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The Sexual Education of a Beauty Queen
Relationship Secrets from the Trenches
By Taylor Marsh
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2014 Taylor Marsh
All rights reserved.
What Do You Want?
A New York Post article making the rounds and getting a fair amount of attention on the web had a titillating title: "More City Co-eds Turning to Sugar Daddies for School Support."
It caught my attention for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that the article and the website at the center of the report were talking about a subject I'd become an expert on back in the mid-'90s. The Post story may have appeared on January 15, 2013, but it jettisoned me back to another era, before social media took off, and when the web was just revving up.
Once upon a time, I was the Relationship Consultant — my actual title — for the nation's largest newsweekly, the LA Weekly, second only in circulation to the Village Voice. Dating, love and helping people find long-term relationships through personal ads was my job, and I loved it. The romance business through personal ads was wonderful fun and a booming business back in the '90s.
It was always a challenge, because the art of matchmaking through word combinations in ads, having morphed into the $3-4 billion online dating business today, according to the Economist, isn't easy. But when it works, it's magic. An online ad is just the beginning, because after the language, the logistics of dating gets complicated pretty quickly. Love is the part that hasn't changed so much, though it, too, has gotten more complicated. So I also helped women, and even men, navigate the minefields of dating and manifesting relationships in the age of hooking up and keeping your independence.
Back when AOL first started Digital City, I was the featured guest in "live chat" events that were advertised like this: "Learn how you can be your own matchmaker." That's exactly what I helped people do, and it's precisely what the online dating industry continues to do.
I also did "For Women Only" events, where we'd have dish-sessions about feminism, relationships and even flirting, highlighted by the best way to attract the right guy in an ad, with a followup of what you do once you've got him interested. Questionnaires helped me find out who the women were and what they wanted in a relationship, also asking them their greatest frustrations with men.
It was a long way from the original advice columnist "Dear Abby," aka Pauline Phillips, who got her start in 1956, putting relationship advice on the map. When I was giving advice, "Dear Abby" still wouldn't advise women and men to live together, even if cohabitation is now a modern-day reality. Phillips' twin sister was the advice columnist Ann Landers. The two sisters were so competitive at one point that they didn't speak to one another for five years.
"Dear Abby" got its start when Mrs. Phillips called the San Francisco Chronicle to confront the paper, telling an editor she could do better than the current columnist, whereupon they dared her to try. She did, and ended up with a syndicated column and more than a million readers. When she died in January 2013, the New York Times characterized her style like this: "If Damon Runyon and Groucho Marx had gone jointly into the advice business, their column would have read much like Dear Abby's. With her comic and flinty yet fundamentally sympathetic voice, Mrs. Phillips helped wrestle the advice column from its weepy Victorian past into a hard-nosed twentieth-century present."
The full name used for "Dear Abby" was Abigail van Buren, a composite of a name pulled from the Bible and Phillips' favorite president.
I took the name Taylor when interviewing prostitutes in Amsterdam, simply to separate my work from my personal life and to get some anonymity. It was also one of my favorite names for a woman, because it was gender neutral. Marsh was a lopped-off version of my given name, Michelle Marshall, which I added once I was at the LA Weekly, officially taking a writing pseudonym.
My guide as Relationship Consultant began with my instincts, but also the reading and research I'd already done on sex, dating and relationships, including interviews with people. The language of attraction turned out to be a natural for me.
Online ads remain a practical way to meet someone, though few clients look anything like the way they were represented on the big screen in This Means War, the Hollywood movie starring Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine and Tom Hardy. Cultural movies continually serve up weird scenarios that have no resemblance to reality, but are great fun to watch. One thing that one did get right is that online dating offers an opportunity to find someone when you're busy and want a way to screen people that can be effective. The difference is that before online dating, personal ads offered a degree of distance and worked a lot slower.
As Relationship Consultant, I also had a trademarked advice column titled "What Do You Want?" The first online writing I did at the LA Weekly debuted in 1996. This is also where my first political writing appeared, covering topics including feminism and dating, and RU486, known more commonly today as mifepristone, which allows a woman to end a pregnancy within seven weeks of conception. I also wrote on the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and took on Dr. Laura Schlessinger over her homophobic rants when she was attempting to blast onto TV. But the main topics of conversation between me and my readers were dating, relationships and personal ads.
