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Author Topic: Relationship Dynamics
franc li
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This was from the economics tangent of the Space Fiction thread, and I didn't really want to go down the road of dredging up economics in that thread. So this is a thread about marriage and what sorts of things people do or expect from marriage.

quote:
Since misunderstandings over power and priorities are the number one cause of sexual misunderstandings between men and women (which usually simplify to "man does X, woman withholds sex as punishment, man proceeds to Y and eventually Z as compensation for missing sex"), I think that there is a basis for identifying money as the root cause of many such relationship failures.

I found this kind of shocking. Is this a common belief or state of affairs? I could see it maybe being the case back in the 50's, but wasn't part of sexual liberation supposed to be that women would not withold sex as a punishment? I mean, I once heard a college girl say she intended to keep her husband in line this way. I guess there is really two post-sexual-revolution issues:

Issue one: Women benefit from physical relationships as much as men, though not necessarily as often.

Issue two: Men don't have much to fear in terms of social repercussions about going outside the relationship anymore.

I mean, to me, I'd almost say that a woman who would withhold sex in order to punish her husband deserves* to be cheated on. Now women may not feel like having sex because they are too out of touch with reality to know they are doing it to punish the husband. (*deserves is too strong a word, since I don't think adultery is a good response to being punished. It's just a natural, albeit unenlightened, response.)


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Survivor
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I think that perhaps it would be better not to say "woman withholds sex as punishment," since even though this does happen it implies deliberation. Human females do not tend to become sexually receptive based on purely rational considerations. A woman who is "withholding" sex might actually be wishing for seduction, proof that her mate desires her and is willing to put forth an effort. This is different from simply playing "hard to get." She generally is waiting for something specific that would take keen interpersonal insight on the part of her mate (again, proof of "true" love).

Men have a lot of difficulty overcoming this test, particularly in the early years of marriage (when money troubles are most likely to be the cause of discord). Most men simply do not realize that they are expected to do anything extraordinary to change the situation. If established persuasion tactics (flowers and generic apologies) fail, they believe that their mate simply doesn't want to have sex or is forgoing it in order to punish them.

Then again, it isn't uncommon for women who haven't had sex with their mates for months to say "he doesn't deserve it" or words to that effect. Whether they mean that he hasn't earned it by guessing the right seduction tactic (proof that he is her "soulmate") and executing it with style (proof of commitment), or whether they're really holding onto the original grievance, they'll generally refer back to the original grievance since revealing the correct course of action would be cheating

Some woman have fairly straightforward "affection" tests or at least have a man who has the wherewithall to correctly guess the correct course of action. Those woman tend to rely more on the "commitment" checks to select their mates. Other women have low "commitment" requirements and rely mainly on extremely difficult "affection" checks. They tend to end up in relationships with men who have met their requirements by accident more than anything else. And they lose them the same way, you could say.

But therapy BS aside, it makes sense to talk about a pattern of withholding sex as punishment, because that's what everyone involved tends to say about why it happens. If they really understood what was going on, them they would be "soulmates" and it wouldn't be a problem, right?


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kings_falcon
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quote:
I mean, to me, I'd almost say that a woman who would withhold sex in order to punish her husband deserves* to be cheated on. Now women may not feel like having sex because they are too out of touch with reality to know they are doing it to punish the husband. (*deserves is too strong a word, since I don't think adultery is a good response to being punished. It's just a natural, albeit unenlightened, response.)

Do you really want to open this can of worms?

You have to look at the differences in how men and women view sex. I forget where I saw the quote to the effect that "men need sex to feel connected and women need to feel connected to have sex." It seems to ring true.

As an example, if the husband is not providing the wife with emotional support the wife may feel abandoned even when he still wants to enagage in physical intimatcy. So when she rejects the physical advances or worse, resents them, is she punishing him? IMHO, NO! Each partner is failing to meet the other's needs.

If someone is angry or upset and the last thing she wants is to have sex with the person who upset her does that mean she's "punishing" that person? Probably not. It may just be that the connection between them is temporarily disrupted.

