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You’re single, let’s say by choice not chance, and you have a full, happy life. There’s only one thing missing — sex. How do you get it?

This was a question posed on a private singles group moderated by social scientist Bella DePaulo, author of a few books, including Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After. During a radio show interview, the host asked DePaulo about sex, assuming that for single people, getting sex means having a series of one-night stands. 

Of course, that isn’t the only way — it’s one way. But it did get a few of us singles to question, well, just how do we go about getting sex?

First, let’s not make assumptions. Some people are just not that interested in sex. Much has been written about the lack of interest in sex in Japan, but there also has been a rise in the numbers of people in the States and elsewhere who identify as asexual — people who do not experience sexual attraction.

And, yes, there are plenty of people in committed relationships and marriages who aren’t having much sex, if any. It would seem like they have no excuse for not getting it on, but of course, there are many reasons why desire wanes after you’ve been in a relationship for a while. Still, there’s always the promise of sex if not the reality of it.

Not so if you are single. There’s rarely promise. Just — for some — hope.

The many ways to get sex

So, how does one go about getting sex as a singleton?

Honestly, singles seem to have many more options for having sex than many committed monogamous couples have (except, perhaps, the ones in consensually non-monogamous partnerships).

Sluts and players

Still, there are problems for the ethically slutty singles among us.

When Kate Bolick’s book Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own was published, she was shamed by a book reviewer for being single yet having “a nearly seamless string of long-term, serious relationships with men” and who questioned “how well she understands living a life truly alone.”

Wait, what? Does living alone mean being alone 24/7 with no relationships at all, sexual or not? Are singles not allowed to have “long-term, serious relationships with men”? How about with women? How about with men and women? How about just one long-term, serious relationship? How about this — we accept that being single doesn’t necessarily look the same for every single person?

Just as bad is how singles are judged for expressing their sexuality — too much sex and you’re promiscuous, a slut or a player. Not getting any? Aw, that’s too bad but, “What did you expect if you don’t want to couple up and settle down?” Meanwhile, it’s just as messy if you are married and still not getting any, as the singer Pink recently revealed.  I’m not sure why so many people are worried about  how much sex people are getting, or not, but evidently a lot of people are.  

And, of course, women have been told that we can’t do casual sex well for so long that we’ve internalized that message and generally accept it as true, although at a certain age — aka midlife — a lot of us feel more confident and comfortable with casual sex. What if we got different messages, though? How would that change the way we felt about sex as single women in our 20 and 30s? Where’s today’s Helen Gurley Brown —  the late Cosmo editor in chief and Sex and the Single Girl author who helped unmarried women in the 1960s realize that they could have a fulfilling single life by indulging in casual sex?

Sex can be wonderful and challenging whether we’re single, married, coupled, gay, straight, young, old or anything in between and beyond. We may not always be able to get it when we want it, in the way we want it. Still, being single isn’t a handicap when it comes to getting and enjoying sex, “meaningful” or not.

Want to learn how to have an open marriage? (Of course you do!) Then read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). You can support your local indie bookstore or order it on Amazon.

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The funny thing about marriage (well, there are many, but let’s narrow it down) is that lots of people seem to have a “secret” that will magically transform everyone’s marriage into a manageable, doable and supposedly happy union. Like this week’s Modern Love written by Gabrielle Zevin — except her secret to marriage isn’t necessarily what you might expect:  The Secret to Marriage Is Never Getting Married. 

Zevin, a novelist and screenwriter, describes the 21-year relationship she has with her partner, Hans:

I have had four dogs with the man I am not married to. I have dedicated several of my books to him, but really, they all could be. He is my most important reader and creative collaborator. We have traveled the world with one suitcase. We have cooked more than 100 Blue Apron meals without killing each other. We have shared a dozen different addresses. We have built a life.

But, they’re not married.

And that’s where Zevin reveals the complications of committing to someone without actually tying the knot, even though, given a complicated and unfair debt Hans brought into the relationship two decades ago, it made sense not to co-mingle expenses — then. Still, she had found herself unable to explain that to people — many often don’t understand the financial realities of a marriage license. It isn’t just about love, it’s about money and property and a lot of other stuff, too.

Which is why her longtime accountant is advising that they now tie the knot. Why?

I guess because I am turning 40 this year, he said, “Well, there are reasons to be married when you are old.” The reasons fell largely into two categories: What happens when I die? And what happens if I get sick and then die?

Marriage is not just about love

And this is what hetero couples don’t understand about marriage but same-sex couples do: The big reason why same-sex couples fought so hard for the right to legally marry is exactly because of the sick and dying part, the importance of which was made glaringly clear during the HIV epidemic.

It’s really important for people to understand just what that marriage license offers you; it isn’t just about love and commitment.

Zevin ventures — somewhat blindly — into that territory, too, and it bothered me. Friends of theirs had gotten divorced and when she asked the wife what percentage of the time they would say they were happy, the wife responded 20 percent, then revised it to 2 percent and later bumped up to 3 percent (probably because wives are generally unhappier than husbands although it’s unclear if the couple is hetero or same-sex). Zevin has thoughts on that, too:

Hans and I are happy together most of the time. We have the usual domestic squabbles. Our most frequent argument ends with him throwing up his hands and saying, “I’m not a handyman!” Sometimes I think the secret to a long and happy marriage is never to get married in the first place, although there are surely married couples that are as happy as we are.

