Despicable men, disposable women: why the success of “the worst online dating profile ever” is even worse than you thought

There’s a new Cracked.com article that’s been all over my Facebook feed this week, outlining the horrifying results of an online experiment: create the most abhorrent female personality imaginable, but with a really hot profile pic, and see how men respond.

aaroncarterfan

If you guessed that it would be absolutely inundated with propositions, then you’d be correct.

But that isn’t what I’d like to address. It’s the author’s conclusion, which betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of *why* so many men wrote to this woman.

The author writes:

“There are any number of cynical conclusions I could draw from the results of this experiment. For example, I could extrapolate from my data that men have been so deeply socialized to value women solely on their appearance that many of them seem unable to take any other aspect of who she is, such as intelligence or capacity for self-reflection or suffocating douchiness, into account.”

The reality, however, is even darker than this. The men who wrote to “aaroncarterfan” weren’t simply willing to overlook her personality flaws because of her hotness. I posit that her vacuous, morally bankrupt personality made her even more attractive to them. Why?

  • Because they made her immanently disposable.

Here we come to the dark heart of the misogynistic, porn-fueled sexual economy of contemporary Western society. It’s all become like a massive real-world video game, and the rules are as follows:

  1. A heterosexual man (the first person shooter, of course) earns social points by sleeping with attractive women.  Attractiveness is measured by pre-set standards–small waist, big boobs, tight butt, bright smile, long lashes, light skin, flowing hair, etc.–and takes only physical characteristics into account.
  2. Meanwhile, the shooter only gets awarded points for a given chick once, so there’s no motivation to keep the same one around for very long. In fact, there is significant motivation NOT to keep her around, since he needs to continually bag new women in order to accrue more points.
  3. By these rules, there is not only no incentive to seek out positive personality traits such as intelligence and loyalty, there is a strong *disincentive* to do so. Not only are intelligent, loyal women more difficult to manipulate, they are also more difficult (both from a practical and an emotional standpoint) to ditch after the fact.

A woman like aaroncarterfan, on the other hand, is so repugnant that not only can a man quite easily use her and lose her, he can justify the act to himself with minimal effort. After all, she makes no secret of her pregnancy scare tactics, thereby justifying A. not using protection, B. denying it after the fact, and C. calling her a liar and a scammer if she does cry pregnancy. Or STD. Or assault. Or abuse. Or pretty much anything else. This woman has no reputation to fall back on, and no redeeming qualities to work in her favor. She is the ideal target for the kind of blase psycho-sexual violence that a truly demoralizing number of people have come to accept as The Dating Scene.

Online dating has, in many ways, for many people, become an auxiliary to online porn. You browse through, looking for the stuff that turns you on, and project your fantasy onto it, with little to no real-world repurcussion. And aaroncarterfan’s popularity suggests that the stuff that turns on a whole lot of men, more than you probably care to think about, is the lived equivalent of internet porn: a semi-anonymous, largely one-sided encounter with an entirely disposable, impossibly hot chick. Preferably with some hard-core sex stunts that are painful and degrading for her but super awesome for him–or, if he’s submissive, painful and degrading for him and a fuckton of work for her. Bonus points if she is such an unlikable skank that he can do it guilt-free.

Pretty depressing, yeah?

But like the horrified creator of aaroncarterfan, I refuse to “follow these results into the darkness.” Instead, I challenge every single person reading this to do one simple thing: stop awarding points for this behavior.

  • As in: no more high-fives, back-pats, or thumbs-ups just because a man is seen with, or sleeps with, an attractive woman. Try withholding judgment long enough to discover whether or not the match is genuinely high-five worthy.

Better yet, start issuing social sanctions for people who treat other people as disposable sex targets. When you hear an offhand remark like, “She was crazy, but man was she good in the sack,” don’t let it slide. Hold the speaker accountable.

And most importantly: be accountable yourself. Don’t sleep with people you don’t respect or who don’t respect you. To be clear: I have absolutely nothing against casual sex, so long as it’s mutually casual and mutually enjoyable. And everybody makes mistakes: someone who seemed perfect for you last night might send you screaming for the hills by noon. But if you find yourself repeatedly screwing folks with whom you would be loathe to get stuck in an elevator, let alone a relationship, then you have a problem. And if you are doing so on purpose, then YOU ARE THE PROBLEM.

Just FYI.

The case for relationship design

poly is wrongLike a lot of folks these days, particularly in the Pacific Northwest, I identify as Polyamorous, or more colloquially, “poly.” For those unfamiliar with the term, that means that I believe it is possible, and generally desirable, to love more than one person at a time.

Now, those of you who also identify as poly might be feeling a mite defensive already, based on that title. So before I get into what I have come to regard as a serious, and under-acknowledged, problem with polyamory as a relationship structure, allow me first to explain why I still consider myself polyamorous despite the fact that I am currently single (as in, I have no primary or secondary partnerships at the moment, by choice).

  • Classic monogamy, at least as it is practiced in this culture, is impractical to the point of near-impossibility.

It simply can’t accommodate the complexity of human sexuality and psychology. The chances of finding a single individual who fulfills each and every one of your needs, and whose needs you fill entirely, are astronomically low. Chances are, no matter how much you love your partner, someone else is eventually going to capture your fancy, and couples who aren’t able to acknowledge and effectively deal with the reality of their desires are doomed to be miserable, unfaithful, or more likely some combination of these two.

That being the case, more and more couples are opening up their relationships to some degree, ranging everywhere from the “monogamish” couples who occasionally invite a friend in for a threesome, to the poly conglomerate that is tenuously linked via a veritable web of overlapping agreements. These more open-plan arrangements can, and indeed must, be tailored to each individual relationship, and thus they have a much better chance of providing exactly what those individuals genuinely desire.

  • And it is because I fervently believe that everyone should have the freedom to craft the type of agreement that works best for them that I still claim the “poly” or “responsible non-monogamy” label.

That said, after ten years of living la vida poly, I’ve come to the conclusion that it has a pretty glaring design flaw, as least as it is most commonly practiced: it encourages mediocre relationships to 1. persist beyond their usefulness and 2. stay mediocre, or actively deteriorate.

I read this article recently, the TL:DR of which is that if something is not a “FUCK YES” for you, then it should by all rights be a “NO.” I couldn’t agree more. Life is too short, and your resources too limited, to bother with people you like okay, or who think you’re a decent second or third choice. But poly, as a relationship structure, invites the collecting and stringing-along of multiple lukewarm associations.

Say you’re dating someone, and the sex is fantastic, but they’re just not very communicative. The monogamous model gives you two options: deal with it, or move on. But the poly model offers a third, far more attractive option: find someone else who fills that unmet need. So you find someone who’s super communicative, but also super serious and intense and thus kind of draining. So you find someone else who is super playful and makes you laugh til you wanna pee, but who’s also kind of inattentive and self-focused and leaves you feeling sort of insecure. So you find someone else who is super attentive, but also super needy. And suddenly all your free time is filled, and you’re dealing with an exponential amount of emotional and physical considerations, and you STILL haven’t found exactly what you’re looking for.

Meanwhile, you have no motivation to fix any of those issues, since the other relationships act as release valves for that tension. So you’re still dealing with continual miscommunications, and arguments, and insecurities, and emotional meltdowns, etc. You simply have more options for escape.

Now, I’m absolutely not saying that’s the inevitable result of polyamory. It isn’t. However, one must actively fight against this tendency if one wishes to avoid it, just like monogamous couples must fight against the tendency toward infidelity and dishonesty.

