And How Are You Crazy?

Helen Fisher says that couples want to know everything about a potential life partner before they tie the knot. But when I first met my husband, I didn’t care if a closet door was left open. People change. And maybe that’s the point.

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Let's Talk About Sex

BLOG-Let's Talk About ItI was never one to talk about my sex life. I thought discussing sex was distasteful. Where did I get that notion?

According to the New York Times article, Let’s Talk About Your Sex, I’m not alone. Even couples therapists don’t talk about sex.

Or at least, they didn’t until recently. And shockingly, couples therapists aren’t required to have any training in sex.

But there are provocative voices emerging in the field of couples therapy and the questions these therapists are asking and the ideas they are probing are gaining my attention.

A few months back, in a blog post titled, Your Brain and Love, I recommended Stan Tatkin’s book, Wired for Love. The premise of the book is that if you understand your partner's brain and attachment style, you can defuse conflict and build a secure relationship.

I am now reading Hold Me Tight, by Sue Johnson. She is the developer of Emotionally Focused Therapy and believes we are emotionally attached to and dependent on our partners in much the same way that a child is on a parent for nurturing, soothing and protection.

Both books emphasize safety, loyalty and attachment as the foundations for intimacy.

But the New York Times article also mentions therapist, Ester Perel, who I wrote about in a blog post called, Desire and Marriage: A Pardox? She believes that the current conversation around intimacy and sex are limiting, that while an affair can be an act of betrayal it can also be about expansion and growth.

Dr. Nelson, the author of The New Monogamy: Redefining Your Relationship After Infidelity, is also noted.

Both Ester Perel and Dr. Nelson believe that a marriage is not over after an affair. They are broadening the conversation, not speaking in absolutes, asking important questions. They are curious, studying.

In regards to an affair, Ester Perel speaks about being an investigator as opposed to a detective. A detective wants to know where and when and with who. An investigator wants to get to the meaning of the affair.

The New York Times article attempts to position Sue Johnson against Perel and Nelson and I’m wondering why we feel the need to turn their ideas into opposing ones, a battle of it’s either this or that.

Why can’t we look at their ideas as this and that?

All of the therapists mentioned above are adding to the conversation about what it means to partner with someone you love. They are changing the dialogue, challenging old rules and supporting new ways of being in relationship.  Some of their beliefs (like how an affair can draw a couple out of deadness or that your couple bubble comes first, even before your own children) can feel frightening or downright outrageous.

But they are talking, stretching our beliefs, and I admire that.

Not too long ago sex wasn’t taught in school. People feared that talking about sexuality would encourage kids to have sex prematurely. But some were having sex anyway so why not educate them, give them information that could prevent them from contracting a disease or getting pregnant.

Dr. Nelson trains therapists to ask a couple about sex in the first session. “If you’re not talking about sex, you’re perpetuating the idea that they shouldn’t be.”

So in an effort to move out of darkness and into possibility, I agree, Let’s talk about sex.

Your Brain and Love

BLOG-BEATLES QUOTE 3What would it look like if you put your marriage (or love relationship) first? (Before work, before your friends, before yourself?)

What would it feel like if you could count on your spouse for security and safety?

(No matter what.)

What if your marriage/ partnership wasn’t about you?

What if it was about itself?

These are some of the questions presented in Stan Tatkin’s book, Wired for Love.

Tatkin, writes about “conscious partnership”, which is a commitment to the needs of the relationship rather than to the needs of the self.

He suggests couples create a Couple Bubble, a mutually constructed cocoon that holds a couple together and protects each partner. The Couple Bubble Agreement is, “We Come First”.

Tatkin discusses attachment theory, which focuses on the bonds between parent and child. Tatkin suggests that how individuals attach as children (securely attached, insecurely avoidant, ambivalently attached) has a direct correlation to how one will bond in a romantic long-term relationship. Those early experiences, where we get our sense of safety and security, are the blueprint for our relational wiring.

The bad news is that if your early experiences didn’t go well, your adult relationships might suffer.

The good news is that in this new paradigm for couplehood, which integrates recent brain research with ideas of attachment theory, you can rewire your brain; and realize a secure and healthy adult relationship.

Basically, it’s using science to make your love relationship work.

Wired for Love proposes ten guiding principles, which I found highly beneficial.

Ultimately your partnership has the potential to minimize each other’s stress and optimize each other’s health.

I wish I’d had this book early on in my relationship.

I might’ve done so many things differently.

But I have a bunch of weddings coming up and I can’t think of a better gift.

Killer Heels

Heels 2Is it true that men are chumps for women in pumps? A new study out of France says that men are more helpful to women in high heels. Is that why we wear them?

