The Slippery Slope: How “Mr. Right Now” Becomes “Mr. Permanent”

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The brain and the heart converse, but don’t always listen. They are like the angel and the devil (or vice versa) each whispering into a different ear. This is a problem when it comes to romance — especially on the lonely rebound — especially for women.

The stereotype tells us women are less able to separate sex and love. Enter the interim boyfriend — the one you are intuitively drawn to despite his deficits: “Mr. Right Now.” Intuition, loneliness, or boredom start the process and reasons are created to justify the inclination. So instructed, the head says some version of the following:

Well, he’s not perfect, but he is a good companion for the time being. I know he does (or doesn’t do)  ____________ (fill in the blank with whatever disqualifies him from becoming a first class companion). I know he’s got some defects. I’ll keep myself in check. I’ll be in control. I’ll be safe. He’ll fill the gap until “Mr. Right” turns up. I won’t be so lonely in the meantime, because “Mr. Right Now” will be fun.

The heart is still. Unengaged. Untroubled. Quiet. Deaf. The intuition-led brain is in charge and says all the right things. The man’s deficits — perhaps overuse of alcohol or free spending or immaturity or selfishness — are noticed but not troublesome. He is, after all, temporary. The couple talk about the “no strings” nature of their interaction, their “sexpectations.” There is a promise not to get too involved. They might describe their connection as “friends with benefits,” as if words collar feelings — leash the heart against leaping.

As the old saying goes, if you want to hear laughter, tell God your plans!

Time passes. Familiarity brings comfort. Sex adds excitement and closeness.

The heart begins to flutter. That is why the heart exists. The brain had been in charge and made promises the unhearing heart did not keep. Love conquers. The head still recognizes all the defects of “Mr. Right Now” — the things that disqualified him from the lead role. He auditioned for the understudy position, the guy who fills in when Mr. Right isn’t available.

The heart is now in charge. The shortcomings of the short-term fellow no longer matter. He is the leading man. The brain, if it ever was in charge, is either silenced or ignored.

The heart has the whip hand. Reasons are manufactured to justify feelings:

Well, he’s not perfect, but who is? I’ll talk to him about the things he needs to change, what I need from him. He’ll listen. He’ll change. Besides, he has so many good qualities. He’s a wonderful person, he just needs to (pick one or more):

  1. grow up a little
  2. be honest
  3. spend less time with his friends
  4. put me ahead of his family
  5. be more (or less) concerned with money
  6. be more ambitious
  7. be more (or less) preoccupied with work
  8. become more sensitive, especially to me
  9. listen better
  10. be neater
  11. drink (or use drugs) less
  12. _________________ (Fill in the blank)

Unfortunately, before long you are a prisoner in a trap you set yourself. You recognize the impossibility of your magical plans for the lover’s transformation, but you are hip deep in love. The chains of affection are heavy and take you under. You are straightjacketed like Houdini, but don’t have his gift for escape. Too late, you realize you fooled yourself. You are sinking. You mistook the straightjacket for a life jacket.

The inoculation against the love bug failed. Your heart is now infected. The new BF (boyfriend), lover, companion, stud puppet (whatever you want to call him) is in your blood.

Like any infection, some time is needed to recover. The task is easier if no children are involved, no marriages planned, and you have the courage to look hard at reality. Sooner is better than later. “The heart is a lonely hunter”* and, once that vital organ snuggles up to someone, detachment isn’t easy.

At best, you learned some painful lessons:

  • First, all important lessons are painful.
  • Second, you aren’t as smart as you thought.
  • Third, there are worse things than loneliness.
  • Fourth, temptation is easier to avoid than resist.
  • Fifth, your reasons followed your intuition, your biology, your neediness, or all three. You wanted to go out with someone who wasn’t right. No wonder your reasons weren’t reasonable or ultimately effective in protecting you.

Most people, including more men than will admit it, make some version of the same mistake. You are human, so you make mistakes.

You might know someone about to step on the slippery slope I’ve described. You are welcome to share my post, but don’t bet big money on persuading your friend of the dangers. Spilled milk, spilled tears — without them we learn very little. “For fools rush in where angels fear to tread,” as Alexander Pope wrote three centuries ago. There are times when we are all fools. Get the tissues ready.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is a 1940 novel by Carson McCullers, adapted into a 1968 movie of the same name and a 2005 play.

