Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Learning to act right (13)… Promiscuous paranoids

Learning to act right (13)… Promiscuous paranoids
Torrey Orton
October 27, 2010

Among some men in the 20 to 40 age range there's an unexpected result of being in the binge drinking / drugs and sex scene. It only arises when they part the scene for a more constant form of relationship…sometimes their first real love. They appear on my therapeutic doorstep with obsessive fantasies that their new girlfriend is having it off with any guy they say hello to or, more particularly, any guy they were once close to. This is aggravated if the girlfriend has a history somewhat like their own – one of apparently disinterested sex in one of the principle social forms recognised as 'normal': one nighters and friends with privileges, or its more honest moniker - fuckbuddies.

Their presenting "mental health problem" is hyper-vigilant jealousy with anger punctuations which threaten relationship health, or their partner's. In other words, they are on the verge of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in their minds. The driver, as usual with OCD, is an apparently inescapable dilemma or conflict which attacks the individual's self-concept.

The binge sex dilemma looks roughly like this: the guy develops obsessive imagery / thoughts about the partner's probability of being seduced (or re-seduced!) by another guy; this is accompanied sometimes by acute self-denigration about being unlikely to be able to compete with the imagined seducer's attractions; the guy also imagines that his partner is in fact positively disposed to seduction if given the slightest encouragement by the irresistible seducer.

Treatment is simple except for the hidden dilemma within the picture above. Exposure and CBT work fine, but do not touch the dilemma which is lodged in the male self-image. The guy knows that all guys are roughly like him, at least in his general social network (pubs, clubs, etc., on weekend nights). Anyone female is fair game and may consider him to be fair game in turn. But the male self-image says the women are sluts and guys are players, or hotties, or choose your self-approbation of preference and enter here.

This valuing system means that any girlfriends who come out of the binge social system are players, too, which leaves the guys at best on an equal moral footing with the gals. But that's not what they really think, despite sexual equity in the binge play space. This part of the treatment requires confronting at least the present equality of indulgence across genders*. It's a hard burnishing of a tarnished esteem. Not a few clients have choked on the way, though all have come through so far.

If the girlfriend does not originate in the scene, then she may find herself treated like a prospective player because that is boyfriend's default position on women (underneath the sexual equity cover). Girlfriend, meanwhile, cannot easily be told boyfriend is/was a player with a dance card the length of a wishfully extendable appendage.

I guess that various aspects of this valuing and behavioural world contribute to the rampant uncertainty and diffidence about relationships which pass before me daily in therapy. This is expressed through conflicting needs: one, for certainty that a relationship will be inviolable and one for certainty that escape is always possible with minimum damage (itself usually expressed as financial – the only certain entity in the relationship universe because it is totally abstract and so can harbour any meaning allocated to it!). Listening to would-be and actual couples struggle to denominate their contributions to the joint exercise of a shared future is often pathetic. When did finance ever reduce paranoia?

I think this works similarly for gay as straight men, with appropriate gender distinctions in their partners. See this post for an example.

*none of this means that equity and equality in sex are achieved without various infractions of good taste, respect, or activities in the violence domain, since being players does not grant a free pass to civility. To an extent it prohibits real civility, and respect is out of the question, for both self and others.

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