What Money, Sex, Time, and Food Tell You About Anyone

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Many of us spend a fair amount of the day wondering what makes people tick. It is an amusing spectator sport, the stuff of daydreams, and hard to avoid in a world of inexplicable human behavior.

Here’s a little help in performing this pastime.

If you understand how a new acquaintance deals with money, sex, time, and food, you capture a lot about his essence. The same is true of your boss, your date, a co-worker. Anyone.

Let’s begin with MONEY. The dollar takes on layers of meaning beyond commercial exchange. I had a tall, thick-wristed uncle who lifted large checks off a restaurant table with ease and was always first to get to them. He wanted to be the “big guy,” the successful man with a reputation for generosity. He had a wad of bills in his pocket, as you see in a “man’s man” who wants to leave an impression. No pencil-necked, uncertain male need apply. Nor a “coupon-clipper” who, as Mike Ditka famously said about his boss, George Halas, “throws around nickles like (they are) manhole covers.”

Not coincidentally, Uncle Sam had been a poor kid during the Great Depression. I have a photo of him as a young man, banknotes pasted all over his body. Financial independence from his family must have been the making of him, his transformation from a boy to the man he wished to be.

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To this good guy, money was about more than money.

Money and security turn up in the same sentences; so do money and risk taking. If you need a safety net woven out of greenbacks, you won’t take much risk. At least about your finances.

Financial transactions tell you about trust. Will you repay a loan? Can I trust you to manage my money? If I buy your car, will it perform as well as you say?

Dollars are used to influence and control. Will money make you do what I want if your salary bonus depends on it? Might I purchase your vote by making big contributions to your campaign? May/December romances — one spouse younger and the other much older — are sometimes barely disguised financial transactions.

Money has been known to burn a hole in one’s pocket, or so my dad used to say. Can you delay gratification? Are you a spend-thrift or a miser? Money, money, money.

Then there is the question of whether you give any of it away: to the homeless or to charity or even to others in your family. I’ve known parents who stole their kid’s college money, the opposite of a give-away. And then there are the mom and dad who fund a university odyssey long enough for the “child” to get two degrees, but ends without achieving one. The parents wanted the sheepskin more than their not-so-little lamb.

Currency tells you what you value: a big house, building a business, your children’s future. Or maybe a fast car and some nice clothes. Or making the world a better place. Money also tells you how much you value other things in comparison, especially the time it takes to earn it and the activities you prioritize above or below working for your wages.

Riches are a metric to gauge one’s relative standing in the world. We hear a famous athlete saying he is being “disrespected” when his team offers him a salary of only $10,000,000 per year. Objectively, there is no slight. But, if comparable sports heroes are getting $13,000,000 for the same work, perhaps he is on to something.

Money is a tease. At least in the USA, it promises happiness once you have enough of it. Yet most find there is never quite enough to reach this point. They keep looking for more, working for more. Perhaps money, then, is a kind of practical test of your wisdom and understanding of its real value. Johnny Carson said, “The only thing money gives you is the freedom of not worrying about money.” Happiness will take something else. Carson, by the way, was not a happy man.

Larry Adler, the 20th century’s most famous harmonica player (a contradiction in terms) said, “You should always have enough F… YOU money.” In other words, enough money to allow for the freedom to say what you please — end a relationship with a boss or anyone else, no looking back. Too little gelt and most of us experience constraint of our actions; too much and we might believe we own the license to do things others won’t.

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SEX! Beyond the biological urge to procreate — pushing, dragging, and demanding we get naked — sex takes on much extraneous meaning. I’ve already implied some people marry as a thinly disguised exchange of beauty and passion for money and status. Kind of like trading baseball cards, isn’t it? Of course, an older man with a “drop-dead-gorgeous” younger woman also acquires higher standing from her presence in his company. Perhaps this supports Wallace Stegner’s comment about romance not being of much concern to the “60s generation: “In their books, and perhaps in their lives too, love is about as romantic as a five-minute car wash.”

Now think about sexual allure as a measure of control. Some men envision sex as a kind of test — an encounter to determine whether he can bend a woman’s will and dominate her — get her to do what he wants. At the extreme such brutes seek humiliation, homage, and submission — sex that is in no way about love, but something else entirely.

