“Woman Speak” for Men

Recently, I listened to a video for men about how women communicate and what to do/say in response. Worth consideration.

  1. When she stares at your mouth…kiss her.

 

  1. When she hits you or pushes you or acts like she’s stronger than you….grab her and don’t let her go.*

 

  1. If she starts cussing out a storm at you and tries to be all “big and bad” with you…kiss her and tell her that you love her.*

 

  1. When she’s quiet…ask her what’s wrong

 

  1. If she ignores you…give her attention.

 

  1. If she pulls away…pull her back. *

 

  1. If you see her at her worst…tell her that she’s beautiful.

 

  1. When you see her crying…hold her and don’t say a word.

 

  1. If you see her walking around, sneak up behind her and hug her waist.

 

  1. When you see her get scared…protect her, let her know that she’s safe whenever she’s with you.

 

  1. If she steals your favorite hoodie…let her keep it.

 

  1. If she doesn’t answer you for a while…reassure her that everything’s ok.

 

  1. If she tells you a secret…keep it safe and untold.

 

  1. If she looks into your eyes…look back into hers and don’t look away until she does.

 

  1. When she says “I love you”…say “I love you” back.

 

* I’d advise caution in these situations, unless you really know your woman.

I Don’t Know What is the Truth and What is Fake

When I was a little boy, we watched the CBS Evening News. The anchor would sign off, “…and that’s the way it is, (the day and date). This is Walter Cronkite. Good Night.” And I just knew what he said was the truth. Back then, there were only 3 television networks and I thought they all said basically the same thing so he and the other anchors were telling us the same thing….the truth about the world.

Now, there are multiple networks and social media outlets.  We are bombarded everyday by multiple opinions, some diametrically opposing each other and some skewing what they report to support their view of the world. To make things worse, we just had a president that suggested for 4 years much of the news was fake. So, how do you know now what is real and what is fake?

A few thoughts…

First and foremost, YOU decide what is real and what is fake.

Think about this…you/everyone has their own opinions and they are based on personal experience. This is a filter that we run all new information through when deciding what is true. When we hear something that seems to fit what we know, we consider it the truth. When we hear something that doesn’t fit, we consider it fake. Our perspectives are also shaped by family, friends and co-workers and our past history of opinions. Occasionally, we change our perspectives when we are presented with overwhelming evidence to the contrary of our established views but ultimately, you decide.

This is uncomfortable admitting for a variety of reasons:

We all have a “back-stage” view of ourselves and know, too well, how often we are wrong. We don’t see other people in our lives like that, at least those we respect.

We have been taught there is “rights” and “wrongs” in the world. We were taught this when we were young and the examples given us were clear and extreme (stealing is wrong and being kind is right). So these truths/perspectives are permanent. Stealing, lying, murder is always wrong; telling the truth and being polite is always right. Later, we realize there are times when the rightness/wrongness is not so clear. But by then the permanent right/wrongs are deeply rooted.

We were taught right/wrong by “authorities”…. your parents, your teachers, ministers/priests, etc. And we were taught such, in the later case, on behalf of God, the ultimate judge of what is right and wrong. They outranked us then and we tend to project this on the people we hear news from now. Presentation (how the person presents themselves with reporting) also influences this.

We never know the whole story of anything we see or hear. This is a reality of life and it applies as much to the little things (i.e., couple sitting in my office recounting what each did/said during a fight the night before), as to the big things (i.e., events unfolding on the other side of the world). And yet we make judgments and act on them.

We increasingly want and expect immediate answers to questions. Our ever evolving technology enables this and our need to feel “in control” of our lives demand this.

Finally, sometimes it seems that what I can do seems wholly inadequate to make the changes needed (….but history is replete with examples that that is not always the case).

More later…..

Missing My Identities beyond Motherhood

In the February 1, 2021 edition of TIME, there is an essay, “Missing My Identities beyond Motherhood”, by Lynn Steger Strong.  It is a short glimpse by the author of how the pandemic has affected her sense of who she is – her identity.  As I read it, I couldn’t help but think, yeah, that fits.  That makes sense.  I’ve noticed that.  I’ve begun doing that (in ways).  I felt more connected (with others) in my disconnect with myself (my former identity).  Check it out below….

I went on a walk with a friend not too long ago.  He’d come to meet me during a three-hour break I had while my kids did “sports” with a couple of other kids in the park.  When he got there, I was still watching the kids play, and they ran over, asking where I was going.  They’re 8 and 6, but after months of lockdown and remote schooling, and as all my jobs have gone online, they’re no longer used to being separate from one another-and they clung to me, wanting to know how long I’d be gone.

