Where did afternoon delight go?

Moonrise-loversSometime when I wasn’t looking, that comical battle between the sexes featured in classical comedies of the 1950s became serious business. By the 21st Century, it seems to have become mortal combat.

I was alerted via Facebook to an article entitled “The Ugly Side Of Being A Single, Attractive And Available Heterosexual Woman.” It was tagged with this comment. “As a therapist I hear this sort of thing way too often, when are these immature guys going to grow up and stop being dicks!”

I was not sure if the therapist herself was calling men dicks or reporting what clients said. Nevertheless, my heart breaks and my stomach sinks when I read stories about how some men sexually abuse women. As a man I am ashamed that my universal brothers would treat women this way. Not only is it mental and physical cruelty against women, but it then incites mass rage in women who think that all men are created equally repugnant.

As women become more accustomed to hearing and sharing abuse stories, including anything in the media, the potential for sexual beauty degrades for everyone. Women trust men less. They play defense more. They become less open. None of this is good news for loving men who desire to co-create healthy sexual relationships with someone they find magical.

Upon reading stories written by women trashing men for inappropriate behavior, many men do what much of mass culture shows them to do: they trash women back. They counter “men are dicks and assholes” with “yeah, but women are bitches.” And so it goes, punch and counter-punch, charge and counter-charge.

When women spew vitriol at men for their disgusting sexual behavior, justifiably or not, a big piece often goes missing from the discussion: the societal forces at work.

HOW SOCIETY CREATES DICKS

It’s not as if men aspire to be dicks (unless the pay is really good.) It’s that they are like Play Doh shaped into dicks through conformity to socially approved and promoted insanity. Missing from this narrative about men being dicks is how certain social norms and obstacles churn out monsters. Here are some examples:

Words. One indication of social insanity festers in the language we use. Why is it that the slang words we concoct to describe sexual organs (i.e., dick) and other intimacies (i.e., fuck) get turned into words used for insulting people? If you think sex is awesome, this practice  is like saying “Bliss you” as a drop-dead insult. Our whole vocabulary is perverted.

Sex education deserves to be more than the biology of reproduction and health. It should also be about what a loving sexual relationship could look like. Where in this world do people find positive sex ed, especially if parents or family have little to contribute to the discussion? Men are clueless about how to be good lovers unless they are taught, and secular and religious pressures keep people stuck in the dark.

Competition. Ever watch nature shows where animals maul each other for the right to mate? Seems insane in human terms, but we have our own version of mate competition. Manhood often gets defined as one’s success with women. DNA may provide a biological imperative to spread semen to insure survival of the species, but It’s no excuse for bad behavior. Loop back to missing sex education.

Intimacy. In mainstream society, men learn very little about intimacy. Dudes with dongs are often taught in a competitive world that intimacy is a serious weakness. Stand tough. Don’t wimp out. For God’s sake, don’t cry. Don’t even feel. When men are trained this way, having empathy for their lover is usually not on the menu.

Recreation. Sex is often depicted and perceived to be recreation, even among spouses. Often ignored is the deep mental, emotional, and spiritual bonding that can happen during physical lovemaking. Men often learn that sex is sport, a conquest game with women as prey.

Porn. The porn culture rarely shows friendly, loving, even happy sex. Porn sex is more often gloomy, mechanical, often mean. It is short-sighted and obsessed with the physical. Still, for many people, porn is the gold standard of what sex is supposed to look and be like, largely because there are so few sex-positive visions to compare it with. Porn often sucks the intelligence out of sex, and this is how many men get educated.

Mainstream movies. Little in mainstream movies, TV shows, even novels offers great role models for men and women as lovers/mates. Much more common are stories about dysfunctional people reaping physical and psychological harm on one another. Without healthy examples to emulate, we get what we are getting.

Gender war. In today’s media culture, you can hardly escape the rage and hostility of gender combat—it’s a war zone out there. This sniping and strafing often occurs without presenting solutions or balance. “When will guys stop being such dicks” gives no kudos to men who respect and honor women. Many men are not prepared to handle this hostility. We need strong voices talking about how to bring the genders together in harmony.

Healthy Sexual Outlets. Most society offers little help or compassion for people who feel unloved. Religions and secular institutions including the law do not consider sexual loneliness as a social problem. Lonely people often become targets of merchandising ploys. We further teach men (and women) how to be vengeful, cruel, self-loathing, and to perceive their loneliness as failure. Without healthy sexual outlets, rage festers, and a rape culture flourishes.

Penis pride. Despite porn, sometimes due to porn, men in our culture are given little reason to feel pride of ownership of their penises. With no sense of beauty or wonder, many men see their sexuality as a repulsive liability. When men feel that their penises are ugly, sex for them often feels like stealing, not giving. Loop back to words.

Spirituality. Many people don’t see spirituality in sexuality or sexuality in spirituality. The two are treated as polar opposites. With no spiritual significance, sexuality is more likely a habit, game, or procreative function, perhaps meaningful and pleasurable, but likely more body focused. Spirituality, meanwhile, is often viewed as anti-flesh, anti-pleasure.

These and other social forces turn many men into unfortunate choices for sex partners. I believe it is more complicated than “when are these immature guys going to grow up and stop being dicks?” We need some social evolution, perhaps even revolution, to turn this situation around.

WHAT DO WE DO ABOUT IT?

Huge societal forces keep us miserable, and solutions aren’t lightning fast. However, here are some that I would like to see take root in our culture.

Sex-positive media. There’s an opportunity to educate people through sex-positive media of all kinds. Whether it’s mainstream, educational, or even re-invented porn, the more content out there that shows positive alternatives to degrading behavior, the more it motivates positive behavior. People often learn by imitation, and the more we offer great examples, the more it is likely to take hold. Much real-life sexual behavior people complain about is exactly what is shown in too much of our mainstream entertainment as normal. So there.

Positive Role Models. Mass media could supply the world with male and female role models to demonstrate healthy and blissful sexual relationships. Role models could show the importance of integrity, friendship, sensitivity, empathy, sensuality, and so on. In the realm of the sexually explicit, wouldn’t it be liberating if characters in porn were so fascinating as people and not just as sex robots that you would want to spend time with them?

Communicate! We live with the myth that great sex happens naturally, spontaneously, passionately, just like in the movies. However, so many disasters occur when communication about sex is missing, deceptive, or toxic. While some may think it’s dorky to talk about sex before doing it, the truth is that it improves sex lives, especially if you are serious about being a good partner for longer than one night.

Religion often forces people to choose between sex and God as if you can’t have both. Seems unlikely now, but perhaps one fine day religion will awaken to embrace sexuality. In turn, this might bring respect to sexuality and eliminate characterizing it as evil. People who respect sexuality behave differently from those who degrade or pornify it, including how they treat their partners.

Focus. People who make a deliberate attempt to learn about something eventually find it. Media consumers need to be more vigilant about what they consume as mind food. Those who deliberately seek out positive expressions of sex are likely to find it. Similarly, those who seek out healthy choices in partners of like-minded consciousness will eventually find them.

Tribal consciousness. Western civilization does not embrace a tribal consciousness around a war on loneliness. We seem very insensitive to lonely people. How about creating ways people could feel more included? Until we start to feel the magnificent power of people united in love and inclusion, we will never know the force it can yield! Let the tribe unite and let’s stamp out loneliness and “immature dick” behavior.

Love Revolution. We’re so often taught that it is normal to judge, criticize, and insult people. What about looking for the good in people? What about trying to find harmony and accord? A society like that would look more like Shangri-la. Darkness and evil dwell more profoundly in places where love is rationed and sold, and where conflict is encouraged. More evil flourishes in war zones than in love fests.

FIFTY SHADES OF YUCK

In the article that prompted this post, the female author asked: “Being a single woman who enjoys sex means I have to constantly be defending my body and my morals, because if left to their own devices men will revert to treating me as nothing more than a collection of holes for their own use?”

Statements like this make me heartsick. If I take it personally, I feel totally shamed as as someone born with male sexuality, even if her description is far from who I am as a man. Then I feel sorry for the anonymous author whose experiences are so painful she feels compelled to vent with such intensity.

Stating the obvious, but healing is needed.

If you would like to read more positive material about sexual beauty, click here.

What is beauty?

Beauty as nature

I have run into several videos and articles lately involving women and aging, women and body image, and male-born transgenders transitioning into females. All of this leads to me answering a favorite question of mine: “What is beauty? What does beautiful mean?”

In one article, Rebecca Shaw writes about actress Maggie Gyllenhaal “being told that at the ripe old age of 37, she was too old (and I assume decrepit) to be cast as the love interest of a 55-year-old man. Let’s consider this: Gyllenhaal, who is already 18 years younger than the actor in question, cannot be cast as his love interest because she is too old. I really don’t believe that we stop often enough to consider how absolutely warped the world of Hollywood (and our world) must be for this to occur.”

As a man reading this story, and an old man at that, I frequently find Hollywood’s mind set hideous. It supports the cliché that female attractiveness is all about — and just about — physical youth and beauty. It entirely ignores a facet that I find at the core of human beauty: consciousness.

Beauty is not just how we look. It is how we think.

I saw another video on Facebook where signs placed over two doors in a city high-rise gave women a choice of which door to enter through. One said AVERAGE and one said BEAUTIFUL. Women were shown pondering which door to claim as theirs. The video also included some interviews with women sharing their thoughts about the choice they made. Several wanted a redo so they could enter through the door marked BEAUTIFUL.

While the video apparently intended to show people, especially women, that it was OK to claim that they are beautiful, it still left the definitions of average and beautiful up in the air. It  passively hinted that beauty was a mental state.

Then there’s the much yakked-about public transformation of Bruce into Caitlyn. Much of the focus has been about the high cost of surgeries. She could easily afford it. Some have complained that with all the resources ultimately poured into the Vanity Fair photo shoot, anybody could look smashing. The focus seems to have been on the outer Caitlyn, the packaging, not the inner being. It again poses the question, albeit slightly under the radar, what makes for beauty? What makes a person beautiful?

There are countless articles now related to ranking beautiful women with headlines like “The Most Beautiful Women of All Time.” It’s immediately obvious that this is all about looks, and it doesn’t supply the criteria for the judging someone a great beauty, as if it is too obvious for consideration.

SO WHAT IS BEAUTY?

I want to say that having been raised in the American culture as a white guy, I have certain conditioned responses to beauty. As a young kid my heart throbs included Doris Day, Ann-Margret, Patty Duke (especially when she played the British twin), and after discovering my dad’s magazine stash, countless Playboy Playmates.

Yet over the years, as I discovered that physical beauty is not enough, my personal conception of beauty embraced a more wholistic approach. I noticed that some qualities that made women beautiful to me were usually not traits I saw featured in the personalities of women heralded as great beauties.

For one, I prized humor. Humor is a bonding force for me. I have little orgasms of joy when someone gets my humor. I find bliss when someone in my personal universe makes me laugh. Unfortunately, woman glorified as beautiful (in media terms) often act like Stepford wives-in-waiting. They lack the cutting edge perspective of someone who can see the human comedy in action, who can drill through pretension with laser-like precision.

I also prized empathy and compassion. I have no particular fantasy desire to melt ice queens and give my soul in love to narcissists. I am much more attracted to one who cares about the feelings and welfare of others than I am to someone who looks gorgeous yet flaunts snarky insensitivity. Beauty is the capacity to feel what I feel. Empathy makes for much better conversations.