Just as well, for more than a few women the allure of sexuality and the act itself are ways of manipulating men.

Victims of sexual abuse, once well past the violence, sometimes learn to use their attractiveness to control males. The goal is to dictate if, when, where, and how any physical contact will occur, so as to avoid assaults. They are trying to master the terror of their history.

No wonder we read about “sexual politics,” the likeness between political negotiations in the non-sexual world and those in the sexual marketplace. Sometimes sex is about sex, sometimes love, but sometimes resembles two sides across the bargaining table, looking for an agreement — a social contract.

Then comes the matter of intimacy and adequacy. Are you comfortable and unselfconscious in a sexual encounter, or closed off, fearful, deadened and inhibited?

There is a very old joke about the importance of sex in any relationship: if you put a coin into a jar for every time you have sex in the first year of a match, and then remove a coin each time you have sex thereafter, you will never empty the jar! An exaggeration, of course, but the sexual candle tends not to burn with the same intensity late as it did early. Those who can’t imagine this need to spend a little more time on the planet. The process is called “hedonic adaptation,” meaning pleasure usually wanes, whether it is the delight of a new Christmas toy, a new car, or the consuming passion of lovers for whom the cellophane of freshness has not yet been broken.

Withholding of conjugal relations is not unheard of as the pages of love yellow, a passive-aggressive method of expressing anger; a way of conveying, “I’m unhappy,” slighted, or taken for granted.

Regarding adequacy, sex is a “performance” issue. We wonder if we are “good enough.” Too much focus on this, of course, makes performance impossible, especially for the man.

Sex*, like money, takes on a tape measure quality, evaluations and comparisons betraying insecurity and fear of rejection. In other words, self-esteem concerns are intermingled with the reproductive act.

There are people (women more often than men) who want intercourse daily to confirm their spouse still finds them attractive. Again, the fear of rejection or abandonment weighs on the sexual encounter.

Like money, sex morphs into things non-sexual. A shape-shifter.

I’m at a loss for TIME, which is the next topic on my list of items that tell us about personality. I’ll address TIME and FOOD in the coming essay. See you then.

*For additional psychological forms sex takes on, please read this: Sex and Its Functions.

The above image is Sexy Mouth by Nyki m. The final illustration is a Sex Stub from sexualni-pahyi.png: Akton. Both are sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

September Song

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I was talking to an unmarried friend recently, not a young man, who presented me with a dilemma that was troubling him. It seemed that an attractive and intelligent woman, much younger than he, was showing an interest in him.

Friendship? Romance? Business advantage or advice?

All yet to be determined.

But he wondered whether to pursue the relationship, particularly if it might become romantic, sexual.

Now my friend is extremely bright, a thinker all his life. Indeed, this is how he makes his living — thinking, evaluating, considering, pondering, weighing, judging; and then conveying the result of those calculations to others, who pay him well for his service.

He sees lots of potential problems, although he doesn’t know the woman well at all — yet. Might she be interested in him only for his ability to assist her professionally? Wouldn’t others looks askance at the two of them together, a woman of 30 and a man of 55?

Or could one of the things that now attracts her to him — his capacity as a mentor or guide, someone who has much more experience of some very interesting things — eventually be seen as a problem when she tires of the “student” role and begins to resent the “teacher?” Wouldn’t the generation gap, the memories and formative influences that they don’t have in common, eventually separate them?

Now all these, and more, are not unreasonable thoughts. The problems that he sees could very well occur.

But other men might see it differently. They would welcome the attention of a young and attractive female, the energy, the sexual tension, the admiration, the possibility of what still might be. Indeed, some men of any age could well believe that they’d won some sort of dating lottery in just this situation.

But then, my friend lives in his head a lot, a thinker, as I said. And thinkers think. Not because it always works, not because they have to, but because it is almost as natural and automatic as breathing. Simply because they’ve always done it.

Most of us, past a certain age, just keep doing what we’ve done and getting what we’ve got. Not that what we’ve got has always been that great, but the unknown future seems fraught with danger and only the safety of the well-trod path appears to offer any security. Better the mediocre “known” than the dangerous, but perhaps promising “unknown.”

