Tag Archives: love

Where does desire go?

One of my favorite writers, Tom robbins, once asked, “Where does love go?” That one is too complicated for me. So I’ll just ask, where does desire go?

A long time ago (that’s relative, right?) I was told that “romantic love” or “passionate love” evolved to last about  18 months. Then it was to be replaced by something more lasting.

“The only way to hang on to the ‘in love’ feelings, as opposed to loving someone, is to create drama,” said my advisor. He was a wise and learned man, but I still resented the message.

I wanted to feel the rush of sexual tension whenever I saw my love. I wanted to want him as badly the 1000th time we went to bed as the first time. I wanted to crave his scent, the texture of his skin under my finger tips, the feel of his lips on my curves and hollows.

Where does that go?

When did brushing out my hair become more important than holding him in my arms? When did correcting an annoying mannerism become more important than protecting his feelings? When did judgement replace acceptance?

I can hold my tongue, but how do I refresh my feelings? I can fake anything I choose to fake, but how do I convince myself something is true when I don’t believe it is. If I am the problem, how do I get a handle on what I’ve lost, and give it back?

“You have to answer the question: is it better to accept what is, or better to wish for what can’t be? Is stability better than chaos? If you’re not satisfied with the relationship, can it become something else, or do you want to end it and go through this cycle again with someone new?”

It may be more mature to accept those options, but I didn’t like them when I heard them the first time and I don’t much like them now. Even more now, for some reason, as the holiday season draws near.

Looking for love in all the wrong places

“I don’t want to be always ready to move on after six months,” Melanie cried one afternoon.

Beautiful, high energy, and hurting, Melanie was trying to sort emotions after a recent break up that she had initiated. She was done with the man, who she had been slowly peeling out of her life for months anyway like removing shreds of skin after a bad sunburn.

The recently-booted man’s offense? Depends on who you ask, of course. He had become jealous and angry during the long process of being pushed aside. But it was clear Melanie no longer loved him and was ready to move on.

She didn’t really lament losing the man. She lamented losing one more chance.

“I’m getting older,” she said, which caused me to snort. She was barely into her thirties, though she had a four year-old daughter of whom she was fiercely protective. Melanie also self medicates, and is frequently offered drugs, money or “security” by men or women who want that quick mind, bright laugh and hard body in their life.

A psychologist once told me that infatuation lasts six to eighteen months, and love has to fill in from there, as a more satisfying, deeper relationship develops. But Melanie is a thrill-seeker: sexually adventurous, high energy, and possibly broken by a psychotic mother who left a trail of destruction through the childhoods of Melanie and her siblings.

“I am so afraid of being just like her,” Melanie cried.

“What do you want?” I asked about the relationship she envisioned.

“I want my best friend,” she said, very simply, but again started to weep. “But I haven’t been the woman the person I want to be with would be attracted to,” she said.

“There’s you answer,” I said. But that was much too glib. It will not be easy for Melanie. It’s not easy for any of us. She will have to forgo the offers of drugs or cars or marriage by men and women who want her to fill their fantasies, instead of making her dreams come true.

Though it’s easy to say she should be patient and discerning, it’s hard sometimes to hold out, or even know what’s real.

Sex, Love and Intimacy

It’s hard to sift the emotions we have around sex. Sarah lives where many of the contradictions are obvious.

“When you’re with your sugar daddy, doesn’t it feel ‘wrong’ to be so intimate? Doesn’t it feel odd, especially when you are in a relationship with someone else? Even in the polyamorous community, isn’t there jealousy?” I asked.

“Of course there’s jealousy,” Sarah says. “And it can get ugly. But in our group at least, there seems to be a deeper level of communication, openness and honesty.”

I thought about that for a while. If anyone can make love with anyone else, then I suppose much of the “possessiveness” within a relationship falls away. Or becomes obvious for the baggage it is.

“That’s exactly right,” said Sarah. “Even in ‘normal’ relationships, although our group thinks of monogamy as ‘abnormal,’ couples want to believe a partner is there because he or she wants to be there. We all recognize that being there only because of a wedding ring, or the children, or mutual dependence isn’t all that great. We all want our mate to want to be with us.

“It gets pretty clear quickly in our group if someone is bringing baggage, and it gets talked about. We see it for what it is, instead of what it pretends to be, all sorts of stuff about ‘you should do this’ or ‘you should not do that.’ It’s okay to say, ‘I feel…’  or ‘I need…’ ”

“But what about intimacy? Doesn’t the fact that you are having sex with your sugar daddy drive your boyfriend or girlfriend crazy?”

“The sex is easy. But I don’t lie close and all wrapped up all night with my sugar daddy. That’s an intimacy we won’t have. I don’t want to have that. I’m not going to fall in love with him, so there’s distance, there, too. Sex is not necessarily part of intimacy, or intimacy a part of sex, but intimacy is a part of love.”

“Doesn’t it become sex for money, then?”

“There is more to our relationship than sex. We are friends, he is a mentor, I offer whatever insights I have to questions he has, we do things together that we both enjoy. Why should the fact that we also have sex stain all of that?”

Sarah made me realize we often live our lives by rules, but rules can’t be a substitute for honesty and openness. Honesty makes us vulnerable, and can be difficult, but using rules to justify behavior, or find fault with the behavior of others, always fails the most important test.

We say “You broke the rules…” instead of saying “What you did doesn’t work for me…”

Instead of saying, “I want to be with you.”

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.

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.

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.

Do we want a sales pitch?

My favorite coffee shop (name redacted) in Seattle has incredibly comfortable chairs where I go occasionally to stare out at the water and gather my thoughts. The chairs are clustered a little too close together, so sometimes conversations are shared with strangers.

Yesterday I overheard one that I knew I wanted to write about, which is why this post is a day late.

The woman, I’ll call her “Elaine,” was talking to “Robert.” They were friends, not lovers, though had been at one time.

“What do you tell a woman? What do you say to sweep her off her feet?” Elaine asked.

“I don’t really do that. I just am who I am,” Bob said.

“No wonder you’re still alone. You have to tell her that she’s the light of your life. That you’ll do anything and everything for her, forever. For better and worse,” Elaine said.

“Selling myself seems dishonest in this age of uncertainty,” said Bob. “I’m a good man. I do good things. I show them who I am, I don’t want to have to make a sales pitch.”

“You have to do more. Maybe you should at least tell them that you’ll be there, that you won’t… ” and here, Elaine couldn’t continue. She started to cry, but sort of pulled it back together and between breaths, said, “…you should tell them that you won’t cheat on them, that you won’t break their heart.”

I felt for Elaine. She was wearing recent wounds. I really admired Bob for not saying anything. Instead, he reached over and took Elaine’s hand.

I somewhat agree with Bob. It’s important to share a vision of the future, but to what extent do women want that vision molded and polished, as if we were being sold a used car? Not me. I want to see it run. I want to take it for a drive where I slam on the brakes, and yank the steering wheel. Is it safe on the road or only in the sales lot?

Flowers at the beginning of a relationship can be lovely, but flowers throughout a relationship are exquisite. I’m waiting for the one who brings flowers because that’s who he is, not just who he says he is.

Differences that unite

Salt is a rare but important commodity for monarch butterflies. Those that eat milkweed along roads treated with salt appear to have an advantage over those that don’t. With more salt, males develop more thoracic muscle, enabling them to fly further in search of females. Females get bigger brains and eyes, allowing them to find better places to nest.*

Hmmm. Males and females may be genetically programmed to have different priorities, and these may be expressed differently in different environments?

Because so often male / female communication seems so screwed up, I don’t think we really appreciate the extent to which biology plays a role. I may be painting a target on my chest, because so often when someone, anyone, brings this subject up, shout-downs often follow. I think the major culprit is the tendency to over-generalize.

So let’s agree for just a moment, anyway, that human sexuality has a mental component, and minds can’t be divided into simple categories of “man” and “woman.” We have homosexuals and pansexuals and asexuals galore, babies occasionally born physically as both, and while it may be that each of us has a tendency to a “wiring” that allows us to see the world a little differently than other people in the room, there are few absolutes.

We all know and accept not all straight men are insensitive, and not all straight women are nurturing. Bonding conditions at birth play a huge role, as does testosterone exposure in the womb, as does a hundred million other factors we haven’t even begun to discover.

Nature also plays with groups of individuals, tribes or societies. Where behaviors are partly genetic, and genes switch on and off, and environments change, and everything overlaps, sorting out a single “truth” about these things is pretty complicated. Categories are useful tools but are oversimplifications when dealing with continuums. Depending on them for ultimate “truth” is reckless.

Personally, I think differences are pretty cool and without them our species, any species, would be at a significant disadvantage. It’s rare that two people see the world in the same way, but it’s possible for either or both to change a point of view, if not priorities and genetics. Unconditional love is one of the most powerful and transformative forces on Earth.

Along with really good sex.

It also appears that some lab rats may feel regret, and, possibly empathy.* Not to overgeneralize, but I know a few guys that could take some lessons.

*Science News, July 12, 214

 

Sparrow

 

At a friend’s place in the high desert east of the Cascade Mountains that divide the states of Washington and Oregon into wet-side and dry-side, a sage sparrow was perched on the back of a chair on his deck.

It talked and talked to its image in the window.

“I don’t know if it’s happy or sad, if it’s admiring itself or mourning a mate who may have crashed into the glass,” said my friend. “But it’s been here doing that for well over a month.”

I hadn’t gone that deep, but this is typical of my friend, a writer, and is one of the things I love about him. Until then, I’d thought only about how I enjoyed the bird’s music, oblivious to its potential origins.

If asked, my French grandmother would have said “It does not matter, the source of this beauty. It is enough that it is beautiful.”

My friend and I talked about that, about music, poetry, prose, about why we love The Blues. My friend is no stranger to heartbreak, but he also know the joys of falling in love.

“You can’t have the one without risking the other,” he said. “I wouldn’t trade away a minute of either. Both are part of my song.”

It’s not easy. It’s not supposed to be easy. But there is beauty to be found.