Love(r)

Exploring Love, Sex & Intimacy

Tag: discussion

Dr. Philautia or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Self

Sorry for the unintended hiatus! The first two months of 2016 were filled with work (the kind I do for money so I can live), important projects and even some fulfilling creative writing. Sadly, what was neglected during this busy time was my beloved blog. But I am back now, so let’s get to it.

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Last time I wrote about The Porcupine’s Dilemma, whereby individuals crave intimacy, yet at the same time fear the closer they get to another person the more they will cause and receive pain. Hopefully, I did an adequate job of convincing you that there really isn’t much to fear. Sure, intimacy does make us vulnerable, but the benefits make it well worth the risks. I also mentioned that there are ways to strengthen yourself so that you are much less likely to get hurt while seeking intimacy, as well as ways to make you less needy in the first place. These strategies won’t prevent you from ever getting hurt in a relationship, but they will make you more resilient. One of the best ways to toughen up is to cultivate an abundance of philautia, or love of self.

Loving yourself is not a simple act, but it is a revolutionary one.

  • If you are a woman who has been told all your life that your worth is ultimately determined by how well you conform to our culture’s beauty standard…
  • If you are a man who has been taught a form of masculinity that is suffocating and narrow…
  • If you are a trans person who has to face the risk of violence on a daily basis while many of the powers at be refuse to validate your identity…
  • If you are a person of color, an ethnic minority, or a cultural outsider who has been devalued and disenfranchised by mainstream society…
  • If you are single in a culture that pathologizes being alone and says that the only way to be truly happy is to be coupled…

…then loving yourself is a rebellious and empowering act.

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There are a staggering many reasons why our Western culture promotes, or at very least encourages, self-loathing and insecurity. The status quo is fueled and preserved more easily by such negativity and gains little from fostering individuals to have secure, loving connections. Just to name a few, insecure people are easier to sell products to, they are easier to influence with scare-tactics and they are easier to bully or manipulate. Additionally, it takes a lot more conscious effort to be loving towards yourself and is much easier to be mean. We also have to contend with religious and cultural traditions that often view self-love as a moral failing and see no distinction between vanity, selfishness, arrogance and a healthy love of self. And if those weren’t discouraging enough, our brain’s reward center is even activated when we feel shame! With all these incentives, self-loathing can easily become normalized.

Most of us came to be insecure and self-loathing out of necessity; it was a strategy we learned at a very young age to cope and it worked well enough to get us this far in life. It might have protected or motivated you to get through traumatic events. The time has come though, to adopt a new strategy for navigating life.It is also possible we lacked care takers who modeled healthy love for us. The people close to us during our development teach us how to treat others as well as how to treat ourselves. Thus a mother might be kind and compassionate towards her children, but if she is cruel to herself she is setting an example they will emulate later in life. Our own self-talk, those encouraging or bullying voices in our head, are often a composite of comments influential people said about us and comments we heard those people make about themselves. This is how self-loathing can live on generation to generation.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can learn to cultivate philautia, to develop self-intimacy and unlearn all our cruel, self-loathing patterns of behavior. Furthermore we can achieve these goals in kind, compassionate ways, rather than adding “loving myself” to the arsenal we already use to beat ourselves up. It defeats the point of cultivating philautia if we bully ourselves into it, or berate ourselves when we revert to old habits. Admittedly, the process can feel contradicting and even confusing. It is about learning to love what you are and can’t change, while at the same time working to change the things that are inauthentic about your life. Knowing the difference between the authentic and the fake requires a great deal of compassion and honesty. It takes curiosity and patience. It is an ongoing process that none of us will ever be perfect at. But it is totally possible.

Too often people mistakenly believe that love is simply a feeling that happens or doesn’t. They don’t see love as something that can be chosen or cultivated. But the truth is you can. Love can be a deliberate, conscious choice the same way we can choose to dedicate ourselves to pursuing dreams, even when the road is unclear or challenging. If you feel that you are not at this moment the sort of person you can love, then you have two choices: to love yourself as you are in spite of your misgivings or to become a person worthy of your love. Holding these two objectives in tension will pull you into alignment, like some internal cosmic ballet.

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To get started, you might need to fake it till you make it. And yes, it actually works. Regardless of how critical or loving you feel right now, treat yourself like someone deserving of love (because spoiler, you are). Feelings can be inspired by actions, just as much as actions can be inspired by feelings. So court yourself like you would a new lover. Be compassionate and patient with yourself like you would your own child. Stand up for yourself. Protect yourself from cruelty. All those mean things you say in your head, those criticisms, put downs, insults, etc., imagine it was someone else saying those things to your face. Would you stand for that? If someone called you worthless to your face, what would you do? I would hope you’d tell them to shut up, get lost and not believe it. Then why is it that we tend to believe nasty comments we hear in our head that we would dismiss if it was someone else? Just because you heard it in your heard doesn’t make it valid. Protect yourself, even from the scared, hurt parts of your psyche.

I try to put this into practice in my own life to the best of my ability. It was recently my birthday and I decided to celebrate a little differently than I have in previous years. I consciously made the choice to spend the day alone, pampering myself and generally just doing things I enjoy. It was essentially a date with myself. A day filled with little acts of love. I made myself breakfast in bed, cuddled with my cat, luxuriated, went to a physical conditioning class, ate healthfully, went shopping and ended the day relaxing at the spa. I could have found company for any of these things, but I wanted to do it alone. I wanted to treat myself like someone worthy of my own love and attention. It was a satisfying success.

To plan a day like this and actually enjoy it would have been unthinkable for me only a few years ago. When I was younger I didn’t have a healthy love and respect for myself and it lead to all sorts of problems, including disliking my own company. I hated being alone. It caused me a lot of anxiety and emotional distress. My solution to this distress was to fill my daily life with plenty of distractions (food, television, video games, partying, sex, etc) and find ways to avoid myself. I often escaped into other people, preoccupying myself with their needs, caring for them, supporting them to achieve their happiness, sometimes at the expense of my own. Meanwhile, I totally neglected myself. I often felt I was nothing without someone. I based my own value and definition as a person on those around me and their love for me. I fluctuated and changed radically based on who I was with at the time. And if I didn’t have anyone I felt worthless and pointless. Back then I didn’t even enjoy masturbating, because honestly why would I want to fuck myself, this person I did not like?

Nine Inch Nails Quote

A song about a self-loathing individual who can only feel transcendent through the reckless abandonment that comes with sexual gratification.

I was not aware of it at the time, but I believed that if I helped others to be happy then their happiness might rub off on me in some Transitive Property of Joy. This did not really work, the way that cooking a meal and feeding it to others does nothing to satisfy one’s own hunger. Worst of all I did not know myself very well, nor did I care to know, my self-loathing was so strong. So of course I didn’t have a clear idea of who I was or what I wanted out of life, because I had never taken the time to explore those questions.

