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The Man Diet

I have referred to The Man Diet sev­er­al times in var­i­ous places as some­thing I have done and rec­om­mend. After explain­ing it sev­er­al times, I final­ly wrote it up and put it on my web site. The arti­cle is a bit aged now, so I’m updat­ing it and mov­ing it to the blog.

Call­ing this a Man Diet is real­ly a misnomer—it should be an SO1 Diet or some­thing like that. That just doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as well, so please just take it as giv­en that I’m refer­ring to women, men or who­ev­er you would nor­mal­ly have romantic/sexual rela­tion­ships with.

There was a time when I went from one rela­tion­ship to the next, bam bam bam. If I didn’t have one or more SOs, I felt incom­plete. (I wasn’t cheat­ing! Remem­ber, I’m polyamorous.) I didn’t have incred­i­bly healthy rela­tion­ships, but I was sel­dom alone. I derived much of my self-esteem from being in rela­tion­ships with oth­ers.

Crying Girl by Roy Lichtenstein  Enamel on Steel 1964

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, that led to “set­tling” for peo­ple who didn’t real­ly meet the stan­dards I thought I want­ed in sig­nif­i­cant oth­ers, or accept­ing treat­ment that ranged from unpleas­ant to down­right abu­sive.

Right now, I do not tru­ly remem­ber what trig­gered the real­iza­tion that I’d nev­er have a tru­ly healthy rela­tion­ship if I felt that I absolute­ly had to have a rela­tion­ship with some­one oth­er than myself—that, in fact, cul­ti­vat­ing a healthy rela­tion­ship with myself, being com­plete in myself, was vital. I’d heard “you have to love your­self before you can love any­one else” so often that it had just become mean­ing­less noise.

I do remem­ber that some­thing final­ly made me see that I was set­ting a ter­ri­ble exam­ple for my daugh­ter by accept­ing bad treat­ment from men instead of hold­ing out for the right rela­tion­ship with the right man. I remem­ber feel­ing gut-punched when I real­ized that I was mod­el­ing what had been mod­eled for me, and for who knows how many gen­er­a­tions before me: an unspo­ken les­son that women aren’t worth as much as men, that we deserve to be hit, yelled at, pushed around, blamed, belit­tled, and oth­er­wise sub­ject­ed to emo­tion­al, ver­bal, phys­i­cal and any oth­er type of abuse a man who “owns” us wants to dish out, sim­ply because we’re female. When I real­ized that, I decid­ed that from that moment on, I would’t accept any treat­ment from a man that I wouldn’t want my daugh­ter to accept for her­self.

I’ll be very hon­est — I swore off men, peri­od. I was just tired of the crap. I’d been divorced three times, and I was tired of going from one rela­tion­ship to the next and hav­ing the same issues come up over and over again. I was tired of the mer­ry-go-round. I just decid­ed that I was done. I swore off men for a year, but I didn’t hon­est­ly count on hav­ing any more sig­nif­i­cant oth­ers, ever. I real­ly thought that I was fin­ished with that part of my life, although I was just a lit­tle more than 30 years old.

At the begin­ning of that peri­od, I felt ter­ri­bly anx­ious. I felt lone­ly. I felt more than a lit­tle desperate—because hon­est­ly, I have nev­er been alone unless I chose to be that way. I’d spent my life using rela­tion­ships to avoid hav­ing to deal with my own issues in a deep way. If I hadn’t told sev­er­al friends what I was doing and asked them to help keep me hon­est, I don’t think I would have stuck with it.

In the next few months, I seemed to meet poten­tial SOs every time I turned around. It was tru­ly rain­ing men! That was dif­fi­cult. It was real­ly tempt­ing to just make a lit­tle excep­tion, because hey, he was just so nice! Or so smart, or fun­ny, or what­ev­er. But there’s noth­ing like true friends to kick your butt when you need it.

I’ve nev­er had a prob­lem deal­ing with most prac­ti­cal things—balancing check­books, basic home repairs, auto main­te­nance. I can even kill big nasty bugs, although I don’t like to do it. I didn’t need a man to take care of any of that. No, I looked to SOs to keep me com­pa­ny, to keep me occu­pied, to suck up lots of ener­gy. I felt beau­ti­ful because they said I was, because they want­ed to be with me. I need­ed that feel­ing.

Man with Dog in colourSo I found oth­er ways to use my time and ener­gy. I went out with friends as friends. I devel­oped new friend­ships that were much bet­ter because I wasn’t putting any­thing into won­der­ing whether or not the rela­tion­ship would move into oth­er areas. If nobody else want­ed to go see a par­tic­u­lar music event, I went alone. And I final­ly faced up to some of the issues I was avoid­ing when most of my ener­gy was going into inter­ac­tions with an SO. Specif­i­cal­ly, why did I need a man around to feel worth­while? Why did I accept treat­ment that I wouldn’t want any of my friends to accept—that I had, in fact, told oth­er peo­ple to walk away from? Why wasn’t I hold­ing out for the kind of per­son I want­ed? Why hadn’t I sim­ply become the per­son I want­ed, to para­phrase Glo­ria Steinem?

