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.

Benefit from loneliness

Benefit from lonelinessSwimming the wrong way? Or is it the right way?

Something I often hear — and something I say myself — is that when dealing with unpleasant situations, it helps to look for the gifts being offered. Hard as it is to do sometimes when it feels as if life’s prime objective is to punish people, I find that when I focus on the blessings in disguise, I start healing.

I have been dealing with soul loneliness. I have missed deep connection with friends or a lover. I’ve already written much about it. Today I want to focus on accentuating the positive. The truth is that our struggles have both positive and negative aspects, so what has being lonely been good for?

FINDING MYSELF

Living alone with little outside social contact has been one of the best ways to discover who I really am and what I really want. Normally I tend to be a people pleaser. When I live with someone, I want to see them being happy. That often means that I sacrifice my own desires and play a second fiddle support role. i am so good at it that I do not even think of it as a sacrifice.

Another way to say this is that I was conditioned to be a follower. I was trained to respond to someone else’s lead. As my social circle shrinks, I rely more on myself for stimulation and support than ever. As a result, I am discovering more about me as my own leader.

Playing second fiddle is not just about personal relationships. Career is another huge area. Even as a freelancer, the demands of producing income have frequently persuaded me to sacrifice being myself to play a role in the marketplace. How many of us cannot be our true selves, expressing our true opinions and feelings, when we’re at work? How many of us feel required to wear personality masks when we do our jobs?

It is a great gift to be able to slowly discover who I really am when I am not encouraged to play a support role or to bend to the demands of economic pressures.

FINDING OTHERS

My search for my own truth leads me to perceive others on a different level as well. The more I become the real me, the more I attract realness in others. Those who wish to share on a more genuine level seem to come forth — while those who do not wish for emotional intimacy retreat into their comfort zone.

I confess that I have not been very aggressive at locating venues where I could find people who want to share at such an unmasked level of openness. However I recognize that a transition takes time. I will find new kindred spirits somewhere down the line. I am still finding myself.

People who have suffered a deeply felt loss through death, break-up, job termination, disease, or other situation are often told that this crisis could lead to better situations, hard as it may be to see at first. A major loss or setback in life often causes us so much pain that we are too raw to keep up our normal go get ’em attitude. We open up to new options to handle our trauma.

One of those ways is frequently to become more real, direct, and courageous. We suck it up and do what we have to do. That process often attracts a different breed of friend.  It could manifest as a current friendship that expands from where it was. Or it could manifest as new friendships that meet our new needs.

CHANGING THE FILTER

Loneliness is taking a condition of solitude and casting it in a negative or painful light. In a positive light, it is great for clarity of thinking without interruption from others.

This fundamental change in filter means altering the negative self-talk around loneliness. It means not buying into any of the cliches and stereotypes about being lonely. When I make the effort to consciously intervene when my monkey mind screams that I am so lonely, boo-hoo, my morale improves. I see this as an opportunity to grow.

The prison system, as many movies and documentaries tell us, use solitary confinement as a form of punishment. It has even come under fire for causing people to go mad. At the same time, other people pay handsomely to attend various spiritual retreats where the whole point is to stop the busy world and to tune in to inner voices.

NEW PASSIONS

Loneliness forces self-reflection. There is only so much I can do with the usual distractions designed to keep my head buried in the sand. My personality is not too fond of mindless television, hack movies, pro sports, shopping, etc. Many of the institutions commonplace to American society are like foreign customs to this 12th-generation American.

So when I have grown bored of the distractions that I do enjoy, there is a void that I need to fill by searching for new interests and passions. For example, when I felt that I had exhausted finding videos featuring positive spiritual input, I decided to start meditating again. I had gotten out of the meditation habit because the partners I lived with were not into it. Being the follower, I blended more into their lifestyle than vice versa.

Ironically, most of the hobbies that I have are much more solitary than social. I like writing, photography, reading, art. These are my go-to activities that generally have not provided much in the way of friendship.

Although most of my pursuits are independent studies, the vastness of the time and space around me has been great for self-reflection and life review. I am still in the discovery phase of finding new passions.

NEW PERCEPTIONS

Along with new passions come new perceptions. For example, I have found that the lack of romantic and/or sexual connection has created amazing new perceptions about those experiences.

For example, my unplanned celibacy has given me a revitalized appreciation for what sex can be. I have been knocked out of anything habitual; no pleasure as usual. Loneliness is like a time out. As I see anything from romantic movies to (supposed) erotica, I find that I no longer wish to follow the herd. It seems counter-intuitive, but not having a sexual partner and daydreaming about the spiritual potential of lovemaking has made me even choosier about the relationship I would want if the opportunity came along.

Another new perception for me is the goldmine of alternative media that is out there challenging the status quo. I had gotten very sick of mainstream media pushing mainstream agendas which included shame, violence, materialism, and separation. Solitude helped me focus on different media sources (YouTube, Udemy, Netflix, HBO Go) where I could select viewing material more to my liking. Besides exposing me to interesting stories, it helped me see how my world view changes when I take charge over what mind food I ingest.

EARTH SCHOOL

Whenever I am feeling particularly blue about certain life events, it helps me greatly to think of this time and place as Earth School. We are here to learn. The school paradigm works well for me because it focuses my mind on this premise: if [this situation] is part of a planned curriculum, what is the lesson? What is the gift?

I find this approach much more useful than blaming someone else for causing me misery. It helps me focus on solving the problem as if I were a university student being challenged to work my way through the professor’s obstacle course.

So far I have been approaching my current state of loneliness as an opportunity to find my real self, and I am starting to see good results. I am learning and growing.

Lonely or alone?

Lonely or Alone?If you have any experience in personal growth circles, you’ve probably encountered the idea that there is a difference between being lonely and being alone. It boils down to something close to this: loneliness is painful; aloneness is about solitude and is frequently quite desirable.

Both of these conditions fill up my life right now. I seem to be running in pretty equal measure between loneliness and aloneness.

I am living alone now. I do not have a romantic relationship. I have very few close friends. I have no established friendship community. This leads to some frightful periods of loneliness.

On the other hand, I also relish my alone time. The artistic side of me savors the freedom to explore without restrictions, explanations, interruptions, and compromises. It sometimes feels liberating to be so free.

THREE YEARS

I spent the better part of the last three years taking care of family business in another state. For much of that time I resided with and cared for my elderly father during the last years of his life.

When I was 650 miles away from home, I lost frequent contact with all but a few people in town.

Meanwhile, relationships change. Needs and wants change. Careers change. Three years turns out to be a long time.

When I returned home there was very little of my old life left to resume. It is time to rebuild.

A GREAT IRONY

As I thought about it, I became aware that nearly any situation I could find myself in would have pros and cons. This is the great irony. It’s a variation on greener pastures. We move toward one set of goals or circumstances to fulfill our hungers, and then another set of needs clamors for our attention.

For example, right now I have an over-abundance of lonely days. I can go several days without talking to anybody. I have a difficult time even thinking of places to go to find social stimulation or connection.

The loneliness I speak of — the loneliness I feel — is not just about companionship. It is missing out on sharing at depth with someone. I call these deep pool friendships. They can be platonic friendships or romantic pairings, and they involve deep feelings of trust, kinship, and affection.

I could go off the deep end with this and suffer in a full-fledged pity party. Yet I don’t. Why? I also know this to be true:

Socializing and especially romantic love take massive amounts of time and energy to sustain. If I were in a relationship or had a very active social life, I would most likely be craving my alone time. I would feel suffocated and possibly annoyed at all the compromises I felt obligated to make. While it may be a happily fulfilling relationship, I would nonetheless be missing creative alone time.

EVERYTHING COMES WITH A COST

This is my main point: It helps me greatly to be conscious of this principle, especially when I am feeling sorry for myself.

There are at least two sides to everything. To take one route means choosing not to take another route, at least for the time being. So rather than feeling devastated or abandoned or any of the other stories I could concoct about my loneliness, I should be mindful of the big picture.

I may still feel lonely, but knowing that it is a choice I make helps me get through the rough spots.

BIRTHDAY WISHES

On the occasion of my 66th birthday — sh-sh-sh, don’t tell anyone — I have decided that this following year will feature my quest to change this lonely state of affairs. Stay tuned as I explore this.

Working through loneliness

Curing LonelinessSomeone wrote this in a public post:

I am more alone than anybody can possibly understand, unless they have been as alone as me. And I don’t know anybody else like this. I reach out — people don’t reply. I help people — they turn my acts against me. I volunteer — I’m expected to do triple what I volunteered for, and kicked out when I don’t. I love — I am ignored. I love — and people start expecting things from me.  I help people — I am alone. I love — I am alone. I reach out in friendship — I am alone. I’ve run out of things to do. I am alone.

