Pure Sex, Pure Love

If it’s this difficult, can it really be love?

Over dinner recently, a close friend told me she was second-guessing her three-year relationship. While she and her boyfriend were very committed to each other, they had been living in different countries for the last year. Through her new church, she’d made many friends—and met a few new guys.

“I love my boyfriend, but it’s been so long since we’ve been together that I’m not sure if it’s right anymore,” she confessed over dinner recently. “We are really struggling. I keep asking myself: If it’s this hard, can it really be love?”

Those of us in our 20s and 30s will date for longer and get married later than our parents did. On average, we will date for two years before marriage (with fewer than 15% of young married couples taking their vows in less than a year), and will get married in our late 20s or early 30s. In contrast, more than 30% of married couples in our parents’ generation got married after knowing each other for less than a year, and at an average age of 21 for women and 23 for men.

To Answer the Questionnaire, click here.

With “Sex and the City” now on basic cable, more of us have a chance to see Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte in action. How many of you girls identify with those characters? And how many of you guys would want to date or marry a similar kind of woman?

Questions include:

Have you ever watched “Sex and the City?”

Do you think the show is an accurate representation of single life in the city?

Do you relate to any of the characters on Sex and the City—and if so, which one?

What TV show do you think most represents your life and relationships?

That means there’s more time for us to wonder: is this right? And where do you turn for the answers?

Honest, thoughtful friends are a great resource. Listen to them. Sometimes we get so caught up in our relationships that we lose perspective. An outside opinion from a trusted friend can be invaluable. As my mother has always told me, if three of your friends tell you that you’re drunk, even if you feel fine, it’s a good idea to go lie down for a while.

Many BustedHalo readers say they turn to prayer for answers. Karen, 30, says she has put her relationship in God’s hands, and trusts that He will guide her to the right decision. Brian, 25, says prayer has helped him see the “big picture” in his relationships. “When self-interest distracts a person from the job of a committed relationship, faith can offer perspective on the worth and meaning of the commitment a person has made.”

Advice books
And nearly 90% of BustedHalo readers responding to a recent web survey say they’ve read a relationship self-help book to help them figure out how to get through tough times. But do these books work?

Research suggests that relationship advice books are among the least effective of self-help books: No matter how good the advice is, and no matter how resolved you are to implement it, your boyfriend or girlfriend has to change as well. And changing someone else’s behavior is a lot harder.

But books can give you some good ideas. One great piece of proactive relationship advice is to write out your emotions: It helps sort through how you really feel—and can help you express those feelings clearly to your partner.

There are two types of writing you can do – either let loose with a tirade that you’re not going to show anyone else, or write a “love letter” to your boyfriend or girlfriend more gently sharing your feelings. Just be sure to keep them separate, and don’t shoot off angry emails in the heat of the moment!

Journal writing can be a really helpful way to pray and to sort through feelings. And writing to someone else is often an easier way to express raw feelings. In Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, John Gray calls this “writing love letters.” You can be crying and incoherent, but it all comes out sounding much more sane on paper. Write out why you are upset, what you hope the other person might do, and why you really love them and want to resolve the issue.

Sometimes couples can’t solve their problems—and recognizing that before you get married is very important. The advice of friends, the power of prayer and the realizations that you have just sorting through your feelings on your own will help you decide if your relationship has simply become too hard.

Jessi, 23, says she prayed a lot during the year that she and her boyfriend were struggling with their relationship. He thought that she was changing and growing away from him, and she thought he just couldn’t understand her anymore. “As it turned out, we were both correct. We broke off a two-and-a-half-year relationship, and ended up better for it. He’s now married, and I am happily following my calling to youth ministry—something we would never have accomplished together.”

As we finished our dinner, my friend wondered aloud whether most relationships will break up without the social and religious support of marriage vows. “Life just gets in the way, and if there’s nothing helping you along, maybe there comes a point in every relationship where it’s just too hard.”

It’s a topic many of us wrestle with, so I’d be eager to hear your thoughts. Email me at puresex@bustedhalo.com. And my next column will look at how popular culture affects our perceptions of relationships: With “Sex and the City” now on basic cable, more of us have a chance to see Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte in action. How many of you girls identify with those characters? And how many of you guys would want to date or marry a similar kind of woman? Share your thoughts by filling out our BustedHalo questionnaire in the sidebar on the right.