The brain and the heart converse, but don’t always listen. They are like the angel and the devil (or vice versa) each whispering into a different ear. This is a problem when it comes to romance — especially on the lonely rebound — especially for women.
The stereotype tells us women are less able to separate sex and love. Enter the interim boyfriend — the one you are intuitively drawn to despite his deficits: “Mr. Right Now.” Intuition, loneliness, or boredom start the process and reasons are created to justify the inclination. So instructed, the head says some version of the following:
Well, he’s not perfect, but he is a good companion for the time being. I know he does (or doesn’t do) ____________ (fill in the blank with whatever disqualifies him from becoming a first class companion). I know he’s got some defects. I’ll keep myself in check. I’ll be in control. I’ll be safe. He’ll fill the gap until “Mr. Right” turns up. I won’t be so lonely in the meantime, because “Mr. Right Now” will be fun.
The heart is still. Unengaged. Untroubled. Quiet. Deaf. The intuition-led brain is in charge and says all the right things. The man’s deficits — perhaps overuse of alcohol or free spending or immaturity or selfishness — are noticed but not troublesome. He is, after all, temporary. The couple talk about the “no strings” nature of their interaction, their “sexpectations.” There is a promise not to get too involved. They might describe their connection as “friends with benefits,” as if words collar feelings — leash the heart against leaping.
As the old saying goes, if you want to hear laughter, tell God your plans!
Time passes. Familiarity brings comfort. Sex adds excitement and closeness.
The heart begins to flutter. That is why the heart exists. The brain had been in charge and made promises the unhearing heart did not keep. Love conquers. The head still recognizes all the defects of “Mr. Right Now” — the things that disqualified him from the lead role. He auditioned for the understudy position, the guy who fills in when Mr. Right isn’t available.
The heart is now in charge. The shortcomings of the short-term fellow no longer matter. He is the leading man. The brain, if it ever was in charge, is either silenced or ignored.
The heart has the whip hand. Reasons are manufactured to justify feelings:
Well, he’s not perfect, but who is? I’ll talk to him about the things he needs to change, what I need from him. He’ll listen. He’ll change. Besides, he has so many good qualities. He’s a wonderful person, he just needs to (pick one or more):
- grow up a little
- be honest
- spend less time with his friends
- put me ahead of his family
- be more (or less) concerned with money
- be more ambitious
- be more (or less) preoccupied with work
- become more sensitive, especially to me
- listen better
- be neater
- drink (or use drugs) less
- _________________ (Fill in the blank)
Unfortunately, before long you are a prisoner in a trap you set yourself. You recognize the impossibility of your magical plans for the lover’s transformation, but you are hip deep in love. The chains of affection are heavy and take you under. You are straightjacketed like Houdini, but don’t have his gift for escape. Too late, you realize you fooled yourself. You are sinking. You mistook the straightjacket for a life jacket.
The inoculation against the love bug failed. Your heart is now infected. The new BF (boyfriend), lover, companion, stud puppet (whatever you want to call him) is in your blood.
Like any infection, some time is needed to recover. The task is easier if no children are involved, no marriages planned, and you have the courage to look hard at reality. Sooner is better than later. “The heart is a lonely hunter”* and, once that vital organ snuggles up to someone, detachment isn’t easy.
At best, you learned some painful lessons:
- First, all important lessons are painful.
- Second, you aren’t as smart as you thought.
- Third, there are worse things than loneliness.
- Fourth, temptation is easier to avoid than resist.
- Fifth, your reasons followed your intuition, your biology, your neediness, or all three. You wanted to go out with someone who wasn’t right. No wonder your reasons weren’t reasonable or ultimately effective in protecting you.
Most people, including more men than will admit it, make some version of the same mistake. You are human, so you make mistakes.
You might know someone about to step on the slippery slope I’ve described. You are welcome to share my post, but don’t bet big money on persuading your friend of the dangers. Spilled milk, spilled tears — without them we learn very little. “For fools rush in where angels fear to tread,” as Alexander Pope wrote three centuries ago. There are times when we are all fools. Get the tissues ready.
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is a 1940 novel by Carson McCullers, adapted into a 1968 movie of the same name and a 2005 play.
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Early in my life, as I lay in bed in the brief dreamy but not dreaming moments before sleep, I’d think up a short list of things I wanted. These were experiences or objects or abilities I believed might make me happier — improve my life in some significant and permanent way. The list included learning to drive a car, having a girlfriend, being as good in science as my friend Steve — those sorts of things.
While I never became the world-famous scientist Steve Henikoff is, I achieved much of value both on and off the lists I imagined when I was 10 or 15. Later the practice of making nighttime aims fell away. No, I didn’t get A’s in all my school work or win every girl I fancied, but few people do.
I discovered goals on a list are a bit like the candy in a PEZ dispenser. The candy is spring-loaded into its container. As soon as you remove the piece at the top, another piece is pushed up to take its place. So long as the dispenser holds more candy, one morsel is replaced by the next. Just so, as soon as you check-off an item on your goal list, another pops to the top.
We don’t seem to remain satisfied. You eat a meal, but before long you get hungry again. You have sex, but, however wonderful, you won’t remain ecstatic forever. You eat a piece of chocolate, but it’s not so fulfilling as to satiate you. More is usually required. Robert Wright, the Princeton psychologist, talks about this in his lectures on the subject of Buddhist psychology. Moreover, he says, this is part of the reason people are so often dissatisfied with the way things are.
The Buddhists call the experience (and much worse catastrophes) dukkha or suffering. To them dukkha is the central part of life. In their view, emotional pain is caused by grasping for things we don’t possess, the endless wish for fame or money or acclaim we don’t have, or holding tightly to those same things for fear of losing them. The Buddhists contend our misconception of how to live contributes to dissatisfaction and anxiety. They point to a path away from unhappiness and toward acceptance instead of grasping, contentment with our lot in life, and living in the moment. In effect, they tell us we are trying to fill up a pail with a large hole in it and can never make our lives whole in this way.
There should be no surprise people make poor choices of how to live. We see it all the time in acquaintances, but perhaps less often in ourselves. Research concludes we are not good at knowing in advance what things or activities will offer happiness — give some lasting satisfaction. In fact, psychologists Daniel Gilbert and Charles Wilson coined a phrase for this: “miswanting” or desiring things that won’t provide the emotional benefit we expect. Dukkha here we come.
Perhaps even worse, because the mind drifts so easily to what is wrong in life, we try to keep busy and distract ourselves. We fail to take time to focus on the problem of “miswanting” or any other self-inflicted emotional wound. We stay on the treadmill of misguidedness, heading in a direction that hasn’t worked in the past and probably won’t work in the future. Kate Murphy describes our discomfort with quiet thought in a New York Times article of July 25, 2014. Rather than the painful job of self-reflection, we choose to stay too busy to think, ignore how we are hurting ourselves, and don’t consider a big change of direction.
Look around you. Just about everyone wants more money, a more satisfying intimate relationship, a better residence in a new place, a fancier phone, different clothes, a better job, a nicer office; but soon after an item on the list is achieved dissatisfaction returns.
Robert Wright says this is no accident. Indeed, he points to the work of evolutionary psychologists who believe evolution is the culprit behind our discontent, broadly speaking. He is not trying to make light of the genuine wrongs in the world, but rather to look at why human existence is generally so difficult — even for those who are not suffering from stretches of terrible luck or misfortune.
Wright uses food and sex as examples in the set of lectures he produced for Coursera, the free online source of university level education from some of the best instructors in the world. Wright says evolution (or Mother Nature) has set us up to be unsatisfied much of the time.
Remember the chocolate? Wright states if you are a chocolate lover, at the end of having a bite you are going to want more. Your satisfaction is temporary. Why is this? Evolutionary psychologists like Wright believe our distant ancestors (early men and women) discovered fruit was sweet and tasty. Those who enjoyed and ate it regularly were more likely to survive than those who either couldn’t find any fruit, didn’t care for it, or didn’t seek more. The survivors produced children who had the same genetic makeup and also enjoyed sweet things. In other words, evolution favored those who ate (and eventually learned to grow) fruit.
The twist in the story came when candy was created in India, over two centuries ago. Later on, man would find all sorts of ways to add sugar to his diet and the products sold in groceries. The irony of this survival story is that the same affinity for sweetness, once widely helpful to our distant progenitors’ survival, now contributes to a USA obesity epidemic.
Now think about sex. Ancient humans who had sex one time only and were so overwhelmed and permanently fulfilled by the experience aren’t our ancestors. Had everyone been like them our species would be extinct. Indeed, we can assume the genetic line of those who had little interest in sex vanished. We are the progeny of a group of humans who enjoyed sex, weren’t perpetually fulfilled by it, and kept looking for more sexual opportunities, as most of us do. For the same evolutionary reasons, we are alive because those primitive humans also had feelings of affection toward mates and children, wanted to protect them, and thus increased the chance the kids would live to reproduce themselves.
In our twenty-first century world we continue to pair with others to survive, mutually protect each other, and teach our children how to manage the same life project. You might think you are making money just to get a nicer car or a bigger apartment, but the evolutionary scientists would say you are preoccupied with such things because signs of status and power made our ancestors more appealing as mates. Those who were more desirable, more able to protect their mates, and thought more physically fit had an increased chance of passing forward their genetic “stuff” to another generation.
If you believe men preoccupied with “hot” women are shallow, remember that appearance drew our ancient ancestors to one another. Those who chose lovers who looked healthy — capable of bearing and nursing children in the case of females — were more likely to reproduce and raise kids who grew to do the same thing. Thus, it became automatic for people to consider surface qualities. We come by our shallowness honestly! Mother Nature is the real culprit.
Wright makes the point that the evolutionary process aims at only one thing: getting your genetic material into the world of the future. Evolution is not inclined to make us happy.
Indeed, Mother Nature sometimes fools us into doing things that aren’t going to make us anything but miserable. Consider how desperate we can become thinking the next job, promotion, or mate will generate everlasting bliss. Alas, once achieved, the satisfaction and happiness are only temporary. Another piece of PEZ pops to the top of the PEZ dispenser and we expect the next target will be the key to joy.
Sometimes the characteristics fostered by evolution are terrific. They have, after all, kept our species alive. Curiosity, competitiveness, and intelligence are great (leading to medical progress, higher living standards, and the Internet), but too often our evolutionary residue contributes to weapons of mass destruction and the self-protective jealousies or ethnic/racial hatreds we find all over our troubled world. Again, individual men and women are making some very bad decisions, but Mother Nature (aka evolution) is complicit.
If you put the Buddhist and evolutionary perspectives together, you get something like this. I’ve oversimplified what follows, but I think you will get the idea. The Buddhist view will be in bold print, followed by the evolutionary explanation:
We get too attached to things. Our ancestors needed things (tools, food, shelter, etc.) to survive.
We are afraid of losing things. Same as above.
We grasp for what we don’t already possess. Appearance, status, and power increase our chances in the mating game.
We fret about the future. Early humans who anticipated difficulties had a better chance of ensuring survival.
Just as we work hard to acquire things, we try to get and keep the most desirable mate. We are programmed to look for healthy partners to increase our chances of creating, nurturing and protecting a new generation.
We get attached to people and it pains us when we lose them. Our ancestors formed groups for self-protection and survival. Evolution contributed to our desire for human contact, affection, and reliance upon others.
Most of us never figure out the “PEZ dispenser” nature of life: that the things we want won’t make much permanent difference (unless they are healthy food, protective shelter, and other essentials), whatever temporary good feeling they generate. We’d be better off accepting the mantra-laden Rolling Stones song, (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, as the matrix of living. Once realizing this, Wright and the Buddhists say, you can begin to change your personal path in the direction of more acceptance, less grasping, and reduced concern with either gaining what you want or losing what you control. You will be less worried and dissatisfied, more able to take joy from things as they are or at least accept whatever happens. No one suggests this path is easy, but the alternative will make your life worse.
Should you believe that is a negative message, here is some news. Those Buddhist monks who are expert meditators are among the happiest people on the planet — so brain research tells us. Meanwhile, the USA, a land of wealth, is only tied for 14th in overall “thriving,” with just 57% of us describing ourselves in that way.* Nor do you need a religious conversion to Buddhism to improve your sense of well-being from moment to moment. But most of us benefit by becoming less grasping and attached — reaching for a permanent solution to existence when the problem is the reaching itself and the expectation that such a solution is possible.
So what do you do with all the above to make your life better? Here is a start. Make a list of the things you pursued in your life: material objects, status, money, romance, children, and so forth. Then ask yourself how much lasting happiness each one gave you once it was achieved. If you have been “miswanting,” maybe it is time to stop the treadmill, get off, and reconsider the path you are on.
Think about it.
*Click to see the complete 2010 Gallup Global Wellbeing Ratings. One-hundred-fifty-five countries are included.
The top photo is Mick Jagger. The second image is a Hello Kitty PEZ dispenser, taken by Deborah Austin. The Chocolate photo is the work of André Karwath. It is followed by a picture of Buddhist Art taken in Sri lanka. Finally, Gustav Klimt’s Der Kuss (The Kiss). All but the first of these are sourced from Wikimedia Commons.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 10 so far )
Is the wisdom of age a function of learning something during your decades on the planet? There is, in fact, one other possibility: older people are just older and view the world from a different vantage point.
Let me explain.
Take the hormone-driven life of a sixteen-year-old boy. The sexual urge is like having a wild animal inside you. Erections, as noted in my post about the nude swimming classes of yesteryear, happen at the most inopportune moments and with astonishing frequency. They cannot be willed away any more than nocturnal emissions (a.k.a. wet dreams).
No 60-year-old man is subject to the same preoccupying, indomitable force. Therefore, he and the 16-year-old version of himself perceive the world differently, think about the sexual aspect of life with different degrees of obsession, and are enslaved by lust in proportion to spontaneous changes of the body.
Strenuous thought over those 44 years didn’t accomplish this. Age alone is the reason, a major physical and chemical change. You are not the same man you used to be. We do tend to think of the 60-year-old as wiser in controlling sexual urges, but he didn’t work or study with this aim. A reduced libido gradually developed in the normal course of life.
Now let’s switch things a bit. If the 60-year-old is wiser about mating, shouldn’t we advise our 16-year-old boy to be like his sage future self? I think not.
Our biological imperative is to reproduce. Intercourse is required and only a magician could impregnate someone without it, assuming no artificial insemination. Were a young man’s ravenous view of sex the same as his more distracted aged self, the human race might never have survived.