 

 

The “Top Forty” Sex List: Why Every Sexual Encounter is Not the Same

Sex means lots of things to lots of people; and lots of different things to the same person at different times. As Hamlet said, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

A short list, then, of some of the kinds of sex that we humans have invented, along with a few reasons or motives. With apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…”

1. Make-up Sex. Here we have nothing more or less than sex after a fight or some injury done by one partner to the other. It is usually very satisfying.
2. Charity or Sympathy Sex. One partner feels sorry for the other and tries to make their love feel better, using sex as the vehicle. In some quarters the recipient of “charity sex” has to give a receipt for tax purposes to the person who made the donation. A few women have told me that their relationship with their future husband began because they felt sorry for him.
3. Nonstop Sex. This is the domain of the hyper-aroused and the very young. If you are older, you might want to be careful, unless you have Viagra and an oxygen tank handy, not to mention paddle electrodes to jolt your overtaxed heart.
4. Celebration Sex. This usually follows an award, a victory, a promotion, a raise, or a graduation, and finds everyone feeling pretty wonderful.
5. Anniversary/Birthday Sex. Not typically quite so wonderful as #4, but it can be very good depending on how the pair feel about the event. Alternatively, one member of the couple might simply be performing as a duty for the occasion.
6. Making Babies Sex. This carnal contact is done by the calendar for a purpose other than lust. It can easily lose the magic of other kinds of less purposeful and more spontaneous intimacy, but at least the Pope and Rick Santorum would approve.
7. Obligatory Sex (aka “Let’s Get It Over With” Sex). One of the two participants is doing this out of a sense of duty to the other or simply to stop being pestered over it. It is not usually the romantic experience of their dreams for either party.
8. Desperation Sex. If one of the companions is afraid the other might end the relationship, she may use sex to try to remind her lover of the excitement she can generate.
9. Insecurity Sex. The type of intimacy that falls under this heading is related to #8, but not identical to it. In this instance the insecure person wants sex as a form of reassurance that she is still loved and needed.
10. “I Love You” Sex. What is described here is just about the best: when the lovers are both in love and in heat; affection and physical attraction are at their peak.
11. Practice Sex. In this example it is usually (but not always) a young male who is trying to get as far as he can with his date and “go boldly where no man has gone before;” or, at least, this particular callow youth wants to lose his virginity, and needs some experience with the purely mechanical aspects of the act. Sorry for the Star Trek quote.

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12. “Better Late Than Never” Sex. It is 3 AM and you are exhausted from a week of hard work and from partying earlier in the evening. Still…
13. “Everyone Else is Doing It, So I’d Better, Too” Sex. A young female (less often a teenaged boy) feels like everyone else is getting in on the act and that she is therefore missing something. The next available male is targeted.
14. Pressured Sex. Some men stop when a woman says “no,” some don’t. Not everyone is good at saying “no,” whether in a sexual situation or in the fully clothed world of business and social life. Some women are afraid that they will lose the male if they don’t perform. Some males are bullies and a few are rapists. Nothing about these scenarios is good.
15. Enticement Sex. Here we have an attempt by one partner to “capture” the other early in the relationship by giving him the sexual time of his life.
16. Intoxicated Sex. Too much alcohol or too high on drugs, disinhibited people often do things that they wouldn’t do sober, sometimes not even remembering why, how, or with whom. Beware.
17. Self-Conscious Sex. “Turn off the lights, I don’t want you to see me undress; don’t look at me until we are in bed.” Shame and a negative body image come alive in this moment.
18. Anxious Sex. This heading covers a lot of ground, from those who are inexperienced, to those who fear a performance failure, to those who worry that they will be badly evaluated by their partner.
19. Hostile Sex. One person does this to the other, attempting to express anger and cause pain; physical, psychological, or both. The goal is to demean and/or control the other, not to express love. Don’t be on either end of this.
20. Performance Sex. Basically, this category includes strip tease. The one “on stage” is motivated by a desire to please or to be admired, or both.
21. Selfish Sex (aka Fast Sex). This type of physical contact is a cousin to Obligatory Sex. However, in this example, it is usually the man who satisfies himself quickly, not out of duty, but simply because his needs are all that matter to him.
22. Slow Sex. The intent here is to savor every moment and allow for a build up of tension in order to achieve a more satisfying release.
23. “The Kids (Parents, Neighbors) Might Hear Us” Sex. The partners are very cautious and can’t be as spontaneous as they would like, for obvious reasons.

