Q: I broke up with my guy a while ago, which was the right thing to do. But, I’ve found myself hooking up with guys for no reason other than getting caught in a provocative moment. Of course, as you’ve often written, men and women are very different when it comes to casual sex, and what’s casual for men ends up feeling not so casual for a lot of women. Including me. So, I have to wonder, knowing what I know, why I keep going for pleasure and excitement in the moment when I know I will feel empty afterward.
—Own Worst Enemy
A: Some women have a long list of requirements a man has to meet before they’ll have sex with him. You, for example, require a man to walk into the bar, be reasonably hot, be reasonably hetero, and say things that make you feel really special, like “This seat taken?”
Humans evolved to live in the now: “Eat the berry. You’ll never know when you’ll see your next berry.” This psychology made a lot of sense in the evolutionary environment, about 1.8 million years before 7-Elevens and Walmart grocery megastores. But, these days, our propensity to grab for immediate benefits (while blocking out future costs) can cause some misery — as you’ve discovered whenever the answer to “So, how long have you two lovebirds been together?” has been “Oh, about two-and-a-half beers.”
It’s possible that your need-for-stimulation jets are set on high. In psychology-speak, this means scoring high in “sensation-seeking,” a personality trait with a strong biological basis, expressed by a lust for novelty, variety, and intense experiences and a willingness to engage in risky behavior to get them. Not surprisingly, sexual sensation-seekers often use alcohol to lubricate the way. (Just a guess, but you probably aren’t hooking up from a park bench or after getting hammered on an immuno-boosting peach smoothie with a wheatgrass chaser — the absinthe of the juice bar.)
It’s time to ditch “the power of now” for the power of no. You create a personal culture through behavior you repeat over time, like repeatedly not giving in to the temptation to seize the moment (and whatever’s in the pants of the person on the next barstool). Being conscious of the psychology behind your behavior helps you change it. If you are a thrill-seeker, feed that in ways that don’t involve dropping thong. If you’re really looking for love, remind yourself that you aren’t likely to find it between your underwear and a stack of old porn mags under some bar dude’s bed. And consider other reasons you’re drawn to casual sex, like maybe loneliness or a need for touch. (A massage will cost you money, but there’s no “walk of shame” afterward.)
You might also try “precommitment,” a strategy originated by economist Thomas Schelling that involves prearranging to make it hard for yourself to duck a goal. Tell friends you’ve sworn off one-night soul mates, ask them to support you in that, and avoid going alone to bars. As your last line of defense, do things that would make you too embarrassed to get naked with a guy, like wearing ratty granny panties and writing a message in permanent magic marker across your stomach — something real come-hither-y, like “Got herpes? (I do, and I love to share.)” .
Q: This woman I’ve been dating is smart, sweet, and kind in addition to being beautiful, but I feel we miss more than we click. It’s like we almost connect but never fully do. I’ve finally admitted to myself that that’s not enough. My only other girlfriends both cheated on me, so cutting the cord was easy. How do you break up with somebody who has done nothing wrong except seem kind of wrong?
A: When you need to break up with a woman, you’d think she’d at least have the decency to cheat on you, clean out your bank accounts, and hit kittens over the head with a two-by-four. As awful as it seems to pink-slip a girlfriend whose character flaws run the gamut from kindness to hotitude, what’s really wrong is sticking around past the “ditch by” date. This just eats time — maybe taking months or years off her biological shot clock. The right thing to do is to tell her you don’t click as soon as you’ve figured that out. So, buck up and set this one free. And try to have some perspective. There are worse things you could do to a woman than tell her it’s over — such as faking your own death and turning up in Mexico five years later.