A fun thing to do, if you’re ever in the mood to be utterly befuddled, is to read dating advice for different generations. A few years ago a quote from Hessiod, a Greek poet who lived 700 years before Jesus, went viral. It claimed that you should “not let a woman who decorates her buttocks deceive you/ by wily coaxing, for she is after your granary”. Now, strippers with booties covered in lace and satin attempt to coax men away from their Rolexes, and deadbeat men abuse women again and again but somehow always seem to stay around. So perhaps that essential part of human nature has stayed the same: we are all concerned about our granaries and we all think the opposite sex is going to steal from us… but we want them close, anyhow.
Of course, all of this is hilariously sexist: sex workers want your money in the same way that plumbers do – they provide a service and should be paid appropriately for it. I cannot speak for old-timey-thots and their designs on granaries, but it seems that Hesiod may have had a bad experience and turned into a misogynist. So, if we’ve all been wary of things for thousands of years, you’d think that we, as a society, would have learnt a little. But instead of keeping things straightforward (do you like me, or are you just after my granary?) we’ve instead come up with hundreds of ways to make sex, dating and relationships more complicated for ourselves.
If you’ve ever got bored and glanced at women’s magazines you will have found them stuffed full of sex advice. Do a little cowgirl-style sex and spell “coconut” with your hips; incorporate ice into your oral sex or perhaps (and yes, I did acutally read this) tie your man’s genitals up with ribbons. Then there’s the dating “dos” and “don’ts”… wait for him to call; don’t sleep with him on the first date; be confident (but not too confident). Dating apps are also keen to share their wisdom. Some of it is useful and can help people navigate their sites, but more often they seem to ramble on about the latest trends in ghosting and make people feel paranoid and like their matches are playing games with them. The men’s magazines are just as bad. Sure, it’s useful to know which cock rings are the best – thanks, GQ – but if I could give anyone, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, advice, it would be that the best thing you can do is communicate clearly with your partner. It cuts through a lot of the complexity and allows you to fix issues and enjoy your time instead of second-guessing everything.
We’ve seen it in a million old sit-com episodes. The couple, who have dragged us through a torturous “will they, won’t they” for the best part of a season, finally gets together. Then we’re treated to a few minutes of them happily chatting post-coitus before they dash off to see their friends, who inevitably shower them with terrible dating advice and projections of their own unhappiness so the couple start behaving erratically with each other and, inevitably, break up, each saying that the other person was bonkers.
If we were to boil it down, what I’m basically saying is that we have endless courtship rituals and misunderstandings because we talk about our relationships instead of to our partners. If your wife is worried about you cheating and clearly becoming unhappy, speak to her about the problem and find ways for her to be more secure, instead of going for beers with your twice-divorced friend who will tell you your wife is crazy, take you to a ball game and not have you home until 3am, by which point your wife will be far more stressed out and paranoid than she was before. Or if you’re dating and you’re not sure what to call your new relationship or if it’s exclusive, try talking to your prospective partner instead of frantically swiping and meeting up with women where you discuss your situationship with a different person.
This doesn’t mean that it isn’t a good idea to get an outside perspective sometimes, but please think critically about who is talking to you and why they might say what they say. If you’re committed to making a relationship work but you’re struggling, couples counseling will be far more helpful and healthy than anything else.
Everyone finds human interaction difficult sometimes. There are seven billion people in the world, all with different experiences, desires, hang ups and issues. We all still have to interact though, if we like it or not. So struggling with sexual/romantic relationships makes sense: we mean well, we get advice that isn’t always applicable to our situation and we misinterpret it, we carry over “lessons” from previous relationships and mess up current ones. And not every relationship is going to work out, because of a million different reasons. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth trying, because love is the best thing we do, and we want to do it well.