There are a number of fragile points of contact when you begin dating someone. Moments and events can easily fracture the budding interest and enthusiasm of either partner. And what if one of the partners is good at hiding their dysfunction? How do you rattle the closets for skeletons without scaring off your new lover?
The Opening Gambit in Dating
Let’s say you are meeting someone face-to-face for the first time. What are the signals you are looking for?
- Affectionate attitude (touch may be their love language)
- Attractive and warm
- Articulate (well-spoken, can say what they are looking for)
- Has time and the emotional energy for a relationship
- Intentional and direct
If you are intentional about dating as a path towards a relationship, you’re going to need to get your strategy to answer these questions along each step of the journey. I think the biggest task is to understand their emotional intelligence. Have they had some relationships since their divorce? What’s their plan for dating vs relating? What I learned in my early years of dating after divorce was this essential acid test: if they are not long-term material, I’m not interested in continuing.
This is a test, but it’s not a drill. My goal, in any dating situation, is to determine our long-term compatibility. I’m imagining myself beside you ten years from now. How’s that drinking habit going to develop over time? Nope. How about your kindness towards everyone, including your ex? If there’s a lot of pent-up anger, it could spell anger struggles in the future. How are they dealing with the normal aspects of life?
- meaningful work
You can tell a lot about a person when you listen. Notice as much as you can. How is their joy generated? Are they an optimistic person? Do they lean towards the positive side of things, or is there a chip on their shoulder? How do they make a living? What activities are they passionate about during their free time?
Finding the Intimacy Connection
As things progress, if all goes well, you’ll be discussing sex at some point. And while this is a VERY IMPORTANT aspect of dating, it’s NOT THE MOST IMPORTANT. (I am learning this in my current relationship, big time.) Let’s understand what their motivations are around sex, intimacy, kissing, snuggling, and napping? All aspects of relating are on the table, pay attention. Are they messy or neat? Are they overthinking much of the time? Are they good at making decisions? How does that play out in the bedroom?
In past relationships, I often equated sex with closeness and bonding. Sex was so vitally important that I craved it more regularly than I do now. What’s different? What needs was I getting met by initiating sex that I might not have been getting in the “outside the bedroom” part of the relationship?
I’m learning that my current relationship is so solid, so easy, and so delightful, that I get much of my need for connection by just being together. It’s almost as if the relating has gotten so rich, that my drive to get in the bedroom is somewhat diminished by my feelings of fulfillment and connection. It’s counter-intuitive for me, at the moment, and it’s causing me to do some rethinking about my connection to sex.
What’s Good About Sex?
In the bedroom, we learn a lot about our partners. We find out where things are hard. We learn what patterns and ideas they bring to the relationship. And we may find a disconnect in some of our routines. I don’t like to think of sex as a routine, but let’s face it, after you’ve been with someone for several years (let’s say we’re married) it is likely that without some care and intentional communication, things will fall into a sex script. Here’s how sex goes best for me, us, you. There is a challenge in long-term relationships to keep the sexual encounters playful, full of delight, and shake up the routine from time to time. When sex gets routine and habit-driven it can become boring. And that’s a crushing development.
As Ester Perell has articulated so well, we crave something new, something novel. When our sexual scripts become boring, we need a way to shake them up. We need to feel energized by the idea of sex. And in this case, sex with our long-term partner. The challenge becomes, as we deepen into our relationship and our knowledge of each other’s desires and preferences, we lose some of the adventure, the curiosity that makes the early sexual discovery so fun. When the honeymoon of sex is over, we’ve got to find ways to reinvent sex between ourselves and our long-term partner.
Cheating and lusting after others, using porn regularly, or losing your sexual desire for your significant partner will most likely cause a fracture in the relationship. Sex *IS* vital to keep a couple bonded and close. But sex is not the most vital part of the relationship. Communication is the most vital skill required for nurturing and keeping your partner and yourself interested. We all want to be desired. We all want to feel desirable. And within a monogamous relationship, those needs must be filled by our partners and by ourselves.
Youthful Sex Ideas Don’t Hold
When you are just starting out, everything about sex is a mystery. Things can be great or disastrous. We’re usually to young, too inexperienced, to make sense of our love languages or sexual styles. We’re just excited and happy to be getting laid.
As you grow into a more mature partner your sexual experiences span a wider gamut of good vs mediocre. As you develop your own sexual needs, you’re going to start wanting MORE from your sexual encounters. Once the honeymoon has worn off, once you’ve been making love to the same woman, exclusively, for a year or so, you’re likely to run into the murky waters of ennui. Sure, sex is good, and the relationship is good, and … There’s something missing.
That electricity of early sex cannot be sustained, but it can be cultivated and deepened. As you learn and love your partner’s body your own internal journey into sexual fulfillment begins. While sex is a two-way street, your sexual fulfillment is actually up to you. The power of orgasm, intensity, and bliss are up to you. Your mind is the most powerful sexual organ. It’s important to understand what “gets you off” and what makes you happy. Only you can find your sexual animal. Only your mind can awaken the sexual tiger that is still inside. But there are a few obstacles to ongoing sexual connection.
We’ve all been there. Hot, horny, and in the act of making love when some random thought interrupts our attention. In a split second, we’re “off.” We’re no longer in the act of lovemaking, we’re daydreaming about a troubling work project or the ragged lawn outside the bedroom windows. Your body follows your mind and often the sexual moment is lost. Sometimes, a hard reset (“Wait a second, let’s stop and reconnect.”) can reboot the energy. But without attention distracted sex can become a part of the playbook. This is a slippery slope towards boredom in the bedroom.
New Rules of Sex
Here’s what I know about me and my body.
- my energy is more finite than it was when I was in my 30s
- too much tennis in an afternoon can deplete my “energy” for sex (drive)
- too much creative output (songwriting, writing, drawing) can also empty my fuel tank
- I want enough time (I’m not that good at quickies – I know, not a very macho trait)
- I want to be rested and vitally connected to the sacred act of sex
- sex *IS* sacred
- pay attention to what your partner needs
- understand what turns you on, what gets you off, and what things distract you from your goal of connecting and loving another person fully
Sex takes attention, energy, and motivation. Sometimes my tennis or my creative pursuits take most of the motivation out of my body. I am still lustful. I am still into my partner’s sexual body and needs. I’m simply out of gas. My needs at this point are more about nurture and closeness. For me, today, as an older man, sex requires a bit of focus, an extra jolt of energy, and a good bit of motivation.
The Sexual Equation for Couples
“How is your energy level?” This question is a check-in. Are you tired? Are you exhausted? Are you sufficiently charged up?
“What’s your motivation level?” This is where the negotiation takes place.
HIGHLY MOTIVATED – means I’m horny, I’m willing to lead us into the adventure, and I’m feeling my need as well as my joy.
OPEN – means I’m not completely motivated, but if you’re into it, I’m open to being your willing and engaged partner.
NOT MOTIVATED – means no, I’m not feeling it.
This is not a test. This is not a challenge. This is really a simple way to connect on an intellectual level a part of our lives that is emotional. Take the mystery out of your conversations about willingness and desire.
Do you have the energy for sex? Do you have the motivation for sex?
When either partner is exhausted, sex is ill-advised. It can be negotiated. It can be good. And it could be one-sided and unsuccessful. When both partners have the energy for sex, then understanding the MOTIVATION of each partner gives a RED LIGHT, YELLOW LIGHT, GREEN LIGHT signal about the connection.
What Great Sex Might Look Like
Both partners have available energy. Both partners are motivated, or one is motivated and the other is open. Lastly, the final ingredient is TIME. Do we have time for long languorous sex? Do we have time for a quickie? What about me just focusing on getting your off?
What I’ve found is that time is the wild card. I like more time and longer sexual encounters. I can work into quickie sex, but I need the vital connection and the clear communications to become part of our DNA. Then, when you’re “ready and rutting,” let’s get it on!