Regardless of how you identify, regardless of your ideal relationship structure, it is your responsibility to actively create and continually nurture that ideal, and it is your responsibility to make sure your needs are getting met. That doesn’t mean you should attempt to wait around to find The One who will magically fulfill all your needs and vice-versa. I’m afraid that’s still a steaming pile of Disney-doo.

But what it does mean is that when you choose to love someone–and there are, as I was just reminded today by this fabulous article on the multiplicity of terms for love in ancient Greek, many different ways to love–you are choosing to divert your precious resources (time, energy, etc.) toward the project of making that relationship ever more like your ideal association. You are committing yourself to helping that person get better and better at fulfilling your needs, and to getting better at fulfilling theirs.

You are agreeing to connect, ever more deeply, with that person, not merely to use them as a band-aid, a release valve, or a supplemental insurance plan. Because that’s a pretty shitty way to treat someone you claim to love.

So, how do you combat The Poly Problem?

You choose wisely. You focus on what you’ve already got rather than continually looking for the next shiny crush to flood you with New Relationship Energy. You treat each and every relationship you maintain as your only relationship, and only consider starting a new one when someone truly exceptional, something genuinely extraordinary, comes into your life.

That is the true beauty of poly: that you can accommodate those rare and beautiful interlopers with whom you connect so deeply that you simply must have them in your life in an intimate context. Because life is too short to say “no” to a “fuck yes,” too.

These 6 Things Can Help Heal A Broken Heart

Broken-Heart-Backgrounds-Wallpaper

It’s been a while since my last post, and though I could cite all sorts of truthy reasons for that extended silence, the reality is that I went and got my heart broken. And, you know, it was just kinda hard to write about romance, what with the blood and tears spewing all over the screen and gumming up the keyboard.

  • Wait, I take that back. I didn’t “get my heart broken.” I broke my heart.

To be more precise, I smashed my heart repeatedly against someone else’s, someone who was never gonna open that thing up to me no matter how hard I knocked, no matter how patiently I waited, no matter how many brilliantly creative tactics I used to sneak past his defenses. I did this until it was mangled to the point that I could no longer find enjoyment in the attempt, and so I left the arena.

Here’s the truth of the matter:

  • There is only one person who has the power to break your heart. I’ll give you one guess as to who that is.

That is not to say that there aren’t people in the world who will be happy to use, abuse, and betray you, who will fail to return the love you offer them, or who will up and stop loving you for no good reason. There are, and they will. But no one can take, break, or so much as breathe on your heart without your consent, and in most cases, with your full participation.

But here’s another, equally important truth to wrap your brain around:

  • There is no shame in a broken heart.

Quite the contrary. A broken heart is a badge of honor, a battlescar that bespeaks remarkable courage. Because opening your heart to another person is always a risk, and it takes true bravery to keep taking that leap of faith anydamnway.

The true shame is in keeping your heart locked up tight and never letting it play the bloodsports it was designed to play, dangerous and insane though they are.

Claim the honor that is rightfully yours. Stop giving your power away by claiming that someone else broke your heart. YOU did that. And not because you’re weak or foolish. Because you’re smart enough to know that opening your heart is the only way to win the game of love, and you’re strong enough to lose an alarming number of rounds and keep coming back for more.

Which brings me to my third and final truth about heartbreak:

  • Win or lose, the game of love is still fun to play.

Be honest with yourself: you got something out of it. Even if it was simply the exhilaration of attempting to surmount an insurmountable barrier, or the smug righteousness of being the lesser asshole, or a masochistic enjoyment of martyrdom. You must have gotten *something* out of it, or you wouldn’t have bothered in the first place. The more you focus on what you got out of the deal, the less you will feel like a victim. And only by letting go of your victimhood and seeing yourself as the active participant you were/are can you finally let go of your heartbreak and heal.

But what if there’s someone out there who’s convinced that you broke their heart?

As we’ve already covered, that’s not really possible. They are fully responsible for their own condition, and you are fully responsible for yours. But let’s say you did some things that, in retrospect, were kinda shitty. And let’s face it, it’s pretty damn near impossible to get through an intimate relationship without doing something, at some point, that qualifies as some degree of shitty. What’s the best way to go about attempting to repair that damage?

Step One: Check your intentions.

Really scrutinize ’em. Interrogate yourself to make sure that this is not simply a veiled attempt to win one last round, get the last word, relieve your guilt, or obtain forgiveness.

THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOU. AT ALL.

This is about offering the other person a no-strings-attached apology because it’s the right thing to do.

If you:

  • Are still feeling victimized by the situation yourself…
  • Can’t stop yourself from including an explanation (read: justification) of why you did what you did…
  • Will be devastated if you do not receive a positive response…
  • Need reassurance/recognition that you are a good person (or even worse, the “bigger” or “better” person in this situation)…

… ABORT MISSION!!

It is kinder, and just all-around better, to leave that person in peace than to make contact before you’ve fully worked through your own emotional baggage and made peace with the situation.

If, however, you are genuinely seeking nothing in return, proceed:

Step two: Write a letter of apology.

Make it clear that no response is necessary. As we’ve established, this is a no-strings-attached apology, so make sure the recipient feels zero pressure to offer forgiveness, acceptance, or anything else.

Step three: Explain your wrongdoing in your own words.

This is not what they or anyone else believes you did wrong, this is what you know in your heart was the wrong thing to do.

Step four:

Express empathy/compassion for any consequences that befell them on account of that behavior.

Step five: Wish them well.

Step six: Fully accept that you may get a strongly negative response, or no response at all.

Know that you did the right thing anyway.

I’ll give you a true-life example, which I sent out to an estranged ex just last week:

Dear ________,

This is a long overdue apology. No response necessary or expected.

When you set a totally legit boundary with me, I got irrationally angry and lashed out at you. I was a jerk, and you deserved better. I can only imagine how awful it must have felt to make yourself vulnerable like that, only to get a verbal smack-down from the person you most needed to be on your side. Thank you for bringing so much joy to my life, and for caring enough about our relationship to communicate your needs. I wish you peace, and so much love.

– A

Happily, I did get a positive response, but I wasn’t expecting one, and that’s not why I did it. God knows I’ve gotten plenty of nasty responses, too.

If you *do* get a negative response: remember that you are not obligated to respond either. Just listen. When it comes to their feelings, do your best to empathize. But when it comes to accusations or evaluations about your behavior or character more generally, take it with healthy lump of salt. If something strikes you as true, feel free to fix it. As to the rest? Just let it go. Arguing about it isn’t going to change their mind or make you either of you better people. It’s just going to degrade any hope of either reconciliation or peaceful parting of the ways.

Whatever you do, don’t take pity on the heartbroken party. They don’t need your pity, because as we’ve established, heartbreak is a mark of bravery and will only make them stronger in the end.

Instead, honor them both inwardly and outwardly. Honor the risk they took in opening their heart to you. Honor their hurt feelings without taking on any blame. Bow to them as you would a worthy, now injured adversary at the end of a particularly rough karate match. And then leave them alone to heal as they damn well see fit.

How to destroy a relationship in 6 easy steps!

Are you tired of ending up in healthy, long-lasting relationships? Here are some simple steps that will keep your turn-over rate sky high!

I can personally vouch for the effectiveness of this method (I’m not proud, just honest).

broken_heart-1501

Step 1:  Be dishonest

True dishonesty begins by being dishonest with yourself. Try to be someone you’re not, and to want things you don’t. That will make it much easier to make agreements you can’t effectively honor. Before you know it, you’ll be breaking those agreements!

And when you do, you’ll think, “Hey, I’m a good person. So I must have had a good reason for breaking that agreement.” And you’ll find a way to rationalize your action, and to cover your tracks.

You might even get good at it. And before you know it, you’ll be a bona fide liar. It’s that easy!

Lying is an especially effective way to destroy relationships, because even if your partners never find out (and they probably will), you will feel the need to justify having lied to them. And thus you will start to subtly villainize your partners.

Which will lead you directly into step two…

 

Step 2:  Find fault with your partners

Although it’s plenty effective to simply think badly of your partners, this step is most effective when you actually let your partners know just how dissatisfying and inadequate they are, both as a partner to you, and as individuals.

Here are some especially effective areas to focus on:

  • – Things they can’t (easily) change

Do they have a small penis, or perhaps mismatched, pendulous breasts? Be sure to point that out every chance you get! Oh, and be sure to unfairly compare them to other people! Bonus points if those other people are other lovers of yours (past or present), celebrities, porn stars, or friends or relatives of theirs.

Triple bonus points if they were bullied in school because of it!

  • – Things that are important to them

Tell them how to do their job! Contradict them on matters in which they are vastly more qualified than you are! Oh, and by all means, offer unsolicited critiques on the stuff they’re most passionate about.

  • – Insignificant details

Did they mispronounce a word in conversation? Correct that shit! Bonus points if you roll your eyes.

Do their favorite shoes squeak when they walk? Complain about it until they feel so self-conscious they stop wearing them!

Oh, and be sure to lecture them about shit they post on Facebook, where they happened to go grocery shopping most recently, how they dress themselves, their grooming habits, etc.

Show them just how wrong they are on a wide variety of topics. This will drive home the importance of your approval, while simultaneously making them despair of ever living up to your standards.

 

Step 3:  Always be right

Okay, so you’ve made it clear just how superior you are to your partners. But why should they trust your opinion? You’re going to need to make sure they understand that YOU ARE ALWAYS RIGHT.

So, you’ll need to take every possible opportunity to assert your rightness. Jump on any mistakes you see a partner making, no matter how insignificant, and don’t let anything go until you’re satisfied that you have won!

Never admit fault, and for god’s sake never learn anything from your partners.

Above all, DO NOT ATTEMPT TO EMPATHIZE. If you start looking at things from your partner’s perspective there’s a good chance you will achieve understanding. And that’ll lead you straight to compassion and reconciliation, which is the LAST thing you want when trying to make a relationship spontaneously combust.

Pro-tip: be sure to generalize! Make whatever is going on now about everything else they’ve ever done wrong. That way you’re not just right, you’re META-RIGHT.

 

Step 4:  Throw your partners under the bus in public

So now anyone you’re dating should be painfully aware of just how often you are right, and more importantly, how often they are wrong. But if you really want to annihilate the relationship, you’re going to need to make sure that everyone else knows it, too!

Whenever you disagree with something a partner does or says, proclaim your disagreement loudly, and in front of as many people as possible. Social gatherings, social media, Thanksgiving dinner, all excellent opportunities to let folks know you’re not afraid to side against your partners. Bonus points for snark and sarcasm!

If you skip this step, people might start to think that you are on the same team and have each others’ back, and that’s bound to give your partner a sense of security and a desire to show the same kind of loyalty to you. Now, is that any way to fuck up a relationship beyond all hope of recovery?

 

Step 5:  Don’t communicate effectively

Now, if you’ve followed all the steps above, your relationship should be on the train to splitsville. But there’s still a chance that train could be derailed by effective communication. So you’re going to need to be extra vigilant about keeping those channels full of static.

For example: have you been clearly stating your needs and wants? Well, cut that out! If they’re aware of your needs and desires, they’re much less likely to fail to meet those needs and fulfill those desires. You might end up feeling loved and supported, and you’d be surprised how much damage that can do to all your hard-earned dysfunction.

Instead, simply expect partners to be psychic and magically know what you need and want. And each time they fail to guess correctly, be sure to assume that they must have known, and simply failed to provide you with what you wanted on purpose. That’s sure to produce the maximum amount of resentment, which is a key ingredient in all failed relationships.

But don’t say anything about it! Let that resentment build! Resentment, like a fine wine, needs time to mature in order to reach its full relationship-crushing potential. The time will come to unleash the torrent. In the meantime, you can communicate just how unhappy you are by cultivating the fine art of passive-aggression.

Meanwhile, be sure to discourage your partners from expressing their needs and wants by reacting poorly any time they try. Bonus points if you mock their “neediness” and/or make negative judgments about their desires!

Pro-tip for the advanced relationship saboteur – do communicate your desires, but phrase them as demands rather than requests! This is extra-effective because it not only destroys any chance of your partners freely offering you what you want, it also fosters resentment, and undermines your partners’ sense of self-determination. And what better way to discourage someone from communicating their own needs and desires than to convince them they are not in control of their own life? Genius!

Finally, don’t forget to…

 

Step 6:  Focus on the past

Be careful! If you focus on what you actually want to accomplish in the present, there’s a possibility that you could actually achieve mutual satisfaction and move forward together! And that could lead to…

FIXING THE RELATIONSHIP. *gasp*

So, instead, be sure to focus on things that have already happened and cannot be undone. That’ll ensure an endless battle that can’t be won. By anyone. Ever.

 

That oughta do it. Now get out there and start ruining your love life!

I wanna see you be brave

confront

“Say what you wanna say

And let the words fall out, honestly

I wanna see you be brave

– Sara Bareilles, Brave

The first time I heard that song, I was oh-so-smug.

I thought: “Now there’s something I’m really good at! Being BRAVE!

I thought about how often I’m the first to say “I love you.”

I thought about how brazenly I put myself out there in the public eye.

“Hey everybody! I’m bisexual! I’m polyamorous! I have herpes! I’m a survivor!”

I thought about all the little ways in which I make myself vulnerable in the realms of sex and romance. Brené Brown would be so proud,” I told myself.

And I gave myself an emotional pat on the back.

I thought about all the other people who really needed to hear, and heed this song. People who weren’t being honest with themselves, weren’t being honest with other people, weren’t being brave enough to confront the reality of their situation, let alone change it.

I wanted to send a benevolent, benignly supercilious singing telegram to every last one of them.

But as recent events in my personal life have proven, Sara was singing to me.

Because bravery isn’t just about telling people what you do want, it’s also about telling them what you don’t want. Or, even scarier, what you did want, but don’t anymore.

And now I’m thinking about all the ways in which I’ve failed to be brave in my relationships. Like how long it took me to be honest with that guy who was convinced I was “the one,” when I knew I wasn’t. Or how many times I said, “I love you” to that girl, knowing that I didn’t. Or how long it took me to leave my abusive first husband. Or all the times I’ve failed to speak up when I didn’t like what was happening, and then got resentful about it.

I’m thinking about all the myriad ways I’ve allowed my boundaries to be trampled, my integrity to be tarnished, my needs to go unmet.

Then again, in every case, I eventually did the right thing. The hard thing. Despite grave personal and emotional risk.

I gave that guy his ring back.

When that weeping woman asked me point-blank, “Do you love me?” I answered, “No. Not the way you need me to.”

Despite the death threats and blackmail, I left that abusive bastard for good (third time was the charm). And I’ve come clean about a lot of those harbored resentments after the fact, and done my best to make amends.

Because it’s never too late to be brave.

The longer you wait, though, the more bravery will be required.

Look, I’m willing to put money on the fact that you–yes, YOU–are not confronting some truth.

Yep, that thing you thought of just now. That’s the one.

And now you’re probably mentally listing off all the perfectly rational reasons why you’re absolutely justified in not confronting it.

But here’s the truth: that thing is screwing up your life, diminishing your joy, and sapping your resources in ways you aren’t even aware of. And you don’t have to settle for that.

So I’m lancing you an official challenge:

  • DO IT TODAY.

Not tomorrow, not next week, not after squandering another year, or ten years, of your life on living a lie.

I promise you’ll thank yourself for it. Not right away, of course. At first it’s gonna suck hairy, sweaty monkey nuts. But someday soon, you will.

  • There is never a good time to do the hard thing. The time is now. Go. Do it. Be brave.

Because nothing feels better than being true to yourself.

“Don’t run, stop holding your tongue
Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live
Maybe one of these days you can let the light in
Show me how big your brave is”

 

Fuckzoned

I’m sure you’ve all heard of The Friendzone by now.  But just in case you’ve been living under a blunt, heavy object, here’s the general narrative of The Friendzone:

Guy meets girl. Guy is into girl. Guy starts hanging out with girl, does all kinds of nice things for her, and hopes this will translate into a sexual relationship. Guy ultimately realizes that girl has no intention of sleeping with him, but rather is simply enjoying the fruits of his friendship, and goes online to angrily complain of having been “Friendzoned.”

A more specific example can be found in my post about “Nice Guys.”

I’ve dedicated a fair amount of blogspace to debunking the logic of the Friendzone and offering alternatives to the usual bitching and blaming (spoiler: she didn’t Friendzone you; you failed to effectively communicate your true desires and intentions).

But today I’m here to talk about the inverse phenomenon, bitched about primarily by straight women and gay men, and blamed upon fellas everywhere: The Fuckzone.

fuckzone

Here’s the general narrative of The Fuckzone:

Girl meets guy. Girl is into guy. Girl starts having sex with guy, and hopes this will translate into a long-term romantic relationship. Girl ultimately realizes that guy has no intention of settling down with her, but rather is simply enjoying the awesome sex, and goes online to angrily complain of having been played/used/heartbroken/betrayed, etc.

Now, these narratives don’t neatly correlate to gender. There are certainly men who feel they’ve been “Fuckzoned” by women, and women who feel they’ve been “Friendzoned” by men. Or other women. Or men by men. And so on. It’s an equal-opportunity mindfuck. But my personal example just happens to follow the girl-feels-fuckzoned-by-guy model.

Back in graduate school, there was this guy. I’ll call him Joe Schmo. Joe was a decently attractive dude who made himself more attractive by being super laid-back, to the point where if you wanted any contact with him, you had to make it happen. Even when he was teaching, he just sat in a chair, didn’t even lean forward, and spoke softly. Instead of putting the information out there and hoping they would absorb it, he made the students come to him. It was kind of a brilliant tactic and I envied him for it.

I also slept with him a few times because of it, at a time when I was mighty emotionally vulnerable (i.e. immediately following my messy divorce). The sex was pretty darn good, overall, but I was very clearly a booty call to him. We used to have these little text battles:

Joe: It’s 2 a.m. so I know you’re not busy.

Me: I’m busy sleeping.

Joe: Not anymore. 🙂 Come on over.

Me: Fuck off, Joe. I have to teach at 8 a.m.

Joe: You’re putting on your shoes, you’re getting in the car…

Me: I AM NOT.

Joe: Don’t bother getting dressed. 😉

Me: I hate you.

Joe: See you in five minutes.

At school, he would largely ignore/avoid me. Having been down that road before, I knew it could not end well. So I found a better option, stopped screwing him, and later seduced his girlfriend (a professional model/successful actress) for revenge. But this isn’t a story about me. It’s a story about a gal named… uh… Fancy.

Fancy was also in my graduate program. And she had also just gone through a divorce. AND at some point, she started sleeping with Joe. I know this because she started referring to him as her “boyfriend,” acting all giddy and love-struck, and telling all the gals she thought he was “the one.”

Now, I knew from my personal experience that this was crazy talk. But I didn’t want to come off like sour grapes by warning her against him. Instead I simply offered my services as a listening ear.

I listened to Fancy tell me how crazy she was about him. I listened to her fantasize about their future together. I listened to her tell me how convinced she was that he loved her, listened to her make excuses for all the ways in which he didn’t treat her with love, or even kindness. I listened to her complain that his “fear of intimacy” was keeping him from admitting his true feelings for her. And I listened when she came over in tears after he finally made it clear that he was just not that into her.

“How could he use me like that?” she asked me, her face streaked with mascara and tears.

I wanted to say,

“He didn’t. You used each other. You were his sex toy and he was your imagined Prince Charming.”

But I didn’t. Instead I simply pointed out that, while I was no fan of Joe Schmo, he hadn’t actually been dishonest with her. He told her she was hot and that he wanted to have sex with her. That was an accurate self-assessment.

Then I asked her if she had ever told him how she felt about him, or if she had shared any of her future plans with him.

“I couldn’t!” she protested, “It would have freaked him out!”

Right. Exactly. And why? Because he didn’t want a future with her. He wanted a present with her, and he was already getting it. She was in The Fuckzone.

And just like a guy who looks around and realizes to his horror that he has landed in The Friendzone, Fancy was quick to blame Joe for having Fuckzoned her. But in both cases, it comes down to the same failure on the part of the person who is feeling “-zoned.” They were either unclear, or simply dishonest, about their true desires and intentions in terms of the type of relationship they wanted to create with this other person. They failed to maintain their own boundaries, and then blamed the other person for crossing them. Not okay.

I know: it’s scary to be honest about what you want. And for good reason: putting yourself out there and showing interest in something you aren’t 100% sure the other person is interested in does make you more vulnerable. There is, indeed, an inverse relationship between passion and power. That, however, is not an excuse to be a coward. It is your responsibility to get your own needs met. It is up to you to decide what you will and won’t put up with.

Because, seriously, who’s going to turn down free favors? Who in their right mind is gonna be like,

“Please don’t help me move. I am not attracted to you and therefore it would be unethical of me to accept your help.”

And by the same token, what dude is gonna turn down NSA sex?

“Well, a blowjob does sound awesome, but since I’m not in love with you and don’t intend to create a life with you, I’d better pass.”

Um, no. If you’re offering, no apparent price tag attached, they have every right to accept. And you have no right to get resentful over it.

Happily, though, integrity is sexy. Once you start setting boundaries and making your needs and wants known, you may be surprised at the respect you start earning. What’s more, you’ll weed out the people who aren’t looking for what you’re looking for sooner rather than later, so you can move on to someone whose interests are in line with yours.

Better still, you can start simply enjoying friendships, and NSA sex, for what they are. Rather than feeling helpless to transform a friendship, or a fuckship, into what you really want (because, OF COURSE you are capable of creating whatever sort of relationship you want, RIGHT??), you’ll be able to relax and reap the benefits just like the other person in the equation. Because friendship is great, and sex is great, and there’s absolutely no reason you shouldn’t delight in them exactly as they are.

All that said, if you’re reading this, Joe Schmo (and I know you know who you are), you’re still an asshole. And I’m still not letting you in mine.

The Do’s and Don’ts of online dating messages

If I had a quarter for every time I got asked “What’s the secret to online dating?” I could retire.

If I could encapsulate that information into a handy-dandy one-paragraph answer, I would be forced into early retirement.

Happily (for me, anyway), the truth is that there is no magic bullet. There are all sorts of approaches that will work for all sorts of people–and, unfortunately, that won’t work at all for others. Such is the case when you’re dealing with messy, multifarious human beings.

