Learning and unlearning love
December 7, 2020 2:16 AM   Subscribe

Apart from personal experience, what book, article, movie, podcast... has broadened your outlook on love, dating and sex the most?

My experiences in the past couple of years, dating women as a man in his early thirties, have made me realize how many preconceived ideas I have about love. They were forged by my own experiences, having spent most of my adult life in a committed relationship, and of course by societal and cultural norms. I think the most basic of these is that there's 'one' person and 'one' relationship out there for me, and that everything in between is a series of failures and missed connections. That scarcity mindset is really getting to me.

At the same time, these pre-conceived notions have been challenged - again, both by my own experiences and by vicarious learning. For example, the idea that 'sex changes everything' and that having sex is a one-way street away from friendship into a committed relationship, is at odds with the possibility of an 'erotic friendship'.

I'm looking to further challenge my own beliefs about love in all its forms. I'm willing to test the boundaries of what it could mean for me, about what I want and desire. You can only experience so much firsthand though, though, and furthermore life is momentarily constrained by the pandemic.

So my question is: other than from personal experience, where have you learned something about love (dating, sexuality) that has really transformed not just your outlook on love, but also your love life?

For example, even though I'm heterosexual, queer podcasts like The Heart and Probably True are continually broadening my views on sexual intimacy, whereas Six Feet Under has made me accept that even the best relationships have gaps, crises and endings.

(Looking for both non-fiction and fiction, not at all opposed to self-help stuff as long as it's not reinforcing stereotypical or Red Pill-esque narratives. On the other hand, I don't want to assume that something works or is valuable only because it challenges more 'traditional' ways of thinking; all perspectives are welcome.)
posted by Desertshore to Human Relations (18 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

I've learned a lot from Dan Savage
posted by rd45 at 3:30 AM on December 7, 2020 [9 favorites]

Also: Esther Perel
posted by rd45 at 3:32 AM on December 7, 2020 [6 favorites]

The Giant's House by Elizabeth McCracken

So May Ways to Sleep Badly by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore

Against Love: A Polemic by Laura Kipnis

A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, Richard Lannon (dunno how this holds up, I read it over a decade ago)

The poetry of Wislawa Szymborska

The Oh Joy! Sex Toy webcomic
posted by Gin and Broadband at 3:43 AM on December 7, 2020 [2 favorites]

Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski
posted by cozenedindigo at 3:51 AM on December 7, 2020 [9 favorites]

I've consistently appreciated Marcia Baczynski's writings/social media/etc about communication and relationships. (She has some paid workshops, etc which I imagine are worthwhile but I have only seen her free stuff. )

The podcast Queer Sex Ed has some interesting stuff - the earlier episodes might be more relevant to you than the later ones.

Ask: Building Consent Culture (an anthology) and Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex by Angela Chen (which is an interesting dive into the nature of relationships and the language we use to describe them, relevant to ace-spectrum and allosexual people alike) are also good.
posted by needs more cowbell at 4:20 AM on December 7, 2020 [4 favorites]

Fiction wise I really loved Margaret Atwood's Life Before Man. It's about damaged relationships and how they are navigated by dysfunctional people. I found it particularly engaging and comforting when I was post-breakup.
posted by waving at 5:18 AM on December 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

I've done alot of reflecting the last couple years on what it means to be in healthy relationship with others. Here are some books I found use (sorry for lack of links, on mobile):
- Come as you are by Emily Nagoski (made me reconsider sexual aspects of relationship with my self and others in a positive way)
- Captain Awkward blog (the author's writing in boundary setting in particular is excellent)
- How to be an Adult in Relationships (explores healthy relationships building)
-Codependent no more by Melanie Bettie (want to acknowledge that the framing on codependency is not for everyone but was particularly helpful for me to reevaluate and improve some patterns I was seeing in my relationship that wasn't working well)
- Hallejauh anyway by Anne Lamott (was helping exploring forgiveness and how it applied to my relationship. Spiritual framing may not work for everyone)
posted by snowysoul at 5:27 AM on December 7, 2020 [4 favorites]

Becoming Partners by Carl Rogers consists of interviews with a number of people in partnership about the process they went through and where they landed. It is very open minded and includes people with a variety of partnership structures.

