How Do You Know When It’s Love?

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A recent letter from one of my readers was a potent reminder of what I was like when I was in my teens.

It wasn’t pretty.

I was a classic otaku; I was going through the stage where the only things I wanted to talk about were anime, manga and the fact that I wanted to find The One in the worst way. To paraphrase the ever relevant 500 Days of Summer, I could blame this on an early exposure to sad British pop music and completely misunderstanding St. Elmo’s Fire1. And in fairness, my experiences at the time validated everything I was feeling. Love was everywhere. I didn’t just have a crush on a girl in high-school or college, I had a mad, all-consuming fire in my heart for her that meant I couldn’t eat or sleep.

Well… sleep, anyway. Eating somehow managed to take care of itself, actually.

Every time I was into a girl, I was in love with her with my entire heart and soul. When we broke up (and we always broke up… usually within a few months of getting together) it was a hideous tragedy that would break my heart into pieces, set them on fire and then piss in the ashes, just for good measure.

Maybe you’re shaking your head in familiar dismay. It’s something that everybody goes through… and the we all usually have the same realisation.

It took my first serious relationship to make me realize that I had absolutely no idea what love really was… and I needed a better handle on this whole “love” business if I didn’t want all of my relationships to end in tragedy.

Why Do We Keep Getting Confused?

Well… you can kinda blame the French for this one. The Western concept of romantic love comes from the concepts of courtly love and chivalry2, where knights had elaborate and – critically – platonic relationships with the ladies of the court to which they served. Marriage at the time, especially amongst royalty wasn’t about love but about property exchange, which meant that many noblewomen were in loveless marriages, often to husbands much older than they were. Bring someone in closer to their age as part of the court, often keeping in close proximity, and you’re going to end up with a lot of people with crushes and infatuations on one another that couldn’t be consummated because of a very strict sense of etiquette (and rather harsh punishments for adultery)… something that was actively encouraged in part by the culture at the time. Troubadours took the idea – lovers restrained by circumstance and law, unrequited love and the purity of love vs. the coarseness of sex – and ran with it. One of the most famous love stories in history – the story of Lancelot and Gueneviere – is based out of the Chivalric tradition and inserted into the legend of King Arthur by  Chrétien de Troyes in what would later become the basis of fanfic writers redefining the canon.

Give it another hundred years and this will be official.

The idea of “true love” being eternal, that love conquers all obstacles, that love is inherently monogamous, that lovers always think about the ones they love, that someone in love can’t eat or sleep for being “love-sick” over their crushes… all arise of the concept of courtly love, passed down through pop-culture for centuries.

The problem of course, is that this concept of “true love” tends to want to ignore things like biology and psychology and often doesn’t match up to reality.

So What’s The Problem?

When you’re young, you think you know everything there is to know about… well, everything. You’re the first generation to ever feel this way and nobody else can really understaaaaand, man.

It usually takes getting your heart stomped on a few times before you start to wise up and realize that you’ve been going about it all wrong.

On the left: your hopes and dreams. On the right: life.

The problem, y’see, is that while love may be all around us, it usually ends up hiding behind it’s various cousins that look an awful lot like love… and it’s incredibly easy to mistake them for the real thing. When your idea of what love is – and what to expect – is based on 80s New Wave albums and John Hughes movies, you end up with wildly unrealistic expectations, leading to a great deal of unhappiness for both you and your erstwhile romantic partner. It’s one thing to think that love is supposed to be a Bonnie Tyler video full of over-the-top choruses and heartfelt powerchords about how explosive and overwhelming love is, but it’s another entirely to try to base an entire relationship around it.

Also: Murderous psychic children.

Unfortunately, love is one of those things that you can’t describe directly. At best you can talk around it, about how it feels and how it affects us, even the physical effects like the generation of oxytocin… which is great for poetry and sappy top-40 ballads, but really bad for trying to sort out how you feel when you don’t have much of a basis for comparison. If you are trying to base a relationship on what you assume is love but is really one of it’s look-alike cousins, then you run the risk of needless heartbreak and disappointment when you realize that what you had was actually something much more fleeting.

  1. and a whole host of other romantic comedies []
  2. from chevalier – French knights. Told you: blame the French. []

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  • LeeEsq

    Having personally experienced a really prolonged case of infatuation recently, I can definitely attest to the highs and lows. It was very much like being on drugs and the lows felt like going through withdrawal symptoms. I made my move, got rejected, and moved on. There are regrets, I should have made my move much earlier. I probably missed two chances to enter into a relationship with an object my infatuation because of personal doubt. I might have had a chance or at least would have been through less addiction like feelings if rejected. That I was going on dates with other people at the time helped me get over the infatuation relatively fast.

    I agree with this post, love develops overtime rather than happening at first sight. Infatuation or lust is the seed and love is the plant that develops if the seed is nourished and given care.

  • Thortok2000

    What's the difference between 'love' and 'care about'?

    I tend to 'care about' a lot of people. There's various levels of 'care about' as well. I'm more likely to 'care about deeply' someone that I know or am getting to know really well. I'm a caring person and it doesn't take me very long to care about someone. Basically the moment I find out that they're a cool person I start to care, and the more I learn about how cool they are the more I care.

    When it reaches the point where I would put them before myself, I call it love, cause it's easy to say. That can take about two weeks. Maybe it's why my relationships tend to last no more than three. =P

    I fall deep, I fall hard, and I fall fast. But I try not to skip any steps, I just tend to fall right through them.

