Women’s Rights: What They Mean For a Man Raised With Less Than Accepting Values

I’ve written a lot about toxic masculinity on this blog, but I haven’t spoken about women’s rights very much. This is mostly due to me feeling as a man, that it isn’t really my place to speak my opinion on the subject. But with the recent ruling of Roe vs. Wade being overturned, I feel that it’s important for me to show that there are men who support women’s reproductive rights. Especially in this polarized culture we’ve been entrenched in. So on that note, I hope to move the cause forward if only to show support for those in need of some. Let’s take a look at where some of the values I was raised under were forged.

Women’s Lib, Stuck in the 50’s

This was where most of the lessons I learned as a child took root. About three decades before I was born. In my family and in the popular culture at large, women were mostly viewed as sex objects. Everything from TV shows to work place culture. It was most definitely a man’s world and women were objects to be won or used according to what the man’s need was.

My family held to these values with fervor. My grandmother was a model in the fifties and took to the culture with a sense of pride. It also seemed to be what she developed her identity around as well as raising her four daughters in the same vein. Women’s rights weren’t even on their radar when making choices about themselves and their families’ future.

The women in my family, instead, spent a lot of time shopping. Mostly for clothes, but I feel it was more of a way to bond. Over a shared experience. I’m not saying that they were shallow or trying to speak negatively about their characters. Shopping can be fun, but it was something that we took to the extreme. It came to define us as who we were. Consumers. And that’s how we avoided the ways we were ignoring the unbalanced power dynamics that were playing out in our family’s culture and the culture at large.

Why This Type of Neglect is Dangerous

And it was a shame that they chose shopping as one of their main outlets of self expression. Because the women in my family were and are smart and talented people. My mother is a talented artist, though never pursued her interest in the subject. In a way, it felt as though, from my perspective that, they were holding back an important aspect of their self expression by buying into the norms of forfeiting their women’s rights. All in the name of feeling comfortable or safe.

I was raised and surrounded by mostly women in my childhood. This, I feel, gives me a unique perspective on what the culture was, in my family anyway, around how women viewed and interacted with their worlds. I also feel as though I received a fair amount of traumatic abuse at the hands of the men in my family. Another area where I’m able to relate with women maybe a little bit better than most men.

I received two very polarizing views of the world through my family. There was the toxically masculine side where drinking scotch and beer to hide your emotions, while objectifying women as sex objects was the norm. And on the other side, there was Friedan’s model of the Feminine Mystique. Where women had sharp tongues to gain what little control they could wrestle away from the men, while drinking equally as much to cover over the pain of not feeling heard.

And that’s the reason why this type of neglect is so dangerous. It takes away the voice that the women in my family, could use to speak up for their rights. When you place your power in someone else’s hands, you then become concerned with how to get it back. Not realizing that you have had it all along. So now that we’ve found ourselves in this position of skewed power, how do we bring some balance back to the social equation?

Bringing Balance to Women’s Rights

From my perspective, a few different issues need to be addressed in order to create a more fair situation for women. Firstly, men need to be more comfortable with women as independent individuals, and second, woman need to collectively work towards breaking the stereotypes and shed more light on the ideas that certain roles aren’t only a woman’s duty. I.e., child rearing, taking care of the household needs and being less career focused. These are already outdated views, but how do we take what’s already happening and make it more the norm?

Men and Their Views Matter

This is a difficult aspect of this problem, because men have been traditionally in the position of power. And if most men were treated as I was by my family, were women were forced to use manipulations to gain a sense of power, than the men raised in these environments would have a less than ideal view of the women in their lives. This was what I experienced growing up and the lens I used to view the relationship in my life for a long time.

I’ve said many times before, that women were viewed as an object to be had in the culture I was raised in. Personhood and women’s rights weren’t even taken into consideration. I know that for me, I had to first come to see women as people all their own. With personalities, hopes and dreams. And this was difficult, because I had experienced a fair amount of abuse from the women in my family.

But what I needed to realize was, that the pettiness and manipulations weren’t traits of women exclusively. But that of people in a position of being oppressed. If somebody feels as though they have no say in their life, than they will naturally do what they’re able to, in order to gain some control of their situation. And this was a strange place for me to be as a white male. Because I felt as though I had no power or control over my own life.

Feeling Powerless to Change What Is

This seems counter intuitive, but being raised by women who felt they needed to manipulate in order to gain a sense of power back for themselves, left me feeling powerless. What made this so confusing was, that being a white male, I was told time and time again that I was in charge. Though never feeling I actually was.

All the bravado and over-the-top machismo attitude I put on were all for show. It felt as though I had no control over the elements of my life and that the important decisions were being made for me. I had no idea what I wanted to do for a living because I had no guidance to help me to find my path. So I went to college way to early, racking up a ton of debt for a degree I am barely using. I was married to a woman who I sought out to tell me how to live my life. As my mother had before her. And all the misguided steps along the way were learned from family that were in a constant power struggle, looking for their own sense of agency.

And I’ve seen close to the same situation play out with other men as well. We were looking for someone to live our lives for us. Instead of finding a partner to share our lives with. And with everybody feeling so powerless, nobody was feeling as though they could live a more fulfilling life. It always hinged on the other person.

Perspective Change

For me, I needed to realize that I was my own person first. The one in charge of making my own life decisions was me and my partner was not a replacement for my mother. I didn’t need a strong female voice to tell me who to be. I was already me. Regardless of what I was told to believe. But I needed to spend some time on my own in order to know this as truth for myself. I needed to get some practice in making decisions that made a difference in my life, to help me to move forward and realize my agency. This helped me to realize I was the other half of the equation in the relationships I had previously been in.

