Biases in Relationships
Additional Information on Chapter 9, Pages 124-130
The Compatibility Code has several paragraphs describing dynamics of each of these issues (pp. 124-135) and thus lays a good foundation for expansion on these ideas here. The focus of this prescript is to take the areas discussed in the book one by one and present more of an applied twist, that is, provide practical suggestions of how to deal with the biases presented. We begin with the need for closeness.
Need for Closeness
The Compatibility Code spends a full page addressing this issue, so we start here by accepting that the need for closeness is an intense human need and that the lack of closeness is associated (for most) with pain and misery. So the need is there, you are unmarried, and although you have determined that your need for closeness is not going to rush you into an ill advised relationship, you wonder, “what can I do about it in the mean time?” Here are some bulleted ideas presented in no particular order:
- What you are seeking here is nurturing closeness that does not cross the boundaries of sexual or romantic closeness. There’s nothing wrong with sex or romance—at the right time, but we have thoroughly established that sexual or romantic involvement with the wrong person leads to disaster.
- Appreciate that some of the suggestions listed below will not fully satisfy the need for nurturing closeness, but, if you implement several of them, it should provide benefit.
- Dance class: most dance classes provide a good deal of physical contact (depending, of course, on the type of dance), and the warmth of a nurturing environment mixed with laughter and socializing.
- Pets: People have know forever how important pets are to the emotional well being of many. Now scientific research has confirmed what everyone knew anyway. Get a nice warm, furry pet that loves you and thrives on physical contact. From the canine category, a golden retriever may be one of your better choices. Pets don’t care how you look, how wealthy you are, how successful you are. In short they always love and always accept. Any chance of finding a husband who can do the same?
- Career: Pursue a career that incorporates a great deal of physical touch: a hair dresser, a massage therapist, a nurse, a physical or occupational therapist, working in a retirement center, a pre-school teacher.
- Retirement centers: Donate time at retirement centers. Old folks need touch as much as young ones do
- Church singles groups: in addition to the fun and fellowship that this type of group provides there is often a good deal of physical contact, and, you are encouraged away from inappropriate sexual or romantic contact.
- Athletic participation: This is clearly not a resource for everyone but some sports have a great deal of physical contact such as gymnastics or ice skating (particularly pairs). Almost any team sport also provides some amount of physical contact in a healthy environment.
- Professionals: No, I’m not talking about prostitutes or escort services; I’m talking about going for a facial, a massage, a manicure, a wash & perm. You might (if you can afford it) go for a massage once a week—a huge amount of pleasurable physical contact.
- Family and close friends: Your mom, you dad, your siblings, your own children, other people’s children, grand parents, a close (non-romantic) friend. Women have a bit of an advantage over men here because most are not so paranoid of same-sex touch. Thus closeness with a same-sex friend has great potential to provide some of this need. You can hug each other, sit close while watching a movie, braid each other’s hair, etc.
When you get into a romantic relationship or a marriage then need for the resources listed above will diminishes.
Social and Emotional Loneliness
The Compatibility Code provides a distinction between social and emotional loneliness. Briefly again, Social loneliness is associated with the absence of a rich network of friends with whom you can do many activities. Emotional loneliness is the emotional pain felt due to lack of a close confidant or a romantic partner. It is quite possible to have one but not the other, neither or both. The most pathetic situation is when a person is lonely on both fronts. They do not have a rich network of friends nor do they have a romantic partner or close confidant. With the tilt of this prescripts focused on practical solutions, let’s examine the four combinations and explore possible solutions.
Condition #1: Rich network and a confidant or romantic partner: People here experience the joy of both types of relationships, live a rich relational life, and are rarely lonely.
Condition #2: Rich network but no confidant or romantic partner: This is a reasonably safe place to be because out of many friendships a romance may eventually emerge. It is quite possible for such people to feel emotional loneliness, but the resources are at hand to begin to rectify that. First such people typically have good relational skills that will contribute to the transition into an eventual romantic relationship. Second such a person has many friends who know and love her and may provide suggestions for romantic opportunities.
