Archive for the ‘Choosing’ Category


Love’s Flaming Mattress

January 20, 2013

Love's Flaming Mattress

(Originally published by the late lamented dear departed, 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.


The Very First Note

January 4, 2010

The Very First Note
by Gayle

I went back to my hometown for a few days. I had to sign some papers. It was almost New Year’s, 1978, and Nadine invited me to her shindig. Parties ebb and flow, of course, but maybe 15 people were there at the most, some I knew from the past, some I didn’t. In the main room, the furniture was pushed to the edges, for a place to dance. The stereo was at one end and the food and drinks table at the other. Downstairs, it was the alternate refreshment room, relatively quiet. Yeah, it’s the midwest, but they’ve heard of pot. Then, out in the back yard, they had a firepit.

I go out there, three guys are sitting on a bench, I don’t know any of them. One guy is playing the drum that he brought over. He gets up and hands me the drum. I’m not really into it, but it’s cool that the guy just offered it so readily, so I sit down with the drum between my knees and make a little rhythm for a couple of minutes.

Meanwhile, Nadine comes outside and joins us at the fire. I stand up, and the guy asks Nadine if she wants to try the drum. She says no, but he kind of coaxes her, then he says to me, “Go ahead, convince her. Talk her into it.” That makes me feel kind of bristly. It’s like he’s saying all women are together in a cabal, and he’s enlisting me to communicate with Nadine in our secret woman-speak, and talk sense into her, for her own good.

Of course, when you’re in a bit of an altered state, you take that into account. We see everything through our filters. A lot of what we see is stuff from the past, oozing up into the now. You make allowances for it, and try to catch it if you can.

I go, “This drum is getting heavy, so I hope you guys figure it out pretty soon.”

The drum man tells me, “Try hitting it a little harder,” but I shake my head, and he takes the drum off my hands, and sits back down.

Maybe I’ve been rude, so I try to explain. “When I’m into percussion, it’s for the intricacy and complexity, not the loudness factor.” I go in the house. It’s really not an atmosphere for conversation. The stereo is cranked up, and half the time I don’t know what people are saying. I don’t enjoy talking loud. So fuck it, I’ll just dance. Nobody else is, but so what?

Folks from here need a couple of drinks in them before they let the music take them. No, that’s not true. They keep time with various body parts. Anyway, most of the evening, it was an empty dance floor, except for me, and somebody or other would drift in, or dive in, for part of a number, then drift or dive back out again. And always two or three on the edge, moving in rhythm while holding onto their beer bottles. Later on, around midnight, and for a while after, there would be four or six or eight people dancing.

It’s not like anybody’s going to push a contract in my face and beg me to be on their TV show. Especially not here in Hometown, USA. It’s not like I’m trying to show off – and there’s that goop from the past, seeping in again – I just feel like dancing, dammit! Talking and hearing are stressing me out, and there’s really nothing else to do, in a place that isn’t mine. It’s not like I can sneak off to my desk and type up some paperwork for Cooley’s five-state tour. My desk is a couple of thousand miles away.

Nadine’s husband is changing the records, and he tells me, “I’m putting your Traffic on after this one.”

The drum guy comes inside just in time to hear this, and he says, “Did you bring an album?” I tell him no, I just asked for this one because I wanted to hear “A Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys.” He gets all enthusiastic about what a great album it is, and how much he likes that song particularly. His name is Tom, and I tell him mine, and he asks if I’m from here.

I really don’t want to get into what I’m doing here, instead of taking care of the house on the canal and protecting the ducks from any reveler who might fancy a barbecued snack. Am I from here?

“Yes and no,” I tell him. When the music starts again, I slide away and get back to dancing. I overhear talk that sounds like Tom is in some aspect of the music business. Part of what I do for Cooley, is reach out to other people in the field. How bad can this Tom guy be?

After a while, I go to the bathroom, and when I come back, whatever’s on the stereo doesn’t really grab me, so I’m at the edge of the “dance floor” just kind of swaying. Tom approaches and takes my hand lightly, a minuet kind of move, and leads me a few steps out. So okay, fine, we’re both dancing. I just don’t dig this “dancing with” notion. In my universe, dancing is basically not a team sport. I don’t aspire to be one-half of Ginger and Fred. I’m not interested in learning dance as a science or a gymnastic feat. It’s just not something I want to do with a partner.

