Love, Loss, and the Awesome Power of Choice

I’ve written several times over the last few years about relationships, love, and loss. I’ve had what seemed like great lovers, only to realize they aren’t and never really were. I’ve dated women who seemed interested, only to find they weren’t willing to give as much as they take. One lover in particular has inspired this piece, and I doubt she’ll ever read it (a testament to how little she cares). If she does, maybe it will help her understand my point of view a little better. If not, so be it. This is not about her. It’s about me.

As of today, I am abstaining from the chase.

I don’t anticipate giving up on dating entirely and living a monk’s celibate life. I like intimacy and sex way too much to do that. Instead, I’m deciding not to try anymore. I’m finally taking the advice I’ve heard over and over for years: “you try too hard. just let it happen naturally.”

After all this time, I finally understand what that means. I thought for many years I could never take this advice because it felt like every fiber of my soul was screaming things like “don’t give up!” and “nothing happens when you make no effort.” While I still agree with those feelings, I must acknowledge that many of my past relationships have been unbalanced, almost one-sided. I do so much to fuel the fire that my lover stops doing anything, once they believe they no longer need to try. This is what many people refer to as “taking someone for granted,” and anyone who has experienced this will know how it feels once this line is crossed. Respect is lost, and there’s no going back.

My friends, my family, and even strangers I meet randomly in the world, when told the stories of my struggles, universally say this:

“Fuck that noise! She doesn’t know what she has. You’re ready for something real and she’s just a party girl. When she turns 40 and looks around to see the bunch of 20-somethings she has for friends, if she has that at all, she’ll see what she lost.”

My rational solution-finding brain tells me to attempt to avoid this outcome through communication and compassion. I want to talk about it, hug it out, and reach mutual understanding. The reality is simple – there is no problem to be solved. I’ve manufactured a problem because that’s the only way I can make sense of the irrational behavior I observe.

About a year ago, when I first started into a rough patch with my girlfriend, my mother gave me the following advice: “walk away at the first sign of trouble.” My natural reaction to conflict has always been to try to find middle ground. At the time, I was going through some highly stressful drama, and my girlfriend told me she couldn’t handle it and wanted a break. Basically, at the peak of my struggle, when I needed support most, she bailed.

My unbearably predictable reaction was to negotiate. I didn’t want her to leave because I loved her. I tried to find a way to understand her needs, sacrificing mine in the process, thus doubling down on my stress in a gamble for my happiness; I lost the bet. What she did was an awful thing to do, especially to someone you love. I knew it then, as I know it now. I was hurt by her casual disregard for my needs. It took the better part of a year to realize this, but now I can say with certainty she didn’t love me. It was a word she used to control my behavior to get what she wanted. I doubt she was conscious of it, but that’s exactly what it was. Like others before her, she used me to get something she wanted.

Today, I draw a line in the sand. No more of that. There is such power in choice. The act of standing up for a belief is exciting and engaging. People spend their whole lives choosing from the options in front of them instead of finding more options. When you don’t like the options, make new ones. I don’t like feeling like I’m always chasing, so I choose not to chase. As my best advice to guys who struggle with dating has always been “be the pretty girl, and let them come to you,” I’m finally taking my own advice.

Do I still love her? Yes. Did we have some great times? Absolutely. Is it worth sacrificing my needs to spend time with her? Fuck no! And this goes for everyone I’ll ever meet.

My new plan is not to have a plan; to live fully in every experience, invest emotionally and intellectually, and walk away when it’s not what I want. It’s a terrifying and brilliant future, so far outside my comfort zone that I will be forced to be comfortable. I can’t wait ūüôā

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Don’t Hide Your Love Away: An Open Letter About Sex and Communication

This post is for men. Ladies, you’re free to read it, and hopefully you can help the guys learn a little about love and sex. Mostly, it’s for all those fools who think it’s better to withhold their feelings. It’s the 21st century. Men are allowed to have a more refined sense of awareness and expression when it comes to their feelings.

John Lennon was wrong. You don’t have to hide your love away. You can, but you’ll regret it. Sure, it may feel like people are laughing at you, and¬†maybe they are. If they are, it’s because you expect to be immune to suffering, yet you bleed out every day by your own hand. Love is something to be experienced to its fullest. You simply can’t do that if you hide it. Men are taught to keep their feelings inside, never to be shared even with their most intimate lovers. Women are taught to be attracted to men who bury their feelings and never discuss them. I’ve met a lot of really feminine women who seek a sensitive, creative, affectionate man in theory, only to act on naive notions of caveman culture, to be beaten into submission and dragged off and raped. I have actually heard educated women say out loud “I wish he would just come over to my house and rape me. God, that would be so hot!” The first time I heard that, I was horrified.

Do we need an intervention? Show me on the Pikachu doll where the bad man touched you, honey.

Jokes aside,¬†it’s much more complicated than that, and yet simple at the same time. Women are indoctrinated at a young age to compartmentalize their affections. Their fathers were¬†busy building the family foundation, earning money so they could, in point of fact, bring home the bacon. That bacon was what the whole family ate every morning, and without it everyone would suffer. Fatherhood evolved as a form of automata. Mom’s¬†job was to fend off disease, starvation, and boredom. Dad’s job was to keep Mom equipped with a constant supply of food, water, and shelter and defend against attacks from external influence. Mom is a nurturing provider, while Dad is a stoic sentinel. These roles are far more pervasive in modern society than we might want to admit.

With the advent of the first world came a more sensible egalitarian philosophy about the delegation of responsibilities in the household. Since Mom is now allowed to vote and earn money, the lines are blurred. The stay-at-home Dad phenomenon became a viable option when Mom’s skills in the workplace were potentially more lucrative than Dad’s skills. The hardest part happens when Mom and Dad both leave the house to exercise their skills to bring home dinner. Yet we still read in popular media¬†all about how families struggle with gender equality in the natural order of things in the home. Men continue to have the attitude that women cook and clean. Women complain about being treated like live-in maids. Women continue to develop complex sexual fantasies involving the rugged and trustworthy milkman, even though milk hasn’t been delivered to anyone’s home in nearly 50yrs. Men continue to develop inherent mistrust of any other man who might wander within 20m of the house when they’re not home, as if their wives are helpless victims-to-be. That doesn’t sound like a healthy respectful atmosphere to me.

At the root of it all is the core behavior of withholding our feelings about love and sex. American culture is steeped in the doubt and self-loathing of sex as currency. We use competitive metaphors to describe how men “win” sex from women by rounding the bases on a baseball field. Teenage boys brag about “making it to third base” instead of talking about how much they respect the girl next door for her creativity and intelligence. In their minds, they are conning her into “giving it up,” as if she derives no pleasure from the experience. Imagine their confusion when she says frankly “I want to have sex with you now.” Some part buried deep in their caveman brain will think she’s deceiving them, that it can’t be so easy. Instead of having open honest communication resulting in mutual satisfaction, their defenses go up and they label her a lying bitch, thus destroying the moment that would otherwise have led rather quickly to the thing they both wanted in the first place.

Have we all regressed to being insecure children about this most fundamental aspect of humanity?

Communication doesn’t need to be the thing that destroys the mystery. I promise there’s plenty of mystery¬†to go around. Communication is the hardest thing anyone can ever do. It requires mountains of patience, a willingness to be humble and honest, substantial self-worth on all sides, and the tools and training to build trust and chart a path to mutually beneficial outcomes. It all comes down to being confident in your own desires and having the courage to state them clearly.

You might be surprised how exciting it is to express that you’d like to lick something off your partner’s naked body and see them reach for the whipped cream and start slicing berries. The simple act of participation can be orders of magnitude more interesting than the hope of being overpowered. And with the right kind of open expression, you can ask to be roughly handled, bordering on abuse, taking you closer to the edge than you ever thought possible, all without ever losing the trust and safety with your partner. This is possible because of open discussion. In fact, conversation is what brings us all closer together, not just the mingling of slippery body parts. Just remember to agree on¬†a safe word and always respect the safe word. Knowing where the line is and refusing to cross it will help strengthen your¬†bond. When you’re near that line, remind your partner how much you love them.¬†Actually, any time you think of your partner during the day, let them know. Over time, you’ll find those little moments add up to a deeper relationship.

Also remember this: vaginas are tough; testicles are the fragile parts. Think about that next time you call someone a pussy.

Get Married or Break Up or Maybe Something Else Entirely

I didn’t think it would hurt this much. When I told her I wanted to marry her the first time, she smiled and thought I was being dramatic. Maybe I didn’t mean it. Maybe it was a raw expression of emotions I didn’t understand. I didn’t have a ring. I didn’t propose. I just told her in the best words I had that she means the world to me. She always will.