While I was real­ly count­ing the days at first, by the end of that year I didn’t even real­ize it was done. I didn’t think about it until a cou­ple of months lat­er when a friend men­tioned it. Hey, it was over! I real­ized with great sur­prise that I didn’t feel an urge to run out and start any­thing new. I was just fine with being me, with­out a man around. With­out being a man’s acces­so­ry, more specif­i­cal­ly.

I won’t pre­tend that I’m all past all of that stuff. It comes back at times, but not near­ly as strong­ly. It’s much eas­i­er to insist on the kind of treat­ment I deserve from an SO, because I don’t fear being alone. I can be alone, and be hap­py. Not a prob­lem.

I’ve long thought that spend­ing at least a year alone as a tru­ly inde­pen­dent adult is a good idea for absolute­ly any­one. That Man Diet year con­vinced me that it would be best to have that year come before get­ting into any seri­ous com­mit­ted rela­tion­ship, like a mar­riage, because I seri­ous­ly think that strong peo­ple make for stronger mar­riages. I think that year should be a Rela­tion­ship Diet year, hon­est­ly.

Sabrynah - Belly DancerIf you decide to try a Rela­tion­ship Diet, live alone, if pos­si­ble. If not, live with some­one who will be com­plete­ly sup­port­ive of your deci­sion to be a soli­tary social unit for the year, or some­one who will be com­plete­ly unin­volved either way. Be sole­ly respon­si­ble for your­self finan­cial­ly. Devel­op a healthy social life that has noth­ing to do with whether or not you have an SO. Do any­thing you’ve been putting off. Were you wait­ing to take a vaca­tion until you had some­one to go with? Go now. Go back to school or take a few class­es at a com­mu­ni­ty school. Change jobs if you’ve been con­sid­er­ing it. Vol­un­teer for a cause you believe in. Learn to dance. Just do it, and enjoy it ful­ly.

Dur­ing that year, prac­tice celiba­cy. That means not only do you not have SOs, but you don’t have “friends with ben­e­fits” or one-night stands. Just be with your­self. Hon­or your­self. Love your­self. Treat your­self as you would some­one you tru­ly trea­sure. I have to admit that I wasn’t whol­ly suc­cess­ful here, but when I back­slid, I for­gave myself and when back on my “diet,” just as if I’d splurged and had a dessert while on a reg­u­lar diet. I didn’t just give up alto­geth­er.

Skin hunger can be a real prob­lem with that part, and if you plan ahead, you can be bet­ter pre­pared than I was. I’m very phys­i­cal­ly affec­tion­ate with my friends, but found that dis­plays of inno­cent affec­tion could lead to not-so-inno­cent activ­i­ties.

The solu­tion? Stick­ing to nev­er going beyond any­thing that would be okay with a child. Cud­dling in a non-sex­u­al man­ner is fine, some types of mas­sage, hug­ging, hold­ing hands, a kiss on the cheek — and those things are per­fect­ly inno­cent. The more peo­ple who are present, the bet­ter. Going beyond them, or get­ting too cud­dly when there are just two peo­ple present, is when the trou­ble usu­al­ly hap­pens.

Don’t get me wrong here — I’m one of the most sex-pos­i­tive peo­ple you will ever encounter. But if you make a com­mit­ment to celiba­cy for a time, espe­cial­ly if you have a lot of sex­u­al ener­gy, you do have to think about these issues con­scious­ly, because it’s when you refuse to acknowl­edge them that you will have prob­lems. And no, try­ing to stop being affec­tion­ate if you are nor­mal­ly an affec­tion­ate per­son is not the answer.

Tell some­body what you’re doing. Tell peo­ple you can trust to help you con­tin­ue on to your goal. If some­one isn’t sup­port­ive, dis­tance your­self from that per­son. I don’t care if that per­son is an imme­di­ate fam­i­ly member—you need to main­tain healthy bound­aries, because that’s one of the things you are work­ing on in this peri­od, and you don’t need any­one tear­ing you down. Seek out new friend­ships with peo­ple who are sup­port­ive. If you encounter some­one who takes the entire idea of a chaste peri­od as a chal­lenge for seduc­tion, RUN! Don’t try to tough it out. He or she is very bad news, and some­body else can try reform­ing them some oth­er time. Not you, not now.

Your peri­od doesn’t have to be a year. It may not take you that long. It may take you longer. How will you know? I’d say that when you’ve stopped wor­ry­ing about being alone, and start­ed just enjoy­ing your life and being your­self for a month or two, you’re done. As long as you’re feel­ing the “Ohmigod I’m gonna get old and be ALONE!” pan­ic, you’re still work­ing. Take what­ev­er time you need. I promise that you will be health­i­er for it.

If you do decide to try it, drop me a line and tell me how it’s going, please? I’d like to hear from you. Of course, I’m per­fect­ly hap­py to answer ques­tions about the process before, dur­ing, and after. My “diet” was about 15 years ago, and I met my life part­ner of 13 years short­ly after­ward.

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