That said, in terms of the messages you write, there are some approaches that are almost guaranteed to make you crash and burn repeatedly, and others that are far more likely to get your foot in the proverbial door. This list of do’s and (mostly) don’ts is the closest you’re going to get to an Online Dating cheat sheet, so feel free to take notes.

 

DON’T be the online equivalent of a catcaller

HIM: Hey hottie
Me: Really? Two words? I didn’t even merit a complete sentence?
HIM: U R priceless. What R U looking for?
Me: Someone who can be bothered to type out actual words?
HIM: So am I ur type?

*headkeyboard*

If your opening line sounds like something that would be yelled out the window of a passing car, punctuated by a wolf whistle, anything you say after that is automatically suspect and likely to be met with annoyance, or more often, simply deleted.

Also, NO LOLSPEAK. You are not a cat. You have all the necessary letters and prehensile appendages at your disposal. Use them.

 

DON’T be a spam-bot

A hopeful once sent me this message:

“Hiya. I was going to cut and paste some pre-typed email, but thought I’d just say hi instead. You must get a gazillion emails a day, but I found your profile.. and you’re very… well, I guess the rest is obvious. Ok, photogenic, and you seem fun and interesting, very interesting… “

Then, just below, he accidentally cut and pasted *the exact same message* addressed to two other chicks. OOPS.

But even if he hadn’t made that egregious error, I wouldn’t have responded in any case. Why? He gives me absolutely no specifics of any kind. The entire message is a vague generalization that could be made about any woman in whom he might take an interest.

The rest is obvious, indeed.

NEXT.

 

DON’T be a dick

HIM: Hi
ME: You’re cute and all but I’ma need more than one word.
HIM: Hi there.
ME: Le sigh
HIM: Yeah, you just kinda seem internet cliché Burning Man boring.
ME: That the best neg you could come up with or are you just a genuinely unkind human being?

do-not-want-dog

Look, I’m not against negging.  It’s actually a useful tool, particularly when dealing with someone who is obviously inundated with messages and bored to death of compliments. But a neg, if done correctly, does NOT make a person feel badly about themselves or make them genuinely angry. A neg should be a good-natured tease that will make the PIQ laugh and put you both at ease.

Because they require a playful delivery, negs are nearly impossible to pull off online. So, unless you are an expert, don’t try this at home. But here are a couple of examples of online negs that got positive results:

“All black at the beach? You must be from Seattle. ;)”

“Do you always dress like a sexy Muppet to go dancing, or only on special occasions?”

SexyMuppet

A good neg invites someone to make light of their own foibles and gives them a comfortable feeling like you’re already friends and there’s no reason to stand on ceremony.

A neg is NOT, and should never be an excuse to be hurtful and cruel. There is no excuse for that kind of behavior. Period.

 

DON’T lead with your dick

I have so many examples of this I could fill a book. But here’s one of my all-time (least) favorites:

“I wanna lick it front to back all night long baby”

no entry

The specificity of this image makes it extra barftacular. But it doesn’t need to be this graphic to gross me out. Really any opener (or even worse, photographic evidence) that makes it obvious that you are SUPER eager to get laid is an insta-turn-off.

Look: I like sex. A lot. Possibly even more than you do. But here’s an analogy that might help you understand what it’s like to get unsolicited sexytime messages (or worse, pics).

Let’s say you’re super into tennis. You love the game and you’re really good at it. You would love to find an equally skilled partner to play with, and are actively looking for one.

One day, you’re walking by a tennis court, checking out the scene, when suddenly someone throws a tennis ball at you. Hard.

The ball-tosser follows this up by expressing disappointment that you didn’t simply hit the ball back. When you protest that you weren’t prepared, didn’t have your racket at the ready, etc., the tosser gets up in your face and goes into a vividly detailed description of just how sweaty he wants to get while playing with you, how sweaty he wants to see you get, etc. When you look horrified, he changes tactics and tells you how desperately he needs the exercise, how skilled he is as a player, etc.

Yeah. It’s like that.

So, don’t.

 

DON’T make it painfully obvious you didn’t read a word of their profile

“You don’t seem like the type, but what the hell. Have you ever considered being with a couple?”

Uh… I’m openly bi, and poly, and currently dating at least one couple, and all of this is clearly stated in my profile. If I don’t “seem like the type,” who does? *DELETE*

Another annoying phenomenon along the same lines, the would-be suitor who writes “Tell me more,” as though my lengthy profile was not informative enough.

 

DON’T put the cart before the horse

“We have a very high match percentage and would obviously make a great couple…”

I’m gonna stop you right there. Just because a computer algorithm has determined that we have a high percentage chance of compatibility does NOT mean we would make a great couple. Chemistry can’t be determined online, and the fact that you don’t seem to be aware of that makes me wary of you.

Furthermore, your eagerness to jump straight to coupledom makes you come off as rather desperate and low-value. It also puts undue pressure on me to decide RIGHT AWAY, with only your profile to go off, whether or not *I* think we are destined to be together. And that calculation is unlikely to work in your favor.

Finally, it’s rather insulting to assume that you and/or a computer know better than I do who I should be dating. Yuck.

In short: I’ve never met you, and your assumption that we are made for each other makes me less inclined to want to meet you.

 

DON’T overshare

I won’t re-print any of the unsolicited novels I’ve deleted, unread, from my inbox. I will only say that the time it took me to delete them was more than I could spare.

Again: I don’t know you. I am not yet interested in hearing all the painful details of your last breakup, your tortured childhood, or your chronic depression. Frankly, I’m not even interested in reading five fucking paragraphs about all the awesome stuff in your life, either. Because, seriously? Ain’t nobody got time for that. 

 

DON’T treat a person like a personified fetish

I’ve got a few examples for this one:

Luvmilf: Damn your fine, no way your almost 40!
ME: *You’re*
Luvmilf: Naw, I’m only 24. But don’t worry, I’m into the cougs.;)

Oh, so you’re not just a milk fetishist with poor spelling skills? Good to know.

Also, pro-tip: women who just turned 37 aren’t keen on hearing that they’re “almost 40.”

Along those same lines:

Lovinclubbin: Sorry to bother you Miss, but I notice you seem to have misstated your age on your profile. You should probably fix that before someone believes you’re actually over 30.

This clumsy attempt at a compliment was made even clumsier by the fact that two of my girlfriends received the same message from the same dude.

Just don’t bring up a woman’s age. Especially if she’s over 35. For any reason. Ever. Older women are too wise to fall for the old backhanded compliment trick. If you really want to bag a cougar, try treating her like a person first and a hot, experienced woman second.

Moving on…

Anal-Fetish: Wow, what a beautiful… face!

What an unfortunate choice of usernames. And opening lines.

And speaking of unfortunate usernames, confidential to “Ilikeuglygirls”: you are doing it wrong.

Look, I get that online is the perfect venue to find people whose proclivities line up with yours. But even if you’re on a fetish-specific website, it is simply unwise to treat someone you don’t yet know as a person like a fetishized object.

There are, of course, even more atrocious examples of this phenomenon, but I will spare you the gory details.

 

DON’T make inappropriate/insulting/illegal propositions

One would think this would be obvious. But alas…

HIM: How much?
ME: For? I have many services to offer…
HIM: Sex… kinky. Maybe fuck my ass w a strapon too.
ME: Sorry, you don’t meet my minimum manners requirement.
HIM: LOL. Never met a whore with manners. Oxymoron, no?
ME: No. It is part of a whore’s job to be pleasant to be around. Look, microdick, you’ve got one thing and only one thing right: with an approach and attitude like that, no one’s gonna fuck you for free.

