by Karen Kreps
Does the symbol of Cupid’s arrow strike a chord in you? Do you associate love and romance with pain and longing? Too many of us do.
I’ll bet you’ve been dating Mr. Lonely. You know whom I’m talking about: the guy who occupies your thoughts but who always lets you down on some level and leaves you feeling lonely. If you’re counting on him for chocolates, flowers and great sex on Valentine’s Day, you’ll be in for disappointment. Yet you keep on hoping that, this year, things will be different, that he’ll finally get the message you’ve been sending him and respond appropriately.
Ditch him! Don’t waste another precious night pampering the fantasy that he’s good for you. Mr. Lonely is the anti-Valentine.
That guy can’t be trusted. He sleeps with everyone. I have gone to bed with him on more than one occasion, and I haven’t met a gal who hasn’t at least flirted with him. That dirty cur wouldn’t be sniffing around at your panties if you weren’t doing something to encourage him. Stop singing those torch songs. What do you find attractive about him? That he makes you feel? Don’t you know that feeling emotional pain and rejection only has one lasting effect: It numbs you.
How did we ever fall for him? The causes could be many.
Blame it on some old beau who long ago left you but for whom you never stopped pining. It may even trace back to a girl’s unrequited love for her father. We associate our attachment to an unavailable guy with romance and obsess about him with the loyalty that deservedly belongs to a man who can handle commitment. Instead, our emotional attachment to Mr. Lonely may trap us in the past. We strongly identify with the rejection we experienced and we ruminate on the story, replaying it like an old record. We expect the next guy we meet to be no different from the one who did us wrong. Listening to these old albums may cause us to be remote and miss the experience of true love from someone really nice, who isn’t the least bit like him.
This foible of human behavior is described by Eckhart Tolle in one of his bestselling books, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, as the function of the pain-body: “The remnants of pain left behind by every strong negative emotion that is not fully faced, accepted, and then let go of join together to form an energy field that lives in the very cells of your body.”
Women aren’t the only victims of Mr. Lonely. He has a female counterpart. Ms. Lonely can be a real bitch. She is a narcissist, all wrapped up with her self. Should she pay any attention to you, it’s to cast judgment. She’ll cut you down to size and snub you at a party because you not rich enough, strong enough or sufficiently handsome to merit her affection. Tolle writes that the pain-body feeds on negativity, “The pain-body that is ready to feed can use the most insignificant event as a trigger, something somebody says or does, or even a thought.”
Mr. and Ms. Lonely usually haunt singles, but they may also sneak into the marital bed, summoned there by your pain-body. You may have married your Dream Lover only to awake one morning next to someone who doesn’t understand you and who refuses to meet your expectations, leaving you to feel lonely even in your marriage.
John T. Cacioppo and William Patrick demonstrate in Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection how loneliness creates a feedback loop that reinforces social anxiety, fear and other negative feelings. By learning more about what underlies this experience, then learning to reframe their response, lonely individuals can reverse the feedback loop, overcome fear and find ways to reconnect.
So what can we do to slam the door on Mr. Lonely and to open our hearts and arms to someone more deserving of our love? I, for one, would start by giving myself the respect and attention I wanted but, in times past, didn’t get from that jerk. I can set an example for others by being gentle and sweet with myself. Then I can think about how to share the warm fuzzies with someone who will appreciate them.
When I feel solid in myself, positive about whom I am and what I can accomplish, I know I’m more attractive to others. I’ll draw others who see me as I see myself and the feedback loop becomes much more rewarding.
Having positive experiences about myself and others, I may even go on a rampage of appreciation and express to my partner the very kind of thoughts Mr. Lonely never voiced: “You are the greatest friend. Your touch fills me with delight. Your stories make me smile and I laugh when I’m with you. You do so many thoughtful things to help me out. I feel secure in your company and want to spend more time there. I trust you, and you can count on me to be there for you when you need a friend.”
In her humorous and life-affirming book, Excuse Me, Your Life is Waiting: the astonishing power of feelings, Lynn Grabhorn writes that we can free ourselves from the chain of pain if we stop trying to fix what we see as wrong in others. “If we can find something—anything—to appreciate about them, and plant the seeds of potential new growth about them with our positive vibrations, we open up a chance for change.”