OK, enough of bedroom activities. Let’s talk about ambition. Jean Améry said that a young person “is not only who he is, but also who he will be.” In other words, one’s self concept is informed by his or her expectations for the future. A youngster might envision herself becoming a physician, for example. Her imagined career defines how she looks at life and how she behaves; by dedicated study, among other behaviors.
For most men and women in their 60s, however, “who he will be” is not promising. The older person can still be serene and productive, but few bets are placed on his achieving higher status in business, sports, scientific discovery, or art. Seniors are disinclined to want more children of their own, even were their bodies to cooperate. If a person has not made his mark, he isn’t expected to as an oldie, at least in the ways described.
Happily, however, by the 60s most of us are less ambitious and are looking forward to retirement. Again, the question is: do those with less drive “learn” something by experience or might their bodies and diminished capabilities simply change their perspective?
I believe we do learn some things from life experience and a portion of a senior citizen’s wisdom is “earned.” Yet, with an energy boost, the intellectual sharpness, and the pulchritude of someone younger, the ambition might return. When science makes 60 into the new 40 or 30 or 16, I’m guessing ambition will also be revived and older people will trade the twilight for another round in the daylight of a more youthful competition to “make something” of oneself.
Now to a practical and personal example. My father became a wiser man as he aged. Dad was born in 1911. I videotaped a four-hour conversation we had about his life when he was in his mid-70s. His youth, like so many others living at the time, was dominated by the Great Depression. Imagine being 21, ambitious, and smart in late 1932, with no path to a lasting career. Where would jobs come from? How could he support a family? Might an appealing woman want him if he were impoverished? It is, unfortunately, still a problem today in the aftermath of the Great Recession.
The imperative to “make a living” explained most of his major choices even post-retirement. For my first 20 years, he worked one full-time job and two part-time jobs, plus a small business repairing cigarette lighters on our dining room table after dinner. My father was careful with money and took few financial risks. The shadow of the Great Depression, that ended with the ramp-up to World War II, was still present over 20 years after he returned from the European portion of that conflict.
The dominant problem of his life was financial security and paying the expenses for my mom and their three little boys. Sidestepping the cost to the entire family of his work-induced absences, Dad paid an emotional toll in the lurking fear of another economic crisis derailing his life and ours. In part, he labored because it defined him as a “man,” but finances were in the back of his mind. I don’t think it was an easy way to live, at least not from my observations growing up.
Gradually something changed. In the last 15 or more years of his long life, he seemed more at ease with himself, less worried and stressed. He continued to work part-time jobs for a while, but a peacefulness had come over him. He finally triumphed over the stalking shadow of 1932 and the rest of the Depression. The doubts receded.
Somehow dad accomplished a psychological distance from the monetary concerns that unsettled him long past the time they were realistic. Because he wasn’t an introspective guy, I attributed the change to the aging process rather than any kind of “aha!” moment triggered by a self-reflection he rarely practiced. He was an older man with an older body for whom things had worked themselves out.
In the same video interview, I asked him what he’d learned in his 75 years on the planet. He paused a moment, and then said something touching: “I’ve learned to appreciate some things.” He named my mom — still the love of his life — my brothers Eddie and Jack and myself; expressing pride his three good boys were independent and successful. What this 75-year-old version of my dad said was wise, but hardly unique.
Older people simply own a special perspective. If they have learned anything important from aging, it is to look at the part of the glass that is half-full, not half-empty. The oldies view their existence from closer to the end than the beginning, looking back through the lens of experience. And they see with different eyes — a changed body and brain, too. The fading of the ambition necessary in youth (if the older person has been lucky enough) has a positive influence on happiness. You would not think a settled, hormonally tamed teenager to be wise if he had this view of his world, but you might say it of a 75-year-old man.
In summary, many, but not all of the aged are wise. No, they didn’t take philosophy classes and spend hours thinking about their past in order to achieve it. I dare say, for most, it just happened to them.
To me, at least, I’m comforted that nature sometimes works to perfection. A flower blooms all by itself. Even as we are robbed of our youthful vigor, an unsigned but precious gift is silently slipped under the door unnoticed. Yet the fragrance is quite beautiful.
The wooden hourglass is the work of S Sepp and sourced from Wikimedia Commons.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 6 so far )
You have a date with someone you find enormously appealing. You don’t actually recall the details of how you happened to make the contact. You were at a party, talked to the woman a bit, and discovered her phone number in your pocket when you got home. You’d had too much to drink, so nothing in your memory bank suggests what you discussed. But, when you called her a few days later, she did agree to have dinner with you.
Rather than tell you precisely what to do, I will take the opposite stance: don’t do what you read below!
Instead, reflect on the fact that people, perhaps including yourself, have engaged in the acts I am about to describe. These faux pas apply to both sexes. In the game of dating, we are all at risk of being that guy (or girl). Also, note that I’ve exaggerated some of this poor advice for the sake of making it more obvious. But again, don’t do it!
On occasion I will say just a few words about how to approach the dinner date experience so that you actually increase your chances of having a good time. I will highlight these affirmative suggestions by placing them in capital letters and italics so that you can tell them from the disastrous behaviors that make up most of this essay.
YOUR PRE-DATE GAME PLAN:
1. As a first step in destroying your confidence, consider that this woman does not really know who you are. Now, I don’t mean this in the sense that she has very little knowledge of your inner workings and life history. Rather, I’m referring to the chance of mistaken identity. She likely envisions a tall, handsome, witty character with whom she shared martinis, moonlight, and flirtatious banter (or was that the guy named Steve?). Regardless, once you arrive at her door, she is likely to realize two very important things: she is sober and you are not Steve.
2. Continue to ponder the possibility that your muse imbibed too many Cosmopolitans during your initial encounter a few days ago. Now reflect on the fact that your friends have often told you, “Dude, you’re way funnier when you are drinking.” You can now reasonably conclude that your date either does not know who you are or she does, but you looked and sounded a lot better when you both were intoxicated.
3. Having ruminated about the first two items for several hours (to the point of a ruinous case of pre-date jitters), jot down a list of every bad date you’ve ever had. Think back to all the humiliations, all the rejections, and especially the time that you got nauseous at Chili’s. Now extend your attention to your miniscule place in the universe, thereby further reducing your confidence.
4. Remember that one of the potential problems in meeting anyone new is that you can run out of things to say. Knowing this, write down a list of potential conversation topics. Then open your window and scream “Adios blow-up doll! No more inflatable girls for me. I have a date with a real live woman!” Make sure that you are loud enough so your neighbors can hear you.
5. Recalling that your date said on the phone that she loves Thai food, choose a dinner destination based solely on your own palate. Your reasoning? Women don’t eat in front of guys on first dates, right?
6. Remember that appearance is key to a successful first date. At the same time, however, consider that paying too much attention to grooming could be seen as a weakness. The solution to this dilemma? Rely on the words your incarcerated father once told you, that there is nothing to fear when you drench your body for 30 seconds with Axe Body Spray.
- REAL ADVICE: DON’T DEFEAT YOURSELF BEFORE YOU GET STARTED. TRY TO REMEMBER WHY YOU WANT TO GO OUT WITH THIS PERSON AND REALIZE THAT SHE IS ALMOST CERTAINLY LOOKING FORWARD TO GETTING TO KNOW YOU AND HAVING A GOOD TIME. YOU CAN DRIVE YOURSELF CRAZY WITH ANTICIPATION AND PREPARATION. DO TRY TO LOOK YOUR BEST, BUT, IN THE END, YOU ARE WHO YOU ARE. IF YOUR DATE IS COMPATIBLE WITH YOU, SHE IS NOT EXPECTING THAT SHE IS ABOUT TO GO OUT WITH THE FIRST FLAWLESS PERSON IN HISTORY.
