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Polygamy Vs. Consensual Non-Monogamy: Is There A Difference?

open-relationships-hero

When it came to dissecting the absurdities of language, nobody did it better than George Carlin. Beyond being one of the funniest comedians of all time, Carlin could break down certain concepts in a way that was as insightful as it was hilarious. His brilliant analysis of what he called “soft language” is more relevant now than it was when he was still performing.

Given the rise of outrage culture, I often wish George were still alive today so that he could tear the absurdities down, as only he could. We can only imagine how he would’ve tackled issues like fake news, alternative facts, and toxic masculinity. At the very least, his legacy of attacking soft language lives on.

In his book, “Parental Advisory,” Carlin defined soft language as terminology people use to help them avoid unpleasant truths. It helps fat people feel better about being “morbidly obese.” It helps poor people feel better about being “economically disadvantaged.” It helps drug addicts feel better about being “substances abusers.”

The face of a man who didn’t buy such bullshit.

Whatever the case, no matter how many colorful words people utilize, the underlying theme is the same. There are certain aspects of reality that bother some people, so they decide to re-frame it in a way that feels less serious and more palatable. It’s rarely overt. There’s rarely an official announcement or anything. Most of the time, it’s just a trend that people forget is absurd.

This leads me to the emerging concept of “consensual non-monogamy.” It’s kind of what it sounds like. It’s a form of a non-monogamous relationship in which both partners grant one another permission to seek sexual or romantic entanglements with others. Sometimes it involves certain rules and boundaries that are openly negotiated. The key is that there is consent and understanding at all levels.

This is not a new idea. If it sounds a lot like polyamory, an idea I’ve touched on before, that’s because it is for the most part. It’s a non-monogamous relationship that people pursue for any number of reasons. It’s actually one of humanity’s oldest forms of relationships and some even argue that it’s more natural than monogamy.

I’m not going to argue how natural or unnatural such practices are, but I think this latest manifestation of soft language requires scrutiny. Like every other kind of soft language, these sorts of linguistic quirks don’t evolve randomly. There’s often a method behind the absurdity and while I’m not as brilliant as Carlin, I have a pretty good idea of why it’s happening.

In terms of definitions, there isn’t that much difference between polyamory and consensual non-monogamy. Logistically, though, there are a few complexities that differentiate the two practices. They’re minor, but relevant to the extent that inspired soft language.

While there hasn’t been much research into consensual non-monogamous couples, the little we do have paints a fairly comprehensive narrative. In these relationships, there is a “primary” partner who holds the role of spouse/lover. This is the partner with which they love and seek to share their lives with. They’re the ones whose names are on emergency contact forms, loan applications, and wills.

Beyond the primary partner are all the girlfriends/boyfriends with which the sexy stuff occurs. The extent and motives behind these encounters are communicated and understood with the primary partner. Every couple is different so the boundaries vary. Some couples have to be together when they’re getting sexy with others. Some are okay with it happening more randomly.

If that sounds a lot like polyamory, then congratulations. You’re starting to understand how George Carlin thought. While polyamory has its own dictionary definition, it’s connotations are not the same as consensual non-monogamy. What people think of when they hear the word “polyamory” conjures different mental images than a term like consensual non-monogamy.

Polyamory, for better or for worse, is one of those terms that has a certain level of linguistic baggage. It’s less associated with the free-spirited couples who get their own reality show and more with outdated traditions associated with polygamous marriages. Think “Big Love” rather than “Friends With Benefits.”

Now, I know I’ll upset those in the polyamorous community for just hinting at that association. For that, I apologize. I know most who identify as polyamorous or consensual non-monogamous don’t like being associated with the kinds of practices that are often associated with horrific crimes. That gets to the heart of where this soft language comes from.

Even if the principles are the same, those sexy free-spirited couples have a valid incentive to set themselves apart from polyamory. It doesn’t matter the disturbing practices of extreme religious cults are only a small subset of polyamorous relationships. They’re distressing enough for most reasonable people.

I dare you to find something more creepy.

As a result, a less broad term emerges. Consensual non-monogamy may have a few extra syllables, but it feels more technical and official. It’s harder to apply to the more distressing aspects of polyamory because it emphasizes consent, a concept that has only become more heated in recent years.

You can’t have child marriages or even arranged marriages of any kind under consensual non-monogamy. It would undermine the whole “consensual” part of the term. In that context, it’s understandable that this kind of term would emerge. There’s nothing in the definition of polyamory that weeds out those negative associations. Rather than actually confront it, soft language acts as a filter.

Given the frequency with which the negative aspects of polygamy still occur, it’s hard to blame those who practice consensual non-monogamy for wanting to set themselves apart. As those relationships become increasingly acceptable, there will be an increasing desire to frame it in a particular way and “consensual non-monogamy” checks all the right boxes.

It emphasizes consent.

It implies choice and personal freedom.

It’s technical, but doesn’t completely undercut the sex appeal.

Even if the definitions aren’t that different, consensual non-monogamy still does just enough to set itself apart from polyamory. In terms of soft language, it adds some critical, but necessary complications to something that is still subject to plenty of taboos. In a perfect world, such a differentiation wouldn’t be necessary. Sadly, that’s not the kind of world we live in.

Sadly, indeed.

I like to think even Carlin would understand that some amount of soft language is necessary. Whether you call it consensual non-monogamy or polyamory, how we think about these ideas are going to affect our attitudes towards it. If consensual non-monogamous couples don’t want to be associated with crackpot religious cults, then they have every right to set themselves apart.

That said, it’s also entirely possible that more soft language will emerge as consensual non-monogamy becomes more mainstream. Love, sex, and relationships are complicated and human beings are uniquely talented at complicating things. Years from now, we may not call it consensual non-monogamy. We may use something along the lines of “mutually non-binding romantic intimacy relationship agreements.”

At that point, hopefully someone will have picked up on the absurdities. George Carlin may no longer be with us, but that doesn’t mean we should tolerate more bullshit in a world that already has too much of it.

