Listening – an act of love

Is listening an act of love?

That was the question posed in The Daily Q, a site I use occasionally for writing prompts. Listening has been on my mind over the last week or so after having some wonderful conversations with a friend. In my listening, I gave him a safe space to ‘be heard’–which means that I listened, without judgment, without injecting my own thoughts or interrupting him. I listened.

Sometimes it’s the simple stuff that we want to share with someone but can’t. Or don’t. We think no one whats to hear our stories, or we can’t find that right moment in which to share. The conversation, on a rare sunny morning on my patio, was simple. Childhood memories, an older sister who teased and taunted. Little stuff that allowed me to see a side of someone I hadn’t previously experienced.

Listening is an act of love and a gift we give both to the person speaking and to ourselves. If we listen out of love then we automatically become receptive to whatever the other person needs to share. And often that sharing becomes a gift to us if we understand we’ve been entrusted with something precious. It requires trust and comfort. Will I be heard? Will they laugh or ignore what I have to share? Will they interrupt and try to fix it? Find a solution, diminish the weight of my feelings?

Yesterday as I walked into the gym I saw a woman, I presume the mother, sitting cross-legged with her infant nestled in her crossed legs. The infant was old enough to hold a bottle and was feeding his/herself. She was looking at her smart phone. That image stayed with me. There was connection, skin contact, but she was passing up a moment of tenderness–in my opinion. I can’t really judge as I’m pretty attached to my ‘devices’.

I worry about what all this technology is doing to our ability to listen. Our ability, or willingness, to really be present to those around us. Head down, focused on a small screen we miss the larger world. We miss out on the moment of connection–the eye contact of a baby. The look on a face that says as much as the words do. No amount of texting can take the place of a voice–whether it’s on the phone or those precious times when we are with the people we care about.

I text with my granddaughters sometimes and we occasionally do Facetime. Those are ways we stay in touch when I can’t get in the car to drive the three hours for a real visit. Those are the times when our devices come in handy. I currently have 2 iPads, an iPhone and a laptop–I’m not bashing technology. I am bemoaning the lost opportunities for meaningful contact where we can be in someone’s presence and share life experiences.

How are your listening skills? When was the last time you tuned out all of life’s distractions and really listened to what someone had to say? No phones, no thinking about what you need to do next. No thoughts about what the person is saying–just two people. One opening up and the other receiving. It’s a gift. Listening is an act of love. And when it’s gone you can’t really get it back.

You might enjoy this article I wrote a while back about Listening Skills: A Tool for Relationships.

It’s May, let’s talk about masturbation

National Masturbation Month, self-pleasuring, sexual health, talk about masturbationIf we want to talk about masturbation, or self-pleasuring we can look at it from a variety of angles. For women and men, there are good reasons to follow that old “use it or lose it” adage. And since May is National Masturbation Month I thought I’d share the various articles I’ve written on the topic.

Enhance your pleasure talks about various reasons to engage in this delightful self-practice.

Male sexual health and masturbation is an article I wrote in my His Turn series. We tend to think that male masturbation is this quick and dirty practice just to relieve pressure. Why not explore the benefits of taking one’s time–the same principles that I talk about for women have value for men.

Early on when I started this May ritual I wrote a light-hearted little piece about the origins of May Day celebrations, with some links to other sites. The Merry Month if May-National Masturbation Month.

And, finally, The Case for Self-Pleasuring–a more personal spin on the topic.

The month has just begun–I’ll be back with more thoughts on the subject of why we talk about masturbation.

 

 

Q&A: Why Women Censor Their Voices in Relationships

relationships, woman's voice, speaking our truth, Today’s Q&A looks at why women censor their voices in relationships–with men. I do think that underneath Candy’s question is the deeper one of gender, and the ways we “show up” for the people in our lives.

Dear Walker,

I was texting with a lover last night–he was sharing sweet memories (I’m trying to break up with him) and I made a few jokingly critical comments about how he always tries to use sweet talk to coax me back. He got upset and felt I was treating him unfairly. I apologized, but he didn’t reply. A few hours later I sent him an apology email. I basically told him what a great guy he was and apologized for my being too harsh. When I woke up the next morning I realized that I meant what I had said in my text and that there was no reason to really apologize so I sent another email withdrawing my apology. He retorted by saying I was obviously bitter and unhappy! Why do I have such a hard time speaking what I feel when I’m with men, or maybe it’s just this one? I’m in my early 50’s and have been seeing this guy for a while.

Candy

 

Candy,

Oh my. So you decided to drop the “nice girl” act and speak what was true for you? Is that it? And he couldn’t handle it, right?

Isn’t it strange that the first thing we, women, do is rush to make peace. Women have been raised to be the peace keepers, to be the nice ones. We smooth out arguments if we have kids and they’re squabbling. We rush to take care of others. And we often put our own needs last. I think what you’re discovering here is some need you have to make him happy. Or to make him want you? It feels unsettling when someone is upset with us. If he’s unhappy or angry that’s his stuff. That is how he’s chosen to react rather than try to understand what led you to express those kind of feelings.

As I shared in my last article, I used to worry about my being lovable enough. I was made to understand that being too direct with boys wasn’t a good thing–so I learned to squash those thoughts and words down. I learned to silence myself. It sounds like you did something similar when you decided to apology for sharing your thoughts and making him feel uncomfortable. And, by the way, you didn’t make him feel uncomfortable–he did that to himself.

And here’s the thing. 

The people who truly love us have to be able to deal with our ups and downs. Our quiet moments, our ecstasy, or sadness, our discomfort with things. Our frustration.  It’s not going to be easy all the time. But we have to embrace our light and our dark sides. Real relationships are not all sparkles and rainbows. It is unrealistic to try in live in that bubble of “happily ever after”.  Because shit happens and we have to deal with it.

You get to have the full range of feelings–without apology. You get to feel a little neglected, overworked, not interested in sex, feisty–whatever. Don’t apologize for feeling what you feel.

Denying your feelings and censoring your voice is not the answer to problems within a relationship. Communication is where to start. Examine the situation and try to figure out what bugged you and why? Remember the focus is on communicating, not arguing. This is about owning your feelings and giving your partner the space to do the same.

The most dangerous thing you can do in a relationship is self-censor–particularly if the goal is to keep someone else happy. Because you can’t make them happy. You aren’t responsible for their feelings. And you get to own yours.

What story have you made up about your sexuality?

sexuality, our story, midlife I’m almost finished with my book, Inviting Desire, a unique approach to bringing desire back into your life–at midlife, or at any stage of life. One chapter looks at the stories we make up about our sexuality–and how these stories keep us from showing up the way we want to be. We all have those old stories that keep us from embracing our sexual self. The first step to rewriting those stories is to uncover them.

I’m thinking about stories, mine and others, and examining how they impact our sexuality (and other parts of our lives) as I get closer to publication time. This article, What’s Your Sexual Story? How Can You Change It?, first appeared at Midlife Boulevard.

 

The art of storytelling is a valuable tool, until it gets in our way. There are the public stories and there are the stories we’ve made up about ourselves. Those personal stories may be good, affirming, and goal-directed. But most of the time, the stories serve to keep us from living our best lives.

What story have you made up about your sex life? About your sexual desire? Your sexuality?

We live in a society with few positive messages about aging or sexuality. Many women find themselves stuck in these distorted and unhealthy perceptions about female sexuality:

  • Menopause leaves you dried up and uninterested in sex.
  • Sex is for the ‘young’.
  • My marriage failed so I must be bad at relationships.
  • Women aren’t supposed to want sex.
  • Men initiate sex.
  • My body is too fat/saggy/ugly, too old—no one would want me.

What is your story? What have you made up? Is it an old story that haunts you or a new one, crafted to make you less uncomfortable with aging?

It can be difficult to look at your sexuality in a neutral, or non-biased way. We don’t talk enough about healthy sexuality–at any age—to provide older women with inspiration, support, or resources for how to embrace their sexuality. This is the reason I began to focus my writing and public speaking on midlife and older women. I saw women who didn’t have the language to talk about what they wanted. Women who were shutting down out of fear. Women who didn’t know how to tap into their sexual desire. Women living their old stories of shame and fear about sex, self-image, relationships, self-esteem.

Take the horror stories about menopause. The public message that menopause is this awful thing to be medicated and endured, with hand-wringing and dread, causes many women to adopt a fearful attitude before they’ve even entered menopause. There are women who suffer from this natural change of life—but not the majority of women. Nor does menopause mean that sexual intimacy comes to a screeching halt. But if you’ve made up this story about how things will be as you go through menopause and aging…

How can you change your story?

Here’s what I did. I journal every morning and it was there that I began to uncover the threads of my story and create a little distance from the stuff of my childhood that was in my mother’s voice. That was the first step. I discovered the origin of my story and realized I had absorbed those messages over time. The childhood message that I was unlovable and not attractive enough to find or keep a man had taken on new meaning post-divorce, finding myself peri-menopausal, and single.

When we figure out our story we can acknowledge it, label it, and find compassion for ourselves. We can unravel the story—look at how we embellish and feed those negative messages. And then we create new stories for ourselves.

The work of rewriting our stories happens every day. It’s not simple, but the first step is awareness. The next step is to choose—to let go, to embrace the temporary void, and begin to create a new story for the next phase of our lives.