I  found curiosity and the urge to explore ideas as very attractive. Conformity addicts are not my cup of tease. People willing to step outside the box and let their imaginations run wild (especially with humor and empathy) are beautiful to me.

I find affectionate people beautiful. Smilers, cuddlers, huggers, toucher-feelers, and flirters give me joy. Often they inspire me, especially when it seems as if the world is filled with people hardened into hostility and competition. People who are generous with affection remind me of the world I would prefer to live in where people care for people.

BEAUTY IN THE MEDIA

For much of my life, I have noticed that while watching movies or TV shows (when I used to watch TV) that I was often attracted to the “character actors.” I found that they indeed had more character than the leads. They were just more fun.

In Hollywood formulas, character actors are usually not supposed to be perceived as “good looking” as the leads. They are quirkier in their appearance. In Hollywood, however, this is often less than obvious. The dialogue uttered in the show often has to inform us that we are supposed to see the person as second fiddle, not up to par.

The sidekick friend often launches more interesting lines into the story than the glamorpuss does. She often has a better sense of humor, more freedom of speech, and just plain more substance. Since she is often depicted as single, she often seems more appreciative of the love she does not have. If I were in the movie in some sort of Pleasantville fashion, I would seek her out over the star beauty.

This principle carried over into my physical life. I found myself more intrigued by women who had spicy personalities over good media looks. Yet here is the irony that lucky people discover: love literally shapes perception of how someone looks. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder because emotions shape our experience. When someone delivers an emotionally fulfilling time, it literally shapes how they appear to the perceiver.

SEX MYTH I CAN DO WITHOUT

There is an elitist cliche that when someone says that a friend has a great “personality,” It means that the person rates anywhere from homely to downright ugly.  The mockery implies that personality is less important than physical beauty; that physical beauty ranks people as to how sexually desirable they are.

Too often the assumption is made that the better you look physically, the better sex you’ll have, as if physical beauty is the magic ingredient for ultimate sexual satisfaction. People who do not feel that they rank high in the beauty standings often feel as if they lack some mystery power. Meanwhile, social media is filled with complaints that men in particular are so shallow they cannot appreciate anything but the right, tight beauty dressed in whore clothes.

God bless physical beauty, but in my world, lovemaking is a juicy journey filled with mental and emotional intercourse. The richness of that experience comes in the consciousness people share, which is yawning bland if the meeting of minds is just about looks.

THE COMPLIMENT

Over the years, the world has gotten much more complicated. Now it’s not safe to say
“You’re so beautiful” without fully defining your terms. Is it just a line used by a womanizer or a con for some nefarious end? Is it just physical, physical? Is it chauvinistic ballyhoo? Is it patronizing pabulum? Is it a nonspecific, catch-all compliment that the receiver installs the desired meaning to — you think I’m beautiful?

Some women have told me they become quite perturbed when some stranger called them beautiful. They heard the line more as a substitute for “I want something from you,” like when a stranger approaches you and calls you Friend. Uh-oh.

The beauty that I am struck by is a complex amalgam of personality traits and physical qualities. The feeling that motivates the desire to share it in words is not something easily packaged into a pithy sentence or two, especially in the passion of the moment. Unless I feel safe or confident in the person’s ability to empathize with my intent, I’ll likely keep my compliment to myself.

AMAZING GRACE

I doubt if I am the only man in America to think this way, but here goes: A woman who is my age does not need to look like anything but a woman who is my age. I am not riding on the youth and beauty bandwagon. I do not appreciate the cultural obsessions that cause  middle-aged and older woman to feel bad about the state of their bodies.

I doubt that society is going to turn this around. There are too many economic interests that depend on keeping people in a state of anxiety over their appearance. Those promoters of superficial beauty succeed because we don’t just say no.

But I would like to bring attention to the idea that beauty encompasses intelligence, humor, sensitivity, creativity — in short a lot of nonphysical qualities that do not wither with age. There are people who prefer savoring those qualities more than worshiping plastic surgery and cosmetic attempts to appear untouched by aging.

Want to read more on the topic? Here is an earlier post on this topic.

 

Friends with benefits — yay or yuck?

Friends with BenefitsOne positive feature of aging is the long-range perspective that it offers. You can see the birth of good ideas, and then watch their fate as society grabs it. With enough time, you can witness ideas pass in and out of social favor. Sometimes that time period isn’t very long.

Friends with benefits is one of these ideas. In my world, it began as something of a fun, optimistic, and cheery entity. Even the word usage felt zip-a-dee-doo-dah happy. Friends with benefits. How fun — like winning an unexpected bonus prize.

It meant that the bonds of friendship could open wide to embrace sharing sensual or sexual affection. You could give each other pleasure as a pure act of friendship. It was a variation on that mythological goddess called free love. Friendship seemed like a good enough reason to give each other some joy.

Traditionally, relationship commitments involve practical matters such as career concerns, finances, family ties, and so on. You based giving the green light for sex on your negotiations about creating a life as a couple. While dressed up in romantic imagery, it was, in essence, a business deal.

Friends with benefits, often written as FWB, stood in stark contrast to “just friends.” The latter was often heard as the sterile kiss of death for someone aspiring to break through the curse of an unrequited love. “Let’s just be friends” meant that an iron gate of rejection had been clanked shut against any possibility of romantic or erotic love. Forget about it. Ain’t happening.

To me, friends with benefits was comforting. It was mutually beneficial. In the most optimistic flavor of free love, it often led me to feeling good about humanity. When the joy of sex still meant something, it allowed me to feel joy.

Little did I realize then how pathetic it was going to get as time marched on.

FRIENDS WITH MEANINGLESS SEX

It wasn’t very long before the term friends with benefits was also being uttered for all of its negative implications. For many people it became synonymous with meaningless sex. It became more about benefits than friendship. The glimmer of warmth and fun from the original idea had worn away from its chafing with dumbed-down, pornographic versions of what sex was.  It morphed from a term of endearment into a term of shame.

