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Love Sex and Desire
Whenever someone says they love me, or I hear the same thing said to someone else, it leaves me feeling confused. What the hell do they mean?
Recently, in getting to know a middle aged woman, I think I moved a little nearer understanding. The woman, Janet, is intelligent, willing to frankly talk about her thoughts and feelings, so we could honestly explore issues some relationships never confront.
Work had brought us together, and although there was mutual attraction, and Janet very much wants a partner and sex, we decided it would complicate our relationship if we slept together.
Human nature isn’t that simple though. Making a decision doesn’t mean it is easy to maintain or without complications. The mutual desire for each other didn’t go away. Cooperating on the work brought growing awareness of each other’s qualities and the powerful way we complemented each other and connected. So why were we still holding each other at arm’s length?
Janet and I went for a walk and she brought the subject up again. She said, “I really don’t like sleeping alone at night, so why are we not sharing a bed?”
Her question was more of a further inquiry than a demand. We had already honestly compared our personal standpoints. Janet, despite in no way being monogamous, was looking for a committed partner who she could respect, find attractive, and share sex and daily living with. For myself, I was not looking for a committed relationship, had never felt at ease with an exclusive monogamous connection, and love living alone.
Janet has a history of becoming deeply emotionally entwined with partners. It was obvious to us both that getting any closer than we were could mean that I would easily live a separate life, and Janet would once more find old wounds, created in past relationships with males, opened again to hurt.
But there is level after level of how love, sex and desire work to connect or push us apart. Our walk and talk uncovered more of the geography of these territories. One of the levels relevant was our age and past experience. For instance we had both been previously married and had raised children. Those needs and desires had already been met and satisfied. If we were in a younger age group, the desire or need for that level of relationship would have created a very different critique of what love, sex and togetherness meant. Even so, no matter our age, we were both still human.
So in her further analysis of our situation Janet went on to say, “I can see that maintaining a non sexual relationship protects us both from switching on certain reactions that getting closer through sex would produce. For a start, sleeping with you and then having you disappear off to live your own life apart wouldn’t be tolerable. Also I couldn’t cope with you having other women in your life. But there is something beyond that. It isn’t that I want any more children, but when a woman really connects with a man it calls up those primal feelings that sex is really about. At the moment we get on well, but if you became my sexual partner, I would start questioning whether you are a fitting mate. Do you measure up to what I would look for in a man to father my children? Could you measure up to what I have achieved or aim for in my life? Maybe those feelings wouldn’t be completely conscious, but they would show in the way I saw you. I have seen it in the past. I can start to get critical and bitchy.”
This immediately reminded me that Janet was still mourning an unconsummated relationship with a high flying businessman. Apart from the fact he didn’t want to maintain or deepen a relationship with her, I could see he fitted her measure of a man more fully than I do. I am no businessman. I have no big house in town, and I am not a high flyer as she or he is. Interesting though to see what constitutes what we name as ‘love’.
First, it is obvious love means different things to different age groups, although there is crossover. Also the example we looked at is just about Janet and me. Changing personal details radically alters the equations that make love.
If we use another hypothetical couple this becomes clearer. Let us say that Simon is successful financially and has work bringing social status. However, as an ageing male he is still emotionally immature, and really needs to have a motherly type of love. In the past he was in relationships with women who worked in similar financial and work situations as himself, and such relationships were never successful. But he has now met Betty, younger, not as successful, but with very warm and caring love. She is thrilled at having a man who is established and secure in the world. She admires him and loves him to bits. Not being ambitious like his other partners she doesn’t mind staying at home and providing his physical and emotional needs. He is also willing to support her desire to have a child. With his other partners he lived a life in which there was frequent conflict of interests and needs. With Betty he and she can relax, feeling secure in their support of each other. Out of this flows their form of love.
If we are going to succeed in the special form of love we need, then we must start by being very clear about who we are, and what style of life and relationships we can maintain. Janet and I had both gained a lot of self awareness from previous relationships, and we had always tried to be honest about why we succeeded or failed. And I am talking about learning, not blaming.
Straight communication is vital too. It is who you are and what you do that are the foundations of a relationship. If I had made out I was good at, and desired, a committed relationship, and gone on to have sex with Janet, only then revealing by my actions what my real motives were, it would have led to real bitterness, resentment, pain and the destruction of a good work relationship.
If you are unclear about who you are, a good psychotherapist could sum you up in one or two sessions if you asked them. Or perhaps your close friends would tell you if you explain why you wanted to know.
There is another facet to love that a lot of people do not want to admit. It is what I call the “business of love”. My second wife didn’t like it when I explained to her that two of the things that glued us together were that – at the time – she had a car and I didn’t; and she was successful and stable in her work. But although she would have preferred me to only describe my romantic reasons for our form of love, I know that if I had not been good at home building, earning a wage, and trying to face personal problems, she would have seen me as a second class male.
There IS a business side to love, and it is important to clearly make out your shopping list when you are looking for a partner.
Thinking about love in those ways set me wondering what love might be like outside of all the small print, all the personal and idiosyncratic needs, desires, fears, age, social status, and so on. I guess it would be the sort of love that doesn’t say, “I love you because.” It would simply be saying, ‘I love you.”