Monday, August 29, 2011

Can you tell if a relationship will last? What makes them fail? What qualities should we seek in a partner?

I came across Marriage researcher Dr. Gottman during my self-help frenzy, when I wanted to understand what went wrong before and how I could tell if it would happen again. He has put together a huge body of research on what makes relationships work or fail and has detailed his findings in over 190 academic papers and 40 books. He is considered one of the leading voices on successful marital relations.

Dr. Gottman has pinpointed a handful of the most corrosive negative behavior patterns found in partnerships and says that the presence of  any of these are so intertwined with high levels of marital dissatisfaction that they each can singularly all but predict the likelihood of divorce.

What are these terrible traits that can wreck even the most solid-seeming union? There are only four. That's all you need to bring the tower of love crashing down. (Actually, you only need ONE of the four, but I digress.) I'm pasting them here from his site (but you should read the whole page of FAQs later if this topic interests you; I pasted the link below):
  1. Criticism: stating one’s complaints as a defect in one’s partner’s personality, i.e., giving the partner negative trait attributions. Example: “You always talk about yourself. You are so selfish.”

  2. Contempt: statements that come from a relative position of superiority. Contempt is the greatest predictor of divorce and must be eliminated. Example: “You’re an idiot.”

  3. Defensiveness: self-protection in the form of righteous indignation or innocent victim-hood. Defensiveness wards off a perceived attack. Example: “It’s not my fault that we’re always late; it’s your fault.”

  4. Stonewalling: emotional withdrawal from interaction. Example: The listener does not give the speaker the usual nonverbal signals that the listener is “tracking” the speaker.
These predict early divorcing – an average of 5.6 years after the wedding. Emotional withdrawal and anger predict later divorcing – an average of 16.2 years after the wedding.

Can physiological data really predict changes in marital satisfaction?

Yes. The more “diffusely physiologically aroused” (in other words, in “fight or flight” mode,) someone is during a conflict conversation, the more his or her marital satisfaction is likely to decline during a period of three years.

If you had to summarize Dr. Gottman’s 35 years of research into two key findings, what would they be? Happily married couples behave like good friends, and they handle their conflicts in gentle, positive ways. Happily married couples are able to repair negative interactions during an argument, and they are able to process negative emotions fully.

--From Dr. Gottman's FAQ page
So I'm thinking heavily about this stuff and also the wisdom detailed in "Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart" by Dr. Gordon Livingston -- an excellent text on how to have an awesome life. I bought it based on the zillion positive reviews because they moved me. The reviews haven't disappointed yet either -- I'm only on the third chapter and already have a lot to digest.

Like, the concept of choosing a good partner. What traits are important? Livingston writes:
What is it exactly that we need to know to decide if someone is a suitable candidate for a lifetime commitment? Perhaps one way to approach this screening process is to learn more about who is evidently not suitable. To make this judgment, one needs to know something about personality.

We are accustomed to thinking about character in the most superficial ways. "He has a lot of personality" is usually a statement about how engaging or entertaining someone is. In fact, the formal definition of personality includes our habitual ways of thinking, feeling, and relating to others. Most of us understand that people differ in certain characteristics such as introversion, fondness for detail, tolerance for boredom, willingness to be helpful, determination, and a host of other personal qualities. What most people fail to realize however, is that the qualities we value -- kindness, tolerance, capacity for commitment -- are not randomly distributed. They tend to exist as constellations of "traits" that are recognizable and reasonably stable over time.

Likewise, those attributes of character that are less desirable -- impulsivity, self-centeredness, quickness to anger -- often cluster in discernible ways. Much of our difficulty in developing and sustaining personal relationships resides in our failure to recognize, in ourselves as well as others, those personality characteristics that make someone a poor candidate for a committed relationship.

The psychiatric profession has taken the trouble to categorize personality disorders. I often think that this section of the diagnostic manual ought to be titled "People to avoid." The many labels contained herein -- histrionic, narcissistic, dependent, borderline, and so on -- form a catalogue of unpleasant persons: suspicious, selfish, unpredictable, exploitative. These are the people your mother warned you about. (Unfortunately, sometimes they are your mother.) They seldom exist in the unalloyed form suggested by the statistical manual, but knowing something about how to recognize them would save a lot of heartbreak.