THE DATE ITSELF:
7. If you are prone to hugging “hello,” go ahead. But remember — you want to make an impression. Therefore you must squeeze your date’s bottom a minimum of three times in quick succession during the embrace. Why three? Because you don’t want her (or him) to think that the first two squeezes were an accident. This will definitely get noticed. If you are a man, it will tell your companion that you are a rude, overconfident caveman. If you are a woman, it will inform your new acquaintance that you are in heat.
- REAL ADVICE: WHATEVER YOU DO, DON’T DO ANY BOTTOM SQUEEZING OF THIS NEW PERSON, UNLESS YOU WANT HER TO CALL THE POLICE OR KICK YOU IN THE GROIN!
8. Upon arriving at the restaurant, realize that you left your list of conversation topics at home and that you have no recollection of what it included. If you are a drug abuser, this is the perfect time to go to the restaurant men’s room and snort a quick line of coke.
9. When you return from the W/C, begin to focus on your facial expression and body language. Your internal monologue should sound something like:
a. “Am I moving my hands too much?”
b. “Did I just scowl?”
c. “Is my eyelid twitching?”
d. “Did I leave some coke on my face?”
- REAL ADVICE: IF YOU CONCENTRATE ENOUGH ON WHAT YOU ARE SAYING AND DOING, HOW YOU LOOK, AND EVERY CONCEIVABLE INADVERTENT LAPSE FROM SOME IMAGINARY STANDARD OF BEHAVIORAL PERFECTION, YOU WILL BE UNABLE TO ACCOMPLISH WHAT YOU SHOULD BE DOING: ENJOYING THE COMPANY OF A POTENTIALLY INTERESTING AND LOVELY PERSON WHO WANTS TO GET TO KNOW YOU.
10. Back to what you shouldn’t do: be very conscious of the possibility that you may become uncontrollably aroused by the feminine charms of your companion, to the point of levitating the rather low table at which you are seated, thus drawing the attention of everyone in the restaurant. Should this happen, do one of the following:
a. Make no eye contact at all with your companion.
b. Keep your eyes laser-focused on the woman until she asks you if you have a staring problem.
c. Look at and speak to her cleavage, not her.
11. Sprinkle the conversation with the “F” word. You know, “F this” and “F that;” “F him” and “F her.” Use the words “whore” and “bitch” enough to give your companion a good sense of your opinion of women. Belch whenever possible. Sneeze on to the femme fatale’s food. Take things off her plate without asking.
12. Your dating disaster will only be complete if you offer Ms. Right some illegal drugs. Carry a full array of products in your brief case. She will consider the offer enormously thoughtful of you.
13. From the beginning to the end of the night tell your heart-throb that she is beautiful, gorgeous, stunning, etc. Ignore her when she implores you to stop. Keep doing it until she begins to scream the “F” word you taught her in step #11.
- REAL ADVICE: DO GIVE A SMALL NUMBER OF COMPLIMENTS, BUT BE SENSITIVE TO WHETHER YOUR DATE IS COMFORTABLE WITH THIS. WHATEVER YOU DO, DON’T GO OVERBOARD. WITH EVERY ADDITIONAL COMPLIMENT, YOU RISK MAKING YOURSELF SEEM EITHER INSINCERE OR TOO ENAMORED OF YOUR COMPANION TOO SOON IN THE RELATIONSHIP. ALLOW THERE TO BE SOME MYSTERY AS TO YOUR FEELINGS, NOT SLAVE-LIKE DEVOTION FROM THE START OF THINGS.
14. Talk politics or religion from an early point in your dinner. Take impossibly extreme positions, always being careful to communicate that anyone who doesn’t agree with you is an idiot. Pick a fight if you can.
15. Do not let your new friend speak. Interrupt her whenever possible. Dominate the discussion. Talk only about yourself. Ask her no questions about herself and show no interest when she does manage to say something. Discuss past girlfriends and how lucky they were to have you in their lives. Praise yourself and your wisdom ad nauseam.
Alternatively, put yourself down at every opportunity. Look to this woman for reassurance. Lapse into a fetal position. Display as much self-doubt as you can. Tell her in great detail about your lifetime of therapy. Make it clear that unless she is falling in love with you, your life will be forever meaningless.
- REAL ADVICE: NEW RELATIONSHIPS GENERALLY WORK BEST WITH A GRADUAL APPROACH TO SHARING INSECURITIES AND VERY PERSONAL INFORMATION. A FIRST DATE IS NOT THE SAME THING AS WRITING A MEMOIR OR ENTERING THE CATHOLIC CHURCH’S CONFESSIONAL BOOTH AND ASKING FORGIVENESS FOR ALL YOUR SINS. DO TAKE YOUR TIME IN GETTING TO KNOW THIS NEW PERSON.
16. See how many other hot women you can flirt with in the course of the evening. If your date fails to notice, be sure to point out the babes and mention the physical attributes that appeal to you.
17. Keep your cell phone on the dinner table and check it frequently. Text while you talk. Use the phrase “Did you say something?” as often as possible.
18. When the bill comes, say that you forgot to put enough money in your wallet, but “I will totally make it up to you during the porn flick I picked for later in the evening at my apartment.”
19. At the end of the night, despite numerous signs that your female friend can’t wait to be away from you (including her mentioning that she is going to move to Paraguay tomorrow), make every effort to be a stud. Specifically, try for a good night kiss that would make a plumber proud; or, if you prefer, a surgeon who wants to get deep enough inside her mouth to perform a tonsillectomy.
POST DATE WRAP-UP:
Congratulations! You have not only guaranteed your own loneliness, but managed to give your date a case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Once she recovers she will tell others about you. With any luck, most of the female population of your community will be on the alert, having seen your photo on Facebook. It is only a matter of time before small children will point at you in the street, laughing so uncontrollably that they begin to burp up their lunch.
- REAL ADVICE: OK, THE DISASTER DESCRIBED IN THIS POST IS A GROSS EXAGGERATION. BUT, KNOWING WHAT NOT TO DO CAN HELP YOU AVOID CREATING A REGRETTABLE EVENING FOR YOURSELF AND YOUR FUTURE LADY FRIEND.
- MORE REAL ADVICE: ON THE OFF-CHANCE THAT YOUR CONFIDENCE HAS NOT BEEN FULLY DESTROYED BY DATING EXPERIENCES ANYTHING LIKE THIS, THERE ARE SEVERAL STEPS YOU CAN TAKE: SEARCH YOUR PERSONALITY AND BEHAVIOR FOR POSSIBLE SIGNS OF OVERCONFIDENCE, INSINCERITY, OR INSECURITY. VOW TO CHANGE. ASK FRIENDS (AND EVEN WOMEN YOU’VE DATED) WHAT TURNED THEM OFF. FIND A GOOD THERAPIST. ALL THIS TAKES INCREDIBLE COURAGE AND EFFORT, BUT CAN BE VERY INFORMATIVE. AS I HOPE YOU’VE LEARNED, RUINING A DATE CAN TAKE JUST AS MUCH ENERGY.
- ONE LAST BIT OF REAL ADVICE: DON’T MAKE A DINNER DATE A MATTER OF LIFE OR DEATH. IF YOU DO, YOU WILL DIE A LOT!
