You Do The Math

Physically, I am 30-something years old. But when it comes to living the single life, I am as experienced as a 20 year old. This was the tender age at which I began life as a married woman.

I do not possess a wealth of experience in dating, relationships, love, or sex. My therapist refers to such experiences as "data points," which I must accumulate and evaluate in order to really understand who I am and what I want out of life. Quite honestly, if my cumulative single life, defined by data points, were being displayed and quantified by a graphing calculator, the results would come back simply as 'undefined'.

But what is in a number, especially the number? My ex-husband, Dean, was only the second man I'd ever had sex with. My first experience, Gill, was also my first husband. Based on my knowledge of and experiences with these men, my guess is that their numbers were also pretty minuscule.

These days, I am both shocked and fascinated by folks who need both hands and feet to count their numbers, sometimes even more. When it comes to the numbers game, the most fascinating man I've met is Joe, a 28-year-old tennis instructor and classic bad boy.

Joe racks his numbers up any where he can, which it seems, is pretty much EVERYWHERE. Joe sleeps with students, co-workers, friends, and strangers. He's developed an international booty call wherever his tennis takes him. For months now, it's seemed like a different woman every week. If we were talking batting average, Joe would have Babe Ruth-like numbers.

But, do Joe's numbers really matter? What does his number say about him? Joe would say that his number is only a reflection of his "go with the flow" attitude toward life. And since he tells each woman that their moment together is just about sex, Joe feels that he is not doing any one a disservice. Is this really the case?

One night after a few cocktails, I posed the question to a group of 20 and 30-something year-old friends. Does THE number matter? And, generally speaking, my friends answered with a resounding, "It depends."

In the unscientific study group, I discovered that most knew of or had a friend who was extremely licentious. And while the characteristic would not prevent them from being friends with such a person, men and women alike did consider THE number as a factor when contemplating a more serious relationship.

"I think the number does say a lot about a person," offered Tonya. "A man or woman who sleeps around lacks self control, which is an important quality to me."
"Yeah," countered Jose, "but I’ve known women who wouldn't get involved with a guy who wasn’t sexually experienced because they did not want to have to 'train' him."
"I think there is a limit," said Charles. "It would bother me if I found out my girlfriend had slept with more than 10 or 12 people in her past."

The debate raged on for an hour. However on one point, everyone agreed. The world offers a double standard when it comes to acceptable numbers for men versus acceptable numbers for women. John, a handsome and successful 35-year old felt he was judged negatively because he could only count on one hand the number of women with whom he'd engaged in a sexual relationship.

"Why is it that a man is judged negatively when he doesn't sleep around?" John asked. "My friends are always asking, 'What is your deal? Are you gay? Are you religious?' It's none of those things. I was taught to respect the chastity of women. I could and have had more casual sex partners. But, that is not where I want to be at this stage in my life."

John in comparison to Joe, the promiscuous tennis instructor mentioned in the beginning, may be on opposite ends of the proverbial numbers line. But unlike John, it is my belief that Joe is not where he wants to be. While Joe's number is a reflection of where he is and who he chooses to be in his life today, Joe hopes to be in a very different place some day

When it comes to Joe's actions, some things just don't add up. I've been told, for example, that Joe avoids luring his conquests into his master bedroom because, in his mind, that is reserved for his future wife. And, once he finds the woman that will settle him, Joe plans to sell his current bed out of respect for her. Why? Is any woman open-minded enough to consider marrying Joe despite his final tally really going to care about the sanctity of a room or a bed? A person's number is not written in lead pencil. It can't be erased by selling a bed or moving to a different house. Everywhere Joe goes (and will go with his future spouse), he faces his past, even if he doesn't always remember the name or face. Could it be that Joe's limitless number is only limiting Joe?

A(x) + B(y) = what exactly? Whether it is a narrowly defined data set or numbers of exponential proportions, I wrestle with whether the quality of a person's character can and should be quantified by the numbers. Still, when it comes to my number, I'm shooting for quality over quantity. One by one, whether on one hand or two, I hope to reflect on a record of memorable, significant people, rather than simply a scorecard.

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