I felt this person’s pain. I’ve had days like that.

When I feel lonely to the point of serious pain, I naturally want to end that feeling. I want it to stop. I want to replace the ugliness with something more inspiring.

I take out my toolbox of tips and techniques that I have used over the years, and I see what I can do.

One place I often look to for help is from the mass media. I look for a movie, TV show, book, or recordings that will help me shift my mood. If I don’t shift my mood from feeling unloved, abandoned, betrayed, and any of those things, it could mean many hours or even days on end of being stuck in the overwhelm of feeling inconsequential to the rest of humanity.

I have discovered that it is not always easy to find something emotionally healthy for massaging my mind set. I have to undertake a deliberate and focused search to find mentally and emotionally helpful material.

MOVIES ABOUT LONELINESS

Over the holidays I had a particularly tough time of it. I am currently taking care of my elderly father 650 miles away from my house and friends. On one day I ended up watching two movies about loneliness. Both were foreign films.

One was To Hell with the Ugly, a Spanish romantic comedy about the trials of a proverbial loser in love, a likeable but goofy character often the butt of jokes in the village where he lived. Of course this was the movies, so after an hour of so of watching our comic hero embarrass himself with awkward behavior and suffer the pain of rejection, a delightful love interest enters his world.

Feeling lonely when watching others win love, often despite insurmountable odds, does not always make me feel light and cheery. It sometimes cranks up my feelings of envy. I want that good fortune to happen to me.

The second film was Gloria, also Spanish, a drama about a middle-aged divorced mother of two hunting for a relationship that would bring her happiness and self-worth.  This film played heavily on the torment of loneliness. The man who stole her heart and gave her hope for a tremendous life turn-around turned out to be the proverbial high-risk tortured soul who would not leave his family despite already being divorced.

While the movie made a positive statement in the end about self-reliance, the journey was still filled with reminders that life sucks, particularly in the form of toxic middle-aged men. As a middle0-aged man, I did not find this comforting.

Later I saw Don Jon, the movie Joseph Gordon-Levitt wrote, directed, and starred in. Don was a youthful womanizer who hosted a steady stream of hotties in his bedroom, yet still found digital porn more satisfying. He was even unsatisfied by the hottest of the hotties. He is saved by an unconventional older woman who introduces intimacy to him in ways he never knew. She shows him that real life is better than porn.

While I applauded the messages behind the film, my perspective as a lonely man was that happiness for Don still depended on the luck of his finding the right friend or lover. If I were to play Follow the Leader to bliss, I would still need to find that special someone.

FLAVORS

Loneliness comes in different flavors. The most commonly depicted flavor in our couples-oriented world is romantic-erotic loneliness — living without a loving partner, especially when there are no prospects. Another flavor is dwelling within a relationship that has devolved into something far less than satisfying.

Another flavor is living in a world of thought that few others get, leaving you feeling alone like a pioneer in a vast wilderness, a stranger in a strange land. Another flavor is feeling abandoned or betrayed by someone (sometimes more than one) who seems entirely uninterested in your welfare. Another flavor is when something really bad happens and you find that you’re facing the bulk of it alone.

When I am in the thick of it, finding relief from loneliness seems especially challenging. It’s as if loneliness sucks up all my energy, and I have little strength left to put on that happy face. I generally accept the premise that my outer world is a reflection of my inner world, and that the best way to tackle problems is to start with me. What am I thinking? What am I creating?

THINGS I DO

Here are some techniques I use to deal with loneliness.

What is the lesson: When I feel stuck in painful loneliness, I often ask myself this: if I am a student in Earth School, what is this situation teaching me? What am I supposed to be learning? I follow that train of thought in my journal. I often think of my journal as praying in writing. I get some good answers as I describe my woes. I can often re-cast problems in a different light, and I can make headway in shifting my mood.

What do I want: Sometimes I have to acknowledge that feelings of loneliness are like smoke signals from my soul saying it’s not good to hang around waiting to be magically saved. I need to act. There’s a difference between let go and let God and God helps those who help themselves. So I focus on deciding what I want or what would soothe the ache. I was taught as a child to be happy with what I had and not to ask for things, so writing out what I want is still challenging.

Take it outside: I can feel loneliest cooped up inside a house (even when that house is connected to the world via the Internet.) To shift my mood, I take walks. Often I take my voice recorder along. Walking, and particularly walking in nature, is a great way for me to shift the mood that is hanging heavy like a fog on my outlook. (No it doesn’t always work, but it often helps.) Meanwhile, getting exercise is good for my health.

Through the lens: My own special secret weapon against loneliness is beauty. I take my camera out and look for beauty. Making beauty a deliberate quest fills my brain with something positive, and the photographic exercise often gets me back on track. There is so much beauty to be found when discovering it is my objective.

Uplifting media collection: Knowing that loneliness comes every now and then, I plan for its eventual arrival. I make sure to have handy uplifting media around. It could be audio or video programs, a positive book, or upbeat music, but not just escape media. I try to keep material around that will inspire me, teach me, or motivate me to get off my butt. I purposely exclude commercial TV, anything with ads, anything dreary.

Leaving the comfort zone: Sometimes climbing out of the rut or overcoming a challenge means climbing out of my comfort zone. I may have to push myself to go somewhere, to meet some people, to find something entirely new. If there is a spiritual or support group or class that fits the bill, I might check that out.

Change a paradigm: Sometimes the message brought by painful circumstances is that it’s time for me to change my thinking, my everyday habits. For instance, if loneliness is the result of me isolating myself in a cocoon, I need to break out of my self-imposed prison when and where it makes sense. I look for my guiding paradigms and make mid-course corrections to them.

Embracing loneliness: Treating loneliness as a growth opportunity is much different than thinking of it as a curse or punishment. Many of my favorite pursuits — writing, computer art, photography, reading — are solitary endeavors. When I am lonely, I remind myself of that. I can nudge myself from feeling rejected and dejected to feeling happy to make some art.

Nurturing friendships: I treasure my friendships and make it a priority to nurture those that are clearly mutual in value. An authentic friend who can be present with you in your pain as well as pleasure is one of life’s best blessings. If I ever take them for granted, I can hear the glug-glug-glug of my sinking joy.

I generally believe that loneliness in all its forms and consequences is a social problem — and one of the most underrated, unaddressed crises of our modern times. However, I also believe that its solutions start at home within each individual. We have to do our part to save our sanity.

Here is a previous article I wrote on loneliness. And this.

Is loneliness society’s problem?

Lonely-girlIs loneliness a personal problem or a social problem? Should society make an effort to deal with the fact that so many people are lonely, or is this beyond the scope of social services?

I like to look at how a society could design itself to be more harmonious, cooperative, and loving. That’s my hobby. I like pondering the society I want to live in as opposed to the one we tolerate. For years I have considered loneliness to be among the most critical unaddressed social ills of our time.

There is no shortage of lonely people out there. There are also different kinds of loneliness. The most classic is to be mateless or at a more basic level without someone to date. Yet it can also mean having no close friends with whom to share life’s peaks and valleys. Loneliness can manifest as being in a minority, whether it is racial, ethnic, philosophical, political, socio-economic, religious, sexual orientation, body characteristics, whatever. Plenty of situations make people feel lonely.

In this context, loneliness means feeling isolated or disenfranchised. It means functioning outside of the majority, often way outside the mainstream box. It frequently comes with the price tag of being constantly ridiculed or vilified, sometimes the victim of serious or even fatal abuse and attack.

I believe that chronic loneliness creates chronic problems that in turn are not healthy for society and cost us untold billions. For example, addictions are often ways in which people attempt to cope with their deep feelings of loneliness. It is that profound feeling of being unaccepted, unloved, and disrespected that drives them to coping mechanisms that are often unhealthy choices. Alcohol, drugs, gambling, promiscuity, porn, over-eating, and so on can all be traced to loneliness. Various crimes against society often follow those addictions. Loneliness also leads to disease and mental illness, and in turn, mental illness and disease lead to deeper loneliness.

BUT IS IT A SOCIAL PROBLEM?

Every now and then I post something on Facebook about loneliness and I get a mixed reaction. Some people think that loneliness is a personal problem and that society can’t help. No matter what society could do, they say, loneliness is an inner experience. We can feel lonely in a crowd. It’s not the state’s responsibility to fix personal problems, especially one as personal as loneliness.

My take comes from my own experience dealing with my own loneliness. One of the first steps I like to take is to surround myself with upbeat, inspiring media. Doing that puts me into a higher vibration, a friendlier, more outgoing mood. But I have noticed that it’s not that easy to find truly uplifting media. I have to search with pinpoint accuracy.