Yes, there are married couples who are as happy as they are — maybe even happier — but it isn’t necessarily because of a marriage license. But let’s continue with her thinking:

When I say I don’t believe in marriage, what I mean to say is: I understand the financial and legal benefits, but I don’t believe the government or a church or a department store registry can change the way I already feel and behave. Or maybe it would. Because when the law doesn’t bind you as a couple, you have to choose each other every day. And maybe the act of choosing changes a relationship for the better. But successfully married people must know this already.

Being bound by marriage

And here’s where her argument gets iffy. Yes, “successfully married people” most likely know her “secret.” Because the only way to have a relationship — married or not, cohabiting or not, monogamous or consensually non-monogamous, you name it — that continues happily is to have each person choose each other over and over because they love each other in a way that they want to stay together (which, of course, is the thinking behind a renewable marriage contract). Marriage is harder to get out of, which leads some people to stay in unhappy marriages because of lethargy or fear or a religious “until death” dictate, but it’s still an easily available option.

And while it’s true that a department store registry won’t change the way she already feels and behaves, the government or church or community just might. Society seems to understand marriage but not other arrangements, such as cohabiting partners, and because of that we treat married couples differently and they view themselves differently. And you bet that impacts how we feel and behave. Even she — unknowingly, I think — confirms it when she writes “by the time we had the means to make honest people of ourselves, we felt as if we had been together too long to bother.”

So … married people are “honest people” (clearly a dated and sexist phrase that had more to do with legitimizing a sexual relationship)? If that’s how she sees it, then on some level, she is acknowledging there’s a difference — no matter how slight — between being a married and unmarried couple.

Want to learn how to create a renewable marital plan? (Of course you do!) Then read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). You can support your local indie bookstore or order it on Amazon.

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You’re in love with your partner and your partner loves you and you strongly believe that if two people love each other, then there’s no reason why they shouldn’t have a child together. Except your partner doesn’t want children — now what? 

That’s the dilemma Heather Harpham faced, which she writes about in her memoir Happiness: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After. Her book — at turns heart-
breaking, charming, insightful and funny — is about a heck of lot more than the seemingly doomed romance between the California native and Upper West Side Manhattan intellectual. And — spoiler alert — it ends happily, thus the title. But I will admit that some of it bothered me — the part of how they, Heather and Brian,  got pregnant in the first place.

They didn’t use condoms or apparently any contraception, which I found an odd decision for a man who clearly did not want to become a father (although he’d been told by two doctors that he might encounter trouble conceiving). Still, it was huge gamble. As Harpham writes,

Having kids — what kids do to an adult life already in lotion, what they do to a romance, to your couch, your car,  your time, your money, most of all your art — had been the constant bass line thrumming through our conversations in the months before I got pregnant. It was the issue that sent us, oddly early, into therapy together. It was the gun in the room. If he wanted to have kids with anyone, Brian kept saying, it would be with me. If.

And she acknowledges that was a big if. So then, why was he doing hanging around with her — and vice versa, she wonders; clearly, as much as they loved each other, they wanted different things from life.

I’d never kept my wish to have kids be secret, quite the opposite. I’d said emphatically , many times over, that I could not, would not, contemplate a life without children. Impossible. And he’d made his wish to avoid kids just as obvious. … When we’d made love without protection, I was discounting the things Brian said to me in therapy every week about not wanting kids. I was believing in some version of him that didn’t exist except in bed. But I was acting in alignment with my own deepest wishes.

Heather was 32 at the time, Brian was 45, and she admits that she interpreted their cavalier attitude about birth control as Brian having an unconscious wish to have the issue decided for him. But when she inevitably got pregnant, she realized her interpretation “looked to be somewhere between wildly self-delusional and outright self-destructive.” I’d have to agree.

Still, she was adamant:

I’d told Brian all along: If I get pregnant, I will have the baby. …I wanted to be a mother and he was the man I loved. He might opt out, fairly or unfairly, but the baby was a foregone conclusion.

And so he did opt out and she was angry with him although, having been raised by a single mom who brought three men into her world, each of whom, she said, harmed her, she wondered if Brian would do the same. Maybe it was better, and easier, to just be a single mom — and a lot of single moms say it is.

Common complaint

Perhaps not surprisingly, Heather is not the first woman to be in this situation. Rachel Kramer Bussel writes about it in Cosmopolitan, Dear Polly (aka Heather Havrilesky) responds to it in the Cut, Rachel Needle, of the Center for Marital and Sexual Health of South Florida, addresses it in Babble … and the list goes on an on.

It isn’t just men who are baby-averse: Many more women than men don’t want kids, according to recent surveys.

But the Brians of the world are taking matters into their own hands — they’re getting vasectomies to put an end to having to decide (and also keeping women from trapping them into having unwanted kids, a disturbing but relatively rare reality).

Priorities can change

But Brian didn’t get a vasectomy. In the end — spoiler alert — Brian does become an engaged and present  father. In fact, he becomes an amazing father and partner (and, eventually, husband). But not every man will do that, and that is why it’s a bit worrisome for anyone in a similar situation to read the book and think, oh, well, he came around and it worked out, so …

Because sometimes it will work out. Sometimes, someone who can’t ever see being a parent becomes one and changes his or her mind. I guess the question is, would you wait around hoping for that or would that kind of thinking be “wildly self-delusional and outright self-destructive”?

Want to learn about parenting marriages? (Of course you do!) Then read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). You can support your local indie bookstore or order it on Amazon.

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When Anna Faris and Chris Pratt announced their separation, fans were crushed  — it certainly one of those oft-repeated celebrity “love is dead moments.” The couple, who had been married since 2009 and have a 5-year-old son, seemed to be a great fit. So then, what happened? Life happened. While we can never know the truth about celebrity marriage — or anyone’s marriage, quite honestly — Faris has been open about some of the issues that arose between them. And while every marriage is unique — given the personalities, values and expectations of the couple — there are some things all of us can learn from the Faris-Pratt separation.

