Love’s Flaming Mattress

January 20, 2013

Love's Flaming Mattress

(Originally published by the late lamented dear departed Earthblog.net, February 14, 2007)

No, this isn’t about a desperately trapped person who sets fire to a sleeping spouse. Quite the opposite. It’s about the heat generated in the bedroom, the fire that lights and warms the whole house.

And, I’ve always wanted an excuse to use that title.

The focus here is on being with somebody you have no wish to depart from and every intention of staying with. When a couple is bothered by sex problems, therapists agree that there is usually something else going on. The deterioration starts in some other part of their relationship and then spreads to where it is most unwelcome, namely their sex life. What happens in the daytime affects what happens at night, for sure, and here we have some ideas on how to increase the harmony. But there is a paradox involved, because it’s also useful to separate daily togetherness and amorous encounters even further. First, make the day as good as possible. Then, forget the day.

Commitment is sexy

A brief encounter may be very satisfying for one of the participants, or neither of them, but rarely is it satisfying to both. The main argument against promiscuity is: Great sex takes practice. There’s a reason why dance has so often been a metaphor for sex in fiction, on stage, and in song. It needs conscious teamwork between the two people involved. Like Nureyev and Fonteyn dancing a classical ballet, it takes a lot of practice together to do that beautiful stuff

For instance: as a serial boinker, you have to explain over and over: “If something hurts, I’ll tell you with words. Otherwise, any sound effects can be considered positive.” With a regular partner, you only need to say it once.

Best of all, if you hang out with somebody long enough for the test results to come back, and then stay monogamous, you can ditch the rubbers.

A Degree of Separation

“They sleep in separate rooms” is a cliché code phrase for “They’re not having sex”. Why is that? Why is it taken for granted that a couple must share a bed all night? Many of us can’t wait to grow up, so we can have our own room. Then we get married and find out we still can’t have our own room.

More couples would be a lot happier if they had separate bedrooms and only visited each other to fool around. Each one’s room can be as neat or as messy as they like. If one prefers to read or watch TV, and the other doesn’t, there’s no conflict. If one wants to turn in early, the other one won’t disturb them coming to bed later. Absence really does make the heart grow fonder when you don’t have to hear your partner’s teeth grinding all night. And, as we get older, we don’t look our best in the morning. Some of us would like a chance to pull ourselves together before making an appearance.

It’s Okay to Plan

Whether married or cohabiting, especially if you have kids, forget about that spontaneity crap. Spontaneity is overrated, and sometimes the right time never seems to roll around. So make a date. Arranged sex is not such an outrageous idea. When you were dating, you anticipated getting laid, somewhere between midnight and dawn on Saturday night, right?

Sure, when an opportunity shows up, you can still do the spur-of-the-moment thing. But a date is something to get cleaned up for and look forward to. There’s nothing wrong with that. Scheduled sex is better than none.

Here are a few hints for keeping things good throughout the day.

Live up to Your Campaign Promises

If you advertised yourself as an easy-going, low-maintenance type, that’s what you need to be. In the early stages of this romance, what did you lead your partner to believe would happen, if the two of you got together? What did you say you would do, or not do? If you’ve already screwed up, how did you promise things would be different? What potential difficulties were discussed and taken on? If your togetherness started out with some major issue at its source, and you swore that you could handle it – you need to handle it.

Third Parties

Think twice before taking advice. Your Mom might have told you a person arriving home from work needs a big kiss. Not necessarily. Some people, when they come home from work, need decompression time before they can relate.

One school of thought holds that, for a woman, the secret of a happy marriage is to have a circle of girlfriends. But all too often, the main thing the circle does is sit around and badmouth their men. Once you get caught up in that kind of conversation, it’s difficult to hold back from taking part.

Don’t dis your partner to anybody. You don’t necessarily have to praise the guy – “Woman be wise, keep your mouth shut, don’t advertise your man.” But you certainly don’t have to disparage him to your friends. You don’t call him a pencil-dick, and you don’t proclaim “He’s a two-minute brother.” That’s the ugliest sort of betrayal. When you have a partner, he or she gets your first loyalty and all of it. Otherwise, what’s the point?

And don’t listen to anyone’s opinion about whether your squeeze really loves you. If your friend tells you to divorce the guy because he’s never once brought you flowers – get a different friend. You’re thinking, “Keep the flowers. He gives me foot massages.” But not saying it. Next thing you know, she’ll be trying to break you up for real, so she can have him.

Bring it all back home

Being a nice, helpful guy is swell, but before you do the Mr. Fixit thing all over the block, consider the possibility that it might bother your woman as much as her kissing another man would bother you. When you do some little chore for the neighbor lady, you’re giving your love away. You need to be giving your own lady an awful lot of love before she feels secure in letting some of it go outside. If you like helping others, first make sure everything is fixed up, tuned up, and patched up at home, before looking around for good deeds to do.

Make Up

“Love means never having to say you’re sorry” is one of the most famous quotations of the past millennium, and one of the most ridiculous. If you did a bad thing, remorse is totally appropriate, but some people are constitutionally incapable of saying “I’m sorry.” (Probably from fear of a scathing riposte, like “You certainly are.”)

So say it a different way. “I know you’re pissed off, but if we could rewind and erase the last hour, I’d appreciate it.” If your partner accepts this as an apology, you’ve just discovered a new meme for your secret language. So tomorrow or next week, when your sweetheart says to you, “I don’t know where my head was at. Can we rewind and erase?” you’ll graciously accept the apologetic spirit behind the words.

After an upset, any gesture toward getting things back on track, even if the problems aren’t resolved, is a repair attempt. It may sound grouchy – “Don’t think I’m giving in. I’m not ready to do it your way. But I shouldn’t have yelled.” That’s a definite repair attempt. Ignore it at your peril.

