Everything in the world is about sex. Except sex. Sex is about power. ~ Oscar Wilde
As much as most of us would like to think that sex is a little more transcendental than that, it is a truth worth acknowledging that the struggle for love is often a struggle with (if not actually for) power. Think about the natural push and pull in any relationship. You move forward, he steps back. He steps forward, you want to run away. Chemistry works its pyrotechnical magic when one person (usually the man) pursues, and the other resists. As the relationship moves forward, needs begin to scream to be met; his needs for physical intimacy, ours (as women) for the safety of commitment. The request for the latter tends to send the other running. It doesn’t necessarily have to be that way, but I think there are some things we need to understand first and foremost.
1. You get the man you choose.
Christian Carter talks about this in his “Catch Him and Keep Him” programs. His position is that if you see the faults in a man and allow the relationship to proceed anyway, if he doesn’t change, you only have yourself to blame. I firmly believe that a woman can (and should, if it’s the right relationship) inspire a man to become better. But men very often will do whatever they like, so long as they can get away with it.
Another way to look at this concept is from the perspective of contracts and agreements. At the outset of any relationship, a man will usually tell you what it is he wants from the relationship–and what he doesn’t want. Typically a man can tell fairly quickly if you are relationship material. Attraction for men, the kind that leads to commitment, is more than just physical. He needs to feel attracted on several different levels; emotionally, intellectually, as well as physically. He wants to be excited by your mystique and unpredictability (I’m not talking drama here), he needs to respect your intellect, and he needs to feel safe with you as you honestly and maturely express your emotions in a way that does not make him feel that he is coming up short by not providing for those emotions in every way. His responsibility is not to make you happy. What he wants is to share in the happiness you already bring into the relationship. Neediness is not an emotion, it is simply a reversal of energy as a result of insecurity, and it’s a sure way to drive a man away. So if a guy says, “Hey, I’m not looking for a committed relationship,” and you go to bed with him anyway, you may very well be thinking that you can convince him to change his mind, but in reality, you’ve only given him permission to take what he can get without giving you what he’s already told you at the outset that he’s not prepared to give. When a guy says he’s not interested in a committed relationship, believe him.
All too often we enter into a relationship with a man on certain terms. Emotional intimacies are withheld in exchange for something else, usually physical intimacy, but sometimes it’s financial security or something else a woman might need to keep her committed to her part in the relationship. I’ve seen all kinds of terms set down by men in order that they can keep their freedom while the woman has taken herself off the market. I don’t mean to paint men as pigs. It’s just the way it is. Men don’t want to be alone. Their sense of manhood is invested in physical intimacy and in the companionship they receive from a woman. It’s a weakness, but not one that must be a disadvantage to us.
2. Sex means something different to women than it does to men
This is really key, and I wish more people, men and women alike, understood this. Men have a really hard time communicating their needs. They often don’t understand how they feel even if they could find the words required to express those feelings with clarity. Most women–not all, but certainly the majority–are not really able to be physically intimate without feeling the need for a certain amount of security. It’s not something we can really help. The need for commitment and security is a biological side-effect of physical intimacy. We can’t help it, it’s just how we are programmed. Men, however, don’t work this way. Desire is part of attraction for them, but they don’t fall in love the way we do through sex, and our willingness to sleep with them will not make them more likely to commit. In fact, it’s my belief, that when women sleep with men too soon they actually hurt their chances of eventually earning commitment from the relationship. Giving a man what he wants too quickly, without asking him to work for it, is not the way to inspire him to value you.
3. Learn to recognize (and admit) when a relationship isn’t a real relationship.
That’s right, there really is a such thing as a Fake Relationship. And you very well might be in one. Men want love and companionship as badly as women do. They really do. Attraction for a man involves desire. For a man to feel properly validated, sex must be a part of his romantic relationships–at least he must know you desire him (a little tease and denial never hurt any man, and is far more likely to curb cheating than encourage it if his feelings are sincere.) It’s a hard truth, but one that must be understood: Just because he’s sleeping with you, living with you, taking you out every weekend, introducing you to his friends and parents, does not mean he wants to have a life-long committed relationship with you. What happens when you talk about marriage? What happens when you talk about what the future holds for you? Many men are happy to “hypothesize” about what it could be like for you, but when it comes down to actually making plans for your future life, how does he respond? (Though, to be honest, pushing for “relationship talk” and “making plans” can push any man away who’s not yet ready.) What happens when things get tough? Does he go away, hide out in his “man cave”? Or does he make consistent efforts to figure out how to make the relationship work?
