I’ve been thinking about this quote all day. It’s from Sex and the City – the iconic series about women, sex and friendship that many of us loved during the 90s. The quote is from Samantha Jones when she realises she has sacrificed her goals and independence for the man she loves. She has upended her life to help him follow his dream so he can be a success. With her talent and skills, she has taken him from unknown to superstar. But one day, she realises she can’t do it anymore. Although she loves him, she loves herself more.
Somewhere along the way, she willingly chose to lose herself in help him create his dreams. So she leaves and returns to the life that fills her up rather than living a life that ensures his needs are met, rather than her own.
Many years ago, while I was still married, my then-husband’s interests were increasingly divergent from my own. He wanted to stay home, watch the football several nights a week and renovate our house. Increasingly, I wanted to socialise, travel and expand my world. As time went by, and he refused to join me, I chose to go out without him. A female family member told me I should stay at home.
“Even though he won’t go out at all, I should stay home with him because that’s what he wants?” I asked her.
“Yes,” she said.
I left my marriage a year or two later. Clearly, I felt differently to her.
A lot of years have passed since then but I’ve noticed a pattern when it comes to women and the men they love.
I’ve heard women say things like, “Oh, he doesn’t like me to do things without him, so I don’t [insert her dream or passion here]” or, “I just know that he has all this potential so I’m going to help him [insert his dream].”
These are good women who love their men. But I wonder if they realise what they are doing to themselves and their relationships when they shelve their own dreams and desires so they can help their partners achieve theirs.
In partnerships, there are absolutely swings and roundabouts. As we progress through our lives, there will be times when one partner needs more support to help them achieve and reach for their goals. But too often it seems like the woman does a lot more heavy lifting in this department than the man. And we do it voluntarily because that’s what a good wife/girlfriend/partner does. Therein lies the challenge.
In this modern age, there is no reason for women to believe they must put their needs second to their male partner. There is no reason why men shouldn’t do 50 percent of the housework and child-rearing when their female partners also work full-time. But the statistics tell us that women are consistently taking the heavier load.
Mothers still frequently do more for their sons than their daughters. I’ve heard friends with sons and daughters talk about how much more difficult it is for boys than girls. Girls must fend for themselves more because they’re more capable while the mothers are just that bit more protective of their sons. The daughters see this behaviour and carry it forward into their intimate relationships later on.
Culturally, we’re still shown messages every day that women should make more allowances for their men. Female celebrities forgive their male partners for all sorts of indiscretions (including abuse) while their men and their careers still flourish. Just take a look at some of the sportsmen and musicians of the world for examples where women and the man’s adoring fans forgive all kinds of appalling behaviour. Mind you, a woman is unlikely to get away with similar antics without being called a myriad of names and probably losing her income.
The common theme parroted by women throughout all of these situations, is love. Too often it’s the narrative of unconditional love. “You must love unconditionally,” we’re told. But I think women have misinterpreted this message.
Telling a woman she should stay home all the time and shrink her world because that’s what her husband wants, is not love.
Prioritising his dreams and desires over yours, is not love.
Continuing to pick up more of the home and child-rearing tasks, is not love.
Ensuring sons are treated with more care than our daughters, is not love.
Making allowances for disrespectful and sometimes abusive behaviour, is not love.
We must love fiercely – we must set boundaries and say no, this is not okay. We must love ourselves fiercely and refuse to enable poor masculine behaviour. We must only only accept equality because that is what we deserve.
We must demand respect, not beg for it.
We must love fiercely with boundaries and accept nothing less.
If we learn to do this effectively, we will empower ourselves as women and also empower our men, instead of demeaning ourselves and emasculating them.
Love fiercely. And know you can love them but you need to love yourself more.
Unconditional love doesn’t mean giving away your power. We need to stop believing it does.
I’ve been thinking about love today. This is unsurprising because I’ve been working on my next play and of course, like most of my writing, it is about love and all that goes with it – the good, the bad and the ugly.
The question of whole-heartededly showing up for love in a partnership is coming up and I wonder if many people still believe in that concept.
I see so many relationships that are not based on whole-hearted love. Instead they rely on obligation, financial security, fear of being alone, convenience, public image and even that old deluded adage about staying together for the children’s sake. Why people are still using that last excuse is beyond me – isn’t it abundantly clear that when people stay together for the wrong reasons they sentence their children to an adulthood where they will repeat and then try to break those negative relationship habits modelled by their parents?
But I digress. Back to whole-hearted love.
Whole-hearted love to me, means showing up openly and vulnerably. It means coming together with one other person and connecting in a way that is sacred to you both.
My play explores this concept of whole-hearted love and more controversially, love in open relationships. I have to say, when it comes to whole-hearted love, I find the open and polyamorous dynamic problematic.
To be clear, have sex with whoever you want, with however many people you want and of whatever gender you desire. As long as it’s between two consenting adults – who cares. It is certainly none of my business or anyone else’s for that matter.
But it’s the whole-hearted piece that plays on my mind.
Whole-heartedly loving someone else, to me at least, means showing up for one person and proudly too. It’s not about giving a bit here then giving a bit over there and then returning back here. That isn’t whole-hearted love.
And before you say, but it’s just sex and only a physical act, I have to say no – that’s not all it is.
You can’t get any closer to someone energetically than when you have sex – there is a merging of your energetic fields and when you detach, part of that other person’s energy stays on you. Then you take it with you when you return to your other lover. Then you end up with someone else’s energy in your bed with both of you.
Is that whole-hearted love – to carry energy from one to the next and contaminate the sacred space between you?
I can’t believe that it is.
This brings me to my next question – do we not desire whole-hearted love anymore? Is it considered a mute point in society? Is it redundant and perhaps unneeded? Is it old-fashioned?
I can hear that song playing in my head by Iva Davies when he sings,
“I don’t know where to be begin Don’t want to hear it again I don’t believe anymore This is all I know I know I’ve heard it before.”
Have we simply stopped believing that whole-hearted love is possible?
Now, I’m not saying I believe whole-hearted love is easily found or easily kept. Sometimes it arrives for a limited period of time then disappears as quickly as it came. I’ve lived long enough in the world to understand that whole-hearted love doesn’t guarantee longevity.
But I do believe it demands through its very nature, exclusivity.
Part of me wonders if some people have given up on it altogether because they don’t believe they deserve it in the first place. If you don’t believe you deserve something then why would you expect it? Certainly, from my own personal observations and conversations, it’s clear that some people agree to polyamorous partnerships because their partner convinces them it is necessary for their relationship to survive. So one gives in to the other because they fear losing them altogether.
I even read an horrendous article recently that gave instructions on how to convince your “unwilling partner” to change their mind – it read like a narcissist’s handbook by encouraging the person to persistently undermine their unwilling partner’s values and beliefs until they finally gave in. I found this horrifying and deeply disturbing.
Now I’m definitely not suggesting this is how all people approach polyamory with their partners. But I have noticed people who give in or are pressured to be in these types of relationships because they fear losing their partners are devastated as a result. The impacts on their self-esteem, feelings of self-worth and being deserving of love can be emotionally catastrophic.
Sex is an amazing and wonderful thing. It can be liberating, fun, stress-relieving and great exercise. It can also be a divinely intimate and sacred act between two people who are showing up whole-heartedly for each other and that connection.
I can’t help but feel sex in a polyamorous dynamic, can’t co-exist easily or at all with whole-hearted love.
Last year I found myself discussing my sexual history with a man I really liked. Actually, a more accurate description would be I found myself talking about my sexual history completely by accident and then desperately tried to dig myself out of a bottomless pit while feeling like a completely foolish woman who should’ve known better than to get herself into that situation in the first place.
Let me go back to the beginning. This man (let’s call him Nate) and I were talking about my book and I was sharing my mother’s reaction to reading a recent draft. You see, my Mum has been a strong supporter of my writing journey and I’d finally decided my manuscript was ready for her eyes.
You can read my full description of her response here.
