Opinion: Partnership vs. Adoption

Steven Ing, MFT

Ever seen one of those older violent movies where the female love interest, beset in the parking lot by the bad guys, gets rescued by her boyfriend—who then gets his head bashed in by said bad guys while his girlfriend cries, screams, or quivers with fear? It's a well-worked trope, but it reflects and nurtures an idea about relationships that smart women will want to ditch—real fast.

Does any man really want that kind of woman for a relationship? The sort of woman who doesn't even try to help her man? Does any man want the sort of damsel in distress who waits passively while the life or death action unfolds? Sure, the insecure man will. A man who defines himself and his character by behaviors (like the ability to “save” a woman) will learn the hard way that this has nothing to do with defining one's actual character.

Although no real woman could ever engage in the sort of heroic feats of strength that 2017's Wonder Woman might display, the film impacted men in a manner that is telling of a truth deeper than a fistfight, won or lost, ever could. Countless men's eyes filled with tears as they watched the film.

I know because I've talked to them. I, too, seemed to get a little something in my eye as I watched scene after scene depicting a woman's heroic self-sacrifice and concern for others. Men aren't used to seeing anything like that. We reacted like the French-speaking character "Sammy" did when he saw her take care of a bully in a bar, "I'm both frightened and aroused."

The alternative to meeting the sort of woman who is capable of having one's back? The damsel in distress, of course. Unfortunately, she offers men not so much an adult relationship as she does an adoption. His wedding vow would be something like, "I promise to take care of you for the rest of my life."

But when we try to understand why marriage rates are plummeting or why men's eyes glaze over at the too-often repeated, "Better put a ring on it," most of us intuitively know that the "commitment = adoption" construct is getting a bit long in the tooth for modern humans.

Photo by Agafonova Photo from Pexels

Understand, this is not as easy as it seems. There's a happy little perversion of the idea of partnership that's very current and is heavily weighted in equality (but not so much in equity or fairness). Here's what it looks like: the two fall in love, and each of them is so eager to make it all work that their emotional neediness often eclipses their intellect.

She likes to go to, say, craft fairs just about every weekend. To spend time with her and to please her, he joins in the, er, fun?

Except his carrying her macraméd everything into the craft fair (even if it's big and heavy) isn't a partnership. He would not be doing that for one of his friends. But, in doing all this, he's her accomplice after the fact, and he can't be too surprised that she is thinking of him as her bestest new bestie girlfriend. He's even given up his other interests, his other friends, and now tells her he is absolutely loving eating up all that...macrame.

But what's better than turning the man in your life into your best new girlfriend? Here's what's better: equality, equity, and now, wait for it, partnership. "Partnership" is the word we use to describe the strategic alliance formed by two people when they join their lives and their resources together in order to maximize their odds of success in facing life's challenges.

How many marriages can talk the talk, but the walking part? Well, consider the following example of how partnership can get a little complicated from my own story.

My wife and the love of my life, and I were in the very early stages of our partnership when we talked about how nice it would be to spend a weekend afternoon together. "What would you like to do?" I asked. "Oh, whatever you'd like to do, I just want to be together." This Q&A was repeated a small handful of times before I said, "OK, let's go."

I took my wife to a pawnshop to look for tools for my hobby of woodworking. It was miserably boring for her. From then on, she was pointedly articulate about what she was (and was not) happy to do with me. The point here is two-fold: I learned to stop guessing what women want, and she learned to speak up about her needs. She still likes me.

Now let's take a look at a far more common scenario. A couple goes shopping for home furnishings, floor coverings, and paint swatches. In a lot of relationships, this situation is one where he's basically along for the ride. He doesn't speak up, and he probably won't until she paints the whole house pink, covers all the furniture in super feminine fabrics, and carpets the entire house in white—so white he's not allowed to walk on it (I actually met this couple. Even good women may be oblivious to how the home, "their" home, is really only her home while he gets a "man cave" in the garage complete with TV, armchair, and a fridge for what else? Beer.) This isn't a partnership. This is her version of my afternoon at a pawnshop contemplating the joy of a good bargain in used circular saws.

Why is partnership so neglected? Because we've only recently in our culture borrowed the word from gay couples disallowed from marriage in the before times. But really, there's nothing like a real partnership. Such a partnership contains the end of loneliness and the beginning of our becoming so much more than the sum of our parts.

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I had a seriously messed up childhood. Like, mobster-father-shot-to-death-by-police messed up. Out of this beginning came a lifelong fascination with two questions: “Why do people do what they do?” and “How can all of us figure out how to move to what healthier families enjoy and how they get their needs for love met?” As a Marriage and Family Therapist for over 30 years, I work to help people figure out how they too can have healthy sexuality and intimacy by Managing Sexuality Intelligently™. I have literally written the book on human sexual needs, "We’re All Like This” (Second Edition 2020, Giant Publishing), with portions appearing in the 2nd edition of the McGraw-Hill textbook "Human Sexuality: Self, Society, and Culture," used in university-level human sexuality classes. My books, articles, and public presentations create conversations about human sexuality that are safe...but not too safe. My insights have led to a humane take on our beautiful human sexuality and how all the rest of us can have ridiculously happy lives (yes, and sex lives too!).

Reno, NV

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