What do I want? Part one

friday1Over the weekend I’ve learned that I am not as good as saying what I want as my b/f, because he pointed it out to me. I love that he is so able to say simply and clearly what he wants or needs without any fuss. Of course at times life throws spanners and blindfolds, but in general it seems to be a natural process for him. Not so for me.

I immediately wondered whether I am less good at even knowing what I want. It’s not the only factor, for example I do know that I have a real thing for wanting to appear amenable, flexible, easy going, willing to adapt… I am always getting people to express their preferences so we can go and do things that I know for certain they are going to enjoy. When I get a massive passion for something and persuade people into doing it with me who wouldn’t normally be into it, my tension and confusion about whether they are going to like it and whether that ultimately matters, can spoil it for me, and so sometimes I like to do things alone, just to make sure I don’t spoil it for myself!

And what about when there are choices that don’t make me burn up, choices I can sweet-talk others into making? I wait until they have expressed a preference, then suddenly perhaps I find out how I feel about the options for the first time. It’s easily said that choice can paralyse us, even though it’s touted nowadays as the be all and end all of market driven society. But this paralysis isn’t something new that comes with the explosion of consumer goods and entertainments. Surely it’s an older dynamic, which comes into play wherever we are not quite sure of our footing. If we are constantly unsure of our rights, our power, our relation to the other parties if there are any, choices are inevitably fraught. How does this become a trait? By being overdone, relied on too heavily for too long? Have I been punished for my choices? Well yes pretty much.

But it’s time to know what I want. An excellent piece of advice to know what you want from a relationship before you go looking for one was given to me by a great friend and it stuck fast. I had just separated from a 9 year relationship and was determined not to jump into another one as seems to be my way. Although I never wrote the checklist, it compiled itself steadily in my head in all it’s logical, illogical, deluded glory, until the moment when I met my new boyfriend and I had to completely burn it.

Not knowing how brilliantly good for me someone I had never met could be, my little list was composed of wants that I thought would make life easier or better. The real person makes life fuller and richer, partly because he enables me to be more me. Some of the the ways in which we are similar aren’t even things that we would call good – but when we see ourselves both doing them, instead of despairing we laugh.

That said, there was one massive new criterion on my list that another friend gave me in post break up advice, which the new guy meets. “Maybe this time you should go out with someone who likes you.” If you have never tried this, I can tell you now, it rocks.

Getting what you want isn’t achievable just by list making, unless you interpret your list with extreme retrospective pragmatism. But list making and list thinking focusses the mind and can give you a massive leg up when it comes to assessing a complex real life situation with confidence. I have started to think about how I can improve my ability to know and say what I want in the moment.

One part will be less chatter in my mind about the options (Tea or coffee? That’s a good question, did you know they contain different types of caffeine which do different things?…). One part will be literally tuning into myself more deeply to increase focus on the things that really matter in my life so that I can stop sweating the small stuff. I will know what I want. I will work hard to find out. I will probably bend people’s ears. As always, writing will help me get there.

For example, I need to think through what it is about the place where I live that I like and dislike, so that if I ever move I will be choosing somewhere that has or offers or is, what I want. Compromises and surprises are inevitable, but I’ll have a logical illogical list to start me off. Tuning into this question will be fun and illuminating, and I’ll be back to write about my utopian visions very soon.



Problems without solutions

Well I have asked myself a difficult question now, and one I can no longer keep asking you lot and avoiding myself – not if I want this blog to have any integrity whatsoever, or rather, to relate to it’s title!

My epic-fail example of asexual sleeping together (see Confession Part 1) and Marnia Robinson’s case studies illuminate the problem we are facing in the same way – albeit from two sides of the same coin. Her witnesses are amazed that their cuddling worked out, despite obstacles so obvious that we can all just fill them in. Then they loved it. On reading these I get the sneaking suspicion that, although some are clearly not destined to couple up, some could well go that way – in time – precisely because they have created a safe space to share love and affection. By subverting the expectations of sex, they have laid the foundation for trust that many couples never achieve.

What? Yes, here I believe there is a real problem. Many couples who don’t develop open communication about sex and non-sexual cuddling experience some anxiety almost every night: whether it’s about getting or not-getting sex or about giving or not-giving sex. The biggest stereotype is the sex-hungry man and the exhausted woman, but whatever truth there is in that, we know it will be happening in every possible combination, every night. In a relationship, do you know with certainty before you go to bed at night, every night, whether you want to be sexual with your partner or not and whether they do? How can we ever have this certainty?

Before I list so many problems I start to give up hope, bear with me while I try to break it down a bit:

  • It is normal for human beings to cuddle, and this includes to cuddle overnight – an obvious winner in any geographical region not sweltering at 30° all year round (IMHO).

  • Most adults in the West (which is all I know about) only share a bed with another adult regularly when they are in a sexual relationship with that person.

  • Couples may enjoy non-sexual cuddling at night, or may feel tense about sexual willingness/performance, depending on clear communication about sexual desire.

  • While many couples do enjoy non-sexual cuddling, a lot of people who are not paired up sexually miss out on night time skin contact or even clothed contact, maybe for years on end…

The so-called cuddle sluts show all this perfectly: we are conditioned to pair up and to keep sex in couples. People who have casual sex while not paired up don’t get guarantees for the level of pure cuddle contact they’ll get from temporary lovers. Which brings me back to my first aim with this blog: a nosy-as-hell call out to those of you in-betweeners who evade the strictures of a trad relationship – for whatever reasons – but have established bed relationships which do include affection and trust. Maybe one person, maybe several, maybe never the same person twice; maybe you had sex only to find you both wanted the cuddle more and struck a deal…

This is not to forget that a lot of people are engaged in non-trad relationships with unique rules, no rules, multiple partners and so on ad delirium and infinitum. Do these experiences enlighten us about the path to a cuddling world? You tell me. And what about age? Do young adults and older teens spend more time sleeping in beds with friends, without sex, than older people? Do you know?  Tell me tell me tell me.