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BJ Gallagher

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Money and Sex: The Mating Game in the 21st Century

Posted: 08/26/10 01:02 PM ET

Men look at women a sex objects; women look at men as success objects. Women like men who are generous with money; men like women who are generous in bed. A man fantasizes about a woman who'll rock his world in the sack; a woman fantasizes about a man who'll rock her world at Tiffany's. Both genders are looking for love... For him, nothing says "I love you" like good sex; for her, nothing says "I love you" like financial security.

Perhaps Katharine Hepburn was right when she mused: "Sometimes I wonder if men and women really suit each other. Perhaps they should live next door and just visit now and then."

Each gender has its standard complaint about the other... Women lament that all men want is sex, and men grumble that women spend too much money. Could it be true that men and women really DO come from different planets? Men are horn dogs from Mars and women are gold diggers from Venus?

The romantics among us cringe: "Oh no, you've got it all wrong! Love is a matter of the soul and character... not dollars and sex." Those who consider themselves liberated are incredulous: "Haven't we moved beyond those dated stereotypes?"

But it's likely that what some consider "dated stereotypes" may actually be timeless truths. A woman's social currency is her youth, beauty, charm and sexuality; a man's social currency is his professional and financial success. Men gain status by what they do; women gain status by who they're with. Just because it isn't politically correct doesn't mean it isn't true.

Consider the possibility that our attitudes and behaviors concerning money are programmed by thousands of years of evolution, not just a dozen years of childhood socialization. Consider that perhaps the generations of humans who came before us were doing what comes naturally: Men offered protection and provisions, while women offered fertility and family. Biology was destiny.

"Has nothing changed since Tarzan and Jane?" you might ask.

Maybe not as much as we'd like to think ...

Demographic studies show that most women still "marry up" and most men "marry down" in terms of socioeconomic status. Economic research tells us that when a couple divorces, the husband's standard of living takes a hit, then rebounds; but the wife's standard of living (and the kids') takes a dive and doesn't recover... unless she remarries. Sociological research reveals that married women enjoy higher status than single women, across all social classes.

And history illustrates that "power is (still) the ultimate aphrodisiac" (Henry Kissinger) and money is the most potent form of power. Rich, powerful men can have all the young, pretty women they want ... Consider Hugh Hefner, Bill Clinton, Tiger Woods, Larry King, Rush Limbaugh, Warren Beatty, George Clooney, Mick Jagger, Donald Trump, Wilt Chamberlain, the Kennedy men, Aristotle Onassis, Henry the VIII, and tens of thousands of wealthy men throughout history. These men provided status, protection, and security to their women -- who in turn provided youth, beauty, sensuality and charm to their men. Everybody got what they wanted.

Sociologists refer to this as social exchange theory: Human relationships are characterized by exchanges of time, attention, affection, sex, money, love, favors, loyalty and/or other goods and services. Our relationships with one another are built on thousands of exchanges we make every day.

Friendship: I give you attention, affection, time and companionship; you give me the same. Money may or may not have a major role, but you can be sure there are financial factors at play within friendships.

Employment: I do what you ask me to do; you give me a paycheck. Money plays the central role.

Marriage: I'll give you sex, emotional support, babies and a warm, nurturing place to come home to; you provide the money, security and protection.

There is nothing wrong with any of these exchanges, so long as both parties agree on the terms and conditions and each gets what they want from the exchange.

Yes, it sounds cold and unromantic, but marriage is as much a business relationship as it is a love relationship. Money, taxes, property, insurance, estates, inheritances, and community property are a central fact of married life. People who protest that "money isn't important in love" are fooling themselves. As Rita Davenport reminds us: "Money isn't everything... but it ranks right up there with oxygen."

Money -- like sex -- is energy. It's dynamic; it's powerful; it's creative; it makes things happen; it motivates; it attracts; it stirs emotions; it gets people into action. And energy takes two forms: yin and yang, feminine and masculine, beta and alpha. Yin represents passive power; yang represents active power. They are two complementary energies which animate the world, according to ancient Eastern philosophy.

Relationships work best when there is a balance between yin and yang. It doesn't matter who brings what energy to the relationship - it only matters that both are present, each playing their respective role in bringing harmony, balance, and reciprocity to the interaction between partners. As Paul Simon's brother explained about why Paul's and Carrie Fisher's marriage broke up: "Relationships work best when one person is the flower and the other is the gardener."

While the importance of yin and yang in human relations hasn't changed since the beginning of time, what HAS changed is that women have freed themselves up to cultivate more of their yang energy ... and men feel more free to explore their yin, or feminine side.

Traditionalists see this as a terrible development -- a perversion of traditional gender roles and values. Others see this as a wonderful development -- an embracing of the true complexity and diversity of human nature.

Both men and women are androgynous beings -- yin and ying energy ebbs and flows within each of us. We can choose to cultivate our yin or yang nature in whatever proportion feels authentic, natural, and healthy. Jackie Kennedy Onassis understood this when she explained that women can choose from two types of power: power in the bedroom or power out in the world. Jackie chose power in the bedroom. Today, more women (ie, Hillary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Meg Whitman, Sarah Palin, Martha Stewart, Vera Wang, Maya Angelou, Alice Waters, Dolly Parton, Venus and Serena Williams, among others) are choosing power in the world.

What this means in terms of sex and money is that the rigid norms and mores that prescribe certain relationships as "good" or "normal" and proscribe others as "bad" or "immoral" are changing ... just not fast enough to suit some.

In practical terms, women are now freer to shift into yang mode, go out and make a lot of money, and choose any kind of mate they want. It means that sweet, gentle, sensitive men are no longer limited by fixed notions of what it means to be "a real man." They are free to be emotional, artistic, sensual and yes, beautiful. It means that heterosexuals are now exploring the full range of their energy -- both sexual and financial -- just as LGBT men and women have been daring to do for years.

Men and women both have more freedom to seek and find their own personal comfort zone along the dialectical continuum between yin and yang, feminine and masculine, passive energy and active energy.

These days, it matters less who brings home the money, as long as somebody does. It doesn't matter who does the seducing, so long as both partners are happy with their sex life together. Couples may decide that they want to share and contribute in kind -- so they both bring home the bacon and fry it up together. They may take turns being on top in the bedroom, too.

And who knows? A tough economy may play a key role in changing norms about sex and money, as both partners often have to work outside the home just to keep a roof over their heads. Bringing money into the partnership is not a matter of choice in a recession -- it's a necessity. Yin must shift into yang mode -- whether she wants to or not - for the couple to survive.

However, we shouldn't underestimate Mother Nature. Tens of thousands of years of mating instincts and behavior still exert a powerful influence on us today, whether we want to acknowledge it or not. Many men still want sex and will trade money to get it, while many women still want security and will trade sex to get it. We've come a long way, baby ... but we ain't there yet.

 

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