Love, romance and sex are used and abused by many people as an escape from self. In our culture there is a very popular idea of redemption through love, that we can gain value or be saved by the magic of people loving us. Adoration and validation from others becomes the goal, all the while we loath or neglect ourselves. If you care more about being liked by others than being liked by yourself, then you will try to change to be what you think others want. The paradox is though, that the harder you try to be likable the more inauthentic it will come across and most people won’t like that anyway. Or, if they do, then deep down you’ll be haunted by the knowledge that what they love is a photo-shopped version of you. They haven’t loved the “real” you and you’re convinced they couldn’t. You can’t build intimacy if you are scared of being discovered and seen.

You may find yourself always questioning your true love-ability and fear it is at risk of being revoked. You may feel like a fraud. That if people knew the real you they wouldn’t love you. You might censor or edit yourself. You might even lie. You try to change who you are in order to be worthy of love. But by doing these things you give your power away and then others can control you. If you believe that you are undeserving of love, then you create fear and a power imbalance when someone tries to love you.

If you live life for yourself first and others second, then you won’t compromise yourself to please them. This can be a hard concept to come to terms with, but no one else gets to define who and what you are. Not society, not your family, not your romantic partner, no one. They can try, and they will, but only you get to define yourself. This is just another reason why integrity, trust and intimacy with yourself is so essential. If you know and trust yourself, then no one else can gaslight you into doubting yourself. Of course people you trust can tell you what they see, but in the end you get to decide. Learning how to tell the difference between feedback that comes from someone who genuinely loves you and has your best interest at heart and someone out to manipulate you is a priceless life lesson. 

It is well known that communication is the foundation of a good relationship. Honesty, openness, curiosity and disclosure are all things we strive for in our relationships with other people. We understand these things bring knowledge and experience, which in turn fosters intimacy. Yet, so many of us neglect communicating this way with ourselves, inhibiting the development our self-intimacy.

These concepts might seem cliche or trite, but their value is too often overlooked. If you don’t love yourself how will anyone else get close enough to love you? If you don’t have intimacy with yourself how will you build it with others? If you don’t know how to please yourself how will anyone else know how to please you?

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Recently a friend of mine confided that he hasn’t had a crush on anyone in a long while. He and his partner decided to open up their relationship to polyamory a little over a year ago and he was surprised to find that his heart just wasn’t in it. On paper the idea of exploring sex or intimacy with other people sounded great, but in practice he was apathetic. When we discussed what the cause of his indifference could be, it brought us back to self-love. My friend was lacking a strong or clear sense of what he liked about himself and did not find much joy in his own company. We agreed that lacking any curiosity about himself was probably discouraging him from feeling curious about anyone else. I hope my friend reads this and through cultivating philautia develops a crush on himself!

I hope we can all agree that loving yourself and caring for yourself are important, and that there is far too much self-neglect and self-loathing out there. Yet most people would still rather find the love and validation they crave from others and not bother to give any to themselves.  

Learn (do whatever it takes) to enjoy your own company. It may take time, but get comfortable with being alone. Work through whatever fears, anxiety or unpleasant stuff being alone triggers. It will pass. Get in touch with your own thoughts and feelings. Try journaling or morning pages to help start the self-exploration. Learn to identify and take responsibility for your own needs and desires. You are your only true lifetime companion. In a way, you are your own soulmate. So treat yourself accordingly.

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In the end, if feeling ashamed of yourself comes more naturally than loving yourself, I am here to offer some help and to tell you…

  • You are not perfect
  • You are not shameful
  • You are beautiful in many ways
  • You are valuable in many ways
  • You are deserving of trust
  • You are deserving of intimacy
  • You are deserving of love

It is okay to believe these are true. Go ahead and give yourself permission. Positive affirmations like these can feel awkward and phony at first, but if you use them to counteract any negative self-talk you have, over time they will feel less and less like lies and more and more like the undeniable truths they are.

Lovingly yours,

Clara


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How Vampires Represent the Modern Ideal

*EDITORIAL NOTE*

I originally wrote this with the intention of publishing it right before Halloween, because y’know, vampires. But due to hectic setbacks I was not able to finish it in time. Then in November I participated in the National Novel Writing Month challenge, which consumed all my writing time and energy. On the bright side, I did win the challenge!

So here we are, it’s the beginning of December and I just decided eff it, better late than never. So without further ado, enjoy your modern social critique sprinkled with vampires.


 

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It’s almost Halloween (*haha just kidding) so I thought it would be appropriate and fun to talk about vampires! Vampires have been part of our collective mythos for a long, long time, but their image and what precisely they symbolize has evolved. Vampires have had a resurgence of popularity in the last decade or so and have taken on a different, sexier form.

Originally vampires were supposed to be terrifying. Stories of Vlad the Impaler (aka Count Dracula), Nosferatu and the rest of the old school vampires were meant to scare and scandalize people. Vampires were the embodiment of our repressed urges and tapped into human fears surrounding death, violence, cannibalism, blood and the dread that animalistic desires lurk inside all of us.

Eventually our culture embraced the latent violent/erotic connotations vampires had and exploited it, especially for TV and movies. This is when we started to see vampires who were sort of terrifying and a little sexy, like Christopher Lee in the Hammer produced Dracula films, or Jonathan Frid as Barnabas Collins on the Gothic soap opera, Dark Shadows. Nowadays vampires are mostly sexy and a little bit terrifying (except for Twilight – there is nothing terrifying about the vampires in Twilight except for the messages they are sending to impressionable adolescents).

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The current popularity of vampires obviously says a lot about our erotic or violent imaginations and general wish fulfillment in the form of immortality and power. However, I believe their popularity also has a lot to do with the way they exemplify some of the ideals our 21st century culture obsesses over. I would go as far to say that if a person was capable of fulfilling all our contemporary aspirations towards youth, beauty, perfection, etc, which is impossible, the result would essentially render that person into a vampire.

What sort of ideals am I talking about? Well, our modern western culture has a lot of obsessions, beliefs it emphasizes and qualities it pushes us all to strive for. Some of these ideals are pretty ridiculous, others unattainable, while still others are straight up harmful and frightening when deconstructed. 

Let’s break this spooky shit down.

Vampires are forever young (and conventionally attractive)…

Our culture is extremely preoccupied with physical beauty and puts a great deal of value into being young and attractive while prescribing a beauty ideal that is very restrictive. We are even lead to believe that youth and beauty will empower us and make us happy, but that is a misleading oversimplification of reality.

Vampires fulfill this ideal perfectly: they are immortal, in most cases forever youthful, almost always conventionally attractive and these superficial characteristics do indeed bestow them with power. As far as 21st century vampires go I have rarely seen an ugly one, or even an average looking one. Every vampire in Twilight, True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, Interview with a Vampire, and so on is practically flawless. Why do we rarely ever see a vampire who is old or doesn’t conform to our culture’s beauty standard? Because most people would find that unappealing and it would defeat the point. People love modern vampires, because they play into our fantasies of being young and beautiful forever. Almost as if to say, immortality wouldn’t be worth it if you didn’t get to look like a thin, 22-year-old, airbrushed supermodel for all eternity. 

