Everything You Know About Love and Sex Is Wrongby Pepper Schwartz
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From the media to our mothers, others have taught us certain rules about intimacy and love. But what if these rules are wrong? Or even harmful? Sociologist and relationship expert Pepper Schwartz questions these assumptions, challenges our values, and breaks rules. She offers fresh alternatives and solutions that fit our needs as individualsand shows that by letting go of traditional rules that don't suit us, we can achieve complete satisfaction in our intimate lives.
According to Pepper Schwartz, Ph.D., we need to pitch our syrupy ideals of wedded bliss. The love stories we've drunk are causing cultural indigestion, she says; we can't accept relationships as they are because we're too busy longing for impossible ecstasies. "Life is tough enough," Schwartz complains. "We need to get real, know what relationships really require, and find the solution that is fitted to who we are."
In Everything You Know About Sex and Love Is Wrong, a frank guidebook for the maritally challenged, Schwartz offers an open-minded reassessment of 25 relationship myths that can wreck your contentment. She challenges our most popular fantasies such as: "Your lover should be your best friend," "You will know when you've met the one," and "You should be similar to your partner." Schwartz treats each myth seriously, but explains that real love affairs don't need to follow the rules of a paperback romance. Instead, we can each design our own happiness. "Think broadly and honestly about the things that make a life worth living with someone, and question some of the traditional rules," suggests Schwartz. And who knows? "You may have an unexpected romance that could turn out to be just right for you!"
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Myth: Your lover should be your best friend
Okay, I know this is the mantra of every modern textbook and counselor, and I admit I've recommended it myself. But the goal of "best friendship" really isn't for everyone. Of course, the fantasy is almost irresistible. Men think of that best buddy they grew up with, who was their teammate, or who explored the neighborhood with them. Women think about their treasured schoolmate-and those times of sharing deepest secrets or the nights spent crying over dates gone wrong. We have a special place in our hearts for those pure moments with a best friend that few other relationships have equaled. We know a romantic partnership is different, yet many of us long to duplicate the intimacy and camaraderie of friendship in love and marriage.
But as sweet as friendship is, most people do not select a mate the same way they select a friend. We look for additional characteristics such as economic stability, erotic attraction, parenting potential, and so on. Each of us has our own list of absolute necessities, but the truth is, when the whole list is put together, it is hard to find someone who has everything we need, and who is also our "soul mate." But, even if we are lucky enough to find that soul mate, there are good reasons to treat that relationship differently than a best friendship. I believe that if we try to make our love relationship a direct image of platonic friendship, we may defeat the success of a long-term relationship. A great friendship is a great gift, but we need to consider these problems:
Looking for a soul-mate friendship is boundto make most of us miserable because friendship just can't work in marriage the same way it does with platonic friends
Best friendship is often maintained by well-kept boundaries-one of which is sexual. And that is an important boundary because sex changes things. It creates jealousies, insecurities, desires-complicated emotions we don't have to feel with our platonic friendships. But sex is not the only boundary that differentiates love from friendship. Our best friends generally don't lose their tempers with us the way our spouses or lovers do: the passions aren't as hot, the hopes as high, the identification as close, the futures as linked. Our friend can stand back and be nonjudgmental or just hold our hand because his/her life isn't compromised or affected the way our partner's is. It's a safer relationship, and that's why so much love and support and steadfastness can be given.
And that's why it's damn near impossible to re-create that relationship in romantic relationships and why it's likely that sooner or later, partners seeking that kind of total support, exchange, and revelation (without negative consequences) will be disappointed. Is that fair? To ruin a perfectly good love affair or marriage because it isn't best friendship-to ruin something not for what it is, but for what it isn't?
This is especially unfair when we are talking about a marriage or cohabitation of over ten years. People change. And while you may have built up a good parenting partnership, trust, loyalty, and common interests, life may take you away from each other while you fulfill your duties of parent or worker. Many couples, maybe even most couples, find they are not as "close" as they used to be-but that doesn't mean they are unhappy with their family or each other. However, if they think they should be unhappy because they are no longer as intimate, they can make themselves unhappy. Is this really in any of our best interests? I don't think so.
It is particularly hard for women to get the type of best friendship that they idealize, and having this as a standard is rigging the relationship for disaster
Men and women have very different ideas of what being a best friend means. Be careful of these expectations. Most men grow up with a more modest definition of best friendship than women do. Friends are guys they do stuff with. There might be a few moments of talking about their deepest feelings, but the level of given, or expected, deepest feelings is pretty superficial and infrequent in terms of the way women define intimacy. On the other hand, women generally think that best friendship means sharing each other's deepest longings, mistakes, fears, desires, history-the more revealed, the better the friendship. They've learned this over years of having a best friend and intimate one-on-one times. A pioneering study by Janet Lever found that while boys are more likely to build friendships during team sports, girls do it over the exchange of secrets and feelings.
No wonder more men than women say that their wife is their best friend. Women have a higher standard-and most men haven't learned it. Women expect more conversation and more details and analysis about people. Men often take an overall estimation, aren't interested in as many details about people, and tend to be less active or adept at coding cues, analyzing feelings, noticing subtext. Women want their friend to be concerned about them all the time-and intuit when things aren't going well. Men don't seem to develop that kind of antennae. Women want a kind of intimacy most men simply haven't practiced-hence a great dependence on female friends as real best friends.
In fact, an unscientific marketing poll gave me some interesting data on this. About a decade or so ago, a market research firm asked couples with whom they'd like to be stuck on an island. Most husbands named their wives. But most wives named...Mel Gibson. Or, when they got serious, or more practical, their best girlfriend. While this little question was asked, and answered, in fun, there was an undeniably strong conclusion to be drawn that couldn't be ignored: Men have best friendships with women who do not think they are getting as good as they are giving. And a lot of them are mad because they think, theoretically, at least, that the guy they fell in love with should be more emotionally fulfilling than he is. He should be more capable of being a best friend.
Platonic best friends, by definition, don't have to sustain sexual mystery and chemistry. So what happens to a romance that has a sibling quality to it?
When I studied one hundred couples who had egalitarian marriages, many of whom did report a very deep and close friendship together, it struck me that there was an unexpected casualty-and that was passion. Most of these couples were willing to accept this loss: The benefits they gained by creating a fair and equal marriage were huge. They had a partnership in parenting, economic contribution, and household maintenance. But this very closeness and intimate friendship created a relationship that took away one of the reasons for sex-and one of the ingredients of passionate sex: the desire to bridge the gap of intimacy between partners, the desire to reduce or extinguish distance and hierarchy. Sex, as a repairer of hurt feelings, or a renegotiator of power, more or less disappeared from these relationships. Couples could solve these issues through conversation and negotiation; they didn't need to use sex as their main (or only) way of reestablishing peace and trust. Without needing intercourse as the only theater for intimacy, sex became less necessary. In some relationships, sex more or less disappeared entirely. Some couples talked about having an almost sibling-like relationship-and even feeling a pale resemblance to the incest taboos that siblings might encounter. How can I have sex with a member of my family? Or more commonly, how can I have hot sex with my best friend? This loss of sexual responsiveness did not affect all peer couples-but it did affect quite a few, and is certainly something to consider.
Can most of us really withstand the insight and exposure that happens in an extremely intense friendship on a day-to-day basis?
There really can be such a thing as too much intimacy. One researcher calls it "fusion." Studies of lesbian couples, who tend to value friendship a great deal, show that they spend so much time together, become so similar, and have so much intimacy that sometimes one or both partners feels engulfed. The claustrophobic partner feels as though she has no separate identity-and she may leave the relationship because she feels she has to reclaim herself. While this is less likely in heterosexual relationships-there are simply too many differences between men and women for this kind of joint identity to occur-it could, and does, happen. There can be such a thing as too much intimacy; whether it is too much joint time or too much stripping away of private thoughts, some people feel they need to get away. Imagine really living with someone who knew everything, from whom you could conceal nothing, and with whom you were intertwined. Be honest with yourself. Would that really be comfortable? And be honest about something else: Have you ever really wanted intense intimacy-or has there always been some reason you wanted some distance and freedom? Just think about it. You don't have to buy the assumption of a partner who is a "best" friend if you don't want to. A standard friendship composed of trust, respect, collaboration, and mutual interests could well be not only good enough but also the best possible answer for you. Looking for a soul mate-baring all regularly-could be more exhausting than fulfilling.
These are not small issues-and they require a good deal of "out of the box" thinking and personal honesty in order to come up with a customized solution. All I am asking you to do is, before you try to duplicate your best friendships, look closely at yourself, your habits, and your prospects before you make any hard-and-fast rules about what your long-term relationship should be. There really are a lot of choices, and they don't have to be somebody else's. Some couples instinctively know, or learn from experience, that they work best together if they maintain some emotional privacy.
For example, Karla, twenty-nine, and Paul, thirty-two, consider themselves partners and lovers, but they don't pal around with each other and don't try to be each other's closest confidant. They have both been in earlier marriages that self-destructed pretty quickly. Each felt their previous relationship was the victim of too much integration and too many expectations. Now, in their second marriage, they are very happy asking less of each other. Karla said, "I expected Al (her first husband) to understand me, my moods, my needs totally. He didn't, of course, and then I thought he was insensitive, unloving. Things got bad pretty quickly because I felt like he wasn't my soul mate. I also thought that the fact that he would take things to his buddies and not me was a real insult to our relationship. And when I would tell things to my girlfriends and not him, I felt that we weren't really meant for each other. We got more and more apart, and finally we both gave up on the marriage. Now that I look back on it, I think I asked too much from him-and I made both of us miserable."
Paul had been on the other side of that same problem. His first wife wanted so much from him that he felt claustrophobic. "She would not give me any privacy. She wanted to do all our activities together. I stopped playing golf with my friends and I missed that, but I thought when you were married you had to do everything together. But it was more than that. She always wanted to know what I was thinking. And when I wasn't thinking anything, she was hurt because she thought I was holding out on her. Finally, I was holding out on her. I started avoiding her. I really didn't want all that closeness, and I thought marriage had to include all of that. So then I thought I was destined to be single."
Both Paul and Karla had started with assumptions about marriage. Karla thought that a good marriage required knowing everything about each other, sharing everything, and always being on the same wavelength. When Karla and Al's talks didn't measure up to what she expected from her same-sex friends, she felt the relationship had a terrible problem and her resentment (and his) affected how they felt about each other. Paul experienced it from the other side. He wanted some privacy, some thoughts of his own, and he didn't want to feel as if their love affair depended on deep personal revelations all the time. Also he liked what he called "guy time."
By the time Karla's marriage broke up, she was tired of always being emotionally needy. While she was single she put together a very independent life, put her friends front and center, and worked hard to make a success of herself selling residential real estate. When she was fixed up with Paul by friends they had in common, she wasn't looking for the same kind of relationship she had had before. She liked his independence, his privacy, and she wanted her own. The fact that Paul had a real life of his own without her attracted her. She says, "I had learned to breathe on my own and I didn't want to give that up."
They dated casually at first, and she didn't take him too seriously. They were so different. He was a jock; she wasn't. He was an avid poker player; she liked to relax by reading or going to plays. But as she said, "We had a connection, and I listened to that. We were playful, physically wonderful together, and I respected our differences-in fact, they kept me interested. I felt together, but also free. I liked the space. I liked it a lot better than when I thought you had to be joined with your husband at the hip." Paul was pleased with the way things were going, too. "I'm a guy's guy kind of guy," he said. "I think it's okay to golf with Karla, but that doesn't replace my guys' weekends when we are betting on holes and we stay up late playing poker, smoking cigars, talking deals. I like that and I don't think it says anything about how I feel about Karla to want to do those kinds of things with the guys. She understands that. She gives me the time I need for myself. You know on the Meyers-Briggs test where it shows the kind of person who needs to be alone to collect his thoughts? I'm that person. She understands, and I appreciate that about her."
What both Karla and Paul learned was a way to have a lot of close friendships that supported their romance and reduced the pressure on them to be everything and do everything with each other. As Karla put it, "There are some things and ways that I feel that my friends are going to understand that Paul is either not going to appreciate or might even be disturbed by. I think it works better to keep those feelings elsewhere-and I don't begrudge that anymore."
For his part, Paul loves the freedom, the ability to be intimate some but not all of the time, and to have activities that he likes to do with his buddies that are not seen by his wife as a rejection of his marriage. Both Karla and Paul agree with her assessment of their relationship: "Of course we are close friends. But I would say that rather than Paul being my only best friend, he is one of my best friends. There are things he doesn't share with me, and vice versa. This may sound cold to some people, but I like the privacy, difference, and mystery."
So how do you have a happy marriage if you give up on best friendship?
As you can see, it's possible to consider your mate as your best friend, but there are a few things to keep in mind. First, know yourself. If you are the kind of person who needs a lot of personal privacy, who doesn't like to create a hermetically sealed primary relationship, who does need time to be with your friends and at your job, and who has no intention of exposing the nooks and crannies of your mind-make sure you are honest with yourself about that-don't pick someone whose vision of love is to permeate each other's soul.
Second, when you do fall in love, enjoy it-but don't be misled by it. You can enjoy that heady free fall into love and adoration and total revelation that occurs when a relationship starts; just don't expect it to last, or you will make yourself miserable and vulnerable. When we are newly in love, we have daily conversations that are intimate and revealing. We feel connected and we think we will never feel alone again. But this kind of intimacy is hard, perhaps impossible, for most couples to maintain. When it dissipates, as it usually does, it shouldn't be seen as a diminution of compatibility, sensitivity, or love. We deserve friendship, but actively being "best friends" may be expecting too much.
We can't help hoping that those first years of intimacy and friendship will stay fast and that our deep friendship with our partner will continue undiminished. In fact, more than that, we hope our friendship will not only stay undiminished, but will grow. But that's a little like hoping to strike gold in California. It can be done-there are many true stories about people who have done it. However, there are a lot more people who have to live with the fact that they have not discovered gold-and they never will. Should they feel bad about that their whole life? Should they keep prospecting because that's the only thing in life that makes life worthwhile? Or are there a lot of other ways to have a rich and happy existence?
Third, remember that you don't need a best friendship to have a great partnership. You can have fair play, a family you both enjoy, and a great lifestyle without being inside each other's head or experiencing the world together in the same terms. You can have good communication and fun together. All that seems ambitious, yet possible. Just don't expect the level of psychic unveiling that most female best friends expect-and you can be happy with what you have.
I cannot tell you how many marriages I have known, interviews I have conducted, where one or both partners pour their heart out to me, bemoaning the fact that their partner is not their best friend. I often wonder: If they spent as much time with their best friend as they did with their partner, would their best friend still be their best friend?
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Meet the Author
Pepper Schwartz, Ph.D., is a professor of sociology at the University of Washington and author or coauthor of a number of books, including Finding Your Perfect Match and The Great Sex Weekend. The past president of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality and the Pacific Sociological Society, she is the winner of the American Sociological Association’s prize for Public Understanding of Sociology.
Dr. Schwartz has appeared on numerous television and radio shows including multiple appearances on Today, Oprah, and Dr. Phil. A former columnist for Glamour and American Baby, she is currently the relationship expert for PerfectMatch.com, for which she created the Duet® Total Compatibility System. She also writes a column for Seattle Metropolitan Monthly.
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Unlike many people may think, this was not geared towards only women. The author addresses men and women in this book. She includes many case studies and other research. She uses real life scenarios that many people can relate to. The book is well written and organized. If you really don't like one of the myths you could always skip it and not miss a beat. It's a pretty quick read and well worth the time. Would definately recommend it for the not so confident female as well as the overly confident male.