Birds Do It, Bees Do It
Well, I think summer has finally decided to show. I've been running the air-conditioner again. Everything is in bloom. The air smells wonderful everywhere. I've been walking again, at lunch time. I'm not going very far, at the present, just a fifteen minute stroll around this section of the commercial park to get some endurance back up for longer walks. It's been awhile. Last week I saw a couple of bumblebee-looking bees in the parking lot. I couldn't tell whether they were fighting, mating, or one was making a meal of the other, but I snapped a picture of them with my phone. Spring must really be in the air.
Jackie called me Thursday, on the 15th. She wanted to ask me a favor. Friday evening I headed up to Sacramento. I told Jackie that I would watch Xander for her because she had some Saturday work for some training for her job. Her boyfriend, Tony, was also working Saturday. Anyway, I don't mind at all. It was good to hang out with my little buddy. He gets bigger every time I see him. I remembered to snap a couple of pictures while I'm up there visiting. Xander and I spent some time in the afternoon with Shannon. We went to restaurant that was a combination A&W burger shop and Kentucky Fried Chicken. After that, we checked out a small park near Shannon's house and I got a couple of pictures of Shannon and Xander. Then we went to the grocery to pick up some snacks for Shannon's "movie night" at her new place. She's living with four other people, one of them, a toddler named Emily.
This past weekend, Shannon came down to visit Friday evening. She stayed until Sunday. It looks like she is getting nicely moved into the house she's sharing with four other people up in Sacramento. She's sharing the house with a guy named Trevor, who owns the house, her friend Haley, an ex-girlfriend of Trevor's, named Nicole, and Nicole's toddler, a cute, energetic, extrovert named Emily. Shannon's room is on the second floor and is pretty small, but it has a nice window view and she's still organizing her things there. She's got a summer job that starts in June and lasts until the first week of August, so I won't be seeing her all summer. Saturday, we drove down to Peets Coffee for some mocha and coffee cake. We also stopped at Office Depot so she could get herself a lap desk. We made a stop at Big Five Sports, here in Livermore, on Sunday, so that she could buy a sleeping bag, some hiking shoes, and an air-mattress.
After dropping Shannon off at her place, I went to see if I could help Jackie and Tony. They're moving into a new house as well, and getting out of the small apartment where they have been until now. When I called them they were at the new place and wanted me to stop at the apartment and get Xander's car seat for them and bring it up to the new place. They're moving from the south side of Sacramento to a place up around Carmichael. I sent an e-mail to Crystal, giving her both girls' new addresses, because I correctly figured that they had forgotten to get around to it yet. Crystal says that Jackie knows friends of hers up there in that neighborhood from when Crystal used to live near there, which is a good thing.
The lady from the March 8 entry, whom I was trying to get to give me her first name on OKStupid, deleted her account or otherwise deactivated it, sometime in the past couple of days, so I never got the chance to make a third try at learning her name. I would suppose she's either discouraged by OKStupid and/or online dating, or perhaps she found someone interesting to talk with and date presently. Either way, I never did get an answer from her. On the other hand, on the 5th of this month I got a hello message from a lady named Laurel.
OKStupid claims that Laurel and I are pretty compatible. OKStupid says 96%, if one understands OKStupid's methods for weighting things. I don't, to any great extent, but I do tend to find their evaluations of compatibility have a rough correlation with my interest in various people. At any rate, after reading her profile, I would say that this instance is not an exception to OKStupid's batting record. I'm intrigued. It was fortunate that she dropped me a line. She does not live in California, so had she not discovered my profile it would not have been very likely that I would have discovered hers. She dropped me a single line telling me that she felt inspired to give me a smile when reading my profile and then followed up that message with more of an introduction a few minutes after that. By the time I had discovered the messages and read them, she had deactivated her account. Her message said she was going to do that, however, because she wasn't sure exactly what she wants out of OKStupid yet, and that she'd be back on if she saw me on line in the subsequent days.
The day after that, I was on line again and she reactivated her account and I got to check out her profile and read some of the topical "match questions" she answered on OKStupid. In her profile she writes intelligently and passionately but not carelessly, despite there being some roughness in the style and in the editing of the writing. She covers topical material that is a bit "deep" for a dating site, and it no doubt scares off the less philosophical, but I found her authenticity and honesty bracingly refreshing. She's definitely an individualist, which I find quite attractive. I sent her an answering message and we exchanged a few more messages and an IM chat session. The we exchanged off-site e-mail addresses and we started exchanging some messages there and I discovered Laurel makes very interesting conversation. She's got a personal philosophy rooted in Objectivism but like I did, is finding holes and questionable integrations in the mainstream of Objectivist thinking. She's not a Randroid, thank goodness.
Since she turned off her profile on OKStupid, I didn't get time to read through all of the match questions she answered there. Some of her answers, with explanations, looked pretty interesting, although since we've been exchanging e-mails, reading through answers to OKStupid's match questions is probably a little superfluous. We've been talking about all kinds of philosophical things. It's really been kind of eye-opening. As an example, one such question involved the phenomenon of sexual experience versus intellectual/emotional/spiritual growth. It started with this match question:
The Match Question on OKStupid:
In terms of sex, how experienced would your ideal mate be (with people other than you)?
Very Experienced. For me this would mean experienced in leaning into one's discomfort to be a more open person.
My Question About Her Answer:
What does "leaning into one's discomfort to be a more open person" mean, especially in the context of sexual experience? I'm pretty sure that you're trying to draw a distinction between mere technique and something a bit more substantial but I'm wondering if openness is something that increases or improves with one's sexual experience. Do you think it does, and if so, how?
Her answer to me:
Yes, openness and self confrontation, self curiosity so that one is fully in one's body and not distracted by self monitoring disturbing thoughts. Leaning into the discomfort like one leans into a stretch - too far and you tear the muscle, just right and you do get more limber, and it feels good. In terms of intimacy it means being increasingly more open and undefended. People have many defense mechanisms that we are not aware of that block intimacy.
It makes sex passionate to be so open and increasingly more open. The passion that so many here are seeking in sex, and that they left marriages for, is available in the old marriage. Over the years there have been many married men contacting me on here and I got into discussions with a few and actually coached them so that they did the work to reignite the passion in the old marriage they were in already.
One man in particular had married when he was 19 and he was our age or more when he contacted me. Their marriage had dried up from the sounds of things. By framing it as appropriate that the marriage had dried up and a sign that they were long past growing time, he approached it with a different perspective and started leaning into the discomfort and learning about himself, took risks, self soothed emotionally if she withdrew, and kept focused on wanting to connect with his wife. Eventually he was telling me that they were madly in love again and having insanely great sex and doing things he never thought they'd do. Menopause excuses be damned. Getting out of the stagnant comfort zone was the key.
These ideas are covered in Schnarch's book, Passionate Marriage. David Dieda (very woo, but also with good stuff to comb out) has some interesting ways of presenting the same issue, but with metaphorically and flowery wording that might not click for you.
Some thoughts on this line of reasoning:
Her answer would appear to stand in contrast to what Mackler appears to be claiming. I am inferring that she believes that sexual experience mostly translates into, or at least promotes, personal growth, whereas Daniel Mackler, from the small portions I have watched and read, seems to be inferring that one should work on developing a certain level of competence in one's personal growth before even thinking about a romantic or sexual relationship. Are these inferences of mine accurate? One of the things I read on his site actually seems to present a better (more rational) argument against onanism than I ever heard from the priests and nuns in the school I attended as a boy. I'm not sure I entirely agree with his take, having been a moderate exerciser of personal gratification for most of my life, but Mackler did seem to be making a rational, as opposed to mystical, case for his position: that masturbation is often yet one more avenue for practicing escapism. At any rate, the two positions appear to be one more instance of the ancient debate: "To be is to do," Socrates; "To do is to be," Plato; "Do-be-do-be-do," Sinatra. Sorry, couldn't resist that punch-line.
I suspect that the truth here requires a bit of qualification and lies somewhere in between these positions. Mackler's proscriptions seem a bit over-the-top monastic, except perhaps in cases where the individual in question is so damaged that sexual and relationship activity of any kind is likely to be counter-productive and a means of evading reality for that individual. On the other hand, in contrast to the idea that every experience teaches, or is likely to teach, Thomas Fuller's words come to mind: "If an ass goes traveling, he will not come home a horse." Relationships and sex are experiences and human interactions from which one can learn and grow, but in and of themselves, they are not necessarily so. I know plenty of people who have had remarkable amounts of sex who do not strike me as exceptionally well self-actualized. Even when people are successful at self-actualization, is it the sex, per se, that is the cause of this philosophical, spiritual growth? Is that what she is implying? I must say that I am partial to and intrigued by the idea that we become what we repeatedly practice. I suppose that sexual and romantic relationships could be, given the right philosophical framework, opportunities and facilitators of personal growth, but I wonder how many people truly find enlightenment following this path. Experience must be integrated and that requires conceptual tools, which must themselves be integrated into one's understanding. She admirably identifies these tools: openness, self-confrontation, and self-curiosity, but is she implying that it is the sex that promotes the growth of these things? I suspect that relationships can be likened to capital: invested properly, it can lead to production and growth, but squandered, these things can lead to destruction and depravity.
