Men, Commitment, Marriage and the New Age of Relationships

Commitment is often sealed by marriage

Commitment means making a choice to give up other choices (Scott Stanley Ph. D). Narrowing of the options is not something, however, that we are at all accustomed with in today’s society. Advances in technology and human development, have meant that in life, there are now so many choices. Among any number of the technological gizmos and gadgets which exist there can be found an array of choices; each clambering to be the best. In an even more abstract way, socially and politically, we thrive on ideas like diversity, multiculturalism, and tolerance which attempt to suggest through very post-modern lens, that there really is no longer one correct way to view the world. Whether or not we buy into that philosophy lock, stock and barrel, we can perhaps all agree that the way we view the concept of choice, is perhaps having an impact on the way we are able to experience commitment.

If Scott Stanley’s definition of commitment is true, and I suspect that it is, it would seem to suggest that commitment involves abdicating one’s right to have other options. If I am committed to a person, a cause or an ideology, I have more or less decided to ‘forsake all other options’ for the sake of my specific choice. My commitment requires that I do this. Because, however, we live in a society which popularises the notion that we must always keep our options open, how practicable can this old-fashioned understanding and practice of commitment be? Even in the area of professional development we are now encouraged to be multi-skilled, multi-taskers, whose expertise or skill-sets, should span a range of areas and not just one. The concept of having a range of options to choose from and switching up these options as we see fit, is one of our very post-modern realities. While I am not necessarily criticising each of these social developments, it is necessary that we understand how our changing social mores, will have an impact on how we engage our relationships.

This brings us to the question of marriage and why men seem to fear it today perhaps more than any other time, in recent history. Traditionally, marriage was viewed as one of the most popular ways for a man to affirm his sense of manhood based on what society determined was essential. His sense of leadership, his ability to provide for a family, his ability to father in a controlled context, were some of the esteemed social values attached to marriage. Women were therefore “needed” for a man to “become” a real man. Enter our 21st Century postmodern age of “standardless” living or at best of shifting standards, where almost anything goes, where traditional values are scoffed at as antiquated; are we really surprised at how this has impacted an institution like marriage?

Let’s look at some of these shifts in their rawest forms. There is no order of priority nor am I suggesting that some of these changes may not have good merit. In fact, while I believe that some have been a step in the right direction, others I believe have been counter-productive and have negatively affected our own social and moral development. The fall-out has of course been felt in our relationships and families. Of course for the purposes of this article I will generalize, fully acknowledging that there are always exceptions to the rule. At the same time, we are examining a particular social trend.

Social Shifts in Relationships

  • Marriage is no longer necessary to “legitimize” the birth of children
  • Women are now better educated and more financially independent
  • With the advent of sperm-banks, male-female relationships are no longer necessary for the start of a family
  • Marriage as a unique, singular, institution, defining male-female relationships, is actively being redefined
  • The concept of “family” has also been redefined and is now all-inclusive of any union, including gay couples with children
  • Women no longer “need” men for financial or social advancement
  • Men have been “forced” to redefine their concept of manhood as this pertains to socially expected behaviours
  • Women, for the most part, have been socially liberated
  • Many women are generally “anti-men” and some (particularly the uneducated or unemployed) view them  only as financial conveniences
  • Men feel little social or emotional responsibility towards the women they have impregnated or are sexually involved with
  • The suggestion that morality or values should guide adult sexuality is labelled as regressive, conservative, insular and politically incorrect; (the idea is that consenting adults should be free to do whatever they want with sex, sans values); this leads to a reduced barometer for males to regulate their personal sexuality
  • Sexual safety is mainly defined by a greater emphasis on condom-use with little thought for the emotional fall-out of broken or failed relationships; again this absolves men of their emotional responsibility towards women
  • Marriage is viewed as an expendable legal contract as opposed to a life-long covenant
  • Individual satisfaction always supersedes the “greater-good” of the couple or the family
  • Cohabitation as a viable social arrangement has grown in popularity
  • Sex outside of marriage is no longer a social taboo
  • Divorce is easily accessible in case we make the wrong choice