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Vampires never eat…

Well, at least they never eat regular human food. They might be blood-thirsty, but vampires don’t have to worry about their diet. They are the flawless undead and no amount of blood is going to make them gain weight. Not surprising that in a culture ripe with eating disorders and unhealthy relationships with food, beautiful creatures that get to opt out of eating food entirely are so popular. I had not given this aspect of vampires very much thought until a friend of mine pointed out how many times in the book Twilight the main character, Bella, talks about not eating, or how much she admires the vampires for not eating. 

“The anorexic’s fantasies of bodily absence [in] her pursuit of extreme thinness might be seen to express the desire for ‘the impossible fiction of the non-body’ (ibid.). Here ‘…the ideal is not merely a thin body…not just a reduction but an eradication of the body’.” – Sally Miller, Vampires, the Body and Eating Disorders: A Psychoanalytic Approach

Vampires are always rich…

At least the ones we like and care about. Every popular vampire protagonist comes from a wealthy family, or is inexplicably rich. They all have luxurious lifestyles, in fancy houses, with fashionable wardrobes and tons of them own night clubs. For some reason being noble, aristocratic, or well-to-do seem to be prerequisites for becoming the undead. The point is, we like our vampire the way we like our reality TV stars, living lavishly.

Vampires are very, very white…

They are almost always white, and their paleness or “whiteness” is often fixated on as a beautiful, admirable or desirable quality. Needless to say it is extremely problematic that most depictions of vampires are white and they are praised for their whiteness. It’s creepy and racist with colonial undertones. 

“[The Twilight] saga upholds dominant ideas about race that associate whiteness with civility, beauty, and intellect on the one hand, and indigenous people with animality and primitivism on the other.” – Natalie Wilson, Got Vampire Privilege?: The Whiteness of Twilight

Vampires are sex-negative…

Being sex-positive means you think sex and the desire for it is healthy and that pleasure is nothing to be ashamed of. If we look at the blood-thirst vampires experience as analogous to sexual desire (a comparison many stories make), then we see how vampires exemplify our own culture’s dysfunctional relationship with sex. A vampire’s thirst for blood is often shown as conflicted and fraught with only two possible outcomes – evil vampires who embrace their desire and become monstrous, or reluctant vampires who struggle and feel ashamed of their nature. So whether you’re a horny human or a thirsty vampire, the message is you’re doomed to either be a tortured soul or a monster! 

Vampires also represent a sexual desire that is predatory and thrilling. Most sex researches recognize that rape fantasies often come from a conflict between desire and shame, that they are about giving into forbidden, sexual desire that a person believes they are not supposed to have. Vampire stories play out like elaborate rape fantasies where they seduce, “glamour”, or mind control their victims into passionate, hedonistic, blood rituals. A vampire is the perfect solution for a person who wants sex, but who feels they are not supposed to want sex. Vampires represent the part of ourselves that wants to control our “shameful” urges, but simultaneously wants to give into them. I believe that this facet of vampire fascination is another subtle expression of the rape culture we live in and need to learn to recognize, process and protest in a conscious way. 

In conclusion…

So let’s review, our modern society idealizes being young, beautiful, not needing to eat (or at least not needing to worrying about your diet and resulting body weight), being rich, being white and having a conflicted, fraught, shameful relationship to your own erotic desires. Sounds like a vampire to me. The problem though, is that we are not undead, immortal creatures of the night, we are humans who have complex, legitimate needs and who come in a myriad of colors, shapes, ages, socio-economic classes, sizes and appearances.

Don’t get me wrong, I can see the appeal. I know I found the concept of vampires very alluring when I was an angsty, teenage girl myself. There is nothing inherently wrong with fantasizing about vampires or enjoying the books, movies, television, etc made about them. I do however, see something very wrong with aspiring to be like a vampire, or exploiting people’s insecurities in order to reinforce unhealthy ideals we have in our culture. The popularity of vampires is a reflection of dysfunctional parts of our culture that we simultaneously fear and desire – parts that we need to shed some light on and examine.

In the end I don’t think vampires are creepy, but the unattainable ideals our culture beats us with everyday as well as the messages we internalize about what we need to be happy are scary as hell.

Lovingly yours,

Clara


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Gender: We Made the Whole Thing Up

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Today I want to share a fun follow up to the three-part series I wrote on sexism (1, 2 & 3) and how it makes healthy intimacy in relationships nearly impossible. Those posts were so heavy and necessary, but today I want to make things a little more lighthearted, because liberation can be fun! No, really, I promise.

First of all, how much thought have you given to your own gender expression? Your clothing, appearance, mannerisms, way of speaking, pastimes and so on. The accumulation of these choices may seem to you to be natural, fundamental, perhaps even immutable. Maybe it’s something you’ve never given much thought, because you’ve never questioned your expression, how it was presented to you, how it was enforced in your life or your own predilection for fulfilling certain gender stereotypes. If you’re comfortable with your gender (dare I say euphoric?) good for you! But I am going to invite you to give it some thought right now. You see the funny thing about gender expression is that while it is important and constantly present in our daily lives, it is totally arbitrary!

“We are born male or female, but not masculine or feminine. Femininity [and masculinity] is an artifice, an achievement, ‘a mode of enacting and reenacting received gender norms, which surface as so many styles of the flesh.” – Sandra Lee Bartky, Femininity and Domination: Studies in the Phenomenology of Oppression

Hopefully by the time you are done reading this it will become clear that you don’t need to have gender dysphoria, nor be a furious feminist, to appreciate that gender is a construct we as a society have all agreed to utilize. It’s akin to the way we as a society have agreed that colorful paper, metal coins or digital numbers in a bank account are called “money” and allow you to buy goods and services. Our economy can only be based on such imaginary value if we all agree to believe it does, or are forced to conform. No respectable establishment is going to sell you a milkshake without money. Get out of here with your homemade dollars or mountains of salt! Similarly, we have what you could call a “gender economy” that assigns social capital to certain behaviors or forms of expression when enacted by the correct type of person. Thereby, if you have a vagina and you identify as female and adhere to a very feminine gender expression, you get lots of imaginary gender-dollars (yay!), but if you don’t conform you don’t get any gender-dollars (boo!).

Really what I am trying to say is gender and money are actually a lot like Tinkerbell, they only exist because we believe they do. And some people get really upset and start clapping like maniacs when you suggest you don’t believe in them.

There are certain things in life that don’t require our participation or belief to exist: gravity will still work, biology will keep functioning and general “truths” about humans do exist. However, many parts of life are far more subjective and variable than we tend to acknowledge. Even biological sex is not as objective and clearly defined as we once assumed. So sure, if we all decided to stop believing in the existence of germs, microorganisms would go on killing us, but if we all decided to stop believing in gender life would go oooooon! Mark my words, throwing out the gender binary and strict gender roles would not cause the end of civilization – it might just make it a lot more fun.