The first time I can remember being wowed by a pair of heels was when Olivia Newton John wore red stilettos in the movie Grease. Her beauty mesmerized me, even as she danced, a bit wobbly, as if dancing on stilts, singing You Better Shape Up to John Travolta. Given how good she looked to me, her discomfort and clumsiness seemed irrelevant.

I bought my first pair of heels, red Candies, just a few months later.

I was 14.

And I loved those shoes.

Some historical accounts show that heels were worn by men, and not women, as early as the 9th century in Persia. Other accounts say heels grew in popularity around the time of Louis XIV in France. High heels were symbols of power and dominance, allowing men to tower over other men. Heels were initially associated with class, status and privilege. Around the 17th century upper class women began to wear heels and by the 18th century, men stopped wearing them, deeming them impractical.

Heels went out of fashion for a while but then made a comeback in pornography, mostly pinups for men’s barracks during World War ll.

It wasn’t until after the war that the stiletto was invented and fashion aligned with erotica. While we may have had a desire for higher heels; we simply didn’t have the technology. But in the 50’s it became possible to create higher heels by putting steel in the heel, and crafting high heel shoes became an art form for striking and innovative design.

Presently, at the Brooklyn Museum, there is an exhibit, Killer Heels: The Art of the High Heeled Shoe. I loved the exhibit, and viewed the shoes on display in awe, appreciating the genius and beauty in the designs, captivated by the red soles on countless Louboutin shoes, gold leather Salvatore Ferragamo wedges from 1938 and silk creations from as far back as 1650.

But then there were the shoes from China that women who had their feet bound wore; and my heart literally clenched, my stomach turned. I went home and read about foot binding and how a woman’s foot was broken and bound in order for it not to grow. As a result feet would be smaller, more dainty and womanlike. This process, foot binding, was excruciating, feet deformed and women crippled. And yet the desire to be beautiful, and maintain high status, according to some cultural belief, allowed this to go on for centuries.

Is it so different today here in America?

Our back hurts, our calves are tight but go to Barney’s 5th floor any time of any day. Go to the Bergdorf’s shoe salon. Those floors are so crowded you would think they were giving the shoes away. On the contrary, prices have climbed as shoe departments have grown in size. It seems we can’t get enough. Of course flats are displayed too; but that’s not what catches my attention.

What fuels our desire for heels?

Is it Carrie Bradshaw from Sex in the City? Does her desire for Manolo Blahniks glamorize the high heel?

Are women more attractive in stilettos?

Or have we been conditioned to think that high heels are beautiful because celebrities and fashion models are pictured in them?

Here’s news: in 2010, at an Alexander McQueen fashion show a model took off her deadly sharp stilettos, protesting, choosing not to walk the show for health and safety reasons.

Are high heels the new cigarettes?

There was a time when Lauren Becall and Humphrey Bogart made smoking look cool. But in case you didn’t know, Humphrey Bogart died of esophageal cancer. As people got educated and became aware of the hazards of smoking, things changed.

So feminists, like the surgeon general, warn us. They proclaim that heels are unsafe and detrimental to the well-being of a body, our backs and feet compromised. And maybe that agenda has been successful. The image of the heel altered from something beautiful to something irrational, which leads one to believe that flats are just cooler. Image accounts for a lot. And possibly, in time, these shifts in thinking will change things for future generations.

Often, comfort wins out, and I wear flats; but while I believe there is nothing as uncool as wearing high wedges or heels to the beach or a poolside, sometimes, I do it anyway.

Even though it might not be considered the height of elegance or class, I have been known to dance barefooted at the end of a long night. Yes, I can be defeated, or more precisely, “defeeted” by my shoes.

And yet, I won’t stop wearing them. I gawk at them in wonder in magazines, on department stores shelves, on other women’s feet and in museum exhibitions. They are inexplicably alluring.

In Kinky Boots, the Broadway show, there is a song called, Sex Is In The Heel. And maybe that’s it.

After all, John Travolta responds as desired to Olivia Newton John as she struts in those red stilettos. He sings, “And I’m losing control ‘cause the power you’re supplying, its electrifying.”

High heels are instruments of power. And I, along with many other women, buy into the idea that they elongate your legs, make you wiggle when you walk and give you a taller, thinner silhouette.

Even though logically, I want to say those are silly, superficial reasons to wear high heels, on some primitive level, I’m seduced by them. Just as men are.

Masters of Sex

Sex QuoteWe all know them. Those women who fake a migraine or stay in the bathroom long enough for their husbands to fall asleep.

They are masters of sex all right, masters of getting out of it.

But why?

According to Denise A. Donnelly, an associate professor of sociology at Georgia State University, who studies sexless marriage, an estimated 15% of married couples haven’t had sex with their spouse in the last 6 months to one year.