What would be equally useful, I think, would be a manual of virtual character traits that describes qualities to nurture in ourselves and to seek in our friends and lovers. At the top of the list would be kindness, a willingness to give of oneself to another. This most desirable of virtues governs all the others, including a capacity for empathy and love. Like other forms of art, we may find it hard to define, but when we are in its presence, we feel it.

This is the map we wish to construct in our heads: a reliable guide that allows us to avoid those who are not worthy of our time and trust and to embrace those who are. The best indications that our always-tentative maps are faulty include feelings of sadness, anger, betrayal, surprise and disorientation. It is when these feelings surface that we need to think about our mental instrument of navigation and how to correct it, so that we do not fall into the repetitive patters of those who waste the learning that is the only consolation for our painful experience.

Wow. So I'm just going to let this sit with me for a bit. Those times when I feel disoriented, unhappy, sad or upset? Pay attention. Those are indicators that something isn't right. I've been terrible at listening to my gut before. I reason away my feelings. But it's important to heed them. So I am telling myself: Listen to that tiny voice inside. The quiet one that's unfamiliar. It needs to be heard most of all.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

what went wrong?

The divorce will be finalized soon. It's been over 1.5 years since I ripped my life in half.

People asked what happened since we looked so happy on the outside but I was unable to articulate it then. But now I'll try.
What went wrong?
First off, I should say that I'm terrible at identifying my own needs and understanding my comfort zone. So when I'm feeling hurt or uncomfortable, I try to ignore the uneasy feeling inside. (It's so much more convenient!) If I were a healthier, stronger and more self-aware person, I would have been able to assert myself better. But he had a stronger personality and I didn't view myself as being worthy enough to have equal regard and those two factors added layers of force to issues.

In the beginning, I willingly retracted my sense of self. He was the important one, he had the important hobbies, he needed the space in the household. I don't think I understood at first how this was starting to become a stressor for me.

Then we unexpectedly undertook huge projects for which we didn't fully have the resources. We moved into a house that we discovered (too late) (don't ask) was saturated with cat piss, infested with insects, and filled with mold and allergens. My life became a reality show. "SEE the spidery crickets popping out of the electrical outlets! SEE how they bounce off contestant A's naked body as she undresses for bed! HEAR her bloodcurdling shriek of doom as the crickets laugh and regroup!!"

For 10 years we struggled with the house and I don't think I realized how much it being in a state of flux contributed to it not feeling like a safe haven for me. Home became a stressful place instead of an oasis for both of us.

He never even wanted a house. It was my dream, not his. He said, as we signed the papers, that he was happy we picked a place that didn't need much work so he could spend his weekends hiking and traveling. [Universe interjects: BWAHAHAHAHA!!]

Take two people, oscillate wildly, insert into mixing bowl and turn on high. Leave on for 10 years or until any semblance of former molecular structure is completely dismantled.

Life felt so difficult from all this struggling. And this was on TOP of the really stressful job he juggled. There was never enough time and things were never "right." We stopped doing as many fun things as we should have, both together and apart. We didn't nurture our relationship enough or nurture our independent selves. And when we did do things together (travel, etc), there was so much stress there too that those things began to feel less fun to me as well.

Stress does funny things to people. It makes them snappy and irritable and unhappy and edgy. You know that whole quality of life thing that people say is key to happiness? And how it involves enough sleep and eating right and having time to recharge? Yeah. Not in our house.

Then sometimes he would be impatient with me and I was too ashamed to say how much that hurt my feelings and I began to feel smaller and smaller and even less-worthy and started to lose my ability to trust or open up. Shutting down is damaging to a relationship. But I retracted into a ball to protect myself from a life that felt very assaulting.

All of these things, coupled with an unhealthy dynamic for conflict, began to make the relationship an unhappy one for me.

Long before either one of us even realized it.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

It's just... a little crush...

Having a sense of hope feels important to me.

As much as I am scared of getting close...

 I want to share my life with someone. 

But I don't want to force it if it doesn't feel right.

And so, armed with nothing but gut feelings,
 I yelled "Take three!" and set up a profile on another dating site after the artist and I broke up.

