Saturday, January 20, 2018
Parenting & Relationships

For healthy relationships, slow down your expectations

It's time to slow down not just sex but also your expectations

Q: This is a pretty painful question for me to ask. Over the past two years (since graduating from law school) my love life has been a mess; I've had about 10 pseudo-relationships that burned out quickly and have had to recognize I'm the common denominator.

I discussed this with friends and they gave me the "tough love" talk: I move too quickly. Specifically, I jump into bed too quickly and wind up coming off as easy. This was exceedingly difficult to hear from close friends but corroborates comments a few past boyfriends have made. Now I feel just awful. I don't really know what I'm doing wrong or how to change my approach, and I feel like this contradicts all the messages I've gotten in my adult life about sex being fun and not having to be a power chip. I'd like the next relationship to have half a chance at success, so what can I do to make that happen?

Tough love

A: If it helps, it was a pretty painful question to read, too. Not just because you're obviously hurting but because it sounds as if your friends' well-meaning honesty crossed over the fine line between constructive and corrosive criticism. Do you really want to hang on to men who would judge you for having sex at the same point in the relationship they do (barring some trippy violation of the laws of physics)?

For these few past boyfriends, I have only a "wow." Is the double-standard alive? Sure, in some men. So avoid them.

That said, everyone has the right prescription: Do slow down, please. Way down.

The problem in taking your friends' apparent counsel at face value is that it leaves the real problem unsolved. Hanging a "mission accomplished" banner at "stop jumping into bed with new men" ignores all the happy outcomes beyond that limit, where men and women have turned early or even first-date sex into lasting relationships.

That's not because they happened to connect with people who aren't hypocrites (though that helps) — instead, they were able to tell the difference between a warm body and someone special. Perhaps not on that first night — impulsiveness is what it is — but in the context of their experience.

To have gotten to the relationship point with 10 different men over two years means you've managed to find the One Who Could Be the One every third month or so. What are the chances that so many people have really been so promising? Very, very slim.

So I don't think the issue here is your jumping into bed — it's jumping into new men. I.e., it's not the sex; it's the hope for romance at breakfast afterward. If you've been with a guy for only a few dates or weeks, treating your involvement as a full-blown sexual and emotional commitment confers more status on your relationship than your knowledge of each other is ready to support.

Unfortunately, of the two, behavior is easier to change than expectations are; telling yourself "no sex until we've dated X months" and adhering to that isn't easy, but it's clear-cut. Telling your enthusiasm and daydreams to sit in a closet till your mutual affection, rapport and trust with a new boyfriend prove worthy of them? That involves the hard work of identifying, and admitting, why you so badly need the validation a "love life" provides.

Repairing the source of the need is the answer here. Then, more fulfilling things will follow, no matter how gaily you kick off your pants.

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