Even with these advantages some people seem unable to move to the next level. The reasons may be quite diverse: àno appropriate romantic possibilities in their circle of friends, àself-esteem of self-image issues that deprive them of the confidence to initiate, à the inability to relate comfortably with someone of the opposite sex, à personal qualities that cause them to feel unacceptable, à inability to form close relationships with an opposite-sexed person. To deal with some of these issues we provide brief commentary or send you to other prescripts:
- No romantic possibilities: Skip down to #6 in this prescript, “Fear that there is no one there for you”
- Self-esteem or self-image issues: From Chapter 5 prescripts see “Negative qualities” and “Self improvement programs”
- Inability to relate comfortably with some one of the opposite sex: No prior prescript relates to this issue so we provide some suggestions here. Get a book on social relationships (I recall one called The First Four Minutes about how to get a conversation started), read the chapters and have the courage to apply the principles. As you apply principles your comfort in heterosexual settings will increase. My younger brother was painfully shy and one day decided to do something about it. He bought the books, read them and applied the principles. Within 9 months he had a girlfriend, within two years he was married—a wonderful marriage that is still going strong 25 years later.
- Problematic personal qualities: From Chapter 5 prescripts see “Negative qualities” and “Self improvement programs”
- Trouble forming close relationships: Please follow the suggestion for number 3 (above). If that doesn’t help, then it is likely that you need to see a therapist who is able to guide you into positive solutions.
Condition #3: An emotionally-satisfying romantic relationship but few friends: In some ways this situation is less healthy than Condition #2 described above. This is a frequent occurrence when two introverts marry each other. They have each other but with the absence of many other friendships they depend on each other for all their needs. This is an intolerable burden. No one person can provide all the needs of another person. This type relationship produces many symptoms similar to two people co-dependent on each other. The marriage often cracks under the pressure.
The solution is straight forward. Begin to choose to involve yourself with other people, either individually or couple to couple. This is as simple a choosing to invite people over for an after-church luncheon (or other activity) every other week. That yields 26 social events a year. Some of the contacts will be duds, but some will click and provide richness to the lives of both of you. Don’t make it complex, just do it. Or as Dr Seuss once commented: “you have a brain in your head and feet in your shoes; this simply means you can go wherever you choose.”
Condition #4: No confidant or romantic relationship; few friends: This is the worst of the four. Neither your social nor your emotional needs are being met. Depression is likely and a good deal of loneliness is typically omnipresent.
The first step is to work on social friendships. Out of these friendships a romantic relationship may eventually emerge. The suggestions described in the second paragraph of Condition #3 provides an excellent starting point. We acknowledge that there are some people so shy or so introverted or so fearful that those suggestions are not sufficient. If so it is probably necessary to set up sessions with a therapist. I can tell you how he or she would work with you—at least initially:
After initial assessment he would work with you to determine your long-term goal. Let’s say your long term goal is to marry and have a family. The therapist would outline a series of baby steps to yield that eventual result. The following conversation might take place early in the process:
Therapist: Do you work?
Therapist: Do you have co workers?
Therapist: Do you talk with them?
Client: (with a shudder) No
Therapist: Do you think you could say “hello” to one worker per day in the coming week?
Client: Well, I don’t know . . .
Therapist: Do you want to stay as you are?
Therapist: Can you do it?
Client: OK, I’ll try
The following week
Therapist: Were you able to say “hello” to one worker a day last week?
Therapist: And how did it feel?
Client: Good! One of them even smiled at me.
Therapist: That’s wonderful! One step down, many to go. Now next week do you think you can say “Hello, how are you?”?
Client: I’ll give it a try
Therapist: Good for you! I’m sure you can do it.
The steps are small but consistent small steps over five years can result in a totally transformed person
Once your social network has emerged then follow other suggestions in this prescript for initiating a relationship that may eventually turn into a romance.
The Compatibility Code (pp. 127-129) has already provided some pretty good foundational information about the influence of physical beauty or handsomeness. We underline here that our entire society has been programmed to place an entirely unrealistic value on physical attractiveness. We will never get away from its influence because it has been rooted in the human experience forever. How often does the Bible talk about some woman being “comely” or “beautiful” or “exceeding fair”? The entire book of Esther is built around the extraordinary beauty that Esther possessed. No, we can’t get away from it, but we can place it in context.
There are two perspectives on the issue of beauty. One is your own beauty. The other is attraction to someone else who is beautiful. We address your own beauty first.
Since we cannot get away from society’s obsession with beauty, it is wise to play the game to some extent. When I teach a class in Developmental Psychology, we typically spend some time dealing with the issue of beauty in adolescence. We propose three simple suggestions about how one should relate to their own level of physical attractiveness:
- Develop the entire array of personal values that will contribute to your becoming a productive, caring, and socially skilled person.
- In interaction with others, appreciate the entire array of personal qualities without undue obsession about how attractive they are (this will encourage you own perspective as suggested in number 1)
- Look as good as you can.
