Sometimes I begin believing that my philosophy of love and relationships is so outmoded that I am an oddball relic from some historic past when love reigned. And then, just like that, out of one of my teenagers’ room, I hear a new song wafting under the door and it catches me in the hall – knowing the voice but not having heard these words before. John Legend’s new ballad “All of Me” has been playing in my head for days now. I wake up in the morning with his soothing tenor voice serenading the start of my day. I think it has been on constant repeat because a few of the lines could be used to define what we do for love when we are open to its power to transform us into the best version of ourselves.
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One of the most significant gaps between genders when it comes to love and sex is the truism that male energy opens to love through sexual connection and female energy is more apt to need love to ignite its sexuality. I remember well a conversation I had with another mother at the playground years ago, when I was urging her to not withhold her sexual response until she was satisfied with the loving attention she received from her mate. She looked at me shocked and said, “Why are you taking his side?” For me it wasn’t about sides, but rather the recognition that the more freely I loved my guy sexually, the more loving he became. It is an interesting and sometimes troubling chicken and egg conundrum that impacts most relationships and it is not definitively tied to specific gender orientation, as many homosexual couples fall into the same trap.
If you haven’t yet seen the replay of Kevin Durant dedicating his MVP award to his mother, I urge you to look for this rare, heartfelt tribute to mothering. The selflessness that this NBA star demonstrates for those who have held him up is a direct testament to the loving embrace in which his mother held him. This is the kind of mother’s love that Abraham Lincoln referred to when he said, “All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel Mother.” Truly, a mother’s love is the first love we know and unlike any other relationship we ever have. Those who are born into such a love walk through life differently than the rest of us. The ground under their feet is somehow more solid and the inevitable injuries of life don’t stick in quite the same way. People well loved by their mothers approach relationships differently too, they have more of themselves to give and need less.
When I was 16, the drama club at my high school performed A Chorus Line. The song “What I Did For Love” still pops into my head with the full band behind it and I can remember viscerally my own heartfelt renditions in the backstage tending to props, wondering how, when, and if I would ever find a peace with this deep drive to love and be loved. This is arguably the one life lesson we all yearn for, and yet our cultural norms and technological frenzy all seem to conspire to create less true intimate moments (and more broadcast ones). All in all- less authentic community has fallen out of favor, while superficial digital connection is ever rising.
I still remember the summer afternoon I met my designer, Benjamin, who has made my work beautiful and real since 2010. He had never answered a Craigslist ad before, but some kind of synchronicity occurred and he called me to set up a meeting, as he was coming down from Portland to sign up another much larger client. He walked into the little house we then used as our office. It was hot because the windows were stuck and closed in the heat. He looked me squarely and asked simply, “Can you change?” I sat for a moment, considering and then said, “Yes, I can change. I think so.” This is the only real question that defines every relationship we are part of, including and most importantly, with ourselves.
“You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”-Buddha
Our first response to rejection of any kind is usually shame. It comes out looking like anger and a story of betrayal. It is hard for even the most emotionally balanced among us to not experience our most deeply ingrained fears of unworthiness when someone we have valued walks away and shuts a door on our heart. I have been steeped in these kinds of interactions recently and I have come to believe that these painful exchanges are the opportunity for the deepest transformative shifts in our thinking and why Carl Jung once wrote “The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely.” Moving beyond our defensive posturing and even the legitimate excuses about relationship failures to attending to the heart of our own worthiness to be loved is the only cure.
We don’t listen well in general and maybe that’s because we were all trained from an early age to listen with the intent to respond, rather than listen with the intent to understand. I am guilty of this relationship infraction on most days. In part it is because on many days, I still have a deep need to be heard. Like many people, I often learn what I think as I say it to someone who cares about me, which is not surprising because it is in this safe holding of our thoughts and feelings that we often feel most loved. This is not a shameful thing, although I have often felt ashamed that I am not better at reciprocating in this way. Knowing something is true and being good at it are not one in the same.
It is odd how we take for granted the most basic of our sensory capacities until life teaches us otherwise. Losing our sight is one that is common to most of us as we age. Although both my parents wore corrective lenses, I boasted perfect vision until suddenly, as I approached 50, small print became illegible. It was the first real wake-up call for what was coming and I must admit that I didn’t go willingly towards the declining capacity that before then, seemed like things that only happened to other people. Suddenly I started to pay attention to what I could see well and maybe even more attention to what I could no longer see. My attention alone made colors more vivid, gave the subtle textures of fabrics and plants more depth; and the tones of the gray overcast sky became more subtle.
“Sex is… perfectly natural. It’s something that’s pleasurable. It’s enjoyable and it enhances a relationship. So why don’t we learn as much as we can about it and become comfortable with ourselves as sexual human beings because we are all sexual?” -Sue Johanson
There is something deep and primal about the sounds that come from sex. Whether you are with a new partner or with someone you’ve been with for a long time, bringing primordial sounds into your lovemaking is one of the quickest ways to push the boundaries in your sex life. Not only is it fun to hear the purrs, growls, and sighs that come out of us during sexual contact, but it connects us to one another, brings a new level of vulnerability, and also confirms the animal inside all of us. Don’t be afraid of the tiger that exists inside- release it and see how it brings your relationship to a new level of intimacy.
I witness the generation gap widening at home every day, regardless of my relentless efforts to get my teenagers to communicate. They still mostly pick up the phone when I call, because that was the agreement we made years ago when I said I would pay the bill, but they are short now and often miss my call, only to shoot me a short text of their whereabouts and time of arrival. They are part of a new generation of communicators and even though I have full text capability, I cannot keep up with their lightening speed on their keyboard and for me, when we text, there is always more that I want to know, to hear from them. I suppose this is precisely why they text. In part, I grew up with the phone as my lifeline. I have vivid memories of the stretched out curly cord, wrapped around the dining room entrance to have some privacy in my teen years. I remember waiting by the phone for it to ring. I remember the sadness of not getting the call, the frustration of busy signals, and the relief of finally hearing my friend or boyfriend’s voice on the other end.