Anyway, Nate was always interested in my writing so I began telling him about her reaction. Basically Mum said, ‘I thought it was very well written but I don’t think I really want to read about all the men you’ve had sex with.’
It was as these words tripped off my tongue that I realised I’d put myself into a sticky corner by even beginning the conversation with a man I liked. And then I made it worse. My following comments were along the lines of, ‘I explained to her that I haven’t slept with all the men in there and that’s why it’s called The Men I’ve Almost Dated…not that there’s been that many anyway. Not that it would matter if there was…’
I also realised that I’d begun telling a man I liked (who I hadn’t even dated yet) about my sexual history. I believe the following words travelled through my brain at this point, ‘Oh fuck. This is not good.’
My words continued to vomit from my mouth as I dug a hole further into the ground. You see I’m a feminist and firmly believe my body is mine to do with what I wish. I’m not a prude about sex and I believe you should have as much or as little as you want whether you are male or female. I don’t believe in antiquated notions of one night stands making you a slut or that I should ‘keep myself nice’ and wait for the right man. I’m too old, too independent and far too open about who I am to buy into any of that stuff.
Yet there I was, a grown-up of 42 years, suddenly stumbling over my words like an embarrassed schoolgirl as all the limiting cultural conditioning that still permeates our society about women and their sexual choices arched over me like a tidal wave and threatened to engulf me.
Before I knew it I’d said, ‘…not that there’s been that many’ again at which point he turned to me and said calmly, ‘You’ve said that three times now.’
With his eyes fixed firmly on my mine I honestly wanted to flee the building.
‘Um, look, I can’t be having this conversation,’ I said. The unspoken words ‘with you’ hung in the air after I uttered this sentence. ‘Can we please talk about something else,’ I added (I daresay there was more than a hint of desperation in my tone at this point).
Nate studied my face for a moment with what can only be described as an inscrutable expression (something he does amazingly and annoying well; I swear he’d make a killing at poker) and then obligingly changed the subject.
When I thought about it later I was seriously disappointed in myself. There I was, with all my modern beliefs about sex and women’s sovereignty over their own bodies, and I jumped immediately into justifying my sexual history. It’s not as if I would ever have expected him to do that, or anyone for that matter.
So why did I take what was simply an amusing story about my mother’s reaction to my book and expand it into this awkward, lumpy ball of discomfort?
‘Well obviously, duh! I liked the guy so I didn’t want him to get the “wrong impression” of me,’ I thought. This was followed swiftly by a, ‘Hang on a second, when did I become a 1950’s version of myself and why on earth would I feel the need to apologise or justify my sexual history to anyone?’
The truth is I don’t think I’ve had the ‘sexual history’ talk with anyone I’ve dated. I’ve only ever had it with my former husband and, as he was my first sexual partner, you can appreciate it was a fairly short conversation.
However, I know that not everyone has my liberated views about sex. I’ve had conversations in social situations where a man has told me that his girlfriend had been a ‘good girl’ (i.e. not slept around a lot) while the complete reverse was true for him!
I’ve also had men tell me that a woman who would have a one-night-stand with them wouldn’t be a woman they’d marry. Yet those same men believe they themselves are eminently marriageable…even though they’d had one-night-stands.
The double standards of these men (and some women who agree with them) still pervade many parts of our society. So I guess in that moment of nervousness, in that conversation with Nate, I reverted to reflecting some of the restrictive and outdated attitudes still expressed by some people about women and sex. However, I think it also arose from a very genuine desire on my part to not have my history misinterpreted by someone in my present (not that it should’ve mattered anyway!).
Nate and I never did get around to discussing that conversation further. It was simply superseded by other topics and was never raised again.
I would love to know what he was thinking that day. I’m sure it must have been an interesting and perhaps entertaining sight to see someone who is usually so confident start to spin herself into a rather undignified and tongue-tied mess.
Perhaps I’ll never know what was going on in his head behind that inscrutable mask. But just for the record, I haven’t had sex with all the men I talk about in my book. Not that it matters anyway!
The Men I’ve Almost Dated is now on sale through online retailers. Find out more>
Yikes! After such a long period of time, I can hardly believe it.