We’ll spend a bit of time on number 3.
This “look as good as you can” operates both pre- and post-marriage. Pre marriage you are not going to change society’s values and if you wish to attract someone, then play the game. Take care of yourself. If you’re over weight; lose it. If you are flabby, get an exercise program going. These two will not only make you more attractive but will enormously enhance your self-esteem and sense of self worth. Then have fun with hair styles, make up, types of clothing, ways to enhance strengths and minimize weaknesses. Sure, go take a class on personal beauty and apply the principles. Then, forget yourself. You don’t want to be obsessed with appearance. Just do your homework, look as good as you can, and go out and live life. Almost no one enjoys someone obsessed with their own beauty.
Post marriage you want to continue to do the same. While people at the lunatic fringe of beauty (movie stars, entertainers) have atrocious success in marriage, this does not apply to people who are more normal. A study that I am currently working with assesses the influence of beauty on marital satisfaction with a sample of 699 couples. There are no movie stars in this group; none of the 1398 participants rated “10” on a 10-point scale of beauty. With normal people we find that physical attractiveness plays a major role in the happiness of both spouses. If the husband is more attractive the result is a happy husband and a happy wife. If the wife is more attractive the result is a happy wife and a happy husband. The sense of happiness associated with one’s own attractiveness is undoubtedly associated with enhanced self esteem and self image. “I care for myself, and I feel good about that!” That caring-for-oneself is equally influential in contributing to the happiness of the partner.
A potential partner’s physical attractiveness.
The key issue here is to accept that physical attractiveness is just one of many qualities. It is, of course, urgent that a person you marry is personally appealing to you. But here we come to another reality revealed in that study of 699 couples—and many other research projects support those findings. People typically marry others who are pretty much as attractive as they are. 9s and 10s tend to marry 9s and 10. 4s and 5s tend to marry 4s and 5s. Again, that is just the reality of our market system. In our study of 699 couples, only 7 couples differed from each other by more than 3 points (on a 10-point scale)—and those seven had stunningly low marital satisfaction ratings. 76% of our couples differed by 1 point or less and 95% differed by 2 points or less.
The only systematic exception to this basic rule is that wealth can buy beauty. Research in just about every culture finds that a wealthy man can acquire a luscious babe even if he, himself, is butt-ugly. No research exists to suggest how happy these marriages are, but it does bring to mind a story I heard recently:
A middle-aged woman was dining out with her wealthy middle-aged husband. During the course of the meal a beautiful young woman came and kissed her husband passionately. The wife was outraged: “So this is how you treat me! I demand a divorce!” The wife retreated to thoughtfulness as her husband replied, “You’re absolutely right. Realize, however, that if we divorce it means no more trips around the world, no more 5-star hotels, no more luxurious clothing and jewelry.” Just then the wife notices another diner, a business associate of her husband. He also has been approached and kissed by a beautiful young thing. “Look!” says the wife, “our mistress is a lot more beautiful than his mistress!” . . . back to reality.
The sober truth is that you will probably marry someone similar in attractiveness to yourself. If you are foolish enough to actively seek someone a lot more attractive than you—and are successful in marrying him, you will live a lifetime (or until you divorce, whichever comes first) of the whispers: “Surely he could have done better,” or, “what did she do to get him?” It tends to lead to embarrassment for the more attractive one and feelings of shame for the less attractive one. This is supported in the study with 699 couples. We find that attractiveness discrepancy is associated with significantly lower levels of marital satisfaction for both partners.
The discussion thus far places the first damper on being obsessed with the beauty of a potential partner. If you are a 9 or a 10, great. Go hunt up some compatible 9 or 10 somewhere. If you’re not a 9 or 10, then enjoy how beautiful Audrey Hepburn is. Hepburn is the most beautiful actress I have ever seen, but she has been safely dead for 16 years now (1993). Or enjoy Cary Grant’s virile, dashing handsomeness; he’s been dead for 23 years (1986).
For yourself, look for someone who lights your fire, makes you weak at the knees, appeals to you at many levels, but who is physically in the same ballpark of attractiveness. This places attractiveness in its proper role: A desirable quality but only one of many. Elizabeth and I rate perhaps “7” on attractiveness (there are certainly days when we don’t even achieve that) but we have a wonderful marriage.