There wasn't much interaction at first. Beyond my relationship column and my advice on placing a personal ad, I also received letters from readers that evolved into Q&A Dear Abby-style advice sessions. Back before email and social media, in the mid-1990s, everything between women and men placing and responding to ads was negotiated through voicemail accounts.
Some of my column titles included "Privacy, Public Figures and Reality," "Adultery and the Armed Services," "The Battle of the Sexes Has Climaxed," "Creating a Game Plan that Works" and "Redefining Feminism." Sadly, none of this is online today, as it all predated common use of the Internet. But knowing I intended to write more about relationships in the future, I kept some select copies of my "What Do You Want?" advice column in my files, along with several choice interactions with readers and those seeking relationship help. Some of the topics include "Cyber Fantasy or Infidelity," "His Fantasies Aren't Mine," "A Sexless Marriage," "Living Together Isn't Marriage!" and "Unfaithful With Children."
What I call the politics of sex was the whole of what I covered, including what a woman should do to get exactly what she wants in an era where she has a lot more control. After sexual liberation exploded in the 1960s, the dynamic between women and men changed dramatically, and women could assert themselves more, and ask for and expect to get what they wanted to be delivered.
Birth control, sex before marriage, and women's equality of satisfaction in the bedroom, not to mention our ability to pay our own bills, set the world of dating, relationships and marriage on its head. It's what brought the debate back about what rules women should follow when dating men in the modern era, because being able to be the driver didn't mean you could get men on board.
Carol Hanisch catalyzed it all in her 1969 essay "The Personal Is Political," which was a feminist cry, but it's exactly what is still happening in our relationships now. Women's personal freedoms, which include making money professionally, and how that affects our relationships at home, including something as small as dividing chores and asking men to share responsibilities, are all very political things inside our personal lives. It's the politics of sex, and of gender.
Nothing could have represented this reality more perfectly than when Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer revoked the company's longtime work-from-home policy through a memo leaked to the press in February 2013. Mayer got blasted across the media for giving Yahoo employees until June 2013 to get adjusted to their new reality, with one Forbes headline blaring, "Back to the Stone Age? New Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer Bans Working From Home." After Yahoo's stock performance skyrocketed, in October 2013 AllThingsD reported that Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman began implementing it at HP. This is the very definition of the personal becoming political that applies in the twenty-first century as much as ever before.
The flip side to the way we work and make money, sexual interaction, is the second most important dynamic between two people in a relationship. That money and sex are often the two most frequently cited reasons for a relationship blowing up isn't surprising.
Like men, women go through changes in our lives that make our sex drive ebb and flow, but a woman's sexual appetite can be equal to any man's and just as easy to ignite, though women can always fake it and men can't. It's a pressure point we can't possibly understand fully.
The questions coming in to me back in the '90s could easily be asked today.
Dear Taylor: I've been married for just three years and I'm dying to have an affair. There's a guy I see all the time at a place the girls and I stop at after work. All I really want to do is f*#! him, you know. He's gorgeous and I'm really bored with my husband. Don't get me wrong, I love him and all, it's just that it's always the same old thing and we only do it about twice a week. Believe me, that's not enough! He works late a lot and is tired when he gets home. What should I do? I need an answer quick! —Horny Married Gal
This is a great example of the sexual ego of women that just about everyone underestimates.
Dear Horny Married Gal: You are acting like a coward, someone who should have never gotten married in the first place. Three years?! Are you kidding me? You've given your word to this man, you've got responsibilities to him and to yourself. What's wrong with you? Talk to him. Tell him what you're feeling, what you want; even say that if things don't change something serious is going to happen. My guess is he doesn't know how you feel. Also, get off your tush. Make the first move: Seduce him when he walks in ... Then, after you've tried every single method possible, and if your husband still isn't responding, kick him out of bed. That's right. If he chooses not to give you what you want, he loses his privileges.
Guys wrote in to me, too. Though most of the columns I saved don't have a visible date, this one is from Christmastime, 1995.
Dear Taylor: My girlfriend and I broke up about three months ago, after being together for about two years. I really love her and have tried to get back with her, but she won't listen to me. She wants to get married and I don't. At least I don't right now. I was willing to live with her, but the marriage thing was just too much for me. Now she's gone and I'm really hurting. I can't get her out of my mind and really believe that she's the one. Christmas was always a fun time for us. We'd drive around and look at lights, drink wine, then make love all night. Now, everything in my life is suffering. What the hell am I going to do? —Heartbroken at Christmas
That's a reminder that if a woman keeps giving and doesn't ask for what she wants in return, doing so early and honestly, she just might find herself giving everything and not getting what she wants, because some men will take and take and take. Make it easy on a man and he'll let you until you wise up.