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24. Role Playing Sex. Remember playing “Doctor” as a kid? Adults, too, can make just about anything into a game. The role play might involve dressing up, but certainly entails some portion of pretending to different identities.
25. “Make Believe” Sex. Item #25 is not quite the same as #24. Rather, at least one partner (usually secretly) is imagining that you are someone else. S/he might be thinking you are his ex, a porn star, an unrequited love, Gisele Bündchen, Brad Pitt, or anyone of his choosing.
26. “I Need to Be Held” Sex. One member of the couple wants to be held — needs the physical contact. For her or him, the sex that develops is more about closeness than mating. Indeed, there is some emerging research suggesting that the experience of physical pain is reduced if your hand is held by a loved one.
27. Risky or Dangerous Sex. Are you in the “Mile High” Club? Meaning, have you had sex in a commercial airplane washroom? The partners who go for this sort of thing enjoy the idea that sex in places where they might be seen or discovered adds an element of excitement. There are also those who use physical dangers/pain to enliven the experience, or to play out sadistic or masochistic urges.
28. Reunion Sex. If you and your love have been separated for a long time you probably feel about ready to burst when the reunion happens. It can be very pleasurable. Fulfillment of an aching longing usually is.
29. Professional Sex. This simply amounts to a visit with a prostitute or call girl/guy.
30. Seduction Sex. What we have here is not the enticement of #15, but rather some combination of playfulness, animal instinct, desire, a wish to please, and the satisfaction of successfully turning someone in your direction and getting him to follow your agenda.
31. Conquest Sex. When sex is about “scoring,” it is more like a game of football than love. “Frat” boys are especially prone to trying to “prove” themselves by seeing whether one particular woman or many young women can be added to their “count” of sexual conquests. Women aren’t entirely immune to this either, unfortunately. Keeping score changes everything and the object of your intention is, indeed, objectified and dehumanized.
32. Revenge Sex. Do you want to get back at some one who has done you harm? Stealing her lover usually does the trick, but at great cost to your own morality.
33. Novelty Sex. Bored? Working your way through the Kama Sutra or some other manual of sexual invention might be just the thing for those nights when the TV offers “nothing good on.” Just be sure you keep your chiropractor’s phone number on speed dial.
34. Recreational Sex. Nothing is to be found here but physical attraction and a way to pass the time. No harm done, unless one considers hurt feelings, STDs, pregnancy — you name it.
35. “Sexting” or Phone Sex or Cybersex. These behaviors are examples of human ingenuity that Ben Franklin probably didn’t have in mind when he experimented with electricity. His work did, however, add to the lexicon of dating expressions; as when a woman tells a man to “go fly a kite.”
36. Extramarital Sex aka “Cheating.” I’d include in this category any sex that happens outside of a committed relationship that is not freely sanctioned by both partners.
37. “Everything But…” Sex. Folks of certain moral (usually religious) persuasions come to define sexual activity as acceptable so long as it does not go beyond specified boundaries. The limits can be narrowly defined so that very little physical contact is permitted or allow every kind of physical contact known to man with the exception of intercourse. In the latter event, the danger is that one can maintain the letter of the religious law, but violate its spirit.
38. Good-bye Sex. One of the lovers knows it is the last time. Sometimes s/he communicates this before the act, sometimes not. In any case, the act is changed by the knowledge held by one or both people.
39. “Friends With Benefits” Sex. I’ve written about this here: Looking for Trouble? Why Being “Friends with Benefits” Might Not be to Your Benefit. Best to think carefully before you risk losing a friend.
40. Everyday Sex. This is the typically unremarkable, but satisfying garden-variety physical encounter of a loving couple; but probably not done in the garden.

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The top photograph by Zambonia is of Fernand Léger’s 1921 painting Man and Woman. The second image is called A Man and a Woman (Adam and Eve) by Pavel Filonov. Next is Malakas and Maganda by Dragonbite. The pictured couple are considered to be the first man and woman according to Philippine folklore. Finally, an art work called Homosapiens09by Ade mc Ade McO-Campbell. It is described as a “simplistic representation of differing forces or elements within a man or woman.” All are sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

Looking For Trouble? Why Being “Friends With Benefits” Might Not Be To Your Benefit

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Like a parent putting a weapon in the hands of someone too young to use it safely, Mother Nature has given teenagers sex. And, along with its novelty and thrill, come bodies that are drawn to each other with an out-of-control animal magnetism. They are spring-loaded even before spring time, aching to be launched.

And, perhaps worst of all, Western culture has made sex into something almost as impersonal as buying your groceries.

Like those groceries, it is a thing to be consumed. And, like food, it produces sensations, with particular attention to appearance, shape, smell, taste, and texture.

But unfortunately, this thing that we consume with alacrity, just might eat the consumer alive.

Sex has always been a problematic commodity, even before the days when it began to be used to sell other commodities: cars, soft drinks, and the like.

Now the idea of “friends with benefits,” with No Strings Attached as the movie title promises, has added a new wrinkle to the long list of carnal complications.