Having a road map

When they wed, Pratt was most known for his goofy Parks and Recreations character and Faris was the bigger star. Then, he started getting roles in blockbuster films, Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World, among them, while Faris’ career seemed to have sputtered. She was the hands-on parent while Pratt was off filming, and she found herself often sad and questioning if what the tabloids reported were true: “[I]n this crazy world where he’s off doing movies and I’m in L.A. raising our child, of course I’m going to feel vulnerable, like any normal human would.”

“They really didn’t have a road map for what this would all be like,” an “insider” said.

What could they have done differently? Well, they could have created a marital plan, one that would have asked — and mutually answered — some of the issues she eventually had to grapple with: How will we handle things if one of us has to be away from home for months at a time? What can we do to support each other’s career: switch off on childcare, refuse some movie roles, etc.? How can we best reassure each other about our marriage when it’s  under constant tabloid pressure? Are we good at monogamy and choosing it willingly? Do we agree in how we define infidelity?

In other words, the road map was theirs to create.

Losing yourself

Faris also says she often lost herself in her relationship. “I made that mistake, I think, a little bit, like ‘I’m checking my relationship off the list’ and if that would be the final piece of advice I could give you, that would be know your worth, know your independence.”

Faris wouldn’t be the first wife to lose herself in a marriage. In fact, there are literally dozens of self-help books on the topic. Psychoanalyst Beverly Engel, author of Loving Him Without Losing Yourself, calls it the Disappearing Woman — what happens when women forget what they believe in, what they stand for, what’s important to them and what makes them happy once they’re in a relationship with someone they love. That’s because many women have been brought up to view a romantic partnership as the major accomplishment of their life.

What could they have done differently? Faris could have maintained a life outside of her romantic partnership and Pratt could have encouraged it (and vice versa, of course). She could have learned how to be happily independent and treasure alone time. And she could have looked to others to have some of her needs met — by family, friends and even her own self — instead of expecting her partner to fulfill all her needs. He can’t, and she can’t do it for him either.

You gotta have friends

In her upcoming book, Unqualified, Faris admits she made a mistake — she didn’t cultivate a group of gals who’d be there for her no matter what, in part because of bad experiences with mean and competitive women. And then when she and Pratt wed, she was given questionable advice about making her hubby her BFF. As she writes:

I was once told that I didn’t need a tight group of girlfriends because Chris should be my best friend. But I never bought that … The idea of your mate being your best friend — it’s overhyped. I really believe that your partner serves one purpose and each friend serves another. … To be honest, I think the notion of best friends in general is messed up though. It puts so much pressure on any one person, when I truly believe it’s OK to have intimacy with different people in different ways.


So now Faris finally has what she says is a handful of women she can count on as confidantes.

What could they have done differently? Faris could have been encouraged from early on to recognize that friendships are as important — perhaps even more so — than romantic relationships, which is the idea behind relationship anarchy. She also could have encouraged Pratt to have a group of male friends — the lack of male friendships is a true crisis in America. And, she could have discovered early that good friends offer intimacy, too.

Finding beauty in the temporary

In observing the way fans reacted to the Faris-Pratt split, actress Kristen Bell offered some grounded advice all of us might want to embrace when we experience the end of a romantic relationship — celebrate the power and beauty of the time spent together, even if it wasn’t “until death.”

I think there’s a little bit of lack of acknowledgment about really loving something that was. If there are two people that decide not to be together, it shouldn’t really be a heartbreak for everyone. You should say, ‘Oh, they tried. But that doesn’t discount the lovely years they had together.’ If I ever get divorced, I’m still going to be like, ‘Wow, I loved being married to that man.'”

That, of course, is exactly why time-limited renewable marital contracts make sense for today’s couples. Staying together as long as there is love is a better way to be together than staying together, miserably, purely to live out a vow. But you knew I’d say that …

Want to learn how to create a marital plan? (Of course you do!) Then read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). You can support your local indie bookstore or order it on Amazon.

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Millennials have become a much maligned generation — they’re either living in their parents’ basement, or spending too much time playing video games, or unable to buy a home because they’re spending too much money on avocado toast or delaying marriage, aka “failing” to reach the traditional markers of adulthood (hey, maybe those markers need to be changed?) or all of the above. And now, evidently, the one positive thing millennials who actually are tying the knot are doing — protecting their assets with a prenup — is being dissed. And, boy, is that bad advice.

In a recent article for Verily, Why Happy Couples Don’t Get Prenups (Even Though Divorce Lawyers Say It’s a Millennial Trend) with the tagline “Don’t buy into the prenup trend!,” relationship editor Monica Gabriel Marshall quotes Joslin Davis, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, who observes that millennials are  “particularly choosing prenups as the best option to cover separate property holdings, business interests, anticipated family inheritances, and potential alimony claims.”

Then she acknowledges that it makes sense, given that people are remaining single longer and thus having more time to build their own assets. But then she quotes two people to switch her thinking to convince young people that its wrong to get a prenup: Bradford Wilcox, director of  the National Marriage Project — an unabashed pro-marriage advocate — and Mia Adler Ozair, a therapist who advises to never mention the word “divorce.”

If you are serious about wanting to build a long-lasting, loving relationship, then this word can simply not enter the vocabulary in a relationship … Trust is built by knowing that regular marital issues that arise during the course of all relationships will be met with a true desire to communicate. … threats of leaving are not acceptable where trust and love are desired.

