Parental mysteries

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On the fifth anniversary of my mother’s passing, I found myself ruminating on a familiar theme: I wished I would have known her.

“What?” you ask.  “You didn’t know your mother?”

No, not really. Not at the depths of my desires or the farther reaches of my curiosity about who she was as a person.

Please don’t misunderstand. We had what casual observers would call a good relationship. I loved my mother and she loved me. In terms of the average American life with average expectations about average family relationships, I had little to complain about. Compared to some of my friends with horror story upbringings, I lived in a cake walk world.

Yet as my mother slipped away from a long and full life, I realized how much was left to know about her. As is true for many parents of her generation, she kept herself in a protective bubble of non-disclosure. It was not usual for her to reveal much of what she was truly thinking and feeling. I doubt if I could tell you why, because that, too, would be hidden within her psyche.

I presume she was just following the values instilled in her. She grew up in a culture where parents shielded their children from knowing their deep, private thoughts. This trend still exists in many of my friends today who are parents. They keep much of their real world secret from their children, many of whom are adults now.

The secrecy game is played with good intentions. It is often borne out of a deep love parents have for their children. Society teaches parents that they are expected to be role models for their children, and as such many do not feel comfortable showing weakness or even that they are struggling. Secrecy is often intended to shield children from the cruelties, insecurities, and challenges of life in this world. Parents want to see their children succeed, and that includes not being bogged down by … well, by reality.

Is it a good thing that parents die off without their kids knowing who they were as people? Is that how the system is supposed to work? Are parents somehow required not to share openly? While it is clearly a tradition many families cling to, is it in the best interests of both?

MYSTERY MAN

Starting right after my mother passed, I lived with my father for his final 30 months of life. He was a caring and generous father by any normal standard, and I was often told how lucky I was to have him as my dad. Still, we hardly knew each other. Dad steered clear of much deep verbal engagement. I got the distinct impression that like many men, he was not comfortable discussing his true feelings, often not even his true opinions.

As his 65 year-old child, I respected his boundaries with conversations, but I would have preferred my own personal Tuesdays with Morrie experience. “Dad, what’s it like to be looking at the end game of your life on Earth?”

“Well, Son, let me tell you. You have a week of hours?”

Dad well knew that I was interested in the mysteries of the afterlife, yet despite his health challenges, he was (surprisingly, I thought) not interested in the topic of what happens after death. His wife and several close friends had passed within the last few years, yet he didn’t ask my thoughts about it. Even while we dealt with the practicalities of health care and hospice, he never once said anything like, “I’m dying.” He would talk about “after I’m gone” in a practical way, like what to do with the furniture, but he rarely shared his thoughts or feelings about the journey he was taking.

I don’t mean to sound critical or whiny; I respect his choices. After all, dying is a highly personal and private experience. But as he left, I still wish I would have known more about his hidden joys and heartbreaks, his successes and regrets, his end-of-show thoughts and feelings. I wanted to know him as the person he was, not as the role he played as my father.

A WRITER’S WORLD

As a creative writer, I love wondering what makes people tick. It’s my passion to know how people see the world and what motivates them to do things. I normally want conversations to get beyond superficial banter like what someone ate last night or what cute sayings someone read on Facebook. I want to get into the juicy stuff that flows like magma underneath the surface of our daily lives.

What are your heartbreaks? What are your ecstasies? What are your aspirations?

Creative writers base stories on motivation. Often in literature and movies, characters will talk at a depth not commonly seen in real life, at least in my real life. We get to know what drives people to do things, often quite poetically.

It’s not so common today in everyday chitchat for people to drop in deep to discuss inner yearnings and deepest pains. In our wired, televised, social media networked world, deep conversations are often reduced to tweet and sound bite brevity. Today, kids are often babysat by big screen HDTVs, little screen tablets, and smart phones. It’s easier than ever to let someone else think for us. It’s easier than ever to lose intimate contact with others because we are being taught to keep it simple. Tweet it or delete it.

