“When a man falls in love, it is a completely new experience, but for a woman it is an additional experience to those she has already had.
F. Scott Fitzgerald
I am always amused by egalitarians who decry double standards whenever some sort of standard is upheld for one sex but not the other. You know what they say: What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. I know that two sexes/two standards sounds incredibly passé, but throughout history almost all cultures have upheld that duality. Only modern, progressive cultures think they have evolved beyond such antediluvian nonsense.
Predictably, when a 2016 University of Utah study dealt with whether or not the number of premarital sex partners had any effect on the divorce rate, the researchers had to tread carefully when interpreting the results.
In a nutshell, the data showed that the least likely women to get divorced were those whose only partner was their husband. Women with more than 10 partners were the most likely. Of course, the slut-shaming stigma reared its ugly head; good modern academics that they are, the researchers remained officially nonjudgmental. During the so-called sexual revolution, one of the selling points of sex before marriage was that it would make for more stable marriages, much like a job applicant with experience is superior to a novice. In other words, sexual overachievement wasn’t mere hedonism or self-indulgence, it was the relationship equivalent of a training bra!
Keeping in mind the Fitzgerald quote above, let’s take a look at a hypothetical modern woman who has had ten sex partners before finally embarking on marriage. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that the guy she has finally cast her lot with is the equivalent of a Solid B student. In other words, more plus than minus in all areas but not outstanding in any one area. Such a partner would seem likely to meet with the approval of most women…or would he? As a package deal, he may be better than any of his predecessors, but that doesn’t mean he’s in like Flynn. Paraphrasing Orwell in Animal Farm, all significant others are equal but some are more equal – in other words, more significant – that others.
Let’s assume that Boyfriend No. 1 (BF1) was a crush, a cute boy-band sort of guy. Due to inexperience, he was no great shakes in the sack, but he was the object of her adolescent hormone spike, so he will never be forgotten. He was not “the one” but he was the first one so he occupies a unique niche. And they called it puppy love.
Next was BF2, a high school football star: an athlete as well as a sexual athlete. His testosterone level was off the charts so the sex was plentiful even though predictable. He was always ready for sex but not really interested in exploring his or her sexuality. BF2 was a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy.
A stark contrast, BF3 was an “intellectual” who introduced her to all sorts of progressive, new ideas…not to mention all sorts of kinky sex acts, not all of which she felt comfortable with. She’d never heard of a blumpkin before, and after she found out what it was, she never wanted to hear of it again. Clearly, BF3’s sexual appetites went well beyond meat and potatoes.
BF4 was an artist. He was no poseur, he had real talent. One glance at his portfolio was evidence of that. He was imaginative, perceptive, and sensitive. He opened her eyes to the everyday aesthetics of life. Just one problem: He never had any money.
BF5 was a working-class guy, a more recent iteration of Stanley Kowalski. He was crude and boorish, but in order to show solidarity with the working class she felt she couldn’t refuse his advances. Also, there was something about that troglodytic demeanor that attracted her in spite of her better judgment. No doubt BF5 gave her the best pounding of her life…but when he wasn’t pounding away, he left a lot to be desired.
After BF5, she was ready for a change of pace, so she hooked up with BF6, an MBA student. He was ambitious, he was going places. It was exciting to be with him because he felt the sky was the limit. He was a go-getter, he had real drive, he was a take-charge kinda guy. Much to her surprise, she enjoyed having a man make decisions for her. She knew it went against all her feminist training, but she had never felt less stressed.
BF7 was a bit of a dandy, always impeccably groomed and his apartment looked like something out of Architectural Digest. Then she found out he was a bisexual – not that there’s anything wrong with that – but for some strange reason they seemed to drift apart after she witnessed him engaging in oral copulation with the creative director of the advertising agency where she was employed.
BF8 was a mature man – some fifteen years her senior – but he was well established in his profession and had a healthy income and an impressive investment portfolio. He was middle aged and he spent long hours at work, so the sex wasn’t as frequent or as passionate as in her previous relationships, but there was no question that he was a finished product, set in his ways but no full-blown fuddy-duddy. The big plus was he offered more financial security than any of her previous BFs.
BF9 was a single dad. He never said anything bad about his ex and he was admirably devoted to his kids. He made the most of every moment he spent with them. This attentiveness was admirable, but it didn’t leave much time for her on weekends. Not that she begrudged his kids the time he spent with them, but there was no question who came first.
BF10’s idea of a good time was spending an afternoon at Home Depot. It was certainly nice to have a boyfriend who knew how to do repairs and remodeling projects. Those were certainly good skills for a prospective husband but she wasn’t sure if BF10 had anything else going for him. Not only was his garage overflowing with power tools, his house looked like a hardware store. Better to hire him than marry him.
Well, we could throw in a few more BFs, but you get the idea. Besides we have now reached double digits and I’m fresh out of stereotypes.
So our heroine, just as she’s about to hit the wall, has decided to tie the knot with an age-appropriate man, the aforementioned B student, with a background similar to hers (just for grins and giggles, let’s call them Barbie and Ken). Yes, at long last, Barbie’s settling down but she’s not really settling…or is she? Barbie is well aware that this could be her last dance. If Ken doesn’t work out, she may be too old to attract any more partners…unless Mattel wants to market a “Cougar Barbie” to the kiddos.
So Ken makes an honest woman (don’t even think about uttering that phrase today) out of Barbie. At first all goes well, but inevitably the honeymoon comes to an end. Barbie can’t help but compare Ken to her former beaus. Sadly, he is found wanting in many areas.
Of course, BF1 could never be duplicated any more than she could return to her newby nubile teen years. Like they say, you never forget your first. By definition, Ken can’t compete with that so she doesn’t hold that against him…but she can’t help but wonder what BF1 is like now that he’s grown up.
In terms of sheer physical fitness, BF2 was the best of the bunch. He was undoubtedly the most physically masculine (though she hated to use that word) man she had known. Ken is no fitness buff but he hasn’t exactly let himself go. Nevertheless, she thinks she has detected an incipient paunch, and it wouldn’t hurt him to get a gym membership.
BF3 was a good conversationalist, though he was something of a know-it-all. Maybe he knew what he was talking about, maybe he didn’t. He was a poli sci major so he kept up with current issues and had opinions on all of them. Ken isn’t stupid but he just doesn’t keep up with the news and has no interest in intellectual pursuits. She wouldn’t go so far as to call him a Philistine but…
She didn’t blame Ken because, unlike BF4, he had no artistic talent. You either have it or you don’t. But there was more to it than that. Ken didn’t seem to have any appreciation for the arts. In fact, during one argument, he even belittled her art history degree. He had apologized for that, but she didn’t know if she could ever forgive much less forget. What was so wonderful about that engineering degree Ken earned? I mean, aside from the fact that it all but guaranteed him employment and a decent paycheck.
BF5 had a rare sort of animal magnetism that went beyond the physical. His mere presence sent a jolt through her nervous system. It was a combination of fear and attraction, approach and avoidance. She always had to tread lightly because anything might set him off and he seemed capable of anything. She was always on edge in his presence but that frisson held an odd appeal for her. Ken was nowhere near as volatile, but she didn’t feel that tingle in his presence.
BF6 was incredibly ambitious and long after they broke up, she can’t help but wonder if he realized his ambitions. Ken was hardly a slacker, but he just didn’t have that same drive. Truth to tell, he was a bit of a plodder, the sort of guy who might get the occasional promotion at work but will never rise to the top of the heap. Mid-level management at best. She hated to admit it, but she had classified him as a beta male…but hadn’t she told herself she wasn’t settling?
Barbie always loved going shopping with BF7. His fashion sense was spot on and he always took pride in his appearance. She wouldn’t go so far as to call Ken a slob, but he just didn’t seem to care what he wore, though he always dressed appropriately. He had zero interest in fashion; he just bought items off the rack without even trying them on to see how they looked. And as for the house…he didn’t seem to care about the furniture so long as it was comfortable. He cared not at all for the color or pattern of the living room carpet or the wall hangings. As long as the floors and walls weren’t bare, he was content.
Barbie had always felt safe with BF8. He was solid. Life with him would have been secure and serene. Ken wasn’t terribly different personality-wise, but he hadn’t had as much time to establish himself in his profession. In fact, paying back his college loans still took up a sizable chunk of Ken’s net income. BF8 was long past that. She realized that if she had married BF8 and he died suddenly, she would be well taken care of. She couldn’t say the same for Ken.