This essay comes from Chapter 24 of the forthcoming Encyclopedia of Ruining Your Life.
The top image is a Joker by David Bellot. It is followed by a Goofy Smirk by Bruce from San Francisco. The final painting is entitled The Desperate Man by Gustav Courbet, dating from 1843. All are sourced from Wikimedia Commons.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )
When someone asks you a question and says, “Please be honest with me,” I have a word of advice: be careful.
Two examples will illustrate the point. One comes from Greek mythology; the other from my own experience in, of all places, kindergarten. Hard lessons were earned and learned in each one. Sometimes telling the truth is a big problem. Sometimes no answer is right.
The Greek myth in question has to do with Teiresias. According to one version of the story, this young man was walking along, minding his own business, when he came upon two snakes having sex. He hit the pair with his walking stick, but displeased the Goddess Hera in the process. Hera punished the young man by turning him into a young woman. Not only did “she” then live as a woman for seven years, but bore children.
Apparently, when she again found snakes mating, she delivered another blow to them, thus releasing her from Hera’s spell and transforming her back into a man. Some sources suggest that Teiresias killed the female reptile in the first instance, thus explaining Hera’s anger, and the male in the second, thereby evening the scales.
Fast forward to a conversation between Hera and her husband Zeus, the chief God. The pair couldn’t agree on the question of which gender enjoys sex more. Zeus claimed it was women, while Hera was certain that males had more sexual pleasure. How to resolve the question? What better way than turn to the only person who had ever been both a man and a woman, our friend Teiresias.
His answer went as follows:
If the pleasures of sex were divided in ten,there’d be nine parts for women and one part for men.
Oops. Teiresias apparently forgot that he was dealing with Hera once again, the same person who had changed his sex. She now punished him a second time by blinding him permanently. Zeus could do nothing to change this, but did try to compensate Teiresias by giving him the gift of prophecy. Thus, ironically, Teiresias became a blind seer, a man who could “see” into the future despite his inability to see through his eyes.
Skip now even further ahead to a little boy named Gerry Stein.
I was a dashing little person. Resplendent in the Indian (Native American) head-dress my parents gave me or the cowboy holster and six guns that I wore around my waist. Of course, the contradictions among those elements of attire didn’t bother me. Perhaps they were an early indication of my tendency to see both sides of an argument.
I was a six-year-old. I didn’t wear my western outfit to school, but I was still pretty cute: a curly-haired, fresh-faced, sweet little boy, with large hazel eyes. And I had three girlfriends! Count ‘em: three! Way more than any of the other little boys in my kindergarten class. Was it at Avondale School or Jamieson? I don’t remember that.
Little did I know that I was about to meet my Waterloo. Little did I know that the great disasters of life are largely unforeseen; and that fortune can turn in an instant. Teiresias, whose name I wouldn’t encounter for many years, could well have warned me.
The teacher gave us an assignment to draw something. I don’t recall just what it was. But I was good at anything having to do with art and quickly finished off my mini-Picasso masterpiece. That gave me a little time. And so I walked over to the place where two of my girlfriends were hard at work on their own artistic products.
What exactly did it mean that I had three girlfriends? I was six, for God’s sake. I never saw them outside of our kindergarten class. I doubt that I ever held hands with even one of them. Still, there was a sense of security, a point of pride in “having” three pretty little females each of whom also thought that I was her boyfriend, and each of whom was just as clueless as I was about what that might mean.
I can still see myself standing in front of the first two charmers, who were, by the way, best friends. And I can still hear the question that one of them asked me, much like the question posed to Teiresias by Zeus and Hera: “Gerry, whose picture do you like the best?”
Remember, I was six. Maybe even five. No life experience. A piece of unripe fruit, yet to be churned by the cruelties of the human food processor that is daily life. For sure, I was pure and naive. And terribly, terribly honest.
So I answered. I chose one. I don’t remember which one. I only remember the aftermath.
The unchosen female immediately burst into tears. “You made me cry. You aren’t my boyfriend anymore!”
I was stunned. It might even have been her question that prompted the answer she was blaming me for. I considered using the Nuremberg Defense (“I was just following orders).” But before I could say anything, the next hammer dropped.
Her companion, girlfriend #2, looked at me and said: “You made my friend cry. You aren’t my boyfriend any more.”
My stock was falling like the Dow Jones Industrial Average on “Black Friday.” I was down two-thirds on my net girlfriend-worth. I was sweating. I didn’t know what to do. I must have mumbled something about being sorry. But the hard-hearted pair facing me, like Hera x 2, had rendered their unchangeable verdict. The Gerry Stein Fan Club was quickly disbanding.
In my desperation I did what most anyone would do. I ran over to my one remaining girlfriend, the better to secure my position with her. God knows, if she asked me what I thought of her drawing, I was prepared to tell her that not even Rembrandt could have done half as well.
Unfortunately, in my haste I wasn’t especially careful about where my feet were going. And the hard wood floor had recently been polished, making traction tricky and braking balky. I over-ran my target and accidentally stepped on my remaining girlfriend’s foot. This damsel, now in distress, quickly began to cry. And you already know the rest: “You made me cry. You’re not my boyfriend any more.”
Dazed, stunned, disillusioned, and confused, I probably would have walked into traffic if we hadn’t been in a secure environment. Everyone else continued to busy themselves in drawing and conversation. I alone was crushed, alienated from humanity, feeling for the first time in my life the cruel indifference of a world that goes on about its business, ignoring the human road-kill still to be observed in its peripheral vision.
Little did I know that my moment of lifetime peak popularity with the opposite gender had passed, but at least I retained my vision, unlike Teiresias.
As I see it (sorry for the pun, Teiresias,) both Teiresias and I acquired some wisdom under difficult circumstances. His tendency to displease those in charge, Hera in particular, led Zeus to give the newly blinded man the gift of prophecy. With that, one could be sure that he would handle potentially disastrous situations involving snakes and vengeful Gods quite differently in the future. And indeed, he became esteemed for giving good advice and important warnings to other mythic Greeks.
My kindergarten disaster — my childhood tsunami-like encounter with three girlfriends — was also instructive. No, I didn’t become a seer, a visionary, or a prophetic advisor to princes and kings. But I did become a little wiser about the ways of the world; about dealing with women; and about the punishment that sometimes comes by just answering a question scrupulously. I learned the truth in Clarence Darrow’s observation that “There is no such thing as justice, in or out of court.”
Wisdom almost always comes at a high price. Just take it from me and Teiresias.
Thanks to Keith Cleveland, Instructor in the University of Chicago’s Basic Program of Liberal Education for Adults, for relating the portion of the Teiresias myth that I have discussed. All photos are of the author. The first comes from September, 1965, taken by Steve Henikoff. The second is dated August 15, 1948. The third is undated.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )
Start by being suspicious — of six-year-old boys! If you really want to protect your little sweetie pie from evil-minded males (in other words, normal guys) you have to get an early start. This will give you some time to develop your profiling skills. Assume a “hell no, he’s not right for you” stance — with every boyfriend she ever has. Since most people date lots of losers before they marry, you will be right virtually all the time and thereby enhance your credibility. Good job, mom! Good job, dad!
Ah, but that is only the first step in assuring that your innocent daughter will not make a mistake. What do I mean by a mistake? Well, first of all, that she will have sex — ever. You know, deep down, that you don’t want this to happen. Not at any age. Not if she lives to be 100. Certainly not in your own lifetime.