There was a loud gong of implication that anyone who considered FWB as a positive lifestyle choice, even temporarily, was of less than stellar character. Males seeking FWB relationships were cast as sexual predators or immature playboys. Females were cast as sluts. Just as happened with the term swinger, FWB came to stand for “having a sexual relationship without being emotionally involved.” It also came to mean that people who didn’t have the balls to commit to a relationship would sit on the fence for awhile.

Originally for me, friends with benefits was something like a vitamin pill or medicine intended to bring comfort and joy. I loved my friends. I wanted the best for them. Friendship was the power concept and benefits was an add-on extra for an already thriving emotional connection. It was not sex without friendship, sex without caring, or even sex without love. For me it always felt like a gift in the power of now.

WORD HABITS

In heated discussions, words and phrases are often tossed about habitually without much thought given to the richness of their meaning. Sex is one of those words. Friends is one of those words. Sex with friends can be a double whammy.

Sex can mean anything from a loveless physical activity among strangers to a deeply fulfilling sacred encounter. Friends can mean anything from barely known casual acquaintance to  cherished soul mate. Sex with friends can mean anything from an act of desperation with an acquaintance (no time limit on friendship required) to a spiritually transformative encounter with a lifelong friend.

People who use FWB as a term to judge or insult are clearly defining their terms in the most negative way. Cheap sex, shallow friendships. People who have a happy relationship with FWB (and possibly with sex itself) define their terms in more complimentary ways.

Much of the terminology here is confusing. You have the previously mentioned “just friends” which is a red light to sex, red-light districts excepted. Then there is “more than friends,” which is supposed to imply green lights for sex but in a way that is beyond friends with benefits. More than friends implies lovers. Lovers implies an emotional bond.

I have noted that sex frequently does not get its due as something magnificent, a treasure for humanity. As an institution, marriage legitimizes sexual relationships, and yet it seems more like establishing property rights than holding sex as sacred. I don’t hear many people conceiving of marriage as entering the temple of exquisite beauty to share the ecstasy of God’s gifts to humanity.

With sex routinely trashed as a brainless activity, something for dickheads, predators, whores, and losers, it’s much more difficult to envision friends with benefits as sweetness and light. As the term comes more to imply loveless sex among relationship wimps, I often wonder exactly what the benefit of FWB is supposed to be.

Empty, vapid, mechanical sex? Oh, boy, where do I sign up?

FWB Scenarios

In my world, friends with benefits emphasized friendship. Sometimes circumstances made a marital commitment or a declared committed relationship unwise or impractical, but the desire to share pleasure was still very strong.

I was raised in a time and place where “free love” was idealized as joyous. I was around for the Summer of Love in San Francisco and the Northern California counter-culture of the 60s and 70s. Alternative lifestyles were common in my circle of friends in my neck of the woods. I grew up prizing intimacy, harmony, and creativity. I conceived of sexual sharing as a way for two people to connect more emotionally. A deeply felt sexual connection would inspire my desire for relationship-building.

In my case, I was a struggling artist for much of my life. As such, I was not a good bet for a woman seeking financial security in a mate. However, I made a loyal friend and was a sensitive lover. Swinging never appealed to me. I liked emotional involvement even when it did not include living together. I was a go-to person when someone wanted a good listener who gave honest feedback on hard-to-talk-about subjects.

In the world around me, I saw different FWB arrangements. Some situations created too much mobility for stabilizing a relationship. Students might attend different universities, often beyond commuting range. People in the military or those whose jobs involved extensive travel often had relationship difficulties because of it. Sometimes people were reluctant to “settle down” because their life was inherently unsettled.

After a brutal break-up or a lengthy period of loneliness, a FWB relationship could be a true blessing. I’ve had times where they were hugely healing, a positive morale boost for climbing out of the pit. If both people are on the same page that this is a gift of mutual affection and not a commitment to build a new relationship, they can help ease the pain of a troubled heart. (If they are not on the same page, it can be the beginning of bad day.)

Friends with benefits seemed to particularly benefit those of us who were not A-list specimens in looks, wealth, power, or other mainstream status markers. A-listers are more accustomed to getting what they want, and you could say they have more bargaining power in the competition for mates. As a B-lister, I was grateful for the intimate encounters I had with friends. We may not have had it all, but what we had felt special. I think B-listers excel at appreciation and innovation just because we have always had to find ways to feel loved in a world keen on sorting, ranking, and rejecting.

Aging also presents plenty of obstacles not encountered as much in youth. For example, singles in their later years often have to deal with where to live. Whose residence becomes the chosen one? Does that mean that one of them sells a house? Are there extended family issues with that, such as adult children of seniors who strongly object to Mom or Dad’s choice of a new partner? Or maybe after a couple of serious betrayals, someone does not want to immediately put a new love partner on-board as a co-owner or beneficiary. Friends with benefits is good enough, at least for now.

Sometimes medical conditions and other recovery scenarios make friends with benefits an attractive option. Life throws us many curves. Sometimes we find ourselves very alone in dealing with these curves, and it is a great blessing to find any semblance of love and support during these ordeals. FWB is not just about wild sex. It is also about more sedated forms of compassion and caring. Cuddling, hugging, empathizing, laughter, free speech, and energy exchanges are also benefits friends can share.

Alternative lifestyle scenarios also figure in here. While this is (fortunately) changing, GLBT people were legally forbidden from marrying, often creating the situation where what amounted to FWB relationships became the most practical choice. Then there are people who simply and unapologetically like being sex friendly and don’t buy the premise that making love with a friend is not emotionally meaningful.

People sometimes say that FWB relationships happen because people can’t make up their minds about committing. It’s also noted that sometimes people start off as casual bunkies and then unexpectedly fall in love. This could be a problem if one one of them wants a deeper involvement. The friendship portion could shatter if rejection or jealousy feelings rear their ugly heads.

A MORE INCLUSIVE WORLD

Having had some morale-saving FWB relationships over the years, I find it most irritating how the idea has been corrupted from when I first encountered it. I think that anything we can do to make life nicer for people, especially those needing a lift, is a good thing. I also hate to see the beauty of sex dragged down into the morass of shame, ridicule, and mainstream trivialization.

I have great empathy and also sorrow for people who suffer loneliness and rejection, feeling excluded from the good life. It’s not that they necessarily are excluded, but they feel that way, and that’s just as bad. Although it is definitely not a surefire answer, a sex-friendly friendship can be a blessing.  It has saved me on occasion.

I was and still am a sex-positive idealist. I thought that lovemaking was healthy for the body, mind, heart, and spirit. I thought that if we humans moved more toward loving intimacy regardless of the form relationships took, we would be better off as a species. For me, intimacy always inspired caring about the welfare of the person I was intimate with. I thought others would feel that way, too.  At least a few did.

Friends with benefits — yay or yuck? I still say yay, but I would ask more questions.

Real conversations

SONY DSCHave you ever had a break-up conversation? Most of us have at one time or another.

They can come at different times. Sometimes it’s the announcement that this new relationship is not going to fly. One of you wants it but one of you doesn’t.

Sometimes it’s after a substantial trial period. Again, one of you wants to keep on trucking but one of you is ready to take the next off-ramp.

It could come years later after a relationship or a marriage has been pursued. It runs out of gas or one of you loses control and drives off the road.

So you have the break-up conversation. Sometimes it comes as a relief that a decision is being made to cut the losses and change course. Sometimes it is the talk from hell where accusations and torrents of anger fly like stinging yellow jackets.

And yet I am curious: how true and intimate are those conversations? How much inner truth do we offer at the end, and is it better or worse than what we offered at the beginning? Or do we instead work on damage control and political expediency and say something phony? Or do we retreat and plot revenge and punishment?

DEATH AND DYING

Another conversational abyss for many people is the topic of death and dying.

I have been around so many people, including my parents, who did not want to share their views about the end of life. They did not openly philosophize about what happens after they flatline. Is there still juice at the end or are we completely dried out and crumbly?

When people keep their feelings and opinions locked up tight inside themselves, it creates some real issues during the end-game. For one thing, it makes it hard for the caregivers and survivors to know exactly how to please those who are dying. If you gave no special requests, you get what you ask for.

For the people dying it means that they suddenly have to confront their fears or beliefs unassisted. Maybe they can no longer communicate. If it was too scary to discuss during the healthy days, when things were normal and death was not imminent, imagine it now.

People are afraid to talk about death, as if openly discussing it might bring it on faster or freak the dying person out.

When there are conversations with a dying person, how truthful are they? Is there any reality to it or is it fluff and show? I know that if I was on my deathbed, I would want to discuss my future and not pretend that I was going to get well soon. I’d like to talk about the death that will happen when my ride from heaven comes.

Death is a taboo topic. Hospice chaplain and author Terri Daniel called it the new sex. “Launching a public dialog about death in today’s world is similar to how my generation — the Baby Boomers — broke through the taboo about discussing sex prior to the sexual revolution in the 1960s.”

SEX

And so yeah, then there is sex.

A lot of people are under the illusion that we’ve outgrown our culture of secrets, shame, and lies about sex. I don’t think so. I think a lot of conversations that could be intimate aren’t because they never occur.

Sex has often become things we do to each other, not so much things we feel. We often make love to people’s bodies, overlooking making love to their minds. We jump into erotic habits and rituals because we have been conditioned to do it that way, but it’s often taken for granted or conducted on auto-pilot.

Often people do not share their feelings about what they like and don’t like sexually, much less converse about their deepest feelings of what this dance means to them. Yet as someone who has written about sexual relationships, both in fiction and nonfiction, I am frequently aware of hidden motives, conflicts, and passions that are not communicated to partners for a variety of reasons.

Can you communicate that you feel alone during a sexual experience? Do you share with your spouse or primary partner the fantasies, hopes, or desires that are most meaningful or exciting to you? Can you share your erotic personality without censoring or playing it safe?

WRITER LESSONS

As a creative writer, I have often written scenes about how relationships form and sometimes how they end. I’ve written about death (and afterlife) and I have written about sex.

Fiction may be pretend, but fiction also allows authors to explore deep insights. You don’t have to worry about libel or slander or credibility of your sources. So as I mastermind scenes in creative writing, I bear witness to each character, their motivations, their aspirations, their fears. I sometimes know them better than they know themselves.

I watch characters lie. I watch them dodge from expressing their true selves. I watch them invent cover stories to hide and protect their most vulnerable parts. I watch them injure people and in turn I watch them get injured.

In the meantime, I have my own well of experience to draw from. I have real-life exit scenes, some horrible, some amicable. I have my own relationship with death and dying and sex, which are frequently not held as sacred by the mainstream.

Through it all what fascinates me the most is all the stuff that people do not communicate. It’s what we don’t say. And, yes, I am guilty of it, too.

JUST LIKE GOVERNMENT

We learn from so many of our government and social institutions that people inform us of decisions, developments, and policies without telling us the real truth. They focus instead on their politically correct, organization-sanctioned stories.

When government or corporations announce anything, they have been overwritten by PR professionals and often lawyer-vetted.

The logic often gets all convoluted. They announce a price increase and claim it is a benefit for us “so we may serve you better.” They don’t say, “We’re just greedy bastards.”

And just think of how various companies handle disasters like plane and train crashes and industrial explosions and recalls and financial collapses.

And we learn through countless repetitions of this process that fudging is how the game is played. We learn to lie. We also learn that being secretive is somehow better for us than frolicking in an orgy of truth-telling.

Government often explains and excuses manipulation of data and the truth as being in the public interest. They are protecting us, they say. Aren’t they great?

EARTH SCHOOL

If we all believed we were in Earth School — that there was a purpose to life on Earth and that it was to continually learn lessons about love — we might realize that speaking our unvarnished, unapologetic truth leads to personal growth and social improvements. I wonder what people would say to each other under those circumstances.

How could we make breaking up, dying, and sharing sexually more intimate and meaningful? How could we make them more profound learning experiences through open and honest communication? How could we heal each other even when facing difficult challenges and decisions?

Maybe, someday, we can figure this out. I am working on my own solution for me.

Dreamy bodies

Physical attractionA stereotype we’ve all heard says that men are obsessed with women’s bodies. It’s so solidified in mass consciousness that it’s often considered an indisputable fact of life.

In conversations about sex, a major complaint is that heterosexual men become preoccupied with how a female body looks. They focus their rapt attention only on physical ideals. Nothing else seems to matter to them. Eventually this cultural indoctrination renders a man incapable of appreciating “real” women with “real” bodies.

I am a man. Hard as I try not to take this allegation personally, I usually take it personally. The allegation does not describe my consciousness, but I still think women believe that it does—because I am a man, and that’s the way men are.

It’s something like hearing people in other countries say that Americans are all ugly, ruthless, violent, mercenary, uncaring. What? Huh? Me? No!

Men’s lust is often portrayed as robotic, as part of the program that controls human males. There’s the visual cliche of the pretty woman walking down the street and men train their eyes on her like automatons. There’s even a pithy film out there to show how obnoxious this can be for a woman having to endure stares, catcalls, and annoying propositions.

So I wonder: what’s good for men (or more specifically for me) about being attracted to women? (I’ve thought of lobbying God on this issue I would love to see a new on/off switch for this attract-o-meter feature. It would be great to turn it off and be apathetic to attraction.)

WHAT IS HUMAN NATURE?

We have culturally dumbed down the portrayal of sexual attraction to a cartoon level stereotype — eyes rolling, tongue wagging, steam pouring out of ears. Basic carnal stupidity in the face of feminine beauty (often the feminine parts are stretched to new and even more ridiculous dimensions.)

But in the world of my night dreams, sexual attraction is often quite different than in physical life. It does not follow the same social conventions. Furthermore, the whole erotic dance in my dreams can be so different than anything on the earth plane.

In a dream I met a beautiful woman in her thirties or so who was very affectionate. We met in the parking lot of a supermarket and then met again inside the store. Without any special fanfare we began quite naturally kissing and rolling around on the floor of the market. I became fascinated with her body, particularly the tanned and intricately freckled skin of her arms.

In my dream my instant lover’s body fascinated me — yet it was intriguingly different than the cliches of sexual attraction in physical life.

She did not act seductively. She did not make ooh faces or display her breasts with come-hither stares. My attraction to her was force-of-nature natural. Being intrigued with her freckles was like being awestruck by a waterfall or sunset or seascape.  The fascination seemed more like the powerful urge to discover and explore uncharted wilderness.

IN MY DREAMS

Erotica in my dreams is not so much “What does this woman’s body look like?” It’s not “How does her body measure up to my ideals?” It’s not “What can this body do for me?”

It’s more like being attracted to the beauty of nature. It’s like coming to a creek in the middle of the woods. An inner and possibly outer smile blooms. I get excited and want to take it all in. I pay rapt appreciation to the sounds of the flowing water, the reflections in the pools, the patterns of the light shining through the trees, the variety of plants that grow nearby. Ultimately it’s not just each component part but the entirety of the experience.

My dreams sometimes include a pseudo-flesh presence. Certain acts are accompanied with flesh-like sensations. Sometimes in dreams I can feel a kiss and even taste it. Sometimes I can smell things. But I often also do things impossible to do in physical life, like float airborne in a scene.

The scenes are usually devoid of the sexual politicking so common in relationship sex. There’s no bargaining, no calculated seducing. Love scenes seem so much more like true love even when meeting strangers or instant intimates. We seem to know each other even before introducing ourselves. I’ve never felt such instant love rapport as I do with the women in my dreams.

ENERGIZE ME!

The attraction I feel in dreams seems so much more clearly about energy than flesh. I’m drawn to a woman’s vibration, not to her matter.

The rewards are different than in physical sex. Even during sex dreams where I experience something like an orgasm, the reward is primarily emotional. It is a full-blown love rush even with strangers. It expresses a feeling of universal harmony that I so cherish, a hunger for inclusion so often denied in our everyday competitive society.

Of course in night dreams there is no actual flesh to distract from the emotional rapport. There is only pretend flesh, like an imaginary friend. But dream sex is reminds me of all that goes on at the deeper feeling levels of physical sex. We’re often lulled into thinking that what we want out of sex is physical stimulation, but my dreams show me there is so much more to it.

Dreams show me that an emotional payoff dwells behind every physical desire. That payoff can be far-removed from the physical activity.

SYMBOLIC INTERACTION

Dreams shrink time and space. Instant love happens because who wants to hang out through the long and winding road of romantic negotiation? Dreams are like fast forwarding to the good (or the bad) parts. Go for the gusto. In so doing they expose symbolic meanings more clearly.

Is hand-holding (or a kiss or a boob fondle or a tight squeeze) meaningful all by itself? No! It has a symbolic meaning that we each assign to it. This is most clearly shown in dreams where the environment is much more flexible that material reality. It’s that symbolic meaning that makes it compelling. That meaning varies from person to person and from situation to situation.

For one person it could be a sign of love. For another it could be sexual desire talking. For another it could be an invasion of privacy. And on and on.

In dreams, where there is no actual physical stimulation going on, the symbolic meaning becomes more clear since you can’t be sensually sated in the dream state.