Sure — no one should use divorce as a way to threaten your spouse. But — and such a huge but — that isn’t the only way for couples to address the potential reality of divorce.

Missing an opportunity

No one goes into a marriage hoping to get a divorce, but anyone entering a marriage without acknowledging the fact that marriage often ends in divorce would be missing an opportunity to discuss — yes, communicate, the thing every advice columnist, relationship expert and therapist keeps blabbering about! — what might make one or the other consider ending the marriage — or, more positively, what each person would be willing to do to keep the marriage happy and healthy. In other words, addressing the obvious — expectations.

Which is why I worry about all the advice that’s thrown at everyone — especially single women and women about to tie the knot. It’s not that men don’t get their share of advice — they do — but relationship advice is overwhelmingly geared toward women. We read the columns, buy the self-help books and are generally more attuned to a relationship’s temperature than men are, which is why women overwhelmingly file for divorce.

And because of that, some of the advice that’s out there is questionable at best, dangerous at worst. Gabriel Marshall’s article falls into the latter category, because it’s attempting to convince women that getting a prenup is a trend (it’s not, but even if it were, so what; it’s a smart trend!) and that it’s better to “opt for giving of ourselves completely — assets and all — to someone who is willing to give in this same way in return” than to create a plan that would better reflect the couple’s values and goals.

Is any advice good advice?

So how do you know whose advice to take — if any — when you’re bombarded by articles declaring This Marriage Advice Should Be Required Reading For Newlyweds or articles about couples who’ve been married 50 or 60 years offering the “secret” to their marital longevity (which is usually some inane thing like “we laugh a lot” or “we have a weekly date.”)? Even advice from divorce attorneys, who are on the front lines of marital splits, won’t necessarily offer much help.

The truth is, what works for one couple may not work for you. You and your partner have different backgrounds, different love languages, different world views and expectations. Wouldn’t you rather figure out what you want, have your partner figure out what he or she wants, and then talk about that with each other and have that shape your relationship?

That’s what a prenup — or marital plan — does; it helps you shape your future together. I just can’t see any downside to that.

Want to learn how to create a marital plan? (Of course you do!) Then read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). You can support your local indie bookstore or order it on Amazon.

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Should your spouse be your everything and fulfill all your needs — be your best friend; passionate lover; devoted parent; soul mate; great communicator; romantic, and intellectual and professional equal who provides you with happiness, fulfillment, financial stability, intimacy, social status, fidelity … ? That’s what marriage has become, as my co-author and I detail in The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels, and what Eli J. Finkel addresses in his about-to-be released book, The All-Or-Nothing Marriage: How the Best Marriages Work.

That’s a lot to ask from a relationship. Can we do it?

Yes and no. But the better question is why do we want marriage to do that? It’s certainly not how marriages were throughout history, and while I’d be the last person to get all rose-colored glasses nostalgic over the way marriage was, there were historically some things that actually worked for couples —  they relied on people other than their spouse to fulfill some of their needs.

I think it’s time to revisit that.

As we write in The New I Do:

Rather than expecting one person to meet all your needs, you might ask a spouse to meet a few, and you’d be encouraged to get other needs met in other ways or with other people or in some combination. Maybe you want to partner for the sole reason of having children and co-parenting, and have passion and sex outside the marriage. Maybe you prefer to partner for companionship instead of expecting a spouse to support you financially. Maybe you want to partner solely for financial security and enjoy social activities and vacations with family or friends.

Claire Dederer does. As the author of Love and Trouble writes in a recent Modern Love:

The world is divided into two places: home and away. At home, I’m married to my husband, Bruce. Away, I am married to Victoria. She’s my travel wife. … My husband and my travel wife are both generous: He lets me go; she lets me come along. I’m not sure I could have had one marriage without the other. There’s a lot of talk about open marriage and polyamory lately, but marriage can be customizable and nontraditional in ways that have nothing whatsoever to do with sex. Marriages can include other spouses who provide other functions. Maybe they need to.

Wow — “Marriages can include other spouses who provide other functions. Maybe they need to.” That’s exactly what we propose in the book (although we don’t call them “spouses”; it takes the pressure off your spouse — and you — to be the everything. And, by viewing a partnership that way, more people might be attractive to us as marriage material; we just won’t have as many demands on them as we do now.

What needs can be met by whom?

Finkel agrees with all of us. As he writes, we can break down our needs into three categories:

  • needs that can only be met by our partner
  • needs that we can meet through our partner, or with a “other significant other” (OSO), such as a friend or family member
  • needs we can meet through our partner, an OSO or on or own

I love that! Why shouldn’t we turn to others, or ourselves, to make life better?

I gave up backpacking and camping when I got married the second time because my then-husband wasn’t an outdoors guy. I don’t live in regrets, yet at the same time there was no reason for me to give up something I loved just because my hubby wasn’t into it. So every year for the past six years, I go backpacking for a long weekend with a group of gals. I go whether I’ve been partnered or not, and I will continue to go as long as our bodies hold up. I look forward to the trip every year, and hold that time sacred — no romantic partner necessary.

Spreading the love

Why does it matter? For one, it’s unlikely any one person will have all the skills for all of our needs (and we probably won’t have them for someone else. Plus, as Finkel notes, our spouse may not always be available when we need him or her most. And that’s going to be problematic for us, and could lead to anger, frustrations and resentments down the road. Finally, if we’re so dependent on our partner, the times we’re stressed out will likely create stress for him or her, too —now both of you are depleted and emotionally distraught at a time when you might need someone to be strong enough to carry the load for a while.