What's enlightened? Giving your partner sex just because he expects it? Nope. When did the wife become the man's property again? Is his view of "if I can't get sex with the wife, I'm justified in seeking it outside the marriage" enlightened? Nope.

Have you ever read a book where the cheating husband was the sympathetic character where the wife wasn't actually insane? Nope. At least I haven't.

The simple truth is that generally men and women have different beliefs when it comes to sex. Sure there are women who f*** like men, but then they are still stuck with the social stigma of being "easy." Yes, even today regardless of what they show on Sex in the City.

The issue of a woman's promiscuity is still a big issue in writing too. Linda Hamilton, Sherrilyn Kenyon and others like them with sexually active female MCs have created justifications for the activity.

Adultery is a violation of trust. I don't care who is withholding sex it doesn't justify the trust violation.


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Survivor
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Heh, I didn't want to open the "men need sex to feel connected and women need to feel connected to have sex" can of worms myself. But that's basically true for a majority of humans. It also happens that the man doesn't provide any material support for the wife and so she cheats on him. Same thing, basically. It's just more usual for her to stop being receptive to him first.

Leaving aside who is at fault, such weak relationships do exist and it is very normal for them to fall apart under stress. Money is one such stressor, and it's virtually omnipresent in modern relationships. Women shouldn't marry low-commitment men, men shouldn't marry high maintanence women. But they do. Relationship failure is almost inevitable in such cases.


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Elan
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Is this a tangent or is there an underlying question here that deals with writing? I can't quite tell.
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Survivor
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Well, FL is writing a sort of relationship story. It could be relevant to a story like that.

I'm addressing the underlying question of whether this dynamic is plausible and what elements would make it more plausible in a story. I guess kf was addressing the issue of how it affects sympathization with the characters. FL might have been trying to poll an audience dynamic, would it be expected in a typical relationship story (not a romance, a long-term relationship story).

I think that I would expect the "man does X, woman withholds sex" thing to happen in most relationship stories, but it wouldn't necessarily go further. In a strong relationship, the man should be able to find his way back from the doghouse after a pretty short time. I think that if the man proceeds to Y, then the story becomes about whether he'll proceed to Z. So in that case, the story needs to be structured with X as the beginning of the story and Z or ~Z as the resolution. Also, Z is just as much a variable as X and Y, in Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Z was something quite different from adultery. And, uh, both of them were going down that road symmetrically.


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kings_falcon
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Elan, a bit of both. I even referenced Jane Erye

Anyway,

quote:
Leaving aside who is at fault, such weak relationships do exist and it is very normal for them to fall apart under stress. Money is one such stressor, and it's virtually omnipresent in modern relationships.

While weak relationships exist, they don't make for good reading unless you want the audience to route for the dissolution of the relationship.

I just finished The Summer I Dared by Barbara Delinsky. SPOILER ALERT - The MC was a married woman who was nearly killed in a boating accident. The (cheating) husband was emotionally unavailble and really never more than a two dimensional character. The issue in the marriage wasn't money stress but emotional abandonment. She met all of the husband's needs while he met none of hers. The author went to great lengths to show the reader the marriage was dead. So the reader was more than willing to route for the MC to end it and pursue another relationship. So when she had the affair, prior to telling the husband she wanted out of the marriage, the reader was willing to accept it because the marriage was dead. The MC the next day went and confronted/caught the husband and the divorce ensued.

I've seen or heard of no stories where the cheating husband was the sympathetic MC.

If you are trying to "justify" the husband's affair in the story, you need to show us that the marriage is dead. MSN had an article a week or so ago about married couples who chose not to divorce but stay together even though the relationship is dead. Check the article out: http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/CollegeAndFamily/SuddenlySingle/UnhappilyEverAfterTheNondivorce.aspx



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franc li
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I'd say that withholding sex for months at a time other than for medical reasons constitutes a violation of trust. The woman does not belong to the husband any more than he belongs to her. What people want to do with that arrangement is up to them. My whole point is confusion that a woman would see sex as a sacrifice she makes to keep her man faithful or that it is giving in.

