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November 1997 issue

How men and women look at lust

If men are clueless, women are obsessed with detective work.

by Janet L. Jacobsen

copyright 1997 by Harlan L. Jacobsen

Men, they tell me, are clueless. This could be a sexist remark except that the people telling me this are men.

Recently I led a singles discussion called "Separating Love from Lust." I had previously led a class on the topic where we got a lot of input on the subject in general, and this time I wanted to see if there were differences in how men and women saw both lust and love.

So the class was divided into same sex groups and asked to brainstorm on the topics "You know you're in love when..." and "You know you're in lust when...." Then we wrote each sex's list on the board and compared them.

(Now the 25 or so singles in this class probably do not represent a statistical cross section of singles in America. Still, they are probably pretty typical of the singles you are likely to meet out and about, since, by virtue of showing up for the class, they were the sort likely to be out and about. I'm guessing they ranged in age from 30s to 60s, so their views were a little more seasoned and mature than you might get from a younger group.)

It was the lust lists that we found particularly interesting. The men's list focused largely on what they called "head stuff." You know it's lust when you're fantasizing; projecting your own version of who they are; when the physical attraction is primary, such as emphasizing the physical over the emotional and over what the guys called "data." The data, they said, involved stuff like knowing her favorite position in bed before you know her name; in fact, in true lust, they said, you'd just as soon not get in touch with any more reality than is absolutely necessary. So the men's list was pretty heavily involved in what they were thinking and feeling.

The women's list, on the other hand, was mostly into what they were doing. They know they're in lust when experiencing lusty feelings, especially "instant desire;" spending lots of time in bed together; living in the present; tolerating his faults; focusing on the physical over all else; and thinking he looks best in bed.

In discussing the differences between the lists, we concluded that a woman in lust is quite probably reasonably aware of what the guy is "really" like, but chooses to ignore that information for as long as possible. The fellows, on the other hand, conceded that a guy in lust probably has little or no idea what the woman is really like, and is putting no effort into finding out.

The fellows weren't sure, really, whether they were unconsciously avoiding realizing simple truths about the person, whether the situation (lust) blinded them, or whether they were just not easily able to note such things, but the explanation they

liked best was that in such circumstances _ in fact in most relationship circumstances _ they simply did not see the bigger picture.

This isn't the only class in which men have made such an assertion. It's a fairly typical situation whenever we talk about the differences in male/female points of view, that the women are picking at every little detail about the man's behavior, what it "means," and its effect on the relationship. Meanwhile the men are asking, "But what do you mean, 'What does it mean?'?"

The women will say, "Well, you did that because..." and the men will say, "No, I did that because it's the only thing that occurred to me. If I could have thought of anything else, I would have done that."

In my view, this would not be a problem, really, if it weren't that so many of us women spend our relationship time (or maybe it's more the time away from the relationship) trying to figure out the little nuances of meaning in his every action. This is not to say she's going to let what she concludes affect her (see above re: lust-and-ignore-it-all), but she wants the security of knowing what's really going on. I suppose it gives us more of a sense of "control" in the situation, because we think we really "understand."

The difficulty comes when she behaves as though what she has concluded, rather than his actual behavior, is the reality. "He's doing this because..." "I know he meant..." You run the risk of either falling in love or breaking up with your conclusions, regardless of what's really going on with the guy.

Because what the fellows tell me is that what's really going on is "not much." That most guys are truly "What you see is what you get."

Sure, some fellows are capable of real scheming and deception, of being con artists of the first order. But most fellows you run into are just regular folks, struggling through their lives and relationships just like everyone else.

So ladies, if you find yourself spending your free time analyzing what he really meant and why he did what he did, etc., that's fine, as long as, once you've reached a conclusion, you actually ask him: "You know, when you asked that other couple in the restaurant to join us the other night, was that because you were afraid otherwise dinner with me was going to be boring?" (No attacking; just ask.)

And when he says, "Well, no. I just thought I wouldn't have to come up with as much stuff to talk about if there were other people there, that it would take some of the pressure off," really listen, and try to "get it" from his point of view.

(See how we can have the same experience but different explanations?)

And gals, realize too that if he is the typical "boy next door" guy, he is not sitting around pondering every nuance of what you do. He figures you did what you did because you wanted to, and you said what you said because that's what you meant.

If you are expecting him to pick up on subtle hints and disguised feelings, you could be waiting at that bus stop a long time.

The area where I see women doing this a lot is "self-sacrifice." He says, "Do you want to go to the movie?" She says, "Sure." What this means is, "No, I don't really want to go to a movie, but I like you and figure because you asked that must mean you want to go to a movie and I figure you won't like me if I don't give you a lot of support for what you want to do, and I want you to like me, so, ok, I'll go to the movie."

This would be ok except she silently chalks this up as one he "owes" her; she has made a sacrifice for him, and she can now expect him to make a sacrifice for her, somewhere along the way.

Except of course, that he thinks she's going to the movie because she wants to go to the movie because he asked her if she wants to go to the movie and she said yes! If she'd said, "It's not my first choice, but if you really want to, I'm willing

to go," he'd have the option of saying, "No, it's not that big a deal to me either," or "No, I'd rather find something we both want to do," or "Oh no, I'm not giving you the chance to say, 'We always do what you want to do!"

So perhaps we can conclude that while men are clueless, women are overloaded, even burdened down, with clues and their conclusions about them. Is there a solution? Maybe not, but for now we can seek guidance from the words of Somerset Maugham, "Love is what happens to men and women who don't know each other." And take comfort from the observations of Alex Fraser, "Almost all emotional wounds are self-inflicted."

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