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This is certainly a rare day. I very rarely, if ever, write down my theories while I’m still developing them. Even when I mention that it’s a theory I’m working on, it’s been kicked around the noodle for some time. This one is forming from the logical extension of a conversation I had over the weekend. It’s in essence an extension of my thoughts on desire and intimacy. Though these two topics are very related, somehow they’ve managed to stay isolated for the most part in my other theories.

The first observation works something like this. Women, by their nature, seek to be the center of attention. This attention may manifest itself in many different ways, and can involve being listened to, talked to, held, looked at, or even smelled, but it ultimately involves triggering some sort of sensory reaction in someone. Men, by their nature, seek physical attention. This attention may again manifest itself in many different ways, but is satisfying only in as much as it is physical. Granted I’m making some pretty sweeping generalizations. I’m not in any way trying to do anything other than isolate two separate cases for discussion.

This leads to some interesting things. Men, because of this desire for physical intimacy, have a tendency to classify any desire to spend time with a woman as a sexual urge. There are two ways this desire can manifest itself, either as an urge for physical intimacy as a concept, or an urge to be physically intimate with a particular person. Women experience a similar effect, they may either desire to be the general center of attention, or the desire to have the attention of a particular person.

Now, the reason I keep making the distinction between men and women is there seems to be quite a few men who view lust as something to avoid, or are at least prone to feeling some tinge of guilt when they desire a woman for purely physical reasons. However, I struggle to come up with even one example of a woman who feels guilty for seeking attention simply because it is wrong. Is there any more or less reason to feel guilty for desiring one form of intimacy over another?

Herein lies the problem some dating couples may face. The man can feel guilty in a context-free way for his physical desires. They may, for him, be no more or less wrong when in a relationship then when not. A woman does not feel guilty in a context-free way for her desire for attention. If she does feel guilty, it is only because she is in a relationship. So this guilt-ridden man is now guilty twice over, first for the weight of his own lust, second for not providing the attention he feels he should. I realize that we have now left the land of sweeping generalization for a very specific set of what-ifs. This hypothetical situation was the basis for the original conversation.

So the question now is this. In this hypothetical situation, what exactly are the politics of desire? Is the woman bound by the relationship to stop seeking the attention of other men? Is the man right in believing that he should be the sole source of attention? Is his own desire to seek the attention of other women simply mapped to physical intimacy out of skewed social norms, or is this simple lust? Does the answer to the previous question have any bearing on the situation? What if we ask the same questions with the genders reversed?

I am being somewhat unfair, since I realize that this is the behavior of the young of our species. Once men and women enter stable monogamous relationships, their desires seem to switch. Women desire the physical intimacy, men desire the attention. And again, we tend to see the same behavior, you’d have to look long and hard to find even one man who felt guilty for seeking attention from other women, and you’d probably find quite a few women who felt guilty for desiring physical intimacy from someone other than their spouse.

And I should be very honest, the reason this topic is so compelling to me is that I have always been of the opinion that intimacy is intimacy, whether it involves sex or not. Now, what exactly makes time spent together intimate is somewhat subject to debate. But I have always wondered if spending time alone with someone when you or the someone are involved in another “relationship” is something which is at the least ethically questionable.

At any rate, I find the mental exercise interesting, but ultimately unsatisfying. It leads me only to the simple resolution that relationships are dumb. Perhaps that is not too surprising since it also happened to be my initial assumption, but I am led there nonetheless.

Anonymous said on 2006-10-13

Can the dynamics of male-male and female-female relationships be of any use in this conversation? And I don’t mean romantic ones. But there certainly is intimacy in some non-romantic, same-gender relationships, and it probably is more akin to the desire for attn than the desire for sex. I don’t know if that should even come into the discussion, but I do think it might say something about distinguishing one kind of intimacy from another. shrugs

Miss you!


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