What’s Your Number?

Big news story of the week: According to a study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior of over 33,000 people, the average number of sex partners Americans have by age 45 is expected to be only 8.26 for Millennials (essentially those born in the ’80s and ’90s). Eight sex partners is a nice number – for a college semester. For THREE DECADES or so? Ouch.

Baby Boomers supposedly had 11.68 partners by age 45. Even though that number is more than 40 percent higher than their Millennial children, it’s still suspiciously low. The Boomers studied are either lying or old age is starting to affect their collective memory.

8.26 vs. 11.68. I can hardly wrap my head around those numbers. For one thing, it’s not easy to have sex with 68 percent of a person (that tricky little .68), but it’s got to be more satisfying than having it with 26 percent. At least with 68 percent you know the torso is going to be involved.

All right, back to the implications of those numbers.

I came of age in the ’70s, that post-contraceptive, pre-AIDS era when being under 30 meant living a very different kind of life than every previous generation that had ever been under 30 . Premarital sex went from a scandal to a given. It’s depressing to think of a life with sex partners only in the single digits. Hell, Don Draper’s had 21 during Mad Men’s run! (I know, he’s not exactly aspirational.)

The most depressing finding? HALF of current 20-somethings have not had sex in the past year. How’s that again? Is this the unluckiest generation ever? The economy they enter as adults SUCKs. Housing, gas and insurance costs are astronomical and salaries (more likely hourly rates) are pathetic. They have to take handouts from their parents, and possibly even live with them. No wonder they’re not having sex! They’re still sleeping in twin beds and listening to Dad snore in the next room!

Sorry, Millennialls. Sorry you don’t get to become experts in the differences between sexual predilections or how many different styles of genitalia there are.

I also have something to say about that age 45 cut-off too. HAHAHAHAHA! Trust me, there’s (sex) life after 45. How about a study on the impact of divorce on post-40 numbers?

Oh well, I guess I won’t let myself get too hysterical about this. After all, I’m still laughing about that ’80s study that said a single woman over 40 had as much chance of getting married as being killed by a terrorist. The only thing that accurately predicted was the rise in terrorist killings.

Mother Knew Best

Classic mother wisdom: when you’re looking for love you’ll never find it. This dovetails beautifully with her advice to play hard to get. Basically, if you want to find love, you can’t look for it and should shun it when it finds you.

What’s wrong with this picture? How about the fact that everyone is looking, and a great deal of the fun of being in love is total immersion in each other? Playing hard to get is for poseurs. Lonely, deluded poseurs.

These days, despite Mom’s admonition, it’s socially acceptable to be “looking.” Online dating services and apps advertise on network television with plenty of “real people” bragging about how they found each other. Even New York Times wedding announcements publish the name of the service that brought together the happy couples.

So there you go. Falling in love is easier than it’s ever been. Just tell your mother, “I know you felt you had to say you were busy Saturday if a date called as late as Thursday. That might have worked in your day, but today we don’t want to hide out on Saturday to cover a lie we told on Thursday. We’re not embarrassed to admit we’re looking to find someone.”

Getting Dumped

Getting dumped rocks your world, and not in a good way. It brings out your deepest insecurities, roiling you with self-doubt, second-guesses and what ifs. Right when you were feeling part of something meaningful, suddenly you’re alone and bereft, pathetically considering asking the very question you likely once scoffed at when it was posed to you: “Can we at least be friends?”

If you thought things were going well, being told it’s over makes you question your own judgment and intuition, not to mention removing the person you cared for from your life. If you weren’t too thrilled yourself about the relationship, being dumped takes away the option of dealing with things on your terms, whether suggesting you address difficult issues or doing the dumping yourself. (Granted, neither of those is much fun, but at least they offer hope for the future in a way that being given the old heave-ho most assuredly doesn’t.)

Being the dumpee is a punch to the gut. Not just because of the hurt pride; in the grand scheme of things, that’s no big deal. What really causes pain is simple rejection: someone you care for, maybe even love, just doesn’t feel the same way about you. Unless the reasons were spelled out—and even then, most likely the explanation was incomplete and maybe even misleading—you can torture yourself wondering why. Did you compare unfavorably to a former lover? Did you cross a line or break a rule in an area you didn’t even know about? Was it fear of introducing you to a child, parents, co-workers, dog or other key opinion leaders? Were you too fat, too old, too needy, too tedious?

Just stop. Get a grip. Any explanation you come up with is sure to be overly self-deprecating and could end up making you even more depressed than the original loss already accomplished. There’s no quick fix to getting dumped, but there are plenty of ways to make it worse. If you’re torturing yourself obsessing over a lost love who said goodbye and didn’t stick around to pick up the pieces, the best prescription is a big dose of distraction coupled with the passage of time.

Make plans with people you like to do things you enjoy. Focus on work, or a fun project. Buy yourself something wonderful at a huge discount. Organize a cluttered drawer, room or email inbox. Most importantly, remove reminders of your ex (yes, that’s the term, might as well get used to it) from your immediate line of sight. Change any passwords tied to your ex’s birthday or to your anniversary. And whatever you do, don’t demonize the new ex. Turning pain into anger doesn’t do anyone any good. Remember that line in the Serenity Prayer about accepting the things you can’t change, then focus on what you can change: your attitude about moving on.

