Alone or Lonely

Sexual experimentation is much more common than it has historically been. When I speak of sexual experimentation I include things like extramarital sex, adolescent sex, open marriages, group sex, friends with benefits, pornography and other forms of sexual contact not within the context of marriage. It seems that in a drive to teach tolerance, there has also been delivered a message of “don’t knock it till you’ve tried it”.

In the last blog I talked about starting relationships with sex and the effect that it has on not only the relationship but the individuals involved. I would like to follow that up with what I believe may be the most likely reasons that sexual relations begin prior to emotional commitments.

First, it would be silly to try to take the stance that sex is not fun. Sex is great fun and it tends to be the most fun when two people are in a committed relationship and learn about what pleases their partner. Learning about your partner, and what is pleasurable to them, is also fun. Within the context of a long-term, committed, monogamous relationship there is a much greater opportunity for the partners to learn about one another and develop a mutually carrying relationship. In partnerships that are not monogamous there is often resentment or even a sense of competition that can become part of the relationship.

We live in a culture where sex is a predominant topic and children are introduced to sexuality at a very young age. It seems to be an accepted practice that sexual involvement is an important part of getting to know someone. The old saying of “you wouldn’t buy a car without a test drive” seems to be a common thought process. All it takes is a quick look at little girls fashion to see that modesty is not a common goal. The shirts often carry slogans that have a sexual connotation.

At a time when it is culturally more acceptable to be promiscuous and tolerant of everything, I find in my client population that often individuals have been victimized but accept the blame for the victimization because they had made poor choices.

We have become extremely desensitized to the consequences of casual sex. Sex has become more about entertainment than commitment. Because of this desensitization, sex has become a means of avoiding boredom. The Internet provides easy contact between individuals. Popular music is filled with references to casual sex and substance abuse.

If a person becomes lonely, another term for bored, sex can be a ready solution. The problem with this solution is that there is almost never sexual contact that does not include some level of emotion and therefore the potential for misguided attachments.

I often talk to clients about the difference between “alone and lonely.” An illustration I like to use comes from Dave Ramsey’s “Financial Peace University” course in which he discusses the difference between “poor and broke.” To paraphrase Dave he states that broke is temporary while poor is a condition or state of mind. When you’re broke you can sell something, work more, choose to not spend money and the condition will end when any of the strategies are successful. Being poor on the other hand is an emotional condition that carries with it feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. Emotions tend to drive the condition of being poor.

Alone and lonely are similar in the sense that people treat feeling lonely as if they will be all alone. Lonely is a temporary condition that can be addressed through a variety of actions. I read an article recently that estimates that the average American is seldom more than 3 feet from a telephone. The vast majority of our population uses the Internet and social media. Texting has become a major method of being interconnected and it is not uncommon for people to send hundreds or even thousands of texts per month. Cell phones are being used even in remote areas for emergency contacts when people are lost.

It is almost impossible, for most of our sexually active population, to be alone! In all probability they are lonely but feel alone. Casual sexual activity will not keep the feelings of loneliness away.

When I ask a person to consider abstinence, even for a short period of time, most of them stop to consider whether it is even a possibility. Sex has become the equivalent of comfort food to our culture and our culture, in both of these contexts, is suffering from obesity. It has become a method of dealing with boredom and symptoms of mild depression.

The goal then becomes developing other behaviors to use instead of casual sex. When I work with other forms of addiction I encourage people to make a Relapse Prevention Card to carry with them. The card is usually about 3 x 5 and can be as small as the credit card. On the card I have them list five things that they can do to deal with their loneliness/boredom other than sex. If one of the alternative behaviors is to call a friend (not for sexual contact) then include the phone number on the card. If some of the alternative behaviors require preparation, such as hobbies, then make sure the appropriate materials are available.

One valuable tool is to have an individual that you can contact on short notice and discuss your frustrations. This is actually the equivalent of an accountability partner, or sponsor, that you trust and can give advice on dealing with life.

The take-home message here is: get involved in activities that have a higher probability of a long term positive results rather than using the same old behaviors that will lead you to feel lonely in the first place. Look at ways of increasing your support network such as attending church/community groups, volunteering your time to help other people. Getting some additional exercise is often useful, and as boring as it may sound, clean up your home so that your environment is more pleasing to look at.

Remember these two things: (1) Life is really simple, not easy, just simple. Do things that have the highest likelihood of ending well. (2) Life is built on choices. You are the product of the consequences of all the decisions you have ever made. If you want better outcomes then refer back to item #1.

It is your life and the only one you’re going to get, so manage it well.