An apology doesn’t have to be corny, and you don’t have to grovel. Depending on your personal style, you can try something like, “Okay, so I’m an asshole. But I’m YOUR asshole.”

Making-up sex can be sweet – but starting some mess, in order to spark a fight, so you can have reconciliation sex? That’s relationship suicide. Creating discord in the hope that it will lead to making-up sex is an incredibly stupid ploy. And remember, apologies get old pretty quick. No matter how cunningly phrased, they can only take you so far.

The Velvet Drapes

Anyone can be a fabulous lover, without surgery, or potions, or workout sessions, or even monetary expense. It just needs imagination and a slight attitude adjustment. Get a clue from the executive who invented this stress-reliever: at quitting time he exits the office, turns back toward the door, makes a push-away gesture and, to the problems that try to follow him home, issues the command: “Stay.” In the same way, we need to keep the mundane concerns out of our love life.

When you and your lover share amorous quality time, shut the world out. Start with the obvious things: the door is locked against kids, pets, and housemates. The phone will not be heard. And if by chance it is heard, it definitely won’t be answered. But the most important technique for making the world go away originates with the mind.

Envision a particular piece of furniture, one we’ve seen in movies and museums: the old-fashioned four-poster bed with a roof, enclosed by its own curtains. When you lie down with your honey, imagine it’s that kind of bed. Pull those heavy drapes all around so nothing from the world intrudes, and while you’re at it, make them soundproof.

Outside the curtains, you leave the day’s problems, the grudges, the bad attitude, the ideas about what’s masculine and feminine, the hostility, and the past. Inside, the mood might be serious, funny, ritualistic, ribald, or whatever – but the important thing is, everything and everybody else is excluded. Banish negativity, and be paid in electricity!

Shielded by those imaginary curtains, the space within is a sovereign kingdom with two monarchs who make the rules, and no other rules apply. You have nothing to do now except cause each other ecstasy. Put your arms around that one you love. Close your eyes, take a deep breath and let it out real slow. You’re with the most important person in your world. Outside the force-field generated by your combined auras, nothing else matters.

This person honors you by granting access to a living, sensate body for the purpose of mutual pleasure. You’re going to part with secrets and share secret parts. That’s enough to fill a universe. Nothing else is welcome. Certainly not the echoes of whatever hassles you had during the day. In bed is not the place to extract payback for domestic quarrels. You can always start fighting again tomorrow.

When you embrace, the world goes away. If this is not your experience, it’s time to learn how to be here now. The art of being fully present in the moment is a rare gift, but it can be cultivated, and even caught from someone else. Get naked and shut up. Let your bodies do the talking, and let them only say nice things.

Love’s Hard Lessons

When two people are together for a long time, some things are inevitable. One or both of you might be prone to intimacy overdose. After a shatteringly wonderful night, your partner may need to draw back and be cool and distant for a few days. It’s just a rhythm, like the tide going in and out. Everything in the universe travels in waves, so ride it out.

What Kind of Love Is This?

Another hard lesson is: love can be difficult to recognize, because we all stubbornly hold on to our opinions about how it’s supposed to be. Like Stewart Emery says, “We have somehow been conditioned to believe that a relationship should look a certain way…..” So we put all our energy into trying to make our thing match up to some blueprint, rather than let it express and support the two unique people we are.

Don’t get some notion in your mind about “If she loved me, she would….” A person will rarely show love in the exact way that you’ve been programmed to want it shown. But if you watch for the ways she shows it in her own “language”, you’ll see plenty.

There’s more to communication than talk. You can tell when a guy is doing something to please you. You can tell when he’s refraining from an action to please you. If he spits tobacco juice into a tin can, rather than on the floor as usual, that’s a gesture of caring. Sometimes, you just have to take them where you find them.

If he says you cook better than his Mom, he’s giving you something more precious than an Academy Award or a Heisman Trophy. When such an accolade comes along, recognize it for what it is – the very highest form of tribute he knows – and appreciate it.

Then if you’re lucky, you can graduate to the bigtime. That’s when you both ask yourself, “Am I loving this person the way I want to be loved, or the way this person wants to be loved? Am I loving this person the way I want to do it, or the way he or she needs it done?”

Magic Simple and Strong

The famous society hostess Elsa Maxwell charmed and delighted everyone who knew her with just three words. When guests showed up, she uttered a heartfelt, “At last.” When they made motions toward leaving, she protested, “Already?” Your partner should feel at least as welcome at your place, or in your mutual home, as Ms. Maxwell’s guests were made to feel.

One expert says a great relationship is characterized by the proportion of 5:1. The five is for positive, nice, nurturing, and pleasant encounters. The one is for negative interactions, fights, etc. As long as there are five pluses to every minus, all systems are go. Positive is anything that shows your affection, sense of humor, appreciation, or respect for your honey. Plus kisses and hugs of course. And foot massages. That ratio extends to your night moves. The sex may not be fantastic every time, but when there’s no more than one “not good” for every five “goods,” you’ll probably be okay.

In one of Pat Brady’s “Rose is Rose” comic strips, the husband kisses the wife “for putting those new pretty pounds on your bottom.” In turn, she exclaims that his “cute little bald spot is getting bigger.” They embrace and think, “When you go with the flow, the current gets stronger.” Or as Werner Erhard put it, the best way to get what you want is to want what you get. If your sweetheart can do that, you are blessed. And never try to argue him or her out of liking something about your body. Take the compliment and zip the lip.

If you can find a way to want what you get, you’re on the path to holding the powers of a shaman. And here’s one last item for the toolkit: treat your loved one as if he or she already is everything you want him or her to be. Figure out how to do that, and love’s mattress will stay aflame for years.

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