It’s my position that any man can be taught to be relationship material, as long as we put our needs first. Giving him exactly what he wants when and how he wants it is no more effective at inspiring him to work hard at a relationship than it is teaching a toddler to behave. We don’t get what we want when we give what they want. We get what we want when we insist that we will not settle for less than what we deserve.
What do you deserve? It’s a question you need to honestly ask yourself and firmly provide an answer for.
4. Women are the headlights, not the engine of the vehicle that is their relationship with a man.
If you’re driving the relationship, it likely isn’t going anywhere. Our power lies in shining a light on the possibilities and then leaning back and letting him take the wheel. It’s hard. It’s really hard to just sit back and hope for the best, but we are not powerless in this journey. We have things that men want, and hesitancy to give it up will not deter their desire, in fact, it’s very likely to magnify it. While I’m an advocate for sex only after commitment (aka marriage) I’m not a complete prude. I do know that the world doesn’t really work that way. But sex in a relationship should at least come with exclusivity. It should come with an honest conversation about what roll it fills in the relationship, and how that roll might be different for each of you. Exclusivity is not commitment, but it’s a step in that direction. And it’s a really important step. If he hasn’t agreed to exclusivity, he’s not obligated to be exclusive. It doesn’t necessarily make him a cheater. It goes back to the contracts and agreements. What are the terms of your relationship? Often, when you change the terms, you change the relationship–as in…it’s over. When you change your terms, a man will very often see it as a request for a different relationship, because you are essentially asking for a different version of him. It’s not always easy to hear the terms when they are laid down, but they were at some point.
In my marriage, we agreed that we would not be too vulnerable with each other, that we would not require too much intimacy. We had come together, both of us, as victims of childhood sexual abuse, and what we wanted more than anything, was a partner we could trust not to ask too much of us. By the time I was in my mid-thirties, I knew I wanted something much more, but getting that from him after a decade and a half of lukewarm commitment completely blindsided him. He didn’t even understand what I was asking of him.
A fellow I knew once entered into a relationship a few years ago in which he insisted that he keep his best friend, who happened to be a woman, even going so far as to put the friendship ahead of the new relationship. The new girlfriend agreed. If it preserved a place with him, she would agree to almost anything. She chose to trust him, tried to make the friend her own new best friend, but the fact remained that the terms of the relationship allowed him to carry on with that friend in ways that were not appropriate for a man who had a live-in girlfriend. He’d basically acquired permission to cheat, as long as it didn’t go too far. It didn’t, but not by his choice, rather by his friend’s, who recognized at that point that the terms of her relationship with him were not going to be any better than those he’d given his girlfriend. I wonder if he was actually heartbroken when he lost both women?
I do it too. I get into a relationship and I immediately start bending myself into the version of me I think he wants. I think how I can rearrange my schedule to suit his, how I can redirect my career to more closely parallel with his, and I consider what I can give up in the way of intimacy and emotional security so that his needs are met. In reality, our being happy with ourselves, making ourselves the goal, not being too available and demanding that our needs are met first is the perfect way to ensure that a man is always moving toward us, rather than leaning away as we demand with increasing volume that he provide us with the needs to make up for what we have already given away.
Sex is important, it’s fun, it’s wonderful, but it isn’t a man’s right to claim his prize from us before we get what we need from him. Men behave in the fashion we allow. We complain that men aren’t better, aren’t more forthright, that they are cheaters and philanderers and they have no integrity these days. When was the last time you required such qualities from a man before you gave him all you had to give?
We are better than this. We deserve better. And what’s more, we have the power to demand better and to get it. We get the men we choose. Let’s choose good men and ask them, furthermore, to be the best that they can be. But first…let’s fill ourselves with the love we hope to give, rather than looking for it from any outside source.
When, after all, did we forget we are goddesses? It’s not too late to remember it.