In the Day and Age of Plenty
The other day, I read a Medium article written by a man who was deeply disappointed in his sexless marriage.
Perhaps not a marriage devoid of sex, but definitely a marriage that wasn’t meeting his needs. He had plenty of personal anecdotes to share as well as questions for his readers. The long and the short of it, he wanted solutions at best or reassurances at the very least.
He longed for a cure for his unhappiness.
Some of the responses were from men sharing the same disappointment with sexually unfulfilling marriages. Their commonality was that they had higher sex drives than their wives. They were frustrated and even felt unloved at times.
That got me thinking.
One of my favorite topics is how cultural expectations influence human behaviors. The author who wrote about sexual dissatisfaction expressed a common complaint. It made me wonder how our culture might play a role in this quandary.
Was his problem another example of how culture puts limitations on our chances at happiness.
Of course, women piped up, too, sharing their frustrations of living with a man who was difficult to coax into bed. Yes, some men have lower sex drives, too. I happen to think that they’re a lot more common than we suspect. And, there are lots of dissatisfied women stuck in relationships that are not as romantic as they had envisioned nor as fulfilling.
Our culture insists that to be an authentic male, however, one must have the sexual appetite of a demogorgan (reference to the monster in Stranger Things series).
To admit otherwise is to thrust the male in question into the category of the weird and the socially unfit. Most men are not going to publish articles about their asexuality, or low libido, whether they’re sapio sexuals who’re more attracted to the mind than the body, or if they avoid sex because they don’t perform well.
We talk a lot these days about cultural expectations for women in American society.
Frankly, there are too many to identify in this article. Women have been living in a culture that promotes double standards for centuries. One set of expectations for women and a different set for men. It’s only been in the last 120 years that women have managed to throw off the chains that bind them in favor of a freer life more equal to that which men enjoy. We fail to note, however, that men are also under pressure to identify with specific standards of culturally endorsed expectations.
Once we recognize how powerful the forces of our culture are, we can begin the long, slow process of picking and choosing the bits and pieces that align with who we are and ignoring the rest. It’s not an easy task but worth the effort.
So, stick around for a little longer as I sort through my thoughts on this hot topic.
First and foremost, marriage is a cultural concept.
Down through the ages the reasons and rules for marriage have varied. So, our first mistake is in thinking that a man or a woman should marry in the first place, produce 1.5 children, and then live happily ever after for decades.
That’s a ridiculous expectation.
We weren’t born with a specific marriage model wired into our brains. Back in the good old days romantic expectations may have been a lot lower, for example. People needed help on the farm, raising the kids, and hunting for food.
The modern American model of marriage, however, is less about a helpmate and more about a soulmate.
We spend a HUGE amount of time searching for our perfect match. We refuse to settle for anything less than that. There should be mind-blowing sex sparked by movie-quality chemistry and preferably love at first sight.
Otherwise, we’re never sure if the other person is really — THE ONE.
And, if they’re not the one then that means there’s a whole world of possibilities that have gone untapped thanks to the internet. I have a friend who discovered her partner online years ago. She lives in rural Maine and he was from Ireland. Before the internet, their meeting would’ve been an impossibility, but she lived right on the edge of when communication with the world was beginning to blossom and thus the rest is history.
Back in the day, people in small towns across America didn’t have a smorgasbord of choices on the menu.
You pretty well met two or three eligible possibilities and married one of them almost right out of high school. With all the choices available in the dating scene today, you’d think the odds of finding one’s OTHER HALF would be pretty good, but divorce rates prove otherwise. Some people just don’t fit neatly into the culturally accepted model of marriage, but even those who think they do are often still deeply disappointed in their chosen one, even devastated.
Making marriage a civil responsibility requiring a license to be sanctioned not just by a god but by the state has been an area of controversy as well. Is it the church or the state who has the final say?
There have long been cultures that practice arranged marriages.
These marriages often do as well over the long run as modern American marriages. Arranged marriages are more about the family than the couple, however. The family gets involved in the selection of the perfect spouse. This person must fill the needs not just of a marriage partner but of the entire family unit.
Wow! Can you even imagine self-centered Americans capable of meeting so many expectations?
But the fact remains that love also means something different in different cultures. For example, did you know that there was a time not THAT long ago when there wasn’t a word in Japanese for romantic love? When the Japanese started translating Western romance novels, they had to invent a new word.
Hard to believe I know.
But there was a lot more emphasis placed on the group than the individual. The circle of obligation stretched well beyond one’s self and that’s where the social emphasis was placed.
Of course, regardless of which culture we inherit through the lottery of birth, social pressure to conform is so strong that most people comply.
They don’t even know that they made a choice because they think what everyone else is doing is the only way to do things. That’s why cultural expectations are far better at controlling human behavior than laws will ever be.
If perchance there is a non-conformist in the group, life can get pretty tricky for them.
Periodically, social constructs have morphed over time into something new and different. We’ve seen that happen in the 20th century when divorce became very common and the stigma attached to divorce was largely removed. Gone are the days when a divorced woman is considered of low moral character.
Statistically, even good Catholics and evangelicals who promote family values are guilty of a huge number of divorces.
I feel fortunate to live in a day and age where people dare to question the culture they inherited. It’s still frowned upon by many, but finally more people are refusing to conform.