Much content on TV and in the movies is focused on downer themes and creepy people. It’s hard to watch the news or documentaries and feel good about humanity when most of them are about how shitty someone is. My own experience tells me that finding healthy mind food cannot be left to channel surfing because most mainstream media is a fear-based selling machine. Advertising is based on unnerving us enough to motivate a purchase.

When I am feeling lonely, a logical solution is to find places where people congregate — where single people congregate if I envision meeting someone for romance. However, many of the institutions created for this purpose are businesses like singles bars, dating services, even sex businesses. Other possibilities include churches, workshops and retreats, travel adventures, various clubs. Many of these solutions are where people go to meet people, but it is not the major reason why the entity exists. For example, bars exist to sell liquor, not to provide matchmaking services. Churches exist to sell a religious brand, not for pair-bonding, even though people often meet prospective partners in church.

Of course, one of the best ways to find inspiration is through like-minded friends, but of course that’s usually the problem. You are lonely because kindred spirits are neither around nor available. Finding good friends takes time and requires nurturing.

WHAT COULD SOCIETY DO?

I believe that if we made it a social priority to provide more resources for dealing with loneliness, it would make a major difference in our world. It could be government sponsored through grants. It could operate as a non-profit or be privately funded through philanthropy. Its purpose would be to provide resources to assist people to improve their life and deal with their loneliness issues.

Here are some services it could include:

A Resource Library. This would be a collection of materials both physical and digital that would provide people with the opportunity to access positive, helpful mind food. For example, if someone was having a particularly rough time, they could go to a website and find a collection of inspirational, solution-based videos and downloadable ebooks addressing various problems related to loneliness.

Curricula. Besides providing access to library materials, various online self-help programs could be created. Content would be specifically geared toward helping people deal with their particular brand of loneliness (which often expresses itself as being discriminated against or ostracized.) In-person classes could also be developed.

Support Group. Loneliness covers a wide rage of causes and manifestations. One of the best ways to turn corners is to talk it out, but support groups are often expensive or focused more on specific addictions like alcohol, drugs, sex/porn, or issues like grief, divorce, suicide, etc. Sponsored support groups could offer techniques and strategies for ending loneliness forever and provide personal networking opportunities.

Networking. Many commercial enterprises have long since used computer database technology to match people, yet because they are profit-driven, they often use questionable tactics that frustrate lonely users. Besides, they are often expensive to use, especially online dating services. An organization could create its own service. Since loneliness covers more territory than romantic, networking can focus on addressing different kinds of needs that different individuals experience.

Gathering Spot. Some facilities could include meeting places where people could gather to socialize. A focus would be on providing resources for dealing with loneliness. People could drop in for coffee and leave with new ideas and encouragement.

Advocacy. I believe that many lonely people feel that Society has told them, “You’re on your own.” And lonely people think, “Yeah, you got that right!” Advocacy would involve making recommendations for social change that would specifically address needs of people who find themselves marginalized, alienated, and discriminated against. Advocacy would also make it more socially viable to find the right kind of help for individual forms of loneliness.

Media. Some advocacy could involve using media channels to more effectively create social awareness about various forms of prejudice, intolerance, and injustice —  and ways to overcome them. Beyond showing the problems as many documentaries might, entertainment could show people overcoming various aspects of loneliness. The film 42 about Jackie Robinson is an example of a movie that tackles the loneliness created by racial prejudice that Robinson dealt with.

PIE IN THE SKY

At this point my ideas seem even to me to be extremely idealistic. I know that. I envision the society I would like to live in.

A commonality I see in many documentaries about various social ills is how lonely people feel while dealing with their particular situation. It could be a gay person struggling to make ends meet with his or her spiritual hunger. It could be a fat person in high school dealing with mean-spirited peers. It could be someone feeling entrapped in a religious cult whose soul is screaming for liberation. It could be someone recently widowed or divorced or rejected who had taken pain to the core.

It would be grand if there were more places available where people could find healthy answers to their dilemmas.

MORE READING

Here is another post I wrote on loneliness.

What do you truly yearn for?

Waterfall-kissingThe subtitle of my blog Soul Embraces, as you can see, is “What do you truly yearn for?”

I think that some of us are terrified to fully answer that question for ourselves. To actually put a voice to those deep cravings and expose ourselves before a witness — whether that listener is a flesh person or a spirit being — makes us feel very uncomfortable.

