…the most pressing questions in life were left to choice. … There was limited ancient guidance on such historically preposterous questions. The difficulty of actually choosing which rules to live by invited extensive self-examination. 68
In a mix of essay, reporting, and memoir, Witt discusses changing sexual norms in American society, primarily among educated, affluent coastal dwellers. She explores topics such as pornography, technology and online dating, and polyamory.
The book is well-written, funny, and relatable for someone of my age, though I think other age groups would also be entertained and/or offended by it.
One of the main themes of the book seems to be a constant self-questioning: What do I want? Am I making the most of my relationship options? What other options are available that I haven’t considered? In a landscape of overwhelming choice and freedom, with little guidance (or at least it isn’t sought or is rejected as tradition), nothing ever seems settled.
I think the book was meant as an exploration of the pros and cons of noncommittal or nontraditional relationships, but it seems that her discontent with the situation is what comes through the most. There’s enough analysis and self-analysis to fill a book, and if that’s the case it probably isn’t a good sign.
Perhaps I’m misreading the authors, but it also seems that many of her choices are driven largely by an ideology of freedom, some string of feminism, and a contrarian streak, instead of a pragmatic view of what is satisfying or intuitive for her. Her analysis and discussion of new dating and sexual norms is through a lens of politics and/or identity politics, where I’ve found an evolutionary psychology perspective interesting in other works.
The book is very well written, and quite interesting. I think it would be interesting for the author to do a follow-up or sequel in five or ten years.
Ideas per Page:1 4/10 (medium)
Related Books: Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg; The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz
Recommend to Others: If interested in the topic
Reread Personally: No
60 Of all the things that Nicole Daedone said to me, however, the idea of acknowledging and accepting the sexuality in the room, feeling it, naming it, and inhabiting it, was a kernel of a thing that I kept trying to dismiss but found I was unable to stop thinking about. To walk into a room and concentrate on the way my body responded to the people in it was a sexual inquiry I could conduct privately without any risk. …I had carefully excised my sexual awareness of other people from the naming of my experiences and pretended my own physical responses had not happened.
69 ..the women who saw promise in pursuing sexual openness often found themselves battling their own feelings: trying to control attachment, pretending to enjoy something that hurt or annoyed them, defining sexiness by images they had seen rather than knowing what they wanted.
156 The rise of “partner” over “husband” or “wife” was increasingly mainstream, a successful linguistic flattening of hierarchies of sexual orientation, gender, and marital status. This made lots of sense in a business or professional context, but less sense, perhaps, with family and friends, where it begged the question of what marriage is worth, if not a public declaration of the nature of one’s relationship to another person and what equality is worth, if it demands the total obfuscation of the differences between humans.
165 His friends were not libertarians, but the way they approached sex had roots in a libertarian idea that if the right dynamics were set up every problem would work itself out.
179 I still did not feel as free as I wanted to. Sometimes I could not cross the barriers that keep people from expressing their desires. Rejection did not hurt any less, although it did not hurt more, and I knew better now how to work through it, by trying to accept the rejection as an honest expression of the other person’s feelings, not as a negative verdict on who I was or had failed to be, and that pursuing sex with other people really could help me reconnect with the world after heartbreak.
200 …this futurism would recognize that marriage and babies have no necessary link. It would consider how to ungender reproduction and child care but ensure that children have masculine and feminine influences in their lives; how to make workplaces and schedules more amenable to caretaking; how to legally establish co-parenting commitments outside the framework of marriage. This experiment is already underway: 40 percent of births in the United States are to unwed parents.
203-4 …I had greater affirmation from my family when we acted as if I hadn’t chosen to be alone, we spoke as if I was simply waiting (maybe for decades) for the right person to come along. It was easier to see my circumstances as the result of unluckiness, rather than deliberate sabotage from a willful declaration not to pursue lifelong partnership. And then there was always the possibility that I was just an undesirable woman trying to cast a more flattering light on my circumstances, or that I was naïve and would learn another lesson about the pursuit of sexual freedom being emotionally destructive.
1 A measure of the number of new or distinct ideas introduced per page. 10/10 would be conceptually dense, like a textbook. 1/10 would be almost completely fluff.