For a while now, in an attempt to explain my long-standing singleness, I've often joked that my husband must still be married to his first wife. Turns out it actually might be true -- sort of.
Statistics show that of those age 45 or older, a third of men and a quarter of women remarry. So, more men than women find the faith to love again. Or at the very least, find someone to take care of them in their old age. Sadly, I know way too many unhappily married men -- and women, for that matter. So, it's completely possible that my future husband is still married to his first (or third) wife. But what I hadn't considered until recently was that he might not be married but simply "hooking up" with a temporary fix.
I'm not talking about the occasional one-night stand. Given the right place and time, those can memorable and sometimes vital (thank you to a certain member of the Liverpool Coast Guard, you know who you are).
No, by "hook up," I'm referring instead to someone you have sex with on a semi-regular basis with no strings attached. Which might seem harmless in theory, but is it really?
The Urban Dictionary defines 'hooking up' as "Sex while not in a relationship with each other. Similar to a 'one-night stand,' but it can happen repeatedly."
"I do that," my late 30-something friend, Holly, admitted recently when the topic came up over brunch.
"I know I don't want a future with these guys, but I guess I figure, 'What the hell? Nothing else is happening right now.'"
She had a popular viewpoint, but I wondered, in this age of immediate gratification and short-term satisfaction -- is there any long-term harm?
I don't believe women are being 100 percent honest with themselves about how they really feel after casual sex. A 2011 article in Psychology Today is one of many that delve into this topic. In it, author J. R. Bruns, MD writes: "women have been encouraged for half a century to behave promiscuously to destroy their 'dog-like devotion to men.' But denying our physiology that bonds us to another human being just leads to emptiness and pain."
We all want, some might say need, to bond with another human being. It's natural. But by our very anatomy, sex is different for women. Not to be crude, but let's face it -- men leave their DNA inside us. How can you expect not to be effected by that?
And I think the abundance of casual sex has weakened the motivation of many men to settle down. Even my 73-year-old father admits that had sex been this easy to get back in his day, he probably never would have gotten married. I'm sure he's right. The man still flirts unabashedly with every waitress under the age of 60. My mother just rolls her eyes.
But I can also tell you that in hindsight, he's oh-so-grateful that he was "incentivized" to settle down and have a family. Especially now that he's retired, diabetic and would be lost without my mom.
There's a big difference between motivating a man to be the best version of himself and trying to make him do what you want him to do. That's just a recipe for disaster -- and a whole lot of heartache. What I'm suggesting instead is to relearn the power of anticipation and its ability to naturally encourage men to want more than simply "right now."
My friend Jen is living proof of this power. About two summers ago, she met Dave at a music festival. Soon after, they both returned home to Chicago, and Dave started "spending time" with Jen. The chemistry between them was amazing. She enjoyed the attention and the passionate nights at his place, but soon began to really fall for him and longed for more of a relationship. Unfortunately, that wasn't the "deal" between them. Like many couples merely hooking up, they had an unspoken agreement that it was "just sex."
"End it, end it now," I begged her. "If there's really something between you, he'll realize it. And when he's ready, he'll want to work for more. If there isn't, you'll save yourself even more heartache down the road."
Jen told Dave she wanted more and walked away. It wasn't easy, but nothing worth having ever is. She bore the pain of seeing Dave at the gym with other girls and reading Facebook posts of his whereabouts. But, she stood her ground, and after many months apart, he started coming by: to help her move, fix her lamp and see her painting exhibit. Only this time, Jen was smarter. She made Dave work and earn her time -- and her body. Not to punish or control him, but to see if he was really worthy of it.
Dave fell head over heels and cannot wait to marry Jen next October.
I believe that if you give yourself to anyone who shows you the least bit of attention, you lower your value. And oftentimes, neither side feels all that great about it in the end.
Women love to bash me about this opinion -- usually, the ones who claim that hooking up is great. "Sexual equality!" they cry. They balk at the idea of "withholding sex" to coerce men into a relationship -- or marriage. Nothing could be further from what I'm suggesting.
When I met my last boyfriend, I'd been single for six years and (unintentionally) celibate for half of them. Thom was a charmer -- smart, funny and kind to anyone who crossed his path. He was also handsome as hell and well aware of his effect on women. Fortunately for us both, his looks had the opposite effect on me. I'd waited this long to share my body with someone, I wasn't just handing it over to the first guy who turned me on. And man, did he. Our chemistry was palpable to anyone in the room. It took all my strength not to tear his clothes off the first night I met him. But instead, as we walked around the county fair the next evening, I shared my feelings about waiting, and learned of its power.
"You need to know, this isn't going to be a fast thing," I told him. "It's been years since I've been with anyone, and I'm not jumping into bed with you anytime soon."
I knew his response would show his true colors, and I didn't care. He had player written all over his pretty face, and I wasn't about to be his next conquest. Besides, I was really happy with my life, my friends and the business I was starting. I didn't need him. And he knew it. He could have walked away right then and I'd have been fine. Instead he surprised me -- and smiled.
"That is so cool," he said, impressed. And thus began the slow burn that would eventually, three months later, claim my heart -- and my body.
It's a scientific fact that men and women are different -- genetically and hormonally. We just are. The equality we women have fought so long and hard for did not make us the same. And thank God, it never will. Instead, we're naturally built to complement and bring the best out of each other.
And studies show that a good marriage benefits much of society and adds to both men and women's health and longevity. Even Men's Health agrees, and advises, "If you're susceptible to vice, find a wife. She'll save you from yourself -- and improve your life -- in a variety of ways."
Problem is, hooking up works against that natural order. And in my opinion, it is leaving both men and women unhappy and dissatisfied long-term.
Forget, for a moment, that many would agree that sex is so much better WITH emotional attachment. You only have to watch the pilot episode of HBO's "Girls" to be convinced of that. But, what about the long-term damage that hookups could be doing to the dating world? What if this hookup culture is inadvertently changing the dynamics between men and women? And, not for the better?
I asked Holly, thinking out loud, "What if the fact the you're sleeping with some guy is squashing his motivation and desire to go out and find the true love of his life, because his immediate sexual needs are being met. And meanwhile, some other girl is doing the same with the guy you're supposed to be with?"
"I never thought about it that way," Holly said. "It's funny, because I live the rest of my life like that. I do believe we're all connected, so actually -- that makes a lot of sense."
Quite frankly, I hadn't considered it before that moment either. I too believe that everything we do affects others. For better or for worse, and whether we ever see it or not. Our impact, and our choices, are often far-reaching. If we're all connected, then in this case, we are all screwing each other.
How many people do you know who are holding onto someone because "anyone" is better than no one? And while I believe there are plenty of men to go around, I'm now thinking some just might be stuck in the wrong places. If there is truly a lid for every pot, then there's a good man for every woman out there who wants one. I just don't want to waste time with your lid and I'd really appreciate it if you'd stop distracting mine.
It's hard to be alone -- really, really hard. Especially as you get older and everyone else has paired off, happily or not, and is busy with their own lives. I spend more time alone now than I ever have in my life. At a time when I ache for a family and a home full of love and laughter, the silence can be deafening. And terrifying. It feels like it'll always be this way. And it can be just as scary to walk away from something when there's nothing better waiting for you. I get it, I really do. But I'm also convinced that the hard choices we make today determine our tomorrows.
I'd really like to meet my husband already, and I know plenty of other women who feel the same way. So ,why not consider "paying it forward" sexually? If we're truly all connected, and what you do with the guy you don't really like could be numbing him to go after his true love, why not set him free? Make room for the right guy to come in. And believe that in return, perhaps you'll empower someone else to do the same.