Earlier tonight a close friend of mine solicited my advice. She was sexually interested in a woman she'd met recently, and wanted some tips on having sex with a girl. She also emphasized that the woman in question had confided in her that she was working through some issues dealing with some past trauma, and she, my friend, was worried about unintentionally triggering bad feelings in her, sexually or otherwise.
I thought about it and told her to just write the alphabet with her tongue. Kidding, that is not at all what I said. (But it's interesting how our culture's views on female sexuality can be so reductive that that joke was so obvious, right?)
I told her about the last blog entry I'd written, about how communicating with openness and vulnerability can yield such great results, and suggested she express to this woman the exact fears she'd just articulated to me. "What if you were to say to her, 'I'm really interested in us getting to know each other better, and I really appreciate the fact that you've been open with me about the things that you're processing. I want to do my best to make sure you don't get hurt, so I'm going to ask your help with that. I need you to keep me informed as we go along as to what is working for you and what isn't. Show me how you work. Give me an instruction manual. If you're feeling like a minefield, give me your map.'"
My friend agreed that that seemed like a good course of action. I stopped and considered it a bit longer. "I mean, fuck, if someone said that to me?" I mused. "Like, wow. I'd probably marry them. And I don't even believe in marriage."
I started thinking then about how few of us as human beings have conversations like that. We start dating someone and we kind of fumble around, play cool, pretend like we're not really all that invested in the person (because heaven forbid we love someone more than they love us back), and think more about protecting ourselves than protecting each other.
We also vastly underestimate our ability to hurt people. Whenever I hear someone say the phrase, "I don't want to fuck this up," normally what they're really saying is, "I don't want to lay my heart out too soon and scare this person away." The fantasy is that the victory lies in winning each other's affections and then the work is done, that as long as two people both dig each other enough everything else will fall into place, because clearly if someone loves you sufficiently they will never fuck up and make a mistake, because they will just know better.It is kind of adorable how people think that they can have relationships where they're not going to hurt each other, like in the way it is adorable that every freshman at NYU thinks they're going to make art that is going to change the world, or like how it is adorable that I think I am totally going to get a record deal because I put an album out and a dude from Interscope gave me his business card. The relationship where no one gets hurt is a magical unicorn relationship that doesn't exist. People get hurt just by walking out of the house. When people bump into each other, run up against each other, date, fuck, love, leave each other, they are going to get hurt. It's an inevitability.
What trips us up is our unrealistic expectations of ourselves and one another. When we fail to accept the reality of how easy it is to get hurt, we can believe that hurting someone is an unforgivable transgression on our (or our partner's) part, and that it makes the relationship a failure. And then we get caught up in the guilt over our failure instead of actually addressing the issue, and we drown in our shame and slink away.
Neither guilt nor its ever-present sidekick, self-sabotage, do anyone any favors. If you screw up and hurt the person you're with, you are doing nothing for them by beating yourself up over it. In fact, you're being selfish and wasting their time. Instead you need to ask yourself what you can do to remedy the situation. After all, the wound has already been inflicted, so there's no taking it back. How do you fix it from here? That's where the real heroism comes in, and that's where you're actually doing something useful for the person you love. I wish for just once that one of my exes, when I told them they'd done something that hurt me, had asked me what they could do to make it better instead of getting defensive and pointing out all my own flaws that had made the situation actually my fault, or just issuing a perfunctory apology, or just leaving because the sight of me reminded them of what a douche they were and then thanking me later for all they'd learned from me because now they treat all their subsequent girlfriends so much better. (Seriously, that happened.) As a close friend of mine said recently, apologies don't change the past, and they definitely don't change the future. So, what have you done for me lately?
I'm thinking that when I get into my next relationship, I'm going to make my partner and I promise each other that we will hurt each other at some point. That way it won't come as a surprise. What we will also promise each other, however, is that we will never hurt one another intentionally, and that when we do get hurt, we will give each other the benefit of the doubt, clue each other in to how we're feeling, and allow ourselves the opportunity to change things around and get the situation back on track as quickly as possible. My mentor Reid Mihalko once told me that good relationships aren't about never making a mistake; they're about decreasing your turnaround time. I'm interested in being with someone who is going to treat our relationship as a team effort in being happy. That sounds like a pretty awesome time in my book.
No one can be so arrogant as to think that they know exactly what is going to trigger another person, that what hurts them is going to also hurt someone else and what makes them feel good is going to also make someone else feel good. We are all programmed differently, scarred with different bumps and bruises garnered along the way during our individual trials of living. In her book How To Instantly Connect With Anyone, my sister in seduction Leil Lowndes writes, "No two people hearing the same words -- at the same time, from the same person -- ever get the same sense of what someone said. Every sound that comes out of someone's mouth strikes a minefield of each listener's buried memories, associations, and a lifetime of emotional pleasure or pain from everyone they've ever met."
Love is so much like sex in this regard. If everyone just took the time to say "This hurts" and "This feels good," think how much more on the same page we'd all be.
So, I think it's about time we start asking for each other's maps. Even just conveying an intention to not hurt one another will work wonders in avoiding the disasters of guilt and failure that plague so many relationships. The person who is next going to win me over as my partner is going to be the one who demonstrates to me that he has my best interests at heart, even if he doesn't always get how I work right away. I mean, I am kind of a complicated creature. I don't expect anyone to be able to figure me out at first glance.
But I will say that I am damn good at giving directions. And that's one of the best things we can ask of one another.