Here in the Midwest, we get weather known as “a wintry mix.” The sky spits down every manner of evil: snow and rain, freezing pellets and sleet, ice and fog—all at the same time. They don’t mix very well, and the result is chaos.

The world of relationships has its own kind of frustrating mix—the mixed message. Society spits every manner of contradictory exhortation upon us: Sex is good and sex is bad. Alpha males are gents and alpha males are jerks. Dress to impress and don’t judge people by appearances.
I saw a classic mixed message when I turned on my computer one recent morning. On the left side of the screen was an article from Match.com telling me that my date may be girlfriendworthy if she laughs at my jokes, challenges me to do the right thing, lets me follow my passion, puts up with my bad habits and doesn’t mind staying in for an evening.
On the right side? Photos of attractive women and men with links I could click to “see more like her (or him).”
In other words, I was simultaneously being told that personality, morals and life philosophies are the real glue that holds couples together—but I should choose my date based on looks. All I had to do to see someone like perky blonde HeyJude2222 or striking brunette Sugarfresh16 was click on the blue line.
Mixed message—>brain freeze—>chaos.
Here’s another example, from the venerable Dear Abby, who printed a letter from “Love, But No Sex” in New Jersey, whose boyfriend goes on and on about how smitten he is, but won’t prove it with a good old-fashioned roll in the hay. “It makes me feel,” the lovelorn lady wrote, “insecure and unwanted.”
Now, I don’t read Abby every day, but I have read her on enough days to know that it’s more usual for a woman to complain that her boyfriend demands she put out, lest he move on to hornier pastures—and that the answer is usually “Get a new boyfriend.”
Times have changed. Abby suggested “No Sex” get a room, and if sparks fly—and the fly comes undone—the Jersey girl and her hesitant beau just might have a future.
Hey, I’m no prude. In Palm Springs Heat, Lara and Clay frolic in the shower long before anyone mentions marching down the aisle. I just like my rain to be wet—and to stay that way when it hits the sidewalk. Which is to say, when it comes to relationships, I think we need to agree that HeyJude and Sugarfresh aren’t necessarily “like” each other because they both have tiny turned-up noses. And we need guidelines for modern couples that say the software—things like morals and ambitions—should be compatible.

But when it comes to trying out the hardware to see if the cable connectors plug smoothly into their designated slots, it doesn’t matter if Joe or Jolene is the one pushing for the dry run. Their disagreement alone might indicate that their long-term togetherness forecast may not be as bright as they’d like it to be.

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