Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Ethics of Casual Relationships

She calls herself “Hoping for Enduring Love” and she writes to Ask Polly for some advice. It has often happened that I disparage Polly’s advice, to say nothing of her feelings-based psycho approach, but today, she does a very good job. She examines the real life situation as presented by HEL and offers some sound advice.

HEL begins her letter:

I am a 44-year-old woman who grew up in a toxic, abusive, dysfunctional home. Very poor. Married a narcissist when I was 20 years old, was abused by him, had children with him, and was cheated on by him for 20 years. It did not matter how I gave my heart and soul to that man, everything about me was wrong. Finally I finished a bachelor’s degree at the age of 35, completed tons of therapy, found a good job, and manifested a tribe of healthy boss-ass women friends — I broke free and divorced the abusive husband three years ago.

In passing, have you noticed how many of the people who write these letters suffered in a toxic, abusive, dysfunctional home? I will accept that some people did suffer horrors growing up, but one gets the impression that every therapist in the country has nothing better to do with his or her time than to persuade his or her patients that they grew up in a toxic, abusive, dysfunctional home. And thus, that they are scarred for life... unless, of course, they spend decades in therapy.

Surely, HEL had a difficult time with her husband, but, ask yourself this: what is the advantage to seeing yourself as psychologically crippled by your upbringing? Will it make things better? Will it make things worse? Will it give you confidence or undermine same?

Anyway, after HEL divorced her husband she met a man ten years younger than she was. Keep in mind, she was in her late 30s and had three children. For some reason she is shocked that her young beau’s family did not approve. Very few families would. Therapy did not teach her how to think clearly.

Shortly after I divorced, I met a man ten years younger who I believe was a soul mate. He loved me better than any man of my entire (very shortly single) life. Better than any person of my entire life. He SAW me. We dated two years. We didn’t end up marrying because his parents are very wealthy as well as very influential over him and they did not approve of me despite my best efforts at cleaning up all fancy. 

One notes that HEL does not excel at literacy. The phrase, “cleaning up all fancy” gives her class away. One suspects that even if she were age appropriate for her beau, she was not class appropriate. I hate having to bring up such points. We all believe that everyone is created equal. We do not like to think that people judge other people, not only by the cut of their jib but by their grammar and diction. And yet, such is life. We are not doing anyone any favors by lying about it. HEL might be great in bed, but she is apparently not great in certain social situations. 

Anyway, HEL has found two new men to tickle her whatever. She describes the situation with the second one in some detail. See if you can figure out the nature of this relationship:

The second man who was super-excited about me in the beginning was also pretty concerned all along about the distance, as we live 2.5 hours apart in good weather. He told me he just didn’t think he could continue a long-distance relationship. His whole family lives in his town, and I have a child who won’t graduate for 1.5 years. He was incredibly kind and exceptionally respectful and communicative about where he was at. We said good-bye, but then I reached out to him a couple of days later. Sigh. Now he wants only to see me when he travels through my town, which he does every few weeks. I’ve broken it off with him twice in total, only to break down and contact him again when I get lonely. I went to his home once for a weekend, back when we were “dating,” but now he never asks me to visit and doesn’t offer to come see me (when my kids are at their dad’s), only when business brings him through. He said he is super-happy when he’s with me, and wants to continue, but when he drives home it bums him out royally and doesn’t want the stress of always missing me. He wants someone local.

Some would call this friends with benefits. Others would call him her fuck buddy. He does not want to introduce her to his friends or family and is only willing to shack up to her when business brings him to her locale. You get the point.

Actually, Polly gets it too:

There are two things I don’t like about your current situation. First, you never visit his town and he doesn’t invite you there. You’re only 2½ hours away, which is not far. And your kid graduates in 1½ years, which is not long to wait until you can be closer. The idea that he needs to have “someone local” for the next year and a half until you could move doesn’t make sense to me. He can’t conceive of a way to maintain a real relationship, alternating between your place and his, when you’re that close and you have joint custody of your kids? It doesn’t add up.

Second, he broke up with you, and you reached out two days later. I don’t mean to scold you for that, I’ve done it a million times. But here’s the thing — and this applies to everybody under the sun, so listen up, citizens of the fucking world: When a guy tells you he can’t get serious (sweetly! Carefully!) and then you get lonely and contact him and sleep with him, what you’re telling him is that you are still down to fuck even if his heart isn’t in it or he has reservations or whatever. And that’s fine, if you really, truly don’t mind and aren’t curious about his reasons. The problem is, the second you mind a little bit, you will wonder: Is this logistical? Is he actually not that into it? Is he protecting himself? Or does he just want the good sex without any emotional attachments? Is that part of his permanent emotional landscape, actually? And how do I feel about any of those possibilities?

This is an impossible, neuroses-inducing trap for any woman. And here’s the problem: It doesn’t actually matter which of these things is true, as long as you are someone who wants an all-in relationship and he is someone who doesn’t want that with you. Men tend to tell elaborate stories about their circumstances and yours and timing and the phases of the moon, but the truth is simple: You are either willing to hurl your entire body and soul at the chance of a universe-bending love affair, or you aren’t. It’s not about marriage. It’s not about destination. It’s about temperament and desire and romantic vision and fortitude.

