If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that most things come at a price. This is a truth I’ve been preaching for years and been dismissed as bitter or salty for talking about. My personal feelings aside, there’s a point to my madness. Quid pro quo isn’t inherently a bad thing and I’ll explain why.
We’re in an odd time for relationships. A generation clouded in obscurity, wanting to challenge the confines of gender, sex and romance but maintaining enough distance from the most marginalized that they feel safe. Men in dresses and nail polish still actively participate in misogyny and homophobia, women rapping “get that bread, get that head, then leave” turn their noses up to sex workers and perpetuate whorephobia, people romanticize their grandparents 1950’s lovefest while ignoring it’s problematic roots (like peepaw being 12 years older than meemaw and they married when she was 17). The hypocrisy is real. Pointing out these facts don’t dismiss that I too, acted hypocritically in the past about these things and have spent years growing out of the toxicity I used to mask my own wants and desires in. Shit like that doesn’t change overnight, but when it does, a whole new world opens for you to explore.
I had a rather unorthodox way of viewing relationships from the beginning. I remember telling my mother in middle school that I didn’t want to ever marry but if I had to, I’d want it to be arranged. That was one of the earlier indicators that I didn’t have high hopes in the elusive “love match”, a phenomenon that has only been popularized in the last few centuries. Not to say they don’t or shouldn’t exist, I just think they can come about in a way that doesn’t allow for such easy victimization of lonely people seeking connection. Those of the population who need relationships, who only feel like their best selves with a partner exist and deserve healthy fulfilling partnerships but… the marketing is bad. Let’s face it, we’ve been playing the game the wrong way and it shows.
One of the perks of being neurodivergent is that I spend as much time observing people as I do trying to understand them and one thing I knew for certain since childhood is that relationships fill voids. What that void is varies but the premise is simple: I give to get and being honest about that has become a bad thing though I hope to change that. At some point, we’ve conflated love with altruism. The absence of conditions is praised as the most pure form of care for the people around us and that’s toxic as fuck. Conditions are good, conditions are a form of care because it requires people to show up for you in the way you need them to, in the way they agreed to.
Relationships are inherently transactional because love requires action. I’ve always hated the phrase “falling in love” because it strips the individual of autonomy; to fall in love implies you’re void of choice and there are always choices which is why I tell anyone I meet who’s seeking companionship or certain kinds of relationships to entertain people who are upfront about what they are willing to give in exchange for what they want. The flaw of most love matches is that they tell us that love will cure the ails of incompatibility which is a lie. What sense does it make to stay in a relationship with someone you’re almost compatible with when you can choose the relationship where your values, goals and wants meet with more ease?
If you haven’t caught on yet, I’m a nerd and part of my life’s work is delving into the parts of the human psyche that affect the way we relate to each other, physically, emotionally, sexually and otherwise. We are some complex motherfuckers and I love that because it means people have always dedicated their lives to trying to figure the homo sapiens out. One of those humans is Dr. Robert Epstein who inspired an experiment I conducted for an anti-social behavior course. The heart of Dr. Epstein’s work revolves around manufacturing love which is right up my alley. He too believes love is best manufactured than happened upon. Through his work, he’s been able to dispel the myths that disney and romcoms have spoonfed us for years. I’ll give you an example: there’s no such thing as a “the one”, according to research, there are thousands of potential pairings for any given person at every stage of adulthood, which is to say waiting for “the one” is unnecessary because there are thousands of potential baes! I’ll give that a second to sink in.
The gag is: you’re much more likely to find a partner when you start broadening your approach to romance. The lust response that initially attracts us to people is a sham! Attractiveness is not only subjective but fluid, meaning people tend to become more or less attractive as we get to know them. If you understand that then you should start approaching relationships with the idea that your moderately attractive partner can become infinitely more attractive if they meet your needs. It’s part of the reason arranged marriages have such high success rates, and why they’re found to have partners who grow to love each other more over time rather than less as is seen in most love pairings. The alignment of values and goals tend to trump the beauty of partners as time goes on because there will always be beautiful people, but beauty isn’t what makes them a good lover.