Some men decide to keep it strictly casual

While I am not making any attempt to excuse men for their failure to commit or for their lack of interest in marriage, I want to suggest that at a subconscious level, marriage is perhaps no longer a pressing concern for men in relationships. Let’s face it; for the most part, marriage is no longer necessary for a man to get what he wants sexually from a woman. (Of course there have always been men getting sex outside the context of marriage but I think you get my drift). It no longer guarantees the benefits of emotional and social esteem which it did previously because as a social construct, it has been redefined. Men may tend to feel more like expendable commodities because women no longer “need” them as they may have before. Some men, being the selfish creatures that they often are, have also grabbed at the opportunity of having their cake and eating it too. Why bother to commit to one woman when there are so many women to choose from? Why buy the whole cow when you can get your milk for free? (Sorry about that analogy ladies).

It is my suggestion, therefore, that the reality of these social changes, may have caused men to revert to emotional protection mode. That is, they will take as much as they can get from a woman, while attempting to preserve or hold on to their own flagging sense of machismo. This is perhaps achieved by bedding as many women as they can, fathering children from different women and emotionally detaching themselves in relationships in an attempt to preserve a false sense of power or control. Since women are now viable competitors in the work place and every other sphere of life, the notions of chivalry and being protective of the “fairer sex” has been thrown through the window. Who wants to marry his rival? And what’s the big deal anyway; she doesn’t even want to be defined as the “fairer sex”!

Now lest I be misunderstood, I am not suggesting that we revert to the old, caveman days of male dominance and superiority in home and work life or that the battles won by the feminist movement be trivialised. I am simply suggesting that as a society, in our quest for equal opportunity, we may have literally shot ourselves in the foot. Men and women most decidedly are equal but we are not the same.  While as women we have fought and worked hard to demand respect in all spheres of life, we have somehow failed to communicate, (or have failed to admit) that our emotional needs have not really changed. No matter how successful or accomplished a woman is, she still desires the security of a loving, committed relationship. There is something instinctive in us that demands intimacy and connection. Yes there are a few exceptions but most of us women want that proposal, the ring, the ceremony and the whole nine yards. So here is a decided anomaly. We want to be respected on new relationship terms but our old girlish longings of the heart, of having a guy sweep us off our feet, still remain the same. Do guys even understand this? Do we understand this ourselves?

Some men, on the other hand, instead of re-writing the script in terms of how men and women should relate, have bailed out in fear of confronting a stronger woman. Some men are only comfortable with a relationship context where they maintain one-upmanship. As a result, such men have sub-consciously decided to take their relationships thus far and no further. Coupled with this is the idea that life is so much about diverse options and the need to experiment with them all, that there are no longer any social pressures to guide a man’s thinking towards commitment and marriage. He’s literally scared out of his wits and let off the hook; all at the same time! Men are not normally in the business of pinning themselves down in a scenario where they feel uncertain, powerless or not in control. That position is actually called vulnerability and this is still very much a bad word for many males.

Vulnerability is, nonetheless, also the place of love and commitment. Love, and its movement toward serious commitment, occurs in such a place where we are unsure of what we are navigating or of whether we will be hurt. True love demands that we be willing to take the risk. This brings me back to my original quotation by Scot Stanley. If commitment is a choice to give up other choices, it is also a place where I expose myself to the possibility of hurt and disappointment if my choice does not pan out the way I expected.

Instead of men allowing fear to keep them from this place, they must literally step outside the box of male experience, to allow this place of uncertainty but also of complete trust, to guide their own growth and personal development. It is a new age of relationships and we can perhaps never go back. However, balancing the positive traditional values of male-female relationships (qualities like chivalry, selfless commitment, protection, leadership) with the more modern redefinitions of interdependence, shared decision making, and mutual parenting, should make for the emergence of an interesting 21st Century relationship, which boasts the best of both worlds.

When it Comes to Relationships, Are You ‘Meetable’?

