Do You Know What Love Is?

It amazes me how many people don’t know what love is. People say they love the other person because of how that person makes them feel. Well, okay, then you’re in love with your own feelings. That is not the same as loving the other person.

If you love him because he makes you feel safe and warm, it’s not him you love. You love feeling safe and warm. And really, who doesn’t? That isn’t the point, though. If you love her because she makes you feel good about yourself, it isn’t her that you love.

When you love the other person because of his or her effect on you, what you’re in love with is the mirror they’re holding up to you, to reflect your own good bits back to yourself. As long as the mirror shows you only or mostly your good bits, you’re golden. If the mirror is tarnished or broken, though, you stop “loving” him. Because you never actually loved him in the first place.

Love is unconditional positive regard. When you feel unconditional positive regard for a person, you love her for who she is, not something she does for you. You love her for her strength, her kindness or her creativity. You cite his intelligence, his sense of humor, his compassion, etc., as the reasons you love him. You love things that are about him and who he is.

Instead, it’s typically thought that if you’ve been dating for a year it’s probably time to get married. I’d venture to say you don’t really even know this person yet. It takes a long, long time to really know someone. Instead, you marry the person who shows you the prettiest mirror. When it tarnishes, as it inevitably will, you fight and perhaps ultimately get divorced. This person doesn’t make you feel good anymore, so it must be time to break up.

The mirror becomes irrelevant when you feel unconditional positive regard for another person. It isn’t your own reflection you’re enamored of; it’s the actual person. The things you love, intelligence, humor, creativity, don’t change. They may evolve or even devolve, but they’re still in there.

Unconditional positive regard doesn’t mean you like all of his behavior. You may not agree with everything she thinks, says or does. It doesn’t mean you don’t argue or fight.

It does mean that fights are momentary and, sooner or later, you revert back to your baseline of positive regard.

A friend recently asked me if needing someone wasn’t love. That was his perspective on the subject. No, needing someone is loving the mirror they show you. If you­ need them to feel okay, then what you need is the mirror. Then he asked me if that butterflies, giddy, unable to eat or sleep thing wasn’t love. No, that’s infatuation. It may grow into love, but it’s infatuation while those feelings predominate.

Love is about the other person. It’s outwardly directed and it is about giving. It’s about the outward flow of positive regard. Years ago, I asked a friend why he thought his relationship worked. He told me he believed it was because he not only loved her, he liked her. Two kids and more than 20 years later, they’re still together.

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T.V. is Probably a Weird Place to Find Wisdom

I wish more people understood this:

Criminal Minds Quotes
Reid: “It has been said that time heals all wounds. I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue, and the pain lessens, but it is never gone.”

This is one of the things that shocks me that people don’t get. It’s also what makes me want to punch people who say things like, “Get over it.” Sorry, but that’s not how the human psyche works.

You don’t get over trauma, you just learn how to live around it.

Keep Your Assumptions Off My Relationships

I’ve had some unusual relationships. There was the years-long relationship during which we never touched each other in a sexual manner. We lived together, with separate bedrooms. That relationship ended because it wasn’t just the relationship that was bizarre; it was him.

I had a similarly atypical relationship with a much, much, much younger (but legal) man. There are many benefits to such a relationship, besides the obvious. He introduced me to new music and he got me to do things I probably wouldn’t have otherwise, some that may never have even occurred to me. He made me laugh amazed me with his capacity for generating ideas. He infused my life with energy and enthusiasm and renewed my interest in the world.

The age difference never bothered me at all. It weirded him out a little, mostly because he was surprised. I tend to forget how old people are anyway. I don’t know what his friends thought, but I can tell you that mine were all for it.

The only time it got uncomfortable was when we went out in public together. Yep, people would sometimes assume I was his mother. It happened a lot less often that you might think, given that we didn’t act like blood relatives! It did happen, though, and it pissed me off.

I know we, as humans, like to classify things, which we do to help us make sense of the world. If we know a couple is married, we make all sorts of related assumptions based on what we think it means to be a married couple. If we know two people are mother and son, we’re probably not going to come on to either one.

If we don’t know what the relationship between two people is, we have a tendency to fill in the blanks. “That guy is way younger than that woman, so they must be hanging out because they’re related. I’m going to guess he’s her son and go with that.” That gives us an idea of what kind of behavior is acceptable toward and in front of the people in question. The rules of polite society dictate which behaviors are “appropriate” and which might be frowned upon. That makes us feel secure and confident and we can go about our busy day of misreading nonverbal cues and mislabeling relationships.

Come on, man. Do you really think a young man stands this close to his mother? Or touches her like this or looks at her like that? Where the fuck are you from that this is the norm between parent and child? He finally resorted to calling me “sugar tits” in public to head that shit off at the pass.

Nonverbal cues aside, why do you need to fit relationships into a neat little box with a preconceived label? Where do you get the idea that an adult woman and a young adult man can’t hang out just because they enjoy each others’ company? Why do you even need to know?

On the other hand, it was kind of fun to watch the confusion, realization, surprise, discomfort cycle play out on the faces of those we set straight.

Your Addiction Is Not the Problem

Some people drink or experiment with drugs and never get addicted. Some people get addicted almost immediately. What separates the two?

The first group gets high for fun, socially. The second group gets high for fun at first, but they quickly discover that getting high has a side benefit – it kills their pain. They start getting high more and more often, to escape pain. It works, too.

Get high or drunk and forget your problems, lose your inhibitions, kill your pain. How awesome is that? What could possibly go wrong?

We know what goes wrong, right? More and more time spent chemically altered and more and more of your chemical of choice in bigger and bigger doses. Hello, addiction, my old friend. Now you’re an addict and the cure becomes the problem. Next stop, rehab.

You go through rehab and you kick. Yay, you! No, seriously, yay, you. You’re clean and sober and your family and friends are proud of you and it’s all good. Right? Well, no, not exactly. The original issue, the pain, comes roaring out of hibernation and takes a big chunk out of your ass. Now what?

Your family and friends have all relaxed because you’re not using anymore. You’re expected to just be fine and dandy, thanks. The Problem has been solved. You have beaten The Problem. You should be happy, sane, calm and productive. Yet, you aren’t.

Believe it or not, this is when the hardest and most critical work is just beginning. If you don’t do the work to deal with the original pain, sooner or later you’ll go back to the only way you know how to deal with it. Can you say “relapse”? I knew you could.

To stay sober, you need to fix your issues and heal your pain. Don’t try this at home, kids; put your issues in the hands of a professional. If you could fix it yourself, you would have already. If friends or family or fellow addicts could fix it for you, they would have already. An objective, dispassionate person trained in the workings of the psyche is required.

Think this doesn’t apply to you? Think you can, or should, handle it yourself? Insist that friends, family, and/or former addicts can help you fix it on your own? Have an aversion to therapy? Enjoy your stay in Relapseville.

Your Soul’s Purpose is Not a Secret, Pt. II

The infamous middle-aged crisis is perhaps our realization that time is running out and if we ever want to be happy on our own terms, radical change is in order. Having a possibly vague intuition that this cannot be all there is, we seek that missing something that will allow us to feel we leave this life having accomplished something of meaning and value. Next stop, soul’s purpose seminar. All of the tools available to help you discover your purpose are admirable in their intent and often in their execution. They are, however, quite probably unnecessary.

What saddens me is that the answer you seek is right there with you all the time. Like that poor, sad man waiting on his roof, many of us wait for the Universe to put a billboard on Sunsent Bld. Telling us what we are meant to do. Yes, I know that you’ve heard time and again that the answers are within you. I also know that you believe you can’t find them. You spend hours and days writing in your journal, agonizing over uncovering the Great and Divine Undertaking that is surely your life’s mission. Maybe your purpose is a great and divine undertaking. Maybe you are here to discover a cure for cancer, or a way to end war, famine, or television commercials. It may also be true that the little nudge inside is something you ignore because what it tells you doesn’t seem big enough, noble enough, important enough, to devote your life to.