In other words, spread the emotional and physical love around.

But, this takes a new way of thinking about our romantic relationships. Getting our needs met by others, emotionally close to someone else or spending a lot of time with others — especially of the opposite sex (if you’re hetero) — might feel like a betrayal. That’s a missed opportunity. Polyamorists often talk of “compersion” —  a word coined in the poly community that explains the joy people feel when they see a loved one experiencing pleasure with someone else. It’s the opposite of jealousy. It isn’t just about sex — it’s just about wanting our partner to feel good by having his or her needs met — whatever those needs are (and at the same time, acknowledging we’re off the hook!).

Is this challenging? Probably. Does that mean we shouldn’t explore it? No; if anything, it might be the only way the all-or-nothing marriage Finkel describes can survive. And because it worked in the past, we know it can work again — with a few tweaks to fit who we are and how we live nowadays.

Want to learn how to have needs met outside a marriage? (Of course you do!) Then read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). You can support your local indie bookstore or order it on Amazon.

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It’s an old saying but most of us have heard it — “Why buy the cow when you can have the milk for free?” That’s a phrase that’s both dated and sexist, so to hear it re-branded as “cheap sex” — aka casual sex — and purported to be the reason men aren’t committing and marrying is something I would have thought we wouldn’t be discussing in 2017. And yet, here we are, thanks to sociologist Mark Regnerus and his new book, Cheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage, and Monogamy.

Regnerus (the same sociologist behind a controversial study of how children of same-sex couples fare) says cheap sex — sex with little cost as far as time or emotional investment — is behind a host of societal ills, from fewer people marrying to  the rise of unmarriageable men to more people living together to more children being born outside of marriage — you get the idea. And it’s all because women are giving men sex too easily and quickly, thanks in part to the Pill, without demanding anything in return.

OK, it’s true that fewer young people are marrying nowadays. It’s true that more young people are cohabiting nowadays than ever before. It’s true that the pervasiveness of porn has changed the way men and women think about and engage in sex. And it’s true that there’s a lot more sex outside of marriage nowadays. But to say that the only reason men are avoiding committed relationships and marriage is because women are spreading their legs and giving it up too soon (bad, women, bad!) is shaming, blaming judgmental and, as it happens, not entirely accurate.

‘Men will work for sex’

In a 2011 article in Salon, no doubt the beginnings of his book, Regenerus writes:

(W)hat many young men wish for — access to sex without too many complications or commitments — carries the day. If women were more fully in charge of how their relationships transpired, we’d be seeing, on average, more impressive wooing efforts, longer relationships, fewer premarital sexual partners, shorter cohabitations, and more marrying going on.  … while young men’s failures in life are not penalizing them in the bedroom, their sexual success may, ironically, be hindering their drive to achieve in life. Don’t forget your Freud: Civilization is built on blocked, redirected, and channeled sexual impulse, because men will work for sex. Today’s young men, however, seldom have to. As the authors of last year’s book Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality put it, “Societies in which women have lots of autonomy and authority tend to be decidedly male-friendly, relaxed, tolerant, and plenty sexy.” They’re right. But then try getting men to do anything.

I have no problem with a society that’s relaxed, tolerant and plenty sexy. In fact, I’m all in! I’m also in for a male-friendly society, too — why not be friendly to men? But, what does it even mean? Does it favor men and men only? In what way? What Regnerus seems to forget or ignores is that some women — not all, but some — would actually like to have casual sex so they can focus on other things besides a romantic relationship, which is a time and energy suck. As my friend, economics professor and Dollars and Sex: How Economics Influences Sex author Marina Adshade, says, women are “shamed for behaving in a way that society believes is contrary to their nature.” People have a hard time believing women can be happy having “cheap sex.” Well, many of us gals actually can.

But Regnerus also seems to say that if men don’t have to work hard for sex, they’re not going to work at anything. Really? I know lots of men who are doing lots of things — working to make the world safer from nuclear weapons, helping poor farmers in Africa and Sudan increase their crops so they can feed their families, investigating fraud, fighting for justice  … Oh, wait — that’s not what Regnerus means; he means try getting them to woo a woman properly and commit and marry. Because I guess that’s the only thing that matters — romantic relationships and marriage. For men like Regnerus, it’s true: they see marriage as a way to make men become respectable members of society, to tame them. But do today’s men really need to be tamed? And, if so, is it really a wife’s responsibility to do that? We have enough on our plate, quite honestly.

And as the mom to two nice young men, one in a committed relationship and one single after five years of a committed relationship, it’s an insult!

Other factors in play

Yes, there are young men who are living in their parents’ basement and playing video games all day, but I highly doubt it’s because women are “giving” them cheap sex — it’s probably more about stagnant wages and the fact that video games offer a social aspect that leads to a boost in guys’ happiness. I don’t fully understand it, but I don’t think convincing women to hold off on providing “cheap sex” is going to do anything Regnerus would like to see happen — like marriage. And some men are wary of marriage because they know divorce is always an option and men haven’t always been treated fairly by family court; why wouldn’t they delay or avoid tying the knot?

And that’s part of what he suggests, that women conspire together to close our legs and vaginas until men give them what they want — even if what we may want is some casual sex until we find the right person to settle down with, if we even want that, and more and more women are just not interested in being married.

Sorry, Regnerus, but it’s not women’s job to control men’s behavior. The guys are going to have to figure this out by themselves. That said, women should never feel that they owe a man sex; we don’t. Ever.