Nor do you want someone who will disappoint her, break her heart, or live off her hard-earned wages. No, if she must marry (and this is pretty doubtful in your mind) it should be to someone who can earn a good living and put her on a pedestal.
OK, are you serious about protecting your beautiful child? Are you willing to do anything — anything and everything it takes? Then here is a short list of steps to guarantee, if not perpetual virginity, then at least the chance that she will marry a good man (of whom there are only three on the planet):
- Start by eliminating any guy with an earring, tattoo, or body puncture of any kind. Too harsh? That is the whole point of this! Remember that I said there are only three acceptable guys on the planet. You can’t expect me to make the qualifications too easy, can you?
- Greet the young man with a chainsaw in your hand (ideally one that is on) and the grim expression of Michael Keaton above (from Mr. Mom).
- Ask your potential son-in-law to provide you with the results of an IQ test performed by a licensed psychologist. Me! If he scores below the 98th percentile, he is history.
- He must be willing to submit a complete medical report before arriving for date #2. Results of genetic testing should be included. You need this information so that your future grandchildren have a good chance of being free of imperfection.
- Require the suitor to provide you with letters of recommendation from at least one person in each of the following categories: a) past girlfriend b) clergyman or woman, preferably the Dalai Lama or the Pope c) employer d) supreme court justice e) someone he saved from a burning building or a speeding bullet. OK, maybe that is a little extreme. So, let’s say at least four of the five categories.
- Never smile unless it is in a devilish fashion. Give him “the stare.” Hold eye contact until he breaks it off and leaves the house, whimpers, or begins to weep. Practice in the mirror until you look like this:
- Ask the young man a series of innocent questions such as:
a) “Have you ever given any thought to what it might be like to be waterboarded?”
b) “Define the word ‘abstinence’ and explain what you think about it.”
c) “Other than eyes or hair, what is your favorite female body part and why?” (If he says “feet,” assume that he is a foot-fetishist and throw him out).
d) “What are your goals in life if you grow up?”
- Be sure to purchase a military arsenal and install it in a special, locked, dungeon-like room in your home. Make certain that you show this to your daughter’s suitor the very first time he comes to pick her up for a date. Diplomas you earned for marksmanship and martial arts should be prominently displayed, with casual references to “some unfortunate disappearances that happened” to your daughter’s previous boyfriends, and how the police were unable to find them. Newspaper accounts of the “disappearances” should be framed and hung on the dungeon’s walls.
Parents have paid me a small fortune for these tips. The techniques have stood the test of time. They can be used by both parents together or by either mom or dad. For a limited time only, they are yours free of charge. Consider yourself lucky.
And lucky that your son didn’t try to date my daughters!
P.S. Since my children each married great guys, that means there is now only one other decent single man available in the world. You might have to make your screening process even tougher than mine!
The bottom photo by Toni Frissell is of Jacqueline Kennedy Throwing the Bouquet at her First Wedding, September 12, 1953. It is sourced from Wikimedia Commons.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )
“What does she see in him?” Both men and women ask this question when they see a man of unremarkable appearance with a strikingly attractive woman. Sometimes the quality is money, sometimes status, sometimes a good sense of humor. Perhaps it is great charm, a good heart, or a rare temperamental match. The explanation can be found in a resemblance to a father or mother figure, as well. But what is often unseen is perhaps more important than any of these qualities: boldness.
A man who has confidence and acts boldly will find a companion, period. He may be a boor or a clod; he may be self-involved, dishonest, or have poor personal hygiene. Unfortunately, there will be some companionable soul who responds well to his strength, confidence, and persistence despite all these negatives. A young man should not let this person’s coarseness obscure the fact that such brutes still have something to teach him: prospective mates will admire your willingness to take the lead, to act, and to attack problems in a seemingly fearless display of self-assertion.
Scientists suggest that a tendency for women to be attracted to strong men is the evolutionary product of prehistoric life, when a woman needed a male’s protection and ability to carve out a living, especially when the female was pregnant or the children were small. That didn’t make such men “nice,” but it did make them essential. The good news in 2012 is that you needn’t and shouldn’t be some version of a caveman in order to find a way to a woman’s heart; and that women can do quite well without a man.
Even today, however, the boldest men are the types who keep knocking on a door until the door sunders under the assault; or display the cleverness to find another path to their goal when the door fails to give way. They can be admirable in their ingenuity, less so in their bullheadedness. Not every woman will appreciate those who behave as if they were cartoon caricatures of a “macho-man”, but a few will succumb to them. They might not be well-liked, but their relentlessness, their strength of will, their “not to be denied” single-mindedness doesn’t require a standing ovation. And that indifference to the admiration of others is by itself a quality that produces a quantity of admiration, at least from a few potential companions.
The take-away? Show some persistence. Expect some rejection. The strongest men aren’t impervious to the injury that comes from being set aside, but it doesn’t cause them to abandon hope. Some confident women will be won-over by a man’s constancy and pluck. Others will see it as obtuse — not “getting it” — or stalker-like. Don’t be a stalker, but do show that you can take a punch without breaking down or running away.
Some men accept that they won’t win all the females they pursue, but take the regrettable attitude that “a woman is like a bus — if you don’t catch this one there will be another one along in 10 minutes.” Callous? Yes. Offensive? I think so. But — and this is the point — it is an approach to dating from which an insecure man can learn, while avoiding what is most reprehensible in these alpha males. To put it another way, don’t treat every lass as if your life would be incomplete without her after knowing her for only two weeks.
To succeed with women one needn’t be like the overconfident souls who are too full of their own self-importance and who too easily objectify women — the men who think that one female is easily replaced by another. Yet the shy, hesitant man should not assume that his many good qualities will be sufficient by themselves. Thoughtfulness, intelligence, the ability to make a good living, and perhaps even good looks can be insufficient without the addition of confidence, decisiveness, authority, and the capacity to take some chances. Lacking these, celibacy is more likely than celebration with a co-ed.
“Faint heart never won fair lady” or so the old saying tells us. A man must craft the hardiness required to take a blow, get up off the floor, and come back for more. His personal sensitivity and fragility can disadvantage him if taken too far, however good may be his heart. Cleverness and decency might not overcome a lack of will — of will power: the quality that makes one person a winner and another a loser, even though the loser might have better ideas and be a finer human being. A man who is too hesitant or expects the woman to make decisions for him risks not finding a mate, while the more decisive man will.
As I have written elsewhere, insecure young men need to ask themselves some questions: do you routinely efface yourself and place yourself at a disadvantage — letting others go first, speak first — reluctant to raise your hand? Do you hesitate to take your turn? Are you extremely self-sacrificing? Insecurity can make you wait and wait until the opportunity before you is behind you. Excessive deference displays little regard for yourself, even if some amount of it is often a sign of good breeding and consideration for others.
Of course, there isn’t (or should not be) shame in being an insecure young man. I dare say, most young men start out as insecure. But if you accept your position as a second-class citizen, shy away from challenges; let other, lesser males get to the front of the dating queue again and again, then at some point you have earned your loneliness. If you think that you must first make more money, get your degree, build your body, learn more about the social graces — all that is fine. Do learn what you can. But you still need the hard experience of actual contact with women; and you will probably have to practice a more assertive stance before you have perfected or achieved all the rest. The strength of your will grows with the use of your will, just as a muscle grows with proper exercise.