BF9 clearly loved kids. She wasn’t sure about Ken. He seemed to get along OK with her nephews and nieces, but she wasn’t sure how he felt about having children of his own. He never said he didn’t want children but he didn’t seem overly enthusiastic about it either. They say that men change after they become fathers, but she couldn’t help but wonder if Ken might be an exception.
BF10 had his shortcomings, but he was certainly a handy guy to have around. By contrast, Ken didn’t take much interest in her ideas for remodeling. She suspected that he could have lived in a cave and been happy. Whenever she suggested some sort of project around the house, the only thing he wanted to know was how much it would cost.
So now you can readily appreciate Ken’s no-win situation. The more old boyfriends a woman has, the more her current partner – solid B student that he is – has to compete with. Granted, a lot of her previous boyfriends got gentlemen’s C’s in most areas and some even earned an F in others…but there was always one trait where each of them earned an A, something that Ken has never done. He may be a thoroughly functional adult male, but there are categories where he doesn’t measure up to her previous partners.
But what about Ken and his previous girlfriends? He wasn’t living in a monastery before he met Barbie. This relationship isn’t his first rodeo. Yessiree, this buckaroo’s been in the saddle before. So does he compare Barbie to his old flames and find her wanting in some areas?
Maybe, maybe not. But he doesn’t second-guess himself. Thinking back over old girlfriends he has some fond memories but that’s all they are. He doesn’t fantasize about what life would be like if he had married one of them. Unlike Barbie, he doesn’t pose the “what if” question vis-à-vis his former flames. Like Barbie, he remembers his first. She was the class pig, however, so he doesn’t have any fond memories of her. Any orifice in a hormone storm.
Ken certainly remembers which one was the best lay…seemed to verify the maxim that the best screwing you’ll ever get is with a girl who has a few screws loose. But no way you’d want to put up with a screwball for the rest of your life.
Then there was the small-town girl, the semi-feminist, the bohemian babe, Xena (his nickname) the social justice warrior, and a few others who’d come and gone…but that was then, Barbie is now. He doesn’t regret ending any of his previous relationships. In some areas Barbie may not be a match for her predecessors but she’ll do. (Truth to tell, he misses good old whatshername – was she GF5 or GF6?—who was a helluva good cook.) At any rate, Ken isn’t lying awake nights thinking about it all.
Of course, a man has the luxury of not being criticized for marrying beneath himself. That thought haunts almost every married woman above the level of working class. After pondering the issue, she may conclude that she deserves better and may come to resent the man she married because she didn’t do better. It’s called entitlement.
A man may offer an opinion on which restaurant has the best pizza/BarBQ/TexMex in town, but a hungry man eats the meal that has been set before him. Unless he is a restaurant critic, he doesn’t compare it to every other meal he has eaten. In Fitzgerald’s words, each man’s meal (relationship) is a completely new experience, whole in and of itself, not just the latest in a series.
A woman on the verge of hitting the wall must live with the knowledge that the latest man in her life may well be the last man. Would BF No. 5 have been the better choice? Or BF8? Or none of the above – the old maid option…though she never liked that term. She had once toyed with the idea of single motherhood via a sperm donor. Maybe she should have followed through with that.
Obviously, the one-man woman isn’t burdened with these self-doubts. She doesn’t know what she’s missing, so she has no basis for comparison. Of course, those bad old traditional patriarchal cultures “oppress” women by safeguarding their virginity. Somehow, without any guidance from sociology or anthropology Ph.D.s, they figured out that the stability of their society depends on the stability of their families. Yes, somewhere back in the ancient mists of prehistory, tribes figured out that the emancipation of women would result in family instability, which would result in tribal instability, and eventuate in tribal suicide. Of course, our ancient forebears had one big advantage over us: They weren’t hobbled by concepts of romance or equity. They were motivated by survival.
Fitzgerald’s comment on the goose/gander controversy was quoted towards the end of his life. He was only married once and his wife Zelda – a real nutter – was only 19 when they wed, so she likely had no previous partners to compare to her husband. So Fitzgerald’s maxim must be based on observation not personal experience.
These days, however, the average age of first marriage keeps going up while the average age of first sexual experience keeps going down, creating more and more opportunities for all sorts of sexual relationships before marriage. So it behooves the potential bridegroom to carefully consider the sexual career of his betrothed. None of that don’t ask, don’t tell stuff. Find out all you can! If she plays coy, hire a detective.
In other words, take a gander before you commit lest your goose be cooked.