    Topic for next blog: When to say "I love you." I tend to lean towards hesitation simply because of how fast I reach that point and how 'serious' it's considered to be when it's said. There's love and then there's in love and the latter takes a while but the former comes pretty quick.

    Honestly the range of emotions that 'love' tries to cover is really too much for just one word. If love was a scale of 1-5, and 5 was the 'sitting on the porch when we're old together', I tend to hit about 1 or 2 by the first couple of weeks, 3 by about 3 months, and at the end of a 3 year long distance relationship was getting pretty close to 4 (which could've been higher had we spent more time in real life together.) At what point on that scale do I get to use the word 'love'? I tend to wait until about 2 before I start feeling 'this is love' but I try to wait until 3 to say it (and don't always succeed, sometimes it slips out.)

    Also, whenever I think of what 'love' is, I always wonder why people have such a 'selfish' love. When they love someone they're attracted to, there's always the common undertheme of "I want you in my life, I want you by my side, be my mate, be my lifelong partner." And when the love is two-way, then that's a great thing (assuming you don't have problems that love doesn't cure, like the Doc mentioned can sometimes happen.)

    When the love is one-way and is also 'selfish' like that, I think it isn't love so much as all the things the Doc listed that aren't love.

    So one way of knowing that your one-way feelings are love is (in my opinion) if they're unselfish. Basically, compare your feelings to this song.

    • Delafina

      I think love is love, pure and simple, whether it's romantic or not. It's caring about someone and wanting them to be well and happy, even at your own expense. There's a lot of stuff that can get added to that: protectiveness and responsibility and pride in the other person (for example, parental love), partnership and sexual desire (romantic love), companionship and happiness at being around the other (friendship), etc.

      It comes from the same place, I think, as empathy, but it's not the same (you can love someone without feeling what they feel, and you can feel what they feel without being willing to put them before yourself); and as compassion (you can want what's best for someone and feel sadness if they suffer without being willing to sacrifice anything for them).

      But love can exist independently of those, as anyone who has had abusive or problematic family relationships can attest — you can love someone, as in wanting the best for them and even being willing to sacrifice for them, and still not enjoy being around them. That's what makes it so wrenching to make the decision to move away or cut off contact — the very nature of your relationship with them tells you that you should weight their suffering more greatly than your own, and it is difficult to choose to do what you need to do to be healthy when it may hurt them.

      I don't think there's a bright line between loving someone and caring about them. I think it's a spectrum, and what changes as you move along the spectrum from caring toward love is how much you're willing to give for their benefit and how much space they occupy amongst what's important to you.

  • Casillas

    What is love? Baby don't hurt me, don't hurt me. No more.

    • Gman

      God I love this song, especially with this gif:

      But on a more serious note, frankly I have no idea what is love, because I have never been in a relationship. The closest that I ever felt to it was a long time ago, when I met way back in high school this really cool girl but we parted ways after a few days (it was part of a trip of mine). Every time we met during the trip, we talked for hours on end and I remember feeling really close to her emotionally. But in the end, nothing came out of it and I remember till this day that I was so sad that we had to part our ways that I literally cried for several days straight after i got home.
      As for now, there is actually this girl that I am interested in, but today I am much more mature and realize that it's just your average crush – and getting rejected isn't that bad…. What's really hard for me is dealing with the frustration of being alone (romantically speaking) for so long…

  • I'm not sure how I feel about the idea of separating love and lust so completely. It seems to downplay the importance of sex to a relationship, or how important monogamy is to a lot of people. For me personally, it's a little uncomfortable to think my partner is physically attracted to someone else, but the idea of him being in LUST with someone else feels a lot more emotionally threatening than just "he wants to bang his genitals with hers."

    Maybe that's because I've been socially conditioned to connect love and sex, but I consider "love" both a deep friendship AND someone I am in lust with. I want to be both emotionally and sexually attached to my partner, in a bond that is shared primarily between the two of us. From this article, I kind of get the impression that's not possible…. that you either get love, or you get a deep emotional connection. Anybody else get that impression, or is it just me?

    • Ainuvande

      As someone who has a definite separation between love and lust, I get what the article is talking about. But I can also see where you're coming from. For you, sexual attraction is always part of a bigger picture. You don't separate the desire to be physical with someone from the desire to be emotionally intimate with them. You don't (as I do) say to yourself "I would fuck Jame Earl Jones' voice" (or Cillian Murphy's cheekbones- can you tell I'm a girl?). I think about these things and get a purely vicarious sexual thrill, whether they're possible or not. And I don't care a damn about who they are as people, I'm just aroused. And I've been known in the past to basically pick a guy at a bar and be all "nice boots."

      You don't think like that. For you (and my boyfriend) the lust comes after you know the person well, and are attracted on other levels. Which is a lot healthier in terms of relationship love. Which does involve both a sexual interest and a deep emotional connection. Part of what Dr. Nerdlove is trying to convey (and I agree, not articulating well) is that lust and infatuation are both things that get you started with a person, from which a true emotional connection and respect can build. But both of them fade, and if you haven't built real love beneath them, all your relationships will last about six months to a year, tops when the honeymoon phase ends. (Unless you're one of my "nice boots" guys, in which case, I don't even remember your last name.)