Gender expression is about as arbitrary as fashion because, like the type of clothes we agree are cool, it’s a cultural construction. And similar to fashion, everything from gender roles/expectations, what has been coded as “feminine” or “masculine”, or what is seen as socially acceptable has varied widely throughout cultures, throughout the world, throughout time.

Eddie Izzard rocking all sorts of gender presentations. Credit due to my awesome friend Anne Bean!

To drive home this point, here are some examples of various differences in gender expression throughout history:

  • In Western society we have a stereotype that the color pink is for girls and blue is for boys. This has become so pervasive that pink is seen as the default “girly-est” color. There are more pink products marketed towards women than you can shake a stick at. But why? Not only are these color-to-gender associations arbitrary, it was not that long ago that they were completely flipped. Pink was seen as a more appropriate color for boys and blue for girls. So please, wear whatever colors you like and for goodness sake stop making all products for ladies pink. There is no good reason we need to start enforcing gender stereotypes on humans when they are still babies… or really ever.

“According to child development experts, children are just becoming conscious of their gender between ages 3 and 4, and they do not realize it’s permanent until age 6 or 7. At the same time, however, they are the subjects of sophisticated and pervasive advertising that tends to reinforce social conventions.” Jeanne Maglaty, Smithsonian.com

  • Speaking of fashion and how greatly it can fluctuate… It is common and acceptable today to have your children wear “gender neutral” clothing when they are playing and generally being kids. However, the “gender neutral” clothing that are deemed acceptable are things like pants, t-shirts, rompers, etc. But it used to be very different. It used to be that all children regardless of their assigned sex or gender identity were dressed up in, well, dresses. Because they were easier to clean and allowed more freedom of movement. So what children used to wear wouldn’t be considered gender neutral now, it would be seen as feminine, and what we put our kids in now would have been seen as masculine and inconvenient back in the day.
  • Continuing on with fashion… High heels started out as a men’s fashion, then became acceptable for all genders, and eventually became the female only shoe it is seen as today. The funniest part about the whole thing is women started wearing high-heels in the first place as “an effort to masculinise their outfits”.
  • Knitting used to be considered a very “manly” craft.
  • Cheerleading was originally an all male sport.
  • In the earlier part of the 20th century women who were athletic “tomboys” were stigmatized as examples of “disreputable heterosexually deviant womanhood” (i.e. straight sluts) until eventually society flipped this on its head and decided they must be lesbians instead. Switching the stereotype from penis-lovers to penis-haters in a mind-mindbogglingly short and misogynistic amount of time. This is also a great example of how people often confuse gender expression for sexual orientation, or think they are inexorably linked when they are not.
  • Beer brewing used to be a female dominated industry until about the time of the industrial revolution
  • Crying used to be perceived not as a “soft”, “emotional” and “feminine” sign of weakness, but actually as a “masculine” demonstration of strength. Or once upon a time people understood and accepted that there were different kinds of crying in different contexts. The bottom line is the idea that “boys don’t cry” is a very recent invention. For most of history masculinity allowed for, or even encouraged, crying.

The examples go on and go, but I choose a few I found to be interesting and salient.

So how does this affect intimacy? Well, self-acceptance and self-esteem are a huge part of healthy intimacy. Be who you want to be, wear what you want to wear, participate in the activities you feel passionate about, express yourself as you want. Whenever someone tells you what you’re doing is feminine or masculine, as yourself, does that make sense?  Are they conflating biology with gender? Why do they even care what you wear? Are they trying to force you into a box that makes them comfortable at the expense of your own comfort? What does it matter anyways what a person’s genitals might be and what hobbies they want to participate in? A person can have ovaries and want to brew beer. You can have testes and enjoy wearing eyeliner and nail polish. Not everything marketed towards women needs to be fucking Pepto Bismol pink. Not every man needs to smell like Old Spice. WHY DOES CLOTHING MADE FOR FEMALE BODIES NEVER HAVE POCKETS?!? I swear it is a conspiracy. Saying that pink is a girls’ color, that videogames are a boys’ activity, that men are rational and women are nurturing perpetuates stereotypes that simply are not true.

People who want to control you and your gender make me so mad. Seriously, fuck them, and not in the fun way. What society really needs is breathing room for everyone. The more you are comfortable with yourself, the clearer you are on what you want and why you want it, the more liberated you will feel and the more you will love yourself. These are all parts of being intimate with the most important companion you will ever have in your lifetime – yourself! And the better intimacy you have with yourself, the better you will be at developing it with others.

“The identity of men and women is developed by embracing the important human qualities that all people need to live well. There is more to the human identity of real men and women in being disciplined, just, wise and dedicated to our self improvement than the social dictates of fashion or socially defined gender based roles can ever give us through the incoherent fiction of gender identity.” – Max Maxwell, A Socratic Perspective on Gender Identity

Invest your time and energy into being a happy, healthy person rather than a socially acceptable womanly-woman or manly-man. Because while the former is actually attainable and will improve the quality of your life, the latter is an incoherent, social fantasy we all made up and will constantly reinvent.

Lovingly yours,

Clara


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Sexism Hurts Men Too

This is the third and final part of a series on misogyny and sexism. Part one discussed how our society devalues and conspires against the feminine, with disastrous results. Part two discussed the often subtle problem of internalized misogyny and the widespread damage it causes. Today I want to tackle how sexism, a systematic inequality of genders and misogyny really do hurt men/male people. SO THIS ONE GOES OUT TO ALL THE DUDES, because this might surprise some of you, but sexism hurts you too.

If you felt at all left out while you were reading parts 1&2 and want to be included, first off thank you for taking an interest in the plight of the females of your species by reading this far, and second congratulations! Male people have their share of sexist suffering too! Enough suffering in fact, for me to write an entire post about it. And for the record, I’m being completely serious here. You will find little to no sarcasm or condescension in this piece (please call me out on it if you do). Everything I write today comes from a place of genuine compassion. My hope is by the end of reading today’s post, you’ll have a little more compassion for the experience of female people, male people and especially for yourself as a person coping with the patriarchy. 

“While patriarchy endures, [men] will never be free to express who they are, or treat women as they should be treated.” –Margaret Corvid

The patriarchy hurts men too, because it prescribes a limited and oppressive view of masculinity, what a man is supposed to be, how he is supposed to act and what he is supposed to want. I have known men who fit all the common stereotypes we hear about: men who feel ashamed to cry no matter the circumstance, men who don’t know how to articulate and process their emotions very well, men who simultaneously crave and fear intimacy, men who are afraid to show weakness or vulnerability and men who feel limited or trapped by the expectations of their prescribed gender role.

