I've been thinking about sex lately ... it is summer, haven't we all? Every summer, I'm reminded by some boobs on the subway about the lonely Regina Spektor song "Summer in the City." "Summer in the city means cleavage cleavage cleavage..." The song starts out on this seemingly loin-stirring note, and then, in true Regina fashion, goes off in a completely different direction.
I’m sitting on the subway across from a zoftig woman (girl?) in a teeny red satin bra under a transparent lace collard shirt, daisy dukes barely stretch over her thighs, her feet combat-booted, a single gold leaf earring wrapped along her right ear. Her eyes are masked with sunglasses. Maybe she’s going for a Madonna look but somehow that gets lost. Her boobs overflow from her bra and I can feel them staring at me. In the back of my mind I can only think how much her back must hurt cuz her bra totally doesn’t fit right...
Summer in the city means cleavage cleavage cleavage
And I start to miss you, baby, sometimes
I've been staying up and drinking in a late night establishment
Telling strangers personal things
Summer in the city I'm so lonely lonely lonely
- "Summer in the City," Regina Spektor
For the past few summers, I suppose probably as I grow up a bit, I've begun to realize how alienating and isolating overt sexuality can be. In American culture, fashion, and media, sexuality is used as a means for characters, celebrities and personalities to get attention. We say “flaunt what your mama gave ya!” as women and girls don body-contouring dresses, crop-tops and push-up bras, and men and boys learn the art of sounding like smooth, seasoned pick-up machines. Don't get me wrong - I love sex, bodies and boobs like I think most humans are hard-wired to, but recently a new idea is bubbling to the surface. What's it all for? Does it really bring us closer to each other or ourselves?
For the past few ... years, I've been dating on OkCupid, which has been a learning experience to say the least, while I've been working on a Masters degree in Acupuncture. On OkCupid I've written and re-written my profile to try to attract the "right" kind of attention AND express who I am. Expressing who I am without divulging more than is safe, appropriate or useful has been difficult and interesting, but sometimes degrading. Simultaneously, in acupuncture grad school, focus has been continually put on boundaries, rules, and tips for engagement with our patients. It's no easy feat to make someone comfortable with you sticking needles in their body in the first place, but once you do, apparently, you run the risk of them falling in love with you for being a compassionate health care practitioner -phew! a hard line to tread.
Now that I'm graduating I'm realizing that the practitioner me and the dating me, which I've been thinking of as separate, have to have a conversation. Boundaries don't just belong in the treatment room or at work - they also need to be front and center in my relationships and in how I represent myself every day.
In New York City, where I live and work, it's hard to connect with people. There are so many of us that we just can't always smile and greet everyone we pass on the street, in coffee shops, etc. Even with the people we see every day, sometimes it's just emotionally overwhelming. In the city we raise and lower our shields throughout the day, continuously filtering what's going on around us - connecting when it's appropriate, ignoring what's extra, and avoiding the irritating or dangerous. So how do we connect? We get out there and join interest groups, online dating sites and go to bars for the most part, right? But THEN how do we connect?
I guess my problem is, I'm not sure that we do connect, not with the people we really want to love or to be loved by. At least that's been my experience, and that of many of my friends. In Harris O'Malley's, or Dr. NerdLove, article How to Find the Girl of your Dreams he starts from the principle that we don't actually know what we want in a partner or out of a relationship - this is where sexuality comes in. I think that because of our cultural obsession with overt and shiny sexuality we get totally lost in the idea that we want sex and passion when really we want connection and understanding. It's not our fault though - it's just hard to know the difference. Harris suggests writing down (by hand) what you really want in a partner and relationship.
Wanting to be seen and touched isn't just a human need; it's an animal need too. Most humans also realize that there is a spiritual side to that need to be seen. It lights up your day when you connect. Connections as simple as someone complimenting you, recognizing your good idea or giving you a real and earnest appreciative look can fuel your confidence in all aspects of your life. That energy -connecting- is important to have in an intimate relationship. More than a hot babe, a good connection can change your life. The great thing about these types of fire-lighting interactions, is that they can be before and even outside of any sexual relationship or activity. They are simply powerful in their own right.
For example, I’ve taken to touching people on the subway. Not in a creepy, molesty kind of way! Touch is just the easiest way for me to alert people that I need to get through when they're blocking me from exiting the train. It is intimacy but it also has force. It says “I am here, please move” and the human contact alone - rather than yelling or my stifled whisper - is a “thank you” all on its own. People, engrossed in whatever’s on their iPod, Kindle or list of errands, look up surprised, blushing, bashful - when I touch them, - never angry or scared.
Last week I read Why Being Right is Wrong: How to Keep Individualism from Collapsing Your Relationships, by Mark Greene. In it Mark paints a very thorough and accessible picture of a phenomena that I learned about in acupuncture school - the field dynamic of relationships: “As we attempt to parse our experiences based exclusively on what lies within ourselves and others, we fail to focus on the third party in this dance. The relationship itself.”
The theme of isolating sexuality is tied into our cultural ideals about the bold merits of asserting individuality and personal power at all costs. Sexuality is a quick and easy way to take control of any situation. We are taught by our celebrity PR kings and queens that relationships are a result of who each of the members are as individuals. Individuality and assertiveness are a necessity if you are going to wend your way through a city that fluctuates between 8-11 million people every day. They are not, however, the best way to connect.
In keenly curated outfits, many members of my generation who flock to NYC find solace in acutely judging those around them. It pisses me off that we try to look so darn cool and we sometimes sound really intelligent and well informed but it’s all for naught. When we just know that we are right (trust me, I speak from experience; I’m an adopted only child and I feel that way A LOT -“Why can’t we all just do what I think is best?!”), we run the risk of ignoring the point of having relationships all together - the connection.
When we really take the time to see what’s created when we interact, we see our relationships. Similar to how on Facebook if you go back and “see your friendship” with someone and all your pictures, posts and common events come up - there are living relationships between us and all of the individuals we interact with every day. We choose how much to put into each relationship - some are acquaintances or coworkers, others are lovers, friends and family.
The confusing thing is that these relationships need tending. They are living things that have history, moods and colors that are separate from who you and the other person involved are in the present. The great thing is that relationships don’t have to be fixed. Even if your are rocking a solid New York persona, your relationships can remain flexible and mutable.
In his article Mark Greene describes the fallacy we all fall into:
Picture your spouse, partner or parent. Now picture yourself standing facing them. Is this how to envision the relationship? Two people facing each other? Is the relationship somehow embedded in each of you equally?
He says of his own experience, “I have always feared the implications of this model. Because I know how many deep seated challenges exist in me as an individual...And there is where it all changed for me.” - Me too!!
I’ve always feared the implications of people being able to judge me as harshly, ruthlessly and condescendingly as I judge myself! So, I’ve almost always been the friend who is able to remain calm, proactive, and composed under pressure. What that’s meant for my perspective of myself is that I’ve decided to become a stoic pond that appears appears shiny and deep but never stirs. That placid exterior only hides my unrest. Here I sit hoping that my facade - my persona betrays nothing, while I ignore the unyielding reality that my fixed ideals don’t allow for transformation or growth.
So how do you break out of a hardened exterior? Drink, of course, and lots of personal disclosures with strangers! I’m not kidding. Need to lose your inhibitions - a few drinks will help! And, when I make personal disclosures to strangers, I experience much needed connection and If I’m lucky, and I surprise them with my candor, I won’t actually have to be accountable for anything I say out loud. How nourishing (or satisfying over time) is that? Not very :-/
All that is fear. I, like many animals, know that the opposite end of the spectrum, (if we are working with a spectrum at all) from fear, is love. If I don’t want to feel fear anymore, the best antidote, to be perfectly honest, is sex. Close penetrating, physical contact, followed by an endorphin and dopamine cocktail. So... here we are again. What’s shiny, yet appears deep and composed? A sexy, mysterious woman... Or, a meticulously put-together, scared human being, who is displaying her desirable lady lumps to distract from that fact that she has no intention of engaging with you on a real level.
That could be me. Not all the time. Sometimes I’m brave and I get braver everyday. But it’s taken some focused questioning, not letting myself off the hook and a real desire to feel and express myself again. A desire for honest to goodness connection.
In acupuncture school Lorie Dechar, Master Acupuncturist and creator of Alchemical Acupuncture, taught our Boundaries class and I continued a mentorship with her after I graduated. Lorie’s practice method “allows [her] to guide people beyond the thinking mind and through various levels of the psyche without losing touch with their own identity. The wisdom of the body is brought to the level of awareness in the form of conscious insight, and it becomes possible to heal challenging, multi-faceted symptoms that cannot be sharply defined exclusively as either physical or psychological.” - from fivespirits.com
(I hope we can agree that the confusion of connection we are talking about here has many components - from physical to psychological, we’ve named some cultural and spiritual parts too...)
In Lorie’s class we discussed the field dynamics that are created between practitioners and patients; they follow the same lines as those between any two individuals. We all recognize how things can go awry if you ignore the assumptions and expectations that you are putting into your relationship or the personas that you and your partner are using to create and interact in the relationship.
Again, Mark makes it very clear, “Go back to the image of you and your partner, or lover, or parent, facing each other. Now, instead of seeing the relationship as being embedded in you as individuals, see it as floating in the space between the two of you. There, a third element. An independent third element which each of you effect and act on. It is not a function of who you are. It is a function of what actions you choose to take. It is not constructed of some inflexible, deeply personal web of histories and issues that go back to your childhood. It is not some predetermined monolithic structure that requires endless effort to stabilize and manage. It is a light nimble construct. It is mutable day to day.” - Mark Greene hitting the nail on the head, again!
That “nimble construct” Mark talks about above is the field I mentioned in the title. The field is palpable, it is the changing social climate that we live in every day. Whether you are aware of it or not, you’re interacting with that field of connection. What Mark, Lorie, and I agree on is that it is always better to be aware of what’s going on in the field.
In order to figure out what’s really going on out there in the field -the 3rd element- before I interact, reach out or even try to communicate, I have to feel down inside of myself, the moment I am present with you. How do I feel now that you are here? What shape am I taking in order to be with you? Do I hold my breath - trying to be very quiet and not intrude? Do I pull in my stomach in irritation or clench my jaw in anger, do my very loins retract in disgust, does my throat close up or heart begin to race in anxiety or drop to my toes? Are my shoulders rising towards my ears? Am I smiling? Laughing? Breathing freely? Are my feet still touching the ground?
Lorie has taught me to try not to worry about naming my emotions or how I feel. I know that I’m doing OK if I can describe my present physical state to myself in a word, image, phrase, or metaphor. Sometimes I just can’t vocalize my emotions at all and a gesture is all I can muster.
I’ve spent so much of my life not focusing on how I’m actually feeling inside my body. Only focusing on what I think that I want to appear like or what you must be thinking about me. I’ve been engrossed and stifled by my judgements and what my mind thinks is reasonable. I haven’t been ignoring the field - as far as all the way back to my truth or dare days, I’ve been pretty good at picking out who’s sweet on who. I’ve always enjoyed watching people admit to their secret but palpable attractions, blushing, thinking they are disclosing something internal and untouched under duress, when really the field has betrayed their secret all along.
Nevertheless, my practitioner self forces me to ask myself some hard questions...
I’ve taken on the topic of appropriate intimacy and misplaced sexuality and I’m just beginning to have to courage to ask myself to be discerning in the types of connections I make with different people.
Every day, if I am focused on the field I have to ask myself: What types of intimacy are nourishing to me and help me move forward with my life goals? What kinds of intimacy cause me to stagnate, burn out or freeze on my path?
When I meet you in the field, for my own sense of security and clarity I will feel out whether I will able to be civil or acknowledge you at all, and decide how deep I take you into my inner life, and if I take on your concerns as my own. All of these considerations are matters of the heart. The heart is where the energy of the field is most palpable. When I feel my way, the considerations I make are not about me alone, they are about the relationship, the field between us, what can we, should we, might we choose to create?
Everyday my perception gets clearer when I give myself that choice. When I make space for the field. I do my best when I remember to hold my individuality up as a means to connect authentically and honestly through choice. I listen to my heart, mind, and body’s responses to my changing environments. And I dress, not as a means to cover fear or wield power, but to impress on myself and others that I value beauty and love as an end in itself.
I want to end with a poem I wrote in the middle of the night, after I read Yazan’s second response to my post on Philip Zimbardo’s TedTalk, "The Demise of Guys."
My poem is called "Refined Sexuality," and I’m dedicating it to the rude-boobed girl on the subway.
Out there to see
Not a girl / Not yet a woman
Fight / Flight / Freeze!
Cotton Candy School Girl - So sweet!
You, in the leggings and push up bra
Maneater milkshaking your camel-toe tail-feather down the street...
Show me your smile - just the teeth.
Manic Pixie Dream Girl
a Passionate virgin
Perfect little doll
still sterilized in your original box
Don’t call me out
I’m a Woman
Re-finding my sexuality.