    • Delafina

      Maybe this is because my partner and I were best friends before we became lovers, but I think when you've been with someone for a while, it becomes easier to separate them. Passion is optional. You learn to choose it. You learn how to spark it in the person you love, and you learn how to give it free reign and indulge in it yourself for your enjoyment and that of your partner, how to have it become something that binds you together but doesn't burn either of you.

      But it becomes something that you choose to indulge in, not something that happens to you like some force of nature.

      I am very monogamous — I have yet to meet someone besides my boyfriend for whom I feel serious attraction, and whether that's because I'm choosy and just haven't met the right people, or because I have some sort of relationship mode into which all that energy is directed, I don't know.

      But even if he and I were no longer able to engage in or interested in the sexual component of our relationship, the love would remain. I don't like the idea of him having sex with someone else, but if that aspect of our relationship went away — for whatever reason — I absolutely *would* want him to find someone else. I want him to be happy. I'd prefer if that happiness were with me, but if, for whatever reason it can't be, I want his happiness more than I want his partnership.

      I didn't think, at the beginning of our relationship, that it would be this way. But then we broke up for about five months, and by the time we got back together, I'd gotten to the point where I just wanted him to be happy and healthy, even if it wasn't with me. Yes, it would hurt to see him with someone else (and I think regardless of where our lives go, it would always be bittersweet to be around him if he were with someone else), but not as much as knowing he was unhappy would hurt.

      Our breakup happened at a time when a lot of other things were happening to me (I lost my job around the same time, and was told (as it turned out, erroneously) that I had a potentially fatal disease). On the other side of all of these things, I am a very different person than I was before they happened, and I've come to realize that being with someone should be done out of choice rather than out of need.

      Love doesn't obey the laws of physics — there isn't a 1:1 relationship between love and loss. The depth of someone's pain at losing you doesn't have to be equivalent to the depth of their love for you. Great pain at losing someone isn't proof of great love for them. (It's proof that you valued them, but that's not the same as love.) Pain at the thought of your loved one being with someone else is not the same as love. There are many things that determine the magnitude of that pain, and only some of them are the same as those that determine the magnitude of the love either of you felt.

      And the joy and partnership and love and excitement and experiences you share with someone absolutely should be greater than the hole they'd leave in your life if you lost them.

    • Mel

      I just wanted to say that you're not alone. I seem to be the sort of (I've gotten the sense, somewhat rare) person who doesn't get lusty feelings for someone unless I also find their personality attractive. Which means that while I can look at a guy and think–Yep, he's attractive, would like to get to know him more–I feel no desire whatsoever to have sex with, or even kiss him unless I've gotten to know him at least a little and made a personal connection. (Getting to know actors and musicians through interviews which I am simply a spectator of doesn't do it.) I've gotten plenty of infatuation crushes on people from afar, but no lust-based crushes.

      So like you, I've been uncomfortable with the idea of my partners lusting after someone else, because even though I know it doesn't necessarily work that way for them, for me lust means there's also an emotional attraction. The two aren't separate for me. But they clearly are for a lot of people. I still think most of those people would prefer to be both emotionally and sexually attracted to their partner, though, and can be happily monogamous even if they are physically attracted to other people too.

  • Steve

    Hey Dr. Nerd Love,

    I thought I'd ask you for some helpful advice about women and sex. I have a problem – I've got a voracious sex drive, I'm serious it's like insanely high – I'm in my twenties but I'm just super super horny all the time and every time I see a woman who's moderately attractive or more I just go nuts, all I can think about is having sex with them. As a solution to this problem the only way out I can see is to try and have lots of sex with lots of women that I like. No disrespect to them, but I don't care about getting to know them first, I just want as much sex as possible with as many attractive women as I can, with the least amount of effort (and before you say prostitutes, I'm both poor and very morally conflicted about it, because in my country it's not legal and so many of them aren't doing it through choice) – the 'least amount of effort' thing is because I have a lot to do in my life so time might be an issue, but don't get me wrong I don't intend to be disrespectful I just want the largest amount of no-strings-attached sex as possible.

    I would appreciate any advice you could give me.



    • Trooper6

      If you are horny and need sexual release, why not masturbate? You can go to a good sex-positive sex toy store like Goodvibes and find lots of interesting sex toys for men to try out and experiment…you can read videos and books on tantric sexual meditation…get some self love going on.

      There is also the Craigslist no strings attached section…but note, because of social constructs, the realities of the dangers of pregnancy, the realities of the danger of sex with strangers (those dudes could be rapists or serial killers!) and the power imbalance between men and women in patriarchy, the prevalent idea that sex is something that men take and that doing so empowers them while sex is something that women give up and that doing so diminishes them…there are a lot fewer women who are down for NSA sex than men. That you just want to use women for sex…some women will be down with that because they may just want to use you for sex as well…but a number of women, because of many of the aforementioned social issues…are not going to be down.

      So, check out the various online personals for NSA sex…but I'd really recommend getting in touch with self love. Including experimenting with you prostate!

      • Steve

        Self-love is great but it just can't compare with sex with a woman, which is a million times better. It's also arousing to see the woman enjoy the experience, which only adds to it all. I realise not all women will want no-strings-attached sex, and good shout on using online personals, but as anyone who has ever used OK Cupid can attest, photos and descriptions can be very misleading. I'd be more able to decide whether I want to sleep with a woman if she's right in front of me so there's no obfuscation etc. – so what about the traditional method of going to bars and clubs? Is it worth just asking women straight up if they're interested?

        Also a few comments below are like "good luck" as if it's meant to be a really hard thing to get. It sounds really socially awkward but what if I can communicate that I'm no rapist/serial killer and that I have a 'sharing' attitude to sex? Would it be a lot more hassle-free to get NSA sex if I could show women this in some way?

        • Trooper6

          I'm not sure how you'll convince these women you aren't sketchy when you can't even convince me.

          Phrases like "No disrespect to them, but I don't care about getting to know them first, I just want as much sex as possible with as many attractive women as I can, with the least amount of effort"

          And "Would it be a lot more hassle-free to get NSA sex if I could show women this in some way?"

          Heavily imply that you objectify women (because you don't care anything about them other than they are hot to you) and that you see sex as something you get…which means she gives up. All of those are red flags for many women.

          Read this:

          Also, do you know that approximately 30% of women havn't had an orgasm? I think itisbecausea lot of men are really good at taking sex that they enjoy, but aren't very good at giving sex that their partners can enjoy. To be good you have to a) put in effort and b) see you sex partner as a complex being. You may do that in real life, but your post really doesn't see to indicate that at all…no effort? That does not give me confidence you'd make the effort to please anyone other than yourself in bed…especially since you just seem to want to use these women to sate your sexdrive.

          So one answer is to do some work to see women really differently than you seem to from this post…that might help make you more attractive to them.

          The other alternative? Join the Army. When I was in the Army I was sharing sexual experiences with people left and right.

          • Steve

            Thanks for your reply. I'm not joining the army as the current foreign policy of my country disgusts me, so that one's off the list.

            The last paragraph of The Puzzle Box was absolutely correct, and I see "adversarial" views about sex as being really off kilter with what I see it as – two people wanting to have fun and share a great experiences, satiating their desires in the process. It's a shame that you interpreted my views as objectifying, perhaps I ought to explain myself better. Sex is obviously a sharing process rather than a "giving up" and a "getting" from women and men respectively – I used the word 'get' which was my mistake, perhaps 'have' would have been more apt. Anyone who's spoken frankly with many women will know that they have their own powerful sexual desires, and they get a lot of pleasure out of sex too. When I said 'with little effort' I didn't mean in the bedroom – as I said giving the woman pleasure makes the experience immeasurably better for both of us and making the experience great for the other person should be a concern for both the man and the woman. When I said effort I mean I don't want to go through the long, drawn-out process of finding out a woman's career hopes and dreams or personal interests like their favourite music, because my main attraction to them is sexual and these aren't relevant. Perhaps they want to find out what mine are… but it seems unlikely because it isn't relevant. What they're interested in sexually… well that is relevant, but although I consider them human beings with passions and desires my main reason to be with them is to share a great (or many great) sexual experiences with them. Perhaps some of these women turn out to be nice people, but whether they are nice or annoying or ignorant are more relevant in the context of a long-term relationship, something I'm not looking for at all. If they come across as decent people I might consider being friends with them afterwards, but inevitably there are some not-nice but sexy women out there who like NSA sex and I would be willing to share a great sexual experience with them regardless of their character defects. I just want to find out if they're willing to have this experience, and what they like sexually.

            Also 30% of women haven't had an orgasm? That's awful. Surely you mean never had one through sex, as with masturbation it must be easier.

          • Delafina

            10-15% of women have never had an orgasm at all. 75% can't climax purely through sex — they require hands, a tongue, or a toy to get off.

          • Steve

            10-15% is still a sizeable figure. In this sense I'm lucky to be a man.

    • Max

      "I just want as much sex as possible with as many attractive women as I can, with the least amount of effort"

      Welcome to the club.

    • Becelec

      Lol, good luck with that!

  • An Engineer

    Is it bad that I read all these things that are not actually true about love and think it's sad and want to use transhumanism to make them actually true?

  • U. Gwy

    true love doesn't mean infatuation. somehow, if infatuation exists in relationships, breakups would occur. and somehow people today don't realize that.

  • I feel like I really missed out on experiencing infatuation. Of course, I've had attractions and crushes on people that I saw all-too-frequently and, for whatever reason, could not pursue or be open with. And I thought that was pretty crummy.
    But I wouldn't call it infatuation. Infatuation seems all-consuming. An even split between absolutely-horrible and absolutely-thrilling, and nothing in between.

    I think early life experiences shaped a rather negative attitude towards romantic relationships by the time I was a teen and exploring dating on my own. In short, I was terribly avoidant-dismissive and simply wasn't comfortable enough to let myself become hopeful, let alone infatuated.

    I spent my adult life trying to improve that attitude and kind of missed the fairy-tale phase of figuring out sex and romance. To this day, I still find a lot of the values and investments people seek/demand from partners to be unnerving…and ultimately disappointing. And I am baffled by the persistence of the hopelessly romantic.

    So I have a particular appreciation for this article.

    On the flipside, I turned my once cynical "there is no such thing as soul mates" into something realistic and positive. And I still fell in love after all.

    • Max

      I'm pretty sure the "fairy tale" phase of figuring out sex and romance isn't a real thing. So don't worry, you didn't miss out!

  • Robert

    Finally! An answer to the question "What is love?" that isn't either "You'll know when you feel it" or "Baby don't hurt me, etc."

    Actually, I'd like to nominate "You'll know when you feel it" for Most Unhelpful Phrase Ever.

  • Steve

    Do I have to flirt? Can't I just offer? What if a girl wants to flirt back for a while but really has no interest in me sexually? Not everyone in this world is honest with their intentions, some like to waste your time and 'play' you.

    Yeah I get tested regularly, and I hope any woman who would have sex with me and has a lot of NSA sex does too. And yes I think I can almost guarantee a woman a good time – and many women have told me I'm great before and I've never had any complaints either. So I can be reasonably confident I have the skills to make it happen. However, the same applies to the woman. They would have to be worth my lack of sleep, no dead fish please, so I'd have to ask whether they're any good in bed, presuming they're interested.

    Thanks for your advice for bars (although I'm not into the goth thing but hey) – yeah I don't care about getting shot down a lot, I realise that not everyone will find me attractive and not everyone is looking for NSA sex, so I'm fine with it. I'd rather get shot down soon and harshly though rather than let down gently, I want to know the honest truth about whether a woman is interested in me or not. Also if she's not interested why WOULDN'T you move on?

    • Delafina

      "Dead fish"?

      God, what a charmer you are. The ladies must be all over you. *headdesk*

      • Steve

        Thanks Dr Nerdlove, Delafina, Ainuvande and Trooper for your advice. It's always appreciate. I hope I didn't offend anyone and it's nice to talk to open-minded people about this kind of thing.

    • Jess

      What you are talking about has nothing to do with the topic at hand. Wait for a more appropriate topic for this discussion. Frankly, your posts in the thread are selfish and rude.

  • Steve

    Why not?

    • Dr_NerdLove

      Because you're going to get far more negative reactions to saying “I'm just looking for sex, yes or no?” than by flirting, building the attraction and *then* inviting them to move the party back to your place. You're asking them to make a split-second decision right then and there and most people will default to “no”.

      • Steve

        Cool, that's clear to me now thanks.

        I'd rather screen for girls who will make that split-second decision than spend a lot of time flirting etc.
        It sounds crass, but how many negative reactions would you guess the average guy would have to go through before he got a yes through what you call the "shotgun approach"?

    • Delafina

      Dude, this isn't that hard to figure out. If *all* you're offering is sex, it has to be good sex. You have to be good *at* sex, or why on earth would anyone want to sleep with you if that's all they're getting?

      Flirting shows that you're fun. Flirting shows that you're playful. Flirting shows that you admire the woman you're flirting with. Flirting shows that you're willing to put some effort into the whole thing, even if it's just for a night.

      • Steve

        But I'm not so why be dishonest about it.

        Also about the dead fish comment, it was meant in jest but women who refuse to think about the pleasure of their partner during sex deserve as much contempt as a man who does the same, i.e. quite a bit.

        • Delafina

          If you're not willing to put in some effort at making sure your partner has a good time, you don't deserve to get laid.

          • Steve

            My partner will have a good time in the bedroom, but we won't waste each other's time outside of it.

            By the way, nobody 'deserves' to get laid.

          • Delafina

            *wry* If you're not willing to put the time into something as simple as flirting competently, I highly doubt you're willing to put in enough time to get good at sex. These things take effort and practice.

            Flirting, when you get down to it, is a form of advertising.

          • Steve

            So it's like a sort of guarantee (almost) that they won't be wasting their time or losing sleep unnecessarily later on. However – how will I know that the woman will be good in bed?

            Also, isn't the confidence necessary to "go shotgun" already a good advertisement of my confidence in bed, in a way? and confidence of course is based on competence much of the time.

            I would like to add that I'm already pretty good at sex, I've put in the time there I can assure you.

          • Dr_NerdLove

            Couple of things.1) Confidence is attractive. Confidence isn't ALL THERE IS when it comes to attraction, nor is it the magical pill that somehow overcomes any perceived faults.2) Being confident doesn't mean displaying a severe lack of social intelligence. It's not considered polite or socially correct to just to go up and say “Want to have sex, yes or no?”3) Again: all you are doing is demanding a snap-decision based on everything she knows about you RIGHT THEN. All she knows is a) your looks and b) you want to fuck and c) you aren't terribly interested in her as a person and d) you are apparently crazy/rude/oblivious enough to just ask her out of the blue. You may well find someone who says “yes”. You may also pick six numbers between 1 and 56 in a specific order and win the lottery. Your odds are slightly better with the lottery.4) Telling people you're good at sex doesn't prove anything other than you really want them to believe that you're good at sex.

          • Steve

            Ahaaaaa this is what I was looking for, great advice.

            1.) makes sense 2.) who cares about social correctness when our time is being wasted? 3.) the odds on the lottery is something like ten million to one, this can't be true can it? 4.) of course, "this used car I'm trying to sell you is reliable, honest". although it can be circular can't it, someone who sucks in bed will be less likely to say they're good in case someone calls their bluff…

          • Delafina

            No, it's not. It could indicate that you're a sociopath. It could indicate that you're an arrogant moron. It could indicate any number of things, only one of which is that you're actually worth going to bed with.

            Have you read "She Comes First" or some woman-centered book on sex? If not, I really, really doubt you're good at sex, because given the dismissive and objectifying way you speak of your prospective partners, it's hard to believe you have sufficient empathy to have learned through paying attention to your partners. Given that you expressed surprise at the statistics above as to how difficult (or even unachievable) orgasm is for many women, you clearly know very little about female sexuality, and ignorance rarely makes for skill.

            You don't seem to get that this isn't an equal playing field for you and your prospective female partners, however.

            First off, they have to ensure that you're not dangerous (whereas while there have been a few cases of women killing or injuring casual sex partners, they're a drop beside an ocean of the the other way around).

            The likely potential cost to you of choosing wrongly? An evening of not-particularly-satisfying sex, in which you'll still most likely get off. Most serious thing you have to worry about? An STI.

            The potential costs to them? Rape, physical injury, pregnancy, etc. Plus, even if you're not a creep or a rapist, the likelihood for them, unless they're very experienced and in tune with their bodies and know what works for them, and are confident enough to ask for it from you, and have confidence that you'll be accommodating enough to do whatever it is, is that they're *not* going to get off.

            Getting off is pretty simple for guys, you learn to do it early in life, and even if the sex you're having isn't very good, you're still likely to get off. it's nowhere near that simple for women. A large proportion of women don't learn what gets them off until their 30s. A lot never learn.

            So, to sum up: you're basically guaranteed safety and an orgasm.

            They're not guaranteed either, and in fact, the odds swing the other way for them.

            So you absolutely should be the one advertising, so to speak. There are a lot more men than women that want casual, NSA sex. And for the women that do want it, the risks are much higher. If they decide to go to bed with you, they're shouldering far more risk than you are. You might have some experiences that are less than satisfying, but so what? You're not running the risk of being raped or getting pregnant, and even the risk of not getting off is minimal.

            In the end, it's supply and demand. There's a glut of men like you. There are less women like the ones you're looking for, and the ones that exist have to be choosy for their own safety, so the cost to them is greater.

            To use a metaphor, you're basically looking for women who are willing to take you out and pay for drinks and dinner, and you're offering to pay for parking.

            If you want anyone to take you up on that deal, you need to be able to advertise that you're a great dinner companion; because if not, they're getting the short end of the stick.

          • Steve

            Well-thought out reply. I take issue with "there's a glut of men like you"… if so many women are dissatisfied with their sex lives, it's the other way around. Also how many men do you see go shotgun (I mean when not drunk) with confidence? Not many. So not every man is straight up offering sex, they're sugar coating it in different ways. I have read around a lot regarding sex, and yes including books like She Comes First, Slow Sex, Passionista, plus the more PUA-esque stuff like The Sex God Method and also various books regarding tantric sex, I won't list them here but I've read and implemented a lot (and screwed up a lot along the way!). Also you seem to regard male pleasure during sex as ONLY about the six or so seconds during orgasm… tis not so. There's a lot more to it than that. You can nut but if there's nothing else and the woman does nothing, how much better was it really than your right hand?

            Your argument about potential risks is convincing to me. Yep, men have an easier time getting off and are at a physical advantage to women, so have less fear of assault, rape and so on. But pregnancy… really? In this day and age?

            And what if there are women willing to pay for drinks and dinner in exchange for me paying the parking? Is that such a bad thing to seek them out?

          • Steve

            Sorry I meant The Best Oral Sex Ever, not Passionista, lol. That's…erm… if I were gay….

          • Delafina

            "I take issue with "there's a glut of men like you"… if so many women are dissatisfied with their sex lives, it's the other way around."

            Not really. I'm no fan of evolutionary psychology, but its broad strokes are pretty inarguable. Evolutionary speaking, both male and female primates have one thing they have to do: ensure their genes get passed on.

            There are two main ways to go about this: spread your genes around as much as possible (quantity), or spend less time spreading them around and more time ensuring that the offspring you do produce survive to reproductive age themselves (quality).

            For males, whose investment in the act of creating life (without getting into how long it survives) is limited to ejaculating, the first method makes a certain amount of evolutionary sense. Depending on a male's refractory period, his reproductive potential is limited only by his ability to find females to mate with. Assuming he's good at that, he can produce hundreds of offspring in a year.

            And from a strictly evolutionary perspective, evolution's done with him once he's gotten a female pregnant. (This is often used as an explanation for why, by and large, men are willing to take greater risks than women.)

            The female half of the equation is different. Women are limited to about one offspring per year, given a 9-month pregnancy cycle. Pregnancy is extremely risky for both mother and child. So for females, there's no real question about quantity — they have to choose quality, because they have no choice but to invest.

            This drives mate selection as well. If a male is going for quantity, the reproductive fitness of his partner isn't that big of a concern, because he will have a lot of partners. Each individual offspring might be less likely to survive because he isn't investing in them, but it's a numbers game: some will. So given how little men are required to invest in reproduction, they will naturally be far less choosy about their mates.

            Females *have* to be choosy about their mates. They're limited to only one offspring per year, instead of hundreds, and bearing it to term is a big risk for them, so they need to ensure that any male they mate with has good genes, and most preferably is a male that's willing to invest in his offspring as well (choosing quality over quantity). They want someone who will father healthy offspring, yes, but also someone who will stick around and protect them while they're pregnant, and protect and provide for the young after they're born.

            Now, I'm not a huge fan of evolutionary psychology because I think that one of the defining characteristics of humans is that we're not simple slaves to our evolutionary history, and human behavior is varied and nuanced.

            That said, the basic outlines of the evolutionary psychology explanation for mate selection still do track with the prevalent behavior of men and women.

            Most men are less choosy about partners, and want more sex with more partners than most women. (If you're interested, the statistics are pretty easy to google.)

          • Delafina

            "if so many women are dissatisfied with their sex lives, it's the other way around"

            No, it's not. The average woman who's dissatisfied with her sex life doesn't start looking for NSA sex. She either sucks it up and doesn't complain, because that's what we're socialized to do, or she tries to educate her partner, or she looks for a different partner. (Not partners.)

            There are more men interested in casual sex than there are women interested in it. That's not to say that women who like a wide variety of sexual partners don't exist, just that their numbers are less than those of men who want the same thing. There are lots of guys looking for what you're looking for. There are less women.

            "Also you seem to regard male pleasure during sex as ONLY about the six or so seconds during orgasm… tis not so."

            Yes, I'm aware that male pleasure has a spectrum, too. I was just saying, for the sake of emphasis, that you will *at the very least* get an orgasm out of most if not all sexual encounters, while the same is not true for women.

            Glad to hear you've spent some time learning about how both partners can have a good sexual experience, though.

            "But pregnancy… really? In this day and age?"

            Yes. The pill is one of the most economic options for female contraception, and it is close to 99% effective if used perfectly, it's hard to use perfectly. It has to be taken at the same time every day, and a lot of people can't do that reliably. If it's not taken at the same time every day, it's less effective (somewhere between 80-91%). That may still sound pretty effective, but 80% is two out of every ten women who use it getting pregnant. Condoms are about 98% effective if used perfectly, but again, many men don't use them perfectly, and their effectiveness drops to 85%.

            So yes, pregnancy remains a very real risk.

            "And what if there are women willing to pay for drinks and dinner in exchange for me paying the parking? Is that such a bad thing to seek them out?"

            I think you missed the point of the metaphor. The point was, yes, some women may be willing to pay for drinks and dinner when you're only offering to pay for parking. But those women are going to be rare, and if you do find them, you had better be worth their investment.

  • Delafina

    Agreed. The default read for men trying to pick up women just for sex is "creepy." And yeah, it takes some effort to prove that you're not. You need to put in some effort to assure potential partners that A) you're not planning to slip them a roofie if they say no, or drop their body in a ditch somewhere if they say yes, and B) that assuming that you're safe, you're actually worth having sex with. "Least amount of effort" doesn't sound worth the latter.

    • Steve

      Are there that many perverted freaks willing to slip a roofie that the default read is "creepy"? Jesus, there are some real dicks out there.

      I'm ok with both A and B, but what if say I was terrible in bed? Say I had a brother who absolutely sucked (forgive the pun) but had exactly the same attitude and desires as me, would he have to do something else in addition to this to have lots of NSA sex? Strikes me as a little unfair, given that experience is one of the best, if not the best, teacher.

      • Delafina

        Apparently you're new to this blog, since the risks to women and the prevalence of creepy guys are discussed in at least half the Doctor's posts.

        And the idea that it's unfair of women — who are shouldering the vast majority of the risks in going to bed with guys they don't know well — to demand that guys have a basic working knowledge of female anatomy and sexuality and have put in some effort into learning how to please a woman, is so ridiculously entitled that I don't know where to start with it.

        Your (still incredulous at this one) "dead fish" comment indicates that while you apparently put all the responsibility for your partners' pleasure on them, while also expecting them to take at least partial responsibility for yours, you at least have the basic awareness that your partner's enjoyment contributes to your own. Learning how to ensure the pleasure of your partner isn't just an altruistic act: it's a self-beneficial one as well. You'll *get* better sex if you're also *giving* better sex.

        And more to your original point, you're more likely to get enthusiastic return customers, which can only be a benefit if you're looking for lots of casual sex.

        • Steve

          This is the way I see it:

          ME- partial responsibility for my pleasure, partial responsibility for hers.
          HER – partial responsibility for her pleasure, partial responsibility for mine.

          A 'dead fish' is a woman who does not wish to contribute to my pleasure during sex. I don't see how she wouldn't be subject to my scorn. If I were a woman I'd hate it if a man were selfish and lazy in bed too.

          Ok and the entitled thing – you get better at pleasing women in bed through a.) reading up on it and b.) EXPERIENCE. If my twin brother can't get much B and still wants casual sex what is he to do? Not go for NSA sex? So he should care far more about the woman than himself and forgo his desires? Sorry but that's completely unrealistic.

          • Delafina

            Not really. Women aren't obligated to tutor you. They aren't responsible for you getting experience. And given that a lot of guys are willing to invest a lot more than you're willing to on the front end in getting women to go to bed with them (dinner, gifts, flirting, actually spending time getting to know her as a person), women who forgo all that and sleep with you so you can get "experience" are doing you a favor.

            You certainly don't have to — and shouldn't — forgo your pleasure completely, but yes, I think it's fair that the split isn't quite 50-50, and that you're contributing more than they are.

            Again, my opinion in this is slanted, as I wouldn't go to bed with any guy I haven't known for at least months, if not years, and for me romantic attraction comes from deep emotional intimacy.

            But I have a lot of friends who just want fun without obligations (and we spend a lot of time talking about their experiences, since they still tend to have more bad ones than good ones). They're attractive, they're confident, and even though they are choosing casual sex, the guys they sleep with still make a hell of an effort. They pay for dinner. They are charming. They compliment the women they pick up, and show interest in them as people (incidentally, showing interest in someone else just shows that you are a decent human being, not that you want a relationship). It may, under the veneer of seduction, be more transactional than what I like, but at least they're making attractive bids.

            You've said that *all* you're interested in offering is sex. So yes, you should put the woman first in bed, because you're offering a lot less than most guys.

            Look, as I've said elsewhere, it's supply and demand. There are more men who want casual sex than there are women willing to give it to them (if you add "attractive" or "good in bed" or whatever descriptor in front of women, the numbers go down even more). Ergo, since women are in both higher demand and shorter supply, they are and should be more expensive.

          • anonymous

            "How do you apply for an entry level job that requires experience?"

          • Story of my life

  • Steve

    4.) really? a lot of idiots out there.

    Hold on, so "shotgun confidence" doesn't imply sexual prowess?

    • Delafina



      • Steve

        Not even a little bit? If flirting implies it then confidence should, logically.

        So what does imply it?

        • Delafina

          Respect for and interest in other people implies confidence, because it shows that you are so secure in yourself that you have nothing to prove, and are comfortable putting them in the spotlight. Good flirting shows that you're interested in the other person, that you find them attractive. It puts the focus on them, not yourself. If they're equally confident and interested, they'll reciprocate.

          • Steve

            With the shotgun approach I have even less to prove. I'm so secure in myself I'm willing to break social norms to do something. I find blunt honesty intensely respectful, the most respectful thing in fact. This is why I'm sticking to it so much in this discussion, aside from the non-time-wasting element.

            And I can show interest without flirting, so there must be something else to do with flirting that implies sexual prowess?

    • Delafina

      Look, do yourself and your potential partners a favor and educate yourself a bit.

      First off, go read this article, just so you have some basic idea on what it's like for the other half of the population as far as sexual satisfaction is concerned. It's not that long:

      Next up, go read this advice from Dan Savage to teenage boys on how to get laid. I know you're probably not a teenager, but the basic gist on how to advertise that you're worth going to bed with remains classic:

      Reading Dan Savage in general isn't a bad idea, if you're looking for casual sex, as it's something he talks about a lot, whereas most advice columnists tend to focus on relationships. He talks about how to be ethical, and a decent partner and human being, while still not attaching any strings.

      Reading a bunch more stuff on this site wouldn't hurt, either, both in just general good advice, and as a wake-up call about the safety issues that women face and how not to contribute (or appear to be contributing) to them.

      Last, get and read "She Comes First." It's primarily focused on how to get good at oral sex, but it's also a good general primer on female anatomy and sexuality, from a guy's perspective.

      And at the end of the day, you'll get the most, I think, from making platonic friends with a woman who's interested in NSA sex, and getting her advice as to what she looks for in prospective partners.

      My $0.02 is, in the end, probably worth less than that, since I'm about as monogamous as they come, and I'm just trying to give you the basic "here's not how to come across as horrifying to women" advice. For more than that, you're best off getting advice from women who are of the type you're looking to sleep with.

      • Steve

        Thanks for the articles, and the heads up.

  • kfizz

    The funny thing is i feel love for a girl I know. you get that warm feeling you sweat like crazy and can't describe how you feel about that person. Its more that its working I can at least get a read there is something there that is great. Even if its just friendship or some kind of affection.

  • Anonymous Coward

    I've been calling bullshit on the whole "Love is something you feel" for a while now. It isn't. It's something you *do*. It's right there in the dictionary: 'love' is a verb. Affection, Passion and Attachment are feelings. To love someone, you have to actually get off your ass.

    As with most things, feelings tend to be mostly post-hoc justifications anyway. Love is something you choose to show through your actions. It's a choice. That deepening emotional connection and commitment? You chose to do that. Or you chose to let it whither and die. Of course, as clichéd as it may sound, it takes two to tango. A successful relationship happens when two people commit to building something amazing together. They both make a choice.

    More than anything, saying that you're "in Love" is stupid because it removes you from being in control of your own emotional state. The right thing to say is "I Love", not "I am In Love". It returns the locus of control to where it belongs.

    Same with the words we use: to *fall* in Love. You don't fall in love, you fall into a pool, or fall .

    Love is something that you *grow*. You nurture it, slowly from a seed. If you're lucky, careful and consistent the sapling will live through the first few years and grow into a tree that will outlive those who first planted it (through a family).

  • I can definitely vouch for the intensity and power of infatuation. I'm just coming out of a brief, but very intense relationship that was over almost as soon as it started because the two of us going to school in different states. Fortunately, we both agreed that a long-distance relationship wasn't what we wanted, and I'd like to think that we ended it with as little drama as possible and laid the ground for a happy friendship, but there was still about a period of about a month and half when even getting a text from her would put a stupid grin on my face for the next thirty minutes, or I would periodically feel intense jolts of "missing her" and have to take a moment to clear my head. It's hard to really describe the way my mood could swing between giddy and morose. And this was after we'd left for our separate states. It was an interesting 45 days.

  • Theyis

    I always liked Heinlein's definition: Love is the condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.

    Now this does not cover everything about love by a long stretch. It makes no real difference between romantic love or the love between friends and/or family for example, but add to it a certain longevity (to go beyond the infatuation period) and it's a good start…

    Which makes me think of a question: what is the actual difference between the romantic love a couple feels and the love you feel for a good friend or family member? Sex is a part of what makes it different (at least for me), but is that all?

    • Robert

      As far as I am aware, there is not really any clear line between romantic and non-romantic (ie, friend/family) love, and what one person may class as romantic love, another may class as non-romantic, and vice versa. I can say, however, that sex is not necessarily a difference (see: friends with benefits relationships, romantic but sexless relationships). I think really the difference between romantic and non-romantic love is different for each person and is something that each person kinda has to decide for themselves – and for some people, sex might literally be the only difference. And that is perfectly valid.

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