In this way, physical bodies hold metaphysical symbolism. Dream sex is often more interesting to me than physical sex because these symbolic meanings take center-stage. (Granted that in my current circumstance, there isn’t much for dream sex to compete with.)

MAKING ATTRACTION ATTRACTIVE

I often think about how attraction plays out in the physical world. If it is reduced to a robotic response, just a “you look marvelous” kind of thing, I can see how women would feel as if they were commodities on display and for sale at Costco. I think that’s where the dumbed down version of sexuality we so often get is harmful to both men and women. It does not include the richness of meaning.

The pain out there from this paradigm is enormous. Some hate being regarded as “beautiful” or “sexy” when they’d much rather be regarded for their minds and souls — or just left alone. Others are deeply scarred from a history of being told they don’t have what it takes to be beautiful.

In my own personal universe, attraction is becoming much more like my dream state, which is to say it’s more of an emotional experience. When my attraction is welcome and appreciated, it’s a phenomenon that energizes me. My attraction for someone inspires an inner calling to join that being in a co-creation in whatever way is appropriate. It’s like seeing any other form of beauty and wanting to harmonize with it, often to become one with it.

The attraction that I feel in my dreams conveys to me that much is missing from the normal portrayal of attraction we’re taught to emulate in our cultural storytelling. We’re conditioned to objectify the physical and ignore the deeper meanings of this enchanting energy field.

I dream of changing that paradigm.

Kissing strangers

Kissing strangersA Facebook friend posted this video where filmmaker Tatia Pilivea recorded twenty strangers in ten pairings sharing a first kiss. People who had never met were paired up and asked to kiss. It included two presumably gay pairings, one male and one female.

I noticed on YouTube that the video has amassed over 66 million views!

The black-and-white video was quietly inspirational in its tenderness and affection. It is a wonder to watch shyness and awkwardness melt into a genuine, if fleeting, connection.

MEMORIES

Watching the film brought back memories of intimacy workshops I attended way back in the early 1980s. Hugging and kissing strangers happened back then. Often.

My heart happily soars over stuff like this. I love climbing out of the box in a safe, protected way to experience something that is normally not even considered doable because it’s far too different from the standards mass culture conforms to. We’ve probably all had fantasies of kissing attractive strangers, but actually doing it and having the pairing arranged for us makes it even more interesting.

Reading through some of the viewer comments, it becomes apparent that many people see the subject of this video as “making out.” Like make out with a stranger. A zipless kiss. A recreational pursuit. A thrill ride. My guess is that these commentators have never kissed strangers themselves, or if they have, they maintained a superficial perspective on its implication, like party game.

In the context of intimacy workshops, kissing total strangers was (for me at least) more of a unique spiritual experience. The physical ritual had a huge ripple effect in the deep pool of my consciousness. Granted that it was transient and instant intimacy, which freaks some people out to no end. Yet for me, kissing a stranger expressed and spread love in a surreal way, as if adding another dimension to love thy neighbor.

It is nearly ineffable to express how it felt — like in the womb of another universe showing (and receiving) non-possessive love for someone I did not know and probably would never see again. The experience stoked my fantasies about the world I would love to live in where people were much friendlier to one another than in the troubled world we have collectively created.

HOW IT HAPPENED

During intimacy workshops, sharing at a very uncommon depth occurred. Much of it was verbal. People would share their feelings about things. Often they would share their living nightmares, their painful memories or current struggles. The range of this sharing, much of it among strangers, was far more self-revealing than under normal social circumstances.

They told stories of being molested, raped, rejected, tormented, humiliated, excluded — things often considered too scary to mention or confess among friends. They bared their secrets in this safe place. They bared their souls.

People shared, and they were supported. They often got useful feedback. They got love.

Amid all this open-hearted sharing, often tearfully cathartic, people often hugged. Sometimes they kissed. Sometimes it occurred within the context of a facilitated exercise. Sometimes it was a spontaneous expression of affection during recess from workshop activities.

THIRTY YEARS LATER

When I attended these workshops in the early 80s, I firmly believed that the joy that was happening there would gain momentum. It would grow and prosper. People would see that love was the answer. How could anything as wonderful as this not take root and grow into new social institutions?

Life had other plans. Even though those workshops (and others like them) are still alive and well today, it seems that the global village has gotten more violent and mean. We’re more guarded and suspicious.

I used to think while participating in these workshops that the so-called battle of the sexes would become a thing of the past. Healing was happening. Gender equality would reign supreme. Spiritual intimacy would save the day.

Ahem. So much for youthful idealism.

KISSING STRANGERS

Even back then, even amid all my cosmic fantasizing, it still felt strange to kiss strangers. I kissed women; I kissed men. Often it was more like kissing whoever appeared there in front of you in an exercise. I kissed people I was attracted to and I kissed people I was not attracted to.

This was not kissing out of romantic feelings or sexual attraction. It was kissing in an entirely different mind set, more on a soul level. It was not always sensually pleasing. A few times it was borderline creepy, but I was still overcome with idealism that this was social progress, part of what then was called the human potential movement.

The idea of kissing just anybody causes teeth to gnash for many. I viewed it more like foreign travel and respecting other cultures. It’s a tendency of mine to try and fit in wherever I go, often at the price of surrendering my ego for awhile. Strange as some of it was, I never regretted having participated.

And while it did not feel oh, so courageous to me at the time, or even that bold, based on what life delivered later,  it was amazing in retrospect.

WAR STORIES

This may sound like something completely different, but I see a connection. I sometimes hear war stories about enemy soldiers who accidentally encounter one another. Through some quirky circumstance, they seem to step outside of the war for a few minutes. Though programmed to see each other as sworn enemies, sometimes they discovered people very much like themselves. Men who have feelings. Men who have families. Men who have hopes and dreams. Men who have struggles. Men who may not be convinced that war is justified but who feel coerced by their respective countries into participating as soldiers.

It’s too bad enemy troops cannot have pre-war sensitivity sessions. It’s hard to imagine war being a popular pastime if that happened.

Kissing strangers brings on a similar shift in perception. It removes normal social barriers people habitually erect between themselves and others. For a few precious seconds, all you need is love. More often than not, people leave intimacy workshops feeling better about the human race than before. For a little while, at least, they have more hope.

Looking back over the joys and heartbreaks of life, looking back to a few weekend workshops in my young thirties, I am still inspired by the experiences. I like to imagine how society would be if somehow in the tapestry of possibility, we created different rules for experiencing more love and cooperation. I like to imagine people feeling safer, supported, and more included.

Oh, I know all about the logistical nightmares and the legal, political, and health implications. I fast forward beyond all that just to feel how wonderful it would be if we really were free to pursue this happiness. I would so much rather take the risks to expand love consciousness than take the well-worn path to fear and exclusion.

As weird as kissing strangers can be, the memory of the experience warms me more than I can say.

Putting it in writing

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI grew up thinking how important it was to put things in writing. Putting a contract or agreement or even an intention in writing gave it more validity than verbal agreements. Or so I thought.

Turns out that putting something in writing guarantees nothing. It’s just another one of those great myths.

It my case, dealing with promises put in writing and then broken has created some great lessons in Earth School.

BROKEN CONTRACTS

Aspiring writers grow up craving to land writing contracts. Having a book publisher want to sign you up is a big deal in validity. It means that your ideas and your skills as a writer are up to the challenge. A written contract is a form of security. In some ways, it is an answer to all those people who told me/us to give up our dreams and get a real job.

In the 1990s I landed a book contract for a manuscript on online romance I had written. I also got a contract to write a sequel. I was delighted.

With great excitement I invested a few months writing the second book. In the meantime, the publisher ran into issues promoting and selling the first book. He ended up informing me that he would not publish the second book, which by then I had finished writing and he had already accepted for publication with another contract.

Usually, publishing contracts favor the publisher. All he had to do was change his mind, and he was off the hook. In the end, having that publishing contract in writing essentially meant nothing.

(A humorous sidenote: publishers send out advance sales copy to places like Amazon. On an Internet search one time I uncovered a research paper that had cited my book, which never got published, as a reference consulted for the project!)

A little after that fiasco, I was asked by another publisher to co-write a book with her — an insider’s guide to book publishing. She drew up a publishing contract for “to protect us,” since we would be co-authors.

We spent a few months working on the book. She was the authority with credentials, but the actual wordsmith action, which was very time-consuming, was my role. She would be the primary authority for speeches and presentations for the book. I got no upfront money for my work.

Then with mounting business and personal problems, she unexpectedly announced that she was in overwhelm and had to stop working on the book. No matter that she had put her intentions in writing — it meant nothing. That book was also listed on Amazon for years (and ironically did not include me as co-author.)

I was certainly a busy writer of unpublished books!

LOVE

I used to get tickled when my wife would promise that she would never leave me. It seemed naive to use the word never. She took pride in her promises and swore she never broke them. Amused, I told her to put her pledge in writing.

She did. In a statement written in longhand, she penned these words that will last in infamy: “I promise I will never leave you.” And then she signed it.

A few months later she initiated our (amicable) divorce.

A love pledge in writing offers a security myth. Sometimes it holds forever; sometimes it collapses. I have a signed souvenir from my ex-wife that she will never leave me.

THE FINE PRINT

In addition to broken promises, most of us are taught the hard way to “read the fine print.”

The fine print is usually the legal jargon used by corporations or crooks to wiggle out of any promise made by exaggerated advertising or corporate myth. For example, we see all those wonderful commercials about how the insurance companies and a host of other saviors rush to our aid in times of distress. That is, until we actually need help in the real world. Then it’s, “Oh, sorry, not included. Didn’t you read your policy?”

In love relationships, the fine print comes in the form of all the excuses, rationalizations, and justifications for our behavior that attends broken promises. “Oh, did you take my promise that I will never leave you literally? I meant it as an intention. Oops.”

RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION

Many of us have great stories to tell about all the times that “s/he reneged on all those promises.” I have many.

There’s a part of me that gets all huffy when I feel lied to — when someone promises to do something yummy or comforting and then doesn’t. When they had emblazoned their pledge of loyalty and love in writing, it seems to justify my anger or injury even more. Look, empirical evidence that they led me on! I am righteously indignant. I am justifiably hurt. I am a victim.

I can frame the piece of writing and hang it on a wall. I can point to it and excitedly demonstrate how I was fed a line of bullshit (although quite frankly, I don’t know what bulls have to do with any of it, but we haven’t advanced our profanity to include “Human shit!” as an expletive.)

But ultimately, what does it accomplish?

THE HIGH ROAD

When I am disappointed in love, I often wonder if it had anything to do with promise-breaking karma my soul generated in past lives. Was I a crook in the past? Did I romantically deceive and possibly destroy lovers in past lives? Am I being shown why it’s a risky idea to promise someone love and loyalty?

I don’t conceive of karma as an agent of punishment, but I do believe that in Earth School we get growth lessons. One lesson for me has been dealing with disillusionment from hype colliding with reality. Promises dissolve. I don’t always think of it as someone telling overt lies, but I am still left to deal with my emotional wreckage when it happens.

The spiritual lesson I have come to embrace is to live life more in the moment. Embrace change more. Reduce expectations that people will stay the same. I have changed course over my life voyage, so why not give others the same benefit? I don’t think I am a monster for drifting toward new interests or beliefs as I outgrew old ones, so why should I demonize anyone else for doing the same thing even when it means they abandon our friendship?

Disappointments can still bring on body blows to the emotions, and often to the wallet, but festering on dramas of betrayal, victimization, or what coulda-shoulda happened are just not helpful. The best course for me for when people backpedal from their promises is to look for the next bike path.