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Professor Zero has posted an excellent addition to our occasional series, Lessons for Girls, which I have entitled “Romance is for your pleasure and enjoyment.” Go read the whole thing–it’s not long, but it’s a great reminder for us girls that our romantic and sexual relationships are for us to enjoy, too. Here are a few of her words of wisdom:
Since my mid thirties. . . I’ve had recurrent trouble with men who (a) think one should have sex to serve and please them; (b) are not sure one should have it to please oneself, unless that can benefit them with some kind of visual show; (c) are convinced women want them and that they can therefore get away with various types of poor behavior and not be frozen out.
Eventually this shook my sense of reality that I went to see a therapist, who reminded me of ideas (A) and (B) (in the second paragraph). Even though these ideas had once seemed obvious to me, it was amazing to me by that point to have someone confirm that they really weren’t “too selfish.”
. . . . . .
So, girls: dates, and “relationships,” should be more relaxed/pleasant than ordeal-like, and it’s OK to be in them for you (as opposed to in service to the other person).
Corollary: beware of advice about how you should “work on” relationships and how they are “work.” Also beware of advice about how you need to compromise more, and how the burden of “communication” is on you.
My friendships don’t seem like work and struggle, they seem like pleasure and growth; my better relationships with men have felt like that too; I would really beware of all the warnings about the “work” of a relationship just because romance is involved; I think these are a trap.
I never had the “pleasure” of dating in my 30s, as I’ve been extremely well acquainted with Dr. Mister since I was 23 years old–but most of my female friends who dated men in their 30s have gone through this–sitting through one bad date after another–and they made the same realization that Zero reports. (Interestingly, the decision to stop going on bad dates was usually quickly followed by meeting a really great guy–I’m not saying there’s a direct magical causation, but I think there is perhaps a correlation between getting very clear in your own mind what you’re looking for, and then finding it.)
I think Zero makes a great point about the use of the word “work” in relationship-speak, especially since it’s women who buy and read the majority of relationship advice books and videos. Perhaps “effort” is a better word–it takes some effort to maintain a long-term relationship, but if both partners do their fair share, they’ll continue to replenish the fountain of goodwill that should be at the center of every friendship. (I like Zero’s formulation of friendships in general being about “pleasure and growth”–that just about sums it up, doesn’t it?)
Romantic relationships are not just zero-sum equations, in which what you put in is what you get out. Both partners should get more than they put in, if it’s a good one, in a kind of multiplier effect. Both partners should get more energy, pleasure, and fun from the relationship than they can generate on their own. So my rule is, if it’s sucking away your energy, pleasure, and zest for life, cut the cord, pull the plug, chew your own leg off if you have to to get out of that bear trap. (Pick your own cliché.) As Liz Lemon on 30 Rock would say, “that’s a deal-breaker, ladies!”
(Confidential to Prof. Zero: Why wouldn’t you want your parents to read this post? If I am a parent, I would be happy to learn that my daughter wasn’t going to “cast her pearls before swine.” Mental health is much better than catering to abusers and bullies, right?)