when you’ve stopped looking

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Because I’m me, and you’re you, and we are perfectly different from each other and exactly the same.

At times, I grow weary of the human capacity, and I end up sitting down at a blank keyboard and typing existential thoughts about human existence and human experience and human sacrifice and human vulnerability and human trust.

When I get in these moods, I know that I have had too much work lately, too much dwelling upon the pains of others as a therapist, and too little time for self-care or adventure. And this week would qualify as such.

And thus my opening statement. I have a whole human universe within me, and everyone has the same capacities in them. If I sat and made a list of the issues that have afflicted my family during my 37 year old lifetime, it very likely wouldn’t look that much different from yours.

abuse, divorce, drug addiction, religious shame issues, coming out of the closet, communication issues, parenting stress, passive aggressiveness, depression, anxiety, diabetes, aging, loneliness

I could keep the list going for pages as we all could. I take a wider look at my family as they exist right now, and I think of how much we have all changed in ten years, five years, one, even just a few months. My mom now has been watching her husband, in his early 80s, get dizzy and fall, while dealing with her own chronic headaches. My sister is balancing out the deadlines of her college assignments with her work responsibilities, all while trying to find time for exercise and her wife. My nephew, after dating unsuccessfully for a few years and putting himself through school, is suddenly planning a wedding to a beautiful girl. Another sister, who spent years with no children and who has now adopted three, is chasing three boys around, running herself ragged in an attempt to keep up and provide a happy home for her busy boys. My son, well-adjusted in his school, homework coming easy to him, reading and learning and exploring and asserting his independence, yet still struggling a bit with anxiety and finding his place in the world.

And me, in a great place in my life, building and building, incrementally, over time, changing and growing and ascending, yet never quite settled, never quite satisfied, learning to embrace the hunger and drive that are parts of me. I’m lonely lately, and bored, even as I’m feeling powerful and accomplished. I’m pushing myself back into history and forward into potential all at once. I’m exercising, and slowly getting out of debt. I have wonderful friends, my sons are thriving, I have important family relationships. And yet, I still seek and yearn.

I have to remind my clients sometimes, after they have come through a crisis, that the problems they are facing now are normal and typical. After all the car crashes and custody trials and funerals and suicide attempts and bankruptcies, what a relief and honor to feel basic sadness, discomfort, anger, and pain.

And I’m supremely grateful for the good things in my life, I am. Yet with all of that, I still grieve and strive and push.

I’ve been out of the closet five years now. In past years, I have celebrated. But this year, I let the anniversary pass quietly by. I worked, and wrote, and exercised, and poured myself a glass of wine and watched House of Cards and went to bed by 9. I was content and bored and satisfied and hungry and lonely and confident and impatient and settled all at once.

I had a friend tell me recently, in a discussion about a few unexpected heartbreaks I went through this past year, that I’ll probably find a relationship now that I’ve stopped looking for one. I’ve been told this before, but this statement bothered me this time. When people say that, ‘now that you’ve stopped looking’, what do they really mean? Now that you have contented yourself? Now that you’ve been hurt enough times that you don’t want to risk getting hurt anymore? Now that you’ve stopped being romantic or spontaneous or asking anyone else out? Now that you have stopped having expectations of anyone you meet, and you generally expect that they will flake out or lie or be inconsistent after a date or two? Now that you are turning all of your energy toward yourself instead and have grown content with the idea that you will likely not be partnered for some time?

And that’s sad to me somehow. I mean, I’m stronger and more resolved, but I’ve lost my naivete a little bit as well, that’s what happens when the heart scars over a few times I suppose. I’m proud of myself. I don’t see a relationship as an accomplishment, or something to be acquired. In fact, my accomplishments are in the smiles and smarts of my children, and in the professional world I’ve created for myself, and in the cultivation of my talents. That said, it is still hard to be the single guy in a room full of couples. It’s difficult to look at the miracle of my sons playing together and to not have someone to share it with. It’s difficult to think of the dozens of dates, and the few times I’ve been in love, and to still be here on my own.

And all of that brings us to this simple moment. 4:24 pm, where I sit in a coffee shop with a half empty cup of coffee and a full glass of water, strangers all around me, classical music playing, two nicks stinging on my chin from where I cut myself shaving earlier, my back aching from sitting too long, my head and heart as complicated as they ever are, typing this stream-of-consciousness blog on a white screen. I will soon post it and no one will read it, or a handful of strangers will read it, or loved ones will read it, or hundreds will read it, and some will be sad and some bored and some annoyed and some inspired.

And soon I’ll leave here and step back into my life, the one that is still the same, yet different from ten minutes ago, as I am always the same and ever changing.

Because I’m me, and you’re you, and we are perfectly different from each other and exactly the same.

How to Dress on South Beach

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“Amanda, listen, that is a work dress, not a South Beach dress. Trust me.”

I sat at the airport gate with an hour to go before my flight. The woman behind me wore a red knee-length skirt, a pleasant floral top—yellow with a white floral pattern, and sunglasses. Her obviously dyed red hair looked a bit more orange to me. Her arms and legs were perfectly tan, her feet slipped sockless into a pair of fashionable white pumps. She was clearly a careful dresser, and clearly wanted her daughter to pick up on this trait of hers as she loudly instructed her over her cell phone in front of a group of assembled strangers.

“Amanda, sweetie, listen, if you think you can get away with a dress like that, you’ve got deep psychological issues. You know what, never mind, it is clear you have psychological issues. A dress like that is like your best winter woolen. You wear it to a place like South Beach, and you are clearly going to embarrass yourself. No one cares if you embarrass yourself at work, but in South Beach, trust me, honey, they are going to care.”

The woman barely moves as she speaks. I would expect her to be gesturing animatedly with her hands, or flipping her pump on her foot, or picking at her nails, but this process of yelling at her daughter seems to be something routine, something so common that she doesn’t even move.

“Wait, he’s wearing what? Oh, sweetie, you can’t be seen with him if he is going to wear something like that to South Beach. No, no, no. You tell him, get a nice pastel colored shirt and a pair of white pants. That is what they want at South Beach. It won’t go with your dress, but then nothing would, not if you insist on wearing that one. On South Beach, they are looking for a particular type of thing. If he wears that, they’ll be looking for him. They still won’t be looking for you.”

I look around the people nearby, wondering if anyone is finding either amusement or cruelty in this overheard conversation, but no one seems to be reacting at all, just reading or talking or playing cards or texting. I think about mothers and the pressures they put on their daughters to be a certain way. Growing up in a Mormon household, I watched my mom raise five daughters, teaching them to dress modestly and wear only light makeup and to have only one pair of earrings in their ears. Never did I hear my mom go on a critical tirade like this. Then I wonder, what if it isn’t her daughter? What if it’s a co-worker, a sister, or a friend. I kind of wish I could hear the other end of the conversation, but mostly I’m glad that I can’t. I continue listening, fascinated.

“No, you may not wear one of my dresses. No. No! That one is one of my favorites and you would sweat in it. Frankly I don’t want to pay to have it cleaned. No, not that one either. The last time you wore that dress, you got a stain on it.. You shouldn’t be so sloppy. No. You’ll just have to wear—oh, honey, not the purple-black. Maybe the black-black. That could at least qualify as a South Beach. Try that. Wear the black-black. Now look, I’m tired of this conversation. I only have an hour before I bored, I need some peace. Mm-hmm, love you, honey. Go have some fun.”

The woman clicked her phone closed, packed it into her red leather purse, slipped her shoes back on her feet tightly, and walked away. I smiled, curious at this small glimpse I’d gotten into this woman’s life, and felt satisfied that, while I never wanted to go to South Beach, at least if I did I knew what to wear.

Tantric

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“No! You’ll make me laugh!”