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Filed under gender issues, human nature, Marriage and Relationships, polyamory, psychology, romance, sex in society, sexuality

The (Unequal) Gender Politics Of Divorce

debt-and-divorce

There are a handful of words that evoke a special kind of dread. I’m not just talking about racial slurs, crushing insults, or George Carlin’s famous seven dirty words. There’s one word that evokes dread that transcends race, gender, and political affiliation. That word is divorce. I’ll give everyone a moment to stop cringing.

I can personally attest to the impact of that word. I have many close friends, relatives, and family members who have gone through divorce. I’ve seen, first-hand, how devastating it can be to individuals and their family. It can be every bit as devastating on children as well. While there is certainly a benefit for spouses and children who escape an abusive relationship, there can still be lasting scars.

Most people agree that divorce is a pretty traumatic experience. It is very much the antithesis of the love, connection, and intimacy we seek in others. It is against everything I generally write about on this website. However, divorce is a significant part of our society.

At this point, it’s worth pointing out that the old “half of all marriages end in divorce” saying is not in line with the data. According to the National Center for Family and Marriage Research, the divorce rate in 2015 was 16.9 divorces per 1,000 marriages. That actually represents a significant decline since the 1980 when the divorce rate was nearly 23 per 1,000 marriages.

Whatever the rate is, the effects of divorce are still devastating and heartbreaking. Those effects also get lost in a lot of doom-saying surrounding marriage and the state of the family, which is often led by religious zealots and reactionary pundits. Beyond even the tragic and painful stories surrounding divorce, there is another element to it that often goes overlooked.

Unfortunately, it has to do with gender disparities and I’ve learned in the course of writing about this topic, this often brings out some heated debates. I expect that to hold true more than usual on this issue because it’s already so emotionally charged. On top of that, there’s plenty of data to show that when it comes to marriage and divorce, men and women are not on the same page.

The first major indicator of that disparity is shown in who does the proposing. Even in today’s more progressive climate, men are still the ones who propose 90 percent of the time. Despite the many running jokes about men being afraid to commit, they’re still the ones who pop the question. While more and more women are starting to propose, this gap is still significant.

The second indicator, which I’m sure is going to inflame ongoing gender conflicts, has to do with who initiates divorce. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 80 percent of divorces are initiated by women. Again, that’s not a trivial gap. That implies there’s a major disconnect at work and it’s not getting better, even as more people remain single.

The reasons for women initiating divorce are many. I don’t want to get too deep into them, but there are many conflicting narratives. There are those who see marriage as a tool of patriarchal oppression and divorce is tool of liberation. On the other side are those who claim marriage is just an institutional tool that women use to exploit men for resources with divorce being the oversized sledge hammer.

With the added complication of no fault divorce, alimony laws, and child support, there are more legal mechanisms than ever to rub salt in the wound that is divorce. It’s not enough for a relationship to end and for romance to fade. Involving lawyers and lawmakers adds multiple layers of heartbreak and frustration to the mix.

This is where the gender divide can get especially hostile. On top of the disparity in who proposes and who divorces, there’s also a significant divide in how these laws affect each gender. Even though women have gained much more economic independence over the years, 97 percent of the ex-spouses who receive alimony after a divorce are women.

Add the ease of no-fault divorce into the mix and there’s a painful incentive for women to initiate divorce. If the choice is staying in a boring marriage or leaving with some money without having to prove any wrongdoing, then who could blame someone for taking that option? It’s still heartbreaking and hurtful, but people are going to respond to incentives, regardless of gender.

It certainly hasn’t helped gender relations. Many unabashed misogynists will cite how many women receive alimony and use that to claim that all women are manipulative psychopaths who only see men as a wallet or a sperm bank. Those kinds of generalizations are crude, but when you can cite real-world cases of unapologetic gold digging among women, it’s easy to see where that hatred comes from.

Personally, I don’t believe that hatred is justified. Most men don’t see women with that kind of hostility. In principle, alimony exists to protect women who would otherwise be in poverty after divorce. That is reasonable and well-intentioned. In practice, though, it’s a legal tool that can be abused and further foster hateful attitudes.

The data for who gets primary custody of children is just as striking. According to Census data, 82 percent of mothers get custody after divorce. That same set of data also notes that this stat hasn’t changed much over the past 20 years. That, in my opinion, is the most frustrating aspect of this issue.

Despite all the other changes and trends we’ve seen in recent years with feminism, men’s rights activism, and evolving trends in marriage, there hasn’t been much change in the overall narrative. Even as feminists bemoan patriarchal oppression and men’s rights activities protest gender-driven injustice, the rhetoric rarely translates into meaningful change.

I understand that some relationships are just doomed from the start. I also understand that the nature of romance is changing in accord with culture, society, and law. However, the lack of change in the fundamentals of how we pursue marriage and manage divorce is confusing and even a little infuriating.

Women seek, and have gained, a great deal of rights and protections in pursuing their own path within a more egalitarian society. At the same time, they still hold onto traditions surrounding relationships. They still expect the man to propose and to support her in the event of divorce. I doubt that’s out of malice. This is just what we, as a society, consider normal.

At the same time, men are pursuing their own brand of rights and protections within this society. Issues like father’s rights and reforms to family courts all have a place in pursuing a more equitable system. Even so, men still expect women to play a certain role within a relationship while assuming too much about their own role.

It’s an untenable situation. Society is guiding the genders in one direction while they’re pulling towards another. The old narrative surrounding divorce is just not compatible with the one that’s emerging. The situation today is very different than it was in 1908. Laws, culture, and even the economy are changing the factors that guide divorce. The only thing that doesn’t change is the pain of a broken relationship.

As it stands, men and women both seem to want more equality in the tragic realm of divorce. However, they each seem to have very different ideas of what constitutes “equality.” The narrative, as it stands, is built around men pursuing women and women deciding when that pursuit is over. Anything that deviates from that is seen as abnormal or absurd.

Every relationship is different. Every individual is different. There are probably some women out there who divorce out of blind hatred and there are men who marry women they have no intention of loving for the rest of their lives. There are plenty of vindictive people out there and divorce is a weapon that needs no sharpening.

