Sex & Sociability

Question and commentary on connections, both sexual and social

Getting Lucky: The Uncertainty of Sexual Pursuit

The unknown is part of the game so one better learn to enjoy ambiguity

A newly widowed gay client of mine, a man in his 50’s, was complaining to me about the vagaries of the singles scene. “How do I know if a guy is available or interested? How do I know he’s even gay before I make a move and embarrass myself?”

This is something all unattached people have to deal with; it’s not just a same sex problem. If it’s a straight woman who’s interested how can she know her prospect is not gay or married or just not interested? One doesn’t. The life of an unattached and looking person of any sex or persuasion is a mine field of uncertainty. For those who can’t tolerate ambiguity it’s hell; it’s an exciting part of the dating and mating game fun for those who know that not knowing the outcome is an integral and exciting part of the search.

If you’re old enough to remember the encounter games of the 1970’s and 80’s you will know what a fertile ground for mating they were. Men and women sat around in a circle asking and answering the most intrusive questions in pursuit of personal growth, instant intimacy, or what these days is called a hook-up.

Our group leader was the Reverend Robert Cromey, an Episcopal priest and a major player in the human potential movement of Esalen and the San Francisco Bay area. Not a man with much patience for ambiguity himself, he developed what he called The Three Questions. As a clergyman one might think those questions might include “What is the meaning of life?” or “the nature of God” but that wasn’t it at all. Dr. Cromey’s questions were designed to remove as much as possible the uncertainty of flirting and cut to the chase.

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The three questions were “Are you sexually attracted to me?” “Can you fantasize having sex with me?” (usually phrased in the vernacular) and “Do you want to do anything about it?”

In pursuit of fairness I insisted that the poser of these questions at least go first, phrasing them with his or her feelings before asking: “I am sexually attracted to you. Are you sexually attracted to me?” If someone’s derriere had to be on the line, courtesy demanded it be the one who starts the game.

Subsequently there were other amendments. For instance, since my imagination was fertile and far ranging I could never answer no to the second question. I could fantasize sex with anyone or anything, male or female, animate or not. With a fire plug or an apple? Sure! That’s why I’m a writer.

One might suppose that all three questions were never necessary, that only the first would give a person all the information necessary, but that just wasn’t so. People and their sexual inclinations can’t be reduced to a simple formula no matter how hard we try.

It is certainly likely to not be immediately attracted to someone but still want to explore possibilities, or to be sexually attracted and not want to do anything further about it. One might find the fantasy simply unimaginable but still be curious. So no matter how much thought went into simplifying the process, nothing was obvious and no outcome a sure bet. Everyone who was “out there looking” just had to wait for the result of any potentially sexual interaction, no matter what the chemistry or apparent lack of it.

That’s still true today and undoubtedly always will be. Will you get lucky? Will that attractive stranger turn out to be a beloved intimate? Will it be a one night stand or a lifelong meaningful relationship? Or ships passing in the night, an attractive might-have-been? For that matter, even if you are not single and looking but are already mated, the outcome of a sexy thought or pang of desire is never a sure thing. Sweetie might not be in the mood or not in the mood right now, but could be if you use the right persuasion.

What I’m saying is that when it comes to flirtation and its possibilities, whether it is tomorrow or back in 1978, whether it’s an appealing stranger or your own true love, there is always uncertainty in the sexual dance; so we might as well celebrate it as part of the most enjoyable mystery of sexual attraction.

Isadora AlmanM.F.T., is a Board-certified sex, marriage, and family therapist, lecturer, author, and syndicated advice columnist of "Ask Isadora."

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