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I’m in my mid-twenties and have this pattern of getting involved with attached men. I never intend for it to happen, but after so many times, it’s clear I’m the common denominator. But because I don’t know how it happens, I don’t know how to stop it either.
So far there have been a couple of one-night things with men with girlfriends, a few sexting/kissing things with married men (I never actually slept with them though). The most recent has been with a work acquaintance (not quite a co-worker, but our paths cross professionally a lot).
When we met, we had this instant connection and immediately started flirting in person and via text. A few weeks later, I found out through friends that he has a long-term girlfriend. I tried to stop texting him for a while, but we quickly fell back into it, and ended up sleeping together after a work thing. We’ve been hooking up for months now, and I’ve tried to break it off, but I keep going back.
The problem is now people are starting to cop or at least suspect and talk about me. There’s a big group of women in work who I’m not friendly with anyway, but they know his girlfriend (she’s tangentially in our field of work, but in a different area, so she isn’t around our circle) and have started dropping comments if they see me talking to the guy.
I know this whole thing is making me look bad professionally and isn’t making me feel great personally, but I also don’t know how to stop.
Do you know what seems telling to me? That you’re not friends with any of the women at work.
This may seem tangential, but it’s not. And I know it’s not because I’ve been you. As a teenager, I kissed a few boys who turned out to have girlfriends.
I was mortified, and hurt, and as a cover for that, I decided to turn it into my “thing”. I would be the girl who gets with other girls’ boyfriends. I would be the one who made them stray. I would be the one to win.
As a teenager, I didn’t have a lot of girl friends.
They’re related. If I was close to other women, my entire self-esteem wouldn’t have been tied up in men’s opinions of me, their piecemeal attention, their decision to jeopardize their relationships for me.
I would have valued women and cared about them, instead of being intimidated by them and jealous of them and seeing them as competition. I wouldn’t have been so quick to disregard their feelings, to choose to see them as the enemy, to locate my happiness in their suffering.
How do I know at least some of this applies to you? Because if it didn’t, you would have been spending some of your work nights out talking to the women you work with instead of paying attention to a man who you knew had a girlfriend.
Now, let me be clear: I’m not blaming you. In this little situation with your attached man, you’re not the worst party, not by far.
This guy is cheating dickwad who leads women on and flirts with them and texts them for weeks without mentioning his girlfriend, and is so audacious that he’ll leave a work party with another woman when he knows that people who know his poor girlfriend are watching.
You’re not a particularly GOOD party in this arrangement, but you’re not the worst. He’s the worst. All men like him are worst. All cheaters are the worst.
But you are unhappy, which is why we’re going to focus on you.
I believe you know what you’re doing is shitty, and I know you know that it’s making you feel shitty. But to be honest, I think you might feel shitty already.
If you felt good about yourself, you wouldn’t be putting up with men who lead you on and come on to you when they have girlfriends. If you felt good about yourself, you’d be seeking out friendships.
If you felt good about yourself, you’d be demanding real relationships and intimacy and friendships and not these shortcuts to emotional intensity that provide so much excitement, so much drama, so many chances to get hurt, and none of good stuff that makes those risks worth it.
If you felt good about yourself, you’d know that you have so much to offer people other than your sex appeal. You’d know that if you tell these cheating dickwads to piss off, other more suitable men would pay you attention. You would know that you deserve to be first choice.
Take that in.
You deserve to be first choice.
But you never will be unless you start believing it.
So, first things first: stop telling yourself the lie that you “don’t know how this happens”. You do. It happens because you cross boundaries with attached men, or don’t reassert boundaries when they cross them with you.
It happens because you don’t find single men enticing or interesting, because you’re attracted to the illicitness of attached men. It happens because you don’t seek out single men. It happens because without attracting men with girlfriends or wives, without that feeling of being irresistible, of being special, of being superior, you don’t know what you have.
So start there. Start finding out what you have, and building on that. Cut out men – single, attached, all – for a while. Focus on building up your friendships, particularly those with other women.