On the walk, I kept dipping back into mentions of my children:  we were talking about a book, and this somehow switched to a sad thing my 6-year-old had said about first grade.  We were talking about teaching on Zoom, and I began comparing it to online third grade.

When I teach, I sometimes tell small anecdotes to relate what we’ve been reading to more concrete occurrences:  a conversation overheard on the subway, an interaction or observation I had or made getting my coffee on the way.  None of these experiences exist for me any longer; instead, when I reach for some moment to convey to my students, I more often than not come up with something about my kids, comparing existentialism to my daughter’s struggle with the seam in her sock, relating a novel’s frantic narrator to a tantrum.

I have a sense memory of feeling that I used to have every weekday morning.  At our kids’ school, the pre-K and kindergarten classrooms were in a basement; I would extricate our younger daughter from my leg, hand her off to her teachers, and then climb up the stairs and out the door into the day.  The way my body felt then:  I was often going to teach, going running, meeting a student.  Sometimes I would see a friend.  I was moving through the world as something other than a mother, even, of course, as my children were somewhere in my brain.

And yet it feels right now that that way of being in one’s body, separate from one’s children, able to pretend at least a little while that we are more than just their mothers, has largely disappeared.  There is not full-time in-person school for many of us, but also, there are not dinners out with friends or with our partners.  There are not commutes, sitting on the bus, in the car, silent, not quite Mom but also not quite the person you are when you get to work.

One weekend morning, I left our apartment early and ran over to a friend’s house.  He put his mask on.  We walked around his neighborhood.  About an hour in, I started to get anxious.  I hadn’t been that far from my kids in months.  “I feel like a nursing mother again,” I said, “the way my body gets confused when I am far from them.”

Physical space gives us more than a shift in location; it also, often, fives us the opportunity to shift the way and what of who we are.  With so many fewer spaces accessible to us, we’ve also lost hold of parts of ourselves that depend on them for ways of being, for ways of breathing, for feeling at least a little removed from the obligations that we always have.  I am never not my children’s mother when I am in my home – looking around to see if there’s laundry that needs folding, looking ahead to the next meal.  I am never not worried about their schooling now that their physical school has been taken from them.  I can still hear the questions they ask their teachers.  I remember suddenly that they need a Flair pen and run out to hand it to them, even as I try to talk to a student, teach a class in the next room.

We’ve lost a lot in the past year.  So much of it concrete and quantifiable.  But we’ve also lost all those spaces that function as release valve, as opportunities for being something other than the person we are in our domestic spaces, even as we continue to pretend, as we continue have to perform as if we’re still those other people too.

 

 

Zakiah and Negative Self-Talk

Disclaimers: 1. I am not a Christian Counselor and my comments about the New Testament character, Zakiah, is not meant as a biblical lesson. 2. My comments are based on my recollection of the story of Zakiah learned as a child, not recent biblical research or the views of any biblical scholar.

A woman was recounting to me a situation in which she received feedback from her supervisor on a project she felt she had completely poorly. The supervisor was very pleased with her work. She was flabbergasted….completely surprised. She kept describing the contrasts between what she was saying to herself about her work and what her boss was saying.

As she spoke, the story of Zakiah came to mind. As I recall, Zakiah was a short man and the village people where standing along the road that Jesus was expected to walk. Not being able to see, Zakiah decided to climb a tree. Zakiah knew this was a bad idea.  He would be ridiculed by those around him for climbing the tree but he wanted to see Jesus. Zakiah climbs the tree and watches as Jesus walks by. Suddenly, Jesus stops and looks up into the tree. He tells Zakiah to come down, go home and prepare dinner as he, Jesus, will eat at his house that evening. Zakiah jumps down from the tree and runs home to prepare dinner. Later that evening, so excited by his quest, Zakiah announces to Jesus that he will make good on any accounts he has that he has cheated on.

My focus is that Zakiah was talking poorly to himself about his idea of climbing the tree…but the end result was that Jesus chose Zakiah to dine with and…Zakiah, so inspired by his guest, resolved to make other changes in how he was living that, no doubt, further added to his (Zakiah’s) self esteem.

