Progressive relationship norms and human nature collide

Thanks that was fun
Don’t forget, no regrets
Except maybe one
Made a deal not to feel
God, that was dumb

— Barenaked Ladies, Thanks That Was Fun

2012 bears almost no resemblance to 1912. We have technologies now that our forefathers never even dreamed of. Thanks in large part to the advent of contraception, we also have what seems like a million new options for how to define our sexual relationships. Traditional marriages. Same-sex marriages (where legal). Civil unions. Commonlaw marriages. Open marriages. Domestic partners. One-night stands. Friends with benefits.

I’m a pretty progressive guy, and I have no moral objection to any of these options. I certainly don’t like it when religious (or, worse, governmental) authorities try to dictate sexual behavior. Do what you want to do. Knock yourself out.

The problem with some of these options, however, is the murkiness. Call it hubris if you like, but I’ve watched so many people who thought they could defy the odds end up in a world of emotional pain when things don’t work out according to a neat little plan. Friends who attempt to add in “benefits” often shatter their friendships.

The fact is that people are not robots, and we invariably become emotionally invested in our sexual partners to some degree. Sex is an intensely intimate thing, and it can get really messy really fast. No set of rules and no sophisticated contract can cover up our human need to have and to hold.

This is not to say that you cannot possibly sustain a string of meaningless sexual dalliances, but A) that can leave you feeling empty and B) you can’t assume that the other participants feel as detached from you as you do from them. (I also happen to think those who pretend that their sexual encounters are meaningless are just kidding themselves.) And today’s absolution from obligation can quickly become tomorrow’s jilted lover or even a stalker.

I believe the sexual revolution has been a positive thing overall, but it does come at a cost. In addition to the precautions we take to protect ourselves from diseases and unintended pregnancies, I believe we must also be more sensitive to one another’s emotional needs.

I have a tendency to talk about a lot of issues in the abstract sense, but there is a huge chasm between my “in theory” philosophy about sex and my actual behavior / desires. I don’t fault someone for pursuing the kind of sex life that he or she wants, but for some reason — probably a combination of my traditional upbringing and my emotional makeup — what I actually want for myself is a far more traditional bond than my 2012 beliefs would dictate. I suspect being detached would make my life a lot easier, but the reality is that I’m still looking for a specific her to wake up next to.

Addendum: I started to write this post back in February 2012 but couldn’t quite complete the thought. Some recent discussions I have had plus my new foray into the dating world bring this issue back to the forefront of my mind.

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