The halo effect involves the process of attributing many positive qualities to a person because they possess one notable positive quality. Beauty is one of the most powerful of qualities that evokes a halo effect. When we see someone who is very beautiful or attractive we tend to assume that they have a wide array of other desirable qualities, such as sexual enthusiasm, vitality, social skills, sensuousness, intelligence, and others. The simple reality is that someone who is very beautiful is just as likely to be sexually frigid, phlegmatic, cool and stupid as the next person.
The halo effect works in both a positive and a negative direction. If we see a positive quality we tend to assume an array of additional positive qualities. If we see an obvious negative quality in someone we often assume that person is a scoundrel with a variety of fatal flaws. Some researchers call this the “forked-tail” effect.
Whichever way the halo effect works, it is closely akin to stereotyping and its more sinister cousin, prejudice. The wise person avoids assuming that because a person is thus-and-thus that she or he must therefore also be thus-and-thus-and-thus-and-thus. Don’t judge based on surface judgment. Perform due diligence and find out what other qualities a person possesses without making foolish (and often damaging) assumptions.
Fear There is No One There for You
Once again we extend beyond the 1½ page discussion provided in The Compatibility Code.
This fear has afflicted millions over the years, and, unfortunately, the perspective may be quite accurate in some cases. To desire to be “in relationship” seems to be a universal human experience—statistics say that in North America that 95% have legally married at least once by age 50. So we can accept that the urge to marry is powerful and essentially universal. So let us consider the reasons that people might feel that there is no one there.
There may be situational concerns such as:
- Unavailability of others due to living location
- Family structure challenges (for instance a single mom who wants to raise her kids without remarriage)
- Involvement in a job that doesn’t allow time or setting to pursue a relationship
There may be personal controllable issues such as:
- Excess weight renders one less appealing or sexy
- Poor social skills hinder effective communication
- Other personal habits or characteristics that make them objectionable such as disqualifiers (listed in Chapter 8) or Red Flags (Chapter 11).
Then there are personal uncontrollable issues:
- A person is not very physically attractive
- A person possesses physical handicaps that render them less marketable
- The person has religious or philosophical perspectives that do not appeal to others
The lists are not designed to be comprehensive. We could write thousands of instances under each category. But before we continue let us remember the title of this section: “The fear that o one is there.” We could expand that phrase to include “the fear that no one is there who might be attracted to me and I would also find appealing.” The key word, however, is fear. We remind you again of a quote from The Compatibility Code: Franklin Roosevelt’s famous statement, “We have nothing to fear except fear itself.” The statement implies that fear itself is of such a paralyzing nature that if we defeat fear, we will then have the courage and energy to effectively attack any other problem. This is a valid perspective when it comes to seeking for a potential marriage partner. We will consider the three classes of reasons for possessing this fear in the order listed above.
6a. Fear due to situational concerns
I appreciate that there are some agonizingly frustrating situations that people bear up under that make the search for a partner very trying. I also know that we are all morally free agents with the power to choose as we wish. However the freedom to make choices does not free us from the consequences of those choices. John Hus, in 1415, had the personal freedom to recant his religious beliefs or to hold firm to them. His choice was to hold firm, and, there were consequences. He was burned at the stake. Fortunately the choices we make today do not typically have consequences quite so severe. However, it is urgent to be aware that with situational concerns that we have the freedom to choose. If where I live, or what I do, or whatever I value ranks higher than finding a life partner, the consequences are simple: In most instances I will remain single. So item number one is that if you wish to marry, you may have to shed some of the barriers that are preventing it.
An example: A person may live in a tiny village with no marital prospects. The choice must be made whether remaining in the town is more important than moving to a location with better options. A person may be caring for aging parents and that involvement prevents social opportunity. Again a choice must be made, “Are my parents more important or is finding a potential mate more important?” Notice that often the questions do not have easy answers. Maybe caring for the parents is the moral and ethical thing to do, and maybe they will live for another 15 years. On another front, the single mom who thinks that being single provides a better setting for raising children has made a choice based on her priorities. That choice leaves her single.
The difficulty with simply giving in to personal difficulties is that it bypasses the possibility of some creative alternatives. Many people have been programmed to view life as a set of either-or options—like true-false exams taken when in school. Let us consider some out-of-the-box possibilities associated with each of the three situations presented earlier. Tiny village: Move to a location with better prospects. Get on the internet and join an internet dating club such as match.com. The whole world is at your fingertips. When a desirable relationship develops, then be willing to move, if necessary, to facilitate the relationship. Aging parents: Did it occur to you that in caring for your parents that it is critical that you yourself be nourished and replenished? When people feel that denial of personal need is required for present objectives, they condemn themselves (and the recipients of their help) to a low quality of life and a low quality of help. There may be other caring nurturing opposite-sexed people who could not only help to provide your personal intimacy needs but could also assist you in caring for your parents, bringing them additional pleasure in their declining years. Single mom: The argument here would be similar to the one presented with the aging parents. Discretion in dating is urgent when it comes to impressionable little ones or opinionated teenagers. Once again, the Internet may provide an outlet for personal contact that might eventually develop into a relationship. You can help your children adjust by the occasional night out that help them accept that you have a life outside of just caring for them.