The late, great Robin Williams once said that “Divorce is like ripping a man’s genitals out through his wallet.”

Feminist, Gloria Steinem, once said “You become a semi-non person when you get married. The surest way to be alone is to get married.”

These attitudes nicely reflect the current gender divide when it comes to divorce. Until that gap is narrowed, the heartbreak and hatred inspired by divorce will only get worse. Men and women have enough reasons to clash with one another. Divorce just makes it worse by giving that animosity legal powers.

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When Waiting Until Your Wedding Night To Have Sex Fails

weddingnight

One of the most important decisions anyone can make for themselves is when they choose to have sex. Some seek to do it the first chance they get. Some prefer to wait until they’ve found that special someone with which they want to spend the rest of their lives. Most people render their decision within that vast gray area in between.

While we like to think society has become less uptight when it comes to sex, there’s still some lingering prudishness from centuries of taboos, traditions, and general ignorance. We’ve made a lot of progress from the days when we believed that a woman’s womb could become displaced and that male masturbation causes blindness, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement.

While everyone is different in how they approach their sex lives, the idea of waiting until marriage is still held up as an ideal. It’s the standard championed by religious zealots, social conservatives, and parents who just don’t want to think too much about the sex lives of their children. It’s also the cornerstone of abstinence only sex education, which is often the only sex education young people get.

Now, I’m not going to bemoan the ineffectiveness of this type of education. Many people far smarter and more resourceful than me have already studied just how damaging this approach can be for vulnerable youth. Instead, I want to focus on the actual merit behind this ideal championed by so many. The education programs may be ineffective, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be something to this ideal.

Like so many other things related to sex and human nature, the answer isn’t simple or straightforward. In fact, it’s a lot more complicated than the most religious conservative and the most lenient liberal will ever admit. That’s because people, in general, are complicated. The ideal that works for most people still won’t work for everyone. There are countless factors involved on whether waiting to have sex is a good idea.

You don’t have to look too far to find personal stories about people who regretted waiting until their wedding night to have sex. You also don’t have to look far to find stories from couples who claim waiting was beneficial. No matter what your sexual politics may be, you can find anecdotes supporting both sides of the spectrum and every point in between.

That said, there are a few common themes for those who regretted waiting and those who believe waiting benefited them in the long run. In the interest of simplifying the many complications that go into peoples’ sex lives, I think it’s worth highlighting the issues that made waiting the wrong decision for some couples.


Issue #1: They Waited For The Wrong Reasons

This is where religious and cultural influences often skew the decision. It’s also the issue in which shame, misplaced guilt, and taboos really warp a person’s attitude towards sex, love, and marriage. It’s one thing to want to wait until marriage because you’re not comfortable getting that intimate with someone too soon. It’s quite another when you wait because you’re afraid you’ll be punished by a prudish deity.

I’ve already noted before how religion can skew sexual attitudes to destructive extremes. There are more than a few stories about people who justified waiting with religion, only to regret it later on. This kind of impact tends to affect women more than men, but men aren’t immune from it either. Attitudes, believes, and misinformation can skew decisions regarding sex for all the wrong reasons.

At the end of the day, using religion as an excuse to wait is just that. It’s an excuse and not a reason. If it’s not in line with your actual desires, then it’s like trying to exercise by lifting bags of feathers. It’s not going to have the desired effects.


Issue #2: Expectations Not Matching Reality

Even without the religious or cultural influences, waiting until marriage is often framed as this big culmination for a relationship. It’s set up as this magical moment out of a fairy tale, albeit one that’s R-rated. Couples build up all this energy and anticipation, so much so that it skews the actual mechanics of sex.

This has led to more than a few awful wedding nights. Those issues are only compounded for people who didn’t get a good education on basic human anatomy. Not knowing what an orgasm or a clitoris is can be a huge liability for any couple wanting to have a memorable experience. Not knowing what a refractory period is can be just as awkward.

Beyond just making the first time anything but magical, it can negatively impact the course of an otherwise loving relationship. If all those expectations don’t pan out, then that undermines the confidence two people have in their relationship. For some people, it takes time and effort to develop a meaningful sex life and waiting can put them behind the curve.


Issue #3: Not Knowing (Or Communicating) Intimate Knowledge

This feeds off the issues that come with poor sexual education, but in a more intimate context. Even if you know how your partner’s genitals work and waited until marriage for non-religious reasons, there’s still a chance that the wedding night will end poorly.

This is where even comprehensive sex education comes up short. Those same teachers, preachers, and parents will say waiting until marriage is a good thing, but they won’t offer much advice on how to make it good after the wedding. The assumption is a couple will just figure it out and that’s a misguided assumption, to say the least.

Not knowing what your partner wants or even likes will make it difficult to have a satisfying sex life, even after the wedding night. Lingering taboos surrounding sex certainly don’t help. Maybe your partner finds out they like being on top. Maybe they like a certain position that’s awkward for you. Maybe they’re into kinky things that they didn’t realize.

Waiting until the wedding night to share this information can be a problem, among other things. It can also lead to a communications deficit between partners and that’s never good for a relationship.


Issue #4: Having Entirely Different Levels Of Desire

Say, for instance, one person has a veracious sex drive. They’re not going to be satisfied doing it twice a year on Valentine’s Day and their anniversary. They want to do it frequently and for extended periods of time. That’s just how their wired.

Now, imagine another person who is the exact opposite. They’re just not very sexual, by nature. They’re the kind of person who can have sex a few times a year with their partner and be perfectly satisfied. They don’t feel the need to do anything too elaborate. They’re just wired that way.

Given such disparity, do you think these two would be compatible lovers? Do you think it would help or hurt their relationship if they learned of their discrepancy in desire on their wedding night? Chances are that relationship will have some serious obstacles that may not be reconcilable.

Knowing your partner’s level of desire is a very important thing to communicate for any couple, married or not. Waiting until the wedding to even confront that issue is sure to compound those problems. If every functional relationship is built on good communication, then waiting in this context counts as a major oversight.


