Remember back in grade school when the still-damp ditto sheets were passed down the row before a test or quiz? You took a deep whiff of that awesome mimeograph ink and put your Number Two pencil to work. The next day you waited with nervous anticipation – would you receive a coveted gold star? Then, the crushing revelation: a big red C Minus. Letting you know you are average. Or just below it.
From the moment we are old enough to comprehend what it means to be graded, evaluated, praised and ranked, we strive for that big red A, the bright gold star, the shiny blue ribbon or the hypnotic gleam of the first place trophy. We study, we train, and we learn to channel our abilities to be the best. But what about the constant study of relationships? How do we know when we are good at what we do in the bedroom and not the classroom?
We don’t receive a textbook and a syllabus of how to be an amazing partner or a fantastic lover, so where do we glean the knowledge that takes us through our personal lives? We see the romantic gestures that people make in the movies: the anonymous love notes, the grand declarations of love in the pouring rain, even the rushing to the airport to stop the one you love from leaving for Paris. By the way, why are they always jetting off to Paris? Just once I’d like to see someone stop their beloved from flying off to Newport News or Jackson Hole.
These cinematic sequences look great on film and we dissect them and take what we need from their dialogue and hyper-real situations. But in real life, unsigned love letters seem creepy, not everyone looks stunning when they are soaking wet, and there is no way you could make it through the airport in time due to all the constant restrictions. Besides, everyone’s definition of what is and isn’t romantic is different. For me, the most romantic ending to a movie is still Sixteen Candles. Why couldn’t the breathtaking Jake Ryan be waiting for me when everyone was leaving my sister’s wedding?
The only other option is to study those around us: our parents, our friends, even other couples that we don’t even know, just to see how they act and spar within their relationships. The problem with that is, no two couples are ever alike. So how the hell do we know what to do? And how do we know we are doing the right thing?
The answer is simple: we don’t. The reason is that every person we are with is like starting a new subject in school or trying a new sport for the first time. You have to learn a new set of facts, rules, parameters, skills and levels of physicality. Not only that, you have to see how these rules mesh with your own needs, without sacrificing your own feelings. That’s what makes it so difficult.
When things go wrong, and we realize the person we are with is not what we expected, we often fear that what we want and need is too much to ask for, or maybe what we want is due to something else in our past and it’s unfair to ask for it because it really has nothing to do with the person themselves. We live within our conscious selves but we also have subconscious wants and needs that we can’t necessarily see. These are the things that affect our relationships. A yearning for a father’s love, a craving for attention that was absent in our youth, or the simple fear that someone will inflict pain like others have, so we end things before we get hurt.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, there are times when people say exactly what the problem is, like when someone is cheating or they can’t commit – those things are cut-and-dry. But when the reason is something more tenuous, people will use a generic excuse like: “it’s not you, it’s me”, or any of the other vague reasons someone uses to let their partner know they aren’t making the grade. And the reason is that no one wants to be the one to tell someone they don’t know what they are doing, or we feel demanding if we tell the person what we need. But why? Simply put, whether it’s in the romance department or the sex department, if you don’t ask for what you want, how are you going to get what you want?
The sex part of the two-sided coin of relationships is a little different but not by much. The intricacies of emotion are far more difficult to figure out than the science of sexual pleasure. Even so, just knowing what goes in where and listening for moans of pleasure doesn’t mean you know what you’re doing. Here’s an example: have you ever been with someone who doesn’t know how to kiss? It’s the worst. And you wonder: why hasn’t anyone said anything to this clown? Unfortunately, this also applies to sex in general. People try all kinds of things they have absolutely no business trying and the reason for this is because just like the cinematic depictions of romance that cause people to say stupid shit like: “you complete me,” there is also the high-gloss world of the porn film.
Just like watching a romantic comedy doesn’t teach you to be someone’s true love, the world of triple-X isn’t real either. Condoms don’t magically appear on your dick, sex in a back alley doesn’t always go so smoothly – trust me – and garage floors are never that clean. If life were like porn, everyone would want to be a pizza delivery boy, a mechanic or a trucker. Things we see in porn do make us hot, however, but are we fearless enough to try it or even ask for it in real life? And if not, should we give our partner a lower grade because we aren’t satisfied? Using porn as a template can be good and bad, but there’s a reason why it’s fantasy. Sex in real life can be messy and clumsy, but that’s what makes it unaffected and authentic. We’ve all had great sex and awful sex, and we all have wondered: am I good in bed? And we have all told people they were great, when in reality, they were pretty far from it.
So we don’t get report cards or take midterms for how we perform in our personal life, but can you imagine if we did? Maybe it would make things better if we knew we were getting an A in kissing but a D minus in communication skills. We would work on our weaknesses and take pride in our strong points, just like we did back in school. There are always going to be C-minus students that show promise but need improvement, and still others that take the gold and won’t settle for the bronze. And an F means the same as it did back in school; you have to repeat the course. Only this time you’ll take what you learned and reapply it during your next meet, match or course of study with someone else. And when it comes to love, relationships and sex, you will have to ask yourself: do you make the grade?
Article republished with permission from The Gay Word.