These are not easy choices or easy situations to deal with! Sometimes the choices stretch you painfully beyond a personal comfort. It was Abraham Maslow who said “you either step forward into growth or slide backward into safety.” Remember the film As Good as it Getsstarring Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt? when Melvin (Nicholson) is in a panic about what to do about Carol the waitress (Hunt), Simon says, “fine! Just get into your jammies, go to bed, and I’ll read you a story.” The line is a brilliant illustration of the Maslow quote. The choice to go visit Carol at 3:00 a.m. may not succeed, but life in that instance demanded that that choice be made. In your situation life sometimes demands that the choice be made.
6b. Fear due to controllable personal concerns
This is the simplest one to deal with—rarely easy—but simple. If you possess controllable qualities that make you unfit for marriage, change them! The much-celebrated Subway guy at some point decided that life at 400+ lbs. was so objectionable that he was willing for 400 days to eat 1000 calories (with 10 grams of fat) per day to get down to normal weight. I don’t know the man, but I can imagine the growing sense of frustration and stigmatization he must have experienced until he finally decides “I don’t care what it takes, I don’t care how painful it is, I will lose the weight.” I believe this individual was in his mid 20s. He now has a life of normal weight for the next 60 or 70 years. Do you think he feels it was worth it? Was it easy to go for 400 days on a severely limited diet? I can say with assurance the answers are “yes” and “no” in that order. His choices illustrate the purpose of the entire book—Rather than seeking to find the right person, seek to be the right person.
The reality is that if you feel that you are unmarriageable due to controllable causes, the time will eventually come to make a choice (undoubtedly several choices): Will I continue unmarried because I possess these qualities, or, even worse, will I get into a relationship that eventually terminates because of these challenges or will I have the courage to confront and change the things that need to be confronted and changed? If the choice is for change, I congratulate you. Like the Subway guy, the changes may be painful but he now has a completely different life stretching ahead. You, if you choose to change, will have the solid prospect of successful relationships for a lifetime
How to effect these changes clearly goes beyond the scope of this book. The types of things that require change are documented in Chapters 8 and 11 on Disqualifiers and Red Flags. Sometimes the simple decision to change and actions consistent with that decision is enough to do the trick. Sometimes going down to the local bookstore and reading and applying principles from books to your area of concern will be adequate. Sometimes the change will require professional assistance. The choice before you is: Will I live in misery and isolation for a lifetime or will I make the courageous choices to confront and change?
6c. Fear due to uncontrollable personal concerns
I feel comparatively less compassion for people in the former two categories. They will at some point weigh the pros and cons and make a choice about whether a lifetime that includes an intimate partner is worth the changes that are required. For people in this third category I feel a great deal of compassion. Life throws some challenges that may be very difficult to bear and significantly decrease the likelihood of attracting a marriage partner. But even this situation cracks under the pressure of a logical look—a look that these people must take if they are to resolve their conflict.
A close look suggests two different categories of responses: 1) A person’s circumstances may provide significant challenges to finding a life partner but it is worth the effort to overcome the difficulties and begin the search. 2) The person may decide that their circumstances eliminate the possibility of marriage and will resign themselves to a life of singleness. Either choice may be valid, but a choice must be made. To sit like a mugwump [mugwump: a term typically applied to a politician who sits on a fence with his mug on one side and his wump on the other] or the vague fog of indecision guarantees a life of torment. We consider the two categories just listed.
6d. The choice, despite challenges, to seek a marriage partner
What sort of circumstances might place a person in Category 1? Physically unattractiveness, chronic disease, paralysis, medical conditions that prevent certain types of activities or interaction, mental retardation, extreme old age or deterioration. The list is only partial, and we don’t have the space to cover in any detail even the ones listed. However, let’s thoughtfully pursue at least two of them. Let’s take, for instance a person who is really unattractive.