Isn’t that strange? We live in America, the land of the free, and of hot Hollywood sex. We are a sex-craved culture. So, what’s up?

It seems that even singles are affected wanting less from partners, preferring to hookup rather than to build a relationship. But interestingly, hooking up is on the decline as singles choose virtual relationships, flirting via phone or computer with no intention of meeting one another.

It’s true hearts are unreliable; but are humans going through a metamorphosis, evolving into beings that don’t need intimacy?

Can we really protect ourselves from the fact that someone could stop loving us, leave us (emotionally or physically) or they could die?

In the Showtime series Masters of Sex, and in actuality, Bill Masters and Virginia Johnson pioneer studies in human sexuality, devoting their lives to sex research. But their real life story feels like a cautionary tale. Virginia Johnson gave up her dream of getting an education to work with Masters. She submitted to a sexual relationship with him as part of her job; and ultimately, she married him. Only to be left years later when he fell in love with someone he knew from his youth.

The lesson to be learned seems evident: You can’t be left if you leave first, or if you abstain, and never show up in the first place.

Sure it’s scary to connect deeply with another person; but maybe then engaging becomes worth it.

Sex therapist, and author of Passionate Marriage, David Schnarch, helps partners maintain a connection during sex. Read an interview with Dr. Schnarch who says that good sex is not about elevating your heart rate; it’s about elevating your heart.

Quickies, sexting, hookups and sex with your eyes closed keep us from emotionally attaching and being vulnerable.

Now that’s what I call safe sex.

Desire and Marriage: A Paradox?

800px-Small_Red_RoseMy friend sent me a text at midnight: I need therapy. She’d just had dinner with a couple that have been dating for three months. She’s been married for twenty-five years.

My husband doesn’t look at me like that. We have to discuss this. Why doesn’t my husband look at me like that?

Laughing so hard I thought my stitches would pop, I wrote: I just sent my husband to buy me stool softener. Maybe that’s why.

(In thirty years of marriage I’ve never asked this of my husband but post-surgery...)

Anyway, isn’t that the point? When you live with someone, share a life with someone, a real life, can there be mystery?

My final text before going to sleep was, You can’t compare three months of dating to twenty-five years of marriage.

But I woke thinking about this.

According to Ester Perel, a NYC therapist and best-selling author of Mating in Captivity, “Desire needs distance, freedom, dream, mystery. It is that very freedom that allows us to maintain desire that also has the risk to separate us. The freedom posits risks but without freedom we don’t maintain the intensity of desire.”

It seems impossible to have distance, freedom and mystery in an intimate long-term relationship. But Perel writes, “Reconciling the erotic and the domestic is not a problem we can solve; it is a paradox we manage.”

There is a well-known cartoon by Sam Gross that was printed in the New Yorker. Two snails are talking. They are staring at a scotch tape dispenser and one snail says to the other, “ I don’t care if she is a scotch tape dispenser. I love her.”

The shapes of these things appear the same but what else is known? This is what we do in the beginning of a relationship. We see some things and we conjure up the rest; part fantasy, part denial. And the distance and mystery stokes yearning.

Ester Perel asks an important question in regards to her work on desire.

Can we want what we already have?

 

The Other Woman

I resist technology. My family jokes that I can’t turn on the television but that’s not true. What is true is that I like some hi-tech advances and refuse to go along with others. I’ve stopped calling 411 and now use Google; but I still insist on looking out the window instead of using a weather app. In France, last summer, Mark reserved a rent a car with GPS. I hated the sound of the woman’s voice. She kept barking out orders and interrupting every conversation.

“Can’t you turn that thing off?” I asked. “No, we need it,” Mark insisted. “No we don’t. She’s always wrong.” “That’s ridiculous.”

Call me stupid or old-fashioned but I wanted to get us where we were going. I wanted the challenge. I get that going it on our own wasn’t imperative, and could be construed as unnecessary as someone insisting on memorizing a cell phone number instead of adding it to contacts. But getting lost and finding our way, I claimed, was part of the journey, wasn’t it?

Mark likes to call the shots, do things his way. It’s difficult for him to accept influence from me; in life and in the car. So when the GPS told him to take a left and I said to take a right, he listened to the GPS, defending the voice from the navigation system with vigor.

“I can’t believe how you’re sticking up for this thing,” I said pointing at the dashboard. “It’s like there’s another woman in our car.” The GPS voice droned on. “Marguerite. That’s what I’ll call her.” “Call who?” Mark asked.

Before long, we were lost. I know you must be thinking that’s not possible. But that’s the thing about technology, if the program or setting is off, if the computer is inadvertently told to do the wrong thing, you’re going to end up with a problem. So, we got lost. Marguerite had us going in circles.

