Ambigamy

Insights for the deeply romantic and deeply skeptical

Single Midlife Man FINDS Romantic Solution

Twelve guidelines for living the Loaner lifestyle
Jeremy Sherman
This post is a response to Single Midlife Male Seeks Romantic Solution by Jeremy E. Sherman, Ph.D.

I promised it over a month ago and I think I’ve finally got it, an alternative to mate-for-life monogamy, serial monogamy, promiscuity and celibacy, one that fits my appetites while keeping me sane and honorable.

I’ll call it becoming a Loaner, a play on accepting myself as fundamentally alone, no longer deserving a mother surrogate to hold me through thick and thin, and being nonetheless available on loan to other Loaners. I doubt I could have been a Loaner before now.  My appetites, aptitudes, and options needed to mellow with age.

Here are my principles of Loanerdom.

1. Don’t fall: In my past, my pattern was to find a candidate partner and then together, size, feel and butter each other up.  First comes assessment, then surge and merge, a substantial portion of the motivation being sexual chemistry, but most of the consequence being high expectation of devotion. A Loaner works very conscientiously to break this pattern, and through self-monitoring, steer clear of that conventional courtship dance.

2. Friends, really:  Loaners hold a common standard for all connections. Meet people as people, as potential friends, acquaintances or passes, not as potential mates.  That way you can hear them, really listen, not missing what they’re really like because you want something from them or want something to happen with them. 

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3. Ignore mixed messages: People have mixed motivations. Women, for example often both want to be, and object to being the objects of physical desire.  Quite understandably, many dress to infatuate us with their beauty and are understandably disgusted by our infatuation. When they want your romantic devotion they treat their alluring bodies as themselves.  When they lose their allure they want you to treat their physical flaws as not them, but something they’re strapped with. And who wouldn’t? Men are no less conflicted. In general, count on people to use their assets and opportunities to get what they want.

For a man, to be a Loaner is to honor women as people and give slight attention to that part of them that would get you drunk on their looks.  Doing so is to delight their human half and a disappointment to their floral half. Live with their half-disappointment, as they do with us when they honor our human half but disappoint our male-equivalent sources of vanity and pride.

4. No agenda: When I go to a religious funeral I’m surprised by the strangely crass mix of memorializing and faith boosterism, the presiding priest’s irrepressible urge to slip in advertisements for their denomination.  “Your very good friend has died. Let us remember him and on an unrelated note, join our faith, because it’s the best.” 

Talking to potential partners, we do the same, wedging reasons why the person we’re talking with should become a member of the “church of me,” and tithe their sex love and devotion.  A Loaner cuts that out. Stop with the innuendo.  Just hang out together. 

There’s that old saying, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.”  In very loose parallel I’d say it’s amazing how intimate you can get if you don’t care if you get sexloveromance, and amazing how free you get to stay to follow your own best guiding lights if, having forgone sexloveromance, and can meet people—even beauties--as people.

5. Mojo by other means:  Romance is passion but so are other things. Romance makes us feel alive, growing and special, but so do other activities, and some with a better track record for keeping us feeling that way.  Loaners don’t privilege romance as the must-have source of mojo.  Instead they think about romance as a major investment that, long-term could pay off in a richer life but even if it does, will take attention from their investments in other sources of mojo.  For Loaners, romance is one of many things one can choose to fuss over. They fuss-budget consciously and conscientiously.

6. Sex policy reversal:  Conventional policy says don’t sleep with someone unless you’re serious. A Loaner reverses this. If she already really wants to be your partner, you can’t touch or sleep with her, and probably, you shouldn’t even spend time with her.  If she would sort of really actually probably like to be partners, then maybe you can see her but you shouldn’t probably touch. Only if she too is a Loaner can you afford sex and touching. Why this reversal?  To show appropriate honor and respect. Whether its biological or psychological, sex triggers expectations that shouldn’t be taken lightly.   Men can be jerks, diving in for what they want without any intention of following through with faithful devotion. Loaners aren’t celibates, but they have to be especially conscientious about when and how they handle their sexuality, never letting it drive them at a woman’s expense.  Being conscientious requires cultivating skepticism about a woman’s declarations.  In general, women are as trustworthy in their declared willingness to be sexually casual as men are in their declared readiness to be sexually committed.

7. Drain the lizard: Loaners are skeptical but not dismissive of the argument that sex is a human necessity, the limbic or lizard brain ever-filling and refilling with libido. Loaners are sexual like everyone else, but they try to handle it responsibly, which often means going it sexually alone. They recognize that porn is problematic.  The more thrills one seeks and finds (and you can find lots of thrills in porn) the less likely you are to find reality thrilling. Still, honoring that part of women that don’t want to be seen as sex objects, and honoring that part of us that still sees them that way means draining the lizard, disconnecting your sexual fantasy life from reality.  Love women as people.  Drain the part that craves them as objects.

8. Respect other tribe’s boundaries: In the 1980’s I tried chat-flirting once and five minutes in, discovered that I was talking to another guy who thought he too was talking to a woman. Awkward! You’ve got to know who you’re talking to because love’s lifestyles are radically different, not just in who we’re attracted to but in what we want to do with that attraction.  Loaners are a decidedly different tribe than married and partnered people, people eagerly seeking a partner, celibates and the promiscuous.  Each lifestyle values some qualities and devalues others and any two lifestyles are going to clash over what to value and devalue.  People who have or want a partner value romantic commitment, the very thing that Loaners work to devalue.  Loaners value romantic self-sufficiency, the very thing that partners work to devalue.  Honor the differences.  Don’t try to convert other people to your lifestyle, and don’t be influenced by people who disdain yours. People will sneer, at the baseness of Loanerdom.  I’ve gotten sneers in response to every article I’ve written in this series, and I expect more.  Sneer away.

9. Aromatherapy:  I’ve scorned religion ever since in childhood, but I’ve noticed lately that women have been my religion and sex has been my ritual prayer.  I’ve been a romantic fundamentalist.

What’s a fundamentalist to do when it dawns on him late in life that he has committed most of his life to a cause that’s not working? My sense is that he should stop believing, but is perfectly entitled to continue going through the ritual motions that have provided nourishing rhythm to his long life so far (See How to Retire a Flawed Cause).  For me, this means finding a careful way to adore and pray to Goddesses even though I no longer believe they are my shot at redemption.  It means loving the scent of a beautiful woman without trying to take action to consuming that with which she perfumes my world.

I love conversation with pretty much anyone. I especially love it when it’s with someone pretty. This is my aromatherapy. And, as a lifelong addict, I have to monitor and manage my appetite, because, lifelong I’ve read the scent as leading to a shot at grace itself, the ultimate benediction.  And it doesn’t.

10. Be committed to non-commitment: We tend to see romantic commitment as requiring self-discipline, and non-commitment as capricious, but actually, walking the fine line between promiscuity and celibacy takes a lot of self-discipline. To play anywhere near the fires of love sex and romance, one is only honorable when sending very clear messages about what you’re good for and what you’re not.  It’s no good baiting and switching on people. We owe it to each other to be honest about what we can expect that we can and can’t be counted on to do into the future.  A partner shouldn’t keep a short list of next-in-line lovers.  If you’re in, be in.

By the same token, Loaners shouldn’t talk like they’re Loaners one day and the next say “Sorry, I’ve decided to partner with someone.” Still, a Loaner cultivates a reverse double standard.  If a friend is not sure what she wants, you don’t blame her. If she decides to give love a try with someone, you should switch gears flexibly to whatever works with that, not seeing her anymore or seeing her but with no potential to be anything more than friends.

Being a Loaner means cultivating and maintaining your core strength accepting and honoring the people who come and go as they need to. And in possession of that core strength you’re not driven by strong appetites that make you bend your truths so you can siphon off someone else’s affirmation to substitute for your core.

11. Hold out, letting go: A Loaner’s default state is single--a Loaner until proven partnered.  Rather than coming at women with the cookie cutter of romantic expectation, seeing, sizing, surging, and fusing, a Loaner meets women as potential friends. You become partners only if after established friendship, it becomes truly obvious that, long-term both of your lives would be enriched by devoting the attention it takes to make partnership.  Especially with online dating, singles are looking to find a partner.  They’re in a distracted hurry.  “Are you my new God/Goddess best friend forever? If not, bye, ‘cause I’m on a mission.”  Loaners aren’t on that mission.  They cultivate comfort with the possibility that they’ll never have a full partnership again.  They don’t assume life has to be lived by the buddy system.  And yet, should the right buddy come along, they would buddy up.  They can afford to patiently hold out for someone deeply compatible because they’ve let go of the assumption that they need that.

12. Loan thyself: A Loaner wants to be intimate with reality and intimate with other people.  He or she works to find balance between trusting one’s power of discernment and getting a second opinion, between “to thine own self be true” and “don’t believe everything you think.” Having fallen into one or a few cult-of-personality partnerships we recognize that nowhere is getting a second opinion more potentially distorting than partnership.  In partnership you can’t afford to believe, question or say just anything, even if your inner wisdom borne of intuition and reason tells you it’s true.  So we Loaners take as fundamental our aloneness.  Even if we reenter partnership we try stand, not fall in love, recognizing romance as at minimum six loves that must be balanced in relationship with each other.

I love you
I love me
You love you
You love me
I love us
You love us

We are capable of loaning our devotion and yes, we understand that that’s an oxymoron.

--

One of my favorite pastimes follows in the tradition of Plato’s Symposium which though it sounds dryly academic was actually some folks sitting together drinking wine, enjoying each other’s company and talking about the nature of love. Plato was an idealist.  He believed that human behavior was crude, but that if you lined it up from crudest to least crude, and extrapolated from the least crude you could derive a vision of ideal behavior. Our notion of platonic love is derived from Plato’s wine party, a sense that true pure ideal love transcended looks altogether.  Love was the deepest possible friendship, a love not based on anything as surface and transitory as physical appearance, but on the purity of two pure souls merged.

I’m no idealist.  My rules for Loaners contain contradictions. In fact they highlight the contradictions and encourage self-monitoring to walk fine mercurial lines between opposite excesses.  Still, I do think of being a Loaner as a quest to practice platonic love, love that honors the sexloveromance-hungry conflicted monkey I am while honoring the sensitive monkeys we all are. 

Jeremy Sherman is an evolutionary epistemologist studying the natural history and practical realities of decision making.

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