Unattractiveness. For someone who is quite unattractive there comes the initial recognition: unless you are an exceptionally wealthy male, you will either remain single or develop a relationship with and eventually marry someone who is a similar level of attractiveness (or unattractiveness) as you. If you rank “2” (on a 10-point scale) on the attractiveness scale, you’re not going to get someone who ranks “8” or higher. You’ll probably marry another 2. Once you come to that realization, consider whether it is worth it. Unattractive persons have the same intimate needs as those who are more attractive, they can snuggle just as good, they can kiss just as well, they’re quite able to enjoy sexual relationships like others, and history is full of physically unattractive people who have been enormously successful in just about every walk of life. Often the marriage between people who thought it might never happen is even more intense and vivid than for people for whom it will obviously happen. So it takes that initial shift of perspective—the realization that you will probably marry someone of relatively equal attractiveness—to get the process started. Once this has taken place you can understand and apply principles of this book just like anyone else.
If there is something that can be done to enhance your attractiveness, go ahead and do it. Work toward an ideal weight, take part in appropriate exercise, get the books out on how to enhance appearance by considering facial shape, color and other factors, consider the possibility of plastic surgery if there are features that can be modified to improve attractiveness. Take the active stance to look honestly at yourself and “seek first to be the right person before you seek the right person.” Then accepting the reality of where you are on the attractiveness scale, go out and meet people.
Paralysis and disablement. Let us consider now another very challenging condition—paralysis. The two classic types of paralysis include paraplegia (loss of the use of lower limbs) and quadriplegia (loss of use of both lower and upper limbs). There are some famous cases of quadriplegics who have married: Joni Erickson Tada became paralyzed in her late teens due to a swimming accident but refused to be defeated by the tragedy. She has gone on to a career that has included pencil drawings (of incredible sensitivity and beauty), singing, recording, writing and has appeared on stage with some very famous individuals such as Billy Graham and James Dobson. Joni married Ken Tada and describes the experience in her book Joni: An Unforgettable Story. She is straightforward in describing some of the massive challenges of her life as a quadriplegic, but, has a successful marriage and certainly has touched the lives of millions for good. Another famous example is the world-class skier Jill Kinmont. She became paralyzed in a skiing accident, did eventually marry, and has lived a very successful career as a teacher and artist. Both Joni’s and Jill’s stories have been produced on film; Kinmont’s story (available in most video stores) is called The Other Side of the Mountain, Parts I and II.12-26 Joni’s film is named, appropriately enough, Joni, and is currently available on Amazon.com
Other examples of people who suffer tremendous physical challenges include Steven Hocking the brilliant physicist who experts say rank with Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein on a scale of brilliance. A more personal one is a professor at Pacific Union College in California (where I received my B.A.) named Walter Utt. Utt was hemophiliac and severely crippled, and yet is considered one of the greatest professors that PUC has ever experienced over its 125 years of existence. Dr. Utt was my professor in several classes and I certainly agree with that perception. Both Hocking and Utt, despite severe handicaps, were successfully married.
We extend briefly to other types of personal challenges. I recall attending the 2001 World Championships of Track and Field in Edmonton, and thrilled along with the other 40,000 present as I watched the amputee race in which an Australian won the 200 meters (missing one leg) in a sizzling time of 23.2. I have coached track many years but had only one high school athlete who, with two legs, was ever able to run that fast! The gentleman was wearing a prosthetic, of course, but it is evidence that severe physical challenges do not mean that one must roll over and die. It takes the active choice to make the most possible out of life.
6e. The choice to never marry
The choice to never marry is made by many for a variety of reasons. Roman Catholic priests, monks, and nuns commit to “chastity” as a part of their vows. A wide variety of people, for reasons other than religious, have also chosen to remain single. The thrust of this section acknowledges the topic of this section: “The fear that no one is there.” We will continue our discussion from the perspective of individuals who want(ed) to marry but have finally decided for whatever reasons it will not happen. The reasons for making this choice are as varied as the people who make it. In almost all instances there are people in more severe circumstances who have married—take Steven Hocking as an example. But we don’t judge the reasons for the choice, but consider how to respond positively to it.
Make the firm choice. The answer parallels many other human phenomena in that the choice must first be made firmly and definitively before an alternative course can be fully embraced. If the person is whining, moaning, wishing and hoping that the right one may come along, they condemn themselves to a lifetime of torment—until, at least, they make the choice. At one level this is not particularly different from the choice that a married person makes. Because they are married they have made vows to “forsake all others”. Thus part of a happy marriage includes a commitment that does not include alternative options. In good marriages the reality that you are married to and committed to exactly one person eventually translates into an almost automatic non-response to an attractive opposite sexed person—in terms of a relationship between you and that person. The healthy response I heard from one married person when they encounter someone really attractive is, “Hmm, nice! I wonder who might be a good match for her.” I belabor the point a bit because the firm choice represents a critical and important component of positive resolution of the choice to not marry.