The sad part is, that last line was probably used as masturbation material. So if you’re looking to get free abuse, then this is the approach for you!

Everyone else:

What-not-to-do-in-social-media

No. Just no.

Now on to something less flagrantly douchetastic, but far more insidious and ultimately more deadly:

 

DON’T be dull

Recently, I got three messages in a row that were nearly identical. None of them were particularly heinous on their own, but taken as a group they signaled an irritating trend that I would like to help curtail right here and now.

Here’s the general template:

“Hi, I’m [name]. How are you? How’s your weekend so far? I’ve been [activity intended to impress]. Message me back if you’d like to [typical first-date activity] sometime.”

Look, I get why this approach seems like a good idea. The fellas who are sending these messages probably think it comes off as friendly, conversational, and straight-forward. They probably think it puts me at ease because they aren’t blatantly hitting on me. They are wrong, on all counts.

Messages like these set my teeth on edge for several reasons.

  • 1. They are Presumptuous. 

I didn’t ask for your name. I didn’t ask you what you’re doing this weekend. I don’t particularly want to share with you what *I’m* up to, or how I’m feeling, seeing as I DON’T KNOW YOU YET. You’ve intruded on MY cyberspace, and here you are burdening me with unwanted information already. Not a good sign. And not a real conversation, either. More like a schizophrenic in an elevator, carrying on an impassioned two-way exchange with himself.

  • 2. They are Boring.

Not only is the conversation one-sided, it’s insipid. These dudes are not saying anything genuinely intriguing, they’re just making the most useless sort of small-talk. WITH THEMSELVES.

If this is a preview of our first pre-date, just shoot me now.

  • 3. They are Dishonest.

I guarantee you these guys could care less what I did this weekend. Or how I’m feeling. Or any of the other inane chit-chat questions they toss my way. And why should they? WE DON’T EVEN KNOW EACH OTHER. And those kinds of questions aren’t going to do a damn thing to change that. Even if I just happen to have an amazing answer that could spark some worthwhile conversation, I have no real motivation to share it, since I’m totally unconvinced that they actually give a fuck.

Now, does that mean that you should write to a gal and say, “I want to have sex with you”?

No.

That may be more honest, but it’s still all about you and what you want.

And on that note, my final DON’T:

 

DON’T make it all about you

“I love strong women. I could really use someone like you in my life.”

Oh really? Tell me more about what I can do for you, person I’ve never met and to whom I owe nothing.

How about telling me what *you* have to offer *me* instead?

Which brings me, at last, to the DO‘s.

 

DO read the damn profile

Yes, the whole thing. If it’s too wordy and you can’t get through it, that tells you something about how the conversation would go in person. It also tells you something about how verbose your own profile should be (NOT VERY). In any case, if you find yourself skimming, or bored, or turned off, just move on. If, on the other hand, you find yourself *more* interested, not less, after reading the whole shebang, move on to the other DO’s.

 

DO let your natural curiosity guide you

Find something in the profile and/or photos that sincerely intrigues you. (If there is honestly nothing you want to know more about, then this is clearly not the right person for you. I don’t care how hot s/he is, it’s just not going to be worth your time.) Better yet, find three things you want to know more about.

 

DO play guessing games

Make conjectures about the things that intrigue you. If you’re right, bonus points for ostensible psychic ability! If you’re wrong, s/he will feel compelled to set the record straight. Voila! Instant conversation.

For example, you notice that s/he mentions a fondness for sushi, you might say,

“I’ll bet you roll your own.”

If you can’t come up with a clever conjecture, questions are an acceptable substitute so long as they are specific and borne of genuine interest.

 

DO get specific

This goes for your profile, too. If you aren’t offering specifics that someone could comment on or ask about, then you are handicapping others’ ability to approach you.

Intimacy is in the details. When someone sees, and celebrates, your quirky specificity, that’s when you feel seen, understood, and appreciated as a person. And that’s what connection is all about.

 

DO be intriguing

Don’t just talk about the person you’re writing to. Be sure to say something mysterious/intriguing about yourself, too.

“I think I just discovered the world’s greatest karaoke duet.”

DO NOT give details. Wait for the PIQ to ask.

 

DO make it entertaining

If your message holds my interest, makes me smile, think, or better yet, laugh out loud, I figure there’s a good chance you’ll do the same in person. If not, then… not.

 

DO experiment

The beauty of online dating is that it’s the perfect venue for sharpening your social skills, running experiments, etc. The more you try, the better your chances, so just keep finding people who intrigue you and writing to them. Worst case scenario, you’ll learn a little something about what *not* to write.

Which brings me to my last “DO”

 

DO learn from your mistakes

If you get a negative response, don’t let your pride get in the way of the golden opportunity to learn and improve.

If you get no response, most likely one of three things happened

  • 1 – S/he didn’t feel the need to. Meaning your message didn’t do its job of creating connection and curiosity. Learn. Move on.
  • 2 – You weren’t her/his type. It happens. Move on.
  • 3 – Any number of reasons that have NOTHING TO DO WITH YOU. Stop dwelling and MOVE ON.

Are you sensing a pattern here?

Look, rejection sucks any way you slice it. But here’s the thing: it sucks on both sides. S/he doesn’t want to reject you any more than you want to get rejected. S/he wants you to be amazing. S/he wants you to be valuable.

And there it is, the real secret to online dating success:

BE VALUABLE.

Have something to offer that you genuinely believe is of benefit to the kind of person you would want to date. And let that value shine through in everything you put on your profile and every message you write. Do that, and you can’t help but attract the right kind of person into your life.

  • Special thanks to Neevita for her contribution of, and commiseration over, OKC horror stories.

Have the wedding, hold the marriage

Hi, my name is Ava, and I’m addicted to weddings.

ebay-wedding-cake-toppers

I mean, what’s not to love? It’s a celebration of love itself, as well as an opportunity for a specific couple to publicly declare, and delight in, their unique affection. A creative combination of traditional ritual and personal statement, every wedding is both a one-of-a-kind expression and a connection to something much larger, and deeper, than the lovers expressing it.

And that’s before we even get to the reception which, if done correctly, is the very best kind of party: socializing, sensual indulgence, unapologetic romance, and pure ecstatic wackiness.

51-bride-and-groom-dancing-crazy-at-wedding-reception crazy-wedding-reception-dancing

Flash mob = bonus points

Flash mob = bonus points

  • Not everybody wants a marriage, but everybody wants a wedding. And frankly, I support this way of thinking.

Love deserves to be celebrated, regardless of how long it lasts. All commitments, all agreements, are worthy of a public declaration, and make for a perfect excuse for a party, a honeymoon night, and even a vacation (provided you can afford one). Even if you’re not in the market for a life-long commitment to one person, there’s no reason you shouldn’t enjoy the unbridled attention only a wedding day can provide. And there’s no reason not to escape your workaday life for a romantic getaway with your sweetheart just because you’re not 100% certain that you’ll never want to do the same with some other sweetheart sometime in the future.

Recently a friend told me a story that really got my proverbial knickers in a twist. He was at a poly-picnic, of all places, and was asked, on the subject of a gal with whom he’s been intimately involved for many years,

“So when are you gonna lock that down?”

As if, after a certain number of years of having an intimate relationship with one person, one is obliged to either “put a ring on it”–to make THE commitment–or to part ways so that you can both find someone you’re willing to make THE commitment with/to. This kind of thinking really irks me. If the relationship is working well for both parties at the current level of commitment, then THEY ARE DOING IT RIGHT. They are not obliged to get legally married, nor are they obliged to even WANT such a thing.

