Comfort and love

It was evening, by the clock, but we were soaking up warmth from a sun that still hung far above the horizon. Summer in the northern latitudes can be like drinking honey from a wide-mouth jar.

Billy sat on the rock wall next to me. We are just friends, now. That other didn’t work out, and we both knew it at the time, so there are no hard feelings. I go to Billy when I can’t figure out men, because he’s ruthlessly honest about his gender. He comes to me to talk about his women.

“She was a remarkable person,” he said, taking a sip of some coffee concoction that I knew would not let him sleep tonight. “It’s really weird. Three dates. Spread out over months. Talking on the phone.”

He looked out over the harbor of Victoria, the most elegant city on the west coast of North America. We’d come over from Seattle to do just what we were doing. Sit on the harbor wall, listen to street musicians, eat East Indian cuisine that tasted like it was cooked just now in Madras.

“She said it was wrong to measure the relationship by the number of dates, or number of months. I don’t get that, but I felt like we’d known each other …forever. I loved the way she said ‘Hiya…’ when she answered the phone. I loved the way she’d say ‘Whatcha doin?’ when she called me. I loved the way she would ask me questions about my day.”

Billy shook his head.

“It just sucks.”

Billy was pretty twisted up by this, and Billy does not lack for female attention. They could not be together. We don’t have to go into the reasons, how long it lasted or didn’t last or why it didn’t. The reasons are none of our business. I wanted to be there for Billy, and I wanted to hear what Billy had to say, because I always learn something from him.

“She insisted that on our third date we had to see if we had ‘kiss compatibility.’ She was pretty confident in her kisses. I guess she had doubts about mine.”

We both laughed out loud. Billy is a very good kisser. Among his other, many qualifications as a lover. “Of course, we had to find out if everything else was just as fine,” he said. He left unsaid that it was just fine.

“I did the right thing. Ending it as soon as I knew it wouldn’t work, with as much class as I could, before we got in way, way over our heads. I don’t know how we got as deep as we did, so damn soon. Three dates!?”

There are times when a friend just needs to listen. Billy wasn’t asking for advice. He wasn’t looking for “feel sorry for me sex.” He wouldn’t nor would I. Like me, he believes certain pains are part of being human, part of the plan, part of our growth.

“It was just so comfortable. When I think of being with her… it’s not thinking, it’s a feeling, really… it’s just a feeling of comfort.” He looked out over the harbor where the sun refused to climb down from its perch, as if it were embracing the harbor, the boats, and Victoria as the crowds embraced the sun.

“Three dates. I’ve been in relationships for years that didn’t come close to that kind of intimacy. That feeling of belonging to someone… Oh, fuck. This just sucks.” His voice strained as he tried to hold back tears.

“I’m sorry, Billy,” I said.

I don’t know how or why we feel that incredible sense of connection with some people. The comfort in the way they speak to us, the way we want to speak to them, the awareness of what they are feeling and desire to make whatever that is more like velvet, the need to be honest and expect the same.

I don’t know what love is, but I know that Billy experienced it with someone he had not known for very long.

Science of our infidelity

What if promiscuity was the result of brain wiring? What if that wiring was the result of inherited genes that impact us in ways we can not possibly anticipate?

What if what we want in a partner changes over time — not because anything happened but just because time had passed? What if infidelity isn’t “his fault” or “her fault” but caused by an invisible process outside of anyone’s control?

This musing was sparked by an article by Dr. Richard A. Friedman, professor of clinical psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College. Read that article here.

I’ll jump to Dr. Friedman’s conclusion and work backwards: “For some, there is little innate temptation to cheat; for others, sexual monogamy is an uphill battle against their own biology.”

The  “biology” or propensity toward infidelity, appears to be linked to the amount and location of hormones, or receptors for those hormones, in our brains and are the result of genetic “programming.” Oxytocin and vasopressin are especially relevant. These impact behavior. In fact, according to one study, “Forty percent of the variation in promiscuous behavior in women could be attributed to genes.”

