It is somewhat difficult to think about Laurel. My parts seem so polarized about her. If I think of the things for which I truly value her it causes me to experience a fierce longing, and then sadness. She's gone though. Why is that so hard to accept? How do I wrestle with this in a way that is productive for me? I think of the things she told me, of the things I heard, the values in her that I recognized and it pulls at me. I want her. Perhaps I should be telling myself that I want someone who "fits" in my life, who holds those values, and not Laurel, per se. Something in me fiercely rebels against that. To me, it's like boiling her essence out, to distill an abstraction from the living, breathing complex woman that she is, to consider only the value that she represented while accepting that perhaps the real woman just did not "fit" in my life. The thing is, I didn't and don't want an abstraction! We may love in response to value, but when I feel love, I want the person, not some "essence of virtue" in a bottle. People are more than containers for a shopping list of abstract qualities. I am/was much smitten with the woman who would park those dramatic blue eyes of hers behind those cheap drug-store reading glasses to go after facts on the internet, like some sexy-librarian from an onanist's fantasy story.
That said, it is her virtues that pull most strongly at me. I am pondering an incident about which she told me. She was in a supermarket and she encountered a mother on the verge of interacting badly with her child. Laurel was inspired to interact with the woman, to defuse the situation. That's insight, and courage. She spoke to the woman, and instead of showering her with disapproval, she engaged the woman's better nature. She pulled the woman's better nature up to the surface and inspired that woman to become conscious, in the moment, of what the woman valued about her child. She did this just by talking to the woman and empathizing with her situation. Laurel appealed to that woman by relating her own experiences with her sons. She spoke to her as a fellow parent, not on the topic of what the woman was doing, or failing to do, but in a way that refocused the woman's attention, that helped the woman reframe the situation in her perception. She drew that woman's better nature out of her through power of attraction. That is power, the power of virtue. I was so moved when I heard that story. Too many people see things like that happening and we hide from it. Why? In my own experience it is because I am moved differently than Laurel is when I see something like that. My fears and anger respond, and those are not productive; they are, in fact, counter-productive. As much as I logically understand that, I don't have the capacity that she does to call out those resources on the spur of the moment. I don't have that kind of "grace" in me, at least, not to the incredible extent that Laurel appears to have. Hearing her tell me about that incident, I felt a fierce physical desire to embrace her. It was physical: I felt a powerful desire to hold her, to feel her, to feel my arms around her, to feel the mass of her, the softness of her flesh, to feel her warmth against my chest, to feel her hair against my face, to smell her, to experience her, fully. I felt it as an actual collection of physical responses in me. It was arousal: this, to me, is "being turned-on." This is the kind of feeling that makes me want to climb into bed and fuck her, in Schnarch's context for that word. That feeling is an upwelling of the primal desire to create and share life, to awaken another human consciousness to experience and marvel at the wonder of existence, even despite the fact that she isn't even physically capable of bringing such an undertaking to actual fruition in conceiving children, anymore. It doesn't matter — that pull, that impulse, that drive, is still there — the meaning of procreation is still present even beyond our fertile years. Millions of years of evolution has "written" it into our flesh far too deep for age to be able to fade or erode it into indecipherability. It was her quality as a potential mate that frequently spoke to something deep in me. That response to her value is still there. It is hard to resist the mystical to talk about such a feeling. Perhaps it is an unavoidable consequence of my Catholic background, but to describe it as a spark of the divine, flaring into open, warming flame inside, would only do the sensation justice, as long as I remain cognizant of the fact that such does not imply a literal consciousness to the universe, as the mystics would have us believe.
It's strange to hear Schnarch talk about desire from emptiness, or need vs. desire from fullness. To me, when I think about it, it seems that both were present. I did feel a need. Part of the desire I felt was a desire to have that kind of inspiration and virtue in my life. Part of the desire to embrace her was kind of "needy:" it represented an almost irrational impulse, a feeling that seems rooted in the idea that such virtue could be shared osmotically, as if it would rub off on me with contact. I think I understand "desire out of emptiness," as Schnarch relates in his book. The thing is that I perceive that this is not the sum total of what I was feeling. I suspect and believe that "desire out of fullness" was also present at the same time. I recognized also that part of what I was feeling was a desire to celebrate, more so: a desire to encourage and protect, to buttress and nurture, to give my sanction to Laurel, to let her know that she is not alone in valuing what she did, that it is recognized, that she is appreciated for her capacity and her virtue, that what she is and does are important to me as well — in short, it was a desire to communicate to her that she is loved and cherished for who she is and what it is that she has made of herself. To me, that sounds like desire out of fullness. It is not one or the other; it is not "either- or," as Rand put it, because the struggle with our mixed premises is never over. It seemed to me that both "impulses," both responses to her virtue, can exist in the same human being without necessarily contradicting, even though I do recognize that the desire out of fullness is the life-affirming response we should cultivate within ourselves, more than focus on what we do not have or what we wish to have without the work it takes to achieve it.