Delaying marriage isn’t all bad

Interestingly, the data Regnerus presents clearly indicates that men are committing and marrying — they’re just waiting longer to do so. But that’s OK! Since we’re living longer than ever and since women fare better by delaying marriage, why are we still wringing our hands about this? Maybe if we offered people other versions of marriage — like time-limited, renewable marital contracts — more would consider tying the knot. Maybe the problem is with our very narrow one-size-fits-all traditional marriage model.

So let’s stop worrying about men getting free milk without buying the cow. As comedian John Mulaney explains, for many men the cow still matters:

Why buy the cow? Maybe because everyday the cow asks you when you’re going to buy it. And you live in a really small apartment with the cow and you can’t avoid that question at all. Also, the cow is way better at arguing than you are. … But for real, why buy the cow? Let’s be real. Why buy the cow? Because you love her.

And that’s what people like Regnerus don’t seem to understand — men will commit to a partner and may even want to marry her (or him or they) when it feels good and right and natural and important and desired. Because sometimes, that’s what they want — even if they’ve had a lively casual sex life with whoever’s given it up freely, willingly and happily.

Want to explore why you want to marry? (Of course you do!) Then read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). You can support your local indie bookstore or order it on Amazon.

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“For life. No one wants anything ‘for life.’ It just reminds us of our impending death.” So starts Lake Bell’s new movie, “I Do … Until I Don’t,” which explores the sorry state of marriage and the promise of a seven-year marital contract.

I was incredible excited to learn about this film — its premise is what I’ve spent the past five years of my life researching and writing about. I am a huge fan of time-limited, renewable marital contracts, which actually have a long, sometimes successful, history, and devote a chapter to it in The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (in fact, our contract was used by Mandy Len Catron to draft a relationship contract with her partner, which she wrote about in a Modern Love essay and her new book, How to Fall in Love With Anyone). In other words, it’s really practical and doable. So when I had a chance to preview the movie, which opens Labor Day weekend, I jumped at it.

I wish I could say I loved it, or even liked it. I don’t. In fact, I was deeply disappointed. Instead of offering a balanced look into how a time-limited renewable marital contract might actually benefit couples, the movie just reinforces the simplistic views we already have about marriage — that “death do us part” is pretty much always the best option because, well, vows — as well as our views on monogamy, misunderstanding what open relationships are truly about and thus treating them with disdain.

Such a missed opportunity!

Here’s the premise: recent (and, of course, a cliched bitter) divorcée and sociologist Vivian Prudeck is working on a documentary that seeks to prove that traditional marriage is outdated. (It is!) She enlists — well, pays handsomely, which is clearly unethical — three couples: Alice and Noah, 30-somethings stuck in a 10-year marital rut and dealing with infertility; Alice’s free-spirited sister Fanny and her open relationship with longtime partner Zander, with whom she has a child; and Cybil and Harvey, an unhappily married middle-aged empty-nester stepfamily.

Marriage as an archaic institution

First, kudos to Bell for wanting to explore marriage, what she calls an archaic institution.

I was interested in the concept of this old-fashioned, somewhat — in my opinion — archaic institution that seems to again and again be thrust at us as some sort of requisite. But it was my intention and want and hope to ultimately inspire hope and romance in whoever comes to this old-fashioned albeit worthy commitment.

It’s the “worthy” that’s problematic (well, and her desire to inspire romance). Bell admits she wasn’t coming from an open-minded place when she started writing the screenplay (she chose a contract of seven years is because she heard about German politician Gabriele Pauli’s call for a renewable seven-year contract in 2007). In fact, she says she was “staunchly opposed to the concept of marriage.”

The inception of the idea really did come from a jaded place. I always set out to end it by finding the hope in it, but I didn’t know what the ending would be, because I hadn’t had the experience of a meaningful, trusting, real relationship, where you’re like, “I’m seeing you, I see you eye to eye, and I will walk with you through the mud and the light.” That hadn’t found me yet.

Coming from a jaded place is hardly the way to approach a topic. But then she met and married Scott Campbell in 2013, before her film was completed, and one has to wonder if that changed her viewpoint. It must have because as she tells Vulture:

I’m really proud of this movie — it’s so personal, and one day I get to show my kids, you know? What a nice thing, to show them something that has these good values. And I’m not even conservative! … And look, sometimes relationships between two people just don’t work. But every relationship deserves an effort.

Questionable values

And here are the “good values” she’d like to preserve, or at least “deserve an effort” to preserve: Alice lies to Noah on numerous levels, most importantly about wanting to have a child; she confesses she was only going through the motions because he wanted a baby. Great! Let’s bring a baby into the world even though we don’t want it! And, she only seems to be able to fully be honest with him once she’s in front of Prudeck’s camera, and what she says reveals a long-simmering frustration. She’s also distrustful of him, but, hey — no problem there!

Meanwhile, Cybil and Harvey have a relationship filled with anger, disappointment and contempt. If you are savvy to the work of the Gottman Institute, you know that contempt is the worst of what’s considered the four horsemen — contempt, criticism, defensiveness and stonewalling — that typically lead to divorce. As therapist Esther Perel has said, there are many ways to betray a spouse besides sexual infidelity and — yep — contempt is in the mix.

As for Fanny and Zander — an unmarried but committed cohabiting co-parenting couple — they at least have conversations about monogamy and transparency even if they’re struggling with feelings of jealousy. Bell pokes fun at their weird crunchy-granola-like diet, music, lifestyle and beliefs, but they are actually the most genuinely happy of the couples presented (well, they are having lots of sex!). While trying to explain her relationship to her sister Alice, Franny uses a clumsy metaphor about heroin, but it’s relatable and honest: they have the means and resources to get heroin if they want to, and they could use it if they want to, Franny tells Alice, but they don’t. They just choose not to. And that’s how they approach their open relationship.

This is what one of the couples I interviewed for the open marriage chapter in The New I Do told me — they, too, didn’t have sex with people outside the marriage all that often, but just knowing they could made them feel much more connected and respected.

If only it ended there!

But, alas. Because the next thing Franny tells Alice is: “We don’t cheat.”

Of course not! Because an open relationship is not cheating! C’mon people; do we still have to explain consensual non-monogamy to you in 2017?

Predictable outcome

You can probably tell where this movie is going. It’s not going to be team anti-amatonormativity, that’s for sure.

As if all the prior missteps weren’t enough, one of the movie’s final scenes — warning: spoiler alert, here — once again reinforces the desire to make marriage be a one-size-fits-all model.

At an event filmmaker Prudeck sets up, based unbeknownst to her on a revenge plot the three couples agree to, Harvey stands up and, to loud applause, states:  “I think I speak on behalf of everybody here. You don’t have to get married. But, let others figure it out. Don’t make it worse. We have enough problems.”

Then Franny chimes in, “People only partake in open relationships for the bragging rights.”

At which point Zander asks Franny to marry him.

Please — just smack me now.

And of course all the couples in the film reboot their love and deepen their connection by the film’s end. But here’s why: They just become kinder to each other. That’s it. It’s true kindness and generosity go a long way in making us feel good about ourselves and our partner. But here’s the thing about a time-limited renewable marital contract; spouses wouldn’t have been able to have gotten away being so unkind and resentful for so many years if they had to be accountable for their behavior every few years or so. And they would have to be clear about expectations about such things as monogamy, and if jealous thoughts came up, well, that’s just another opportunity to address fears.

So “I Do … Until I Don’t” was a missed opportunity to bust free from what we think marriage should look like. Even the most liberated couple, Zander and Franny — despite their long-term committed partnership — suddenly see marriage as an antidote to “bragging rights.” But will putting a ring on it just seal then into sexual conformity? Will they lose their desire for transparency and communication?

If they’re marrying without a contract that expresses why they want to wed and that holds them accountable, my guess would be yes.

Want to learn about how a marital contract might actually help a marriage? (Of course you do!) Then read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). You can support your local indie bookstore or order it on Amazon.


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At some point, women recognize that they have sexual power. Often, it happens before we’re ready to have it — we develop breasts at a young age, for instance, and we’re clueless about what that does to boys and men. It’s both scary and exciting, but often more scary than not — until we know how to use it, whether in healthy or unhealthy ways.

Recently a friend and I talked about the moment we realized we had sexual power and how we used it. It was the first time I’d really talked about it openly although I’ve thought about it from time to time. Sexual power is different at various ages, and when you’re single and dating, or in a committed relationship, or when you’re married.

I was not one of those girls who developed early. I didn’t have big breasts (and still don’t, but let’s not go there), nor did I do much to flaunt my sexuality as a teen — I wasn’t even aware of it. I was shy and quiet and hide my face behind long hair and was full-on hippie, with underarm and leg hair and all. And yet, I always had a boyfriend. Cute boyfriends.

Liking the male gaze

I didn’t realize I had sexual power until I was in my 20s, when I did stupid things like cheat on my partner. The way my affair partner looked at me  — the male gaze — was unnerving; no one had ever looked at me that way before. And I liked it. I liked the power I felt from it. I still was shy and awkward, but the transformation had begun; I began to recognize and honor my sexual power.

Honestly, what 20-something woman isn’t going to gather attention? But, that was decades ago, and some stuff has happened since then — a divorce, years as a more-confident young single woman, a second marriage, another divorce, being single with kids in my late 40s, having a few committed relationships at midlife and finding myself single again at an age that feels, well probably is, old.

I’ll admit it; being married with young kids did nothing to boost my feelings of sexual power. I kind of lost myself as many women do. Discovering my husband’s long-term affair didn’t help, either. But when I was newly divorced and went back into the workplace full time, at midlife something happened — I got my mojo back. It’s never left.

What happened?

Embracing the flirt

For whatever reason, I acknowledged and embraced the sexual, flirty side of me that I love but foolishly believed had to be in check when I was married — channeling Vice President Pence here — and when I was in some relationships, the ones in which my flirtatious nature was seen as a threat and not a playful interaction with an equally flirtatious partner but trusted and openly talked about.

Women don’t always have power in the ways we’d like to, but we do have sexual power. This dates back to biblical times — Eve was a temptress, after all. As Krista Thompson writes:

Women have the power of sex. Entire industries are based on it (beauty, fashion porn) or attempts are made to cover it completely (some Muslim and Jewish ultra-orthodox societies, etc). Men want it bad, women bestow it on the deserving. Let’s face it. The only way for a man to have complete control over when and where he has sex is to pay for it. If this power is taken from a woman, it is rape. At worst, she is a killed for dishonoring her family. The joy in the gift of female sexuality is pursuing your interests in all areas of sexual opportunity. The responsibility of this power is to share it, allowing men to fully express themselves sexually as well.

But it’s not easy to do that. As Suzannah Weiss writes:

The idea that women attain control by eliciting men’s desires plays into the age-old notion that women’s worth lies in their ability to produce erections. … [T]elling women their value lies in their ability to be desirable devalues women who are not widely considered sexually desirable. … Placing value on women based on men’s attraction makes those who don’t possess the traits society considers attractive feel worthless, and it makes women of all appearances feel like objects.