What motivates us to mate?
by Karen Kreps
I didn’t really feel like having sex the other day, but I did anyway. My motivation wasn’t very clear. I had some free time. There was an opportunity to join my husband while he was taking a siesta. I assumed correctly that he’d welcome my initiative, and I said to myself, “Why not?” I thought it would relax me and help me get out of my head. It did.
The reasons we choose to have sex vary from person to person and from time to time. People do it for serious life-affirming reasons, for frivolous debauchery and everything in between.
“Historically, the reasons people have sex have been assumed to be few in number and simple in nature—to reproduce, to experience pleasure or to relieve sexual tension.” So wrote a couple of professors from the University of Texas at Austin. Cindy Meston and David Buss, both PhDs in the Department of Psychology, have published a thorough taxonomy of sexual motivation in the Archives of Sexual Behavior after conducting a scientific study of why people have sex—an extremely important, but surprisingly little-studied topic.
Research in the nineteen-seventies, -eighties and -nineties showed that people had sex for reasons that were varied and psychologically complex. These included a desire for pure pleasure, to express emotional closeness, to please a partner and to make a conquest. Yet most of the reasons documented in those decades, implicitly assumed the context of an ongoing romantic relationship or long-term mate. Humans, however, have a menu of mating strategies, including long-term, short-term and extra curricular mating. There might be reasons for having sex with a casual sex partner such as the desire to experience sexual variety or seeking to improve one’s sexual skills. Sex could be exchanged for favors, special privileges and a preferred job or indeed for any resource.
Sex might be used to reward a partner or as a favor in exchange for something the partner has done. Or sex might be used to retaliate against a partner for some perceived wrongdoing. Also, sex might be used to intensify the relationship, escalate the level of commitment within the relationship or turn a relationship from short- to long-term. Women, in particular, were thought to engage in sexual intercourse for emotional closeness, bonding, commitment, love, affection, acceptance, tolerance and closeness.
In their recent study, Meston and Buss surveyed more than four hundred men and women, ranging in age from seventeen to fifty-two, who responded to the query: ‘‘Please list all the reasons you can think of why you, or someone you have known, has engaged in sexual intercourse in the past.’’ The more than seven hundred answers collected resulted in two hundred thirty-seven distinct reasons.
Once they came up with that long list, Meston and Buss asked more than fifteen hundred college students, in exchange for psychology class credits, to rank the reasons in terms of how they applied to their experiences. Keep in mind that these results reveal the behavior of those who are of an age when, Meston conceded, “Hormones run rampant.” She predicted significant differences when older people are studied.
The research found similar reasons for why these young adults got intimate, and the Number One reason was simply: “I was attracted to the person.” While the primary reason involved lust, rather than amour, expressing love and showing affection still were in the top ten for both men and women.
Gender differences were negligible. Twenty of the top twenty-five reasons given were the same for males and females. “Men were more likely to be opportunistic towards having sex,” Meston said. “So, if sex was…available, they would jump on it—somewhat more so than women. Women were more likely to have sex because they felt they needed to please their partner.” Men, the study revealed, were more apt than women to have sex to get things like a promotion, a raise or a favor. Guys were much more likely than gals to say they’d had sex to “boost my social status” or because the partner was famous or “out of my league.”
The study Meston and Buss completed inspired New York Times science writer John Tierney to provide an on-line forum where the public could add their ideas to the list of reasons to have sex. In just a few days, he got hundreds of responses, which lead the UT researchers to put an additional forty reasons on their list.
Reading the many tawdry reasons why others have sex, I felt more inclined to forgive my own past foibles.
The reasons I found scariest involved revenge: “I wanted to give someone else a sexually transmitted disease (e.g., herpes, AIDS),” “I wanted to get rid of aggression” and ‘‘I thought it would help ‘trap’ a new partner.”
The most inspiring reasons involved celebration: “Because life is short (and a hundred years from now we will all be dust),” “To recover or reaffirm life after the loss of (a) loved one” and “I wanted to become one with another person.”
While we may wish to keep to ourselves the rationalizations for our behavior, the act of reasoning itself has value. By delving into our own feelings, getting honest with ourselves about why we get it on, we’ll gain greater personal understanding of and appreciation for our own sexual natures.