So what does it mean to be a man in a society that devalues and on occasion outright despises the feminine? It means men have to strive to be hyper-masculine and not perceived as feminine at all. They are forced to police themselves and others, staying vigilant to tirelessly guard and maintain their masculinity, a feat they will never pull off flawlessly. In fact, one of the worst things you can do to a man in our society is emasculate him, in other words, take his masculinity away from him. This is why calling a man a “girl”, “bitch” or a “pussy” is even considered insulting. It is also why men fear being laughed at by women, while women are afraid of being killed by men.

Apparently, despite the stereotype of masculine strength, masculinity is actually quite fragile and vulnerable – it is a noble and powerful thing you must fight to earn and fight to keep. Just as every woman I know has been dismissed as “too emotional” at some point in her life, every man I’ve asked has shared that he’s been told to “man up” if he was perceived as being too emotional, i.e. feminine, i.e. weak, i.e. bad. All of this sounds exhausting, oppressive and a potential source of tremendous amounts of anxiety.

But how can men even process or discuss this anxiety, when they are restricted to a very narrow range of acceptable emotional expression in our society? The sad truth is for the most part they don’t. It is terrible and damaging that men aren’t allowed emotional space and expression. Men have feels too! They are human dammit! They deserve to have their feelings validated and acknowledged, just like every person does, and for it to be safe to express and process them.

Another sad thing the patriarchy and hypermasculinity does is tell men they aren’t allowed physical intimacy and closeness. But again, men are human beings, so most of them do in fact need affection, and that need does not make them in any way weak. Men are told they can’t touch or be affectionate with each other or else they might be labeled as homosexual, which points to other related problems in our culture: homophobia and the sexualization of all touch. Furthermore, men are told they need to be dominant/aggressive in their sexual conquests of women, so physical intimacy and affection is hard to come by even from female partners. I have personally seen men feel anxious or even panic when allowed to be vulnerable – I have been the big spoon and witnessed a mix of relief and confusion. I believe that all male people would benefit from a normalization of platonic, consensual touch without having to fear that it will be sexualized or call into question their masculinity and/or sexual orientation. 

The list goes on and on with things the patriarchy discourages men from doing, less they be emasculated: Men aren’t allowed to cry; Men are expected to carry huge emotional burdens and do so stoically; Men are shamed for asking for help or seeking support if they are victimized or abused. These beliefs about what true masculinity is go so far that they perpetuate the idea that real men can’t be the victim of harassment, stalking, domestic abuse, rape, etc. But these terrible things do in fact happen to male people, they’re just more likely to “man up” and not talk about it, or seek help, and when they do they are not often taken seriously. 

If femininity was valued as much as masculinity in our society, if people were allowed to be people and not restricted gender roles, then the lives of everyone would be happier and healthier. There are lots of specific perks to having equality for people regardless of sex or gender.

When you are taught to dehumanize women through objectification or idolization (putting them on a pedestal) it is nearly impossible to have healthy intimacy with them. It is the classic “Madonna-whore complex“, where women are either elevated into pure, innocent beings deemed worthy of love or the role of caregiver (wives, mothers, saints, etc) or they are debased objects to be used for sexual gratification. The thing is women can be all of those things, and are certainly so much more.  

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And dudes, I’ve heard some of you like sex (it’s totally cool if you don’t though – shout out to all the asexuals out there!). However, the idea that men always want sex, that it’s all they think about and that they should always be the dominant/aggressive one in a sexual encounter is so restrictive. It also sets us up to believe that men are not in control of their sexuality, or accountable for the actions they take. It fuels the entitlement men feel towards sex and the fear women fear towards male sexuality. The truth is men have a wide range of sexual expression and desires. I have a tip for you though, if you do like having sex with women, more women would be interested if they felt a) safe b) respected and c) that their pleasure mattered in the encounter. Studies have shown that women aren’t actually any less interested in casual sex than their male counterparts, despite the longstanding cultural stereotypes. Women are just as likely to engage in casual sex provided they feel they are not going to be slut shamed about the encounter and that their partner is going to try to make it a pleasurable experience for them. 

Take it from me, if you let a sexually adventurous woman feel safe and respected, give her equal power to stay or leave as you do, then if she wants she will bend over backwards to please the both of you. I have personally know men who are respectful, considerate, mindful of the needs of the women in their lives, without sacrificing an ounce of their masculinity. It is very inspiring and attractive. These men tend to get what they want, because they are willing to listen, to communicate and to give as much as they take.

Most all of us have a need for sex, companionship and intimacy, but none of us are entitled to them. This is a priveldge we all are capable of earning, not a right we are born with. Because we are each autonomous beings with agency, no one owes you anything, and intimacy is not something you can coerce or force. You can invite it and encourage it… and that is about all. Thus sexism, misogyny, objectification and idolization will all interfere with, if not totally prevent, our ability to have healthy intimacy with each other.

“It is feminism that offers men the chance at a sexually fulfilling life. When rape culture is extinguished, when patriarchy subsides, all genders can realise their full sexual expression in safety. Even now, what feminism asks of men – that they be conscious of their privilege and respect the agency of women – can lead them to truly satisfying intimate relationships […] feminist values can teach them the skills to communicate with respect.”-Margaret Corvid

Imagine what it could be like if we did not live in a patriarchy that values hyper-masculinity and devalues femininity. Imagine if you felt safe to identify, experience and express your emotions whatever they might be. Imagine you did not have to repress or censor any part of your self expression. Imagine you were allowed to receive safe, consensual physical affection from not only your significant other, but your female and male friends too. Imagine you did not always have to project strength or deal with issues in an aggressive manner. Imagine you were not assumed to be a mindless slave to your libido, or assumed that you do not have control over your sexual desire, or assumed to be a potential rapist. Imagine women by default felt safe to communicate with you, be themselves around you, and express any interest they might have in you without fear. Imagine you did not have to worry about being masculine enough, or too feminine. Imagine if you were acceptable, lovable and totally awesome just as you are!

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Lovingly yours,

Clara


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Internalized Misogyny

Art Credit: Jemimah Vaughan

Art Credit: Jemimah Vaughan

This is the second part of what I intend to be a three part series discussing sexism and/or misogyny and how they affect our relationships. You can read the first part, “How Society Conspires Against the Feminine” here. Today I want to explore the insidious and cognitively dissonant problem of internalized misogyny, or in other words, when female people learn to hate femininity.

For some of you out there, the concept of internalized misogyny makes no sense. How could it be possible for a person to hate their own gender? But the sad truth is, it’s very common. I used to be a mild misogynist myself, without really being aware of the harm I was doing and the sexism I was unwittingly perpetuating. I know many other female people with similar experiences, and those who struggle with it still. Really this is just a case of the sexist messages of our culture being so successful that even the victims of these messages buy into the hate and go on to perpetuate it. It is the same as a gay person believing all the homophobic bullshit they’ve heard all their life and becoming spiteful and closeted. Or an African American internalizing racist messages from our society, learning to resent their own race or culture. 