I don’t think any woman wants to feel like an object and I agree that telling women that our value lies only in our ability to be desirable could be seen as devaluing “women who are not widely considered sexually desirable.” I don’t necessarily agree that only “Men want it bad” — many women do, too, and saying “women bestow it on the deserving” feels bad, too. Bestow? Deserving? Ugh!

At the same time, I am an older woman, therefore many men might — and do — consider me undesirable. But I don’t feel worthless. Whether they do or not, I just want to embrace my sexual power. Not in a manipulative way, but because it makes me feel good.

Therefore, some men notice it. And I’m aware of that.

‘Women aren’t going to stop being sexy’

Women don’t have to feel worthless or an object just because they own their sexual power. It isn’t either/or.

I like what Sex and the State blogger C says:

Sexualization is seeing sexual value/power and non-sexual value/power as mutually exclusive. The antidote to sexualization, then, is reconciling sexual value/power and non-sexual value/power. To end the sexy double standard we have to replace either/or with yes/and. Because women aren’t going to stop being sexy.

To which I’d say, gals, own your sexual power. You have it when you feel it, when you have it for yourself and not because someone else thinks you have it or don’t have it. Don’t use it to hurt or manipulate others. And it isn’t solely for sex. It’s for you.

Want to explore which marriage is right for you? (Of course you do!) Then read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). You can support your local indie bookstore or order it on Amazon.

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Who has the upper hand in dating, men or women? It might depend on whom you ask but there’s one thing I’ve been thinking about lately — how gals generally don’t have as much experience with rejection when it comes to dating as men do, although it may feel like it if they’ve been dumped, played or cheated on.

At an first-meet date with a man I met online recently, he was dis-
appointed that women don’t message men first. I reminded him that I had, indeed, messaged him, not vice versa, but he said it was a rarity. To prove his point, he’d set up a pseudo online profile as a woman — and immediately got inundated with messages from men.

“But probably not the kind of men you’d be interested in dating,” I told him. “Quantity isn’t quality.”

True, he acknowledged, but we got around to talking about how rejection — or lack of rejection — impacts the way men and women approach dating. I think it matters.

Masters of romantic rejection

Men risk romantic rejection a lot more than women do. As Mark Rosenfeld, a self-described dog lover, male stripper and dating coach — interesting combo, that — writes:

If a woman is unwilling to make a move on a man, she can sub-communicate to him she wants him to make one, without risking a real rejection. If that doesn’t work, a different man will try his luck. She can meet and get chatting to a lot of men, without having to risk a direct rejection. … For many men, confidence does not come naturally. Unfortunately, in dating, where men must risk rejection regularly to have success, confidence is required. This can be a huge, sometimes insurmountable, obstacle for some men to overcome.

The “sub-communicate” thing is exactly the advice many dating coaches tell women to get a man they’re interested in to make the first move — despite my online first-meet date’s desire to have women approach him first.

Dating coach Evan Marc Katz says if women ask men out first, it “can be taken as aggressive, desperate, and masculine. At the very least, it can signify a loss of power.” Instead he suggests women create an opportunity for a man to act on our interest and ask us out first — which, again creates a “huge, sometimes insurmountable, obstacle for some men to overcome.”

So some may not be able to do it and, guess what — a missed opportunity!

In explaining her BRUTAL (her emphasis) reasons why a women should never ask a man out, dating coach Ronnie Ann Ryan admonishes “strong, successful women (who) think gender equality means there’s no longer any reason NOT to ask a man out.” She questions a man’s inability to be confident in asking a woman out (which really doesn’t seem fair), and then advises that “letting the man pursue you works best. That’s the only way you’ll ever know if he’s really interested.”

And we’re right back to where we were. Missed opportunities.

Disadvantaging women

Ultimately, I think a lack of experience in rejection disadvantages women, who tend to react one of two ways if a date, or planned date, goes awry — either “he’s an asshole” or she takes it personally. (Of course, some men react violently to being rejected by women. That’s a form of entitlement that’s dangerous for everyone.) Some studies indicate that experience with rejection is keeping women from rising in their careers; could it also be keeping us from getting what we want romantically?

There’s got to be a healthier way to accept the fact that not everyone’s going to be into us and that’s OK. And that might take practice, some self-esteem and a healthy dose of humor while dating.

In exploring why women still rarely ask men out on dates — despite greater equality in many other things — associate professor of psychology Michael Mills found that both men and women are willing to have someone of the opposite sex ask them out, but much fewer women actually did it than men. In part, he explained it as “as an effort by women to protect their sexual reputation. By refraining from making first time relationship initiatives, women may be providing evidence to potential long-term mates that they would not make the first move with another man in the future, given their history of not doing so in the past.”

Still, as he notes, it’s tricky to rely on histories of what’s been done or not done “in the past” because men can claim that, too — right? If we want equality, shouldn’t women have to risk as much as men do?

We certainly don’t let men use the “but it is only natural” excuse to justify some of their more antisocial behaviors. Should we give women “a sexual inequality pass” because it is just one part of a natural courtship script? Or, should we encourage women to make more risky initiatives? Should men go on a “risky initiatives” strike? Should we ask women to “woman up” — put their fragile egos on the line, get some ovaries, get out there and start asking out men on first dates?

Well, I have put my ovaries out there and asked men out; sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But I’m a woman of a certain age, as was my online meet date. Could it be that the older we get, the more likely we’re willing to shed restrictive dating rules on who “should” do what first? Maybe.

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