Learn what you love to do, and what makes you happy, and what you’re good at. Indulge that, enjoy that. Learn what you need to work on. Empathy might be one thing. Self-esteem might be another. Work on that. Learn what you have to give to others, to friendships, to relationships, instead of what you can take.
Become interesting and happy and confident on your own, without the attention of smarmy guys. Learn that you can feel good without them, that your self-worth is not dependent on them.
Stop hurting yourself. Stop hurting other women as you hurt yourself. Stop thinking that the men who hurt you are all you can get, are all you deserve.
You deserve more. You deserve to be first choice. You deserve to be happy.
Act like it. Demand that others do, too.
I’m a 31-year-old straight woman and have been single and dating for about three years now. I’ve been enjoying having casual flings and having some fun, but I’ve been noticing this really irritating trend that a few of my female friends have also clocked.
All the men I’m sleeping with seem to presume that sex is me going down on them, us having penetrative sex, and then we’re done. Them going down on me is very, very rarely offered, and NEVER the first time we have sex.
They’ll enjoy getting a blow job, sure, but giving me oral is somehow different and not for casual sex? Please explain this to me, because it’s driving me crazy.
So many times people write in to this column looking for an explanation, and so often the only explanation I can give is: patriarchy.
For all this generation’s supposed sex-positive “wokeness”, misogyny still exists and is found in the most unlikely of places, including sex between confident women and men who should really know better.
Some men don’t go down on women for the same reason some women don’t feel comfortable demanding that they do: because we’ve been taught not to.
Women have always been socialized to be ashamed of our genitals. Vaginas are weird, and gross, and they smell, and need to be douched and plugged up and waxed and we shouldn’t expect people to want to spend time down there!
Bollocks to that, good sir. Vaginas are incredibly normal – over half the world’s population has them, and the other half wouldn’t exist without them. Normal things aren’t gross.
Bodies smell like bodies (and sorry lads, your balls often smell very much like bodies, so stop complaining). And if people can put their genitals in our mouths, put their genitals in our genitals … then yeah, they can put their mouths down there.
And we can bloody well ask them to.
There’s an intense pressure put on women to perform oral sex on men, because we’ve been taught to view our sexual worth in our ability to keep men aroused, and our ability to be “good” at sex – a definition based on our ability to give pleasure to men, not receive it or enjoy ourselves.
Masculinity, on the other hand, defines men’s sexual prowess on their ability to get women to give them pleasure. Ironically, because women are deemed harder to please in bed, men’s fear of “failing” can also prevent them from trying, turning this vicious cycle into an endless loop.
Women are graded on performance, men are graded on how many women they get to perform.
And even though you probably know all this, I bet you’re letting the lads get away with getting non-reciprocal oral sex more often than you should. Which makes them think that getting oral sex is to be expected, but giving it is not. Which means they bring these lessons to the next woman they sleep with it, and the myth is perpetuated.
Now, obviously most of the weight of this lies on men dismantling how these patriarchal beliefs affect their views of women’s bodies and women’s pleasure, as well as their own sense of entitlement to pleasure.
However, as you and I both know, waiting for men to cop on to how patriarchy benefits them is something you need a packed lunch for, and we’re looking for action now.
The good news is, sometimes changing a pattern is as simple as changing a pattern.
The next time you sleep with a new guy, don’t go down on them until they’ve gone down on you. If they make requests or gestures that indicate that they want a blow job, a simple and playful “me first” should make your priorities clear.
If you want them to go down on you, do the very patronizing yet very effective play of appealing to their ego; tell them getting head makes you so wet, you’ve never been so turned on, you want them so bad, yadda yadda yadda.
And when they’re down there, positive enforcement all the way. (I mean, not to the point that you’re rewarding bad technique because that’s a different vicious cycle you really don’t want, but play up the good stuff.)
But this is encouragement, not a participation trophy; men shouldn’t get rewarded for doing what they expect all the time. So don’t feel like if men go down on you a couple of times, you need to reward them with unlimited oral sex. One-for-one, all the way.
It’s almost like, I dunno, we’re aiming for equality here.
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