I know this happens to me. Here I am this big advocate of creative visualization and writing out your goals and desires, and I often find keen ways to avoid noting my own yearnings in any way but what someone reading my mind could comprehend.

RESISTANCE IS FUTILE

I know that many people resist savoring positive pictures of a desired future — the whole enchilada or just the guacamole highlights — because they don’t want to face the disappointment of not receiving what they yearn for. They figure that if they openly hunger for something, it sets them up to have it denied. Not engaging with these deep wishes keeps them out of the doldrums. “Why wish for something I cannot have?”

In my own case, I recently had a new look at my childhood programming. My mom died in late 2011 and I have been hanging out with my 94 year-old dad in the family home, which has given me fresh insight into my personality development.

As the baby boy of the family, I was not encouraged to voice my wants. I was number 4 in the pack order. My conditioning was mostly to accept what the higher ups wanted. I learned how to be extremely flexible because I was neither taught nor encouraged to take charge, lead, make decisions, or be bold. I was taught to respectfully follow and support the pack. Unwittingly, I was also taught the fine art of passive aggression, or getting my way by quietly manipulating circumstances under the radar (like many women of the 1950-1960s learned how to do.)

As a result I became extremely flexible in dealing with life, such as in handling dull jobs. My hunger was to be a creative writer and exercise my brilliance all day, but economic reality set in and I had to earn a living or starve. I took on brain-numbing clerical jobs. My potent mind kept me personally entertained while many co-workers saw me as an under-achiever.

I also discovered (after a life of learning experiences) that I was programmed to be most egalitarian in love relationships. I strongly believed in partnerships and in supporting my partner. I liked strong women and was very flexible, even comfortable, in letting them take the lead with me singing back-up. My upbringing never featured heavy doses of male privilege consciousness; I was bred to respect and listen to women.

The problems I had occurred when women expected me to flat out take charge. I had little training for that. I was trained to be happy in fourth place.

Childhood also prepared me to be satisfied with not having much materially — not to want. We weren’t impoverished, but I heard the money doesn’t grow on trees lecture enough to constantly be conscious of curbing my yearnings. My parents were children of the Great Depression. Flexible as I had been taught to be, I grew up finding low-cost pleasures. I was trained to be content with what I had and not to dream big. Fourth place.

So with this background, I resist thinking deeply on what do I truly yearn for? I often even have trouble answering the simple question, “What do you want?”

I am programmed to sound a little like a Miss America candidate in my answers to that question. “Oh, I want for everyone to have something happy to smile about.”

A CLOSER LOOK

I’ve noticed that in pondering my yearnings, I rough sort them into two categories. First are the safe ones, the ones that could easily be spoken to anyone because they are universally acceptable. Yearning to establish a nice vegetable garden is not going to offend anyone. It might even draw praise. I can yearn to go walking in national parks or to get better at Photoshop or to improve my blogging skills or adopt a dog. I am decent enough at making lists like that.

Other yearnings are more problematic. Not as safe. Some require lengthy footnotes and disclaimers.

They’re the ones in the sorting bin that get marked private. Sometimes they’re so private I don’t reveal them even to myself. I discovered this tendency through my reluctance to include them in written visualizations about what I would like my life to look like. Yeah, what do I want?

Well, yummy sex.

MEET THE CRITIC

I am my biggest critic in the private yearnings category. I judge myself with great ferocity.

“Want sex? Yummy sex? Well, you can’t want it unless you have the committed relationship that goes with it. Jerk. You’re not in love so you shouldn’t want sex. Plain and simple. And make your desire sound more intelligent, will you? Geeze! How much respect are you prepared to lose?”

So in the voices of my inner committee of critics, I encounter the tsunami of pain that turned the bliss of sexual play into a Shakespearean tragedy of angst, rage, and grief. Sexual beauty has been uglified beyond belief in our world. Ironically, sex is farther out of the closet than it has ever been. It has invaded our homes through the Internet with a mere google. Yet I’m shocked at how stubbornly joyless it has become. Sex itself seems to be suffering from a bi-polar disorder.

With sad regularity, different visions of gourmet erotic play flash before my eyes. To me they are beautiful, magical, filled with natural and spiritual wonder. All you need is love. But in a world where the news covers pedophiles, rapists, predators, and other creeps with rapt attention, and we’re being taught to objectify each other as targets for our various lusts, admitting to having a healthy sexual appetite is becoming more dangerous — especially for an older guy like me.