Issue #5: Not Understanding That A Good Sex Life Requires Effort

This goes right back to that magical fantasy that waiting until marriage is supposed to feed into. The idea that the first time will be mind-blowingly magical is akin to thinking you’ll play like LeBron James the first time you pick up a basketball. Like any skill or experience, you actually need to work on it. Just going over Lebron’s practice regimen is proof of that.

Thankfully, nature gives people plenty of incentive to practice making love. If orgasms and love aren’t good enough, then you’re just being difficult. However, for some couples who wait, the notion of practice almost seems strange. Those who end up having a bad wedding night tend to have negative expectations moving forward. Religious and cultural taboos only make it worse.

It’s odd how we understand the need to put in the work for so many other skills, but make this fanciful exception when it comes to sex. The idea of waiting until marriage and sex not being more meaningful just undermines the narrative. It makes for a nasty combination of flawed assumptions, inflated expectations, and intimate ignorance that make a satisfying wedding night next to impossible.


Even with all these issues, it’s still entirely possible for a couple to wait until their wedding night and still have a satisfying sex life. That certainly happens and I’ve even known some couples who took that approach. I’ve also known couples who didn’t wait until their wedding night, but still had a successful marriage.

Every couple is different. Every relationship is going to be subject to a wide range of complications and influences, be they cultural or personal. For some, waiting until the wedding night is the right decision. For others, it’s the worst decision they could make. Figuring it out is difficult and nobody wants to figure it out the hard way.

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Five Overused Romantic Sub-Plots (And How To Fix Them)

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Being a self-professed romance fan, I know more about the intricacies of romantic sub-plots than most men would ever dare admit. I’ve consumed an absurd amount of romantic media over the years and I’ve noticed more than a few common themes, some more endearing than others.

However, by consuming so much romantic content, I’ve also seen certain themes get overused and badly mishandled. I could list countless instances promising romantic sub-plots collapsing because it fell into a narrative trap. Sometimes, it’s because of poor writing. Sometimes, it’s because the story has too many constraints. I’ve even cited a few famous cases that exhibit both.

Whatever the case, it’s not hard to screw up a romantic sub-plot. I’ve done that more than a few times with the stories I’ve written. Lately, though, there are certain types of sub-plots that have lost their luster. They’ve either been done too many times or haven’t innovated in way too long.

Overused or not, I believe there are elements of these sub-plots that are worth saving. They just need some refinement and polish. What follows is a list of five overdone romantic sub-plots, why they’ve become so bland, and how to fix them. I’ve covered some of these elements before. This is just the romance lover in me offering some tips for future romance stories.


Romantic Sub-Plot #1: Best Friends Turned Lovers

Why It’s Overdone

I think you can thank sitcoms like “Friends” and movies like “Clueless” for this sub-plot to fall out of favor. Personally, I blame Ross and Rachel for giving this theme a bad name. They took the whole friends-falling-in-love plot way too far. Towards the end, it was more annoying than compelling.

These days, this sub-plot isn’t as common as it used to be. I think a lot of romance fans were burned out on it in the 1990s and early 2000s. There’s only so many times a character can say in so many words “I didn’t realize that what I was looking for was right here in front of me” and sound genuine.

How To Fix It

Simply put, this sub-plot needs to shake up the setting. Too many times, a story about friends becoming lovers is built around one friend having had feelings for the other over many years. That can be sweet when done right, but it’s way too easy to be done wrong. These days, it almost comes off as a long con or stalking.

To fix it, the emphasis needs to shift towards two characters undergoing major upheavals. Perhaps they go through a tragedy or trauma that changes the way they feel about other people. It can’t just be restricted to their friend/lover, either. This upheaval should affect their entire world and from there, they come together in a new way.

It has the potential to show two characters go through major growth as individuals, which eventually turns into growth as a couple. That kind of growth can work wonders for any romance and could offer something more meaningful than old friends hiding their feelings.


Romantic Sub-Plot #2: Love Triangles

Why It’s Overdone

I’ve already made my hatred of love triangles very clear. I’ve gone so far as to cite one from the X-men as the worst of all time. Beyond the comics, though, it’s not hard to see cases of this sub-plot done horribly wrong. Even contemporary romance like “Twilight” and “The Hunger Games” have made this troubled trope more insufferable.

Simply put, love triangles reduce everyone involved to prizes or plot devices. It’s next to impossible to make every character in a love triangle feel like a real character. It turns romantic development into a competition and in the long run, nobody wins and certain characters lose badly.

How To Fix It

I’m tempted to say that love triangles should be abandoned and killed with a 12-gauge shotgun, but I’m not a fan of throwing away romantic themes, no matter how much I despise them. For this particular theme, I think it needs more than just a fix. It needs a complete overhaul.

By that, it can’t just involve two people competing for someone else’s affection. That gets old fast. If there is going to be a love triangle, then it should actually take the time to show why someone is torn in the first place. It needs to be clear that someone genuinely loves more than one person and there’s a reason for that love.

This is also a sub-plot that may benefit from shifting taboos. Non-monogamy is becoming more mainstream and there aren’t many real romance stories about that idea that aren’t bad pornos. A love triangle has to stop being an either/or plot and become a why/how plot. There needs to be a concerted effort to ensure everyone involved gets some sort of emotional resolution that doesn’t involve someone getting screwed over.


Romantic Sub-Plot #3: Destined Lovers

Why It’s Overdone

If you’ve gone through any high school English class or are just familiar with certain literary traditions, you’ve probably seen this in all kinds of media. “Romeo and Juliet” is probably the most famous, but it still shows up frequently throughout romantic media. It’s prevalent in movies like “Titanic” and comics like “Superman.”

Don’t get me wrong. I have a soft spot for star-crossed lovers who are destined to fall in love, but it’s a very bland sub-plot. There’s no real sense of conflict. You know two characters are going to end up together and where’s the intrigue there?

How To Fix It

For this sub-plot, I think a simple shift in context would help. Most romance featuring destined lovers emphasis how they come together, despite the obstacles in front of them. I think it might be more compelling to explore why these characters are star-crossed to begin with. Is it just destiny or are there other forces at work?