Men have their own variants. Evolution has favored men who spread their genes far and wide: i.e., prone to infidelity. But I’d like to rephrase that: Evolution favors genes able to spread far and wide through behavior of the organism in which they are carried, and that they influence to favor that spreading.

Some of you are now thinking I use this to justify any and all sorts of behavior, but that’s not the case. There are other biological forces at work as well, and social forces, etc. In the overlapping circles of self, family and society, there are many competing forces at work. It’s a pretty dynamic system. Understanding the causes of behavior does not change the fact that certain behaviors are destructive and painful.

At the same time, accurate understanding can at least mitigate that pain, and possibly reduce  the destruction. Continuing with mistaken beliefs not only prolongs pain and destruction, but often adds to it.

A partner cheating on us can lead to the belief that we are inadequate, when the real cause has little to do with us and is result of that partner’s wiring. It can be confusing when the cheating partner doesn’t know the real cause of their own behavior and blames us for being “inattentive.”

Dr. Friedman writes of a friend: “… (she had a) propensity for sexual exploration that seemed in some ways independent of the emotional status of her relationships.”

For those prone to exploration, we might believe our partner has become boring, when it is in fact our own wiring that causes us to seek new stimulation. Nothing changed for them. We do not need to judge them as lacking when our wandering is internal to us.

At the same time, belief that a partner is “immoral” or that they simply choose to hurt us, or are indifferent to our pain is probably not true and diminishes the joy that once existed.

All that said, we do not always get what we want. Hard decisions still have to be made. But to make those decisions well, we have to recognize that differences between people exist, and often for historical and/or biological reasons that are nobody’s fault.

But we still have to decide what we are willing to live with, and what we are willing to risk. There are no guarantees.

Doing the impossible

It had been too long since I’d connected with a friend important to me. When she slowed down enough for us to have coffee, she described how very hard it had become to manage difficult and demanding clients, a family that needed her, health issues, along with a patient and understanding partner who also wanted her to share moments with him and not always be preoccupied.

“I can’t do any more!” she said. “I just want to say $*@& IT!”

“If you can’t do any more, maybe you can do less,” I said, recalling something my French grandmother had said.

“What do you mean?”

“Once when I was overwhelmed, I asked Grandmama how to do what I thought was impossible. She gave me a short list of guidelines.

(1) Only take on tasks you believe in;

(2) Only work with those you can work with;

(3) Only accept work you can work on;

(4) Only set goals you can achieve;

(5) Only criticize yourself when it’s constructive.

“But Grandmama, that’s just common sense,” I said to her.

“ ‘Doing simple things that can be done is how the impossible things get done, Jessica,’ my grandmother said to me.

“So now, when I can’t get everything done I need to do, I just try to do what I have to do next. One step at a time, a day at a time. And try not to be too hard on myself for what I can’t do today.”

We ordered another coffee, spent another 15 minutes together, then it was time for each of us to go back to work.

Who do you find attractive?

What if our sexual preferences begin to form in childhood?

I don’t mean whether we are straight of gay or asexual or voracious or something in between or that encompasses it all or something completely different.

I mean what we find attractive, but within our sexuality “type.”

To keep it simple, and acknowledge the gross oversimplification of this speculation, let’s pretend that heterosexual girls begin to form their sexual attraction preferences with their fathers, at an age where they have no clue what’s happening, maybe even infancy. And that (straight) boys begin their sexual wiring based on their mothers, at the same age.

Let’s say dad is a particular body type and the relationship between father and daughter is warm, loving and nurturing. I wonder if later in life, women with that kind of dad will be sexually attracted to that shape of man. And if boys who develop in a healthy way with mom, if she is skinny or plump might direct his desire later in life.

At the same time, if Dad is harsh or scary or dismissive, I wonder if daughter will shy away from that kind of man. If mom is indifferent or unreachable or angry, if boys will subliminally look for someone who does not  look anything like her.