I had some nice email conversations with several guys but then the philosopher found me and introduced himself.
armchair philosopher, the best kind.
 I'm not quite sure what it was that grabbed me in his first letter -- was it the depth? Warmth? Personality? Something though. We've been writing back and forth a bit and covering many topics but I don't like crushing on people I haven't yet met, so today, while apartment shopping, I pinged him to see if he wanted to meet up for not-a-date. If nothing else, I wanted to at least be friends with the man behind all those words.

Cupid keeps missing.
He called me from the lot. "I'm here! You'll recognize me because I'm the guy who looks like his pix but about 50 pounds heavier."

 ::long pause::

 "Just kidding!!"

We grabbed a cozy booth over a plate of olives.

And this kept happening:
(discussing the perils of online dating)
me: Ha! Here's a pic of me when I woke up. I put this on an earlier profile pic thinking well, if someone still likes me after seeing me at my worse, awesome.
(Basically me in the morning, just add longer hair.)
 him: I love girls in baggy PJs.

me (thinking) really?? Lounging around in fleece is not just tolerated but LIKED? (Pictures cozy movie date over Chinese take-out)
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

me: I think it's important to have a sense of connection and also independence in a relationship.

him: me too!

::story sharing happens::
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

me: [Impossible set of ideals]

him: [XACTLY]
So, um, huh. We seem to relate well.

I'm losing some nerve posting my feelings all over the internet because it leaves me open for judgment.

But maybe will try?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

where the f*** does someone get an 8-hour cock lollipop??

So if you were following me on Twitter, you probably already know that I recently agreed to go to a private dominatrix party with the artist.

By accident.

Shut up! YES, by accident. I'll explain in a minute. But first, I must say this:

My entire night can be summed up in 7 words.


Thank you and good night.

Seriously, I don't know where to start. So let's begin with "by accident."

I can hear you saying,"How does someone get roped into a dominatrix party [heh, I said "roped"] BY ACCIDENT?"

 Here's how:
Artist: So, I've got a gig tonight, want to assist? I'll be taking pictures at a private party.

Me: Private party?

Artist: It'll be really interesting. People will dress up like Lady Gaga.
 Me: Okay. I think.
So I dunno, I thought it was like a Halloween party or something.

The first thing I noticed when pulling into the driveway were all the bumper stickers:
"I'm straight but not narrow!!"
"Slave for sale."

"Men belong at women's feet!"

Then we rounded the corner and I SAW WHAT WAS GOING ON IN THE GARAGE.

First, I need to mention that the part of my brain that had a vague awareness of this kind of thing -- fetish parties -- thought they existed only in the most abstract of terms, like yodelers or sword swallowers. Things that fall into the category of People (Who Are Not Me) That Do Weird Things (But Whatever).

Now I'm not saying it's weird to play in the bedroom. That's not what I'm saying at all. It's awesome when two people feel free enough to explore the limits of pleasure together. Chemistry rocks. But I mean, it DOES take a special kind of... (nerve? neuroses? I'm not quite sure how to label this) to dangle from the ceiling while 50 people watch your nipples get pinched, no?

It may take only one pervert to put in a light bulb,
but it takes the whole emergency room to remove it.

So, the first clue that this wasn't really a Halloween party (aside from the half-naked lady in the driveway dragging around a guy in a dog collar and leash) was the ass-whipping happening in the garage. 

It was my first witnessed public ass-whipping.

A large woman, stood spread-eagle (can you stand spread eagle?) against the unfinished walls of the garage while a guy whose (erect?) junk, covered slightly by a soft fringe of leather, jiggled as he hurled a knotted black whip across her giant naked, bare ass. Usually I have the largest ass in any room, so my first thought was "Oh yay, I am not the largest-assed person here!" (followed shortly by "WTF?!?").

Also, Jesus Christ, was EVERYONE sucking a cock lollipop??
 I turned to a woman wearing nothing but electrical tape and asked her where the bathroom was. "Oh, it's broken. Just go outside." She pointed to a lady peeing 15 feet away.

WARNING: This family-oriented blog may
contain sensitive imagery.
Dammit. All I wanted to do was find a private corner so I could text my friends "OMFG you HAVE TO SEE THIS!!"
The owners were ultra-concerned that everyone (like the Tall Diplomat -- no one used their real name), have absolute privacy. No photography allowed, unless it was the staff photog (yay Artist) who was using his own equipment but their memory card.

I "assisted" by holding the permission forms. I was a shitty assistant. I was too shy to LOOK at anyone so I kept swiveling my head to stare at the floor or the ceiling. I mean, they're getting their ASSES whipped. Don't they want privacy? I lived in a dorm once. When people start having sex under your nose, the protocol is that everyone in the room is supposed to act like it's not happening, right?

But wait, these people CAME here. They didn't stumble home. They got naked in front of a million people (okay only 60 but still) ON PURPOSE right?
I see what's hot here... but the gas mask??
People noticed my shy demeanor.

"Wow, how long can someone blush??" Someone asked me.

I blushed harder. 

Apparently an hour.

Why was I surprised they had alcohol present? I mean, if you're GOING to hang from a chandelier once in your life, you need to be trashed, right?

Another thing. It's human nature to size oneself up against one's peers, except now all my peers were drunk, high, naked and strange. I looked down at my ankle-length skirt and thought great, I am the resident nun. Everyone else is wearing nothing but electrical tape and I'm folding my jacket closed like it's the Bathrobe of Modesty.

The Tall Diplomat shed his senatorial suit and sidled up to me in a chain-link thong. "When's that dress coming off?" "It's NOT," I replied stiffly. "I'm here with the staff photographer."

I tried to keep a low profile and disappear behind the cupcakes but people followed me, voyeuristically ogling my private indulgence exposed unawares: yes, the uptight chick has a yearning all her own and it involves chocolate icing. I ate two. It calmed the auditory assault of distant primal moans and repetitive ass whipping.

Then I met my first "furry." He was dressed as a dog (or a bad bear? I couldn't exactly tell).

"Furries" are people who like to have sex in costume. Specifically, fuzzy animal costumes. Legitimate costumes come with holes in all the right places so it never has to come off: penetration to orgasm can be successfully achieved whilst locked in the arms of a wildly unnatural representation of a beast. Nice.

And a few feet away I watched a naked lady settle onto a large table while her suitor carefully wrapped a stick in cloth before soaking it in alcohol, lighting it on fire and quickly swathing her breasts in flame.

I tweeted:

And now I'm watching someone set someone else on fire. My mom would be so proud. ::facepalm::
"I was born with three tits!" She told him proudly.

I didn't check.

After that, a couple at a picnic table next to mine started having sex. That was a wee bit awkward.

Sometime after the second cupcake, I started to get a little bored. I reached an ass-whipping/orgasmic scream saturation point. Here were all these people yanking and whipping and poking, eager to give flesh a hearty workover -- anything to illicit a reaction -- and yet all of it seemed devoid of passion somehow.

I kept thinking of the quote, "You can go a lifetime without feeling anything but skin." by Chuck Palahniuk.

More people came over to talk to me. John Mayer Lookalike (If John Mayer Ran Around Nude Wearing Nothing But A Trenchcoat) stopped by to say hello.

Work with me here on the John Mayer face, people.
"I'd REALLY like to get tied up. But I just don't see anyone appealing here," he said.

I pointed to some hot girls wearing nothing but electrical tape standing in line next to the ropes. "What about them? They look kinda receptive."

He shook his head. "Nah."

We stood in silence as one of them stepped into a harness and got raised and tied with ropes; just one in a long line of the willingly bound.

I wondered how much HPV coated the ropes.

In fact, I was quite sure every surface in that house had a film of HPV on it. 

Great, now I am not just the covered nun girl, I am Howard Hughes in female form.

Picture taking ceased around dawn and the artist pulled me away from a 70-ish year old man describing, uninvited, the vagaries of orgasmic massage (thankfully I was ripped away before any unsolicited demonstrations began). We were warmly invited back. I thought "me? You're inviting ME, the most uptight girl in this entire place back??" I thanked the weird fetishy hosts and made a mental note to find out where the fuck does someone get an 8-hour cock lollipop?? 

Oh, and yesterday I saw the book "Wallflower at the Orgy" and bought it SIGHT UNSEEN because, well, that was me 2 Saturdays ago.