I like to talk and write about feelings, relationships, sex, death, afterlife, mystical experiences, unusual perceptions, coping with various situations, solving problems, emotional growth. In-depth conversations about topics—topics that ironically matter most in our daily lives—are simply out of bounds in many families. We’re often taught to put on a good show, and not a reality show.

ONE-WAY STREETS?

Communication between parent and adult child is not always two-way. For example, a mother might help an adult child through a romantic break-up without mentioning what she herself is going through or went through with the child’s father. A parent might give or lend money to an adult child without sharing what a true financial hardship that is. Parents may deal with their offspring’s drug issues or mate choices or job choices without revealing their own struggles.

We are taught to play roles and not tell our truths.

The older I got as a teen-ager, the less of my personal stuff I shared with my mother and father. I had learned the safe topics and the unsafe topics. While I know that it’s entirely normal for adult kids to edit their conversations as much as the parents do, I nevertheless find something sad about the practice.

AFTERLIFE STUDIES

As I have pursued my interest in afterlife studies, I am confronted with the possibility that there are no secrets in the next world. Why? Because in the spirit world, the nature of thought and telepathy does not allow for secrecy. Anybody can read us like a completely open book.

That may sound pretty creepy to earthling ears. No secrets? Everybody knows everything? Even that?

But it is also a love space. So, yeah, everybody knows your secrets, but it doesn’t matter. It’s a very forgiving place.

For me, the most interesting aspect of this is how I respond to the idea that my parents right at this minute know it all. No secret is beyond their spiritual eyes and ears. Even that.

But how strange this is for me now! I’ve noticed that even in imaginary conversations with my parents, where there is an astoundingly small chance of them answering back in a voice I can hear, I have a difficult time discussing my secrets with them. It feels as if it’s not safe. Ha! That programing goes deep.

Of course, any difficulty I experience sharing secrets with my parents-in-spirit only mirrors that I have trouble facing my own secrets.

In the afterlife, we’ll be more like movie actors attending a script conference discussing our character roles. We’ll share our motivations, conflicts, goals, and beliefs from the life just lived. We’ll have a complete backstory from our past lives and our between-life goals and objectives. We’ll probably learn why we eat our secrets. Yes, even about that.

 

Seeking Jordan

fishbowlSeeking Jordan is a short book written by Matthew McKay, PhD, a father with a scientific background searching to find his murdered son in the afterlife. Having made contact through various psychological methods, he and Jordan have been having what amounts to a virtual relationship.

Embedded within the book that is largely channeled (written through automatic writing) are some startling statements that are like answers to some of the questions I have frequently pondered. Those include:

  • Are wars on Earth actually planned in other dimensions?
  • Is monogamy the most spiritual lifestyle, the cosmic right way?
  • Why don’t we get more clear answers from spirit?

Seeking Jordan is not intended as a proof book. It does not offer up much evidence for its content. Rather, it is what it is, a father’s attempt to cope with the premature death of his son. In fact, the father deals with his own angst of not knowing if the material he was channeling originated from Jordan or from his own imagination. That said, to me the book reads like an appetizer that suggests that a much greater and complete story of the universe awaits explorers who dig deeper into the body of knowledge.

The statements on war and monogamy that I caught were little asides that were given during answers to other questions. But what was given in those tiny asides shattered paradigms. If true and if they became common knowledge, they could forever change the way that many of us perceive things.

WAR

In the book, Jordan’s father quotes his son as saying this: “For example, souls born in the 1920s and 1930s had an almost 100 percent probability of facing World War II. Where they lived and how the war might touch them wasn’t likely to change. But choices they made responding to countless life events could change their circumstances—even to the point of altering the likely span of their lives.” (Page 84)

This was just an aside. The conversation was more about life plans in general, and in particular, did Jordan’s life plan include his being murdered at age 23? Yet these words point to the idea that World War II was a planned event! The implications to humanity are enormous.