I have witnessed the eradication of many useless, even harmful cultural expectations in my lifetime.
Fewer gay people live in the shadows of their community afraid to express their needs for fear of being ostracized or even killed. Alternative lifestyles are becoming normalized slowly but surely. More people refuse to deny themselves the freedom to live as they see fit.
From the polyamorous to three or more people in a single committed relationship, to open marriages, to living together without a state-sanctioned marriage contract, love and marriage are being redefined.
People are staying single longer or not marrying at all. Many are choosing not to have kids. Women have careers. Men help to raise the children. It’s amazing when you think about it. There have been so many changes in such a short amount of time.
So what would I tell this man who lives in a sexless marriage?
I would tell him to figure out what he wants and then do it, knowing full well that choosing your path will always be met with obstacles. People won’t necessarily applaud your efforts, but it’s your life.
If he has children, I would tell him this.
We need to raise children with an emphasis on developing a sense of self. I’m not talking about selfishness. I’m talking about self-awareness. That takes time. Unfortunately, many humans still lack self-awareness. We weren’t raised to think about how to make choices based on who we are and what we need to flourish. We were raised to just do what the masses do. The human brain isn’t fully developed until around age twenty-five. Marrying and starting a family any earlier than that almost guarantees that you’ll be learning about yourself long after you took on family responsibilities, often at their expense as well as yours.
We need to encourage our children to be themselves and not feel guilty about setting boundaries when it comes to their relationships.
We’re prone to jump into relationships before we know ourselves and definitely before we know the other person. We need to teach children how to tell the difference between chemistry and compatibility and then choose friends and lovers according to a new gold standard.
I’d tell this man that if he thinks that leaving his wife is the answer, then spend some time defining compatibility before hooking up with the next internet playmate.
That’s going to require some work, not on the wife but on himself. Men have been told that addressing their feelings should never be discussed or dealt with but just to buck up and carry on. However, there is a whole world of self-awareness to be explored if you have the courage. Why end up with another partner who is a carbon copy of the person you claim made you feel so unhappy? So many people do this, over and over again. If this isn’t a clear-cut case of a need for therapy, I don’t know what is. Yeah, men can benefit from therapy, too.
Oh, but what about chemistry, you ask?
Chemistry can be found with lots of people, but that’s not compatibility. In fact, that isn’t even love. Chemistry is misleading. Our society insists that chemistry is proof of love so Americans tend to base their choice of lifelong partners on this and almost nothing else. It’s a fairy tale not unlike finding your prince and riding off into the sunset where you both live happily ever after. That’s just not the way things work. To tell our kids otherwise isn’t honest.
What about living alone?
There are much worse things than living alone. Living outside your comfort zone for decades is one of them. Many people do it, however, but it’s unnecessary these days. We have to make the shift away from thinking that our main goal in life is to find our other half, our soul mate. That kind of magical thinking is silly and juvenile.
There are no soul mates.
There is no “other half” waiting to be discovered. We are the whole package. We come into this world alone and leave this world alone and we should be comfortable with the idea of being alone.
If you have a lover that’s also a best friend then you’ve found someone with whom you’re compatible. The more you have in common, the better the relationship. Opposites may attract, another cultural myth, but longevity is dependent on commonalities. Many people miss that part and then wonder why they are living in a constant state of compromise and self sacrifice. Sure, a healthy dose of compromise is needed in a relationship, but when that’s all you’re doing bitterness soon follows.
We need to think long and hard before having children.
They’re not a requirement no matter how much your mom wants to be a grandmother. Too many children are either afterthoughts or assumptions. We either have them by mistake or assume that we must have children in order to be fulfilled. Both reasons are ridiculous. Modern humans can finally lead more deliberate lives where self-awareness determines whether we want to be parents or even whether we would be good parents or not.
I love living in an era where there are so many choices.
I look out my window every day and feel so alive knowing that we no longer live in bygone days when there was only one approved way to do everything. Diversity inspires creativity and creativity is our saving grace.
So, to the man who doesn’t get enough sex.
Well, I’m not a marriage therapist. That’s a good place to start. Find yourself a good therapist and begin your therapy journey with exploring what makes you tick. I’m pretty sure there’s more to this than just not getting enough sex. Try to figure out which cultural expectations hijacked your life before your brain was fully developed. Too many assumptions based on social rules in the past influenced who you are today.
Get to know yourself. It’s too bad you weren’t given that opportunity earlier in life, but better late than never.
Eventually, if you’re willing to do the work, you’re going to begin to realize that you have many choices to make and always did. These choices aren’t limited to figuring out whether to stay married or not. We just happen to be examining the American marriage construct for the time being.
You can masturbate, you can get a divorce, you can have an open marriage or stay single, you can live with a woman, you can sleep with a man, you can have a group relationship, you could stay married, divorce and remarry, or live alone. Many of these choices were not available to people in the recent past. Some are still frowned upon. It’s nobody’s business but yours.
These choices always existed, however, but our culture hid them from you.
Whatever you decide to do, get to know yourself first. Then, don’t confuse sex with love and chemistry with compatibility. Because it’s not your job in life to make other people conform to your needs.
It’s your job to become self-aware, and then make better choices for yourself.
Teresa is an author and professional myth buster. You can find her books on Amazon.