What if people hate it? What if they love it? What if they don’t care? The thoughts scurry through my brain before I come back, for a moment, to a place of inner calm because it’s done now. It’s born. All I can do is tell people about it.
So here’s the summary. The Men I’ve Almost Dated is about my life in my 30s, the men I dated (or almost dated), sex, dubious decision-making, divorce and men behaving badly. It’s not a ‘how-to guide’ on getting it right when it comes to men and dating. However, it may be a ‘how-to guide’ on how to get it atrociously wrong. I’ll let you be the judge.
Over the coming days and weeks I’ll be sharing more about my book on this blog and my social media channels – so keep your eyes peeled. But for now, if you’d like to grab yourself a copy, head over to my webpage for all the details. You can buy the eBook version today and the print version will be available in coming weeks.
‘…Let’s talk about sex, baby Let’s talk about you and me Let’s talk about all the good things And the bad things that may be Let’s talk about sex Let’s talk about sex Let’s talk about sex Let’s talk about sex
Let’s talk about sex for now to the people at home or in the crowd It keeps coming up anyhow Don’t decoy, avoid, or make void the topic Cuz that ain’t gonna stop it Now we talk about sex on the radio and video shows Many will know anything goes Let’s tell it how it is, and how it could be How it was, and of course, how it should be…’ Let’s Talk About Sex, Salt ‘n’ Pepa.
Mum has always been very supportive of my writing. She’s the one in my family who asks how it’s going, wants to read my work and encourages me to follow my writing dream (even when the going gets tough).
Last year, I showed her a chapter from the latest draft of my book and she loved it. She said it made her feel emotional and she wanted to cry a little. This was high praise coming from Mum.
Fast forward a year and that draft has morphed and changed into a far more refined version. And Mum’s been supportive the whole time. ‘When do I get to read your book?’ has been her regular refrain followed by, ‘Is it finished yet?’
About a month ago I was finally able to say, ‘Yes, it’s ready enough for you to see it. I’ll email to you.’ Would she like it or hate it, I didn’t know. But it was time.
Four long days crept past with no word from Mum. Was my book complete crap?? My fears started to bubble a little. Surely all was fine. Maybe she was busy and hadn’t read it yet.
Finally, I rang her on another pretext and as the conversation drew to a close she said, ‘By the way, I read your book.’
‘Oh?’ I said. ‘What did you think?’
‘I thought it was very well written,’ she said. ‘But I don’t really think it’s for my generation. And, as your mother, I don’t really want to read about all the men you’ve had sex with.’
Oh. My. God.
‘Mum, you do realise I haven’t slept with all the men I mention in the book. That’s why it’s called The Men I’ve Almost Dated. And besides, even if I had, it wouldn’t actually be many by most people’s standards…for my age.’
‘Well, that’s not always very clear,’ she replied. ‘But I thought it was good and very well written,’ she added hastily.
Now, my Mum knew the subject matter of my book before she read it. Lord knows she’s been privy over the years to many of my ridiculous dating and male-related stories. And trust me, there really isn’t much graphic content in my book. But I think Mum was a little shocked and, as I now look through some of my stories, I guess I can understand why. My writing is pretty open and I tend to say it like it is. If you’re single and you’re dating (or not dating), the subject of sex is going to come up. It is 2015 after all.
But my Mum is 70 years old and from another generation; a generation that definitely wasn’t as open about things as we are today.
When I next saw Mum, she made a point of saying (again) how good she thought my book was and I know she is still really supportive, regardless of the content. But, as I plan its launch for later this year, I’m starting to wonder if I need to include some sort of age-related warning label like, ‘Contains some semi-shocking content and should only be read by people aged 18-60 years.’
Hopefully my second book (planned for early next year) will be a little less shocking for Mum and she’ll feel comfortable handing it out to her friends. For obvious reasons, I’m guessing it’s unlikely she’ll proudly distribute copies of The Men I’ve Almost Dated to her friends in the mostly 60+ age group at her weekly yoga class.