Why Women Settle

For One-Sided Relationships

Why Women Settle

Why Women Settle

In many ways, the rules have evolved for dating. Parents may be unrealistic if they think abstinence will protect their teenaged girls. Today, 75 percent of young women will have had sexual intercourse before they leave their teens.

Hooking-up, as in no strings attached sex, is widely accepted by society, but the emotional risks it presents to teenagers and adult women contrasts dramatically to what is often widely assumed.

It is not hard for a young woman to fall into a pattern of sextimacy, which is the pursuit of sex with the hope of also achieving emotional intimacy. Typically, young or adult, these women are caught between two poles: believing they should be self-sufficient without a man’s emotional support, while simultaneously wanting to achieve true emotional intimacy in romance.

Left with the understandable perception that there are no other viable options to develop male relationships, some believe sextimacy is a way for them to level the playing field. For a surprising number, sextimacy is the primary means for forging relationships with men. Many young women are embarrassed to openly admit to themselves or to others that a “real” relationship is what they desire. These women have come to believe that wanting emotional intimacy with someone with whom they also have sex is weak and needy, a sort of sappy female stereotype. They live out a young adult life declaring that they “don’t care about feelings and love” or they “don’t have time for relationships,” while they privately fantasize about one of their hook-ups eventually leading to a deep, serious, supportive partnership.

In reality, sextimacy is a poor choice; usually the woman is left with sinking disappointment because it never fully delivers what she desires —a real relationship. In my practice, I often talk with women who are fed up with sextimacy and bravely admit that all they really want is to have a meaningful, mutual connection with someone they adore and who adores them in return. The problem these women face is that, within the present culture of dating and hooking-up, they have not learned how to form lasting, meaningful, truly intimate relationships with men.

Although these women tell me they are looking for long-term acceptance and commitment from the men in their lives, their actions tell a different story. Sextimacy is a self-defeating cycle. Ultimately, the sex never delivers a nurturing, mutually fulfilling relationship that provides both sexual and emotional intimacy. After a sextimacy event, many may feel worse and emptier than before. The cycle continues with feelings of unworthiness, giving rise to yet another episode of sextimacy.

When sextimacy occurs for teenagers, the toll is cumulative and progressive. As the adolescent moves through each stage of development, it becomes more difficult to cultivate a romantic connection without the early introduction of sex. As the teenage years pass and romantic connections are forged through hastened sex, the young adult misses opportunities to learn how to develop mutually fulfilling connections with men. If this pattern continues into the early 20s, the woman may be left feeling entirely ill-equipped to manage the complexities of a long-term committed relationship. Developing a romantic relationship without the early introduction of sex comes to feel awkward for her, because she has not developed a sense of her worth outside of a sexual context.

Women who repeatedly engage in sextimacy experience emotional and relational difficulties. At the heart of these trials is a lack of understanding and acceptance of themselves. Adolescent girls and adult women in a pattern of sextimacy feel painfully self-conscious about their bodies, their mood is often down or depressed, and they engage in repetitive negative thinking. They feel uncomfortable with intimacy, which makes it hard for them to both find a committed partner and be a committed partner. They feel alone and unfulfilled. They have difficulty understanding their emotional world, which makes it challenging for them to communicate effectively so as to have their needs understood and met by the men in their lives. These roadblocks make them turn to sex, not as a result of emotional intimacy but as a tool to attain a short-term burst of relief from shaky self-esteem and loneliness. Chronic sextimacy leaves a woman with little opportunity to develop the emotional and relational skills she needs in order to form a meaningful relationship. And without these skills she becomes more vulnerable to repeated sextimacy events.

Because sextimacy circumvents the hard work of relationship development women who have not been exposed to attentive relationships in childhood are more at risk of a sextimacy dynamic in their adult romantic relationships. For some this fosters a tendency to see themselves only through the eyes of others. Frequently, sextimacy comes into a young woman’s life at no fault of a caregiver; the culture at large and peer group influence alone may account for its development. For example, our culture promotes the idea that girls and women should embody a contradictory image of being a seductive, yet innocent object of desire. Many girls and women expend their energy trying to appear seductive and innocent so as to attain male desire, with too little thought given to their own desire.

Although these women tell me they are looking for long-term acceptance and commitment from the men in their lives, their actions tell a different story. Sextimacy is a self-defeating cycle.

In my experience treating adolescents and adult women, I find those who maintain relationships in which their needs habitually go unmet have specific areas of self that are not fully developed. As a woman cultivates a strong core sense of self, fulfilling relationships in which her needs are consistently met will follow. By growing in this way, women are less vulnerable to sextimacy and more able to get what they truly want from men—authentic connection, sexual fulfillment and emotional intimacy.

One of many reasons why it is so important for young women to understand early what is in their best interest in romantic relationships, is so they will avoid falling into relationships that will never give them what they need emotionally.

While the lack of true emotional intimacy between a couple may seem obvious to independent observers, it may very well not register to a woman whose romantic experiences have mostly revolved around sextimacy. And so she plunges ahead into marriage or makes commitments to a longer-term relationship that is not good for her emotional happiness.

Even if she does not fully comprehend this as circumstances unfold, a lack of understanding coupled with superficial communication leads to a relationship crisis when the woman suddenly realizes how isolated and alone she actually is. There is little to repair in a relationship when there has never been a serious level of emotional intimacy. The break-up that may follow is painful.

It is much better to assure a girl early on, that she ought to value herself, and accept that her needs and desires deserve attention from the very beginning of a relationship. Her willingness to please the other is not enough. There is an essential level of self-regard that each partner must be willing to expose to make a romantic relationship flourish.

I have found that most parents long to protect their daughters from making wrong and fateful decisions such as these. But, they may not appreciate what has to take place to psychologically position their girls so that they naturally make their own feelings and desires a priority.

We have all heard someone say that such and such a woman just did not know how to pick men. They may have endured one-sided romances and weathered serial marriages. The idea is that they are simply meant to be unhappy in love, as if that were a condition that could be preordained by fate.

Actually, there is nothing inevitable about a woman making decisions that deny her emotional intimacy in romance. The approaches and skills that protect so many are learned. Not only can young girls in the right environment master what they need to know, but those who miss the necessary experience as they grow up may—with an effort— catch up and find the way to pick the right man for them.

Having Sex Wanting Intimacy

Having Sex Wanting Intimacy

Dr. Jill Weber, a licensed clinical psychologist, practices in the Washington, DC area. Dr. Weber offers expertise in psychotherapy for adults, teenagers, and couples, tailoring her treatment to individual history and problem areas. Dr. Weber writes a blog for Psychology Today and is the author of Having Sex, Wanting Intimacy: Why Women Settle for One- Sided Relationships. Follow her on twitter @DrJillWeber

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