Cole gave me a look of impatience. “It’s a room full of strangers! It would be awkward to do it with anyone else.”

I sighed and looked around the room at the people there. Several dozen people stood, gazing around the room for a potential partner. Most of them were couples all ready, and mostly heterosexual ones at that. This was actually a very cool crowd of people, sort of an older group of hippies. Older women with flame-red hair and fur-lined boots, horn-rim glasses and purple scarves, tassels on coats and sequins on gloves.

I’m always looking for new adventures in town, and my best friend Cole is generally willing to accompany me. Amateur comedy nights, independent film screenings, live musicians. And tonight, a mutual friend was hosting an education event called the 7 Secrets of Spiritual Sex. And I thought, why not?

In preparation for the evening, I looked up a bit about Tantric sex, something I’ve heard of many times but never looked into. The word Tantric itself is beautiful, Sanskrit word meaning ‘woven together.’ The concept is rather simple, the idea of using methods of connecting to a partner, unifying and sharing on a deeper level.

We had just listened to a surprisingly entertaining evening, spent discussing deeper emotional connections, full body orgasms, and the prolonging of pleasure for both men and women, topics that had been addressed in a mature, fun, and professional way. The crowd had been all smiles and insight, mature learners on a topic that would have made me blush five years ago. (It took me until my  mid-30s to realize that sex is actually quite fun).

And now, at the close of the evening, we had been asked to find a partner to face and maintain eye contact with for several minutes, forming a spiritual connection and bond while hands were held. I know Cole, and how easily he makes me laugh, and I knew this was a terrible idea.

“Cole, it would seriously be easier with a stranger.”

“No, please, come on. You’re the only person I know here.”

I sighed and nodded my consent. I looked over to see a cute older couple join hands and face each other. Another woman, who had revealed she was a “famous porn star” (“Hi, I’m a famous porn star,” she had said. “I want out of the industry because there is no emotional connection anymore.”) partnered with a woman next to her. An older couple of gay men joined hands nearby. I felt safe in this room, all these different kinds of people just accepting of one another.

The evening had started with some sort of tuning fork cleansing, vibrations moved around the body. A woman had been seated within three circles of individuals joining hands, then we had all directed “blue energy” toward her struggling thyroid. A woman had prayed in Hawaiian and the energy in the room had been intense. (It had strangely reminded me of my experiences in the Mormon temple, the ritual and joined energy of strangers). We had even practiced an intense body breathing exercise that left my heart pounding like I had just run a mile, just before a sustained meditation.

Now we were instructed to hold our hands out in front of us, left palm facing up and right palm facing down, and then to touch palms with our partner. We were told to focus our attention to the left eye of the person in front of us (easier to make eye contact with one eye than both, especially for a sustained period). And then the music had begun.

Flutes and trills and bells in the song, mixed with my eyeballs locked on Cole’s, had me fighting off laughter even before the woman began to sing. The song, Divine Lover by Leraine Horstmanshoff, is absolutely lovely, but my adolescent 12 year old brain kicked in, the one that used to laugh in fourth grade whenever the teacher would say ‘do it’ or the ‘plug it in, plug it in’ commercials would come on.

The woman sings the phrase Divine Lover over and over and my face contorts up, cheekbones rising, nostrils flaring, lips pursing, as I fight off laughter. She sings of nectar and breezes and trees and a guttural laugh escapes my throat. And when I start laughing, Cole starts laughing, and the energy feeds and every time I try to stop laughing he starts, and every time he tries to stop, I start. The song goes on and on and we have six full minutes of silent giggles, all nose breath and furrowed foreheads, and when it finally, blissfully ends, I’m exhausted.

I look around the room and see all the couples hugging, tears streaming down faces, muttering about how special that was, how wonderful the energy felt, and I elbow Cole. “I told you! I told you that was a bad idea!”

We shake a few hands, offer a few hugs, and step out into the cold January air. A friend texts me: How was the symposium?

I think briefly and laugh as I respond.

Tantric.