And here’s an odd twist: Does the preference wiring have to occur, and sometimes have to focus on adults outside the family unit, possibly those who offer a child what is emotionally needed? Or if biology requires that a model be found regardless of suitability, if sometimes that model is nurturing and sometimes debilitating?

What happens to sexuality if the model is taken from the child’s environment (death, divorce, war) before the process is done with it?

Since we are indulging in wild speculation, let’s add to the mix the social taboos about getting too close to daddy or mommy as one is forming all these brain connections. DON’T DO THAT!” What happens as the child acquires now-self-directed anxieties that were foisted upon them (us) as they (we) began to experience things they (we) could not possibly recognize, let alone understand.

I have no articles, no Freudian analyses, nor modern science to justify any of this absurd opining. As my friend Billy says, (neglected by an obese mom, only attracted to skinny women): “Just sayin…”

I need your help!

Something is happening with Exposed and it might be — just might be — pretty wonderful.

Last week we dropped the price to 99¢ for the ebook. I didn’t know whether to make the change permanent, or just part of a weekend promotion. I finally decided to keep it at that price for one month, and I’d decide what to do from there.

Nothing much happened. But then on Saturday, we got a serious uptick in the rankings. For two days, we were in the top one percent of the million or so ebooks on Amazon, and in the top 40 in our categories.

The numbers have fallen off a bit, but not nearly as sharply as they have in the past after a spike.

That’s where you come in, dear readers. I’d really like the momentum to keep going. I’d like to be in the top 5,000 of all ebooks sold.

So if you will buy an ebook here, and write a review that’s posted on Amazon, send me a receipt and I will send you two of the hottest chapters of the new book, Crosscurrents in .pdf format. This offer is limited to the first 200 readers who respond.

The first 100 who respond and who write a review on Amazon, will  get in addition to the chapters  a personal email from me, and I’ll send them a paperback copy of Exposed for $7. That’s less than half price, and more than I make on the book. I’ll eat the postage, too, which is about $4.

The first 25 who respond, and who write a review, will get a free paperback copy of Exposed, along with the chapters, and a deep (50%? My publisher will have input, I’m sure) discount on Crosscurrents. Just send me proof of purchase from Amazon, and a copy of your review, which should be signed such that I can tell it is you.

This offer is good for the month of May, 2015. I will not sell your email address to anyone, but may keep it on my own mailing list for other special offers and notifications.

We are so close to making Exposed a real success. With your help, we can get there. Thank you,

~ Jessica

Man or woman, gay or straight, or something in between?

Generally I don’t comment on the “news.” But there’s a story out there that ties into many themes in my writing, here and in my books.

Bruce Jenner has declared, “For all intents and purposes, I am a woman.”

As Mr. Jenner, and 26 years old, he was the decathlon champion in the 1976 Olympics and was considered to be the top male athlete in the world.

But he knew then, and had known since he was a child, that his “soul” was that of a woman.

“I’m not stuck in anybody’s body, it’s just who I am as a human being,” Mr. Jenner said in an interview. “My brain is much more female than it is male.”

I still would not have written about this, except last Sunday I saw an article from the Associated Press written by Lindsey Tanner about the traumas suffered by people born physically as “intersex:” they have reproductive organs of both man and woman. Often they have chromosomes of both a male and a female.

The article notes that a century ago, “intersex adults were top draws at circus sideshows.” Much more recently, babies would be subjected to surgery for this “condition” that may affect from between 1 in 1,000 to 1 in 5,000 of newborns.

Surgery has many dangers, and while the stated goal is often to avoid “public scorn” of the child (circus), it’s hard not to imagine it is also an attempt by parents to have a “normal” family.

Slowly we are achieving acceptance. As one intersex adult advised parents of intersex “Take them home and love them.” We are coming to an understanding that surgery, and which sex one might aim for if either, is a choice that may belong to the individual so affected.

Bruce Jenner, who has biological children, says he is not gay, though that can be a mind-bender when we think about relationships and his transition from man to woman. But let’s not focus on the labels.

Instead, let’s look at the opportunity we all have, to recalibrate our views on sex and sexuality. It is a very complicated biological process, and expresses itself on a very broad continuum.

There are those who say “marriage and sex should be between a man and a woman,” and that “homosexuality is a ‘choice’ that should be changed.”

I say that God makes a full spectrum of human beings who are entitled to love, and be loved, as they are, and the choices of how to express that are their choices to make.

“I can’t relate to her.”

Not for the first time, a potential reader said I was too “cold” in Exposed. She “couldn’t relate to the character.”

This always surprises me. From the inside, I am anything but “cold.”  There is laughter, there are tears, there is fear. I am passionate about many things, including passion itself. So why this disconnect?

My response is usually “Jessica’s not cold. She’s French.” While many in the U.S. now use that as an insult, what I mean is that there is a certain acceptance of circumstances in the French mindset: “C’est la vie,” or “Such is life.” This doesn’t promote a lot of whining.

The key metaphor in Exposed is  Tout passé, tout cassé, tout lassé.” Everything passes, everything breaks, everything wears out. Nothing is forever. When brought to focus on a “tragedy” in our daily lives, is this attitude “cold?” Is it “cold” to present it to someone who is clinging to something broken?

Empathy is important, but sympathy may not always be the best response. I admit that the Gallic shrug can seem indifferent if not arrogant. But it can also be perceived as an acknowledgement that “nothing lasts forever,” including relationships, cars, grandmothers, or preconceptions. Those who believe otherwise are living in a world of dreams, what-ifs, make-believe.

Admittedly, I leaned hard on this point of view in Exposed to make it different, to give it character. This is also my point of view and is how I was raised. If this seems “cold” to some readers, I’ll admit there’s a twinge of disappointment that my central message was lost. But, what can I do?

C’est la vie.

Drugs and sex

Can drugs make sex easier, or better?

I get asked this question surprisingly often, despite the fact that I put my opinion out there pretty definitively in Exposed. It’s a short book. Those parts are easy to find.

Easier? I suppose, for some. Better? I will say no, but maybe for reasons you don’t anticipate.

Before I go there, a word about being dosed, someone slipping you a “roofie”, or otherwise becoming incapacitated without your consent. If that happens, don’t be silent. Get tested, and if positive, file charges on the human hangnail who wanted you unconscious when they ejaculated into you.

Even if you’re okay, the next victim may not be so lucky. Maybe the perpetrator will get what they deserve in jail. There are few times when I favor “eye-for-an-eye,” but that’s one of them.

Okay, back to theme.

No doubt, some people are terribly inhibited, and others much less so.  It is also true some drugs, (alcohol, especially) lower inhibitions. So the answer’s obvious, right? Have a drink or two and a great time.

Maybe, but my grandmother would say that continually bandaging a wound that doesn’t heal risks greater injury. I believe that looking deep into the inhibitions in the moment, and dealing with them honestly, is a better approach that can result in wonderful outcomes.

Yes, there might be real tigers, too. But they can be flushed from the tall grass. How wonderful to discover the rustling was only the wind?

That said, a glass of champagne or an occasional Long Island Iced Tea has transformed more than one ordinary evening into an exceptional night.

Can drugs make sex better? Marijuana and the more intense psychotropics certainly can make an experience more intense.

Is “more intense” better? I can’t answer that question for you. But I will suggest that life always tries to keep in balance. If you intensify an experience, you will pay a price.

Linking orgasm, itself a pretty powerful drug, to ecstasy or Molly or peyote or amyl or pot or any of the designer drugs out there may mean that without the enhancement, the thrill is gone. You may become desensitized (common among those dependent on vibrators) to the “natural” experience. You may not enjoy vanilla sex as much as you used to.

Maybe it’s worth it for you. Maybe you’re already at a place where good old fashioned multiple partner sex on a mattress in a crowded auditorium just doesn’t do it for you anymore.

That’s your call. But two more thoughts: If you go there, do so because it’s where YOU want to go. Don’t be pushed by someone who may have his (or her) own addictions / desensitizations to deal with. It’s one thing if they ask, another thing altogether if they pressure, or insist. Those people are carriers, not partners.

Secondly, nothing happens without a consequence, and we can’t always anticipate what those may be. Think about what you’re doing, and be honest with yourself when you make the decision.

Of course, that’s true of almost everything. Right?

FWB

Tonight I’m going out with Billy, an old friend. We’ll have dinner, and I’ll give him a long-overdue birthday present, and maybe we’ll dance to some good music.

And then we’ll probably spend the night together.

We have wonderful sex. It’s easy, orgasmic, and emotionally satisfying. We both like to lie wrapped in each other’s embrace when we’re finished. Sometimes we talk, often we don’t. We just enjoy the companionship, and the company.

We are not in love.

We aren’t even lovers, in the proper sense. We each see other people, though we don’t talk about that much. Billy can get a little jealous, even while he laughs at himself for being so.

“It’s the damn biology,” he says. “There’s no rational reason for it.”

I love that it’s easy for him to accept he can be jealous of me seeing other men even while he sees other women. I get it. I can feel the same sort of twinge, or “squick,” as a good friend once named them.

It comes with the territory. If all Billy and I did was have coffee once a week, I imagine we could talk about lovers and laugh at the awkwardnesses of dating without any squicks. But there is something about sleeping together that triggers a different response, a possessiveness, if you will.

Some of my friends don’t have that problem, especially those friends who frequent some of the same “clubs” that I do, friends who are truly “polyamorous.” They seem capable of making love to several men, simultaneously or sequentially, and being with men who do the same, without any jealousies at all.

I don’t know if they are simply wired differently, or if they have gone through some transition to a higher awareness that gives them more freedom from emotions faced by the rest of us.

Awareness is the essential component, regardless of where one falls on the spectrum. And honesty. I love what Billy and I have together now, even as I know that someday it will end when he or I meet someone with whom we want to be exclusive. If we do.

If and when that happens, one of us is likely to feel left out. Jealous. We can be aware of that now without letting it ruin what we have in this moment.

In this moment, we choose to go out, dinner will be wonderful, the music will rock, and so will the sex. And we will care for each other through the night, if not always.

“Don’t over think it.”

I was in a jewelry store the other day, just browsing. An older, very handsome man was at the same counter, buying an anniversary gift for his wife of 40 years, he told the clerk.

“Whats the secret?” I asked.

“Don’t over think it,” was his quick reply.

“There’s more,” I said.

He paused and looked at me, to see if I was really interested in what he had to say. He didn’t mind sharing, but didn’t want to waste his time, either.

“You were raised in a narcissistic world,” he said at last. “It’s not your fault, but it is what it is. Everywhere they scream at you that something is missing, you need something, you deserve something, that they can give you happiness.

“They do sophisticated science to determine how your brain will flicker to their message, then they bombard you with it. They know how to make you want something before you even know it exists. They create a void so they can fill it with false promises.

“It lasted 40 years because she and I value our connection. We are more when together than when apart. We share the adventure rather than protect our space. We communicate rather than text. We take care of each other rather than blame. We try to think about what’s next and what’s best, not about what’s missing.”

I stood there a moment, after he finished. So did he. Then it was time to move. I was no longer interested in whatever bauble brought me into the store, and he was on a mission.

“Thank you,” I said.

He just gave me a smile, a small nod, maybe a small shrug to say the value of his words were not in what he said, but in what I heard.

He went back to looking for an anniversary present. I went outside into Seattle rain, thinking about what I was looking for.