One insight that comes out of the book is a distinction between people who see love and partnership as a goal-oriented undertaking ("want to get to there") and a process-oriented undertaking ("I appreciate figuring things out and going places with this person"). I found the book very helpful when I was figuring out my own approach to life and engagement with others.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 5:55 AM on December 7, 2020 [4 favorites]

Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá
posted by Grither at 6:12 AM on December 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

I want to throw in a recommendation for Daniel Lavery's "Dear Prudence" podcast. He makes a real effort to have guest co-hosts, usually a different one every week. So you will get an actual multitude of different opinions about the topics being discussed. Also, there are five or six separate questions being answered for each podcast, so you will hear about so many different situations. If you are looking to broaden your outlook on love and romance, then a podcast about answering love and romance questions with different guest co-hosts every week is a really great place to start. All the hosts seem to be Daniel's friends in one way or another, and all seem to have a baseline of respect, caring, and empathy for the people who ask the questions. In addition to regular straight/cis questions, obviously you are going to get plenty of LGTBQ perspectives, and plenty of BIPOC hosts, as well. It's pretty much tailor made for your request.
posted by seasparrow at 7:53 AM on December 7, 2020 [3 favorites]

All About Love by bell hooks. Life changing.
posted by stellaluna at 8:30 AM on December 7, 2020 [5 favorites]

Andrea Dworkin's Intercourse, and Pornography - for the politics of the f*ck
posted by Dressed to Kill at 9:59 AM on December 7, 2020 [3 favorites]

Lola Phoenix's column is so great, especially if you're curious about polyamory and ethical nonmonogamy.
posted by limeonaire at 2:12 PM on December 7, 2020 [2 favorites]

Also, I highly recommend just staring at Franklin Veaux's poster, The Varieties of Non-Monogamy, for a while.
posted by limeonaire at 2:22 PM on December 7, 2020 [2 favorites]

So my question is: other than from personal experience, where have you learned something about love (dating, sexuality) that has really transformed not just your outlook on love, but also your love life?

This may seem like an oblique response, but I promise you it isn't. Have you considered looking into therapy and/or therapy resources? There's a hefty component of self-knowledge in most (all?) therapy traditions/practices, including along the love-relationships axis.

I started looking for therapists at the beginning of 2019, and I ended up vibing with an ACT practitioner and the general evidence-based tone of ACT. In ACT, a hefty part of the work is getting into a detailed dialogue with your deepest personal values. I thought I had a handle on these things, but it turns out one's capital-V Values have all these dimensions, large and small, that may not be as apparent as they seem like they should be. In my case, there was a striking amount of revelatory insight into how I think about myself, relationships, and love--specifically, what it means to be in a loving relationship that meets my capital-V values isn't exactly in line with what I thought it would be.

I think I'm kind of running the relay in the reverse direction you are. I'm a gay guy who grew up in the rural south without any gay peers or models of gay relationships to look to. So, by the time I moved out to the big city, I thought I was just supposed to soak up what other people were doing and run with it. I started at the poly-ish end of the spectrum, got a lot of experience with transactional encounters, and kind of thought that the idea of love was baloney and made up for mass marketing movies and novels and magazines. And then I fell in love. Hard. It was a sharp learning curve, and I ended up being married and raising kids for most of the last 15 years. It's been empowering. I've learned that some things are valuable to me that I never gave a second thought for most of my life. I've really come to take it to heart that I value monogamy, for instance, and being prioritized by a romantic partner, and there doesn't need to be any deeper mysticism about that--those are values that I've field tested and are borne out by my feelings and experiences.

I think a lot of the resources shared here do boil down, in some way, to self-knowledge. Even the relationship anarchy manifesto includes, right at the beginning, "find your core set of relationship values." How to do that is where ACT and other counseling modalities might be helpful.

For reference, I started with this ACT workbook and found it super helpful. The same author published this book about ACT recently, too.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 3:15 PM on December 7, 2020 [4 favorites]

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it and embrace them. — Rumi
posted by erattacorrige at 6:40 PM on December 7, 2020 [5 favorites]

Sex From Scratch by Sarah Mirk covers a lot of relationship and love questions and is about a lot of different types of relationships.
posted by arachnidette at 12:22 PM on December 8, 2020 [3 favorites]

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