If you’re still not sure what I’m talking about, start by asking yourself, how many times have you heard a woman say the following, or as a woman said these things yourself? 

  • I’m not like other girls
  • I’m one of the good ones/fun ones/cool ones
  • I don’t have many female friends, mostly male friends
  • Girls are catty and petty and cause so much drama
  • Women are boring and dumb
  • I’m just one of the guys
  • Other girls pick on me/tease me

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Why do we say this shit? Why do we throw other women under the proverbial bus and try so hard to differentiate ourselves as somehow “better” than the rest? It’s because when girls say this stuff they are striving to be the “Exceptional Girl”. She’s cool, she’s not catty, she’s “one of the guys”, she’s EXCEPTIONAL GIRL! A superhuman with all the sex appeal of a female and none of the drama and negativity our society dumps on femininity. She is a very common pop-culture trope, often used to reinforce patriarchal ideals. The reality though is that insulting and judging other females as you try to scramble your way to the top will only hurt you in the end. By fighting to be the Exceptional Girl you endorse sexist ideas about women and you reveal your own self-loathing. Because how do you really expect to feel happy and whole if deep down you hate what you are?

Unfortunately these sorts of ideas get reinforced all the time. If I had a dollar for every dude who ever told me “you’re not like other girls, you’re fun/cool/[insert positive attribute]” who meant it as a compliment (and trust me I took those words to heart as compliments) I would have way too many dollars that I would not be proud of now. I look back at my younger, more naive self and wonder, why was I so eager for male approval, especially at the malign of my fellow females? The answer is because all women in our society are conditioned to seek out male validation and to regard other females as competition.  

So obviously when this game has been set up to be every woman for herself, female people start to believe they can’t trust each other. Last time I discussed the sad reality that females are taught to believe their value is something they have to earn from males. If your value comes from men desiring you then why would you fraternize with the enemy (aka other females)? You’re also likely to do and say whatever is necessary to make your competition seem less desirable, in order to succeed in this stupid, zero-sum game where women are pitted against each other. Furthermore, asserting power over another human is much easier if that human is insecure and lacking in strong emotional bonds with other people. Thus the strategy is to undermine female people’s trust in themselves and each other – divide and conquer. Unfortunately, there are plenty of people out there who want to keep women divided so that they are easier to conquer and control. 

Yes, some women are petty, catty, etc, but so are some men, so are some human beings of any kind! We need to learn to appreciate that female people are people first and female second. Every woman out there has as much potential for greatness, villainy and everything in between as her male peers do. Ideally, she will be judged on her actions and character rather than just her sex and/or gender.  

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Part of the reason internalized misogyny persists is because it does have certain appeal and incentives in our patriarchal society. Some of the appeal of being the only female (who has been deemed exceptional, or at least tolerable) in a male social group comes from a boost to the ego that it gives, while some of it comes from laziness. When trying to make friends with people where physical attraction is not the default current pulling you together you have to make more of an effort to be a decent and interesting human being. Thus the reverse, being friends with people who are sexually attracted to you, is easier – you just don’t have to try as hard. 

There is also a more insidious dynamic at play. Due to the widespread objectification of the female form, women learn to objectify other women just as much as men do. So much so in fact that both men and women’s brains perceive “men as people and women as body parts“. This disturbing quirk causes women to draw comparisons and size each other up in our daily lives to the point where it’s almost impossible to turn this process off. It’s unconscious and instantaneous. Most women walk into a room and instantly rank themselves and the other women present according to this unspoken hierarchy of attractiveness, which only intensifies insecurities and the hunger for outside validation. It can feel tremendously fulfilling to earn the friendship and approval of men you’ve been taught to defer to, who have the power to validate you and make you feel special. While on the other hand, it can feel challenging to be friends with the women you’ve been taught to objectify, compete against, and who are a constant potential trigger for your own insecurities.

“Women to varying degrees internalize this outsider view and begin to self-objectify by treating themselves as an object to be looked at and evaluated on the basis of appearance. Self-objectification manifests in a greater emphasis placed on one’s appearance attributes (rather than competence-based attributes) and in how frequently a woman watches her appearance and experiences her body according to how it looks (McKinley & Hyde, 1996; Noll & Fredrickson, 1998). Objectification theory also posits a mediation model that may explain how self-objectification leads to women’s mental health risks via negative psychological outcomes.” – Sexual Objectification of Women: Advances to Theory and Research, Szymanski et al, 2011

So by now I hope it is clear that not only does internalized misogyny exist, it is pervasive and damaging to the intimacy a female person has with herself, as well as her ability to have healthy intimacy with other people (male or female). As I have written previously, it is difficult, if not nearly impossible, to truly have healthy intimacy with someone you have been taught to dehumanize into a sexual object. And as the research shows, not only are men doing this to women, but women are devaluing and dehumanizing themselves. If we are going to love ourselves, love others, be satisfied with our lives, get in touch with what we truly want and then fight for it, this sort of systemic and toxic loathing of femininity needs to stop.

So what can we do to alleviate our own internalized misogyny and possibly prevent it from developing in the first place?

First you can start by recognizing that women don’t have to be your greatest enemies, they can be your greatest allies. Because what are you really competing for anyways? The attention and validation of men? Girl, take it from me, it’s okay to want it, but by no means do you need it. It’s grossly overvalued and not actually going to make you happy or satisfied with yourself. Because true satisfaction is not something other people can give you. It’s something you build for yourself. When you build a relationship with yourself that contains true love and intimacy, you won’t need other people to define and reassure your value. A million men can tell a woman she is gorgeous, but that by itself isn’t going to make her feel any less insecure. And knocking down other women through teasing, criticizing, bullying, slut-shaming, gender-policing, and generally not supporting each other will only hurt you in the end. Hating other women leads to hating yourself, or vice versa, having the feminine things about yourself be ridiculed or scrutinized leads to resenting other women.

Internalized misogyny is a damaging cycle we definitely need to break. And we break it through loving ourselves (including our femininity), appreciating the femininity in others (including men), and by striving to see female people as PEOPLE. 

Tune in next time on Love(r), as I continue to explore the topic of sexism by discussing how sexism hurts menfolk too.

Lovingly yours,

Clara


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How Society Conspires Against the Feminine

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Being feminine in our culture, whether you are a cis-woman, a trans-woman, or an effeminate male-bodied person, can be difficult or even degraded. I am not saying women have the sole share, or even the biggest share, of injustice in modern society. Race and socioeconomic class play a significant part in whether you are privileged or screwed when it comes to the way society treats you and its concept of your value. Add intersectionality to the mix, as I have been educating myself on, and women of color get to experience the double-whammy of sexism and racism.

But sex and gender play a big role in the advantages a person has. Being female or feminine is often seen as a disadvantage and makes you a minority in many spheres of our society. How is it possible that female persons are a minority in so many places (among corporate executives, in the boardroom, on the senate floor, in positions of power in the media, in STEM fields, etc) when on average 51% of the world’s population is female? It is the same reason that such a relatively small percent of the US population controls the majority of its wealth. The answer is power imbalance and systems that benefit from perpetuating that power imbalance. 

Society overall does not regard femininity as valuable and I would argue conspires against it in all sorts of ways. As a result, women do not hold as much power in their own lives as they potentially could, and arguably what is more important, they themselves do not feel empowered. This extends beyond persons who were born as women (two X chromosomes), and affects any person perceived as feminine. This is why it is more acceptable in our society to be a tomboy than a… do we even have a term in English for male-bodied people who prefer to dress/act femininely that isn’t offensive and hurtful? I can only think of insulting ones, which goes to show that we value masculinity so much that we respect women who pursue the masculine ideal, while we belittle men who pursue the feminine ideal.

As women we are sent many damaging and disenfranchising messages. Today I am going to talk about just a few of the major ones. 

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Constantly, in subtle and not so subtle ways, women are told that our value is in our bodies – our bodies are the best and worst thing about us, and most damaging of all, that in the end they don’t really belong to us.

There is a hyper-focus in our society on female bodies and appearance at the neglect of other traits. It is first and foremost about beauty and sex appeal. Through the objectification and commodification of the female form, bodies are not seen as whole human beings, but a collection of potentially pleasing/repulsive body parts used to sell products, please men, or keep women striving for unattainable perfection. We are taught that this is our currency in society, that our value is derived from being beautiful, being sexy, or generally being pleasant for public (usually male) consumption. 

Women are trained to be very aware and critical of these things. We are taught to police the appearance and behavior of ourselves and each other. Some of the worst body-shaming I have ever experienced or heard about came from other women.

Worst of all, as society often demonstrates, our bodies seemingly do not even belong to us: they are subject to scrutiny from strangers, harassment in public places, judgement from society, and legally we don’t even get to decide what we do with them in certain very important ways (reproductive rights, etc). I would even go a step further to say that the obsession with what a woman can and can’t do with her body, whether it is slut-shaming her for being a sexual agent rather than sexual object, or caring more about protecting the life of a fetus than a mother, it all comes back around to the idea that a woman’s value, her currency, is in her body (sex, pregnancy, motherhood, beauty, and so on).

Recent campaigns meant to empower women are often still too focused on beauty. Positive messages like “black is beautiful”, or “fat is beautiful” are great and totally true, but what about the idea that a female person’s significance is not rooted in whether or not she is “beautiful” at all. What if it was based on the quality of her character, her achievements, her intelligence, her love, her compassion, her generosity?     

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Building on the idea that a female person’s value is derived from her “beauty” is the idea that whatever value she has, or could have, is not intrinsic, but is something she has to earn, usually from men. If she is not fulfilling her obligation to be consumable and aesthetically pleasing, or one of her socially acceptable roles as nurturer/care-giver/mother then she is often seen as useless or even worthless. This is one of the reasons why women are constantly encouraged to act accommodating and permissive towards others, putting other’s needs before her own so as to fulfill those assigned roles.

Overall, as female people we are shamed about our bodies, shamed about our sexual expression, shamed about our emotional needs, and generally undermined in almost every way.

The onslaught of messages include:

  • Remember to be sexy and beautiful, or at very least pleasing to look at
  • Take care of others emotional needs even at the cost of your own (especially men and children)
  • You are an object of sexual desire, but control yourself because your sex is a resource that men want access to, and they want to control that access
  • If you express your anger or push back you will be dismissed as a bitch or as crazy

But why is it this way? What is the point?

The reason is to create insecurity and instability. If we were secure in ourselves, in our feelings, in our needs, in our sexual expression, in our bodies, and we didn’t feel like we needed external permission or validation, then how could we be manipulated? What would be left to manipulate?  

In the context of abusive relationships, one of the main strategies of abusers is to undermine the trust the victim has in their own judgement or feelings. The abuser seeks to create such insecurity, so that their victim will not fight back or stand up to the abuse. It is easier to manipulate someone who does not trust themselves. Take this in the larger context of sexism and you can see it happening to female people all around us all too often. We have a patriarchal society that seeks to keep feminine people captive and in their place by creating insecurity and undermining a person’s trust in their own judgement. Why does the patriarchy seek this? Probably to keep the power in the hands of certain people and I would guess to keep us spending money, which is the physical proxy of power. Female people spend so much money every year striving to be feminine, beautiful, sexy and fuckable. Male people probably spend a comparable amount of money themselves striving to be masculine, not at all feminine, sexy and fuckable. I suspect this is just one source of necessary fuel for our perpetual consumer culture.

So what does this sort of sexism and misogyny have to do with intimacy, you may be asking yourself. Simply put, this sort of loathing, insecurity and dehumanization makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to have healthy intimacy at all.

Being genuinely intimate with another person is very challenging when you are worried and insecure about being perceived as feminine or masculine enough. Body image issues and low self esteem abound in our society for female people, leading to low confidence, and a lack of pleasure in things like sex or physical intimacy. In addition it is hard to have healthy intimacy when a person is taught to actively loath parts of themselves, in this instance the feminine parts. Thus many men suffer alongside women, because the message to hate the feminine parts of themselves has been beaten into them by society all their lives. Also teaching men to see women as sexual objects or that women’s purpose is to be pleasing for male consumption, instills a very limiting view of women. Take it from me, it is hard to be intimate with women if you have been trained to dehumanize them into a sexual object. Furthermore, an important element of intimacy is accessing and expressing one’s emotions, which society teaches men is unacceptable (I intend to write about the effects of sexism on masculinity as well in the near future). Ultimately, issues of gender equality and sexism actually hold a lot of influence over our ability to be intimate with each other in a healthy way. We as individuals, couples, families and society will benefit from being empowered, happy individuals who treat each other as equals.

So what can we do about it?

The first step is to be aware that any of this is going on. The only way female people will stop being manipulated, learn to value themselves, and get society to stop seeing femininity as worthless, is to become aware of the ways femininity is devalued and actively fight against it. It is not an easy fight, but it is an important one. This is why feminism is so significant. Not because it will give female people supremacy in some sort of matriarchy to replace the existing patriarchy, but because it is the means by which the genders/sexes will finally be valued equally.

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Tune in next week on Love(r), as I continue to explore the topic of sexism by looking at the sad phenomenon of internalized misogyny.

Lovingly yours,

Clara


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Jealousy – Facing Some of Our Worst Relationship Fears

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As a polyamorous person, one of the questions I get asked the most is: how do I handle the jealousy? Time and time again I have heard people say they could never be in a non-monogamous relationship (even if it seems intriguing) because they would get too jealous. Non-monogamy is not for everyone, nor is monogamy somehow “worse” or “less evolved” than polyamory. My modus operandi is not to convert everyone to polyamory, it’s to help people have healthy intimacy in their relationships of all types (monogamous, platonic, relationship to self, etc). However, limiting one’s self in this way doesn’t make sense to me. It is frustrating to see people express a desire to explore alternative relationship structures, only to dismiss it pessimistically as something that will never work solely because they are afraid of jealousy and the potential discomfort that comes with it.