Dear Heartbroken: I certainly hope your girlfriend reads this because I have something to say to her: "Good for you." As for you ... What's wrong with you?! What you're asking her to do is unacceptable. This lady knows what she wants and you aren't willing to give it to her. She's a very smart woman for moving on and not accepting less than she deserves. Too many people waste too much time waiting for what they'll never get. Also, if cohabitating is as far as you're willing to go with a woman, tell her so at the very beginning of the relationship.... But let me tell you something. You just let a good woman go. Of that I am certain.
The above exchange remains a perfect example of why my column was titled "What Do You Want?" It's an obvious question that requires specific answers. It doesn't matter if you're talking about your relationship or getting a job or deciding about how to create a family. In fact, it applies triple when contemplating a relationship with someone, or even if you've just decided it's time to seek one.
A young woman I helped to figure this out, coaching her on how to get exactly what she wanted, had been living with a man whom she loved dearly and wanted to marry. However, he wouldn't commit beyond cohabitating. Jennifer was beautiful and accomplished, had a great job and was a devout Christian. She also wanted children and was heading past thirty-five, when a woman's body can begin to betray her dreams. The man she lived with didn't say he wouldn't marry her, just that he wasn't ready. So, she waited ... and waited ... for years. She truly believed he'd finally see the light, because they had it all — great sex, loads of fun, years of shared experience, and he had no intention of leaving her. But when, if ever, would he pop the question and commit to marriage? The clock was ticking.
After leaving and then giving in and coming back to him repeatedly, she finally allowed me to coach her through leaving for the last time. We talked for hours and hours, at all times for days, as she stayed this course. Screaming fights ensued with her ex, as he begged her to return. It took her a while before she realized that nothing would make him ask her to marry him. She got busy with her career and concentrated on healing from a relationship she had given herself to for years and now believed was time wasted. It wasn't, but we all know the feeling. It was a while before she could date again, but eventually she was ready.
The first thing I suggested was to start looking for a man inside her church circle or in spots men who are spiritual, too, can be found. Finding a man of deep faith mattered a great deal to her, yet she wasn't scoping out places where they can be found. By the time Jennifer answered the question "What Do You Want?" the list was very specific and seemed a tough sell. She was in her mid-thirties, wanted a spiritual man who attended church and respected her career, but she also wanted to have children and stay home to raise them, too. It was traditionalism with a modern twist, something some women still want if they can swing it.
As hard as it may seem to manifest, Jennifer ended up with the whole package. We discussed many times the uncompromising standards she had set for the man she wanted, but they were her rules based on exactly what she wanted and expected out of a long-term relationship that would lead to marriage. Compromise would come later, because it's inevitable if you want a marriage to work.
That's quite different from taking guidelines put together from someone else and applying them. One honors who you are as a woman; the other sets up arbitrary rules predicated on how you must perform to attract someone who expects a certain behavior pattern, whether it's who you are or not. There's a big difference.
It's one thing to want a traditional relationship in the old-fashioned sense of the word. That type of traditional relationship often doesn't make room for a woman who has her own life and career going for her, too. If you're self-employed, you have a better chance of juggling everything, but if not, some careers are very competitive, and women have to sacrifice a lot to have them, including time with their children. It's also not like the workplace is a friendly place for women who still have most of the responsibilities at home. This can often mean the man has to pick up the slack and be graceful while doing it. The woman still sacrifices a lot for her choice to have a marriage, children and a career, which some people describe as "having it all."
In the PBS documentary Makers: Women Who Make America, which aired in late February 2013, the network's Judy Woodruff asked Gloria Steinem in an interview if women can have it all. Her answer was classic Steinem: "It's a ridiculous question.... No, of course women can't have it all, as long as we have to do it all, until — I mean, we have realized, and the majority of Americans fully agree — that women can do what men can do. But we haven't yet realized that men can do what women do."
Excerpted from The Sexual Education of a Beauty Queen by Taylor Marsh. Copyright © 2014 Taylor Marsh. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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