Polly casts a cold eye on the circumstances and reads it well. She does not whine about feelings, but looks at the facts of the situation. She knows, as you know, and as I know, that this man is simply using HEL. Some might say that she is free to allow herself to be used. She has the right to consent. And yet, Polly is correct to see that a woman who wants a relationship—which woman doesn’t—will be rendered miserable and neurotic by defining herself as some man’s fuck buddy. 


Jack Fisher said...

I started laughing at "manifested a tribe of healthy boss-ass women friends", which I first assumed meant shift supervisors at local stop-n-robs. But it could be a typo and she meant Bos-ass, meaning other cows. Or maybe I don't recognize '70s street slang as well as I used to.

Despite this: "[w]e didn’t end up marrying because his parents are very wealthy as well as very influential over him and they did not approve of me", I suspect she's shading the trvth, where the weekend she spent at his "home" was a weekend they spent in a "hotel" and that the second man is already married. If not, a man who can't break away from his parents isn't mature enough to marry anyway.

"... best efforts at cleaning up all fancy." Eliza Doolittle she's not.

Anonymous said...

No matter how thin there are two sides to a pancake. And those two sides in the above drama are these: Women seem to define attraction as love, and love as all "enduring", and enduring as being adored and protected while he is blind to the world. Except for her.

The male target of her need can easily fall prey to those definitions because there is a constant barrage of messaging to do just that. Unless he has a solid understanding of his own personal goals, ambitions, wants, needs, etc. he could find himself raising someone else's children and drowning in stress.

Women have a genetic need for identifying a high-value mate for reproduction and protection. Men have a genetic need to identify good prospects for mothering their offspring, protecting themselves from starvation and dominating their environment. Without civilization and acculturation the two ideals are incompatible. Where does jealousy, envy, anger, and greed find life except because of those urges?

Casual relationships are the norm for men. Women see any affection as a marker of possession (without regard to the originator of that affection) and thus will perceive attachment and "enduring love" where there is none. Men commonly avoid conflict (conservation of energy and body for more dangerous encounters) so the twisted stories and excuses pour forth.

If a women's value to men is diminished (age, kids, disfigurement) she might still find a willing casual encounter and mistake that for "deep and abiding loooove".

Try as we might there is little to counter the power of DNA. Best to us all.

Great article and site. Thanks.

D Pat.

James said...

There is a reason they are called "casual".

Jack Fisher said...

"Men have a genetic need ..." for cute chicks. This isn't rocket science.

James said...

"This isn't rocket science." quite true, but it seems to be for some.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Casual, yes... but is it business casual, too?

Ares Olympus said...

Stuart: have you noticed how many of the people who write these letters suffered in a toxic, abusive, dysfunctional home?

I agree it's troublesome, but clearly its a story that works only once you feel you've transcended your past, or getting close. And I'd have to imagine her saving grace is she must be relatively attractive, able to interest a younger man.

I won't dismiss the second man as trouble. I agree with him long distance relationships are not for most people, and perhaps a belief in "soul mates" will motivate a desire to jump from everything you know, to a new place, new job, just for a woman, that's not necessarily a good sign either, so he might just be sensible.

I know one couple, just married 2 years ago, in their 50s, live apart, careers in different cities, two house, and they take turns commuting 3 hours on weekends. I don't get that either, but now a days people can text and phone and Skype so they may spent as much time every day interacting or more than a couple which live together. What makes you feel alone or less alone, living together and not having much to say, or knowing one special person cares about you, and will listen, no matter how far away physically at the moment?

I think I've given up prejudging what can work, and what can't, and what keeps some couples together for decades while others fail, and what risks are worth taking. I agree a womn will tend to have the short end of the stick if the man is content with a relationship of convenience that can be ended whenever something better comes along. OTOH, women will do that too, walk away because they're bored and think they're no longer in love.

Jack Fisher said...

AO: have you noticed how many of the people who write these letters claim to have suffered in a toxic, abusive, dysfunctional home?

anything to make them look more sympathetic and by that I mean pathetic.

Ares Olympus said...

Jack, the observation was Stuart's.

I agree its a dangerous admission to make, especially on a first date. Even admitting you've been in therapy is a bad idea most of the time.

I suppose Jonathan Haidt's blog helps explain this trend where being a victim is a sort of status.
C) A Culture of Victimhood: A culture of victimhood is one characterized by concern with status and sensitivity to slight combined with a heavy reliance on third parties. People are intolerant of insults, even if unintentional, and react by bringing them to the attention of authorities or to the public at large. Domination is the main form of deviance, and victimization a way of attracting sympathy, so rather than emphasize either their strength or inner worth, the aggrieved emphasize their oppression and social marginalization. … Under such conditions complaint to third parties has supplanted both toleration and negotiation. People increasingly demand help from others, and advertise their oppression as evidence that they deserve respect and assistance. Thus we might call this moral culture a culture of victimhood because the moral status of the victim, at its nadir in honor cultures, has risen to new heights.

James said...

"but is it business casual, too?" Apparently for some.