I was asked recently what my bigger-than-I-could-ever-imagine-happening dream is. I’m happy to say that I was able to answer immediately: I’d like to see the safe sex campaign updated for the new millennium and replaced with a sane sex movement.
For decades, the government and health officials have been encouraging people to practice safe sex. This means only having sex with the protection of a condom, unless we know for certain that we and our partner are disease-free. Safe sex is a good thing, because it protects us physically, but I’d like to see us raise the bar and promote sane sex, which is more likely to safeguard us emotionally as well. This is a big dream, not just because it involves my book and spreading my message on a large scale, but also because we haven’t done all that well with safe sex. When I wrote my book, the most recent studies reported that about twenty percent of college-age adults failed to engage in safe sex with the percentage increasing to well over 60% for Baby Boomers. I was alarmed to learn recently that a 2010 study conducted by Indiana University found that over 50% of college students and about 90% of people over age 45 said they had not used a condom during their past ten experiences! (http://www.nationalsexstudy.indiana.edu/)
Researchers suggest that the nascent surge in online dating and use of sexual performance drugs has increased sexual activity among single adults. Combine these trends with failure to use condoms and it’s easy to understand why the incidence of STDs continues to rise. I think now is a perfect time to promote sane sex. Why couldn’t the major online dating sites, which publish tips for successful dating, also promulgate the notion of committing to sane sex?
I can see it now: bumper stickers, buttons and screen savers declaring: I practice sane sex. How about you?
Have you ever met someone you just couldn’t resist? If you polled people, you’d find that there is a wide variety qualities or characteristics they find so attractive they lose their resolve, discretion, and typical good judgment.
For instance, some are drawn to people in the entertainment world or public eye. Individuals in powerful positions or uniform may attract us. (Did you know “I love a man in uniform” is a song, a book, a film and a video on youtube?) Perhaps you’ve met someone who reminded you of someone you admire, once knew, or miss. Whatever the circumstance, a weakness makes it difficult for us to resist the individual. When faced with such a temptation, we may find ourselves abandoning our commitment to having only sane sex.
We might be inclined to say that when confronted with a weakness, we lose control. In actuality, we are responsible adults, so it’s more accurate to say that we allow ourselves to give up our resolve and act against our better judgment. But, because you are an adult, it’s a choice you get to make. I’d just like to see you be aware of your weaknesses so when the moment of choice comes, you make a decision you can live with later.
I’ve been asked if the sane sex applies to single people of any age. It does, although I get uncomfortable when people suggest having high schoolers read my book. While the book’s message is one I would love teenagers to embrace, I consider sex to be an adult behavior and inappropriate for anyone under age 18. Even if a 16-year old is in an exclusive, loving relationship, I don’t want to promote their having sex, when they are not of a legal age to deal with the potential consequences.
With that exception, yes, sane sex is relevant for all adults. It’s a common sense approach to handling physical intimacy when dating that nurtures both parties emotionally and physically. Postponing physical intimacy until we’re emotionally intimate means we’ll be sharing ourselves with someone we’re really close to and care about. Why wouldn’t that apply to people of all ages?
Having sex is a big deal, not a recreational activity to pass the time. This could well be new information for someone under the age of 30, given the images shown on MTV, the plots of popular television shows, and the antics displayed in movies where sex during the first encounter is common. However, sane sex resonates with most baby boomers and people over 40 in general, as we were raised with an appreciation for the intimacy of sex and at least the privacy, if not the sanctity, of our bodies.
Whether it’s a new perspective or a familiar message, sane sex makes sense for dating singles of all ages. Commit to having sane sex and choose the best for yourself today and every day.
How long does it take to establish the emotional intimacy needed for sane sex? As I stated last time, it does not have to be long. When Roger and I met, we’d both done our inner work. We spent time together that allowed us to talk and really get to know each other. Neither of us was into game playing, and we both wanted a long term, committed relationship. He still says that he knew from the day we met that we were meant to be together. It took me a little bit longer, about a month. Keep in mind that I’d been dating for a year and a half and had done lots of reflecting, praying, exploring, dating, learning, and finally letting go in that time.