Did she want to be valued for her capacity for empathy or did she want to be valued for her logic? I remember a conversation/argument with her in which she wanted me to understand "preferences" and her perception of desire. The argument, or at least, one of them, over "preference" is in my mind right now. It looks to me like a quintessential case of differentiation problem, right out of Schnarch's book, in hind sight. She puts a great deal of stock in being valued for physical values. She likes being admired for her physical grace and her form. She was disappointed in me, and greatly so, that I did not express a preference for what she should wear to bed. It seemed to me that she was unfairly characterizing my position as having no preferences at all. She values the fact that the physicist insists that she come to bed naked. I get the impression that had I told her that I preferred greatly that she come to bed dressed in a latex teddy that this would have turned her on, not for any particular attachment to the physical sensations or the sensory experience of wearing such an accouterment, but that she would have perceived that I prefer it and that it pleases her and arouses her to accommodate my desire in such a fashion. I think I DO understand her point of view. I think I DO understand her disappointment when I told her that I preferred that she was happy and comfortable and confident in what she wear and that this is what mattered to me, more than any particular item of apparel or lack of same. Is it that she could not understand this? She argued with me as if she believed that I had no preference at all, and to her credit, it feels a bit dishonest of to have left her the impression that I had no preferences along those lines at all, when clearly, I do. Lingerie, nudity, even some kinky gear all can have their place in my closet of desires and preferences, but at the time, I wanted her to understand what is more important to me — and I felt at the time, that she did not, and it bothered me. It is much more important to me that my partner feel confident and sexy and comfortable and happy, than it is for me to tell her how to dress. She accusingly told me that I wouldn't care if she "wore a ratty track-suit to bed with me." It just seemed so wrong to me. Alas, I also understand that I did not help the situation at all by asking her if that was the apparel she would choose for herself if she were not satisfying her bed-mate's desires in this department. I was just trying to distinguish that "the what" wasn't the point! Why could I not get her to see that I wanted more than anything for her to come to me "naked in spirit," as herself, who she really is, that mattered to me, that this is my preference, and that if sexy lingerie got in the way of that, made her feel insecure or less confident or less sexy or less herself as she sees herself, then I want no part of that, that it would be counter-productive of what I desire. Why could she not understand this: that if she felt hot, powerful, alive, comfortable, and truly herself in a "ratty old track suit" then damn-it all it would be my preference that she should wear the ratty track suit and be truly what she is with me! Hell, I had seen her dressed for sleeping and I had never found her anything less than desirable in what she chose on her own recognizance.
Why was that discussion so damned "complicated," so hard to have with her, so fraught with misunderstandings on both of our parts? Why were we both so "sensitive" and insecure in this area? Why were each of us so seemingly willing, vulnerable, to feel rejection in this area? Is it possible that we were each so ready, so apprehensive of feeling rejected in this area, in our sexuality that we could not entertain the other's perspective or acknowledge it? Schnarch says "differentiation," or rather lack of same, is the problem but the diagnosis is not the cure. What is so difficult for the two of us in facing the fundamental question: what is the nature of sex? Is one of us wrong? How would we know? She would never go there and put words to her own beliefs on this question. She explicitly refused, which her hero, Stefan Molyneux, flatly condemns as the hallmark of dishonesty. It was me who expresses the doubts about Molyneux's categorical condemnations. Do we have contradictory or conflicting premises or are we both lacking an appreciation of full context here? Why was she seemingly so afraid to have a conversation on this topic? Was I afraid as well, and merely expressing it differently than she did? Why was I so reluctant? Hell, why was it just not possible to actually state some preference? Was it only the fear that I would be misunderstood? What was at stake there? Why couldn't I have entertained her perspective and just "gone with it?" What actual turf was I defending so zealously? I staked out my position and defended it, and in hindsight, it is not a battle into which I should have been drawn, but I was. Why?