How does this relate to the transactional nature of relationships you ask? I’ll tell you.
We already know relationships are about filling voids which implies there’s a supply and demand if you will. Items a-f in exchange for g-k and we need to start naming that. Negotiations are your friend. I spoke to this briefly in Heart Shaped Epi-Pen, we make a lot of commitments when avoiding commitment and the same can be said when dating for marriage or long term partnerships.
The western approach to love and marriage is flawed in many ways but the reason it fails so many people is because it relies on you to be passive in your pursuit of happiness. Letting princes or princesses fall in your lap should be left for the fairytales, grown folk have to handle their business which includes being honest with themselves and the relationships they pursue. What you have to offer in exchange for what you pose to gain is the basis of every business deal and you keep getting 360 contracts betting on love finding you.
I have a lot of practice approaching relationships like this due to my BDSM lifestyle, my time sugaring and the illustrious days of my phone sex operating. I’m not new to this but that doesn’t make me perfect. Every once in a while I’ll get corralled into “going with the flow” and it always bites me in the ass later. Everyone won’t appreciate how direct you are with them at first but that’s okay, plenty of people will find that honesty refreshing (I’ve found that to be true especially with older partners). Remember it’s a marathon not a sprint so allow yourself some grace. The start may seem slow but the first relationship you enter with all the cards on the table from jump will be so refreshing you’ll have no reason to look back.
At the heart of all these desires are the vulnerable parts of us that hope to become illuminated in the adoration of other people. That vulnerability is powerful, it’s the way we can determine how capable we are of giving and receiving trust because despite this brand of relationship seeming to have a fool proof, the ability to get hurt is still there. We can negotiate what we need and what we’re willing to give all we want but that doesn’t mean the relationship will be void of mistakes, of aches and pains, it just means that despite those times, everyone should still be pulling their weight.
I know to some this will sound too clinical, like the “fun” of romance has been taken out but I’d argue quite the opposite happens. When you allow yourself to put the goals of your relationship first over beauty, initial sexual attraction etc., you get to grow into each other at a more organic pace. It’s been proven in relationship therapy that couples who are working towards the same end game are more attuned with each other. They have more fulfilling intimate interactions and better sex lives, they’re better conflict resolvers and extend empathy easier. Aren’t all of those the making of a fantastic relationship?
Like my Queen Sade once sang, “You showed me how deep love can be.”
I’ve been through this. I met someone who I wasn’t instantly attracted to but we had great conversation, mutual interests and similar goals. The more we got to know each other and the more time spent together, the higher our chemistry became. By time we began a sexual relationship, I was practically mauling him. I had some of the best sex of my life to this day with him and the same cannot be said for the times I sought out relationships the other way.
To negotiate the terms of your relationships beforehand is to perform an act of radical self love. You know your worth and what you bring to the table and expect that same energy from people who think they deserve you. In 2021 we will NOT be building partners. You’ve extended too much time and energy already attempting to nurture the qualities you want out of people. Either they have them or they don’t and if you think they can have them then let them go until they’re ready. Chasing clouds only leads to disappointment.
*Some of our ails can be blamed on hookup culture and how it perpetuates the belief that sexual empowerment has to center men and their ability to desire us but that’s a conversation for another day. Trust me, I will be breaking that down soon.
In the meantime, I’d challenge you to reimagine what romance is, how it can be approached and what the point of it is. The key to fulfillment is understanding what you’re seeking and why which requires some introspection and a lot of honesty. To be in the best place emotionally for negotiating healthy relationships, you’ll have to spend some time alone. Single, what?! I know, it sounds crazy to some of you but dating yourself is the best way to heal from past lovers and figure out what you really need and want from a partner. What you can bring to a relationship freely without hesitation is equally important because your partnerships have to be equitable. Don’t alienate your potential partners needs because you’re intent on getting yours met.
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Most of all, be honest, be open and be assertive. Nobody’s going to do it for you, unless you have the money for a matchmaker then, go for it.