I'm an independent woman and I'd like to stay that way

I like guys for friendly, casual sex, but when it gets heavy, I'm outta here.

By Cary Tennis
Published August 31, 2004 7:00PM (EDT)

Dear Cary

Here's my dilemma. I'm a single girl, 36, living in NYC. I have a great life: good job, good friends, great apartment, creative projects on the side. I'm happy with my life except that there is very little sex or romance in it. I'm sure you've heard this a lot -- girls/women who can't find a guy. But my particular question is about the kind of relationship that I'm looking for. I'm not looking for a boyfriend per se. Most of the time, there is the expectation that boyfriend leads to husband. This is something that I'm really not looking for. I don't want the whole husband, house, kid thing.

What I'm really looking for is someone that I like hanging out with and we have good sex on a regular basis. No emotional ties beyond the fact that we like and respect each other and like hanging out on a regular basis. I'm totally prepared for the fact that relationships like this don't last very long -- that once the sex gets boring or one or the other starts to expect something more substantial, that the relationship has to end.

The thing is that I'm actually really good at these types of relationships. I really like the first blush of meeting and having sex with someone, then after awhile moving on. But, I feel like there is a societal expectation that women don't have these types of relationships. That for men, it's accepted that there are perennial bachelors and that's OK. I don't think there is a similar model for women. Women who have casual relationships with multiple partners are sluts.

I've discovered recently that I can use a specific online channel to find guys who I can have casual sex with and it is easy for a woman in the city to find. I used to think that it was only possible for gay men, but now I know better. So my issue is threefold: I don't really want casual sex, which is easy to find, but I also don't want a serious relationship. Second, in my experience, it's actually kind of hard to find a boyfriend in NYC with the 80 men to 100 women ratio. I'd rather settle for a short term of someone that I actually like at least temporarily than a long term of someone that I don't. And lastly, is there something wrong with me that this is the sort of thing I want? I do wonder if my desire for this is a general resistance to getting older and realizing that these sort of relationships are only possible for younger people.

Not Looking for a Husband

Dear Not Looking for a Husband,

It sounds like you know very well what you're looking for. If you could just show this letter to prospective partners, it would spell it all out quite nicely.

I don't think there's anything wrong with you for wanting this. It's a splendid thing to want, especially if you're good at it. But it is true that there isn't as much cultural precedent for it, so you have fewer agreed-upon signals. A woman knows what a bachelor is. But a man doesn't necessarily know what you are. There isn't really a word for it that has the same carefree and acceptable connotations as "bachelor." You could be an "independent woman." You could be a "free spirit." The better you can express your outlook and your wishes, the better chance you have of getting men to understand.

The problem is, some men will hear you but not really believe you -- because people say all kinds of things. Really, they do. Others, even if they believe you, will find their feelings change in spite of themselves. Some men long for commitment no matter how hard they try to be carefree and independent. For instance, at the outset, you tell a man, "I am an independent woman." You tell him the whole spiel, that you're not looking for a husband, that your liaisons inevitably cool and when they cool you move on, that you're not expecting it to last, you just want to enjoy it while it's good.

The man says fine, good, me too, that's exactly what I want, I'm so glad we're on the same wavelength, unlike all those other needy women clutching and grabbing and trying to control things. And then a few weeks into your casual friendly and sexy relationship, the man starts talking about where you're headed with all this, where it's going, and you remind him what you told him, and he goes, Oh, yeah, that's right, of course, what am I saying? And you go back to casual, and a few weeks later he tells you he's really, really into you and could really see this relationship going somewhere, and you remind him that you're an independent woman, that you like living alone, that you intend to remain a free spirit. You tell him that if this is a sign that the relationship is going to get messy, you'd prefer to end it now and move on. He says no, no way, he was just thinking. He was just saying. And you say OK, but it sounds kind of like he's getting more into you than you thought at first. And he says no, he's dating lots of women and just having a good time, just like you.

And you go out some more, and one night after making love he goes down on his knees and says he doesn't want to lose you. You say the only way not to lose you is to let go of your knees and stop whimpering. He stops whimpering and goes away but next week he buys you two dozen roses and roses seem suspiciously like the kind of flowers a guy buys when he's in too deep. The card says, "Because you're you."

You call him and say it's a little suffocating. He says, "What the hell do you want?" You tell him you're just an independent woman and make him read your original letter again. He says OK, I can do that. Then he invites you up to spend the weekend with him and his parents in the Adirondacks. You say I don't spend weekends with parents. That's not in the picture. He says what have you got against my parents? You tell him parents are part of the old paradigm. He says, "OK, forget it, we're through." You say fine and, emotionally, you move on.

He calls you the next day and apologizes and says he wants to make up. He sends more flowers. You tell him flowers are so old paradigm. He says, "Woman, what do you want?" You tell him you've got somebody up in your apartment right now and you can't talk, and you just want to be left alone. He says that's unacceptable. You tell him that he has no right to tell you what's acceptable and what's not acceptable because you're an independent woman. He says, "What about all we've been through together? Doesn't that mean anything to you?" You tell him it was nice but that doesn't mean you want to spend the rest of your life with him. He calls you a cold-hearted bitch and hangs up. Your new lover asks you who was that and grows suspicious that you may not be as carefree and unattached as you claim. The next day your old lover shows up at your door and proposes marriage. You tell him you're not interested in marriage. He says why didn't you say so in the first place. You say you did say so. He says no you didn't, you just made a bunch of noise about being an independent woman.

You change your phone number and begin dating again, telling men you're an independent woman, showing them your original letter to me. By now you have had that letter enlarged and it hangs over your bed so men can read it as they lie back gazing at you with curiosity and longing as you unbutton. The old troublesome lover writes you a letter every so often. You see him at the gym, working out. He's starting to get a belly. Funny you never noticed the hair on his back before. Then a year later you see him on the street pushing a baby carriage, one of those new expensive ones that ride way up high, and he pretends not to even recognize you, and that makes you angry and so you call his house and demand to speak to him. He says he's moved on. You say you've got some unfinished business. He says pipe down, I'm a married man. You arrange to meet at a bar where he used to feel you up under the table. He arrives wearing a hat. You've never seen him in a hat. He's obviously wearing it so he won't be recognized. You find that hat vaguely alluring. You end up at your place. You say no strings attached. He says fine. Then his wife calls and threatens you. She says if she sees you together again she'll throw him out. He comes to your door in tears, says it was all a big mistake, he never should have married her. You let him in and he throws himself at your feet. You finally get rid of him, but his wife has followed him to your apartment and true to her word she throws him out.

Over time he becomes unreliable and slightly unhinged. He loses his job. He appears at your door and begs you to let him stay with you. He's got nowhere to go. He's wearing that hat again. For old time's sake, because the pickings have gotten thin lately, you have one last night of unforgettable sex. There's something about his utter dependency that turns you on. But you're through. You change your number again. You don't see him for a while. Then one day you see him in the park but this time he's not pushing a baby carriage. He's pushing a shopping cart. You try to avert your gaze but he sees you. "Independent woman!" he yells. "Goddamned independent woman! You ruined me!"

I'm not saying it has to happen like that. I'm just saying, you know, some men don't really get the whole independent woman thing.

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