Not everyone is here to cure cancer. Some of us are here to create beautiful art that lifts the spirits of cancer patients. Some of us are here to write and deliver jokes that give cancer patients a much-needed laugh. Some of us are here to design beautiful clothing that makes cancer patients feel better while wearing it. All of this things are big enough, noble enough and important enough. Whatever you are here to do matters, because you are the only one who can do it in your unique way and without you, it would not exist.

The deceptively simple secret to discovering your purpose is this: what you want to do is what you’re meant to do. What you want to do is the voice of God speaking to you. Do you think God is bullshitting you? Do you think a benevolent Universe would create in you a desire to do something that’s crap? Do you think your unique and innate talents, viewpoint and voice are to be devalued because you believe the things that come naturally and easily to you must also be natural and easy for everyone? Do you think your Great and Divine Undertaking must be difficult and unpleasant to count? Damn those Puritans, anyway.

A greatly wise friend of mine once told me that the purpose of life is to enjoy it. It sounds trivial and flippant, but on further examination, not so much. I hear people say that work is not supposed to be fun. Contributing to the world is serious stuff. If it isn’t hard, exhausting and disagreeable, it can’t possibly be worthy. Is that when you do your best work? When you are tired and miserable? Do your most noteworthy accomplishments come about because you, or someone else, forced you to painfully squeeze it out? Or are those the only times you think you must have done something important, because otherwise it would not have been such a torturous experience?

My father has had a long and fruitful love affair with the ocean, particularly as experienced from a sailboat. This love had led him to many places and adventures he might not otherwise have known. He was an extra, as a rower, in the movie Amistad. He was on the winning team in a rowing competition in Russia. He’s in the Coast Guard. He has come close to death at least once that I know of, in a storm that so terrified my brother, John, that John feels queasy just being in the town offshore from which the ordeal took place. I think that some of these adventures led my father to both a respect for nature and a deeper appreciation of being alive, including an enhanced ability to savor the moment. Sailing is something people do for fun and relaxation, and so may be devalued as frivolous by some. Yet the benefits of participating in something he loves are neither frivolous nor of little value. I expect the same can be said for any of us, with any of the things we love.

There are stories of people who turned their greatest supposed defects into their greatest triumphs. I’ll use the ubiquitous Oprah Winfrey as a well-known example. Oprah loves to talk to people and she has an abundance of empathy. In the newscaster world, tearing up whilst reporting the news is not considered advantageous. Damn, girl, just say what happened. Don’t be crying over other people’s pain, or trying to hug victims of tragedies or shit like that! This is the news, not a gathering of your dearest friends.

Criticized for, heaven forbid, feeling something and sympathizing with other peoples’ pain, Oprah took her show on the road, so to speak, and became the Empress of the Universe she is today with her fabulous empathy. Her curiosity about others, empathy, warmth and love of exploring our inner lives aren’t character faults. They were the right thing in the wrong place. Put in the right place, not only has she turned them into shining virtues, not only has she made herself one of the most wealthy and influential persons on the planet, but she has also helped countless people in many ways. If she had listened to her critics early on, she might have ended up just another talking head or disappeared from the public eye altogether. (Yes, I am a huge fan of Oprah’s. Don’t like it? Too bad.)

The point I am long-windedly trying to make is, you are uniquely yourself for a reason. Whether you believe it’s because God made you that way, it’s in your genes or you are the product of your environment, you are the only you there is. Your talents, perspective, abilities, interests and dreams are not random crap. They are tools to be used in the service of your specific and joyful purpose. What you love is what you were made for.

Your Soul’s Purpose is Not a Secret, Pt. l

There was once a man of great faith who found himself at the mercy of a disastrous flood (which is not related to, nor intended to be a comment on, recent events). As he climbed onto his roof, he was not concerned, so secure was he in the knowledge that God would save him.

As he waited for divine rescue, his neighbors came by in a little canoe and said to him, “Get in the canoe. There is room for you and we’ll take you to dry land with us.” The man replied, “No, thanks. You go on ahead and save yourselves. I’ll wait here for God to save me.”

Some time later, a rescue crew came by in a motor boat. They said, “Get in the boat. There is room for you and we’ll take you to dry land with us.” The man replied, “No, thanks. You go on ahead and rescue others. I’ll wait here, because God will save me.”

Some considerable time later, a helicopter flew by overhead. Seeing the stranded man, they threw down a rope ladder and said, “Climb the ladder and get in the helicopter. There is room for you and we’ll take you to dry land with us.” The man replied, “No, thanks. You go on ahead and rescue others. I’ll wait here, because God will save me.”

Much to the man’s surprise, he died. He ascended into Heaven where, once inside the pearly gates, he sought out God with a question. “Heavenly Father”, he said, “I waited and waited for you. Why didn’t you save me?” God answered, “I sent you two boats and a helicopter. What more do you want?”

An entire industry has grown up around helping you find your life’s purpose, your soul’s intention. There are books, seminars and websites devoted to this noble aim. You’re advised to remember what you loved as a child, write in your journal and meditate. There are clues in your astrological chart, (which I can help you with!), answers in Tarot cards, messages from animals and prayers for guidance. Dood, the entire Universe is conspiring to help you find and live a meaningful life.

I could go on for hours about why this is such a difficult process. Our mainstream culture does not, or has not, supported what may be derisively referred to as “navel gazing.” If introspection isn’t valued, neither are activities and pursuits that don’t avail themselves of a clear and certain profit margin.

Children who are creative are encouraged to pursue more practical endeavors. Kids who may prefer to spend their time doing scientific experiments in the basement may be told to go play outside. Television is rife with images of a limited version of success as measured by such things as big houses and expensive cars. Music and art programs are the first to be cut from school budgets. If a video game exists in which the aim is to create a meaningful life for your character, please let me know because I haven’t seen it.

Your parents meant well when they told you that music or art would not provide you with adequate financial support. They drank the cool aid which led them to believe that success means a house in the suburbs and 2.4 kids. (I think I knew some of those .4 kids growing up.) They wanted you to have what they thought you needed and were trying to protect you from a life as a, literally, starving artist. In school, the kids with the best grades or, oddly, the best athletes, were admired and applauded. All of these thing conspire to bury your own dreams, which regrettably leads to lives of the quiet desperation kind.

Perhaps you did dream of being a stockbroker or real estate mogul. Maybe you spent your childhood play time doing surgery on Barbie and Ken. It’s possible you were a budding politician even in preschool. You could be one of the lucky ones who aspired to life as a pro ball player. I find it odd that sports are so encouraged because, if only a handful of people become rock stars, it is also true that there are a finite number of pro ball teams. Perhaps it has something to do with police and football being the modern substitutes for knights and jousting. If you were instead a tiny poet or ballet dancer, it is less likely that you were encouraged to pursue a career as such.

And so we arrive at adulthood, make the big bucks, drive a fancy car and vacation annually at Necker Island. (If you vacation at Necker Island, call me. I desperately want to be your new BFF.) Most of these supposed trappings of success are what, if I can paraphrase, Henry David Thoreau referred to as booby prizes for living a miserable life. (Yes, I said “booby.” Get over it. What are you, 12?)

To be continued…

Gender, Schmender

I was just reading a story about a woman who went out with a man, in 2006, who told her that she wasn’t in touch with her femininity because she didn’t flirt or wear much make-up. Oh, honey. Hon. Ee. He would have been immediately put in touch with my masculinity as I kicked his stupid ass.

Gender is a social construct. While it may be true that men and women’s brains are different, it does not necessarily follow that women do this and men do that and never the twain shall meet. It might even be postulated that the difference is the result rather than the cause of gender norming. Possessing ovaries does not “naturally” cause me to wear make-up, flirt, wear dresses or cook. Nor does it give me a biological imperative toward doing laundry, housework, grocery shopping, sewing or knowing how to knot a man’s tie.