And this was how I broke from the ways I had been viewing women and their roles. By breaking the cycle of unhealthy relationships that had been modeled for me and that I was reliving. This helped me to see women as more whole, independent beings. But this wasn’t easy. And if more men are going to wake from the idea that women’s rights aren’t important, we are going to need more positive male role models to guide us. As well as healthy female role models who’ve come to know their own power in a healthy way.

Women And Their Power

And for women looking for women’s rights to be more equitable, they may want to find the same conflict of gender specific roles they’ve been tethered to and come to know them as human roles, not defined by gender. For the women in my family, this meant knowing that they are more than what they can provide for their family. That they are more than how attractive they are and their personalities are worth being explored and developed.

Finding Support and Breaking Old Ties

This means finding out and addressing the issues that the individual woman is wrestling with. The fashion and beauty industries are two big entities that have been telling women their value hinges on how attractive they look. This is just an example of old messaging that maybe still effecting some women’s actions on a daily basis.

They as well may want to feel and know that they are in charge of their own lives and have a say in what happens to them. This comes, I believe, with finding like minded people. Men and women to support and collaborate on making the world we live in a more fair and just one. Finding male partners who are an equal part of the child rearing process is one example. Also knowing that a woman’s career is just as important as a man’s. Finding work that matters to you and that you can make a change for the better, is a motivating aspect in life as well.

And knowing that all things domestic, do not fall under the category of a woman’s duty. This means finding a partner whose view of domestic duties goes beyond the scope of what they were in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s.

Women’s Rights Matters

And it’s from here that we can really understand that women have so much more to offer than what we’ve been telling them they are capable of. All the women I know have something unique and beneficial to offer the world around them. But it starts with us. I know this may be a bit difficult to hear coming from a white male’s perspective. After all, I’m part of the group that have been repressing women for a very long time. But I truly believe that women not only should have a say in what happens to them, but must in order to be happy and fulfilled.

With that in mind, I’m mostly speaking to the men who are reading. All I ask is that you take a look at the views you’ve had cultivated for you. Specifically on gender roles and gender stereotypes. Are they hurting women? Do they make you feel as though you lack something? That you’re less of a man if you don’t live up to them? If so, these are the areas we need to work on to be more fair and just. I hope this has been of some help. It’s not easy looking at ourselves and seeing the work that needs to be done. But it’s possible and know that you are not alone. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “women’s rights #blackprotest #czarnyprotest” by gregor.zukowski is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

Sexual Boundaries: What Happens When There’s No One To Give You Guidance

This is a tricky topic to navigate. There are a lot of people with very strong beliefs on what is right/wrong and there are even more people unwilling to talk about the topic at all. Neither, from my experience, are very helpful when it comes to figuring out what are healthy boundaries to maintain. I’m not an expert on the topic, but I have been around some pretty unhealthy environments pertaining to sexuality.

I’d like to talk about some of my experiences and what I’ve learned from them while trying to sort through these situations and my emotions surrounding them. It isn’t easy, and it is definitely strange at times, but it doesn’t have to be a source of anxiety. In fact, sex is something that can be fun, and if handled with respect, something that adds to our quality of life.

Unhealthy Lessons From The Past

In the environment I was raised in, there were very few boundaries around sex. However the one boundary we did keep was, that no one should ever talk about it. This was confusing to sort out as a child. Especially when the number one message being sent to me was, your self worth is mostly determined by how attractive you look. And being attractive was directly correlated to sex appeal in this environment and under these rules I was raised under.

There were a mind blowing amount of critical judgements being made about our appearances as well. It seemed to be the only thing that had any value. But what was even more confusing was, being surrounded by sex, via the act itself, pornography, sexual devices and contraceptives, and without any explanation as to the role these things have in our lives.

I was just left to figure it out on my own, with ample unspoken and unhealthy messages to guide me. And it took me a long time to begin to understand how these messages would manifest in my life through my actions, and what healthier versions of these lessons are. The following are just a few areas that manifested in my life where I was left to fend for myself when trying to make sense of this new sexuality I was coming to understand.

Pornography

This was something that had entered my life at a very early age. It was also something that I was surrounded by and that was endorsed by my caregivers from the start. For whatever reason, people back in the eighties and nineties had huge collections of pornography laying around their houses. I remember vividly that it was a staple in one of my caregivers bathrooms as a child.

The first, and one of the only times my caregivers ever spoke about the subject, was to tell me not to make the pages stick together. I couldn’t have been more than 8 at the time and I had no idea what they were talking about. I was just excited about this new discovery. But what young boy wouldn’t be?

From then on, there was a pretty consistent stream of being surrounded by pornography in one shape or form. As I’ve said above, there were large collections of all sorts. From devices and magazines, computer files full of paraphernalia… The list goes on. And since nobody was talking about this massively unhealthy relationship we all had developed to sex, I was left to navigate this terrane all my own with exception of the examples I had modeled for me.

I remember vividly, one of my caregivers, upon me walking downstairs in the mornings, covering himself with his robe with a guilty expedience in front of the computer and then turning it off. Not to mention the giant collections of digital and physical pornography they had. This happened for years. The poor role modeling and everybody being too embarrassed to talk about it left me wondering, “what am I doing wrong?” Not realizing how unhealthy the environment I was in, was.

So when I was old enough and on my own, I was mildly surprised to find out that I had picked up right where my caregivers had left off. I was embodying the ways in which my caregivers were living, mostly because I was looking for someone to tell me why I didn’t feel as though I was loved and belonged even though I was doing the same things they were.

Love & Sex Are Not The Same

The more I thought about it, the more this made sense to me. If the only thing that ever really mattered to my caregivers was looking attractive, and the only things I knew about their emotional lives were from the large caches of riske materials they had squirreled away, than the way to feel loved and belonging, according to this dynamic anyways, was to be obsessed with pleasure seeking behaviors. So that’s what I did until something inside of me changed.

I hadn’t realized that love and sex weren’t the same thing. From my previous lessons, I thought the more attractive you were, the more loved you would be. At the time, and for a long period of my life, my role model was Brad Pitt’s character from Fight Club. I wanted to look like he looked, act like he acted and pretty much, be him. I thought that this was the way to be accepted and loved. Looking good naked was what I thought the foundation of a “healthy” relationship was built on because it was the measure against which I was judged.

When Things Change

But this all changed for me one day when I found someone who I felt accepted me as I was, and where I truly felt a sense of belonging. Not because I looked good naked, not because I met some unreasonable standard, but for simply being me.

This was earth shattering. I had no idea what to do with these new emotions I was experiencing. I was scared of feeling accepted because every sense of belonging I had in the past was hinged on me fitting a certain criteria. But I also wanted to cling on to this newly found sense of unconditional acceptance for fear that I would never experience something like it again.

My newly found sense of belonging was the catalyst for what drove me and my now ex-wife apart. When I told her what was happening with me, the weight of her feeling betrayed was too much for the relationship to bear as it was. I can understand where she was coming from because we both had similar outlooks on acceptance at the time. But the change that was taking place in me hadn’t fully actualized yet. I was willing to work through what I was experiencing but unfortunately, she wasn’t willing to do the same.

Left on My Own Again

After I attempted to communicate what was happening with me, and falling short of feeling understood, I was left on my own again. I jumped into a relationship almost immediately with a person who was more of a match with the former ways I had been living, but not for the new ways of being I was cultivating. So this relationship ended, but it was for the best.

I was still coming to understand the relationships I had with my emotional self and how I was cultivating a sense of belonging to and with the other people in my life. Only this time I was learning to leave behind the old lessons from my past.

Wanting to be Fit, Not Look Good Naked

This was a huge stumbling block for me. As I’ve said, so much emphasis was placed on how good I looked by my caregivers that I thought as though looking sexually attractive was the only way to feel loved and belonging. So I became vegan because I read that eating a plant based diet would help me maintain a low body fat percentage.

It took a long time for me to even admit that that was why I had made such a drastic change in my life style. I was telling myself I was doing it for the animals mostly. But when it came down to it, the messages from my past were too strong for me to just let go and be free and clear.

Now I have a different outlook on my eating habits. I eat vegetarian when I’m out due to it being difficult to eat vegan most places, but cook mostly vegan for myself. I’m doing it for a combination of reasons that I feel is more honest to me. The reasons now are: for the environment, for my health and for animal well-fair.

The environment is in dire need of our love and attention, and the less we support big agriculture, the better off our planet will be. This article from the BBC explains that a 5th of the worlds total carbon emissions are created by the meat and dairy industry. That’s a big piece of our planet’s health.

And my health is just as important as the planets health, as is all individuals. Before I made the change in my diet, I weight 240lbs and was drinking more than half of my daily calories. I now weigh about 180lbs and feel much better overall. I have more stamina and am able to exercise with greater ease leaving me feeling healthier. It also helps that I quit smoking cigarettes in my mid-twenties and drinking large amounts of alcohol in my early thirties.

And finally, yes I am concerned about the well-being of the animals on this planet. I have a hard time stepping on insects, let alone knowing that animals are literally being slaughtered for my meals. But also knowing that not eating meat and dairy naturally leads to lower levels of unhealthy fats and cholesterol, as well as being healthier for the planets carbon emissions is reason enough for me to make the change from wanting to look good naked to being a part of the solution to the health problems of our selves and our planet.

Stronger Alone Means Stronger Together

And all this work that I’m doing for myself is something that ultimately will make me a stronger person. I’m learning to accept myself where I am, so I can make changes towards a healthier, stronger version of myself. Because when my belonging hinged on how attractive somebody else found me to be, I was putting all of my self worth in the hands of the beholder. This is why I felt as though I had no agency in my life, and didn’t feel a sense of belonging. Because my worth was not something I had a say in.

Instead, I had to find a person that found me sexually attractive, then do whatever it was that they wanted of me in order to hope to feel a sense of being loved and feeling belonging. This, as Melba would say, was no bueno.

Now that I’m feeling and looking healthier, and for healthier reasons than to get laid or to feel loved, I’m stronger for it. And it’s the practice of this mindset that is helping me to stay grounded in what matters most. And that is to feel strong in my self-worth by taking the best care I’m able, of myself, to lead the healthiest and happiest version of myself. Aka, living my best life.

And it’s once I’ve learned to live from this place of intrinsic self-worth, that I’ll be able to be in a healthy relationship with another. As my boss likes to say, “I need to be a better one before I can be a two”. It’s also helpful to remember that it’s a practice and that it isn’t always going to be an easy one.

There are definitely times where I just don’t feel strong enough to carry the load I have. But it’s in these times that we need to be gentle with ourselves. I know from my experience that my self worth was attached to somebody else’s perception of me for so long, that I forgot I even had a say in how I felt about myself. But once I started practicing the self-care and giving myself the love I needed, it became easier and easier to feel into these states and the load was easier to carry. But I had to ease my way in, little by little.

As I’ve said above, it isn’t always easy sorting out how we feel about ourselves from how others project onto us their expectations. But with some practice, we can begin to sort out what is ours, from what is expected of us. And along the way we may even pick up the tools to find those who will accept us for who we are, instead of who they want us to be. So don’t give up! You are much stronger than you give yourself credit for 🙂 Peace, and thanks for reading 🙂

Image Credits: “Melissa Adret, Model” by Melissa A. N. (Model) is licensed under CC BY 2.0.Copy text

Am I A “Real Man”? Or, How to Know When You Need to Flex on Some Turkeys : )

I was walking to a local shop not to long ago, to attempt to pick up my phone from being repaired after it stopped holding a charge. While I was on my why to the train station, I noticed a flock of wild turkeys bobbing around, looking for grubs to snack on. I thought that it was nice that I’ve been seeing more wildlife in the area, turkeys and rabbits being among them. So, with that in mind, I continued on my path towards the train station.

About a minute after passing the turkeys, I turned around for some reason only to notice that two of the turkeys had begun following me. I figured it was mating season, and I must have infringed on their territory. So I continued walking thinking they’d soon get bored and quit the chase. This however did not happen.

The turkeys got more aggressive, getting closer to me while pecking in the air in my direction. I turned around to face them, walking backwards while swinging my backpack at them in an attempt to shoo them, only to find that this was not helpful. While this was happening, a passerby drove up behind them and started honking the horn at them. This did not deter the turkeys. They raged on in my direction with an arrogant indignation of my presence.

The girl in the front seat of the car couldn’t have been more than 13 years-old, and was laughing hysterically. And trust me when I say, the humor was not lost on me : )

It was in this moment of levity, that my savior came. It was a little Yorkie Terrier guided by a man in his thirties. The man was explaining how waiving my bag was only making the turkeys more bold, while a dog one fourth the size of one of the birds, chased them into the nearby woods. It was a site to see, for sure and if I had my phone I would have definitely taken a video for documentation.

Is That What a Man’s Supposed to be Like?

Being chased by turkeys got me thinking, “how should I have handled this situation” and “does being chased by turkeys make me less of a man?” The conclusions I’ve come to are, no and let me tell you why.

My Role Models Growing Up

In the time and place I grew up, being a man was usually paired with gratuitous violence and a black and white way to choose and practice your morals and values. Characters like Rambo and Arnold Schwarzenegger from “The Predator” embodied these behaviors, that men were supposed to emulate in order to be a man. That was the unwavering standard of what makes a man, a man.

And needless to say, these were unreasonable. But to an eight year-old, they make perfect sense. Through the eyes of a child, there is most definitely evil in the world and it needs to be smote by a muscle bound savior. Most likely fighting against all odds to save the day for the masses, or a woman. The dangerous part of this message is that, we were all led to believe that deep down, we (real men) are the good guys and we could use whatever means necessary to achieve the end goal of, fighting for the greater good.

This is, from my understanding, the way we rationalize using violence to achieve our goals. But as I see it, this use of violence is a form of letting our emotions take the wheel and control our actions. I could have charged the turkeys and released my anger and frustrations on them for trying to chase me and do them harm in the process. And I have a few people in my life that would have told me that a “real man” would have drop kicked those turkeys into the next zip-code. But would I be more of a man for doing that? No. Losing control of our emotional states is more a trait of immaturity. More child like.

And of course, this reaction takes root in the male role models we had in our childhoods. Professional wrestling was a huge proponent of this type of machismo attitude also. All the posturing and flexing, mixed with the bravado worked to normalize the use of violence to alleviate the discomfort of feeling unsafe. Because at the core of conflict is that somebody, something or animals in my case, are threatening my safety. Perceived or physical.

So if I’m right, most aggression is really a way to avoid the difficult emotions of feeling unsafe, or not in control of our safety and surroundings. So how do we make the shift from feeling unsafe and acting from our fear based emotions to a more stable emotional place? I think it starts with practice and a little help from some healthier role models. Let me tell you how I’ve been practicing this.

My Role Models Now

I have a few photos on my phone’s wallpaper that rotate at random. They are, Dana Schultz from Minimalist Baker, Adriene Mishler from Yoga With Adriene, 2 Pac, Tom Hanks, Damon Albarn from Blur, Tara Brach, Mark Twain, Rumi, D’ Angelo the R&B artist and Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold the rock climbers. As well as a few photos of things I’d like to have or achieve.

Adriene, Dana and Damon are there to remind me to keep at it, whatever it is. They are so prolific as artists, writers and doers and give me inspiration to keep writing or stay on top of my yoga practice or do my best in my work. Whatever it is I’m doing, when I see their photos, I’m reminded to try a little harder.

Tom and Tara are on there to show me that I don’t have to be so hard all the time. The lessons I learned growing up, the ones that told me I had to be calloused and unfeeling as a man just aren’t true. Tom, especially his role in “Sleepless in Seattle”, illustrates the vulnerability we all have. And not that it’s only a female trait, but a humane one. Tara reminds me to be patient and also to nurture myself along the way. All ways of being that I was taught weren’t a man’s job.

Mark, Rumi, Tommy and Alex are there because they are great at what they do/did. And what made them great was their persistence, resilience and dedication. When I see them, I know that if I work hard enough, I’ll accomplish my goals. Anything’s possible. “Courage is mastery of fear, resistance to fear, not absence of it” – Mark Twain.

D’ Angelo made the list to remind me that as a man, it’s okay to show emotions deeply. To feel deeply and to be seen. I was taught that men didn’t have emotions other than anger. And even though we showed anger freely, we were shamed for showing it. Of course we were relating to it in reactionary ways. This was unhealthy. I now recognize the full spectrum of my emotions as they happen and wait before I respond. Giving myself a little more leeway.

And 2-Pac made the list because “everybody and their lady got a little bit o thug in em.” I sometimes need to be reminded that it’s okay to break the rules sometimes. We’re not perfect and that’s okay.

So with these new role models, I’m rebuilding a new version of myself. One that is strong and flexible. Loyal and dedicated. Feels deeply and is not ashamed of it. Not afraid to take some risks, but also knows how to be soft when I need to be. Especially with myself. I’m building a better man, from the new resources I’ve been collecting. And it’s not easy.

The Road Is Most Definitely Difficult

There are definitely times that I want to give in to the feelings of being overwhelmed, or fatigue. As an old co-worker of mine used to say, the days when you “just don’t wanna.” Thanks Chris. But it’s worth remembering that feelings are fleeting. They never last.

There are times like today, when I wake up at 6:30am to work in a bakery/restaurant and then go directly to my second job at a family shelter, where on top of my professional duties, I also plan my personal responsibilities for the upcoming week. After 16 hours of working straight, I am definitely ready to do absolutely nothing.

And it may be easier to take the road I once did. Where I would work minimal hours and spend the rest of my time playing videogames and drinking. Chasing pleasure rather than building the connections and experiences that would persist and bring me joy in a sustainable way. But the “easier” way of living brought with it a consistent sense of fear and anxiety. Not to mention I had almost no close friends to share my time with. I was alone and I had no idea that it was connected to the ways I was isolating from everyone.

Isolation is yet another lesson I learned on how to be a man by my caregivers and culture. Something I’ll be exploring some more in next weeks post. There’s something deceptively comforting in thinking you can do it all alone. Though impossible to actually accomplish, we still try. This is mostly due to, I believe, being told and shown we can by the culture. Being afraid to ask for help because it means you aren’t in control was another lesson on manhood I received in my childhood.

But avoiding connection was all connected to running from the fear of being hurt in relationships. We all get hurt by one another eventually. It’s only a matter of time really. But we need one another. Because being connected and sharing experiences are what makes life worth living. We can’t do that on our own.

So When Is It Okay To Flex On Some Turkeys?

This is by no means an exhaustive list on the many pitfalls we face when measuring ourselves up against the standards of what it means to be a man. These are only my perspectives of the lessons I’ve had impressed on me and what I’ve learned from them. But know that if you have some fears or questions on what it means to be a man, you are not alone.

It’s hard to come to the conclusion of what being a man means to us on an individual level. And what it means to you may not be what it means for me. But we’re all on the same journey together. And sometimes our paths do cross and we walk for a little while together. Hopefully my experiences have helped you in some way understand your experience a little better.

And I think the answer lies in something that Adriene from “Yoga With Adriene” says often, “find what feels good”. Only I’d add, in a sustainable way. Peace : ) and thanks for reading. Oh yeah, if you found that you’re being chased by turkeys, the common wisdom is to show dominance by waving your arms wildly while shouting and slowly walking towards them. Also having a dog on a leash helps as well. One more reason to own a dog : )

Image Credits: “I had to inch my way past this gang of local hooligans to get out of my driveway this morning. #lifeinthesuburbs #morningcommute” by Lorianne DiSabato is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Healthy Sex Life, Healthy Relationship: How You Relate to Sex Matters

I was at my workplace a few days ago when I noticed an attractive woman enter the store. My first thoughts were, “man, she’s beautiful”. Thinking back on this now, I’m amazed at how different my reactions and intentions are from what they used to be. Before I would judge the attractiveness of a woman by her body and how she looked. Now I notice more subtle characteristics of women and their personality is a large part of the whole.

This isn’t to say that I don’t find other aspects of women attractive. Such as their looks and how in shape they are. But they are for much different reasons now and a much smaller part of the equation.

Sex was All I Could Think About

In my youth, it seemed that all I was focused on was sex. The question “how do I find a hottie to bang?” was one I asked myself often. And full discloser, I did not have much game. And to be fair, I was raised in a family that held sexual desirability as their number one value. We used sex as a way to be liked and a way to gage how much we were valued. If you couldn’t find someone to have sex with, then you were doing something wrong.

This was the message that I was receiving, not only in my family but also everywhere I went. Sex was all anybody I hung out with seemed to talk about. Whenever I was with my friends, we would objectify women to some degree. Whether it was whom my friend was cheating on his girlfriend with, or what “chick” I wanted to “bang”, we had always viewed women as objects, prizes to be had.

This was not a healthy way to be in relationship. Pornography was also something that was ubiquitous in all of my relationships. From contraceptives being left on the backs of toilets in my childhood home, to the enormous pornography collections of my caregivers, to my later pornography habits, sex was the number one way we all were relating to ourselves and how we judged each other.

When Looking Good is Priority One

One of my caregivers went so far as to offer me money to lose weight. I was overweight as a teenager and had no self restraint when it came to how I fed myself. Of course, they were feeding me. So instead of being taught a healthy relationship to what I was eating, I was being bribed to learn how to for myself. These were confusing messages I was receiving. Especially as a child trying to establish my own set of values and seeing my caregivers practiced values directly in contradiction to what they said they desired.

So my health goals all revolved around how I could look good naked. Again, an unhealthy way to relate to my nourishing myself. And as unhealthy as it was to be a guide for my eating habits, it was even worse of a guide for how I valued myself and my partner in my relationships.

I put looking attractive as more important than being kind or loving. The kinds of relationships I was trying to cultivate were those based on how attractive we were and how others found me and my partner desirable. And I was constantly judging other women as more or less attractive to my then current partner.

Women had been treated as sex objects for so long in my family, mostly by the women in my family, that when it came time for me to find and develop a relationship all my own, I looked for a partner with impossibly high standards and who was critically minded. Together, between the two of us, nothing ever measured up to our standards.

Unhealthy Values = Unhealthy Communication

When you’re as concerned about how you look to others as we were, for me more so physically and my partner more ideologically, you are afraid of being seen as anything but perfect. It felt as though every expectation was being picked apart and analyzed by each other. “Am I adding up?” was my constant concern. But I was also to proud to admit I was scared that I wasn’t enough in the eyes of my partner.

I was acting as though I was beyond reproach, but really was scared of what anybody thought of me. So instead of being vulnerable, taking the risk and being open and honest with my partner about how I felt I wasn’t good enough to be with, I ran.

I thought I developed feelings for another woman and ran to be by her side. What I was really recognizing was that, the other woman was just as judgmental as my partner and I were, but they were enthusiastic about being with me. I couldn’t see this at the time, but even with my being blinded to what was happening to me and my inability to communicate, I still offered to work through our issues with my then, current partner.

Understandably, she declined and ultimately left me. And this all stemmed from us being unable to share our emotions and perspectives of what was happening in our relationship because we were too scared to show each other our vulnerabilities. Our fear was that they (our vulnerabilities) would be abused as they had in us before by those we trusted.

And I can’t help but to feel that if my number one value wasn’t based on how attractive I or my partner was, then maybe I would have been able to see them, my partner, as a person instead of an abject. Also myself as a person instead of an object. We would have been able to have conversations about other values and feelings. Like our vulnerabilities and fears of trusting others for the times they were abused in the past. All of these “difficult” conversations could have lead to tighter bonds and wiser decision making. I may even still be married.

But the sad fact is, we just weren’t ready for that level of intimacy and trust. The ability to release control of how others saw us. As if we had control of that to begin with. Instead we all just ended up hurt and me alone.

Okay I Know My Values are Askew, Now What?

I figured this out after I had already done some serious damage to a majority of my relationships. This however, wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened to me. After I had been left for the second time for wanting to change the trajectory of my life, I ended up at my father’s house.

Here I was challenged to face some of those fears around being vulnerable in the presence of those who left and abused me. I’ve said before on this blog, if it wasn’t for this chance to rebuild a relationship I had been running from my entire life, I most likely would have ended up homeless.

So I started the work of cleaning up the mess I had made of my life. And the mess was formidable indeed. One of the places I began was, to start treating individuals with the respect I thought they deserved.

People as People, Not Objects

This was difficult for me because as I’ve said above, all of my role models, and I mean ALL, objectified women as sex objects and men as calloused and in charge. I had to identify the unhealthy habits I was practicing without realizing it and make a conscious effort to change what I was unconsciously doing.

One of the habits I identified to change was, I didn’t make eye contact with women I met. I was usually making a judgement on how attractive I thought they were by staring at their bodies. In my youth, I once entered my workplace and objectified the woman at the counter to my then friend by making rude gestures only to realize that it was my sister I was objectifying. This is something I’m not proud of, but that’s how I chose to live my life.

Now, I keep my eyes at face level. The person I’m interacting with deserves my attention and more importantly, my respect. I find that with a more concerted effort to pay attention to the person by not judging them, it’s easier to talk with them and I feel less pressure and as though I’m being judged.

And this is not an easy habit to break if you’re used to objectifying women the way that I had been. I find that I subconsciously want to search out different body parts or not make eye contact at all. But if repetition created my habit, it’s repetition that will break it.

Learning to Communicate How I Feel and Ask How Others Are Feeling, Not Just Acting a Part

Being able to acknowledge people as people and not objects has helped me in other areas as well. I’m more able to have open and honest conversations with people. Especially those close to me, instead of trying to be seen as someone who is likeable. I’m also able to own my mistakes now because I’m not afraid of looking less than perfect.

For example, the woman I currently work for is an excellent role model of someone who values honest communication over being seen as in control, or an authority. As a result, because of her values and because I’m able to see her as a person with value, I’m not afraid to talk about my mistakes and learn how to improve through them. This was something that was seen as a weakness in my family while I was growing up.

I’m also more confident in who I am as well. When I have a disagreement with someone, I now know how I feel about what’s happening, how I’m being treated by the other or how the other person feels. I used to fear being disliked and would do or say just about anything to feel belonging. Or I had no control over my anger and let it fly without restraint. Also something I was told was the mark of a man.

I had an argument with my father not to long ago that could have ended poorly had I chose to react the ways I used to when confronted with conflict. Instead of freezing him out after he reacted in a way that he later regretted, I was able to stand in my body and feel the full force of his anger while acknowledging that how he was reacting was not a reflection of who I am, how he sees me or makes me any less of who I already am.

I felt confident in myself, that I could take care of myself and stand up for myself at the same time. I felt as though I had an inner strength by standing up for myself instead of folding to the other person’s wishes or acting in a petty way. We were able to resolve our argument while acknowledging how we each felt. We both felt heard and that felt good.

I Thought There Was Going to Be More Talk About Sex?

So how does this all tie into a better sex life? These aren’t just disparate parts working independently of each other. So much of how we see one another and how we talk to each other forms the bonds that holds our relationships together. If you are constantly objectifying women as sex objects, including your partner, as I was, eventually they become one dimensional. And inevitably we will search out others to fill the need for novelty. This leads to an unhealthy relationship and sexlife.

But if we choose to view our partners, and people in general as multi-dimensional, then we begin to build more intimate bonds that will last beyond when we get bored with the one aspect of the person we decide to fetishize. This leads to feeling and being heard, understood and ultimately loved. And yes, when sex isn’t the sole focus of our interests, it becomes more enjoyable when you do indulge in it : ) It’s something to look forward to as opposed to what we hinge our value on.

And what brings this all together is, practice. It’s not always easy and in fact, it’s sometimes down right hard. But keep after it and it will pay off. There’s so much to discover about those closest to us that it would be a shame to ignore focus only on one aspect. Peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Romance & Sex Life of the Date” by Thomas Hawk is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Do I Know What My Boundaries Are? How to Tell if You’re Boundaries Need Shoring Up

Boundaries are another area I spend a lot of time on in this blog. The main reason being, if you were raised in a situation where boundaries were constantly being violated, then it can be difficult to know what is, and is not acceptable behavior. This was the case with my upbringing. I didn’t even know what a boundary was, and even worse, I confused a lack of boundaries for affection in some cases. This was a very unhealthy emotional place to inhabit.

Luckily I’ve learned a lot about what healthy boundaries are, and what they are not, but it took a lot of putting myself in some pretty iffy situations. Lessons that I could have probably learned in a much healthier fashion than how I had. But lessons learned nonetheless. In this post I’ll be talking about how to find where your boundaries lay, and also how to tell when they’re being encroached upon. These are difficult waters to navigate when you have no bearings in the way of role models. But there are ways of finding your bearings. It’s not impossible, but it is trying. And in trying times I like to remember the saying, “we were built for this”. Let’s find some healthy boundaries together : )

Where Are My Boundaries?

So as I said above, these can be tricky to find. If you’ve been immersed in a situation where a lack of boundaries were the norm, than knowing where you end and another begins isn’t always clear. Or maybe your boundaries were too rigid, too defined. This can also be as suffocating and a fearful place to be. Either way, if you’ve been left in one of these boats, you’re gonna need to find another vessel. Luckily there are places to find out what a healthy mix of boundaries looks like. Let’s take a look at being raised with no boundaries first. These can be, I feel, the most confusing.

No Boundaries:

Being raised with no boundaries can be a very confusing place to grow up while trying to navigate your young world. For me, no boundaries meant; being mean to others with callous disregard for their emotions, eating anything and everything I felt like when I felt like it, picking up vices like smoking and drinking at an early age (14) and knowing no restraint in these areas, using others and confusing a lack of boundaries for affection.

These are polarizing ways of being and were mostly caused by a lack of healthy role modeling of appropriate boundaries, also known as, neglect. I was mostly looking to feel loved by my neglectful caregivers by acting the ways that I watched them behave. My caregivers were mean and rancorous, so I was mean spirited and rancorous. It’s what I thought it meant to be grown up, mature. Later, when I realized that my role models were acting like Jim Morrison, I knew I had been mislead.

Being raised with no boundaries came with a feeling of desperation. The lack of connection for me was the cause of my desperation. My thoughts were consumed with what I could do to feel a sense of love and belonging with those around me, by doing things that were clearly disregarding my best interests. For example I stopped going to school at around age 16 and by then was drinking quite a bit as well. I never exercised and my diet wasn’t stellar either. And I did this all because I was looking for some way to belong to something that would give me a sense of comfort and security. Not realizing all the while how far I was straying from the habits I could have cultivated to create that sense of security and comfort for myself.

And the worst part of having no boundaries was, I confused a lack of boundaries for affection. I assumed that any chance for contact was good, seeing as how I never connected or bonded with my caregivers. I figured if I let them do what they wanted to me, the greater chance I would have of being loved by them. For me that meant they could say whatever they wanted to me, go through my personal belongings whenever they felt, invade my personal space on a whim and treat me as though I weren’t a person with basic needs and rights to personhood.

This set me up for failed relationships with the women I would later choose to be in my life and a lot of feeling as though I was never enough. That I needed someone to treat me poorly because I felt I wasn’t good enough to be in a healthy relationship, which left me feeling uneasy in relationships and lucky that a woman would even consider being with me. This perpetuated the cycles of poor boundaries and low self esteem and I acted in arrogant ways to cover over my feelings of inadequacy.

The end result was a lot of burned bridges and a staggering amount of unhealthy habits. I had no career prospects, had ended the most stable relationship I had been in for eight years on a whim, and had no idea what my future was going to look like. For all intents and purposes, I was one unfortunate event away from being homeless and completely without resources. I had made a life’s time worth of poor decisions and most all of them could be traced back to being raised with no boundaries or very rigid boundaries.

Rigid Boundaries:

Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the spectrum, my other caregivers had very rigid boundaries. There was no touching, we never talked about how we felt. There was never any conversations about who or how I was as a person. Preferences, likes and dislikes weren’t discussed. We never had any conversation that went deeper than the state of the weather and we barely saw each other as well. Any chances that we had to build a relationship was thoroughly crushed by the oppressive frigidity of the nature of our relationship.

These types of boundaries left me feeling as though I wasn’t good enough to be around. As though there was something wrong with me. Though nothing was ever explicitly stated, there was an uncomfortable air of feeling deeply wrong for some reason. Again, a sense of desperation set in as I tried to figure out why I was being rejected, only this time the rules had changed. I felt empty and as though I wasn’t good enough because there was a lack of trust on my caregivers part.

I had no idea that the lack of trust didn’t stem from me. Only that the rigidity, the stiffness of the boundaries made me feel as though, if I wasn’t behaving properly, or didn’t show the lack of emotion my caregiver displayed, than I wasn’t good enough.

Either way, I was being rejected again for some reason, but I had no idea what it was or what I was, or wasn’t doing. But I did know that some attention was better than no attention, so a lack of boundaries was more “nourishing” than being completely frozen out.

So in my youth I chose to emulate my caregivers that resembled Jim Morrison, and live a destructive lifestyle. I would later make the switch to becoming rigid in my boundaries, basing my values on how much I could sacrifice while thinking in black and white terms. But no matter which path I chose, I still didn’t feel belonging. This was where I came to realize just how unhealthy my boundaries and my relationships truly were. This is something I’m still coming to terms with. But I’ve picked up some resources along the way that have helped me to make some sense of my relationships. Let’s take a look at a few.

Finding the Balance:

I have a few photos on my phone that rotate and serve as my wallpaper. They are: two photos of dogs I want, a photo of yoga with Adriene, a photo of the Minimalist Baker, Tom Hanks, a picture of the bedroom I would one day like to build in my future home, and a photo of Tupac Shakur. The reason I bring up these photos is because they’ve come to represent a sense of balance in my life. Things that I’m aspiring to, and where I’ve come from.

The photos of the dogs helps to remind me of the possibility for companionship, unconditionally. I’ve never seen a dog look at a person and say, “I can’t wag my tail at you, you’re too ugly.” They are just little fluffballs of loving energy. This helps to remind me that no matter how rigid boundaries have been in the past, there are always sources of healthy connection and affection. I just need to find them and choose them.

The photo of Adrienne reminds me that there are people out there doing good work. They don’t have to sacrifice themselves to be liked or accepted and in fact are loved and accepted for pursuing something they love doing. They are also a source of positive energy and motivation. Also helping me to look out for my best interests in regards to decisions about my health. Yoga has taught me how to care for my physical self without pushing myself beyond what I’m capable of. Taking care of myself on the mat is a way for me to respect my boundaries around what I feel I should be accomplishing, when I feel my boundaries are too rigid. I.e. pushing myself beyond what I’m capable of achieving. I know that the purpose of my practice isn’t to push myself until I pass out. I’m there to listen to my body, and respond to its needs with care. Push my limits, while also listening to what my body is telling me.

The same is true of my photo of Dana from Minimalist Baker. She has seen me through some tough times, while helping me learn how to cook for and care for my nutritional needs while not sacrificing the flavors I love. I owe them a great deal and am constantly grateful for what they’ve taught me. Dana was the start of me understanding what healthy boundaries looked like in regards to food and nutrition and I eat a healthier diet thanks greatly to her.

Tom Hanks is there mostly for the roles he played in the movies I grew up watching. There was a time where he was the only responsible role model I had. I watched as he showed care for the people he was acting with and in a stable and responsible way. He was never abusive, mild in temperament and shared freely his emotional world. These roles showed me that it wasn’t unreasonable to have a reasonable expectation of a person. That it was normal and healthy to have healthy boundaries.

And growing up in a void of healthy role modeling meant that there was nobody to talk to. The T.V. was my closest family member and all this made for a very lonely upbringing. I was never really sure of what I was feeling, and the lack of connection was, looking back on it, criminal. I’m surprised that I made it as far as I did, and relatively unscathed. Relatively.

Which brings me to Tupac. Tupac is on my phone to remind me of where I came from. As the man said, “everybody and their lady got a little bit of thug in ’em”, me included. Which is funny because I was and still am mostly hippie : ) Tupac reminds me that when I feel those rigid boundaries begin to creep in, the ones that tell me I have to be as good as humanly possible or fear for my life the repercussions of some unknown authority, to ease up.

Everybody has a little rebellious streak in them, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. However, if you let that side take the reigns as I did, situations can get out of control quickly. But stifle it too much and you’ll become paralyzed by fear.

So whether you’ve had poorly defined boundaries, or too rigid boundaries, there are ways to find a new way of being that leaves you feeling as though you are in charge of your life, while also being able to let go a little. But it takes work. Boundaries unfortunately don’t build themselves. But with some dedication, and a few good role models, it’s possible.

So if you’re looking to shore up your boundaries, start by choosing some healthy role models. Are there people you are drawn to that seem to have a healthy grasp on their life? Start here. What are they doing that you admire, are drawn to? Do you have behaviours you are unhappy with, or wish you could change? These areas may be worth exploring a little more as well. Maybe find someone who has been in your shoes before. What are they doing, how have they changed?

I hope this has been helpful to you in some way. It isn’t an easy path, to nurture something that has been neglected for a long time, but it’s worth it in the end. Stay strong, and remember, you were built for this! Thanks for reading : ) peace.

Image Credits: “Blurring Boundaries” by Karthick R is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

%d bloggers like this: