He was distraught, deeply confused, and in the wretched bowels of the worst imaginable emotional pain that one can think of…his relationship had just ended and, in a very real way, he wasn’t quite sure why. What he did know, however, was that the relationship was definitely over, as she told him directly. “The relationship is transactional,” she told him, though he couldn’t, for the life of him, figure out what that possibly meant. What does that even mean?
He may have felt cheated, insulted, personally attacked, or all of the above, even if he didn’t say it aloud. Even long after the fact, there’s a possibility he still does feel all of these things. They had been together for years and he’d been living under the impression that everything was going just right, that his relationship had no problems, that he’d established the perfect life with the woman he deeply cared about…but he was wrong. Suddenly, it seems, his entire life was swept out from beneath him.
Something tells me that when I discuss this very real person in an abstract context I’m speaking to men universally. We all know this pain, confusion, hurt, and misunderstanding that, frankly, feels like it’s going to kill us.
What he didn’t see, unfortunately, is the fact that for much of his lasting relationship, he was doing so much wrong; so many of the fundamental ideas which underpinned his every action, every exchange, every glance, were, in fact, transactional. He established a tit-for-tat system for everything they did.
Sex remained, as it probably always was since the beginning of his marriage, a bargaining chip, something that he would ‘earn’ if he performed certain duties or chores. This is one of the biggest killers of relationships or marriages that I know of when sex becomes a transactional process and it usually leads to transactional interactions in other areas. Once intimacy becomes transactional it becomes a chore — it’s labor sex, not something to be enjoyed by both parties. Having labor sex only does one thing: it decays our attraction for our partners from the inside out and, sadly, in many cases, makes us begin to despise them. This is understandable. Nobody wants to be a sex slave, especially not in a marriage they’d initially had such high hopes about.
The story is always the same, boy meets girl, boy doesn’t know how to genuinely attract girl, but the boy gets lucky and the girl gets attracted, usually ignoring the huge red flag that boy is trying to show off money or material things and trying to see him for who he really is. She falls in love with that real him that shines through his encasing personality, on occasion, but he still secretly believes that she loves him for what he can provide.
The thing is, people aren’t attracted to providers on a gut-level. Even worse, the transaction nature is what makes sex so robotic. It’s much better to encourage an atmosphere of sharing with our partners that works much more openly and freely, one in which we engage in what we like with our partners and that which we can mutually agree upon — no strings attached. It’s not necessary to give oral sex just because you received it. What if your partner hates giving oral sex and you love giving it? This is a bad situation to have a tit-for-tat expectation in. The list goes far beyond sex, as well, from household chores to paying the bills. In my experience, men are the first group of people to set up an exchange and ask, “What’s in it for me?” While I’ll never tell anyone what to do in life, sincerely, I can make suggestions, and I’ll say that if you do this in your life and relationships with others, you’ll end up very bitter, very unhappy, very confused, and very alone. It’s toxic and, at bottom, exploitative by definition. That’s what it means to exploit people, to take advantage of a need they have in order that you may gain something from an interaction. Now, I know that our entire society may be based upon this premise, but that makes it neither right nor enjoyable. I think most people want an escape from being treated like a machine or another number in the long chain of transactions that make the economy run. People want to be treated like, well, people…human beings, complete with thoughts, feelings, perceptions, interests, and not devoid organic machines, bodies to accomplish tasks. My mind harkens back as I write to a story I read recently, several weeks ago, titled Tit for Tat: The Transactions of Sex, by Yael Wolfe.
In it, she describes for us an in-depth, up-close-and-personal, intimate view of what it’s like from a woman’s perspective, telling of several partners she’s had which treated their exchanges as transactional, in all of their selfish, unglorious, and juicy details. This story makes it stark and the sense you get upon reading it is one of sheer disappointment. And I think that’s what most women feel who are dissatisfied with their relationships, above all, if I had to find a word for it, it’s disappointment.
But who can blame people, regardless of their sex, for feeling disappointment for desiring a relationship that’s robust, that’s vital, that’s full of vigor and grit, that’s alive? Transactional relationships will die in one of two ways, collectively, when we grow past the precept of exploitation which haunts our relationship dynamics individually, or individually, as the constituent members grow tired of their transactional relationships and search for something new. Once we do this, we begin to unveil a world of cooperation and love that I think we’re all ultimately searching for, at the end of the day.
Here’s a couple of other stories you might enjoy for some insight…