In 2006 I met with twenty-two community college students, male and female, to talk about shame. It was my first coed large group interview. At some point, a young man in his early twenties explained how he had recently divorced his wife after coming back from serving in the military and finding out that she was having an affair. He said he wasn’t surprised because he never felt “good enough for her.” He explained that he constantly asked her what she needed and wanted, and that every time he got close to meeting her needs, she “moved the goalpost another ten feet.”
A young woman in the class spoke up and said, “Guys are the same way. They’re never satisfied either. We’re never pretty, sexy, or skinny enough.” Within seconds a conversation broke out about body image and sex. The discussion was mostly about how it’s so scary to have sex with someone you care about when you’re worried about how your body looks. The young women who started the conversation said, “It’s not easy to have sex and keep your stomach sucked in. How can we get into it when we’re worried about our back fat?”
The young man who had shared the story of his divorce slammed his hand down on his desk and shouted, “It’s not about the back fat! You’re worried about it. We’re not. We don’t give a shit!” The class fell completely quiet. He took a couple of deep breaths and said, “Stop making up all of this stuff about what we’re thinking! What we’re really thinking is ‘Do you love me? Do you care about me? Do you want me? Am I important to you? Am I good enough?’ That’s what we’re thinking. When it comes to sex, it feels like our life is on the line, and you’re worried about that crap?”
At that point, half of the young men in the room were so emotional that they had their faces in their hands. A few girls were in tears, and I couldn’t breathe. The young woman who had brought up the body image issue said, “I don’t understand. My last boyfriend was always criticizing my body.”
The young vet who had just brought us all to our knees replied, “That’s because he’s an asshole. It’s not because he’s a guy. Some of us are just guys. Give us a break. Please.”
A middle-aged man in the group joined in, staring straight down at his desk. “It’s true. When you want to be with us…in that way…it makes us feel more worthy. We stand a little taller. Believe in ourselves more. I don’t know why, but it’s true. And I’ve been married since I was eighteen. It still feels that way with my wife.”
Daring Greatly, Brené Brown (via rd-thms)
This is so important. Sex is not just sex for any of us (if we’re emotionally healthy enough to be having it with each other). It matters and it should. It’s about warmth, trust, connection and being important to each other as well as passion, joy, pleasure and letting go. I’ve never been comfortable with the “all men are…” simplistic formulas any more than I’ve seen myself in the “all women are…” cliches. We’re so much more alike than we are different. We all want to feel worthy, desirable and connected with our partners.
The bartender set the drink in front of me. With the lime juice it has a sort of pale greenish yellowish misty look. I tasted it. It was both sweet and sharp at the same time. The woman in black watched me. Then she lifted her own glass towards me. We both drank. Then I knew hers was the same drink.
The next move was routine, so I didn’t make it. I just sat there. “He wasn’t English,” I said after a moment. “l guess maybe he had been there during the war. We used to come in here once in a while, early like now. Before the mob started boiling.”
‘°lt’s a pleasant hour,” she said. “In a bar almost the only pleasant hour.” She emptied her glass. “Perhaps I knew your friend,” she said. “What was his name?”
I didn’t answer her right away. I lit a cigarette and watched her tap the stub of hers out of the jade holder and fit another in its place. I reached across with a lighter. “Lennox,” I said.
She thanked me for the light and gave me a brief searching glance. Then she nodded. “Yes, I knew him very well. Perhaps a little too well.”
The barkeep drifted over and glanced at my glass. “A couple more of the same,” l said. “In a booth.”
I got down off the stool and stood waiting. She might or might not blow me down. I didn’t particularly care. Once in a while in this much too sex-conscious country a man and a woman can meet and talk without dragging bedrooms into it. This could be it, or she could just think I was on the make. If so, the hell with her.
She hesitated, but not for long. She gathered up a pair of black gloves and a black suede bag with a gold frame and clasp and walked across into a corner booth and sat down without a word. I sat down across the small table.
“My name is Marlowe.” Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye