April 22, 2012 in Features

Carolyn Hax: Sex not problem, expectations are

Washington Post
 

Hi, Carolyn: This is a pretty painful question for me to ask. Over the past two years (since graduating from law school) my love life has been a mess; I’ve had about 10 pseudo-relationships that burned out quickly and have had to recognize I’m the common denominator.

I discussed this with friends and they gave me the “tough love” talk: I move too quickly. Specifically, I jump into bed too quickly and wind up coming off as easy.

This was exceedingly difficult to hear from close friends, but corroborates comments a few past boyfriends have made. Now I feel just … awful. I don’t really know what I’m doing wrong or how to change my approach.

I’d like the next relationship to have half a chance at success, so what can I do to make that happen? – Tough love

If it helps, it was a pretty painful question to read, too.

Not just because you’re obviously hurting – you are, I’m sorry – but because it sounds as if your friends’ well-meaning honesty crossed over the fine line between constructive and corrosive criticism. Do you really want to hang on to men who would judge you for having sex at the same point in the relationship they do (barring some trippy violation of the laws of physics)?

For these few past boyfriends, I have only a “wow.”

Is the double-standard alive? Sure, in some men.

So avoid them.

That said, everyone has the right prescription: Do slow down, please. Way down.

The problem in taking your friends’ apparent counsel at face value is that it leaves the real problem unsolved. Hanging a “mission accomplished” banner at “stop jumping into bed with new men” ignores all the happy outcomes beyond that limit, where men and women have turned early or even first-date sex into lasting relationships.

To have gotten to the relationship point with 10 different men over two years means you’ve managed to find the One Who Could Be the One every third month or so. What are the chances that so many people have really been so promising? You don’t have to be a misanthrope to think: very, very slim.

So I don’t think the issue here is your jumping into bed – it’s jumping into new men. I.e., it’s not the sex, it’s the hope for romance at breakfast afterward. If you’ve been with a guy for only a few dates or weeks, treating your involvement as a full-blown sexual and emotional commitment confers more status on your relationship than your knowledge of each other is ready to support.

Unfortunately, of the two, behavior is easier to change than expectations are; telling yourself “No sex until we’ve dated X months” and adhering to that isn’t easy, but it’s clear-cut. Telling your enthusiasm and daydreams to sit in a closet till your mutual affection, rapport and trust with a new boyfriend prove worthy of them? That involves the hard work of identifying, and admitting, why you so badly need the validation a “love life” provides.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 9 a.m.each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.


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