I don’t do hardly any of those things, which does not mean I’m not feminine or I’m not in touch with my inner girlie girl. In our culture, which is the only culture I have intimate knowledge of, we have two gender identities, male and female. (Cultures exist that recognize more than two.) Boy and girl, man and woman, masculine and feminine. The gender requirements of our society are everywhere and so insidious that we only notice them if they aren’t there. A baby dressed in yellow or green with no available hints confuses us. What is it? Well, it’s a baby, now, isn’t it? Yes, but… are we meant to say she’s pretty or comment on how big we think he’ll be when he grows up?

Transgendered or transvestite people tend to freak the more traditional among us right the fuck out. It’s not an apple, but it’s not an orange, so what is it? We don’t have a category for a pineapple. No, that wasn’t a fruit joke. Transgendered folks can be gay, straight, bi, asexual or any other kind of sexual the imagination can provide. The point is, gender cues are so ubiquitous that not having any gives us brain cramps. We have scripted ways of responding to people and we can’t think what to do if someone goes off script.

The real issue with the guy’s objection to the woman I was reading about not giving him visual cues as to her gender is not that he doesn’t know what she is. It’s that if her performance of gender is ambiguous, what should he do with his? It must really suck to be that rigid.

Gender norming starts pretty much at birth. We mark our children as one or the other by the ways in which we dress them, activities we encourage, the way we speak to them and treat them, our expectations whether clearly stated or implied, behaviors encouraged and discouraged and on and on. Children learn very early what behaviors are expected and rewarded and what are not, even when they have only the subconscious body language of the adults around them as a guide. Because they are treated differently, they experience life differently. The grow up in different worlds, if you will. In response to that they learn to behave differently.

Boys don’t cry, girls wear dresses, boys mow lawns, girls help in the kitchen and so on. This isn’t, thankfully, as rigid as it once was. Both sexes are now much more free to act according to their own individual inclinations, desires, interests and talents.

In having these expectations of what male and female behaviors should be, we make gender performative. If you are a girl, you do this, becomes if you do this, you are a girl. If you don’t do these girl things, you are highly suspect. Androgyny is frowned upon. Unless you’re a rock star; then it’s all good.

We tend to confuse sex with gender. In most cases, sex is either/or. You have an innie or an outtie and that’s that. Sex is not the same as gender, though. Genitalia does not determine behavior, in a general sense. Having an outtie doesn’t cause you to like sports and having an innie doesn’t cause you to prefer baking. If gender were determined by biology, then only hermaphrodites would be able to bend gender.

In gender, you are what you do. It’s learned behavior, strongly reinforced by schools, media, religion, politics and law. If a boy child does something we’ve assigned to girls, his friends will call him girly to shame him into knocking that shit off right now. Gawd forbid that a girl should try to join the boys’ football team. How well she plays is not even taken into account. This is guy stuff, period.

Thomas, the former woman now a man who gave birth to a child was such a clear and outstanding breach of gender roles that it warranted an appearance on Oprah. He was born XX, but he now performs the role of what we see as male. Except that now he’s had a baby, so what are we meant to do with that? Rhetorical question; my own take on it is that anyone has the freedom to decide which gender , or genders or none of the above, they will self-identify as and they are what they say they are.

The thing is, the Thomases of our world can’t just declare themselves male without conforming visibly to the male gender construct. He had to change, besides whatever physical surgery he had, his hair style, his clothing, his name. One assumes he wanted to change all of those things, but my point is that in order to be perceived as the gender your prefer, you must perform your gender construct of choice.

I don’t avoid cooking, sewing, wearing dresses, etc. because I am rebelling against the constraints of enforced gender performance. Okay, maybe a little. The main reason is that I have about as much desire to do those things as I have to dig ditches or collect garbage or have a high colonic. I have a strong aversion to all of those things. I don’t do the “feminine” things because I don’t want to. That doesn’t make me less feminine, less female, not a real woman or whatever. Nor does my wearing make-up and being very concerned with my hair make me any more feminine, female and so on.

I yam what I yam and I’m fine with that. I’m also fine with you being what you are.
Subvert the dominant gender paradigm all you like. The potential of each individual can only be realized by free expression of his or her or whomever’s talents, skills, abilities, interests and so on. The potential of each society can only be realized by the free expression of its individuals.

(All hail Judith Butler, who is a rock star in my eyes.)