Take things (and women) on. Show initiative. Many of the fairer sex are waiting for a man to do this, not wishing to carry a relationship on their shoulders alone. They are probably scarier to you than reality justifies. More than a few lack certainty about what they want in a companion until a man offers a relationship-vision that is acceptable; persuades the female not by florid oratory, but by the radiation of personal strength and conviction.
There is a quality of robustness in this that needn’t and shouldn’t be abusive. Lead and there will be followers. Even better, show that you have strength and find a companion who matches you and with whom you can have a co-equal relationship. Look inside and find your ambition, your courage, your unconquerable determination to master your relationship fears and boost your confidence. Get therapy if that is what will assist you to become the person you wish to be — to get beyond awkwardness and social anxiety.
I am not suggesting that you be a brute. But you must be a man, young man.
For a few instructive personal examples of what I’m talking about that don’t have to do with the pursuit of women, see He Who Hesitates is (Sometimes) Lost.
The above photograph is a Be Bold Wikipedia coffee mug, taken on October 4, 2010 by LiAnna Davis and sourced from Wikimedia Commons.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )
Stewart had a way with words. You pretty much had to if your name was Stewart Slonimsky and you were the nerdiest kid in your class. He was a little bit of a lot of things you didn’t want to be: a little bit awkward, a little bit overweight, a little bit short, a little bit shy, and a little bit funny-looking because of his coke-bottle-thick horn-rimmed glasses.
Kids made fun of his name early and late. Even in the first few grades the boys would mock him as he walked by. Small groups made a sibilant “ssssssssss” sound under their breath, imitating the S.S. initials that Stewart’s parents Steve and Sonia Slonimsky stuck him with. It was just loud enough for Stu to hear it, but not loud enough so that teachers and other adults would catch on. Then, when TV taught everyone the meaning of “SS,” Hitler’s Schutzstaffel corp of war criminals, Stewart would get lots of “Heil Hitler!” shouts on the playground, as the bullies shot their right arms out at him in the Nazi salute.
Stewart’s superior brain saved him. As time passed he learned to disarm his oppressors with a few words. When Dominic Dallessandro, all brawn and no brains, gave Stewart a hard time, Stewart nicknamed him “Dim Dom” and threatened something worse, ending Dom’s taunts; and when Frank “Julie” Julianovich did the Hitler SS thing, Stu called him “Family Jewels,” and alluded to inadequacies pertaining to his sexual equipment that got big laughs even from “Julie’s” buddies. Yes, Stewart had perfected the art of flaying his opponents with his tongue, inflicting injuries greater than any physical harm they might threaten him with. By the second year in high school no one messed with Stu anymore.
Ironically enough, Stu was a passably likeable person if you were on his good side, willing to help if your homework was too challenging. But the praise he got from teachers and the admiration of his intellect from his peers went to his head. By the last two years of high school, Stewart could be fairly described as rather full of himself. His opinions sounded like proclamations from on high. Fools were not suffered gladly. If you didn’t have as much brain power as he did, Stu could be disdainful and dismissive, rarely willing to give you the time of day; the kind of kid who, just with a look, communicated “I can do something really hard and you can’t.”
My friend’s parents kept his ego pretty well pumped-up. Both were graduates of the University of Chicago, an elite school known to attract people who were both super-bright and rather odd. Humility didn’t come easily to them and they believed Stewart was just as special as they were. Moreover, mom and dad Slonimsky talked publicly about unconventional ideas that, for the 1960s, were pretty shocking. One dinner at their home featured a discussion of nudist colonies and “free love.” Mr. Slonimsky even asked me what I thought about the latter. The only thing the 16-year-old virgin version of myself could say was, “You mean it usually costs something?”
As I said, most instructors were enamored of Stu. He made their classes exciting and, if the teachers were smart enough they enjoyed the intellectual repartee he triggered — the back and forth jousting between people who see things from different and novel angles. All this only encouraged his willingness to offer ideas that no one else dared to utter.
An English class essay topic gave Stewart’s imagination free rein. We were required to write about anything that “would make the world a better place to live.” It was the kind of question that one heard asked to finalists in the Miss America Pageant. The teacher was Miss Elvira Thompson, a throw-back to the nineteenth century who had clearly given up even the pretense of teaching creatively some years before. She was hardened, straight-laced, priggish, close to retirement, and obviously hated her job. She looked a little bit like this:
Predictably for 1963, most kids wrote about nuclear disarmament, better race relations, a cure for cancer, and the like. But not Stewart. We knew something had happened when Miss Thompson made an announcement as a prelude to handing back the papers, just a few minutes before the end of our next class.
“Class, usually I don’t like to single out one student for special comment, but this is an exception. One of you has written an essay so different and unorthodox that everyone in the class should know of it as an example: an example for you not to follow. It is possibly the worst paper of its kind I’ve had the displeasure to read in 40 years of teaching.”
Thompson took a deep breath and paused, her face contorting as she searched for adjectives disgusting enough to describe her visceral reaction to the essay. Apparently, words failed her. She began to pass the papers back to us and then said, “Mr. Slonimsky, see me after class. The rest of you are dismissed.”
I waited outside the room for Thompson to finish with him. We walked to lunch together, though Stewart looked like he’d already eaten it — eaten something really unappetizing. His expression was blank and his skin, never full of color, more pasty than usual.
“She said that she thinks I’m sick, crazy, and disturbed; actually, the sickest, craziest, and most disturbed student she has ever had. She said it’s the most offensive paper she’s ever read. She wants me to go to a shrink.”
“What could you have written to get her so upset?”
Slonimsky looked straight ahead and jammed his left fist toward me. I extricated the crumpled paper from his hand. At the top of it, in red pencil, was the grade: F-. I started to read it as we sat down to lunch.
SOMETHING TO MAKE THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE TO LIVE
I believe the world would be a much superior place in which to live if every school, office building, home, park, and recreation area were equipped with a masturbation machine. The device would resemble a Coca-Cola dispenser from the outside. It would be self-cleaning and self-sterilizing. Once having inserted the price of $1.00 in coins into the machine (and depending upon your sex, height, weight, and age) you would then insert…
Stewart interrupted me and began to sputter.
“See! She didn’t like it. She didn’t even get to the part about it relieving frustration; lowering the rate of mental illness, venereal disease, and divorce; minimizing violence and cutting down on out-of-wedlock births and abortions. She ignored the fact that it would make the world a happier place! What’s with her, anyway? She probably thinks masturbation is a sin, makes you go blind, and crap like that. I mean, look at this: all these big red ‘Xs’ after the word ‘insert.’ A lot of nerve she’s got!”
I could not argue with Stewart. No one could ever successfully argue with Stewart. Doubtless, there was something worthwhile about the idea. But expecting Miss Thompson to appreciate it, a woman who probably hadn’t permitted herself a sexual impulse since before the Great Depression, represented a big misjudgment. That was Stewart. His ideas, he thought, were self-evidently brilliant and everyone should accept them without any hesitation.
Stewart’s parents supported him, of course. They even complained about the teacher to the principal. But, those were the days before parents felt empowered to make demands and engage legal counsel. Miss Thompson was on her way to retirement by the end of the year anyway. Elvira Thompson survived and so did Stewart, who was already seen as peculiar if brilliant by his classmates. He wasn’t required to go to a psychiatrist in the end. But every so often Stewart would comment at lunch about “that bitch Elvira Thomson.” He didn’t forget and he didn’t forgive.
