Sunday, October 24, 2010

Mixed Messages, and, People are Crazy, and, Your Partner Isn't Your Shrink

In this post I'm going to use words which have a technical meaning in psychology that I don't know, such as neurosis. I'm using the common English meaning.

While reading through the archives of Svutlana from Svutlandia (recommended) I came across the following quote:
For women the best aphrodisiacs are words. The G-spot is in the ears. He who looks for it below there is wasting his time. --Isabel Allende
OK, right. Somebody tell Rogue Bambi and Wonderboy, or Perversecowgirl and Minx, or Holly and Rowdy, or anybody that enjoys sex physically with a man, that they're doing it wrong; he should be whispering sweet nothings, or perhaps using a Q-tip. Men and women drive each other crazy with contradictory messages; the famous Madonna/whore paradox is another example.

Something interesting about the Allende quote is that Svutlana quoted it in a post that's mainly about how extremely effective placebos are in treating low libido in women; implying that men should be using words to take the place of placebos. My feeling is that when you're asking men in general to do things that are otherwise accomplished by women taking placebos, you are asking men not so much to be loving, sharing, and caring, but to be psychotherapists to women, who you are implying are kinda nuts. (Svutlana spends most of the post talking about how women can address this issue, and I think her idea is more that men may be able to help, which I'll get back to at the end.)

Now, this kinda nuts is not very different from men's neurotic perception that women don't desire men physically (which neurosis is obviously reinforced by the above Allende quote). I think the implication that women are a bit nuts this way is correct in the sense that all of us, to various individual degrees, are a bit nuts.

I do have a problem with this in the sense that in this instance it's put up to men to fix it. The primary reason my wife gave me for leaving me was that she trusted me with her emotional well-being and I failed to maintain it. And I think that's asking way too much of a partner. When I had problems with depression, I didn't ask her to fix them; and I didn't ever feel like it was her job to do so. Some of that depression was related to expectations about our sex life that didn't pan out, but it still wasn't her fault. (I feel like I should talk here about some of the ways I failed her, so readers will understand her point of view, but when I write them out they don't sound like much and it still makes me feel bad. So I'm going to ask people to understand that she's a good person and had her reasons even if she couldn't explain them to me very clearly.)

I don't think you should ask a partner to be a therapist. A confidant and advisor, absolutely; but not a therapist. I don't even think therapists are qualified to be therapists, let alone the rest of us. And I especially don't think one should put the responsibility for successful therapy on a partner. If men are neurotic about feeling desired, I think most women would like to know about it, and I think it offers opportunities for an outstanding relationship if a woman can help her partner with that. But it's not her responsibility. There's a very limited extent that it's even in her power. If women are repressed when it comes to enjoying sex and orgasm, likewise it's something that offers a man opportunities to help, but it's not his responsibility, or even mostly in his power.


  1. Agreed. I expect my partner to know my issues (partly through familiarity and partly because I disclosed them), understand that I can't always be totally and utterly rational and in what specific ways I might find that a challenge, and forgive me for not being a spotless model of well-adjusted togetherness- not fix me. That, to the extent that is possible, is my job, and if and when it gets bad enough that it's fucking with my life/relationships, my job to seek professional aid.

    Understand my crazy, forgive me for it, just don't dismiss it/.

    As to women, placebos, and libido, there seems to be a remarkable amount of sexual response tied up in a psychological black box. If it were men's fault or within men's power to fix it, there wouldn't be so many women unable to achieve orgasm through masturbation.

  2. I want to try a post or two spitballing about how men might be able to help. Despite the problems with sexual frequency with my second wife, she told me that I had really improved things since her first husband.

  3. I found myself bridling when you said that men shouldn't be therapists to their partners. Then I got to the part where you said therapists "fix" people.

    My experience of therapists has been that they're fucking useless at offering advice or insight; at best, they listen to me free-associate out loud until I come to a conclusion my damn self. Maybe I just haven't been to the right one.

    So technically I guess I do expect my partner to be a therapist to me; better than a therapist, even, because I want him to offer up suggestions and ideas. But I'm firmly aware that I'm ultimately responsible for my own well-being.

    And I'm sooooo sick of the stereotype that women aren't into the physical side of sex and need to be complimented and coddled in order to get turned on (or maybe the Allende quote was referring to dirty talk?). I did hear some statistic once that women are more aurally focused when it comes to sex and men are more visual, but for me this aural fixation translates to "Yes, keep on moaning, it turns me on" rather than "Oooh, tell me again how beautiful I am!"

    And I maintain that women are generally a lot more visual than we're admitting - even to ourselves.

    One of my friends insists that she doesn't notice guys' looks at all - that appearance is simply not a factor for her. Indeed, none of the guys I've seen her date have been conventionally attractive (they ranged from plain to outright weird-looking). And yet...some days we'd be hanging out and she'd be like, "Oh my god, Cowgirl, on the way here there was this guy on the bus who was SO FUCKING HOT...when he accidentally made eye contact with me, I tripped and almost split my head open." So clearly she notices appearances and has distinct visual preferences; she just willfully ignores these when choosing a mate.

    And I have to wonder: if she's dating guys she's not especially attracted to...what does that do to their sex life? Might it cause things to be a bit lackluster? Might her partners (the uglier ones, anyway) be convinced that "women aren't that into sex" because women aren't that into sex with them?

    I'm guilty of downplaying my attractions, too: my ex husband was pretty much the opposite of what I like, physically. But women have it hammered into our heads that we're shallow bitch MONSTERS if we hold out for sexual attraction, so I married him anyway. I loved him, and the sex we had (before he started withholding it) was fine; good, even. But after we got divorced I started sleeping with guys I actually wanted and it was SO. MUCH. BETTER.

    Looks do fucking matter and I'm sad that so many woman can't admit it.


  4. perversecowgirl, people of any gender should certainly be willing to listen to their partner free-associate out loud, and offer suggestions and ideas. To me that's a friend rather than a therapist. And a partner should be more than an friend, not less.

    I get what you have in mind; guys who say "I'm not your therapist" to cover up for "I'm not even a real friend." Listening isn't asking very much, to me. Shoot, I try to listen (read) and offer suggestions and ideas, and I'm only some guy on the Web.

    My wife, on the other hand, blamed me for her bad emotional state, but not really anything specific I did or didn't do; she just considered it part of the marriage deal that I'd take care of it. And that was putting too damn much on me.

  5. My wife, on the other hand, blamed me for her bad emotional state, but not really anything specific I did or didn't do

    Yeah, that's a total bullshit thing to do to someone. I feel for you. :(