For ages sex has put young people in the position of trying to figure out how to have it, without the concomitant problems of shame, disease, and pregnancy. For a long while access to young women was restricted by their families and trustworthy chaperones, with religious institutions casting a long shadow over the entire reproductive process. Perhaps George Orwell’s Big Brother wasn’t involved in surveillance of one’s comings and goings, but your own big brother was likely to be if you were female.

What the church couldn’t monitor, it condemned. Punishment by shunning and shaming was Hester Prynne’s reward for an out-of-wedlock pregnancy in Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter. Church-derived predictions of a hellish afterlife and a powerfully ingrained sense of guilt also contributed to hesitation even when your older male sibling wasn’t close by.

Eventually, however, several things happened. Urbanization made people more anonymous and independent than when they lived in small communities. They were now less easily watched and controlled. Women asserted their rights, and politicians and voters followed their lead in granting them. The automobile assisted a couple in getting away from watchful eyes and offered a place, even if uncomfortable, where sex could occur.

Meanwhile, more women began to go to school in co-ed institutions and economic necessity brought them out of the kitchen and into the work place. The weakening of religion’s governance and the invention of the birth control pill further undermined the likelihood of negative consequences if the female became sexually active.

With less to constrain them, young people did what comes naturally. Casual sex always existed, but now it was a game that the woman could play with less chance of social disgrace. The 1969 movie John and Mary portrayed the very young Dustin Hoffman and Mia Farrow as two characters who become sexually involved and only introduce themselves by name at the film’s end.

One night stands, of course, can last more than one night. “Hook ups,” can hook you permanently. But the once common expectation of something meaningful coming from a sexual encounter has been relegated to a past that many young people see as a relic from the prehistoric age of their grandparents.

Which brings us to the idea of “friendship with benefits.” There are even instructions on the internet on how best to achieve this (apparently desirable) change in a platonic relationship. You are expected to think clearly, recognize in advance whether you can keep your emotions in check, choose the right person, and create clear and mutually agreeable rules about how often and under what circumstances you will see each other.

Unfortunately, even with some guidance, you are working against biology and psychology. And, you are risking the conventional friendship (without benefits) that existed before. As Robert Burns put it, “the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men” often go awry.

Let me count the ways, leaving out such complications as sexually transmitted disease, religion, and pregnancy:

  1. The human heart is hard-wired to “care,” especially the female heart. Having won equality and the right to control their own bodies, women are well-advised not to assume that they can objectify the opposite sex with the ease that men can.
  2. Even in friendships jealousy can be an issue. Despite the new set of “rules” that govern your sexualized relatedness, how might it feel to you after intercourse if your companion finds other things and people to occupy himself? Eventually, at least one of the parties is likely to attach to someone permanently. How will the “old friend” like it when his or her status is changed unilaterally back to what it was before sex?
  3. A “romance” with no commitments, no responsibilities, and no future is not likely to bring out the best in either person. It encourages treatment that is callous or indifferent.
  4. Do you believe that it is possible to make the relationship sexual without changing it? A kind of vulnerability can come with nakedness; the other person now knows some very personal things about you. Will he look at you and you at him in the same way later?
  5. Performance questions are almost inevitable. Was the sex good? Good enough? How did it compare to others? If it was not satisfying, how do you move back to a platonic relationship without injuring your friend?
  6. Perhaps you believe that you will get out of the “benefits” portion of the connection before your emotions get in the way. This represents a pretty basic misunderstanding of how (and how rapidly) love can bloom. If I had a nickel for every time one of my patients predicted incorrectly that her brain was in charge and would signal the moment in which to exit, I would be the richest man in the world.
  7. Even if you are able to keep your head dominant over your heart, your decision to get out might leave your friend devastated. Why would you want to risk something (your friendship) that you claim is so important to you?
  8. Does your mate-of-convenience have a different agenda than you do? Does he hope that love will follow sex, even if he states that he does not want or expect that?

One more point. Why would you want to give up the romance, the mystery, the allure of growing intimacy that might lead to love? Why debase something that can be precious and make it a commonplace?

We lose our appreciation of things too easily achieved. If gold grew on trees, it would not be so highly valued as it is. Few of life’s offerings escape the law of supply and demand.

Society puts young people, even including some not quite so young, in a tough spot. “Choose!” it says at the extreme, between an inflexible abstinence based on religious text and physical contact that has been so commoditized it is little more than the raw reproductive act of our mammalian cousins.

Remember: song writers write love songs, not songs about friends with benefits.

The photo above captures a Navy Seal showing a child an M4 carbine at the Veteran’s Day Ceremony of November 7, 2009 at Ft. Pierce, Florida. The author is Chief Mass Communications Specialist Robert J. Fluegel. Sourced from Wikimedia Commons.