There are a lot of factors that go into romance, even those of the non-destined variety. Why not explore the concept of destiny, as it relates to love? Why not dig a little deeper into the intricacies of how it unites people so completely? That wouldn’t just offer a meta-perspective of love, as a plot device. It would give us all an opportunity to reconsider what it means to be in love.


Romantic Sub-Plot #4: Love At First Sight

Why It’s Overdone

This sub-plot is very similar to the destined lovers trope. It’s often a pre-cursor to two people finding out they’re destined to be together. For many of the same reasons, it’s pretty bland and basic. One character sees another, some sappy music starts playing, and the love story is effectively laid out.

We see it happen very overtly in “Romeo and Juliet” and “Titanic.” We see it manifest in some form in most romantic comedies. A character just sees someone they find attractive and that becomes the catalyst for their love. It’s sweet, but not very deep and it has just become too predictable at this point. When two people fall in love at first sight, what other story is there to tell?

How To Fix It

This one can’t be fixed with the same methods as the destined lovers sub-plot. This is one of those plots that doesn’t have to be radically altered, but definitely needs fresh nuance. Finding that nuance means injecting more than just love into the mix when two characters first meet.

The first encounter between two characters is always pivotal. It helps set the tone for their relationship, romantic and otherwise. To make this sub-plot work in new ways, characters need to intrigue each other in new ways. It can’t be enough that they’re attractive. There has to be something else about them.

Maybe the character has a skill that someone has never seen before. Maybe the character causes someone to re-think a past assumption. Maybe it sends them on a new journey that their love interest can join. There are many opportunities here. There doesn’t have to just be one.


Romantic Sub-Plot #5: Sex Complicating Love

Why It’s Overdone

This one is probably the most overtly sexual romantic sub-plot that also happens to be the most predictable. Ironically, it’s “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me” that summed it up best. Things go from “Don’t worry, it won’t get weird” to “It got weird, didn’t it?” That’s every sex-complicating-love story in a nutshell.

This one also has the burden of being weighed down by long-standing sexual taboos. While it may seem like those taboos have faded in the 21st century, it’s still the slutty women and stud men who die first in slasher movies. Sex, even in a romance story, still comes off as something dirty that somehow undermines a romance.

Even though sexual attitudes have evolved a great deal, the idea that sex complicates/ruins a relationship hasn’t moved very far. It’s why sex tends to be an afterthought in modern romances. Sometimes, it’s ignored or assumed and that’s just a waste of quality sexual chemistry.

How To Fix It

As an aspiring erotica/romance writer, I’ve been working on that for years. While I can’t claim to have a definitive answer, I have surmised a few ideas turn sex from a complication to a catalyst. It doesn’t have to be overly titillating or pornographic, although that can work. It just has to supplement the romance rather than subvert it.

Sex in romance is often treated like an endgame. It’s marks the culmination rather than the progression of a relationship. I believe that’s a missed opportunity. In any romance, sex should function as a progression, of sorts. It takes the relationship to a new stage, one where new opportunities for emotional and personal growth emerge.

When two characters have sex, it can be more than just a chance to depict genitals and female breasts. It can be an exercise of intimacy where two characters strengthen their bond, rather than sully it. That gives greater meaning to the sexiness and nothing makes romance hotter than genuinely meaningful sex.

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Filed under Marriage and Relationships, media issues, polyamory, romance, sex in media, sexuality

How We’ll (Have To) Manage Love In A World Of Brain Hacking

Picture the following scenario. If you’ve ever been to a fairy tale wedding or if you’ve been part of some big romantic ceremony, you won’t need much imagination. You’ll just need to have been sober at the time that moment played out. Even if you haven’t, it should still be easy to picture.

It’s a beautiful moment. Two people are standing at an altar together, proclaiming their love for each other in front of friends, family, and whatever deities they happen to prefer. It all goes so well. There are tears of joy, heartfelt gestures, and powerful moments that will last a lifetime.

That all happens in this scenario. It plays out. It’s every bit as beautiful as I just described, and then some. Hold onto that sentiment because now I’d like to complicate it, but not in the way you think.

I already painted a similar scenario when I talked about the possibility of hacking the human brain to induce love and ensure two people only ever love each other. This is someone similar, but one that factors in the bigger picture that tends to dilute all romantic moments. Again, it’s not quite as unsexy as you think, but it’s close.

Go back to that scenario. It’s still every bit as happy and sincere as any non-arranged, non-shotgun marriage could possibly be. Then, just before the chosen holy man declares two people spouses, a state-licensed lawyer enters the room. Yes, I understand that already seriously undermines the moment. Bear with me. It’s about to get weirder and less sexy.

The lawyer isn’t there to ruin the moment. He or she is actually there because the law requires him to be there. They have a very simple, but very necessary job. Before two people can be declared spouses, complete with all the tax benefits and insurance perks that come with it, the lawyer has to make sure that nobody’s brain was hacked to crate false, insincere feelings of love.

I’ll give everyone a moment to scoff, roll their eyes, or just stare blankly in confusion. I understand completely. What I just described sounds like something out of a Matrix-themed wedding that went horribly wrong. I wish I could say it was just another one of my not-so-sexy thought experiments. Unfortunately, this scenario reflects a serious issue that we may have to confront.

Think about what that lawyer had to do in that situation. Beyond the innate anxiety that comes along whenever a lawyer gets involved in a situation, especially if you’ve been skimping on your taxes, they’re tasked with the legal equivalent of making sure a Disney-style spell isn’t at work here. They have to, for the sake of the law and basic human dignity, that the love someone professes isn’t false.

Why would they even have to do that in the first place? Well, if you’ve been following along on this blog, you’ve noticed I’ve been talking a lot about the sincerity of love and how false perceptions may impact those powerful emotions. Even before that, I’ve talked about the prospect of enhancing the human brain and using those advances to make us sexier and more romantic.

These kinds of enhancements have so much potential to change the way we love, make love, and forge romantic commitments to one another. It may very well change the kinds of love stories we tell. For me, a guy trying to make his career in the erotica/romance industry, it’s kind of important that I follow these advances.