Divorce and the Plane Crash Fantasy

In May 2008 I participated in a Today Show program about divorce. The gist of it was about trying to bring up the subject of divorce the right way with a spouse so you set the tone for the negotiations to come. And yes, as you both say out loud what you have been rolling around in your respective minds for months, maybe years, it can be earth-shattering.

The first conversation doesn’t happen out of the blue, though. When I thought back to my personal experience, I had to say that the conversation wasn’t the bolt from the blue the Today Show was portraying. You don’t walk around wondering about a divorce and suddenly spring it on your spouse. It’s in the air.

Each divorce is unique, intricate, personal. There’s no one size fits all, regardless of what a TV segment, book or even your own lawyer might lead you to believe. When the time comes, we have to make our own way, find our own voice, take our own stand. Life is messy and one of its biggest challenges can’t be properly summarized in the few minutes of a Today Show segment.

By the way, to get their few minutes, the Today Show crew was at my house for hours and ended up highlighting me saying this: “Who doesn’t have that plane crash fantasy every now and then, even in a good marriage?” You can imagine how well that went over with my Frequent Flyer ex!

Soundtrack for a Single Life

The great thing about storing music on a computer is the ability to create personal playlists and spit out mix tapes (OK, CDs). Since I’ve been single again, I’ve found lots of inspiring post-relationship songs.

Of course I’m not talking about sentimental mush, or even get-out-before-I-throw-you-out classics like “I Will Survive.” I wouldn’t necessarily go vindictive, with songs like “It’s on the Rocks” by the Donnas, which notes, “We’re over, I’m done / Yeah, it’s time to have some real fun / So I’m callin’ all my ladies / We’re gonna key your Mercedes” or Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats,” in which she “took a Louisville slugger to both headlights, slashed a hole in all 4 tires…Maybe next time he’ll think before he cheats.”

My theme: Alone and Loving It. Here are some recommendations for a soundtrack to a day basking in that “Over It!” feeling. I’m sure you’ll excuse the fact that they’re by women, about the men they’re happy no longer to have in their lives. Men, feel free to find your own.

“Since U Been Gone” by Kelly Clarkson
“Ex-Girlfriend” by No Doubt
“Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On)” by Robert Plant & Alison Krauss
“The Thrill Is Gone” (From Yesterday’s Kiss) by Aretha Franklin (the version by Tracy Chapman and B.B. King is also outstanding)
“Runnin’ Out of Fools” by Aretha Franklin
“I Can’t Help You Now” and “I Will Not Be Broken” by Bonnie Raitt
“You Call Everybody Darling” by K.T. Oslin
“Mein Herr (from Cabaret) by Natasha Richardson (Liza Minelli did it pretty well, too)
“What Did I Ever See in Him?” (from Bye Bye Birdie) by Chita Rivera and Susan Watson
“Already Gone” by Wilson Phillips
“Just Go Away” by Blondie
“Special” by Garbage

and my all-time favorite, “Better After All” by Jonatha Brooke.

Music has healing properties. Songs like these can get you moving, smiling and recovering from a bad breakup. Forget the wallowing. For that, my specialty was Jackson Browne’s “Here Come Those Tears Again”. Every time I hear it–which isn’t often these days–I still expect to hear it skip where my old overplayed record did. But these days my motto is: Shake it off, shake your booty and get out there again. No more tears! (Enough is enough.).

What songs do it for you?

Honesty: Usually the Best Policy

When I was in third grade I was thrown from a horse during riding class and knocked unconscious. When I came to I was lying on the ground covered in a blanket with a couple of teachers hovering around me. I tried to sit up a few times but was firmly held down. I wondered why they wouldn’t let me sit up and where my little pink glasses might be. But for some reason, I didn’t speak and when I was finally moved, I didn’t ask where I was going.

All these decades later I still remember the sensation of wondering what was going on but not asking. The silence was crushing. I was free to imagine all kinds of terrible scenarios: Was I mute? Would I still be able to read? Would my mom be mad that my glasses were gone? Most troubling, would I ever walk again? But I didn’t communicate my fears and didn’t receive any reassurance.

For me there is a parallel between that experience and some relationships I’ve had. I can think of times when there were questions I was dying to ask, even screaming inside my head, but just plain didn’t. I certainly could have, just as I could have asked my teachers what was going on, all those years ago. But sometimes we’re afraid to ask because we don’t think we’ll be able to handle the answers. Or maybe we’re just in shock: Do I really want confirmed that the person I’m with is that twisted/stupid/wrong for me? Better to keep my concerns to myself and maybe they’ll go away.

Except that they don’t. That nagging feeling that the person you’re with is wrong for you rarely eases off as you get to know someone better. Ignore those feelings at the peril of your relationship and even your own identity. If you think someone is wrong for you, speak up. Ask and answer. Accept or move on.