As an aside, the thing about women needing to feel connected to have sex is culturally specific, it would seem. Jews and Muslims see the woman as having the larger sexual appetite. I think there are other cultures as well, but I'm not sure how good a source of anthropological information humorous movies are.

Well, I'm not actually writing a relationship story now, I just thought marital relations belongs in the writer's toolbox as much as fast-acting poisons.


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Robert Nowall
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I can't say I've ever been in a relationship like that, but I would think that if I were, I think I'd reconsider it. (But, hey, I'm king of the "live alone and like it" crowd.)
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kings_falcon
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quote:
My whole point is confusion that a woman would see sex as a sacrifice she makes to keep her man faithful or that it is giving in.

Depends on the woman and depends on the relationship. Some women still get (and buy) the whole "wifely duties" thing.

Sometimes it's just a difference in desire levels and not an "obligation." A friend's marriage broke up because he was a sex addict and she didn't want to have sex as often as he did. They had six children. Even though there was no "withholding" of favors, he went outside the marriage to meet the need. One of the times he got caught was because he gave the wife an STD. She divorced him when she found out that he had a child with the most recent mistress.

I'd agree that not wanting to have sex with your mate for an extended period of time is a sure signal that there is a problem in the relationship. I would hope the other person in the relationship would want to find out why the partner is "not in the mood" all the time.

Most women that I've talked to would tell you that they have had sex at least once in thier life when they really didn't want to just to maintain the relationship/ placate the partner. When that becomes the sole reason for intimacy, the relationship might not be salvageable.

Humans are weird creatures. Some women do feel that way. Generally, there are actions on both partners sides that bring about the "withholding".

Okay, enough talk radio psychology.


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InarticulateBabbler
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I don't think it is uncommon at all for Women to hold sexual control over Men, unless--obviously--it is a same-sex relationship. Sometimes women intend to do it, sometimes it's the product of timing, specific situations, or the result of a scenario similar to that mentioned by Survivor. Women have every right to impose their sexual will, and Men have been taught that they just have to "deal with it". Laws have been enacted to that fact. However, what is it called when a man decides to impose his sexual will? How is a man such as that thought of?

On a lighter note. One of the ways Mrs. Babbler and I alieviate tensions, before they get out of hand, is by playing things out verbally:

Mrs. Babbler: "You're shut off. You aren't getting any tonight."

"From you," I reply.

She says, something like, "Oh? You gonna find another girlfriend?"

"No," I say. "One is enough."

"Don't bring home anything a shot in the a$$ or some cream won't cure," she riposts.

"I married you, didn't I?" I reply.

LOL. In REAL life, she usually gets the last line. That's the joy of being the one to tell the story. But, this is a component that should be in the writer's toolbox, also.

[This message has been edited by InarticulateBabbler (edited February 16, 2007).]


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Christine
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There don't seem to be any women responding to this topic (unless I'm confused by a user name, in which case I apologize).

franc -- my gut reaction to your posts is that you and I don't have the same view of marriage. Fortunately, I am married to a man who still believes that marriage is a sacred trust. We don't go outside the marriage. If there are problems, we deal with it inside the marriage. Once you go outside, it's a deal breaker.

I do believe that women withhold sex from men as punishment. I think that is a problem. I also think that women may end up doing this unconsciously because their husband is doing something that keeps them from wanting to have sex. I think that is a problem too, for a different reason.

Either way, don't even go to the "She deserves to be cheated on" place. Either you want a relationship and you work on it or you get a divorce and move on.


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InarticulateBabbler
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kings_falcon

Have your ever read Gary Brandner's THE HOWLING? The husband is a sympathetic character. I'm not saying he was righteous to be cheating--and neither is Brandner--but he wasn't a "bad guy".

[This message has been edited by InarticulateBabbler (edited February 16, 2007).]


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franc li
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quote:
Either you want a relationship and you work on it or you get a divorce and move on.

Well, right. How is withholding sex "working on it?" And you'll notice I put a star by "deserve" because I didn't think that was the right word. In the particular circumstance of (a) withholding sex (b) as a punishment (c) for financial dispute a woman comes perilously close to (d) prostitution. I place all these conditions because it's conceivable that a woman who likes sex might withhold sex in order to punish herself.

I have to wonder if the abolition of money in the future is integral to men's notion that the future will be a wonderful, free loving place. And with that we would have closed the loop back to space fiction. If I hadn't chosen to open a different topic.

In terms of what I meant by "deserve", a woman who was cheated on by her husband might feel it was natural to kill him. I'd feel weird saying he deserved to be killed.

A sympathetic character who was a cheater is Fletcher Reid in Liar Liar. Of course, he'd already suffered the retribution of being divorced. When you are dealing with a character story, it is not uncommon for a person to be struggling with a repellent problem at the beginning.

[This message has been edited by franc li (edited February 18, 2007).]


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Sara Genge
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I think we're getting the terminology wrong. The idea of "withholding sex" presumes aforethought and malice on the woman's part. I would think that angry dry spells are more often caused by a missunderstanding than by one partner trying to "get back" for something.
In a stressful situation (such as an argument, or economical troubles) men are more likely to want quick relief. Sex does the trick. Women will probably want to solve the emotional problem before going to bed with the guy. Being pissed at someone is anti-erotic. It's not that the woman is punishing the guy, it's just that she doesn't want to go to bed with a jerk.
Sex has its place in the resolution of an argument, but not before things have been talked through and insults forgiven.
I really don't think men are that different from women here, but maybe you can correct me: would you sleep with someone you hate? (even if you probably know you'll stop hating them in a couple hours or days). Probably not, making up is a prerequisite to having sex after an argument.

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Christine
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quote:
Well, right. How is withholding sex "working on it?"

That's a very good question with a relatively simple answer. It is *not* "working on it" to withhold sex as a purposeful punishment. (Although, remember I said that some women may be doing this unconsciously because they are not in the mood.) In any case, if lines of communication between husband and wife cannot be opened wide enough to work on these issues then maybe they need the divorce. Communication problems are the #1 cause of divorce and for good reason. All I can say is that each partner has to work on his/her personal ownership in the relationship problems. You can't fix someone else. You can inspire them to want to change by making changes in your own life, but in the end, if they just won't play ball then move on.

When it comes to sympathy, you can create a sympathetic cheater, but it is hard and you have to be prepared for the fact that readers will have varying tolerances of this human failing. My tolerance is on the low end, although you can find lower.

At one point, I saw a 7-point checklist for deciding if your marriage can survive after an affair. I would say that a lot of the questions will relate to the idea of sympathy (this is from Dr. Phil's web site):

quote:

1. Is this an isolated event or a pattern?
2. Does your partner own his bad behavior or make excuses for it?
3. Does he have insight into how he's hurt you or is he oblivious?
4. Is he sorry for his choice or sorry he got caught?
5. Is he willing to clean up his act, or is he in denial?
6. Is this out of character or does he have an insensitive gene?
7. Is this a legacy or new behavior?




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Survivor
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Yeah, I think that it's important to remember that it isn't necessarily a rationally considered behavior.

To be fair to FL, she probably has an unusually healthy sex life, given certain factors that I won't bother to enumerate because that would be giving away a lot of fairly personal information and guessing at some things that are really personal

Anyway, the point is that, naive as her question might seem, it's probably pretty reasonable for someone with her particular personal history. I could say the same thing about myself, but my personal history happens to include a lot of research on human psychology and behavior, so even though I've never had any personal experience with this sort of thing, I do know about it.

On that note, I think that that checklist makes a good evaluation guide for any kind of misbehavior...like withholding sex


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Robert Nowall
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A man could be in an alternate-but-parallel situation, where the woman refuses all sex from "then on," wherever that point happens to be, for whatever reason. (Scarlett O'Hara refused sex because she didn't want to have any more babies---but I kept thinking that someone as savvy as Rhett Butler seemed to be would have known about condoms...)
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kings_falcon
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Hey Christine, I'm a girl too!

Babbler, thanks I'll look at that one.

Fl, "working on it" depends on what the "it" is. If the relationship is in enough trouble that the lack of sex is generally the tip of the iceberg. But having sex just because the man has money and she doesn't want to be financially cut off is prostitution. Either way, the sex, money, power tight rope is a hard one to walk.


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franc li
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quote:
would you sleep with someone you hate?

What's the point of hating someone you're going to live with anyway? I was going to say it's a good thing people don't let frustrations with their children turn to hate, but sadly that's not entirely true.

Well, I don't suppose I'm free of passive aggressive behavior. I guess for some women, sex is like being unable to get excited about doing housework. I have a lot of people try to tell me that they find cleaning the house very satisfying and enjoyable. I guess people say the same thing about exercise. The more you do it, the more you feel like doing it, but the longer you go without it, the harder it is to start. Yeah, it's more like exercise.

Perhaps if I could close the whole Paul-ine body/temple/bride loop I'd feel excited about cleaning the house too.


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Survivor
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quote:
But having sex just because the man has money and she doesn't want to be financially cut off is prostitution.

Isn't refusing to have sex because of a financial dispute pretty much the same thing? I think FL said that already, though. On the other hand, the key thing to remember is that monetary largess has a real influence on a woman's feelings of being "cherished" or whatever you call it. Sure, sleeping with anyone that, say, complimented you on your hair or whatever would be pretty slutty. Refusing to sleep with your mate because your hair didn't get the right compliment involves a similar trivialization of sexuality...or perhaps a massively inflated opinion of the importance of your hairstyle.

FL thinks that sex is important to her, it isn't something she does just because her man likes it. I'm of two minds on that. On the one hand, I have to say that a marriage where neither spouse puts in some effort to do things just for the sake of the other isn't much of a marriage. On the other hand, I don't think I'd feel very happy about having sex with someone who didn't feel it was important.

But for money, it's kinda the opposite. I think that if works fine when the person getting the money values it more than the person who gives it. Partly because you're not supposed to both be getting something. Like if someone gave me a lot of money, I'd prefer to know that it wasn't a giant sacrifice or anything. So the underlying principle is the same.


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franc li
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I think both money and sex vary in importance relative to quantity. I guess what happens is some women get into a "poor and proud of it" mentality when it comes to sex. Maybe? I'm just trying to understand what people who are not me are like. I think it's a useful thing for a writer to know.
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rstegman
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I've been curious about what the difference is between
A woman sleeping with whoever she wanted, just because she wanted them,
and a woman sleeping with whoever she wanted, because they gave her money.
They appear to me to be the same, except for the money.


A lot of women will bed for social statis. "Look who I got, he is rich and powerful."


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Christine
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quote:
I've been curious about what the difference is between
A woman sleeping with whoever she wanted, just because she wanted them,
and a woman sleeping with whoever she wanted, because they gave her money.
They appear to me to be the same, except for the money.


A lot of women will bed for social statis. "Look who I got, he is rich and powerful."


These are all such very different things!!

Even the first one -- a woman who sleeps with whoever she wants because she wants to -- could be for so many different reasons. She may have low self-esteem and think that somehow a guy sleeping with her is validation. She may be a sex addict. I knew one of these in college -- she lived across the hall from me and you never knew whose name she would call out *loudly* in the middle of the night. Sometimes it was not the name of the guy who came out the next morning.

There are probably other reasons, too, although I tend to think that women who sleep with a lot of men have some kind of issue. It's not a normal state for women. We don't spread seed -- we get the seed. The instinctive tendency is to want to keep the man around so he will provide.

A woman who sleeps with lots of men for money, on the other hand, is a prostitute. She may be poor or desperate or ... if she is a little more selective and doesn't stand on a street corner she may not think she qualifies as a prostitute. They often end up on talk shows.

A woman who seeks rich men as a status symbol have their priorities....and to that I say "to each her own." Some people value kindness or cuteness or intelligence or a nice butt. Others want the best provider they can get.


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Survivor
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The famous quip by George Bernard Shaw (not Winston Churchill) comes to mind. "We've already established that, now we're just haggling over the price."

A woman who would sleep with a man for a million bucks won't sleep with a lot of men. Very possibly not any. But she's still a person who would exchange sex for money. As a culture, we put a value on "chastity" that is fundamentally higher than any monetary amount. Not every culture is the same, different cultures value different things. It's like the story of Willie Loman, who's flirting with suicide for insurance money. Our cultural belief is that life is more precious than any amount of money you could get in comphensation. "Blood money" is anathema to us, we don't share the idea of wergeld anymore.

Why? Because money is pretty dang cheap, that's what it comes down to in the end. Our society has so much of the stuff (in theory) that we can't use real coin because you wouldn't be able to see the dang things ("um, is that a ten dollar piece or a paint fleck?").

I think that a woman who refuses sex with her mate because he isn't proving out as a "provider" admits something pretty fundamental about her values and her motives for choosing him initially. But the wrongness of prostitution is a matter of opinion, when you come right down to it. Even if you live in a society so wealthy that there simply isn't enough gold around to be of practical use as money, you can still value money over virtue. Whether you should...well that's a matter of opinion too. There's nothing right or wrong, but thinking makes it so (sure, sure, but I like my version better...and that's the point of the phrase, isn't it?).

The truth is that the sum total of human wealth simply isn't at a level where I could have serious interest in any fraction or even the whole of it. I used to think that the economic output of an entire planet had to be somewhat significant, but as I've grown older I've realized that this simply isn't the case with this world. Live and learn, as they say. On the other hand, I would be seriously interested in a good mate. But a woman who would even care about what passes for wealth among humans couldn't be worth more, eh?


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franc li
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But money buys chocolate. Actually, wasn't cocoa used as a currency by the people who had it? For that matter, Roman soldiers used to be paid in salt (hence salary). I've long had this argument with people over whether gold has inherent value (I think it does not, my husband tries to say it's the best electrical conductor... yeah.) Anyway, if the world's wealth were solely represented in chocolate, would that alter your perception at all? Currency is a symbol. That is why, as I mentioned very early on, distortions of financial matters are symptomatic of certain diseases.

But Alexander Hamilton's theory on fiscal stability through debt is probably too important to my thoughts on the matter. It may also relate. If one creates a dearth of sex, does the power of bequeathing favor on the husband increase?

[This message has been edited by franc li (edited February 22, 2007).]


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Survivor
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Your husband suffers from that peculiar assumption that just because something has a high price it must be inherently valuable.

Gold has several qualities that make it ideal as a hard currency. First off, it is a pure element that has a stable form, so it cannot readily be created or destroyed. Second, it is readily identifiable and easily measured. This means that the amount of gold in the marketplace can actually be known with some accuracy (even more accuracy now that they keep most of it locked up in vaults rather than letting it circulate). Third, it isn't actually necessary for any important purpose. This one is vital for a hard currency, because it is expensive to use money, in the form of currency, for any practical purpose. Gold is used for non-currency applications mainly as an extravagance, much like the old time millionaires who would show off by lighting their cigars with hundred dollar bills. The key difference being that gold, due to its excellent qualities, isn't destroyed by being used in this way.

Chocolate has none of the important qualities of a hard currency. Though if you're just talking about paying people for their labor, you don't really need to use hard currency. Any good that has widespread value will do, so chocolate and salt can both easily be used as trade goods. Still if somebody were to make chocolate the standard currency, such that only the extremely rich could afford to actually eat it, then I would naturally be forced to resort to a life of crime.


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kings_falcon
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quote:
Still if somebody were to make chocolate the standard currency, such that only the extremely rich could afford to actually eat it, then I would naturally be forced to resort to a life of crime.

Me too. Or maybe marrying for the chocolate. That would be a worthy goal.


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