Once you know yourself and what you’re looking for in a relationship, it becomes a matter of finding an appropriate partner to be close to, someone who has the same level of self-awareness that you’ve developed. Here’s where you’ll need to be aware and listen carefully. There are signs when someone is emotionally unavailable or unhealthy. Hopefully your self-exploration revealed any weaknesses or blind spots you’ve fallen prey to in the past, so you can avoid them now. If your dating experience is similar to mine, you’ll start down the road many times until you find the right one. We simply cannot force emotional intimacy to happen.
If it’s been a long time since you’ve been in a loving relationship, the inclination to rush this process can be intense. I urge you to keep the end in mind, as Steven Covey recommends. It will be worth the time you invest!
I admit that the phrase, “worth waiting for,” can suggest having to settle in for the long haul. But it doesn’t have to be that way. To practice sane sex means to delay having sex with someone you’re attracted to until you’re emotionally intimate with them. So the question becomes, how long does it take for two people to become emotionally intimate?
Like so many situations, the answer is “it depends.” The most significant variable is how well each person knows himself or herself. Emotional intimacy requires sharing at a deep level. We can only give what we have, so we must have a deep knowledge of ourselves to share authentically with another person. This kind of self knowledge is not as common or easy to achieve as you might think. For example, I’ve been amazed at how many people really can’t tell me their strengths, not because they don’t want to appear boastful, but because they actually don’t know them. In some cases, there are aspects of themselves they don’t want to acknowledge. Ever heard someone declare, “I’m not angry!” or “Your kidding doesn’t bother me,” when their actions suggest the opposite?
Until you do the deep inner work of knowing yourself, you won’t be able to accurately present yourself to a potential partner. Since achieving emotional intimacy is a process, neglecting this first step prevents real closeness from developing. Others may think they’re getting to know you, but under these circumstances the person you’re presenting isn’t your authentic self, so how can they? Once you truly know yourself, you’ll be ready to find the right person to share yourself with. We’ll explore that next week.
One of my clients recently shared with me advice he had received regarding employment. He was told to work for an organization that deserved him, rather than one who needed him. That’s a new way of looking at things that could be applied to almost any area of life. How would it work for you if you only stayed in relationships with people who deserved you?
While many people think about being needed in the workplace, the tendency in personal relationships is to seek being desired. The idea of dating someone who needs us is uncomfortable – who wants to be with a needy person? But being seen as desirable? This is pretty appealing to most folks. However, to shift our perspective to that of being deserved by the other person is bold. It suggests a high value for both parties. To deserve is “to have earned or be worthy of something.” We are a treasure, and the other person has demonstrated worthiness of our great value.
To accomplish being in a relationship with someone who deserves us, we first truly have to know our value and what we bring to a relationship. Then we need to be discerning enough to determine if the other person deserves what we are. Neither of these steps is quick or easy, but the outcome surely seems worth the effort.
So you’re comfortable with where you’re going on your first date. Now what?
- Drive yourself so you can leave when you want.
- Tell a friend where and when you’re going.
- Avoid going straight from work. Allow yourself time to shift out of work or family mode and into a social, ready for fun frame of mind.
- If you’re shy or conversation is hard for you, have some topics in mind ahead of time.
- Try to relax (breathe!) and be yourself. Don’t worry about trying to flirt, be funny, or be something you’re not. Focus on getting to know the other person, rather than on the impression you’re making.
- Consider how much information you’ll share on the first date. Remember the phrase, “I really couldn’t say” for any topic you don’t want to discuss. Say it slowly, as if with a great deal of thought. It will suggest you don’t know the answer when really you don’t want to talk about it. (I reserve this approach for situations where someone is moving too fast or even being inappropriate, such as the time a man I’d just met asked me when the last time I’d had sex was!)
The most important advice I can give you is not to put too much emphasis on the first date. My best job interviews are when I really don’t care if I get the job or not. I can relax and just be myself, knowing that if it’s meant to be, it will be. First dates are the same way. Just see it as a fun chance to get to know someone new, and odds are you’ll have a good time.
