Sex and Economics
In 1991, I was forced to enroll in your typical, freshmen-level Economics-101 class. It was utterly coma-inducing to be honest, like you probably think this blog post is going to be after seeing the word Economics in the title, but stay with me for a minute.
Knowing that only a small fraction of the 80 or so students in the class would ever need an in-depth knowledge of supply and demand curves, the professor offered us an alternative assignment: Read “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand and complete a 2000-word essay on what we learned. Anything we learned. However we interpreted it, let it be known that we gleaned something inspiring from the mammoth 1000-page novel. So thinking it was the easier option, I read it as a teenager and predictably wrote my paper on the value of capitalism.
I’ve since traversed through my 44 years never needing to know too terribly much about surpluses and shortages, just as my professor predicted. This past year, I found myself teaching Economics to my 12th graders and believe me, it’s a class that’s still coma-inducing. So I made them the same offer: read Atlas Shrugged and tell me what you get out of it. I also decided to give the book another run-through myself just so I could be prepared to answer their questions.
It was like I was reading an entirely different novel! All the capitalism/socialism stuff remained familiar but there were new ideas in there about sex and the relationships between men and women that I couldn’t have or wouldn’t have appreciated when I was 19 years old. Ayn Rand, a woman whose fame comes entirely from her Objectivism philosophy and her knowledge of the path of the American economy, also incorporated an incredible understanding of the sexual tendencies in men and women.
We’ll start with this one from Ms. Rand:
Sex is the physical expression of a tribute to personal values.
Name the personal virtue that is most dear to you. Integrity, Creativity, Bravery, Kindness, Curiosity, Intelligence, Spirituality, Modesty, Confidence…there are dozens. Mine is Loyalty. So channeling my innermost animal instincts, I must admit to you that I am usually attracted to the most handsome man in the room (his Attractiveness) and I admit to being a somewhat shallow person who thinks looks matter a great deal, more than they should. If my favorite virtue is Loyalty then, what I should have always been looking for is a man who doesn’t date very often, which is funny because those men, like me, are not out looking. We are both at home not dating. Men who have dated me always loved my Confidence so much in the beginning of our relationships, but it was a quality that wasn’t their most valued virtue after things started to fall apart, and they began calling my confidence something more akin to stubbornness. They should have been looking for someone known for their Patience, their Selflessness or their Nurturing, not attributes I am known for at all. Not surprisingly, my Assertiveness, my Tenacity (or perhaps my Independence?) turned out to be something they didn’t like so much at all after the easy years had already passed. How ironic.
This would’ve been super helpful about 30 years ago, Ayn.
A man’s sexual choice is the result and the sum of his fundamental convictions. Tell me what a man finds sexually attractive and I will tell you his entire philosophy on life.
Have you ever wondered “What does he see in her!?” Have you ever asked yourself why a man trades ‘way up’ or ‘way down’ after years of being married? Simple. According to Ayn Rand, and to me, it’s a shift in his virtues. A man might marry his high school sweetheart because his dearest-held virtue at that time was Innocence or the Ability to Mother. But then after twenty years of marriage, he changed. He’s grown more (or less) confident in himself and his attraction to a mate also changed. I see this in men and women who trade in the husband/wife of their youth for a totally different kind of partner because their station in life has become totally different. For example, a woman who ‘outgrows’ her husband does so because her sense of self has inflated with her own success so she will seek out someone more successful than the partner she chose when they were young and penniless. Likewise, a man may feel like his life has emasculated him in some way, he hasn’t been a good provider for his family, he struggles with addiction or he’s let himself go physically and yet we all sit around and scratch our heads when he finds himself in an affair with someone who is of a far lesser quality than his wife. His virtues shifted positions, he thought less of himself and his new choice in women reflected that. Changes in virtues can take hundreds of forms: loving someone’s Dependability/Stability can change to craving a person who enjoys their Freedom; appreciating your spouse’s Gratitude can change to desiring Humor from someone who makes you laugh; building a home with someone who values Sharing might change over time to needing someone who cherishes Wealth at the same level you do.
And how about this one (it’s her homerun manifesto):
He (man) will always be attracted to the woman who reflects his deepest vision of himself, the woman whose surrender permits him to experience, or to fake, a sense of self-esteem. The man who is proudly certain of his own value will want the highest type of woman he can find, the woman he admires – the strongest, the hardest to conquer – because only the possession of a heroine will give him this sense of achievement, not the possession of a brainless slut.
It makes me ask myself two things: who am I attracted to and, more importantly, who is attracted to me? If you are married, roll over one morning and look at your partner. Ask yourself this question: Why did they choose me? How am I different from other people?
Do you sense that your partner still values the same things in you now that they did when you first met and fell in love, especially if you’ve been married for a very long time? If the answer is yes, he values me as much now for my Beauty as he did when we first met, and if you can say the same about your attraction to your partner’s best virtue, chances are you’ve got a rock solid marriage.
If you feel that with age, we all change (I feel this way) and if you wonder how to evolve along with your relationship so that the attraction remains strong, ask yourself and your partner which virtues you value most now and see if you possess them.
If you are not in a relationship but want to be, you must ask yourself: What kind of person am I trying to attract? If you are picking up men in bars or if you are seducing married women, it’s just as important that you consider the virtues of the person you are considering and let that land hard and fast on how that makes you look, too. What do you see in people who hang out in bars and those who will cheat with you? Own that. It’s who you are.
If you wonder why your marriage didn’t last, the answer isn’t necessarily what you did or didn’t do wrong. You should look at how you and your partner both changed on the inside over time and what became important to you as you felt less of a connection with each other. It might say less about you and more about them, or vice versa, which is Ayn Rand’s point.
So my lesson here isn’t anything new, but I want the kids who are young and who haven’t met their perfect someone yet to listen up: Pay attention to the people you are attracting…it says more about you than them. If you find yourself being courted by respectable people, then you’re doing something right and they are indeed someone you should welcome as a worthy partner. If you’re being dazzled by a game-player, a womanizer, a trouble-maker, a serial dater, etc…your virtues are in question and most definitely so are the virtues of the person who is pursuing you. Set your standards really high! Hold out for the guy who is devout if Religion is most important to you, no matter how cute the others are, how popular, how irresistible. Guys, insist on something beyond a pretty face and a nice body unless Sexuality is your most important virtue. Wait for Trustworthiness even if it means passing over the nice girl (Thoughtfulness) who helped you cheat in biology.
I find myself to be a very different person now than I was ten or twenty years ago, and there’s something freeing in that revelation, but the core parts of my personality remain intact. Allow yourself, as I have done, to experiment… a little…just to make sure you know what you want in a relationship. In doing this, I find that I don’t necessarily agree that opposites attract. In my life, I have found that the person I go best with is the one who is exactly like me.
But you need to figure that out for yourself.
I feel that others must live up to me, if they want me.
– Dagny Taggart, Atlas Shrugged