Create an alternative focus. The next requirement is to move away from disappointment to making choices that shift your focus. This is similar to the choice of the overly sexually enthusiastic: choose to read (and eventually develop pleasure in) James Harriot rather than sizzling romance novels; to read Newsweek rather than Playboy; to watch great classic movies rather than the R and X-rated varieties, to go skiing rather than to the nude beach. The activities that work to diminish sexual desire by a shift of focus, is similar to the shift required by the person who wished they could but have decided that they will not marry. Develop a keen alternative focus that fascinates, inspires, and motivates you. Research has indicated a variety of healthy styles of living for those who are single. 12-27
- Professional: focus on professional growth and become the best teacher, researcher, musician, chemist, etc. as you are able to be.
- Social: develop the wide variety of friendships and social activities associated with those friendships
- Individualistic: the focus here is typically on self-growth and development of personal qualities. Such people may be content with activities that do not necessarily require a great deal of human interaction such as art or music.
- Activist: these are people who center their lives around a cause focused on improving their world or society.
- Supportive: The focus is on others and nurturing or helping others in need—Mother Theresa provides a good example.
Learn to fulfill needs provided by marriage in other ways. The entire book addresses the many factors associated with good marriage. The confidant relationship can be developed to fulfill the need for an emotionally intimate other. The physical contact can be provided through a number of additional routes. Go to the top of this prescript and re-read about how to deal with the need for physical contact and social and emotional loneliness. A sexual outlet may provide a challenge. Go to the next and final section of this prescript on sexual urgency for some possible options. The idea of working synergistically with another can be done as effectively out of marriage as in marriage-—indeed it is the rare marriage that is truly synergistic. The need for family can be nurtured in many close-knit groups provided by the church or a variety of other organizations.
Live actively, not passively. Depression, loneliness, bitterness, and frustration flourish when a person sits and stews. Happiness is largely a matter of choice. Success can occur only for the person who makes the choice to implement some of the procedures described above and creates meaning despite personal challenges.
Prior to launching into this topic what follows is written by a man (Darren) and is designed primarily for men. There will be portions of it that are equally valid for men or women but I do not regard myself as an expert in women’s sexuality and how to fulfill a woman’s sexual needs in the absence of a partner. As all prescripts, the content is never complete. We will undoubtedly eventually contribute to this section something specifically designed for women.
The answer about what to do with intense sexual desire is deeply rooted in cognitions, emotions, physiology, and the values of the individuals involved. We first strip the issue of values and take a simple clinical look at what sexual desire is and how it is relieved. Sexual desire is an instinctual hunger that is stimulated by 1) external stimuli (such as the presence of a sexually attractive other), 2) internal emotions (emotional conditioning may heighten desire) and 3) internal physiological need (sexual tension demanding satisfaction). The removal of any or all of these factors tends to diminish or eliminate desire. If we have intense sexual desire and we feel that overt expression of that desire with another is not in our (or in their) best interests, then an understanding of each component might be helpful. Let’s look at each of the three briefly:
1) Issue: The presence of sexually attractive stimuli; Solution: Change the focus or the activities
The presence of a sexually attractive person (and what is sexually attractive differs from person to person and culture to culture) will heighten desire. This desire may be associated with real interaction with actual people, or in a vicarious form by reading romantic novels or viewing sexually provocative material in the myriads of available forms. So, one avenue for reduction of sexual desire is to avoid such stimuli. We’re not dealing with values here, just avenues for reduction of sexual tension. Read A Reporter’s Life by Walter Cronkite rather than Lady Chaterly’s Lover; try Popular Mechanics rather than Playboy; Watch Casablancarather than Basic Instinct; go to Alberta’s World-class skiing venues rather than Brazil’s nude beaches. Simplistic? Really not. Yes, there are some people with excessive sexual desire (or who are sexually addicted) who need extensive therapy, but the suggestions listed above represent sublimation at its best. Develop a passion for something that has no sexual overtones—a simple choice of activities. Takes movies, for instance. X-rated films and R-rated films with significant nudity or sexual content make billions in our society. If you find yourself on a diet of such material, try some of the classic movies. Leonard Maltin, in his own personal list of the 100 greatest films of all time, finds 70 of them happening prior to 1960—when nudity or overt sexual content on film was extremely rare. Notice the lists of the greatest actors of all time: #1 Humphrey Bogart, #2 Katharine Hepburn, #3 Jimmy Stewart, #4 Cary Grant, #5 Clark Gable, #6 Bette Davis, #7 John Wayne, #8 Gary Cooper, #9 Gregory Peck, #10 Fred Astair, are all primarily from that pre-1960 era. They are not classed “the Incomparables” for nothing. In short, whether books, movies, personal contacts, or activities; sexual desire may be reduced by developing interests or passions for things non-sexual.