“I told you to take a right,” I said. “You have to use your head and common sense. You can’t follow blindly. Bad things happen when people follow blindly. Look what happened during World War II.” “Don’t you think that’s a bit dramatic?”

Eventually, with my help, we found our way to the highway. We zoomed on, parallel to the sea, Mark going way too fast. Instead of enjoying the beautiful flowers and trees along the roadway, I sat stiff and kept imagining my funeral, wondering if the upcoming tunnel was like the one Princess Diana died in.

“You’re going too fast. Please slow down.” “I’m going 110 kilometers. Everyone in France drives this way.” “Please slow down.”

When you sit in the passenger seat, you give up control. I had flashbacks of the time our rent a car soared over a cliff in Colorado; Mark, me, and four of our children inside. The car landed on a boulder, perched like a bird in its nest, instead of rolling and rolling, but it was totaled; a huge crack in the windshield where my bare foot had landed. I’d tried to control the situation, stop the car from going over the cliff, by stepping involuntarily on imaginary brakes. Remarkably, other than my sprained ankle, we were all fine. (Although my son, Richard claims he bit his tongue.)

Mark slowed down and for a few minutes I was able to relax. He was okay when a Lamborghini sped past us but lost it when a Fiat whizzed by. Ultimately, we got where we were going.

“Marguerite did a good job,” Mark said pulling up to our hotel. “She got us here.” “You’ve got to be kidding. I got us here.” “You’re jealous! I can’t believe you’re jealous of the GPS voice,” he laughed. And if I am honest, I was. I wanted him to listen to me. But instead I said, “That’s ludicrous.” “She does have a lovely voice,” Mark instigated. “Well then you can have dinner with her,” I said half-kidding, half-hurt. “She’s not perfect,” Mark said. “She doesn’t have your legs.” “She’s a controlling, manipulative, bitch who always thinks she’s right. She’s always telling us what to do and where to go.” “But when I drive the wrong way, she doesn’t yell at me. She nicely helps me find the right way.”

We just bought a Tesla. It has an app that lets you change the temperature in the car from your cell phone. It’s meant to be a helpful feature, one that allows you to warm up your car while you wait in your house on a freezing cold day. But I’m miserable about it. I envision Mark sitting behind his desk, at his office, changing the temperature in our car from his cell phone while I’m driving and there’s no one even in the passenger seat.

Braces: The New Chastity Belt

At lunch the other day my friend sipped a glass of white wine and announced that she’d convinced her daughter’s orthodontist to lie. She’d persuaded him to tell her daughter that her braces wouldn’t come off in June, as he’d promised. They’d need to stay on until September. “She’s going to sleep away camp and I don’t want her kissing any boys,” she explained.

“Genius,” the friend across from me laughed.

“What!” I almost choked on a piece of bread. “You can’t do that to her.”

“I can and I did,” my friend said with assuredness.

“I’m going to write about this,” I said as if the threat would knock some sense into her.

“Go ahead,” she said unfazed.

This is why I don’t go for lunch, I thought.

As I sat there, I remembered the summer of 1976. Camp Blue Star, the year of the bicentennial. I was twelve. I had a boy’s haircut and braces. At camp that summer, I cupped fireflies in my bare hands and roasted marshmallows around campfires. I swam in the lake and did macramé. But what I waited for all season was the dance, The Social.

Two days before camp ended, the night of The Social, I borrowed a new friend’s jeans and wore a bra for the first time. This was not a small leap, this transition felt gigantic, and as anxiety producing as if I were face to face with a hungry lion. At the dance, I was nervous and self-conscious. I stood on the side watching until Roller Coaster of Love played and a really cute boy asked me to dance.

Euphoria.

My parents were somewhat conservative (although at the time my father drove a red motorcycle; and my mother, a petite Jewish woman, grew an afro) and so in a way sending me to camp that summer was an act of faith. In me. I had to take care of myself. I had freedom.

After the dance, that boy walked me back to my cabin. And behind a bush, the most exciting thing happened. We kissed.

I experienced a lot of new things that summer. On a hike, I saw a snake for the first time and near a blackberry bush, a bee stung me. I got a high fever, and in the infirmary, alone, I missed my mother.

Wanting my friends to know that controlling their children wasn’t a good idea, I said, “You can still make out with braces.”

But they wouldn’t relent. To them, kissing was a gateway drug. They had their beliefs and I had mine. I wouldn’t trade my experiences at sleep away camp for anything in the world, not even the moment I found out my trunk didn’t arrive, and amongst strangers, I had no clothes. I built muscle. I figured it out.

There are times you have to let go: with your children and with your friends.