There’s a pervasive idea that I and most people I’ve come across grew up with. It’s such a basic assumption that it took me a very, very long time to realize its very existence. It is so foundational and causes so many problems yet we are often unaware of it. It bleeds into so many domains and can be very toxic within our relationships to ourselves and those around us. I’m talking about the scarcity model and how it bleeds into our ideas of love, sex, and intimacy.
What is The Scarcity Model?
The Scarcity Model is a basic concept in economics and is beautifully illustrated through this poem. It is the idea that there are finite resources and that there is competition for said resources. If the resource has a higher demand than supply, it is scarce and therefore more valuable. If you have an unlimited supply, the resource is essentially worthless in the marketplace. No one will buy something they can get for free.
Within the context of economics, this makes a fair bit of sense. Within Capitalism, it is necessary. Living within capitalism, these ideas tend to migrate into areas they really don’t belong for all sorts of reasons. This article is going to try to untangle a part of the mess that’s been created as a result.
The Capitalist Mindset
The political is personal.
Capitalism shapes not only how we do business, but how we think about and perceive the world. When everything else is chalked up to supply and demand, it’s hard not to allow that mindset to invade how we place value on ourselves and our relationships.
You know the idea of soul mates? You have ONE person in the world who is YOUR person. When you find that ONE person, you can’t let them go. You must fight to get their attention. Fight to keep them. Then there’s this obsession with firsts and lasts, maybe because it complements this focussed thinking. You only get ONE first kiss. ONE first fuck. ONE first partner. ONE last kiss. ONE last fuck. ONE last partner. This focus on singularity creates a lot of pressure. You only get ONE chance! Don’t blow it!
These ideas are coming straight out of the scarcity model. There is a limited resource; a single soul mate. A single experience. One moment. And there is immense pressure placed on “winning” that person. Making the most of that experience. Getting that moment.
What Does This Have To Do With Sex?
A lot, actually.
As anyone who has any experience with performance anxiety will attest to, the last thing we need is more pressure. Pressure can be helpful to some people in some ways, but much more often it holds us back. Sometimes the pressure is so great, and the fear of failure so strong, that we don’t even try. We hold ourselves back so that we can tell ourselves it is a choice and that we could succeed if we wanted to.
The scarcity model, and the way it leaks into entertainment narratives like most rom-coms, leads us to believe that love and romance are rare gems that are difficult to attain. It leads us to believe that we have limited supplies of love to give and limited supplies of love to receive. This is harmful for several reasons.
First of all, it’s just not true. We all have huge capacities for love that can grow with time and nurturing. Second, it keeps us in unhealthy relationships and situations for fear of losing love forever. When you believe that you are lucky to have found someone willing to bump uglies with you, you’re awfully reluctant to give it up. Third, it sets us up to believe that if we aren’t getting laid, we have less value than those who are, which is also not true.
Manipulation and Abuse
A common way that the scarcity model is introduced into our interpersonal relationships is through manipulation and abuse. People who aim to control you, are often eager to implant the idea that love is scarce. Believing that love is scarce gives you two key outcomes. One, it will lead you to lower your expectations of what love you can have and retain in your life. Two, it will also inflate the value of whatever love you receive.
The first outcome is hugely damaging. Expectations become reality. Self-fulfilling prophecies are VERY REAL. When you expect a certain outcome, you unconsciously act to uphold that outcome. If you are expecting that you won’t receive much love in your life, you will behave in ways that ensure that truth. This isn’t some magical, pseudo-science. This is real.
The second outcome seems fairly harmless, right? You will value the love you receive very highly. That sounds great actually! The only problem is in cases where the love you receive is of poor quality or not really love at all. It very much works against you when the first outcome is also present. This can lead to, in extreme cases, Stockholm syndrome where a victim will fall in love with, or generally feel positive feelings toward their abuser. Often, a control tactic that taps into these ideas are telling someone that no one will ever love them either at all, or as the abuser “does”.
Capitalism sets us up for abuse by giving us a scarcity model for most areas of life. It is something we feel very deeply because everything else seems to be governed by capitalistic rules and our brains are made to recognize patterns and apply them all over the place (even sometimes when it’s not appropriate). Living within capitalism means we become very accustomed to this mindset that can trap us in cycles of abuse.
An Abundance Mindset
One of the biggest shifts of consciousness we can make in our personal relationships is from scarcity to abundance. If there is more than enough for everyone to have what they need, stress melts away. Competition ceases to exist and we can just relax! If you mess this one up, you can learn and try again. You don’t have to be everything to anyone and it’s a little much to expect you to be.
How much love and/or sex do you want in your life? How much do you have space for in your life? There are so many people on this planet that you could never hope to meet them all. There are so many people on this planet that it’s a major problem in so many ways BUT it does give you a lot of choices! There are so many people, with so many different tastes and preferences that you can afford to be turned down A LOT before (or after, or at the same time as) finding someone (or multiple someones) you CAN connect with.
You are not alone. We are all fumbling through. You’re still here and trying and that makes you awesome! Open your mind and your heart to the endless possibilities!
One of the best ways to start is to be free with your own love. Please note: being free with your love doesn’t mean walking around naked and harassing people in public. What I mean is, be open to finding love beyond where you expect to find it. Open your mind and your heart to people you may have written off before. Listen to each other’s stories. Find compassion and connection in a variety of ways and allow for your interpersonal connections to unfold how they naturally will. Broaden your definition of sexy. Everyone has value and worth. It is up to us to find it and nurture it in ourselves and others.
Part of creating an abundance mindset is accepting relationships as they are and bringing your best self to the table. No two people will inhabit the same parts of your life in the same way and isn’t that great? You will have enough community, love, sex, and friendship if you allow people to occupy the space they want so long as it’s compatible with you and your needs/ wants/desires. A relationship is a complex negotiation. It is you saying “This is what I have to offer and this is what I would like.” while the other person does the same and somehow, through patience, listening and compassion, you can come to an agreement that you can both benefit from.
Letting relationships develop naturally, as opposed to trying to “win” people, takes time. I recommend that while you are free and open and receptive to others, focus on loving yourself. Give yourself the same love you would give to others. Accept who you are in totality with all of your flaws and your weaknesses because those things can teach you a lot! Invest in yourself enough to keep learning and challenging yourself.
Challenge yourself to find what makes you sexy and vibrant and unique. If you’re having trouble finding it, try things out. If you have access to a person who does or has found you attractive, ask them what it was that hooked them. Get in touch with the best parts of yourself and try to bring that out more. Work on yourself and support your own development into someone you want to show off. Demonstrate your capacity for love to yourself and the rest will follow.