2) Issue: Emotional factors encourage sexual focus; Solution: Change the conditioning
Emotional factors associated with sexual desire have been developed in each individual by cognitions and activities during the course of their lifetime. There are also dramatic individual differences associated with the strength of the sexual drive. There may be two people brought up in identical environments in which one has an almost overwhelming urgency toward sexual activity and the other has very little. We deal with differences of physiological desire in the next paragraph, but one’s emotional involvement (for many, obsession) with sexuality is due to a lifetime of a choice of environment or choice of activities that has encouraged the emotional preoccupation. The answer is to change the conditioning. How do you change conditioning? A starting point is suggested in the previous paragraph. Start by developing interests in things not associated with sexuality. As you spend increasing amounts of time with fascinating non-sexual pursuits and diminishing amounts of time in sexually related activities, the conditioning will slowly change. The key word here is “slowly.” Don’t expect quick results. The shift will be gradual, typically taking a number of years. With the passage of time and this alternative focus you will find your thoughts naturally drifting toward hitting that double high F on the trombone, perfecting the Rachmaninov 3rd Piano concerto for your next performance, shaving 30 seconds off your 10K time, finding that rare coin or stamp, adding The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance to your classic movie collection, building to wealth through multiple sources of income, raising successful children, hosting a successful guess-whose-coming-to-dinner event rather than . . . now what was it we were talking about?
3) Issue: Physiological Sexual Tension; Solution: Change of Physiology.
Physiological sexual tension is reduced by sexual activity. In a statement that has been chuckled at for 2000 years, the apostle Paul said “It is better to marry than to burn.” The text is not really that ridiculous—all commentators acknowledge that the Greek suggests that “burn” refers to burn with passion, not burn in Hell. Paul is simply stating that providing oneself with a valid sexual outlet is better than living in sexual frustration. The change of physiology comes typically by sexual orgasm. This can occur by having sex with another or by masturbation in its variety of forms. Here we move into the world of both morals and practicality. There are numerous reasons why sexual promiscuity is rarely a valid answer. First there’s the potential for STDs. Then, there are the emotional consequences. In a recent study dealing with recovery from divorce it was found that non-sexual physical closeness was one of the greatest predictors of recovery whereas sexual involvement was found to be one of the most destructive.
As to masturbation, the medical world simply identifies it as an acceptable and common form of sexual release when a sexual partner is not available. Statistics suggest that 95% of North American men have masturbated at one time or another and 89% of women. The psychological community says that the only negative consequences of masturbation are based on the whether it develops feelings of guilt or shame in the individual. But now we invade the realm of moral and personal standards. For Christians who have been preached to that masturbation is wrong or evil, it is interesting to note that, although the Bible covers just about every activity imaginable, the topic of masturbation is never mentioned. For those who immediately come up with the obscure Old Testament character Onan, wrong again. Onan’s death was related to direct violation of the Hebrew standard, not masturbation. A recent study found that married women who masturbated had more satisfying sex lives with their husbands than those who did not. The article suggested that such women are more aware of and sensitive to their own sexuality—a quality that translates well to heterosexual activity. There is no doubt that masturbation reduces sexual anxiety and helps to minimize the immediate discomfort associated with sexual tension. If you possess values that do not allow you to imagine, visualize, think sexual thoughts, or change your physiology, I don’t know of other options.
4) Set boundaries
This final area has been dealt with in some detail in the final prescript of this chapter. The greatest torment in this area occurs when a person has no boundaries and seeks in a valueless, floating society to fulfill sexual need somehow. What boundaries are set is an individual matter and should in some way reflect your value system. The boundaries should probably reflect the three components associated with sexual arousal, that is, changing the programming (unless it is currently satisfactory), changing the conditioning, and changing the physiology. Click on the next prescript for a more complete discussion of the importance of boundries
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