With every advance, however, comes various legal, ethical, and morally ambiguous headaches that quickly turn into migraines when you consider the implications. In that context, few advances have more implications than brain enhancement.

Considering how easy our brains are to fool, it makes sense to enhance this organ over all others. Yes, that means our genitals too, even though they’re already getting their share of enhancements. Every romantic and sexy feeling we’ve ever had or experience starts in our brain. Enhance that and everything we know about sex, love, and marriage goes out the window and into an incinerator.

A person with a brain implant is inherently capable of love, passion, and sex appeal that exceeds anything our natural biology can match. If you’d don’t believe me, then ask a woman about the efficiency of her vibrator compared to that of her lover. It’s not a fair comparison, to say the least.

Like any tool humans have ever made, we’ll use brain implants and brain enhancement to improve our lives. That includes are sex lives as well. There’s a reason why it’s a huge chunk of the pharmaceutical industry’s profits. That’s where the legal issues come into play, but not in the way you might think.

The second someone puts anything in their brain that resembles a computer, it inherently becomes subject to hacking. It’s an inescapable and often underreported pitfall of the digital age in which we all so eagerly partake. If it has a computer in it, then it can be hacked. Chances are, it has been hacked at one point, probably far more than you’d want to know.

That kind of hacking is hard enough to deal with. Once the computers go in our brains, though, then the stakes go up considerably. It’s one thing to hack a website and plaster it with gay porn or dead kittens. It’s quite another to hack someone’s brain and affect the way they think, feel, and behave.

I don’t doubt for a second that those behind the brain implant industry, such as Neuralink, will do everything they can to prevent this. I also don’t doubt that there will be other, less ethical individuals will work just as hard to frustrate those people. I’m sure Elon Musk has nightmares about the kind of horrors hackers will unleash with brain implants. It makes his desire to go to Mars almost seem logical.

As such, we’re going to need new laws on the books to govern the use and impact of brain implants. That tends to happen with every major advancement. From cars to computers, a civilized society needs some mechanism for governing new technology. With brain implants, though, that mechanism may get unusually personal.

Think back to that scenario I described earlier. Now, imagine one of the individuals getting married was that bitter ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend from high school. I’m talking about the kind of person who will set fire to a car and send dead animals in the mail to someone who refuses to reciprocate or affirm their emotions.

Imagine that kind of person knowing it was possible to induce false emotions in someone. Like the evil prince or witch in every Disney movie, they have a mechanism for casting a real, non-magical love spell on someone to make them feel exactly what they want them to feel. Unlike the world of Disney, though, it won’t be undone by kissing a toad.

Given the insane lengths to which people will go for love, it’s entirely plausible that someone would use a brain implant to create fake emotions in people who refuse to love them willingly. It’s also plausible that those same people will push that kind of brain hacking to insane degrees.

It means someone could effectively rewire their spouse’s brain so that they act as a slave. Their entire sense of identity, will, and autonomy is subverted. Their entire lives are effectively stolen and controlled by the hacker. While they would not realize this until their brain was un-hacked, assuming that was possible, it would be the most coercive, manipulative act it’s possible to do to another person.

Granted, there may be some societies that wouldn’t mind this sort of thing. I’m sure there are sociopathic dictators in the world who would love to hack the brain of every citizen into loving them without question. For most ordinary people who aren’t in charge of their own countries, though, it’s a terrifying thought.

That means it will probably be necessary for both industries like Neuralink and major governments to deal with this possibility. It’s hard to know what form that will take. Perhaps every brain implant will require some sort of kill-switch. Perhaps certain functions need to be sanctioned and re-sanctioned by a doctor or official.

It’s hard to say and I’m certainly not smart enough to figure it out. I imagine men like Elon Musk and Bill Gates have already given it way more thought than I ever will. Whatever form it takes, though, it will force us to change our understanding of love, sex, and how we relate to each other.

The stakes our high, but the situation is simple. If we’re going to love each other and make love to each other in enhanced ways, then we had damn well better be sure those feelings are ours and not those of some asshole hacker.

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On Love, Brain Hacking, And The Future Of Monogamy

Picture the moment, if you can, even if you’re a hopeless cynic. It’s your wedding day. The weather is perfect. Everyone in your family is present. You’re wearing the most overpriced clothes you’ve ever worn and you’re about to marry someone you love with all your heart.

Whether you’re a man or woman, you’ve probably contemplated that moment. It’s one of those beautiful moments that the entire wedding industry is built on. You’re standing at the altar in front of friends, family, and whatever deity you want involved. You’ve found the love of your life. You believe, with your heart, brain, and genitals, that this is the only one for you.

I’m not denying the beauty of that moment. I’ve been to my share of weddings. It’s a special moment for a great many people. Even I’ll admit I’ve gotten choked up at those moments. It’s the culmination of a journey, one that plays out both in real life and in sexy novels. Two people find each other, fall in love, and commit to one another. It’s seen as the pinnacle of romance and the ultimate ideal of love.

It’s also, and I say this as a fan of love, an ideal that tends to fall apart once that moment has passed. Statistics about divorce and the frequency of sordid affairs is proof enough of that. There are a select few who manage to avoid these odds and hold onto that moment. It’s couples like that who inspire romantics like myself to try to capture that in sexy stories. It’s the fact they’re so rare, though, that makes those moments so frustrating.

For once, there’s no elaborate science or hidden secret to this phenomenon. Most people understand on some levels that those feelings we have on our wedding days when we believe with all our hearts that we’ve found the love of our lives are a gamble. At worst, though, they may be fleeting and we all know why.

No matter how certain or passionate you might be about your lover, there’s always an unavoidable uncertainty that goes along with that feeling. On that particular day day, you may know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you love your spouse with all your heart and they love you back. It’s the many days after that are the problem.

Maybe on the very next day, you cross paths with someone else who evokes even more intense passions than your spouse. It doesn’t matter if they’re a bartender, a stripper, or a sexy ski instructor. You have no idea what kind of passions you’ll feel until you meet them.

The same goes for your spouse. Maybe on the morning after your wedding, they go out for a walk and just bump into someone that they fall in love with on the spot. In an instant that you never could’ve predicted or prevented, that ideal love you thought they had for you is either dented or shattered.

It’s a painful, but sobering thought. You really can’t control who you and your lover will meet, nor can you control how either of you will react. You can barely trust your own emotions, at times. It’s even harder to trust with certainty that someone else’s emotions will remain in line with yours.

It leads to all sorts of heartache, from bitter divorce to Taylor Swift songs. It incurs the kind of personal pain that can shatter hearts, souls, genitals, and everything that goes with it. No matter what we do, even when we resort to open relationships, it never seems to stop. We want that ideal moment at our weddings, but we can’t avoid the potential soul-crushing heartbreak it may lead to down the line.

Now, I’m sure all those reading this, regardless of whether you’re married, single, or living in a hippie commune where orgies happen every Sunday, are feeling a bit conflicted. Don’t worry. That’s normal. It’s that conflict between wanting to find love and risking soul-crushing heartbreak that’s at the heart of every great romance. However, I’d like to complicate it even more.

Go back to that special moment on your wedding day. What if, before you and your spouse walked down the isle, you had another little ceremony of sorts? In that ceremony, you each took a moment to reprogram your erratic, caveman brains to ensure that the heightened passions of this day never fade.

It goes way beyond just signing legal documents that say you can file joint tax returns. Now, your brains are wired in a way so that no matter what happens in the future, you’ll always love each other, want to make love to each other, and stay committed to each other until the day you die. The passion will always be strong, the sex will always be great, and no amount of sexy ski instructors will ever change that.

It won’t change because it can’t. No matter what you, your spouse, or any sexy pool cleaning guy/house maid does, they cannot get your brain to react with the same passionate upheaval that comes with love and lust. They might as well be trying to teach calculus to a drunk monkey. You and your spouse love each other that much.

Sure, that love involves manipulating your brain, twisting your emotions, and effectively brainwashing yourself into feeling a certain way. It opens the possibility that some of that passion you feel for your spouse may not be entirely natural. It would be real, but it would be forced to some degree. From your perspective, though, it still wouldn’t matter. You would still feel it as though it were real, unfiltered love.

If you had that option on your wedding day, would you take it? Would you be willing to manipulate your own brain so that you never had to experience divorce, heartache, or uncertainty ever again? It seems like an extreme, like the ultimate prenuptial agreement, but with far more at stake than who gets custody of the dog.

It’s also not entirely a hypothetical scenario, either. It’s also not a coincidence that I’m writing this after my long rant about the mixed romantic messages of prenuptial agreements.

One of the reasons people tend to avoid those legally critical agreements is because they’re so high on love that they don’t think it’s necessary. They’re clinging to that moment on their wedding day, not even acknowledging the possibility that their marriage could end and their love could fade. Statistically and biologically speaking, it’s fairly certain that passions will fade and marriages do end.

So rather than getting lawyers and legal documents involved, why not cut to the core of the issue and adjust your brain? It is, after all, the primary reason why your passions fade and you feel the inclination to cheat. Your genitals may be an accomplice, but your brain is always the mastermind. Not changing it on your wedding day is like Batman letting the Joker get away and giving him an unlimited supply of napalm.

I know I make it sound simple, tweaking the wiring of our brains. I understand that’s not possible right now, which is why divorce lawyers, mistresses, and gigolos won’t be going out of business anytime soon. However, there’s another business that just started up and it may both undermine those age-old industries while completely changing our approach to romance.

Remember Neuralink? I wrote multiple posts about it, saying it’s the most important business enterprise in the history of humanity and may very well make us all inherently sexier and more romantic. Well, the mere fact that we’re starting to put things in our brains to tweak how it works marks the first step in changing how we approach love, marriage, sex, and relationships. Divorce lawyers should be very scared.

Think back to the uncertainty about you and your lover’s passions that I mentioned earlier. Right now, we have no way to control them. We can’t stop ourselves from wanting to love some random person we bump into. We can’t stop ourselves from wanting to have meaningless sex with that cute bartender who keeps undressing us with their perfect, baby blue eyes.

However, the mere act of wanting something starts in the brain. The desire to seek variety, both in terms of chewing gum and lovers, is hardwired into our brains and it has no off switch. With the aid of a targeted brain implant, we can effectively install one.

That means that no matter how sexy or seductive that bartender is, we won’t feel the urge to have sex with them in the nearest utility closet. We won’t even feel the slightest bit of attraction to them. We literally cannot feel or think about such things. Our brains would reserve all our passions and horiness for one person.

On paper, it’s perfect monogamy. Sure, it’s somewhat forced. Sure, the fact we need a brain implant would be tangible proof about just how uncertain we are about our ability to keep our hearts and genitals in check. Would that really matter, though? The passions the two lovers feel would still be every bit as powerful. From their perspective, the presence or absence of a brain implant makes no difference.

It’s distressing on some levels, but intriguing on others. We all seek love. We all cherish whatever love we find. Why shouldn’t we do everything we can to preserve it? Until now, we’ve always been at the mercy of our caveman brains and the erratic genitals that aid them. Once we learn how to effectively rewire our brains, we can get around that issue. However, would that still be genuine love?

Some would argue, and I would agree to some extent, genuine love needs to come through struggle. Just hacking your brain to ensure you never love anyone else is like using a cheat code in a video game. Sure, you still beat the game, but you still cheated. You can’t say you accomplished more than someone who beat the game without cheat codes.

It’s more a paradox than a thought experiment, but one we’ll have to deal with at some point. As I’ve said before, we need to upgrade our brains in order to survive in the long run. We, as a species, cannot survive if we keep killing each other over rival gods, skin color, and who has the best college mascot. We’ll only overcome those nasty inclinations once we purge them from our brains.

Once we change our brains, though, we inherently change how we love each other and how we express that love. By default, we’ll also change how we have sex with each other and be intimate with each other. The extent of that change, as well as how we’ll deal with it, is impossible to know right now. Like love itself, we probably won’t know it until we feel it for ourselves.

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Do Prenups Help (Or Hurt) Marriages?