Slow dancing, that’s different. Yeah, “Blue Velvet,” the lights are low, you’re barely moving around on the dance floor, just rubbing and grinding where you stand, and groping each other – with the right person, that’s definitely a couple activity. And even so, there aren’t many people I want to be that close to. And none of them are here. And this isn’t a make-out party. It’s New Year’s Eve! It’s supposed to be lively. It’s a celebration, for chrissake.

Anyway, I’m a feeling impinged upon. I get the impression that this Tom character is making some kind of attempt to direct me. To tell you the truth, I’m trying to not even look at him. But I don’t want to close my eyes, because that seems affected. Also, I don’t want to bump into anything. So I’m aiming for a state of seeing but not seeing, where a part of my brain will monitor the environment, while most of it takes a vacation. But it can’t. Because it’s busy thinking about bullshit like not wanting to look like a total air-headed poser by dancing with my eyes closed.

And there’s this nagging feeling that he’s trying to get me to do something, to mirror him or synchronize myself with him. He’s seriously putting a dent in my high. It taps into some of that old stuff in my head. The connections that people make, the implications they draw. I can just imagine old Tom thinking, “If she can’t dance with me, she must be a lousy lay.” Which to my mind is a whole different thing. When I get naked with somebody, I know what to do. That’s the time and place where you feel your way into the other person, where you act in harmony. I can play a duet. But dancing? Dancing is all about me. And whatever Tom here thinks about it, who cares? I don’t want him speculating about how good I’d be in bed, because I’m pretty sure we won’t be finding ourselves there any time soon.

Saved by the doorbell. I love a cliché. Somebody rings, and since Nadine isn’t close by and neither is her husband, Tom goes to open the door.

But he turns up again later on, with the astonishing question, “What’s your story?”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re from here, but you’re not from here. You’re dancing all alone…”

There go the bristles, up again. I’m hearing an implication that I should be dancing with somebody, that I’d be better off that way.… I don’t know, maybe I’m reading too much into this guy’s innocent tries at conversation.

Should I go into it? Should I tell him, where I’m really from, we dance in the sun by the ocean, to the beat of twenty drums, or to a three-piece band on the boardwalk, and sometimes we’re not even drunk? Should I tell him about the big room with the polished hardwood floor, the secret world above a store in Santa Monica, where we play all kinds of records and dance however we please – yes, even alone? Should I bother to try and explain that for me, dancing is not a thing you do with another person? Do I tell him that who you dance with is the music, and sometimes a whole bunch of other people, but it doesn’t have to be two-by-two like Noah’s fuckin’ Ark?

“Who are you?” the guy says.

That tears it. This is Mr. Clueless. I play it straight. I tell him, “Gayle.”

Pretty soon he gives up and sits at the sidelines, watching. This, I’m not too crazy about either. I feel like I should stifle myself, because I don’t want to look like I’m trying to attract him or, Goddess forbid, seduce him. All I want to do is dance, but I can imagine this Tom, after some unthinkable play-out, insisting to some third party, “She was coming on to me all evening.”

Then, I hear Cooley’s voice, I mean, really hear it, from all those miles away, over the music, and over all my imagining and analyzing. He says, “Dance as if nobody’s watching.” And nobody is. And every so often, I forget about the whole thing and get out of myself for a spell. And then the static in my head revs up again. I can’t be natural because I’m all hung up thinking about why I can’t be natural. It’s exhausting.

After a while, I’m in the kitchen talking with Nadine, and we’re really into whatever the topic is, it’s the first and only exchange I’ve had all night with any kind of value. I hear “A Low Spark of High Heeled Boys.” Nadine is telling me something, and Tom pops into the room and goes, “Hey, it’s your song.” I kind of nod at him, but I’m listening to Nadine. And then I’m saying something back to Nadine, and Tom goes, “Your song is playing.”

It’s almost overwhelming, the impulse to turn on him and spit out, “Idiot, you think I don’t know, from the very first note?”

But I don’t say a word. It’s New Year’s Eve, and I’m a long way from home.