And let’s face it, with the current divorce rates, it’s clear that at least half of the people who do choose to make THE commitment aren’t actually willing to make THE commitment. But there is a tremendous amount of social pressure to enter into a legal contract in order to legitimize the relationship in the eyes of family, friends, and the larger community.

When you start to think perhaps you’d like to get married, ask yourself, in all honesty:

Do I want to be legally bound to this person for the rest of my life? Or do I simply want everyone to know how much I love this person, right here and now?

If the latter, I have a modest proposal. Why not epole instead?

  • What does epole mean, you are hopefully asking yourself? Well, it’s the opposite of elope. Meaning: instead of the marriage minus the wedding, it’s a wedding minus the marriage.

I’m hoping this article will make epoling into common practice. I’m hoping people will stop waiting to find “The One,” or convincing themselves they’ve found “The One,” in order to feel entitled to publicly celebrate the love they have now, the commitment they’ve already made, the uniquely beautiful relationship they have crafted.

The best thing about an epolement is that it can, and should, be repeated. Repeatedly. And not just with a new person, with the same person (or people!). Because relationships change over time, and one of the best ways to keep a relationship healthy is to consciously decide to renew and/or amend it at regular intervals. Kind of like renewing your vows on your anniversary, only you don’t have to wait for your anniversary, and you don’t have to stick to your original agreements. You can celebrate the evolution of your relationship as well as the longevity of your love.

So without further ado, I hereby present the definitive (and thus far only) guide to epoling:

Unique Wedding Cake Topper

  • It’s not about the money (money money). 

No need to break the bank, kids. Don’t go into debt just to declare your mutual adoration. There’s no shame in simplicity. All it has to be is a reflection of who you are as a couple (or triad, team, etc.), and an opportunity for your friends to let loose and blow off some steam.

That cuts both ways, however. If you’re not planning to start a whole new life with this person, move in together, start a family, etc., then don’t go register at Macy’s. In fact, don’t ask for gifts at all. If your friends and family feel inspired to offer them, accept them graciously. But I warn you: if you ask for gifts for this epolement, knowing there’s likely to be another, don’t expect an enthusiastic response from the folks who shelled out a sizable donation the first time around.

passionatekiss

  • It’s all about you.

I understand that a wedding is often a delicate balance of pleasing/placating family and creating something that feels like you. But one of the best things about an epolement is that it is unapologetically yours and yours alone. Make it exactly as you want it to be. Always wanted your life to be a Broadway musical? Sing your vows to each other. Want to celebrate how hot you are for each others’ bods? Don’t wait to kiss the bride. Make it a reflection of what you love about each other, and about yourselves as a unit.

I am a fucking faerie queen

I am a fucking faerie queen

  • No minister required

Yes, it’s true: you don’t need a real minister, or justice of the peace, to preside over your wedding in this day and age in any case. Your friend who studied Public Speaking in college can get “ordained” online in order to preside over your ceremony. But when you epole, there’s no need for anyone to preside at all. All you need is to exchange your vows/agreements in the presence of witnesses, and then have yourselves a blast. The end.

All right, lovebirds, I’m counting on you to make epoling a hot new trend. So get out there and don’t get married! Publicly, proudly, and on purpose.

Oh, and be sure to invite me. Because I fucking love weddings.

 

Is this relationship good for me?

should-i-leave-him-quiz

“I need help,” said the frazzled woman sitting across from me, wiping tears with the back of her hand. “I can’t decide if this relationship is good for me or not.”

As I handed her a box of Kleenex, I thought, “If I had a quarter for every time I’ve had this conversation, I wouldn’t be sitting in my office, having this conversation.” But, as usual, I asked her to enumerate both the positive and negative aspects of her relationship. And, as usual, she listed off all the things she liked and didn’t like about the way her boyfriend interacts with her.

When she had finished, she looked at me, waiting for a verdict.

“And what about you?” I asked her.

She seemed genuinely confused by the question.

“There are two people in this relationship,” I reminded her. “What have you done to change things for the better?”

She protested that she’d told him many times about the things she doesn’t like, but that he still hasn’t fixed them.

And there was the rub: she was focusing on things she had no power to change, i.e. his behavior, rather than focusing on things she could, and should be doing to work toward her relationship ideal.

Women in particular seem to be prone to this behavior, though it’s not gender-specific per se.

  • There is this sense that a relationship falls into our laps ready-made, and either it’s worthy of our time and energy or it isn’t.

This creates a feeling of powerlessness, as though we ourselves are incapable of affecting change and must therefore pester our partner to do so. And since people are not generally fond of criticism, particularly within romantic relationships, those petitions are, at best, simply ignored, and at worst labeled as “nagging” and used against us in a court of love.

  • The truth is that both partners are equally responsible for creating and maintaining the kind of relationship they want. And that begins with focus.

You see, focus determines reality. So the more you focus on what you think your partner is doing wrong, the more real that problem becomes. And the more energy you send toward worrying over whether or not that problem is a deal-breaker, the less energy you have to devote to creating the kind of relationship you actually want.

So, the first step is to decide what kind of relationship you want. Until you do that, you have nowhere to put your focus and no goal to work toward. So, envision your ideal relationship. Write it out on paper. Keep it somewhere prominent so you can remind yourself on a daily basis exactly what you are working toward creating.

Then, put your focus on taking positive action. That is, on doing whatever you can do to make your relationship more like that ideal you described.

Finally, when you find yourself in a negative interaction with your partner, try simply re-focusing your energy onto figuring out what you are both trying to accomplish.

Ask your partner, and yourself for that matter, “What do you want?” or, if you want to get more technical, “What is your desired outcome for this interaction?”

Once you’ve gotten an answer to that question, for both of you, give no focus to anything that does not work toward one or both of those goals.

To sum up:

  • Ask not if this relationship is good for you, but if you are good for this relationship.

 

How to Cheat Chronic Cheating

CheatingHi. My name is Ava, and I’m a recovered cheat-a-holic.

Now, there are those who will tell you that I don’t exist. That cheaters will always be cheaters, and that change is but a temporary illusion.  And I’ll admit, that attitude is probably a safe, if not 100% accurate one. Because I can tell you from first-hand experience that change is really fucking hard. So hard that most fail, and ALL fail who try to change in order to please or appease someone else. 

However, I am living proof that change is possible, if (AND ONLY IF) the cheater in question genuinely wants to make a change. So for those brave few who are ready to turn over a new leaf (or rather a giant, mud-covered boulder), and all those of you who want to better understand chronic cheating, read on.

While I’m sure there are as many reasons for cheating as there are cheaters, most of those “reasons” are merely after-the-fact justifications. After much observation and self-exploration, I’m convinced that there is a single underlying reason for nearly all chronic cheating:

GUILT.

Guilt over transgressions (or even imagined transgressions) of the past creates a feedback loop of never-ending dishonesty and disloyalty by triggering the following behaviors:

Repeating the same bad behavior over and over to assert its rightness. People have a need to be right, and to feel like good and ethical people. So when they make a bad choice, it’s a very common defense mechanism to simply delude themselves into believing that the choice wasn’t so bad after all. And in order to do that, they have to keep on making it. Over and over.

Let’s say you’re going to a pot luck, and you decide to make salmon mousse. Now, you’ve never made it before, and you know that it carries a high risk of food borne illness, but you make it anyway. And sure enough, after the potluck everybody comes down with a terribly case of salmonella. You know you shouldn’t have made the mousse, and you feel guilty. But you can’t accept responsibility for making all those people sick! You had the right intentions, after all, and you aren’t some kind of sadist who likes to make people sick for fun. Right??

So when your sister asks you to make something for her wedding reception, you (subconsciously) see an opportunity for redemption, and make yet another, equally terrible, salmon mousse. The entire wedding party is hospitalized, your sister’s honeymoon is postponed, the guilt is compounded, and it becomes more and more difficult to confront the consequences of your actions. So what do you do? Make another salmon mousse, of course, to bring to your sister in the hospital!

The same thing happens with cheating.

You cheat once, it turns out badly, your Significant Other (hereafter SO) accuses you of being a terrible human being. But you know in your heart that you aren’t a terrible human being. And so, to prove this fact to yourself, and to the world, you must cheat again. And again. And again.

Ironic, bizarre, and absolutely true.

Creating justifications. After a while it isn’t enough just to rationalize to yourself and others why it was imperative, or at least not so bad, to break your romantic agreements. The guilt becomes so overwhelming that you actually have to start creating justifications for your actions. So you pick fights, or you make yourself unattractive enough to your SO that s/he stops having sex with you, or you simply stop having sex with your SO, thereby pushing him/her toward cheating on you, etc. Then when you go and screw the neighbor you can say to yourself,

“S/he drove me to this!”

– Lying. Lying and cheating go hand in hand. You break an agreement, you fear the consequences of the broken agreement, and so you withhold that information from your SO.

But it doesn’t stop there. Lies in a relationship multiply like fruit flies on a compost heap. You need lies to cover up your lies. You need lies to back up those lies. After a while you have so many lies built up that you feel like your entire relationship is built on those lies, and that if your SO ever learned the truth they would despise you.

Furthermore, because of your guilt, you begin to believe that if anyone knew the real you, they would despise you. And so you lie to everyone. You lie unnecessarily. You lie gratuitously. You lie to make yourself look better. You lie to make yourself look worse. You lie so much you don’t even remember what’s true anymore.

Your life becomes a lie.

You feel guilty about all the lies, and thus the cycle continues ad nauseum.

Encouraging others to transgress. Like an alcoholic uncle who is always trying to talk you into having a drink with him, the chronic cheater isn’t content to simply break his/her own agreements. S/he is continually pushing others to break theirs as well. To make poor choices, put themselves and/or others at risk, and to lie about it.

Again, this is behavior is directly linked to guilt. Because the cheater knows what s/he is doing is wrong, s/he needs others to take wrong actions, too, so that the relative badness of her/his own actions appears diminished. But of course, corrupting others only ends up making him/her feel more guilty, and so on.

Needing approval from others. Because guilty people question their own status as good and ethical people, they desperately need others to see them as good and ethical. They cannot stand being made out to be a villain, especially over some misunderstanding or incorrectly perceived wrongdoing or character flaw, and will go to ridiculous, often self-destructive lengths to change that perception. They are therefore dangerously easy to manipulate emotionally.

That means that even if a guilty person doesn’t particularly want to have sex, or continue to have sex, with someone, they may be so concerned with the emotional repercussions of not doing so that they capitulate in order to please, appease, or earn the approval of that person.

They are also easy to take advantage of or talk into transgressing, since they have lost their moral altitude, and thus feel that they have no right to judge the actions of others or to stop others from taking wrong actions.

All of which leads to…

Apathy about doing the right thing. When in a fairly clean environment, a dirty dish stands out, and so we feel a kind of social pressure to put the dish in the sink. But when the whole apartment is a disaster area, we feel no compunction over leaving our dish right where it is.

So it is with our conscience.

The cleaner your conscience is, the more compelled you feel to do the right thing and take responsibility for the few wrongdoings that do occur. But when your conscience is saturated with guilt, you become apathetic in regards to ethics. Knowing how much work it would take to make the place presentable, you don’t even bother to clean up after yourself anymore. You stop questioning your own actions, stop trying to make amends for wrongdoings. You just give up and declare yourself a hopeless case.

Maybe you even label yourself evil, or a super-villain, or a siren/succubus, or just plain bad.

And therefore you start…

Pushing people away. Your guilt makes you feel like a bad person and therefore dangerous to good people, and because you are, underneath it all, a good and ethical person, you want to protect good people from danger. Therefore, ironically enough, you keep the people you care about the most at an arm’s length. You destroy healthy relationships, and run screaming from anything that reeks of intimacy. Conveniently, this also serves as a justification to cheat, since you were only protecting your SO from the force of chaotic evil that is you.

***

Unless/until a chronic cheater addresses the underlying problem, their guilt, it is very likely that they will continue to cheat.

If you’re ready to address that problem, then I have an assignment for you.

It’s a deceptively simple assignment, but trust me, if done correctly it may well be the hardest thing you’ve ever done.

Get yourself a notebook and a pen. Write down, by hand, every wrong action you’ve ever taken in regards to sex and relationships. Every transgression, every omission, every action you took or didn’t take that you know to be wrong. Not that someone else told you was wrong, mind you, but that YOU KNOW in your heart to be wrong. Describe each event in stark, factual terms. No justifications, no backstory, no emotionally charged language. Then describe any known consequences.

For example:

  • Wrong action: 1996, I made out with my buddy’s girlfriend in the back seat of my car. We were both pretty drunk. We kissed, I felt her up, she rubbed me through my pants. Neither of us ever told him about it.
  • Consequences: We both felt really guilty. They started fighting a lot and broke up not too long after. My buddy and I eventually had a falling out over something unrelated and haven’t spoken since.

Here’s an example of how NOT to do it:

  • Wrong action: 1996, I was drunk at a party and my buddy’s girlfriend threw herself at me. I wasn’t even all that into her but somehow we ended up making out. I stopped it before it went too far, though.
  • Consequences: None, really. He never found out and we never did it again.

This is not a trial: you are not here to defend your actions, only to describe them.

Another example of how NOT to do it:

  • Wrong action: 1996, I seduced my buddy’s drunk girlfriend. Totally took advantage of the poor girl and blatantly lied to my buddy about it.
  • Consequences: I destroyed their relationship, and our friendship too.

This is not about clobbering yourself over the head with guilt. Feeling guilty hasn’t helped you in the past, and it isn’t going to help you now.

The point is to fully confront the reality of what occurred, and to take responsibility for having caused any consequences that resulted.

If, in the process of writing this (and it will probably take you hours if not days or weeks to complete it), you discover a consequence that you could still help to fix, or in some way positively affect, do it. In the example above, you could reach out to your old buddy, come clean and apologize for making out with his girlfriend all those years ago, and if possible, try to mend the friendship.

As to the rest, simply confront. See it there and sit with it without trying to justify or explain it away. Recognize what you caused, and hopefully, at the end of it all, you will recognize that you are neither a helpless victim nor an evil villain. You are a good person who made bad choices. You are a powerful person whose actions have a powerful effect. And it isn’t too late to start choosing to have a different, more positive effect.

The final step is to show your list to another person. That’s right, you’re going to have to make yourself that vulnerable to another human being. Pick someone you trust, and ask them to read through the whole shebang. Let them know you aren’t looking for judgment, empathy, or even for help. You simply need a witness.

This does two things: 1. It unburdens you of the stress of carrying around all those secrets, and 2. It gives you an opportunity to be seen, and hopefully accepted, exactly as you are.

But truthfully, the only person whose acceptance you need is you. Because once you have that, you can start the process of becoming the person you want to be.

Take it from me: it’s never too late to be the person you know yourself to be, underneath it all.

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