Dating – Are you looking for sex (only/mainly) or relationship (avec ou sans sex)?

Autumn CoupleIt’s just become Autumn here in Oz, Mardi Gras is about to hit Sydney, and I hear lots of people’s minds turning to dating, romance, relationships serious and not at all serious.

It starts with this sentence – “I want a relationship”.

With the high focus that western cultures put on sex today, this seems to be the first thing people have in mind when they say they want to ‘have’ a relationship.  This focuses first and foremost on the way they want the other person to look, and the kind of sexual tie they want to have with another person(s), frequency, type of sex etc. For most people I speak with, the emotional piece is not thought out with anywhere near the same level of discernment. (I’ll write about this elsewhere)

Ask yourself, what are your first thoughts about what “having” a relationship means for you?  If your first thoughts are about sex, then what context does the sex happen in: exchange for money (sex work); one night stand with stranger(s); one night/occasional night of sex with an acquaintance; friend with benefits/sex buddy; fling; semi-serious relationship; committed relationship. Then we have: same sex/opposite sex? Monogamous/open/ polyamorous?  We can even get more specific with what parts of your anatomy you want to advertise and have the other person focus on in you, and what characteristic body parts you seek in another at this point. You can specify what kind of sex you want to engage in – rope play, BDSM, orgy, vanilla, safe/negotiated. The list is endless.

Given all this focus on invoice-like requests for services and highly specified production values, one would think that people today would find it easy to “have” what they call a relationship. But that doesn’t seem to be the case, from what I see and hear every day.

Online Dating 3Instead, I hear a lot of frustration, a lot of pain and distress, and a lot of disillusionment from both sexes and from all types of sexually oriented folk.   It seems that  “having” a relationship doesn’t seem to be quite as easy as our modern world seems to suggest with speed dating clubs, meet ups, sex clubs, and dating apps at the ready. It seems that commodifying relationships in terms of the sex we want, getting as specific as possible about the kind of sex we think we’re after, and what the person providing it for us/participating in it with us should be like and look like, none of this increasing level of specificity seems to guarantee an increase in the likelihood of us actually getting what we think we want.

Sometimes when I hear my clients and friends tell me about their latest foray into the world of “going out and finding someone”, I’m reminded of how people sound when they tell me about their latest diet. THIS TIME, they have found the right one. This time it’ll work. This diet is the key to success. They work at it, they faithfully follow the steps and almost as night follows day, they stop. The promised results didn’t come in the time frame they expected. They get bored, resentful.  They obsess about all the things they ‘can’t ‘ have on their diet. They ‘cheat’. The weight comes back on. They’re disillusioned. They wonder if it’s them (what’s wrong with me)? They despair that they’ll ever get to their goal weight (find the right one)?  They’re angry at the restrictive nature of the diet (s/he only wants XYZ). They still want to do all the other things they enjoyed before but this diet doesn’t allow for, and not have consequences.

PerhConfusedaps we’re “Being too picky” I hear women tell me their girlfriends say to them when they don’t manage to find “the right one”.  Don’t believe it. Instead, perhaps consider that you’re not being picky enough about the most relevant things.

Let me be clear.

What does “relationship” involve for you at this time in your life? Let’s start there. Because if it’s about sex, you can select apps that will help you get it, join online communities that cater to your taste, go out and buy it or join a club and participate – there are loads of options out there catering to all sorts of proclivities. That’s what Google is for!  Let’s start off by being honest about what you’re looking for and not call it a relationship.

Once we’ve got clear about that  – you’re seeking a hopefully consensual service (sex) being done to you with or without reciprocating and with or without money being exchanged with one or more people at a time, versus actually relating to someone, we can start to open the discussion in a more productive way.

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As a couple therapist, “relationship” involves two or more people (but let’s start with two to make things easier to talk about) who want to find someone they would enjoy spending time with, talking with, doing things with, feel they can trust and feels safe with, feel they can turn to and who has their back when things get tough, feel emotionally connected with, maybe intellectually/spiritually connected with, maybe have enjoyable sex with, share goals with, and with whom they can plan to share part or more of their future life.

When I hear people tell me about meeting someone on the app Tinder, I frequently ask all sorts of questions about what they are actually seeking. If it’s more about casual sex, then that’s fine. If however, they tell me that they hope to find ‘a relationship’, I usually say “You’re fishing in the wrong pond”.

Let’s be clear: in our instant-access world, finding The One you can have a relationship with is NOT going to happen that fast. Or as easily as swiping right.

Lesbian Couple 2It will not only be about ‘having’, but it will largely depend on what you are willing to GIVE.  It’s going to require TIME.  It will require FOCUSED ATTENTION and presence.  It will require a degree of REFLECTION on things as they unfold.  It will require a degree of SELF AWARENESS and RESPONSIBILITY, a willingness to reflect on and recognise your contribution to things when things go awry and a willingness to set about repairing any harm done promptly and effectively. It will require being able to COMMUNICATE about thoughts, feelings, needs, desires, hurt, values, preferences, quirks, dreams, hopes, disagreements, sensitivities in a respectful and non-blaming way.  It will require being brave enough to be VULNERABLE – to be willing to take risks to share emotionally sensitive information about yourself, not knowing how the other person will respond.  It will require a willingness to learn about and respond to the other person’s needs, wishes, vulnerabilities, disagreements and preferences while respecting your own – and this will involve HONESTY and INTEGRITY.  When you say you will do something, it will involve being willing to be RELIABLE as part of demonstrating trustworthiness. Inevitably, this will involve CONFLICT, and being willing to bring differences to the table, talk about them openly and respectfully, and looking for ways to resolve differences that accommodate both persons.   It will involve being willing to bring up needs for space, time alone and separateness, as well as needs for connection with and without the other (friends). It will involve the willingness to talk about, put in place and respect BOUNDARIES about what is and what is not okay. It will also involve ACCEPTANCE – facing differences that seem unresolvable, and deciding what can and cannot be lived with and accepted without accumulating a debt of resentment and hatred/blame.

So if you’re yearning to ‘have’ a relationship, start by being honest with yourself about a few things:

  1. Are you really looking to find someone with whom you are ready to invest a whole lot of time in order to build something lasting, or are you after a quick fix that fills your time and distracts you?
  2. Are you looking for sex (only/mainly) or relationship (avec ou sans sex)?
  3. Get specific – what do you mean when you say you’re looking for a relationship? Are you up for the kind of investment I wrote about above?
  4. Where are you looking for what you seek? Are you in the right pond to have a good chance to find what you want?
  5. Are there patterns you can see in your own dating history that suggest you keep on making choices that lead you to getting the same unsatisfactory outcome? If yes, taking into account what we’ve said, where can you see you need to challenge yourself to change?

If you realise it’s time to get some help with what you’re doing because you’re ready to set out to create and cultivate a relationship, contact me.