By current pornographic standards, my yearning for intimate rapport would be considered unbearably vanilla — too blunt to showcase in a Hallmark card or to confess at the dinner table, but laughable to those who fancy themselves as erotic sophisticates. My vision of joy between the sheets comes inclusive with all the mental and emotional trimmings of fully engaged intimacy. But how to express it in tweet simplicity in this often-hostile world?

CONFRONTING FEAR

I have learned that admitting what I truly yearn for means confronting fear. Can I admit those precious desires and give fear the razzberry?

One of the better retorts I tell myself is that if I am afraid to give voice to my cravings for soul-filled sex, others are, too. And if everyone is afraid to express their desires, you know what will happen. Yawn. So putting it out there is better than putting it in the vault of secrets. It might actually lead to something.

Another retort is that I am responsible for creating my happiness. I am the author of my life. Waiting for others to create my life — even though being fourth place trained me to do that — doesn’t work very well. Part of creating the life I want is opening the energy doors to yes, I want that.

Why not turn stifling my outburst of desire into inviting and inventing fulfillment? So another retort is that even if so much of the world has turned sexuality into a garbage pit, does it mean that I am required to accept that downer vision as my own? Do I have to wait for the world to enlighten up before I savor the yum? Can I move up to first place now?

Yes! It’s time for me to write out what I truly yearn for, and to include the yummy parts.

She’s not my girlfriend

KinshipFor most of my life, my best friends have been females. This trend began early in childhood when my best buddy was the girl four doors up the street. I was three.

That trend continues to this day. I have spent a lifetime trying to figure it out. Some of the reasons are obvious. Most of my interests are things that the average dude shuns. And vice versa.

I am not a sports fan. I don’t like war or fighting. I have pathetic carpentry and mechanical skills. I am not a cutthroat businessman. I am not very competitive, especially for entertainment.

I am into emotions and feelings. I love sensuality. I have a passion for emotional intimacy and connection. I love wondering why we are here and how things could be better right here.

Generally speaking, and I wish this weren’t necessarily so, women get me more than men get me. Women look at me less strangely than men. I find myself shutting up less with women than with men.

GIRLFRIENDS

I have become aware of  the social assumption that if I am seen with a female, and especially if we are having a great time together, she must be my girlfriend. And girlfriend has a whole different connotation and level of expectation than friend and acquaintance do. Of course I know my truth within my soul, but sometimes the rest of the world wants to impose its social expectation on me.

This situation has different ramifications depending on my current relationship status — and hers.

When I am in a love relationship, my platonic girlfriends sometimes walk a fine line. They often feel they have to go out of their way to prove to my romantic partner that they are not threatening a hostile takeover or dealing in covert operations.

Other people who don’t know me well assume that if I have fun with a female not my romantic partner, I must — simply must — be plotting something naughty behind the barn.

Similarly, when my single platonic female friends enter love relationships, it often creates from them a very noticeable backing off from our friendship. Whoosh! Either they are worried about stressing out their new love’s feelings or their new love is clearly a jealous type.

When I am not seeing anyone romantically, I am still not free and clear. It seems it’s not common for a guy to have platonic female friends who are single. The biological potential of heterosexual mating attracts snarky remarks of the nudge, nudge, wink, wink variety. Like, “He says it’s platonic but just look at her. Yeah, right. Look at her!”

When I am not seeing someone romantically, my platonic friends sometimes back off, too. Perhaps they’re afraid I am not so platonic after all or they think they should signal to the world that I am truly available for dating. When they pull away I feel lonelier than ever.

SO WHAT?

I find this situation more than a personal inconvenience for me. I think it is a sad reflection on how fear of intimacy keeps us isolated and in-the-box. Somewhere along the line it may have been well-intentioned to keep the genders separate so that a married or “committed” person of one gender did not develop meaningful friendship with the other gender. But in my view of the universe, the creation of suspicion, guilt, shame, and mistrust to keep the genders apart only makes us weaker human beings.

Much of this segregation, I believe, is due to our culturally immature attitudes, stereotypes, and mythologies about sex. We’ve dumbed it down into a caraciture to sell in every which way possible.

One myth here is that attractive heterosexual friends cannot resist without great effort the urge to get naked and let nature take its course. It’s as if the sex urge is just too powerful. Barbie needs Ken, and Ken is always horny.

Sigh.