And so, the man who has always worn only Brooks Brothers suits for fear of others criticizing his wardrobe choices will still wear those suits; and the adult who had little money while growing up will continue to under-tip the waiter and sit in the “cheap seats” in the theater despite the fact that he has a million dollars in the bank and a secure pension on top of it; and the orchestra musician too long beyond his prime will play the violin still, not because he so loves it, but because he doesn’t know what he’d do with his time if he quit the thing to which he has devoted his entire life.

One is trapped by social expectations and insecurity, another held tight by the dead hand of the past, a third lacking the imagination or courage to reinvent himself. All are like sail boats becalmed, in a still-state of living without life.

But the days grow short as you reach September

When the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame

One hasn’t got time for the waiting game

My advice to my friend? See what happens. You aren’t young any more. Life is short. Who knows what it may yet have in store?

Before long spring will be in the air again. Even if it is not the spring of your youth, the earth’s spring might yet enliven you.

And listen to Walter Huston’s recording of September Song, music by Kurt Weill, words by Maxwell Anderson.

His rendition remains the best ever, even if barely sung, because of a sensibility that knew very well that of which he sang — the September of life and the hope of romance to heal the lonely heart.

The photo above is a Picture of Pin Oak leaves turning color c/o: Rmccrea, Wikimedia Commons.

The quotation is from September Song.

The Ultimate Comment on Marrying Younger Women

Pablo Casals and his Wife, Martita, 1960 - copyright Lisl Steiner

They used to be called “May/December” romances — a younger woman and an older man. The lady was variously described as a “gold digger” or a “trophy wife,” more often the latter now. Sometimes you see the reverse, a woman senior to the man — a gigolo, if he is “kept” by her.

The relationship involves a kind of social exchange. The aging man trades his status or wealth for the woman’s beauty, fertility, and a return to the springtime of life.

When my daughters, both young women, hear about such things, all they can say is “gross.” The female isn’t the “gross” part.

Other factors do play in. Sometimes the tally of years is irrelevant. The puzzle pieces don’t always fit in age-acceptable matters of romance. Should a rare magic happen, age similarities or differences matter little.

The man who marries a woman of greater years, like the woman who enjoys a seasoned man, might also have unresolved parental issues. Transference is what Freudians would call it. Put another way, the adult child’s unconscious invites a second chance for the kind of love represented by the parental stunt-double — the new, older person; especially where such love was never won from the parent.

Nor should we overlook the attractions of mortality itself: another soul speeding to death’s gate before oneself. For those of us at war with time, the brevity of the rose’s bloom makes it even more appealing than if it were everlasting. We value things and people, in part, because we won’t always have them. The perishable delights of life create urgency and the desire to hold on tight before Cinderella’s clock strike’s midnight — and we all turn into pumpkins.

There is, however, a less dark possibility. Pablo Casals, the famous cellist/conductor of the mid-20th century was 81-years-old when he married his 20-year-old cello student, Marta Montañez Martínez. Robert Baldock, Casals biographer, wrote: “No one who knew them or saw them together during the final years of Casals life could doubt … that they married for love.” Indeed, Casals said his attraction to his wife came, in no small measure, from her physical resemblance to his mother in her youth.

Still, people being people, some wondered about the match. The musician put it this way in 1970, three years before his death:

I was aware … that some people noted a certain discrepancy in our ages — a bridegroom of course is not usually thirty years older than his father-in-law. But Martita and I were not too concerned about what others thought; it was, after all, we who were getting married — not they. If some had misgivings, I can only say our love has deepened in the intervening years.

An apocryphal version of the student/maestro story is amusing. Casals got engaged and then informed his MD of his upcoming nuptials. The physician expressed alarm.

“You’d better think before you do anything — this might be lethal!”

Casals didn’t respond right away, but appeared to consider the doctor’s words. Only then came the answer.

“Well, you know, if she dies, she dies.”

Quite vigorous for most of his remaining years, Casals passed away at age 96 in 1973. The Immortal Beloved lives yet.

The image above is of Pablo Casals and his wife, Martita 1960 by Lisl Steiner, with permission: http://www.lislsteiner.com/