After a tough breakup, Tim Bell decided on three relationship rules that got him a lot more of what he did want, and less of what he wanted to avoid.
A few weeks ago, after I finished lamenting a recent breakup, my roommate Nora posed a question to me that I had never thought to ask myself. Why was I dating?
Her question floored me because a.) I didn’t even know that was a question you could ask yourself and b.) I did not have a good answer. I had gone through a difficult break-up with my live-in girlfriend in January and then rushed through a string of semi-serious mini relationships that all seemed to end the same way; me telling a perfectly nice, attractive girl that I was not ready for a relationship yet and her wondering why when things had been so good up to that point.
They were right to wonder. They were all fantastic potential partners and nothing ever actually went “wrong” in the traditional sense. The trouble was I didn’t WANT a relationship. And I didn’t know how to communicate that.
I would meet someone and let it get far too serious before finally coming clean and about where I was and what I wanted. The result was heartbreak on their end, guilt on mine, and weeks beating myself up and trying to figure out what was “wrong” with me and why I couldn’t commit.
The question forced me to examine what exactly I was after and if my actions were accurately representing that. And I realized they were not. I did not want a new girlfriend, I wanted to spend some time rubbing my fun parts against some other people’s fun parts without a long-term commitment. Since making that realization, I have come up with personal rules that have led to me getting what I really want with much more frequency and significantly less stress.
- Accepting my sexuality.
I like sex. I REALLY like it. So do a lot of people. It’s fun, it’s pleasurable, and it has been scientifically proven to be pretty goddamn good for you. But I came out of a religious tradition that discourages sex before marriage and, though I left that part of my life behind, I still sometimes experience the guilt associated with abstinence-based belief systems. Part of that has been dealing with my program-based thinking of sex as something that could only work if I knew my partner on a deeply intimate level.
Speaking as a person who was very sexually satisfied in a long-term relationship, intimate sex with someone you have a deep and lasting connection to is beautiful and rewarding and pretty fucking awesome. But sometimes I just want to get down with another warm body and be home on time to order some Chicken Korma and catch up on Game of Thrones. And there ain’t nothing wrong with that.
- Putting my intentions out there early and often.
Shakespeare was REALLY good at communicating feelings through words. The vast majority of us are REALLY not. We don’t speak feelings. We feel them. It’s in the goddamn name. But what I’ve been learning is that I CAN communicate my intentions and desires, which bodes well for some boning. This is a big one so I’ve broken it down into 3 categories.
First, I eliminate the ambiguity. I do not ask women I’m interested in to “hang out”. I ask them on dates. I have lots of girl friends who I hang out with all the time. But if I am looking to put my face against someone else’s face at the end of the night then I make sure they know the option is on the table. Don’t get me wrong, I have been in situations where a platonic hang out with a single friend turns into an opportunity for sexy time. But I try not to let that be my intent when I ask someone to do something as friends.
Second, I let women know what I am looking for before any no pants dancing occurs. My loose rule is that I tell them by the second date that if we are going to see each other a.) I am not looking for a relationship and b.) I will be seeing other people. Some women are absolutely okay with that, and some women are absolutely not. Either way it ensures that all parties involved are on the same page.
Third, I talk about sex and STD’s. You know what you see a lot of in movies and television? Hot, heavy, bodacious bodies grinding it out in well-lit and tastefully decorated interiors. You know what we don’t see a lot of? People asking about past sexual partners, their most recent STD tests, and where the condoms are hidden (pro tip: if you bring up condoms early then you can have them sitting on the night stand rather than stumbling naked to the sock drawer right when you’re getting to the best part!) I don’t need each partner to fill out a questionnaire, but I make sure to ask about STD tests and the birth control situation. I am a broke artist. Kids and antibiotics? Ain’t nobody got time for that.
- Not taking rejection personally.
Rejection sucks. Pop culture tells us that. Who controls pop culture? I don’t know, possibly someone does but I don’t have the energy to find out who they are. I certainly thought it sucked for a long time until I realized that, oh wait, rejection is just someone else having the courage to say that I’m not what they are looking for right now and that they are not going to waste my time or let me waste theirs.
A few weeks ago I bumped into an old friend at a local coffee shop and I found myself very attracted to her. Later I reached out to see if she would be interested in a causal but sexy meet up. She declined and my world ended. Oh wait, no it didn’t.
Every rejection is a crossroads: We can choose to walk down the path of hurt or the path of appreciation. The path of appreciation means having respect for your own courage and the other person’s honesty. You put yourself out there. If it’s a yes, BOOM! You’re both getting what you want! That’s fantastic! And if it’s a no then you get to respect yourself the other person’s response enough to not let it upset you. That’s also fantastic!
This is by far the hardest of the three rules for me, but actively choosing to not to take rejection personally has made me happier and left me more free to jump back in the saddle quickly. And by saddle I mean bed. Or couch. Or kitchen table.
These three rules are by no means foolproof. They require a level of courage and integrity with my words and actions that is sometimes terrifying. More terrifying though is that not communicating might again lead to something I do not want, or worse, to hurting someone else. Adopting these rules has led to less stress, and I’m all about less stress and more bow-chicha-bow-wow.
Photo: Flickr/Pedro Ribeiro Simões