Many women (and to a lesser extent men) are today bemoaning their inability to find Mr. or Mrs. Right. As a consequence, they peruse bars, nightclubs, churches, gyms, supermarket aisles; anywhere basically, hoping to find “the one”. Some of my girlfriends actually report that there are no worthwhile, available guys around. They’ve basically given up hope. Others assume that if they meet a guy in a particular context, that this means ‘Bingo!’ In other words, “meeting place” to them, says a lot about the type of guy they have “landed”.

For instance, such women may naively assume that an intellectual met at University will be a good marriage and financial prospect (dollar signs literally float in their heads) or that a gym enthusiast will be a great health buff, a teacher, good father material or a ‘church man’ one with integrity. We can become so consumed with not only meeting a partner but with where we meet him, because we believe that this “meeting-place” will determine the quality of the prospective partner. But in the quest for “the one” perhaps we need to look a bit further.

It’s not simply where you meet your partner that will determine the success or longevity of the ensuing relationship but really, whether or not you are “meetable”. What do I mean by this?  Sometimes we can become so locked into what we are looking for and our specific requirements, that we forget to check on our own selves and our preparation, readiness or suitability for a relationship. So here are some critical questions. What are the important interpersonal dynamics which make you a good candidate for a relationship? You may have your own list of requirements but are you anywhere near to fulfilling them yourself? Are you even the type that someone would want to have a relationship with?

Warmth and Approachability

When a guy sees you, does he bolt and run in the opposite direction? Does your vibe say “I am available; ask me questions; get to know me” or does it convey “approach me at your own risk”. The initial message you send may be critical in determining whether or not your potential, ideal guy even bothers to give you the time of day. Admittedly, some of us women may have had bad experiences and as a result, just want to keep the undesireables at bay. In the process, we may have set up a virtual scowl which says “don’t even think about it!” and this just might scare off the right guy! It is important therefore that we remain aware of how and who we send our signals to.

Presentation

While we are definitely not cows on display at the local animal exhibition, there is nothing wrong with ensuring that we look like the type of girl a guy would want to take home to his mother. I know many women who drool over a guy’s six pack abs or his firm biceps, while paying scant attention to their own fitness or grooming. Am I buying into the concept that a woman is no more than what she looks like? Of course not, but no guy will be initially attracted to your wonderful personality. Men are definitely not intuitive personality readers. They can’t get to know the unseen, without first approaching what they can see; namely you. So while wanting a guy to love you for who you really are is all well and good, he needs to be given the okay to really get to know you in the first place. In the presentation department, it is also unfair to demand what you yourself are unwilling to deliver. So it is important for a girl to get her glamour on.

 

Integrity

There is perhaps nothing as endearing as finding a really decent guy; you know the type that was perhaps raised by his grandmother and who exudes old-fashioned chivalry. There is also the belief that you can tell the type of man you’re dealing with based on how he treats his mother or by extension his home circle. In the same way, a woman’s level of commitment to her parents, siblings or even her friends, can say a lot about the type of partner she is likely to be. Even as you search out these qualities in your ‘Mr. Right’, are you aware of what your familial relationships reveal about you? What about the quality of your regular friendships? Are you loyal, gossipy, afraid to confront or overtly critical? It is likely that the habits you have imbibed in negotiating your other relationships, will also influence how you handle a romantic relationship. So before you spill the beans on your best friend to a new guy, be aware of what he is probably surmising about you.

Self-Confidence

A woman who knows who she is and what she’s about is undeniably sexy and will draw most men like a moth to a flame. We women are also drawn to a man who is self-assured and knows what he wants out of life. Conversely, a wimpy, blundering, indecisive man is as attractive as a prickly thorn. Most of us want to avoid such men, unless we are really manipulative, control-freaks! In spite of this, so many of us women, lack the inner confidence, which we crave in a prospective partner. We often convey a needy dependence which most men find unattractive. While I do support the idea of partners building each others’ self-esteem, neither of us should be entirely or solely dependent on the other for affirmation. We should not enter a relationship because we need it to feel complete. Confidence conveys an infectious energy which makes it known that we are ripe and ready for a relationship because we chose to be.

