Brad was just completing his divorce after having been married for over 25 years. He had not dated in what seemed like forever to him, and had no idea how to start. “How do you start a new relationship?” he asked me in our counseling session.
“What are you most concerned about?” I asked.
“Sex,” he answered.
“What about sex?” I asked.
Pause–. “Well–performance. What if I can’t perform? What if I’m too nervous to perform?”
“Okay. Let’s start with sex.”
In the 35 years that I’ve been counseling, I’ve discovered that the one mistake people make in starting a new relationship is to have sex too soon. There are many reasons why people have sex too soon: they think it will create deeper intimacy, they are just in it for the conquest, they are afraid of rejection if they say no, they get physically carried away, they like sex. Let’s take the example of Yvonne.
Yvonne is a lovely young woman in her middle thirties who really wants to get married and have children. She has no trouble meeting men, but the relationships don’t last. In fact, they rarely even get started.
The problem is that Yvonne often believes what men say to her early on in the relationship. The last man she dated a couple of months ago, came on really strong. He told her on the first date how wonderful she was, how he had rarely met anyone like her. When he came on sexually, she resisted, although she was really turned on and attracted to him. He suavely said to her “I bet you’re worried that if we have sex I won’t call you again.” “Right,” she said. “That’s exactly what I’m worried about.” Well, he answered, “I’m not that kind of man. Can’t you tell that we’re really connected to each other? I haven’t had such a good time in years! Of course I want to see you again!” Yvonne agreed that they were having a wonderful time. She put aside her inner warning signals and had sex with him. Sure enough, he never called her again.
The reality is that, no matter how wonderful things seem on the first or second date, this is not enough time to deeply care about someone. And sex without deep caring might be a physically satisfying experience, but it is flat emotionally and spiritually. It will almost always leave both people feeling like something was missing. Without love and caring, it is easy to move on to another person, another conquest. It is easy to dismiss the encounter – since something was missing, it must not have been the right person. But these two people never gave themselves a change to see if they were right for each other. They jumped into the most physically intimate of experiences before there was any emotional intimacy. They tried to get the intimate connection through sex, but great sex is an outgrowth of intimacy, not a cause of it. Without love and caring, any problem becomes too much to handle, any deficiency or imperfection becomes cause to move on. Physical attraction is never enough to see people through the inevitable conflicts that come up in primary relationships.
Deep caring comes through spending time together getting to know each other. It comes from months of laughing together, crying together, discovering what is deeply endearing about each other. It comes from having conflict and getting through it to understanding each other on deeper levels. It comes when two people let each in on the soul level. You need to love someone’s soul before you will be willing to go through the challenges that come up in all relationships. Without that depth of love, it is just too easy to leave.
So, what I said to Brad was, “Take your time. Don’t jump into bed until you feel so safe with each other that even if the first time you make love you don’t get an erection it won’t ruin the relationship. It may take months or longer before you feel that safe with someone.”
“Months? I’m supposed to wait months before having sex?”
“Brad, I don’t know how long it will take for you to feel loved and loving, safe and deeply caring. It depends on how much time you time you spend with each other. It depends on how honest you are with each other. It depends on how you each deal with conflict. You will certainly not feel safe until you have conflict and see how the two of you handle it. What if you discover that your partner completely shuts down or gets enraged in conflict? Will you feel safe if you are worried about her reaction if you can’t perform? All this takes time. What’s your rush? Is it sex you want or a relationship you want?
“Okay, I got it. I want a relationship. Whew! I actually feel some relief knowing that it’s okay to take my time!”