It is sad that so many people seem to be looking for passion that they think they have "lost." The idea that passion, per se, can be a problem with people seems strange to me. On the other hand, maybe it's not so strange. People, such as the men who contacted her in quest of passion, seem to fall easily into the error of mistaking cause for effect and symptoms for cause. In a sexual relationship, I think one or both partners would have to be consciously faking for there to be a legitimate claim of sex without passion — one or both parties to that interaction are just not having a meaningful sexual experience. Sex, to me, is the expression, the very flower of passion. "Unmeaningful sex," is probably better understood to be synchronized, simultaneous masturbation, if not something of an oxymoron. Also, it would seem to be the height superstition to attribute a loss of desire for sex with someone as a "loss of passion." Passion, exhilaration, joy, these are emotional responses; not drivers. Even attributing a lack of sexual intimacy to a lack of "desire" strikes me as a form of question begging. If one says: "I have a lack of desire for my partner, or to have sex with my partner," it would immediately raise the question of "WHY?" Things do not happen without cause or reason. The Austrian Economists teach that all human action is the result of reason and involves choice with respect to trade-offs. Saying that one "lacks desire" is merely a descriptor; it is not a reason, in itself. It explains nothing. Desire is not just something that just happens to people. It is not something that a divinity dispenses to individuals, like "grace." Desire is experienced for reasons, and those reasons can be identified. Essentially, attraction is the "resonance" of similar, equivalent, or the same values, operating in two people. Mutual admiration is the term to describe this phenomenon. We experience pleasure and attraction as emotional responses to encountering our own values expressed in someone else. Sometimes I wonder how so many people can possibly be oblivious to this and to believe that desire is just something that happens to them — the simple consequence of circumstance or "novelty." I suspect it is yet one more instance of people forgetting to Focus on Existence. I'm wondering if it was it Rand who put her on the right track, or if she attributes more of her healthy ideas and understanding to the author of the book she recommended, Schnarch, or is it perhaps some other party? Which did she encounter first, the relationship information and understandings, or the Objectivism framework? It's intriguing because Rand seems to be of the thinking that experience never hurts, whereas Mackler appears to be an exponent of the idea that sex is only for the "with it and hip" who are enlightened.
In my own marriage, the sex became less frequent, then rare, and then it stopped entirely, toward the very end. I never attributed this to a "loss of passion" or "waning desire;" I saw it as the crumbling of intimacy between Crystal and I. Intimacy, to me, and I think, metaphysically, is not just something that happens; it must be built, or cultivated, if one prefers a softer, more "organic" metaphor. It was no mystery to me why my wife and I were not having sex; the intimacy that caused us to desire sex with one another wasted away and died because she and I so often worked at cross-purposes in the quest to cultivate and maintain it. I think I understood this better than Crystal. I think she was more likely to think in terms of "passion." Even in the end, I still loved her but the intimacy between us was gone. That was the problem, not the lack of passion. The story of the man Laurel helped is interesting and inspiring. Giving someone effective advice and counsel is the mark of someone who understands what she is doing. If you can explain your understanding and methods to someone else, and they are able to implement your counsel to their profit it is prima facie evidence that you possess an accurate set of insights. Bravo! So, how does she see what she did? What did she do to help the man rebuild the intimacy between himself and his spouse? I wonder how she will answer that one.
Can't get no rest, wonder how I work all day...
So, last Saturday Laurel and I started IM'ing off and on in Skype. We were instant messaging because Shannon was down for a visit and she was within ear-shot and I didn't want to hold the kind of conversation Laurel and I had been having in front of Shannon. Later in the evening, Shannon was also watching a movie on her computer and conversing over a movie isn't really all that polite. Eventually though, Shannon turned in around midnight and Laurel and I decided to move the conversation to video.
We were both in our respective bedrooms. We spoke about quite a bit. There was a lot of exchange about our respective histories. I was thoroughly enjoying myself, listening to her. She's a very good conversationalist with a pleasant voice, a good sense of humor, and an honest laughter that is not braying or grating. We come from very different backgrounds but share some similarities in our experience with immediate family. She has been all over the world, growing up, while I hardly ever left Ohio until after I graduated from the university. I come from some large families: my dad's and Granny's, and to hear her tell it, she seems to have a rather small extended family, or perhaps it is that she merely grew up out of contact with extended family relatives. At any rate, both of us have experienced some nasty conflict and dysfunctions in our childhood homes. Both of us are the kind of people who ask questions and attempt to make sense of their lives and experiences in a rational, non-mystical way. It was a really involved conversation. I have never had one like that, with someone I just met. Sheesh. It was engrossing. I am somewhat disturbed that it was also somewhat cathartic, to trust someone under those kinds of circumstances. I don't even know her last name. I'm wondering what this says about me. Maybe Shelby was right: is it possible to be "too self-contained?" If it is, I guess I have to confess that I may be "too self-contained" and it feels really good to "pop the top" and let in some fresh air.
According to Skype, we spoke for three hours, thirty seven minutes. We didn't say goodbye until I noticed that it was 4:00 AM. When we realized what time it was, we said hasty goodbyes and turned off our computers. I suppose she went to sleep. I know I did. Kuu woke me up about five hours later, wanting breakfast. I haven't seen Laurel on Skype since then. I sent her a short e-mail note, telling her that I had enjoyed our conversation, but I haven't heard back from her. She may be really busy with other things going on in her life. It could also be the case that our conversations and e-mail exchanges to date have left her with a bunch of things, emotional and intellectual, that she needs to "process." She has said as much before, in taking her time answering a couple of my e-mails. I don't mind. I find her conversation eminently worth the wait. I wonder what she'll say when she gets back to me.