Well done, art. Another great imitation of life.
“I find my life is a lot easier the lower I keep my expectations.”
So what have I learned? After 30 years of dating and five years of (unstructured and unsupervised) scientific research, is there anything I would do differently if I had my time again? Well, I have a few specific dribs and drabs of wisdom, which I’ll get on to next time. But if there’s one thing I could go back and tell my 13-year-old self, it would be a more general point: don’t shoot for the moon.
But I’ve been judgmental too. I stopped seeing Vanessa because she was slightly too tall. I finished with Angela because she was a bit mousy. And I broke up with Gemma because she … because … there’s no delicate way of putting this. Because she didn’t smell very nice down there one time.
In mitigation, all these proud moments occurred in my mid-20s, before I’d given any serious thought to settling down. But since I started entertaining the notion of domesticity – at 28 – I’ve met a grand total of one person who wanted to settle down with me. Who knows where I’d be today if I’d got that “wanderlust” out of my system just a few months earlier?
Last week I wrote a guest blogpost on All Sweetness and Life about how we now have dating options on an unprecedented scale – and why it’s not necessarily a good thing. In short, I wrote that having too many alternatives drives our expectations higher, and often leaves us disappointed with the choice we’ve made. What’s more, the bias towards beauty in the media is setting a standard that real life can’t hope to live up to.
Now, I can’t abnegate all responsibility for my actions, but I will say that technology isn’t helping. How can you ever be completely happy with your internet date when there are so many potentially better alternatives just a click away? As for Tinder, the new mobile app that allows you to swipe through thousands of potential dates in a matter of minutes … Well, maybe I’m showing my age, but I shudder to think what the average duration of a relationship will be in a few years’ time.
In many ways, our relationship with choice is like our relationship with alcohol. Until fairly recently, alcohol was a rare treat. But as it has become cheaper and more plentiful, we have developed a taste for it; so that now, the second anyone tries to restrict our access to it, we’re outraged. Most of us would agree that a little alcohol is a good thing. But once we’ve had a little, we want more. And as most of us have learned on a Sunday morning, our brains simply aren’t designed to handle too much of it.
Is there anything you can do to stop this insidious raising of the bar? Well, you can restrict your exposure. Avert your gaze from the hunks and the dollies in the car ads. Deny yourself the poisonous perfections of chick lit. Sign up to the internet dating site, but for a limited time. And most importantly, stop watching porn.
My relationship with porn goes back 30 years, to the day I found those funny magazines in the wardrobe in the spare room. (Further, if you count the days I spent furtively scrabbling through the lingerie section of the Grattan catalogue.) Porn, in all its forms – magazines, videos, DVDs, internet and, on one occasion, a French-language audio tape – has been a steadfast friend and an implacable enemy. I haven’t used it continuously; there have been long periods when I could take it or leave it (mostly when I’ve been in a relationship). It’s been a source of great pleasure and of great shame. And it may just have ruined my love life.
There’s a growing body of evidence that pornography is not only addictive, but can actively rewire your brain in a harmful way. Zillmann and Bryant’s 1988 paper found that regular users of pornography often become less satisfied with their partner’s sexual performance, physical appearance, and willingness to try new sexual experiences. And according to a study by Grov, Gillespie, Royce and Lever in 2010, men who are involved in online sexual activity are less aroused by real sex, and initiate it less often. Men have a natural predilection for variety and novelty in the sexual sphere, and it seems porn may be feeding and amplifying those desires.
This week’s news story about Britons having 20% less sex than before? It’s never wise to jump to conclusions, but the P-word is being bandied around quite a bit, and based on the latest research, I wouldn’t rule it out.
I may write at greater length about my own experience in future, but for now, suffice to say that there have, on occasion, been certain performance-related issues, which I believe were, if not caused by porn, then at least exacerbated by it. I’m worried, too that all these young, nubile, sexually voracious women are distorting my perceptions and expectations of sex. I’m worried that normal women can no longer turn me on.
The effects, apparently, are reversible. Some people have reported positive results after six months of abstention. So while I’m not saying that porn should be banned, I’m starting to think that some of us, at least, should use it carefully and sparingly, if at all.
So, to sum up. I’m betting at least one of your friends has pasted William Arthur Ward’s adage into their Facebook status: “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.”
I have an alternative version for modern dating. “The pessimist doesn’t join the internet dating site; the optimist joins the internet dating site expecting to meet The One; the realist joins the internet dating site hoping for nothing more than a few fun nights out and maybe a couple of interesting new friends.”
I’ve spent most of my life alternating between the first two states: abandoning all hope of ever finding anyone, and throwing myself headlong at someone I’m convinced is perfect for me. Neither is a recipe for long-term happiness. Keep a lid on those expectations, people.
Oh, and if you do find a good ‘un, hang on to him or her for dear life. That grass over there? It’s not greener. It’s an optical illusion.