Whenever we hedge our bets on something, be it a major life decision or a poker game, it’s often a tacit admission that we may fail and more often than not, that’s the first step towards failure. Being careful or proactive doesn’t give the impression that you’re all that confident. A lack of confidence is also not very sexy either so some people may not be inclined to be that careful.

Granted, there are some bets we don’t mind hedging on. Why else would we buy insurance or demand that our heart surgeons be licensed? It doesn’t matter how confident you might be. There’s nothing sexy about getting heart surgery from the medical equivalent of a drunk plumber.

We, as a society, are somewhat erratic about the things we should and shouldn’t hedge our bets on. There’s a constant push and pull between being proactive and being bold. We want to sound confident, but we also don’t want to risk crashing a drag racer into a hill just to get laid.

With that in mind, here’s a simple questions that we’ve all probably asked ourselves, albeit indirectly. Just how proactive should we be when it comes to our love lives? I’m not talking about avoiding parents or wearing condoms either. Specifically, I’m talking about marriage and how we approach it. Even more specifically, I’m talking about prenuptial agreements.

It’s somewhat telling that most people don’t know much about these fairly mundane, legally-binding contracts that have been around for decades. They’re not complex financial laws or esoteric provisions of the tax code. A prenup is a simple, legal way to ensure that if a marriage fails, the hard, heartbreaking work is already done.

According to FindLaw.com, the simplest purpose of a prenuptial agreement is to “establish the property and financial rights of each spouse in the event of a divorce.” If children are involved, it can resolve that too. Again, it’s like doing the hardest work ahead of time, just in case it becomes necessary. In terms of being proactive with your love life, it’s both prudent and practical.

It also has an unspoken, but distinct stigma to it and for entirely understandable reasons. The mere act of considering a prenup for your marriage implies that you think it’s possible it may fail. When you’re young, in love, and still having great sex, who wants to think that? Hell, if your lover even joked about it, what would that reveal about your relationship?

It’s a distressing thought. That’s why prenups are usually associated with rich people and famous celebrities. In fact, the provisions of some of these prenups seem downright insane to non-famous, non-eccentric people. That may be why prenups have a somewhat mixed reputations.

However, celebrities and the super rich have a lot more to lose than their hearts in a marriage. It’s understandable that they’d be more proactive than most. Unfortunately, it also means that celebrities are more than twice as likely to divorce. That may be another part of why prenups have a bad reputation. They’re loosely correlated with more divorce.

That brings me back to the title of this article and the obvious question that too few people ask. Do prenuptial agreements help a marriage or are they detrimental in the long run? Based on what I’ve just explained about the mentality behind prenups, the answer would seem obvious. That’s just it, though. We really don’t know.

At the moment, we’re still clinging to the mentality that if you want a prenup, then you’re setting your marriage up for failure. That’s a dangerous, not to mention short-sighted understanding of marriage and relationships. While there is some research to hint that having a prenup doesn’t increase your chances of divorce, there’s very little information on what this means for the health of a relationship, as a whole.

At the same time, we constantly hear the whining from the family values crowd about the declining rates of marriage. It’s not at all unfounded, either. Fewer and fewer people are getting married, especially among younger people. There are many potential reasons for this, but there’s one in particular that I want to focus on, as it relates to prenups.

I’ve talked about it before, albeit in part. This time, I want to be a bit more blunt. To all those worried about declining marriage rates, increasing divorce rates, and young people humping without consequence, I have an important message that needs to be belabored.

If you’re a man, marriage for is a TERRIBLE deal.

I know it sounds like I’m just echoing timeless words of Al Bundy, but bear with me. In order to show just how bad a deal marriage is for men, allow me to paint a scenario. It’s not a thought experiment because this is, for all intents in purposes, how it plays out in the real world.

You and your lawyer are sitting across the table from a potential partner and their lawyer. Their lawyer presents you a partnership contract. In that contract, it says that you are to only ever conduct personal business with them until the day you die. If, however, the other party decides to dissolve the contract at any time and for any reason, then they get half of your assets, by default. If you happen have any children, the partner very likely take sole custody of them, as well. Would you sign that contract?

Most people, if they looked at the fine print in that scenario, wouldn’t sign that contract, even on a dare or while drunk. It’s a horribly unequal contract. It effectively asks the man to go against his own interests. It also gives the woman a distressing amount of incentive to end the marriage. When there’s a financial incentive to do anything, it usually skews the odds. Marriage is no different.

This scenario also reflects the impact that “no-fault divorce” has had on marriage in recent decades. That’s a fairly recent development, as well. Instead of needing a reason to dissolve a marriage, it can be done on a whim and the man, who may not have even done anything wrong, gets screwed over. In that context, the decline in marriage is entirely understandable.

It should also explain why men are so reluctant to get married in the first place these days. The incentives aren’t just awful. It creates a legally-binding inequality within a relationship. In both marriage and divorce, the woman has the benefit when it comes to custody of children and alimony payments. Even so, a man who is reluctant to marry is seen as someone who doesn’t love his significant other as much as he should.

This brings me back to prenuptial agreements. As it stands, only five percent of divorces occur in couples who had a prenup and only three percent of couples planning to get married have a prenup. While the number of marriages that have prenups are increasing, it’s still not that common and there’s still a stigma to it.

So what would happen if every marriage from here on out required a prenuptial agreement? Moreover, what would happen if the structure of the marriage made the responsibilities between the man and the woman equal? It’s an honest, sincere question because, as an aspiring erotica/romance writer, I’m all for love. I’m all for marriage. I too would like to get married one day.

However, marriage in its current state doesn’t just scare me. It seems downright unsexy. It almost seems to take advantage of men who are so hopelessly in love that they don’t think about what will happen if something goes wrong . Granted, no man wants to think about that, especially when they’re in love, but it can cause a lot of pain and heartache down the line.

I’m not saying prenuptial agreements will fix the current state of marriage or gender dynamics between men and women. However, I do think that we’re straining our ability to love each other when our relationships are so inherently unequal. I’ve championed love between equals in the past. I think that’s the kind of love that will improve our love lives, our sexy lives, and our marriages in the future.

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