Playing Fair

Lest I be misunderstood, I am not conveying that personal perfection is required for us to be relationship ready. The reality is, that quite often, it is our very quirks and imperfections which draw us to each other since as the saying goes, “opposites attract”. We seek to compensate our own weaknesses by discovering opposing strengths in others and this may have some merit. Be that as it may, if we want to be taken seriously, then it may pay to take some time to look inward. Are we emotionally prepared to dish out what we are so willing to take from another? Are we prepared to be that partner that we want or require? If after honest reflection we discover that we aren’t, do we intend to work on making ourselves at least a little more ready? Ultimately, in this game called love, it just might pay to play fair.

 

 

Claiming The Relationship You Want

How do we determine what is best for us in a relationship and do we always get what we want? Do we have the power to determine our own relationship happiness or is this always dependent on someone else? How do we experience the relationship we really want?

This latest podcast from the lifestyle radio show “LIVING RED” explores this issue of “Claiming The Relationship You Want”. Join our host Denise J, as she explores this issue in a two part series. Just follow the link to Blog Talk Radio. You will discover great tips to make your relationship better.

LIVING RED: Claiming The Relationship You Want (Part 1)

LIVING RED; Claiming The Relationship You Want (Part 2)

A Woman’s Sex through the Ages: 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s . . .and Beyond

There is so much information out there written for us women about sex and our responses to it (present company included). To some degree when we’re addressed as women, we’re all lumped together in one fell swoop. We’re told about our G spots, our orgasmic potential, our vaginas, our ability to “ejaculate”, our biological clocks, our issues with menopause, our attempts to feel sexy, our issues with men and the list can and does go on. What often fails to happen in the self-help arena, however, is the distinguishing of us women.

Yes, we’re not all alike and while variables like race, ethnicity and socialization may separate us when it comes to sex; age is also a huge discriminator. So while we might tell women to do this or do that to maximise their sexual potential, the truth is that adulthood is not one generalised state of being. Like any other aspect of life, our sexual needs and priorities will change through the ages or decades of our lives. Of course the context within which we are having sex will also have some bearing on our experience of it. So, admittedly, the casual hooker-upper, the serial monogamist and the woman in a committed relationship like marriage, will all experience sex somewhat differently. Be that as it may, as women, we can still identify common emotional and even physical responses which define our sex through the ages.

The Roaring 20’s

I got married at nineteen. You could say I was reasonably well prepared emotionally and psychologically for some of what marriage entailed. But really and truly, although I was looking forward to loads of great sex, it wasn’t something I exactly thought about that deeply. What concerned me mostly in my twenties was the logistics of sex; the how, the when, the where; even though I was deeply in love with the man I was doing it with!

In our twenties, we’re still very much into carving out our sexual identity with respect to how we have and enjoy sex. Yet we have sex with very little thought to what we’re actually doing. It’s more like sex on automatic pilot; loads of sex drive, lot’s of gas in the garage and plenty mileage. And of course we want to experience the emotional connection and all the stuff the fairy tales and romantic comedies promise us. Yet we’re still fairly insecure, and worry about things like body image and how we will look in bright light. In spite of it all, sex in our twenties is usually a rip-roaring experience aided and abetted by lots of youthful sass.

The Thoughtful 30’s

Although none us likes to admit it, by the time we reach our mid-thirties, we are in essence fast approaching mid-life. Our kids are growing (or yet being born) and we’ve likely started a mortgage and our second car loan. Being consumed with a growing family, may cause sex to become routine or even boring. So who cares about light and dark at this stage? It’s sex for basic survival where our husband is lucky if we can manage it regularly with both eyes opened.

On the other hand, at this stage, sex is still fairly important in a committed relationship and we can become consumed with making it more meaningful or better. This may lead us to attend seminars (with our husbands kicking and screaming in tow), read books or even inspire us to try to match the national average or at least keep up with the Joneses. For those who were previously single, a decision to settle with one person can also make our sex life dynamite at this stage, as we grow in sexual confidence and deliberately try to find ways to keep things heated in the bedroom. In our thirties, sex involves a lot more thought than it perhaps did before. This can honestly lead to a desire for more experimentation; which can perhaps be squeezed in between the kids’ vaccine shots.

