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Quick sex not the issue here

Dear Carolyn: This is a pretty painful question for me to ask. Over the past two years (since graduating from law school) my love life has been a mess; I've had about 10 pseudo-relationships that burned out quickly and have had to recognize I'm the common denominator.

I discussed this with friends and they gave me the "tough love" talk: I move too quickly. Specifically, I jump into bed too quickly and wind up coming off as easy.

This was exceedingly difficult to hear from close friends, but it corroborates comments a few past boyfriends have made. Now I feel just awful. I don't really know what I'm doing wrong or how to change my approach, and I feel like this contradicts all the messages I've gotten in my adult life about sex being fun and not having to be a power chip.

I'd like the next relationship to have half a chance at success, so what can I do to make that happen?

-- Tough love

A: If it helps, it was a pretty painful question to read, too.

Not just because you're obviously hurting -- you are, I'm sorry -- but because it sounds as if your friends' well-meaning honesty crossed over the fine line between constructive and corrosive criticism. Do you really want to hang on to men who would judge you for having sex at the same point in the relationship they do (barring some trippy violation of the laws of physics)?

For these few past boyfriends, I have only a "wow."

Is the double-standard alive? Sure, in some men.

So avoid them.

That said, everyone has the right prescription: Do slow down, please. Way down.

The problem in taking your friends' apparent counsel at face value is that it leaves the real problem unsolved. Hanging a "mission accomplished" banner at "stop jumping into bed with new men" ignores all the happy outcomes beyond that limit, where men and women have turned early or even first-date sex into lasting relationships.

That's not because they happened to connect with people who aren't raging hypocrites (though that helps) -- instead, they were able to tell the difference between a warm body and someone special.

Perhaps not on that first night -- impulsiveness is what it is -- but in the context of their experience.

To have gotten to the relationship point with 10 different men over two years means you've managed to find the One Who Could Be the One every third month or so. What are the chances that so many people have really been so promising? You don't have to be a misanthrope to think: very, very slim.

So I don't think the issue here is your jumping into bed, it's jumping into new men -- i.e., it's not the sex, it's the hope for romance at breakfast afterward.