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.
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.
So 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.
If 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.
1 significant other