I see the same with the woman I was talking with. She was convinced of her poor work….was beating herself up with negative self-talk. Meanwhile, her boss loved her work. How often do we do this? How often (and how long) do we berate ourselves for our work when we later find we were doing great work? How much courage it takes to believe in ourselves and withhold judgment until all is said and done?

A lot!

Have courage. More later….

A Woman Alone at 60

“If I leave him, I will be sad. If I stay with him, I will be sad…..It is like I am meant to be sad….no matter what I do…..”

She is 60, divorced twice and her current boyfriend insists on paying his ex-wife’s bills. They have not had sex in months and he doesn’t initiate any intimacy. She has tried to initiate closeness, tried to talk with him about the distance between them, his relationship with his ex-wife, their future. He doesn’t listen, walks away or gets mad.

She made a promise to herself she would stay with him for the next 6 months to save up to get her own place and move out. We were discussing her life and what the future holds when she commented (above).

This is a classic and heart-wrenching situation.

I empathized with her…..but told her that her conclusion was wrong.

While yes, currently, she is or will be sad if she stays or goes. But will she stay sad? That will be up to her and her choices.

I asked her what singles do when they retire….she struggled. “GRANDKIDS!” I practically yelled (She has 2 grandkids she lamented not spending enough time with.). She looked at me. “…or travel (yes, by yourself or find a girlfriend you can stand), or volunteer, or take up watercolors or read and join a book club or buy a motorcycle!” We both laughed.

“This is not what I expected my life would be when I was 60.”

“Me neither… I am a ‘good little Catholic boy’ who got divorced, with a motorcycle, 9 tattoos and 17 Norfolk Pine trees in my house and office, 7 of which are 5 ft or higher.  Have a 59 years old girlfriend…that I describe her as a “younger women” since I am 60. I have a 16 lb dog that thinks he weighs 106 lbs, is constantly getting in my spot in bed when I get up to pee at night and who sits on my back porch and looks in at me making me feel guilty for not taking him for a walk! I didn’t plan on any of that and I deeply appreciate and love those parts of my life all of which occurred since I turned 48. Since when did anything in your life turn out the way you thought it would be like?”

A Mother and a Teenage Son

A few days ago, I had the opportunity to sit and talk with a mother of an 18 yr old son. He had been remiss on his responsibilities around the house and she spoke to him.

She pointed out to him that if he had the time and energy to go to his girlfriend’s house and hang out with his friends, he had the time to empty the dishwasher, bring his clothes down for her to wash, take out the trash and pick up his room. She told him he had until the end of the week to do his chores (He was already about 3 days past the expected time for him to have done such.).

I asked her about her decision to give him a few days to do his chores. She, an educator, explained that when confronted, she’d always had good luck with giving her students a few days to get past work done.

We discussed how her husband would have addressed the situation. She suggested he would have confronted the boy using much the same verbiage but would have insisted he, the son, do the work then….that minute, and not give him a few days to do it on his own. She also suggested that her husband’s manner in such affairs lead, in her opinion, to there being tension between the father and son.

While I praised that calmness with which she addressed the son and utilized a technique that has worked for her in the past with students, I also advocated her using her husband’s method…namely, to insist that the boy do his chores…NOW!

My reasoning: All young men need to experience their mother or some older woman authority figure, when and where appropriate (as in this case), insisting he stop what he is doing and do as he is told by her.

Why? As a result of their developing bodies (hormones and physical strength), young men can come to look down on or disregard that opinions of women, especially their mother’s. This is not pathological! This “test of strength” is and has already been going on with his father and other men of authority. This is normal/natural. It is how men come to understand where they “fit in” or stand with other men. This process also needs to happen with the women in the boy’s life.

Why? Because at some point, he will have a female boss/authority figure in his life and he will need to understand that he must concede to and obey her to…keep his job and fit in to society as a whole.

Further and more importantly, at some point, a female (who is not older than he and who doesn’t have more authority over him) is going to tell him “No.” and he will be faced with making a decision….to obey her or overpower her.

So, mom, the next time he “forgets” or puts off his chores, don’t be scared to insist that he stop everything and do NOW what he has failed to do. Do this with a calm voice, no attitude and with firmness of resolve.

More later….

PS….Yes, my mother did do this with me….and I have turned out fine and I still respect her for it.

 

The Sadder but Wiser Girl for Me

I recently sat with a woman who had decided to terminate a 3 year plus relationship with a man who she’d thought would be the man of her dreams.