This time, it was different. I had a ring. And I meant it. More than I’ve ever meant anything in my life. I’ve been married and divorced, yet I’ve never loved someone so much. Sure, it wasn’t a ring for her finger. It was a beautiful handmade bracelet a good friend gave me from India. I knew it was foolish to buy her a traditional ring, partly because I’m broke right now and spending my last remaining cash on a ring would mean she gets a decoder ring from a cereal box. More, it was a matter of simple facts. I’m moving to San Francisco, and she lives in the Other Bay Area, 3500 miles away.

I’m not sure what hurts more – the fact that we will be so far apart or her reaction when I gave her the bracelet and told her I want to marry her, but it’s not going to happen now, maybe not ever. It felt like she said yes to a question I didn’t ask. She kissed me with a passion I have rarely experienced with her.

We had only recently broken up. She said I love her too much, so much that it’s overwhelming. She thinks I’ve made a series of bad choices with employment, and she’s probably right. She doesn’t like it when she feels like I take better care of her than myself. Then, I told her I was taking a job at a great company in SF and would be moving within the month. I guess that was what she needed to hear to remind herself how much she loves me. We can’t be together now, but we’ve never been closer. The connection we feel with each other is stronger and more robust than ever.

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. I hope not, for her sake. I fear if I love her any more than I already do, she will dissolve into the brilliant light of my heart and be lost forever. Still, I walk the city streets, taking pictures, find examples of thing she would love. I only send her one in ten because I don’t want my intensity to be her burden. I also don’t want to tease her with a life of adventures she shares only by digital proxy.

For now, our lives diverge. Like paths in a Robert Frost poem, it’s bittersweet and beautiful.

Breaking Personal Patterns

Years ago, I wrote a post about one-sided relationships. This morning, I went back and read that post again. It rings as true now as it did then, but with different context. As I read it again, I felt myself resonating with my own words, but in a different light. This week, another relationship ended. As I’ve spent the last few days trying to make sense of things and find closure, I’ve thought back on all the moments we shared together. My goal was to truly identify moments in the past where I put rose-colored glasses on. I wanted to understand better the situations that trigger my ostrich dance, the one where I close my eyes and ignore key aspects of the world around me in favor of my own world view. This is a crippling pattern I must stop.

As with the last time, I am open, able, and ready to nurture a deep spiritual bond. I am hopeful to build a strong emotional connection with another sacred soul. I am inspired to explore a rich intellectual attraction with another open mind. I am excited to play and seek new experiences and adventure with another sexual creature. All these things I feel for my love. All these things I see resonate in her when my heart shines on hers. Still, something holds her back from fully expressing her true self. It’s time for me to accept that she needs time to address her own hurdles. There is simply nothing more I can do. As I swallow my stomach and wipe tears from my eyes, I know this doesn’t need to hurt. There’s no script that says she will never call me again. That’s a script from an old and tired story. This time, we write a new story.

This time, I don’t hide behind fear or pain. Yes, it hurts, but what I lost this week was not my love. I will always have that. Even with all the betrayal from my last great love, I still miss her. I still want the best for her, and I believe maybe one day she will reach out to reconnect. This great love is different. With the last one, I lost hope of even having a friendship. Her betrayal was so painful that it took years to forgive her and move on. With this one, I lost only my rose-colored glasses. I lost the feeling that she and I share a common goal of building a life together. I lost the future I had planned, a future in which I was really happy with her and our children. The glasses had convinced me that she shared that dream. In truth, I never actually asked her what her dream was. It’s time to change that.

So this is my new story. I will not allow her actions to dictate mine. She does not have the tools to express her true self in a way I hear clearly. That means we can not be together romantically, but it doesn’t mean I must say goodbye forever. As I said in the post years ago, I seek vulnerability. I wanted this, so I could grow stronger. Her hurtful words could have inspired me to twist my love into hate. Instead, I choose to further invest in love. I will continue to reach out to her, to be the friend she needs, to help her when she needs help, and to expect nothing in return. It will take time for me to be ready again to seek a new great love. From now on, I follow my new path, and I see the world as it truly is. Most importantly, I know now to stop myself when I feel rosy.

Communicating with Complex Personality

For almost all of us, there come times when we feel like we just can’t quite get through to someone, like there’s something in the way, and no one really knows exactly what it is. When we face those situations, it’s important to maintain some perspective about who the other person is and how they react to their environment. Simply considering some basic fundamental things about the experience can make a huge impact on the actions and reactions we take during the exchange.

Take, for example, a scenario involving a dipolar couple. (Not to be confused with bipolar. That’s another story for another author.) One half of the couple is an extravert posture. The other is in an introvert posture.

Sidebar: I use the term posture here as a means of highlighting the moody nature of the extravert/introvert spectrum. In many complex ways, our behavior follows one path or another depending on mood and social relationships. There are some aspects of our behavior that are governed by deeper forces – the unyielding forces of our moral and spiritual cores. In this context, we’re focused on the transient behavior as a posture.

If one half of the dipolar couple encounters some obstacle to their happiness, he or she may seek comfort and support from the partner. This is a natural and healthy response we all experience, seeking guidance from our community. Let’s consider two cases, really the same case from different perspectives.

If the troubled half is the extravert, he or she will naturally seek to discuss the issue with the partner (external processing). This can be very effective, up to the point when the introvert feels overwhelmed. Beyond that threshold, the partner will withdraw in order to take time for introspection before offering support. If the extravert is unable to acknowledge this for what it is, he or she may react as if the partner has given up on them or abandoned them. This causes an exhausting cycle of overwhelm-and-withdraw.

If instead the troubled half is an introvert, he or she will naturally seek to withdraw and allow the experience to flow to its natural conclusion before taking any outward action (internal processing). This is a delicate time for the introvert, as he or she needs to feel the supportive love of community, but feels unable to reach out for help. If the introvert’s patience threshold is passed, he or she will reject the partner’s actions as unsupportive. If the extravert is unable to acknowledge this before reaching the threshold, he or she may react as if the partner has shunned or ignored their support. This causes a divergence where the extravert stops offering support.

We all shift in and out of introvert and extravert postures as we interact with the objects and people in the world. If we can navigate this landscape effectively, we can avoid overwhelming the introvert energy without ignoring the extravert energy. Next time you feel like you’re doing all the talking, ask if your partner needs a break. Similarly, next time you feel taxed, ask your partner for a break. This need not be considered a rift in the core of your spiritual relationship. It may simply be one half’s inability to communicate effectively with the other in the current moment. Give it time, communicate your feelings as you process, and come back to your partner to honor your original intent, which is to love and be loved.

A Halloween Costume Worthy of Song

I don’t often celebrate Halloween to the extent I’d prefer. Inevitably, every year the event is suddenly a week away, and I have occasion to run around like a maniac, seeking a creative solution to my lameness. This year, I am planning ahead… by a week. But! This is what 2-day shipping is for. And without further delay, I present to you my plan for costume excellence:

This evening, I purchased some awesome hardware, called a LilyPad Arduino (http://lilypadarduino.org). It’s basically a flexible circuit that can be woven into any textile product using conductive thread. It has a USB adapter that allows me to program the system from my laptop. Simply plug in, download the firmware, unplug, and go. So, what exactly are we building?

Real-time interactive motion-sensitive performance art

Using embedded wearable electronics, we combine the computing power of a microcontroller with data from an accelerometer to control the intensity of an array of red, blue, green, and white LEDs woven into the fabric. In fact, all this is sewn right into the leather. We specifically chose to use gloves for this project because the hands are often the most expressive part of the body. The position of the arms dictates the direction of gravity measured by a sensor in the wrist. This signal is carried through stainless steel thread up the back of the hand into the LilyPad, where it is used to control the timing of signals out to the LED arrays for each color. When standing with arms down by your sides, the color is blue. With arms straight out, it’s green. With arms up, it’s red.

This motion-sensitive color presentation is wonderful on its own. When combined with dance, it takes on a new dimension, especially at night. The bright color against the dark makes for an ethereal experience. But that’s not far enough. We wanted to give some extra depth and richness to the experience, some way for the dancer to control the lights, either through movement or some manual interface. So, we added interactivity to the fingers. When pressing the thumb and index finger tips together, the LEDs flash slowly. The middle finger and thumb yield a medium frequency flash. The ring finger and thumb produce a high frequency flash.

With this combination of movement and touch, the dancer conjures a very specific visual experience, blending motion, light, and song. Observant readers will note I have not described a costume for myself. No, this costume is intended for my girlfriend. I will most likely go as Zombie Steve Jobs and watch her dance. She is, after all, a ninja dancer. *smoke bomb*

The Power of Perception

Arguably, I’m kinda new to the whole dating world. I’ve had several serious relationships, but never a casual fling. Not even one. I’m the guy who waits until he finds a rare and exquisite beauty, then turns up the charm, so she’s hopeless to resist. And they always are. I think well on my feet, and generally talk my way out of trouble reasonably well, in those cases where I cross the line. I also have an extra helping of “I don’t give a fuck” when it comes to interacting with attractive women. This all conspires to promote an atmosphere of suave sophistication, which is great because when I’m not turning on the charm, I am typically perceived by most people in the world as “inconsequential.” In the majority of cases, where I want to be left alone and not be noticed, this is exactly what I want. However, when it comes to attracting the hottest woman at the club, that approach leaves a lot on the table. Actually, it leaves everything on the table. In fact, it doesn’t even get me in the front door.

I normally think of myself as a smart, sensual, and complex person. I’ve had a lot of great sex with a few really amazing women, and for that I am forever grateful.

Ok, that’s bullshit. Not the factual part. I do hold myself in high esteem and I have enjoyed hot sex with some incredible women. That’s all true. The bullshit lies in the presentation, not in the sales pitch way, but in the “this guy is full of himself” way, which is really only half true. As you read that short paragraph, you probably felt yourself thinking “why the fuck am I reading this boastful and simultaneously pseudo-humble account of this guy’s self-important exploits?” The reason you thought that was the last few words. There’s a part of the scenario that is hidden in plain sight. While I appreciate the experience, I am not grateful. Grateful is something I would feel if I needed a jump start in an Ikea parking lot with a car full of not-yet-assembled furniture, and someone offered me one of those portable battery things. Grateful is not what I feel for having successfully seduced a gorgeous fit blonde in a bar. That feeling is power, not gratitude. Really, that paragraph should have looked more like this:

I’m a hustler, baby. Women can not resist the temptation to fuck me, and once they try it once, they always come back for more and always leave satisfied.

See? That’s much different, isn’t it? It carries the same sense of confidence, but presented in a different way. It turns the typical paradigm on its head. Instead of man chasing woman, it’s woman chasing man. It’s the difference between hoping I’ll get to 2nd base and knowing I’m going to use all the condoms I brought. It’s all in the perception of both parties.

Right now, I’m dating a really fantastic woman who is changing my perception of myself in this context. She has said many times over the last six weeks that I am like Jekyll and Hyde – a strong, dominant lover in the bedroom, and a mild-mannered nerdy geek otherwise. This perspective is fascinating to me. I have always thought of myself as a confident guy who knows how to treat a lady, and also the guy who can diagnose that strange whirring noise your dishwasher is making. I take for granted my sexual prowess and my intellect equally. It never occurred to me until recently, though, that those traits are typically not present in one person, thus making me rather uncommon. To put it more succinctly, it never dawned on me that this makes me the rare and exquisite beauty, something to be coveted by lustful women who get a taste and can’t resist the urge for more.

I would never have imagined that I could turn around from a highly abusive relationship and find myself in a situation where my partner has no doubt (and has said as much) that I could easily charm any woman I wanted. I’ve had conversations with friends many times about how to stop being a doormat for my partner to walk all over. Apparently, I took that advice to heart because the feedback I’m getting lately is really positive, and I find myself thinking about relationships in a totally different light. I no longer find myself hoping a pretty girl will laugh at my jokes. Instead, I tell them anyway, knowing the pretty girl will likely be offended by them, but not caring because they’re jokes I like to tell and it doesn’t matter if the pretty girl laughs or not. I’m not here to amuse her. She’s here to amuse me, and if she’s boring, there are a thousand others just like her who do appreciate my jokes.

That’s the way it has to be, at least on some level, in my mind. I turn the world upside-down, shift the balance of power, and simply assert, through sheer act of will, that I am fucking fantastic, and suddenly it’s raining pussy and I can’t find enough buckets. Does that make me an asshole? Yes, and I’m ok with that. It’s par for the course. Do I apologize for it? Absolutely not. It’s a game, and I aim to win, or at least have fun in the process.

In the end, it’s simply a matter of conveying a sense of confidence. My lady friend said it so perfectly. I could never hope to express it any better, so I will simply paraphrase her:

“All women want to be fucked, so unless they are completely disgusted by you, they will probably sleep with you if you make an effort. Worst case, they leave unsatisfied. Best case, you rock their world. Nobody wins if you don’t try.”