The Flaming 40’s

I am past forty; (chronologically forty-something, emotionally thirty-nine) and I have definitely gone into another sexual high-gear. I recently told some slightly embarrassed twenty-something year old friends of mine that I was having the best sex of my life. I totally got their averted glances because at twenty-something, I would never have said that either. And that’s the entire point of this article.

In her forties a woman is oozing with sexiness. There is a certain pep in her step. She knows what she’s about, she has greater self-confidence and this transfers to the bedroom where she’s not afraid to make her needs known. Some call it her sexual peak. Gone are the days of worrying about the toning of certain parts of her anatomy or about the way the light falls across her naked body. This sexually assertive woman is likely to be more vocal in bed, and even more assertive in initiating the act. She may even surprise her partner with a few tricks of her own. She’s doing the bedroom research and totally enjoying this new lease on her sexual life.

The fact that the kids have grown up, or are growing up and out of the house a lot more often, (on their own dates/away at college), means that there is a lot more free time for mummy and daddy to play. And I don’t mean hide and seek. This increased freedom and a woman’s desire to be at her best as she ages, has a wonderful spin-off effect and the result can be an increased sex-drive (and her husband is usually deliriously happy).

The Fulfilling 50’s

Having not yet reached the big five o, I can only imagine and of course take the cues from the fifty-somethings I either know, or have read about. At this stage, a woman can finally, legitimately say, “been there, done that, will do or never do again”. Hopefully where sex is concerned there is still quite a bit of doing left as her sex-drive can still be in full swing from the previous decade.

If what the developmental psychologists suggests is true, our fifties is a time of reflection and critical decision-making. We have lived long enough to know what we want and what we won’t put up with. Sex is no different. The woman at fifty and beyond who has taken care of herself, is still up to doing a full-scale romp in the hay but it’s on her own terms, since she has little to prove. Still assertive, she is also more caring, patient and willing to be inventive to keep the sex fresh; especially if her partner may not always be up to the times (if you get my drift).

Far from pausing from men (men-oh-pause), the absence of a bothersome menstrual cycle and the absence of a fear of pregnancy can actually do wonders to a previously flagging sex-drive. While depleted hormones may add to mood swings, vaginal dryness and the like, it is the quality of her relationship, her partner’s openness and her comfort with her own sexual identity, which will impact how she experiences sex at this stage.

Since times have definitely changed, and 50 is now considered the new 40, women in their 50’s appear to be sexier than ever. It is sexiness, however, born of inner confidence and groomed in spite of the harsh experiences of life. It is an assurance that says although a woman is worth a lot more than a vagina; she can still safely call it one of her best friends.

At the same time, since our attitudes to sex begin in the brain, how we engage our thinking about sex will continue to influence how we respond to it whether we are 60, 70 or beyond. Although time will age our bodies, it is the cumulative experiences of the ageless person on the inside, not just our sex, which should continue to affirm who we really are.

“Living Red” The Talk-Show: Recovering From Infidelity

Our new lifestyle radio talk-show “Living Red” begins in earnest tonight by looking at the touchy subject of infidelity. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. What is “Living Red”?

“Living Red”, the campaign, is an initiative of Better Blends Relationship Institute and Red Red Apples. It seeks to encourage us to bring into the open those sensitive issues about relationships and sexuality which many of us still find difficult to discuss. At the same time, the campaign encourages a celebration of our relationships and our sexuality, through accessing the knowledge and skills which we need to make our relationships better.

Living Red, the talk-show by the same name, will help us to examine and confront critical issues which challenge our marriages, our relationships and our families. Red is a signature colour which suggests boldness and tenacity in the face of obstacles. Red is also the colour of love, so as we share on this show, we will expose our own vulnerabilities and needs. We know that this will move us towards becoming better women, men, husbands, wives, partners, mothers, fathers, siblings, friends.

We air each Monday and Thursday night at 11:00 PM (EST) on Blog Talk Radio.

So just follow the link below, by clicking on “Living Red” to hear our first episode.

The “Living Red” talk show: Recovering From Infidelity