As I discussed last week, singles events can take us out of our comfort zones. If you’ve been successful at working the room and meeting new people, you ideally will be faced with the next major challenge: the dreaded first date.
Many people find first dates nerve-wracking. For me, as a former human resources professional, I was pretty comfortable most of the time because I found them similar to a job interview. Each party is dressed well (usually) and on his or her best behavior, carefully monitoring what was said and what impressions were being made. Often, they ask each other questions, very much like an interview, except the questions could be more personal. Where are you from? How long were you married? How often do you see your children? Each side is gathering information, trying to decide if he or she wants to continue the process.
If the whole idea makes your stomach tight, let me offer a few ideas on how to make it more comfortable for you (not on how to make a good first impression – that would be a completely different list). First, carefully consider where you go. A coffee date is usually short. It happens in a public place and allows you (alright, forces you) to carry on a conversation during the entire time. A movie date is longer and prevents you from talking to each unless you go out afterward, making the date even longer. It takes place in the dark, where it’s not quite so public, so all-in-all I don’t recommend going to a movie as a first date.
Having a drink where live music is playing is a good compromise, provided you can talk and hear yourselves over the music. Be very aware of how much you drink. Stay in control of yourself, and make sure you can safely drive home. If you read my wellness articles, you probably know that health experts advise a limit of one drink for women and two for men.
Want more? Join me next week for part two…
“You must do the things you think you cannot do.” Eleanor Roosevelt
Many people who become single over forty stop dating or, worse yet, don’t even start, out of fear or discomfort. They have an unpleasant dating experience and they give up, deciding it’s easier not to try at all. Easier? Perhaps, but not more enjoyable. Yes, they can avoid the awkwardness of not knowing what to say or the discomfort of being alone in a crowd of people by staying at home, but that gets lonely after a while.
Eleanor Roosevelt grew up in wealth, but she was awkward, unattractive, and painfully shy. She learned the benefits to be gained when we do the things we think we cannot do. Singles would do well to follow her advice. I used to go to singles dances two or three times a month. Most of the time, I got asked to dance and I had a good time. But occasionally I went unnoticed. I recall standing there ill at ease, feeling as if everyone was staring at me. I realize now how silly that notion was. I wasn’t being stared at – no one was looking at me! If someone had noticed me, I would have approached them and begun a conversation.
At some point in the process, we have to put ourselves out there and be willing to take some risks. It gets easier if we keep our thoughts under control and keep the big picture in mind. Although I got discouraged at times, I eventually got back in the game. With experience, it got more comfortable to meet new people, and finally I met Roger. Don’t sell yourself short; you can do it!
Last week I wrote about the danger of needing to outshine your partner to feel good about yourself. To illustrate my point, I’d like to tell you about one man in particular who really stood out.
Our entire first date was more like an interview, where he assessed my education (I had a master’s; he had a bachelor’s), my work experience (I was a manager; he wasn’t), my physical abilities (I was physically fit while he was athletic), and my professional skills (I was comfortable speaking in front of groups and he admitted he was not). He was so busy comparing us that he didn’t recognize how much he had going for him. He’d put himself through college. It took seven years, but he had no loans to repay when he was done, while it took me ten years to pay back the debt I’d accumulated going straight through. He may not have been a manager, but he was a well–paid professional who had strategically changed jobs every few years to gain better experience and higher pay each time. Being athletic, he was in good shape and very attractive. He also had good relationships with his parents and kids.
He saw none of this; nor did he see how smitten I was with him. By the end of our date, he was demoralized. When he dropped me off at my house, he never even turned off the engine. Later, I recalled that he had told me that he’d been dating three years and never had more than one date with anyone! It’s not too surprising, given his perspective. Odds are, there was nothing wrong with the majority of these women really; he just didn’t feel good about himself when he was with them.
Are you looking to be better than the person you date? I hope not, because competition does not enhance intimacy, and emotional intimacy is what sane sex is all about.