I read a wonderful blog this morning that a friend of mine wrote about navigating the issue of sex after divorce (http://emdove.tumblr.com/). I don't know what I would do in her situation. Craig and I have been married for six years and the thought of being back in the dating world again (as much as I loved it when I was there) frightens me. I've come to depend on Craig for so much in life that, if I had to date again, I would want him beside me helping to guide my dating decisions. That's just silly, I know. I hope that if I ever had to date again, to navigate love and life without Craig, I would depend less on my emotional reactions and more on what I have learned about the empirical facts about love.
I first fell in love with love because of the emotional whirlwind that it inspired within me, the "just meant to be" feeling of new relationships, and the thought of keeping that love alive forever and ever. I was so in love with the idea of love that I dedicated my academic life to studying it. I wanted to investigate: What is love? What brings us together and what keeps us together?
I learned that what brings us together has VERY LITTLE to do with what keeps us together...and that the sexual attraction that can pull us toward a potential lover really is better if not realized before you make a decision to spend your whole life loving that person.
When a woman has an orgasm, a chemical (oxytocin) is released in her brain. It's an AWESOME chemical that provides an AWESOME feeling of attachment. In fact, it's the same chemical that is released when a mother nurses her child. It makes sense -- mothers should bond with their children (and sometimes we need help feeling a bond with the small cryer that keeps us up all night) and women should bond with their partners, provided that they already know that the person is worth being attached to...
If we have sex before we're sure that we're with the right person...I mean really sure, as in our likes and lives match up in a way that makes sense to spend every day together...then the oxytocin that is released during orgasm can make us feel attached to guys who may or may not be right for us. With that attachment, we are blinded to the reality of the situation.
Unfortunately, the same thing doesn't necessarily happen for men. We can't make men loves us, or even feel more attached to us, by having sex with them. Men, if you are reading this, don't get too excited. You can't have sex before marriage without consequences either. There are downsides for you too. For each sexual experience a man has before he is with his wife, he will have a reduced level of attraction to and satisfaction with subsequent partners...including his future wife. Every sexual experience will be compared to his first orgasmic experience (or at least his first orgasmic experience with someone other than himself). His brain locks in his first sexual experience as what "feels good" and what he should think of as sexually attractive. Sex for him can still be good in the future, but it will never compare to the experience he had with his first partner. That doesn't mean that a man who has sex before he meets his wife is doomed, but each subsequent partner he has will reduce his ability to feel great and to be as sexually attracted to his future wife.
What can we do? What's the answer if having sex with someone won't help us figure out if they might be a great partner for us for years to come? Love is always a gamble. But if you want to see how a relationship with someone might progress, ask about their past relationships. What was right? What didn't work? Find out about their family situation -- who are they closest to? What type of bond do they share? Is it a type of bond that you respect? Does their family think that you are right for them? Does your family think that he is right for you? Turns out that our families can often predict with better success which relationships will work and which ones won't better than we can. In fact, couples in arranged-marriages report higher levels of long-term happiness than do those in emotion-based marriages.
So, what is the answer to navigating sex and dating after divorce? I wish I had the answers for my friend. I don't know what is right for her and I don't know what I might do if my emotions got involved and the chemicals of new love clouded my judgment. I hope that if I ever find myself in that situation that I will have people around me who love me, who will help me clearly see the relationship that I'm in....and that I will tread lightly, believe what others tell me, and avoid the pitfalls of premarital sex until I'm certain that I've found the person I trust and respect enough to spend my life loving.