She grew up the daughter of a factory worker and although she saw her father as a wise and caring man, she dreamed of marrying a man who worked in an office building; one who wore ties to work or a suit, who could afford perhaps a occasional extravagant vacation, who would bring her flowers, ask her about her day, dance with her and set them up well in retirement.

Her first love was a boy she met in high school. While he had “clout” in the school hallways, he did not have such. He got a job in a factory, began to drink and would call her names.  She was frightened and confused but she stayed with him…..for 7 years. She left him after he beat her.

Her second husband was a business man who treated her well…. in public. He felt contempt otherwise.  He was so good-looking and looked well as a husband….why couldn’t he just love her all the time, not just with friends or at parties? They decided, after a few years of sleeping apart, to divorce.

Her third partner was gay. He lavished her with love….. as a sister or close girlfriend. But by then, she was just happy he didn’t hit her, yell at her, call her names. And if he didn’t want to have sex…. well ok. It was not what she dreamed of but it was better than before. She wondered about (but didn’t question) his sexuality. He left her for another man.

Her current relationship began like a “fairytale”. He was a businessman, attentive, giving; she was excited, happy. After a short courtship, she gave up all she had created living alone for 5 years to move in with him. Three months later, she began noticing money missing from their checking account, his habit of stepping outside to take phone calls, texts late at night or early in the morning and the constant presence of his ex-wife on the periphery of their relationship. When confronted, he’d fain ignorance, followed by admissions of contacts with and money given to his ex-wife, apologies and promises to stop…followed by more of the same.

So, she called and scheduled an appointment. She told me about her life and her decision to leave her businessman. She cried and told me she had wasted her life.

As she talked, I thought of a song, “The Sadder but Wised Girl for Me” from the 1960’s musical, Music Man, starring Julie Andrews and Robert Preston. In the film, Mr. Preston sings a song about wanting not a young and beautiful woman to marry but rather the girl that has lived life a little and experienced some of its harshness in life and love. His theory was that the young and beautiful woman would be very manipulative to get what she wants. The other woman however, would be more realistic and thereby more appreciative of his efforts. They, in turn, would both be happy.

I told her about “the sadder but wiser girl”. I further affirmed her decision (influenced by her father’s life and her own want for a better life) to marry “up”.  I challenged her to recognize that her previous decisions (to be with the men she had been with) were her best efforts at the time to create her hoped for life. I also challenged her to evaluate if living alone would not be better than the lives she had been living.

I encouraged her to grieve that loss of her dream and give honor to her father I further encouraged her to praise the dream her younger self (to marry an attentive business man and provided her a modest amount of the better things in life) and yet to tell this younger woman that she would, from hence forth, be in charge of her life dreams and would be remaking the dream she would live and strive for.

Ironically, at the end of the session, she told me of an old friend, a man, factory worker, who lives in a nearby town and who has, for years, periodically called her, asking how she was and if she would like to go for coffee.

More later…..

 

 

“Don’t Touch the Stove!”

Do you remember being told that as a child, “Don’t touch the stove, you will get burned!”? I remember that. And, by the way, I did touch the stove as a child….tried to pick up the bright orangish-red grill….and burned the crap out of my hand!!!!

Anyway, the focus of this blog is the importance to learning to let go of childhood teachings like, “Don’t touch the stove!”, and replacing them with more relevant principles to live by.

I spend a lot of time in my office working with people who are successful in many areas of their lives but get tripped up by old childhood teachings. “Don’t touch the stove” is only one example of such. Others include:

“Good girls don’t”,

He should call her….ask her out for a date….and pay,

Masturbation is bad,

Saying “No” (especially if you are female),

Not always wanting sex or wanting to cuddle (if you are male),

Boys don’t cry,

Good parents never yell at their kids and

God will be angry with you if you divorce.

The best way to identify your childhood rules is to “follow your shame”. When we are children and are told important rules, most of us take these rules in at a very deep level. So deep that when we break them, we not only feel guilty, we feel ashamed. We feel not only was it bad that we broke the rule but that we are bad.

Just as you know, now, that you can touch the stove, it is important to look around in your life and identify other rules about which you still feel guilty and ashamed.

The link below is to a radio show on NPR, The Moth Radio Hour. This is a show during which participants tell stories about significant events in their lives. During the December 1st episode, entitled “Pizza, Polar Bears and Rock Stars”, a participant, Moshe Schulman recounts the very first time he (a devout Jewish young boy) ate sausage pizza (Pork is prohibited in the Jewish faith.). His description and the emotion in the story took me back to many rules I have worked to let go of (and some I still struggle with!). Worth a listen

 

https://themoth.org/stories/then-you-will-know

 

Family Picture

I recently talked with a gentleman that commented that he was having a family picture taken soon with his wife and 2 sons. He commented on how much of a sham eh thought the picture would be in light of the struggles he had been having with his wife. In truth, he was struggling with his wife but it was nothing I would consider extreme or relationship-threatening. The issues were important but resolvable.

Anyway, I got to thinking about his comment about the picture being a sham….the ideal picture of the happy family and everyone smiling….and him knowing the reality…namely that recently, she and he had had some big fights.

After considerable thought, I realized some things:

  1. With all (family) pictures, there is the reality of the picture and what is behind the picture. There is the wonderful closeness, for example, of a couple or family all together and happy (when we are at our best) and the un-photographed moments of the angry looks, accusations, actions (when we are at our worst). This is life.

 

  1. With that having been said, there is the factor of degree to be considered. The more extreme the ugliness that occurs between the people in the photo, the more unreal or fake the happiness is presented in the picture. And, likewise, the less extreme the ugliness is, the more genuine the happiness is in the smiles of those in the picture.

 

  1. Be aware, if the ugliness behind the picture is extreme and the couple stay together, then, yes, the picture is a sham of what it represents….that of a happy family.

 

  1. Further, if the people are really not happy together (if the picture is a sham), then it, the picture, can be an unhappy motivator for one or both people of the couple to do something to change things in the relationship; either get into therapy or divorce, etc.

 

  1. Finally, our society looks upon a family picture as an iconic or status symbol in achieving happiness and success in personal maturity, marriage and living life in general. This can have a detrimental effect if there is extreme struggle present in the relationship and/or the couple needing therapeutic assistance. Simply, because the couple looks so good in the picture, they don’t want to acknowledge the reality that they are in fact unhappy together and need help.

 

Things to ponder.

More later….

Why Breaking Up is Hard to Do

I am working with a young woman, 33, beautiful, industrious, business-owner, intelligent….but struggling to break up with a boyfriend.

If allowed, she would spend A LOT of time talking about how thoughtful he can be, how giving he is, etc. Only when pushed however will she talk about how unstable she feels when around him, how unpredictable he is, how he can turn on her and yell at her for 30 minutes straight AND THEN apologize, telling her most of what he just said about her was “not fair”.

They have been together 3 years. They became intimate shortly after they began dating and he moved in within a few months thereafter given his lease ran out (He thought it was foolish for them to both pay rent especially if they were always going to be together as they had been up to that point.  She thought that made sense.). Their relationship was characterized, almost immediately, with fights and arguments followed by intense love making and intimacy. Gradually, he began to leave her and live with friends for weeks/gradually months. They broke up many times….only to start talking after a few weeks and his eventual move back in.

She wants to break up with him…knows she needs to.

She reports a history of dating men similar to her current relationship – frequent fights followed by passionate sex.

I picked her to discuss because her struggle with breaking up demonstrates how important one’s thinking plays in the process of making important decisions.

Based on the way the brain is structured, we are capable of thinking cognitively or emotionally. Cognitive (logical or rational) thinking is located in the Cerebral Cortex, the outer shell of the brain. Emotional thinking originates from the Limbic System, especially the Amygdala, located deep inside the brain.

Typically, we will use a mix of both types of thinking and the type of thinking used is selected automatically based on how we interpret our environment, but we do have the ability to switch from one type of thinking to the other.

Now, let’s look at the situation this young woman is facing and her thinking. She is trying to think through her situation with her emotional brain:

  1. She likes to focus on being “in love” with him…how wonderful it is to make love with him, how he is when he is thoughtful, caring, giving, etc. She is ignoring a larger picture…that he is also unpredictable, hurtful, mean, etc.; realizations that come from thinking logically through the situation.

 

  1. “If I break up with him, will another man like him (passionate, kind, thoughtful) ever come along.” emotional thinking. And she thinks this despite her long history of picking out guys exactly like him.

 

  1. “It feels so right”. This is emotional thinking again and FYI, the logic of affairs; “…it feels so right (when I am with my lover), it can’t be wrong”!

 

  1. “If I break up with him, I will never find another man.”…ignoring the fact that she has a lot of offer someone else and the fact that she has had a long string of boyfriend thus far!

 

  1. “It would all be ok if he just wouldn’t get so mad”….but he does, repeatedly, historically!

 

More later.