How in the hell can I address stuff like this? Schnarch says "self-confrontation," but that is a practice that is difficult to explain in a book, and it is one area where I think Schnarch could improve his book. There is effectiveness in his method but I think he pays too little attention to what he himself brings to the situation when he speaks of the couples to whom he talks. It is one thing for Schnarch to advocate that we self-confront, self-soothe, and differentiate, but these things are easier advocated than done! How do I do this stuff? In his book, I think that Scharch pays too little respect to what he himself brings to his method. The scientific method is the way to actually apprehend the working of existence, rather than mysticism, but we still celebrate the scientists themselves, because the methods and understanding alone do not magically produce the results. Schnarch, perhaps from modesty, or perhaps from a desire to emphasize the importance of his methodological discovery, or perhaps merely from a shortcoming of perspective, doesn't really distill what he brings to the party when he discusses how the couples to whom he speaks work things out between themselves. He praises these people for their courage and their integrity and their curiosity but that is similar to writing down a chemical reaction while neglecting to mention the importance of the catalyst. Were these people getting anywhere, really, before talking to him? The question answers itself. Was the essence of their success only that they study and understand his methodology and essential premises? No. In each case he illustrates, Schnarch has provided the participants a key clue, he's helped them acquire a key understanding or view of the pattern in their own behaviors that enabled the people involved to successfully self-confront. Would they have been so successful in implementing his methods without these "nudges" from him, without him pointing out and characterizing some of the behaviors that left these people in a metaphorical blind alley? I appreciate the difficulty of trying to distill that talent in a book, but maybe he ought to mention more prominently than he does, that the reader may still find his methods difficult to put into practice without the change in perspective offered by a different set of eyes. This is not to say that it is not possible, when clearly, I believe Schnarch himself and his spouse have managed to implement his methods in ways that have improved the quality of their own lives and relationship, all on their own, but still, I think for the reader of his book, it would have been a bit more helpful to have more explicitly covered what it entails to put the ideas into practice. Heh, on the other hand, for whom exactly is a do-it-yourself book written in the first place? Hmm, I signed up for this. It is not a valid criticism of the book to lament that it is not "Differentiation for Dummies."
All right. So, what was the issue there? Nobody is going to offer me a clue for free. What the hell was that mess, in essence? It obviously does involve our perception that each of us apprehends the nature of sex from a different premise, I think, but that, in and of itself, is sadly lacking in explanatory power. Of what was I afraid, that I could not more honestly, and with more curiosity, explore her perspective? It is fear that is at the root of the fight-or-flight response. I know I was afraid of something or I wouldn't have drawn a battle line where I did. Of what was I fearful? To express a preference is to be open to being evaluated and judged for having that preference. Was it only the fear of that? No, it is not that, entirely, although that feels within the ballpark of plausibility. I suspect I was afraid of expressing a preference that excluded her, one that separated us. I think I feared that she might reject me for expressing a preference, for "choosing the wrong thing," in essence. Is it possible that I was rejecting her for making an issue out of it in the first place? Why would it be unreasonable for her to have inferred that? It wasn't unreasonable. I think it is almost certain that she did. If my intransigence doesn't seem so warranted now, why did it not seem so then, when that realization would have mattered? Damn it.
Conversely, why was my intransigence in this particular instance so bothersome to her? She was as willing to fight on this ground as I. Into what corner had I backed her, and moreover, was I actually motivated to do so? What insecurities did I actually stir up inside of her? If I wasn't trying to do that then why was I not able to see that she was in an insecure position, that maybe something was scaring her, and de-escalate the interaction? Fear. Fear blots out curiosity. If curiosity is love then fear is the mortal enemy of love because fear blots out curiosity. I could not empathize with her insecurity and her fear because I have worked so hard to disown my own. As much as I have lately tried to accept him, I still shrink from my "scared inner child," as Gerlach explains. Per Brené Brown, to "do" empathy, one has to connect with a particular emotion in oneself. One of Gerlach's wounds shows itself again: I have difficulty connecting with fear because I am ashamed of it. I have a guardian persona or personas who work hard at keeping that frightened child within me placated, pacified, and out of my consciousness. Why am I so slow? "Fear is not the end of this," as the song lyric proclaims. Damn it though, it has been, hasn't it?