I lost track of Stewart after graduation. We went to different colleges about a thousand miles apart. He proved to be an engineering and technology guy. I was more into psychology and history.
If you do some research you will discover that Stewart was ahead of his time when he wrote his essay. A number of manufacturers do make masturbation machines today. They started about 20 years after Stewart first had the idea, with crudely assembled rubber hoses and vacuums that were converted from floor-model home vacuum cleaners.
In thinking back to that time, I actually searched Stewart out on the internet. It turns out the Stu had the last laugh. He became an inventor and made a fortune. As you’ve probably guessed, one of his products is indeed a masturbation machine, although much smaller, portable, and less public than the “coke machine” version he first wrote about. It looks pretty sleek, actually. On the side of it there is the picture of a sexy and alluring woman, the sort of female, I suppose, that a man might fantasize about “in the act” of using the device.
Oh, yes, I almost forgot to mention that the machine has a name. It is called the “Elvira T. Dominatrix Masturbation Dream Maker: Pleasure Dome Model.”
In case you are wondering, there is no “Stewart Slonimsky.” What you’ve just read is a work of fiction. The top image is Berlin Masturbation Machine art exhibit, 3/27/11 by user:Ctac. It is followed by Head of an Old Woman, probably a nurse, ca. the third or second century B.C; artist unknown, photographed by Jastrow. Both are sourced from Wikimedia Commons.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 3 so far )
In Philip Roth’s The Human Stain, the narrator describes how his changed attitude toward sex drove him to move from the city to the seclusion of the countryside:
My point is that by moving here I had altered deliberately my relationship to the sexual caterwaul, and not because the exhortations or, for that matter, my erections had been effectively weakened by time, but because I couldn’t meet the costs of its clamoring anymore, could no longer marshal the wit, the strength, the patience, the illusion, the irony, the ardor, the egoism, the resilience — or the toughness, or the shrewdness, or the falseness, the dissembling, the dual being, the erotic professionalism — to deal with its array of misleading and contradictory meanings.
The complaint is not unknown. Indeed, some men profess that they prefer sex with prostitutes because it takes care of the problems that drive Roth’s narrator to isolate himself from sexual encounters altogether. For those men, the exchange of dollars and cents does away with the “misleading and contradictory meanings” and the emotional and behavioral role-playing that they find so bothersome.
We do a lot for sex; or, at least for the connectedness and commitment that we hope comes with it. Would the amount spent on cosmetics, hair supplies, skin creams, Viagra, sex toys, personal trainers, gym classes, face lifts, breast implants, hair plugs, bar bells, watches, clothing, cars and jewelry amount to nearly so much without the hope of a sexual or romantic payoff?
How much time is spent choosing those items and activities? How much time in using them? How much time in wondering whether they have done the job intended? How much time watching to see if anyone notices the difference?
Sex is in the air in perfume and pheromones and aftershave. It is on the air of radio broadcasts and TV programming. It sells cars, shoes, and itself. But don’t, please don’t point out the obvious. In that event you would be considered crude. By comparison there is some honesty in the professional transaction of money for sex; one could argue, more than is inherent in the pursuit of a trophy spouse or the prospective mate’s willingness to become a sexual hood ornament.
But Roth’s point is more subtle than any of these things. He is referring to learning the steps of the mating dance and performing them to perfection, even when you don’t like the music. Part of it is the sheer effort involved, the fashioning of disguises, worry that you are boring, the time to make yourself look good, the forced concentration on the other person when you are stifling a yawn, the calculations designed to impress, the compromises, the things said to promote yourself, and those unsaid to hide that which is unbecoming.
Then there are the questions of strategies and tactics, the intracranial meeting of your own personal staff of generals to call the shots as if you were embarked on a military campaign: when to phone or text, when to touch, when to flatter or smile or laugh, when to be unpredictable and what you can predict about the target’s vulnerabilities and impregnabilities.
If one’s heart is aflutter, there will inevitably be some attempt to comprehend what is going on despite your flustered, pulsating state of body and mind. Your conception of the union’s status may not coincide with what the other thinks or hopes, but it consumes much time and psychic energy so long as the interaction matters to you, regardless of the accuracy of your assessment.
Curiously, Roth’s character does not mention the frank danger of sex. The dreaded way it can injure, the extraordinary vulnerability that can come with it — the nakedness in every sense, involving every sense.
He seems more concerned with the way that it captures you, throws you about, wreaks havoc with your balance and equanimity; and pitches your brain into the trash heap because there is no reasoning with all the impulses that hold sway, making your gray matter a vestigial organ. Sex presses you do to things you wouldn’t otherwise do, and experience half-crazed feelings of pre-relationship desire, early relationship passion, and end-of-relationship desperation as you hold on for fear it will slip away.
How is it that we keep up our grades or maintain a full-time job with all this going on?
Some don’t, you know. The burden of the sexual road show can’t bear it or spare the time to do those other things.
If you are young enough, the excitement of it, not to mention your raging hormones make the carnal marketplace seem the only place to be; an arena that will define you as popular, alluring, or powerful. For a few, it comes naturally. For most, it is a little like learning to skate before you’ve learned to walk; too much, too soon. But still, our genetic programming pushes most of us into the fray.
Time strips away the appeal and ratchets up the cost that sex exacts, just as Roth suggests. The hormonal flush diminishes gradually, while the desperation mounts. Psychic scars make one hesitate, but the clock is running. Not just the ticking biological time bomb, but the worry that you are gradually becoming invisible to members of the opposite sex because your shining externals don’t have the glow of their best years. Your receding hairline, or growing waist line tell you that your “use by” date is approaching much too fast. Meanwhile there appears to be no end of competitors who want to budge into line; less weathered or younger or richer or just simply smarter and better looking.
It is more than enough to make one nauseous, anxious, or depressed.
Some do, temporarily or permanently, throw in the towel — give up on the sex project. You can have a rich life without it, but it certainly is a different life than the wildly urgent existence of the sexual being, where youthful animal instinct meets the combustible allure of the primordial creature in heat.
You can find celibacy meet-up groups around the world, although not all of the folks in these are abstinent by choice. But some are like Roth’s fictional character, choosing to be free of the trouble of sex. A portion of those who opt for continence may do it as a kind of discipline or as a way to concentrate on other things and grow personally; perhaps to sublimate their sexual energies, focusing on something beyond and above the narcotic of flesh and the grip of Mother Nature’s hard-wired programming.
Resisting temptation is always an interesting and difficult project, so there is doubtless something to be gained in it, much as there is in any kind of philosophical or religious abstinence, like a day of fasting.
For how long would you traverse this solitary highway?
Well, as the tire ads say, that is “where the rubber meets the road.” Assuming, of course, that you have a choice.
But, there are as many ways to live as there are people who are living. And one such way could include a span of time without sex. The world is beautiful and forever new if you only look hard enough. Intimacy does not require some sort of penetration of bodies.
As for myself, if I were to take a break, I’d do it in winter in a forbidding place where I wouldn’t see too many winsome strangers, some of whom might want to be won.
I’d have lots to do — things of importance to me.
When spring comes and the comely shed their overcoats?
That would be another matter.
The images, in order: Sexy Secretary Drawing by Dimorsitanos, Animated Icon of a Sexy Dancing Girl by Jochen Gros, With Reference to Sexy by Mickey esta en la casa, and Monique Olsen by Christopher Peterson. All are sourced from Wikimedia Commons.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )