking for other parameters, like infidelity, depression, death, bankruptcy, etc?

It bugs me that people, and particularly journalists, don’t think critically about scientific studies (or reports thereof). The temptation to simplify people and relationships into types is significant, which is all the more reason to be logically cautious. What’s different between someone classifying themselves as ‘avoiders’ and therefore only seriously considering other ‘avoiders’ for long term bliss (when a ‘validator’ or ‘volatile’ could teach them to be less afraid to speak up and maybe have a better quality of life because they aren’t as afraid of confrontation, assuming these aren’t terribly simplistic categorizations anyway and highly unlikely to represent someone’s behavior all the time), and a Scorpio refusing to date an Aries because they’re just ‘too insensitive’?

image from Royal Holloway University of London


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