The majority of humans deal with whether or not their country (or tribe, if you will) will go to war. We spend trillions of dollars on war and preparations for war. The suffering due to war is almost beyond quantification, let alone comprehension. (Fifty-five million people died in World War II alone.) So the idea that war could be designed in the spirit world (for karma or whatever other reason) is horrific—yet potentially liberating.

It is a horrific idea that anyone (soul group or God) would invent such sufferable conditions within which free will operates. This argument goes along the lines of if God is so loving, why does he allow such suffering? The answer usually is, “God doesn’t create suffering; humans do.” Yet maybe warfare is part of the Earth School curriculum and wars are designed for reasons mortals are not yet privy to. And it’s not as if many humans don’t love to entertain themselves with war stories of all types, from Ken Burns’ documentaries to John Wayne to Hogan’s Heroes.

Why liberating? If humanity researched, then eventually accepted that war is part of an Earth School curriculum, we might more quickly reject war as a solution to problems. Maybe war would cease. I believe it would be much more difficult to motivate soldiers to suffer the wages of war if the common perception was that it’s all a cosmic-consciousness game. We might instead choose to deny the military-industrial complex and deal with our karma without making more corpses. Making peace among nations would be a solution that would balance the karma from wars past.

The major objection to reasoning like this is that mainstream society doesn’t know if there really is a spirit world. Is Jordan, or any other channeled spirit, credible? We don’t know if consciousness survives death—despite a couple hundred years of research and tons of literature by gifted mavericks who studied psychic phenomena and endured the ridicule from colleagues and family. Not conducting serious research on this matter means that we stay stuck with the old paradigms about warfare.

I remember the old saying, “What if they threw a war and nobody came?” I pondered this possibility in a fun piece about ecstasy. At some point and for some reason, people may give up fighting even as their rulers demand it.

MONOGAMY

Through his mortal Dad, Jordan wrote: “Monogamy doesn’t exist is the spirit world. Each relationship, each incarnated role, is entered for the purpose of learning. Rules such as fidelity—while important mores on Earth—have no bearing in the spirit world, where each soul has had countless partners from the ‘neighborhood.’” (Page 65)

This addresses a philosophical question I have had for nearly fifty years. If God loves everyone (or Jesus or any other iconic spiritual voice), why are ordinary people so generally limited (religion being a major braking force here) in their expression of love? To me it seems like God is the ultimate polyamorist.

For decades I have enjoyed fantasies about Utopian societies a la Shangri-La where love and even sexual boundaries are fluid. A tribal mentality would be devoted to including everyone in love. I have also wondered if my experiences either currently or between lives in the spirit world have fed me the notion that loving everyone is—or at least could be—a good thing.

While Jordan called fidelity an important moré of life on Earth, the idea that monogamy does not exist in heaven is fascinating. It suggests that normalcy changes when a person changes dimensions. It also shows diversity in action, meaning that the change-making universe likes to shake things up.

In the broad scope of things, countless lives in the physical world have been destroyed by people trying to deal with monogamy in one form or another, either for it or against it. Consequences have included jealous rages (including murder and child abduction), rampant insecurity, the guilt and shame of adultery, porn and sexting addiction, competition for mates (winners and losers), loneliness, rejection, stagnation, broken homes, jail terms, in some places execution, etc.

While there are practical reasons for many people to live monogamously in this physical existence, religion could well overhaul its fire and brimstone approach to non-monogamy if it were an accepted fact that spirits love differently. Meanwhile, polyamory in the spirit world (which simply means loving more than one) has implications far more than just physical sex. To me it goes hand-in-hand with the oft-expressed idea that we are essentially all one, individual but united like drops in the ocean being both individual and collective.

Until writing this piece, I did not know that Matthew 22:30 says much the same thing. “For in the resurrection they [people] neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.” This takes “till death do you part” seriously.

DOUBT

Jordan made more of a point about uncertainty, devoting a chapter to it. He wrote: “Doubt lies at the root of hope, and it is the experience of hope that makes seeking possible, that drives the quest for new knowledge and wisdom. So doubt motivates learning, the quest to enter what is unknown, the determination to turn darkness into light.” (Page 91)

People often wonder, myself included, why there is so much mystery to so much of the communication from the other side. I have wondered aloud, for instance, why some mediums appear to converse so casually with spirits and yet seem unable to pin down some important specific facts like names, dates, and answers to direct questions. Readings sometimes take on the quality of guessing games. Barring that outright fraud is not being committed, could it be true that the earthly existence is actually designed to be mysterious?

We may look at this as a design flaw of the universe—why do we have to live with so many unknowns—yet isn’t doubt a mainstay of humanity? Don’t marketers of all stripes including politicians and leaders weave doubt into their narratives to hook customers and followers? Don’t they motivate us with doubt, like who or what will destroy us, torture us, kill us?

Humans seek to know answers so that they do not have to worry about things unknown. Seeking is often more like demanding answers. We buy products, services, and expert advice to feel as if we are safer from harm. So many people believe that the solution to all their problems would be to win the Lottery so that they could buy solutions to any doubt or need they had. It is a myth, however. Changes in any situation just bring new doubts to contend with.

Seeking Jordan is an interesting little book filled with gems to contemplate and explore. It is also an illustration of a path that a psychologist took as he grappled with the loss of his beloved boy. Along with so many other books and videos currently available, it paints a picture of a universe that is a lot more exciting, at least to me, than the version of reality peddled by materialists (and politicians.)

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.

My nemesis the phone

Phone PhobiaIn my quest to deal in a positive way with my current state of loneliness, the writing is on the wall. I need to deal with my nemesis — the phone.

By not being phone friendly, especially with people I do not know from personal encounters, I am cutting off a major source of social interaction. On more than one occasion I have been told variations on, “Well, duh, if you’re going to hide from talking on the phone, you cannot expect to make and maintain quality friendships.”

I do take some comfort in knowing that my sister dislikes the phone, too. Perhaps it is genetic, although it did not come from my late father’s genes. He liked to gab. He was the extrovert of the family. He would even talk to telemarketers, despite the fact that due to his poor 95 year-old hearing he could not understand half of what they were saying. “What? What? Would you repeat that? Please talk slower.”

UNRAVELING THE MYSTERY

It is not perfectly clear to me why I dislike talking on the phone so much. Here are some guesses:

If the connection is bad, and even if only one word in ten gets dropped, especially on cell phones, it takes extra concentration just to listen and comprehend the other person. Such concentration takes energy away from what could otherwise be used in actually conversing.

This is especially annoying when people start laughing after just saying something, and I have no clue what the punchline was. Even worse is when I am conversing with someone in the midst of an emotional crisis, and I cannot hear what’s going on.

While phones give wonderful feedback in the form of tone of voice, they do not provide visual body language. As someone who is sensitive to nonverbal cues, not having them is frustrating. The other person is equally handicapped, but they don’t have my programming

So yeah, there’s Skype or Facetime or whatever else. It’s not the same as being in person, but it’s better than the visual void.

Then I have to deal with another obstacle: sitting still. When I talk on the phone, I like to move. I can’t stay still any more than Robin Williams or Richard Pryor could deliver a passionate monologue sitting in a chair.

THE INTROVERT CARD

I am a card-carrying introvert. One common characteristic of many introverts is a difficulty dealing with small talk. Just not encoded in my DNA. Small talk is like having to sit through a hundred back-to-back TV commercials for prescription drugs. The 16th time in a row that I hear “Ask your doctor,” my brain becomes unhinged and I fire off sarcastic retorts about profiteering and mass hypnosis.

Small talk too often arms my brain’s detonator. I attempt to be polite and cordial, but my inner voice sometimes goes nuts. Then I have to deal with my inner critic who pokes its stick at me for being a judgmental bastard. You don’t want to mess with my inner critic!

I suspect that years of writer’s training shaped my inner guidance systems to go for the essence of life. I like to play with the big questions. Does life have a purpose? What happens after we die? How is your emotional life going? What makes you ecstatic? What do you struggle with in life? Big questions.

I used to sit down and watch DVD extras where actors, writers, and directors talked about the movie I just saw. Often these conversations would get my creative juices flowing. They often pondered big questions. They got into the guts of their emotions. This is what I wanted my normal life to look like.

I often ruminate on a cultural phenomenon of ours: you often have to pay huge sums of money to have deep, insightful conversations. You have to pay a therapist, an expert, a medium, a counselor, or a coach to go deeper than the thin veneer normal chit-chat allows. In these wired times, that conversation could be via the phone, creating a problem for this guy.

THE WRITER CARD

Being a writer probably has something else to do with it. I have been trained not to be boring. This doesn’t mean that I don’t bore the crap out of some people anyway, but it does mean that I nevertheless stress out when someone is waiting for me to say something brilliant.

When an introvert has nothing to say, it often means that s/he is thinking of too much to say. There are too many reply options. We’re the kind of people who are agog at cable TV shows that are rhetorical gunfights at the Not OK Corral. We see this display as more about grandstanding and showmanship than well-considered discourse or helpful problem-solving.

Ask an extrovert how they are, and many will quickly respond. “Great!”

If you are already questioning that last sentence, then you may be an introvert. You may think, “Why would an extrovert say ‘Great’ if s/he’s feeling shitty?” Over-thinking.

When a person asks me how I am, I first wonder how deep do they want my answer to go. Superficial, non-threatening politeness or deep end of the pool? Any unsafe topics I should avoid in my response? Any secrets I need to keep?

Extroverts are more accustomed to external processing — bouncing ideas off others and thinking out loud. Introverts like to issue fully processed thoughts as if they were press releases. We don’t like to have someone come back later and challenge us with “but you said…” So we like to make sure that we mean what we say, and that takes time and energy.

VOICES FROM THE PAST

At one point in my life, I had achieved some success as a national magazine writer, and that opened the doors for correspondence relationships in the pre-Internet days. One time I got a phone call from someone I had been writing to. After about five minutes, she sad, “I didn’t expect you to be so quiet.”

Which I heard as, “Man, you’re a loser at giving good phone.”

My writing personality is much stronger than my up close and personal personality with strangers. In writing I can organize my thoughts and shape each sentence. There is pacing and flow and the opportunity for precision. On the phone it’s all raw and unorganized. Sometimes when I listen to myself talk, I become majorly embarrassed at how inefficient I can be with words.

I become human. Gasp.

TURNING THE CORNER

I accept that beliefs shape my reality and that much of my phone resistance is due to the narrative I created for myself. Despite what I have written here, I do enjoy chatting with good friends on the phone. I just enjoy more getting out with them and having a full face-to-face experience.

I am not sure yet how I am going to change my mind so that I welcome phone conversations as much as I love something like hugging. Time will tell.

UM … HOLD THE PHONE

Just as I was about to push “publish,” I decided to google people who don’t like talking on the phone. I got some fascinating responses. For instance, there is this one. I’d neglected to mention the invasion factor of the telephone. The ring is an interruption. Stimulus, response. Often I am in the middle of writing when the ringing triggers an instant dilemma of answer or not.

And this one. Ha-ha.

And this one. It brings up another astute point: presence. Often today people in phone conversations are multi-tasking, such as becoming distracted on a website while they are talking and not talking on the phone. It’s also popular today for people to call during their drives or their walks, often not paying attention to key points of the conversation because their brain is otherwise occupied.

I was excited to know that I am in good company on this. Unfortunately. they wouldn’t want to talk about it on the phone.

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.