Q: Listing Mr. Right’s important qualities. I’m 25 and I’ve been dating off and on for the last six years. I don’t seem to be able to find a guy who is compatible with me. No matter what guy I start going out with, I find one flaw and dwell on it. Then I end the relationship and start all over again. I’m financially secure and ready to settle down. How can I stop this ridiculous cycle? —Too picky
Dr. Linda: It’s great that you can acknowledge your unrealistic expectation for perfection–that’s half the battle. Now for the second half. To create a more realistic expectation, think about 7–not 17–qualities that really matter to you. Write them down in a prioritized list, and keep it handy. Preferably, you’ve listed things like “kind,” not “blond,” unless hair color is really important to you.
Next, write down the names of the most significant relationships you’ve had in the past six years and check out your trend. How many of the guys you’ve dated have had these qualities? Have you been getting closer or farther away over the years? Think about changing your strategies for meeting the kind of man you seek, or your priorities, if you’ve been losing ground. Once you meet a guy with the 7 core qualities, stay focused on them when you notice a flaw, which you will. Dwelling at this point on a flaw, instead, is a way to protect you from the fear of getting hurt in a relationship.
Give this do-it-yourself approach a try for six months. Then, if you’re still hooked on “the relentless pursuit of perfection,” a motto better suited to selling cars than landing a great relationship, seek professional assistance.
Q: Virgin in Conflict. I’m still in high school and feeling conflicted about remaining a virgin. I fantasize about having sex and really want to know what it feels like. I know to make him–whoever he is–use a condom. But what if I get pregnant or pick up an STD anyway? Then I tell myself I want to wait I graduate college, or even until I’m married. Please help! . —Confused
Dr. Linda: It’s perfectly normal for high school virgins to be curious about intercourse and weigh the pros and cons. You’re right in saying that you could catch an STD–especially permanent problems like herpes or warts–even if the guy wore a condom. Condoms break, and they won’t prevent what’s already been contracted when they’re put on after a lot of close-proximity foreplay.
Only you can decide when the time is right. One thing to consider: If you’re in a relationship, and not just a casual fling, the guy is a lot more likely to want to please you as well as himself. He’s also more likely to be attentive to your request to use a condom. If, by chance, he gives you the bogus “if you loved me, you’d trust me routine,” don’t cave in.
Instead, remind him that if he loved you, he’d honor your request. If he really cares about you, he’d actually come–pun intended– prepared. Please wait until you’re sure you can stand firm on the “no glove, no love” policy.
For a sexy, sublime first time, think of it the way the sex-positive Scandinavians do, as a “sexual debut.” Forget the negative American mentality of “losing” something. Plan instead for a fabulous “first” when you genuinely feel emotionally ready. Enjoy!
Q: Vive la Difference? I’ve fallen madly in love with a guy whose background is quite different from mine. Even though neither of us comes from a highly religious family, I’m culturally Jewish, and he’s an Italian-American Catholic. He’s asked me to marry him, but I’m concerned that our background differences will some day be unsurmountable. Are there any studies on the success of mixed marriages? –Nora
Dr. Linda: Interfaith marriages are on the rise. According to recent statistics, 52% of Jews today are marrying someone of another faith, and 30% of Catholics are married to someone of another religion. Interracial marriages are less common, but significantly on the rise: According to a 1998 U.S. Census report, the number of interracial marriages zoomed up 900% from 1960-1998, from 150,000 to more than 1.3 million (3/4 of these are Asian-Caucasian).
Religious differences are not commonly cited as the reason for a divorce, but friction with relatives is. It can be difficult to placate family members about a wide variety of events usually taken for granted–from circumcision to christening to methods deemed legitimate for resolving infertility. One thing going for a Catholic-Jewish coupling is the common emphasis on having a family.
Numerous reasons account for the high divorce rate, and heterogeneity is generally cited as one of them. But divorce rates are falling. Interestingly, some highly regarded marriage and family researchers, such as Professor John Gottman of the University of Washington, contend that couples with obvious differences have an advantage when they marry; they are more consciously aware of these differences and are much more likely to have openly addressed them in advance.
For inspirational couples, look to Caroline Kennedy, daughter of one of the most prominent Catholic families in America, and Ed Schlossberg, her Jewish husband of many years. Or turn to the political arena, where an astounding example of overcoming differences is the marriage of James Carville, campaign manager for Clinton in the 1992 election, and Mary Matalin, then George Bush’s deputy campaign manager. Throughout that campaign, they publicly sparred, then married in 1993! They now have two kids.
Their secret to success? A heavy dose of mutual respect, the ability to resolve differences without personal attacks, and a close-knit group of friends with similarly diverse backgrounds.
Q: Kegel workouts for men. I saw a cartoon recently that alluded to “doing Kegels” for men in the punch line. I thought only women had Kegel muscles. If men have them too, where are they located? Would exercising them help men sexually? –Bill
Dr. Linda: Doing Kegels refers to a pelvic exercise named after Dr. Arnold Kegel, a gynecologist who first suggested strengthening the pelvic floor muscles to prevent the loss of bladder control that often follows childbirth. The muscles being toned are the pubococcygeus muscles–also called PC muscles, to avoid obvious tongue-twisting and spelling nightmares. Female or male, these are the muscles you contract when you’re about to pee but abruptly shift gears when you hear the sounds of a phone, beckoning you to another room.
Many years after Dr. Kegel’s encouragement of PC muscle development in women, “Kegel” exercises became popular for their reputed sexual benefits for both sexes. I say “reputed” because they’ve been over-hyped–from insistence that they’re essential for resolving a woman’s inability to reach orgasm, to suggestions that they offer a simple cure for a man’s rapid ejaculation. Careful research does not support these claims.
Whether you’re male or female, though, doing Kegels can have more modest sexual benefits. They help you become aware of genital sensations and put you more in touch with your body.
How to do them? When you are not actually peeing, contract the muscles you’d use to stop urine flow if you were. The quickly release them. Do this about 15 times, twice daily. Your penis will move slightly as you contract and release your PC muscles. Gradually increase your repetitions until you can comfortably do 75 of these “short” Kegels in succession, once or twice a day. In several weeks, you can graduate to “long” Kegels–hold each contraction for three seconds, or even up to ten seconds, before releasing it. Start with fewer repetitions, and work up to 50. You can try one set of short and one set of long Kegels each day.
Most men don’t notice results for 4-6 weeks. After that, you may experience heightened sensations during sexual arousal and orgasm. Some men find intentionally contracting the PC muscles just before ejaculation enables them to curb the release of seminal fluid, which can facilitate a multi-orgasmic experience.