I am here to let you all in on a couple secrets:

1) Everyone experiences jealousy – yes, everyone – yes, even me

2) Jealousy is not as terrifying as it’s made out to be

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It is true that we are part of a culture that encourages us all to feel possessive towards our romantic partners and to feel jealous when our relationship is under a perceived threat. This behavior is seen as normal and expected. Popular song lyrics, poems, tropes on TV shows, etc involving jealousy are commonplace. Trying to make one’s partner jealous is seen as a way to prove they indeed care (or don’t), and as a way to fulfill one’s desire to be noticed and wanted. Desire and jealousy have become knotted together in our cultural consciousness to such an extent that it is normalized.

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How do you know for sure your romantic interest reciprocates your desire, especially if they won’t admit how they feel? Make them jealous. How do you get your significant other to stop neglecting you and notice you? Make them jealous. How are you supposed to respond when your partner is interacting with someone they could potentially be attracted to? Be jealous. In popular movies like Moulin Rouge the main conflict (arguably the only conflict) and source of tension in the story is jealousy and possessiveness.

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How has this dynamic come to be seen as normal, accepted and in some cases even celebrated? It’s not romantic. It’s disturbing at worst, and wildly immature at best.

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Ewwwwwwwww!!!

Possessiveness is problematic and toxic. You can’t own a person. No matter what, each of us are autonomous beings free to make choices, free to be in relationships and free to leave them. Your boyfriend/girlfriend/significant-other/wife/husband/spouse does not belong to you, nor you to them. Seeking to possess others will never create a secure relationship with healthy intimacy. People in a relationship need to be free to express themselves (within the boundaries of whatever agreements/compromises have been created for that relationship) and free from the control or manipulation of others. People need to be free to leave relationships to ensure that it is choice and not obligation keeping them committed to it. Intimacy cannot be demanded, it can only be invited.

“There is a difference between loyalty and bondage. There is a difference between faithfulness and fearfulness. There is a difference between being devoted and being dominated. The difference is called freedom, and it is all the difference in the world.” – Bryant McGill

This doesn’t mean we are free to do whatever we please, regardless of how it makes our partners feel, and they need to learn to just deal with it. It just means that it should be communication and negotiation dictating what you and your partners do/don’t do in your relationships, not control and possession. What we can do is negotiate agreements that work for everyone in the relationship, have faith in each other to uphold these agreements, forgive one another when we make mistakes, and ultimately build trust and intimacy through mutual integrity. I believe part of that integrity is facing our jealousy when it happens, working through it and supporting our partners to do the same.

Jealousy is often perceived as something evil, ugly or unbearably painful that will ultimately rot even good relationships unless prevented. This can lead people to go to great lengths to police their own behaviors, their own feelings and even those of their partners in order to avoid something unavoidable. This policing in turn can limit freedom, trigger arguments, cause resentment and erode trust. But the truth is you’ll never be able to completely avoid feeling jealous, it will happen from time to time no matter what. Everyone experiences jealousy. EVERYONE. Even people who have been in polyamorous or open relationships for a long time. Even people in long-term, committed, monogamous relationships can and will experience jealousy now and again. We are all complex, and at times insecure, creatures, so it is bound to happen. Instead of limiting ourselves and trying to control our partners, why not face the fear, conquer the jealousy and relinquish our expectation of possession?

If there is trust and open communication then any jealousy can be overcome. It may mean facing some deep fears and insecurities though. You might have to come face to face with your biggest insecurity and then admit it to another person as well as take responsibilty for all the yucky feelings it dredges up. This is a process even strictly monogamous couples trying to build secure intimacy have to go through.

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You see jealousy is the smoke, not the fire. It’s signaling something important, but it is not the issue itself. Jealousy usually informs us what our deepest fears or biggest insecurities are. For me, I often am comfortable with whatever fun stuff my partners are doing as long as I am included in some way. Many of my most jealous moments have been triggered from feeling “left out”, whether or not that was an irrational take on the situation. Usually a little reassurance and some attention is all it takes to process the insecurity and move on from it. This used to be a much more challenging and emotional process for me to work through, but it gets easier with practice. Now I handle a lot of the maintenance myself, but it took patience and compassion from my partners and especially myself.

Check in with yourself in those emotionally charged moments – what could your mind be trying to tell you, or protect you from? What is the painful fire (the fear) that is creating the smoke (the experience of jealousy)?

It might be:

  • Fear of abandonment
  • Feelings of inadequacy
  • Comparing oneself to others
  • Lack of trust or open communication
  • A violation of an agreement
  • A trigger point from a previous bad experience

Now sometimes jealousy isn’t triggered by your own fears or issues. Sometimes that fire in your belly is a sense of injustice, perhaps feeling hurt because a partner violated one of your agreements. Feeling hurt in this way is not something to ignore.

If you can create emotional space and validate your own feelings it will help a great deal. You will learn you can overcome this experience. Write it out. Talk it out with a friend you feel emotionally safe with. Take some time to process how you feel on your own before sharing it with your partner. Be honest with yourself and try not to interfere with your truth. Often we feel embarrassed that we are jealous, or ashamed, believing we should not be feeling the way we do, but it really is valid no matter what. Take responsibility for your feelings, they are yours. They might have been triggered by something your partner did, but they are not your partner’s fault. Ask for the support you need, you deserve it.

“When we tell our partners that we feel jealous, we are making ourselves vulnerable in a very profound way. When our partners respond with respect, listen to us, validate our feelings, support and reassure us, we feel better taken care of than we would have if no difficulty had arisen in the first place. So we strongly recommend that you and your partners give each other the profoundly bonding experience of sharing your vulnerabilities. We are all human, we are all vulnerable, and we all need validation.”
― Dossie Easton, The ethical slut : a practical guide to polyamory, open relationships & other adventures

Once when I was feeling jealous and deeply insecure I spent time journaling to get clear on exactly what I was afraid of. Afterwards I saw how detached from reality my fears were and that conclusion in itself was comforting. Then I reached out to my partner calmly and asked that when they had the time and energy if they could please reassure me of my significance in their life. This lead to receiving a text message full of all the loving, comforting, reassuring and specific examples of my significance that I could want. When we are jealous it can be difficult or feel embarrassing, but asking for the attention/reassurance we need is not selfish or unreasonable. And when we are the partner being asked to do the reassuring we should keep in mind how important this is to fostering trust and intimacy.

In the end jealousy is not as destructive and frightening as we are all led to believe. It is normal, nothing shameful, and something we can each work through. In fact, working through it will lead to a better knowledge of yourself, greater self confidence, deeper trust with your partners and healthier intimacy with them too.

If you are interested in more resources and perspectives regarding jealousy, The Ethical Slut has an exhaustive chapter about dealing with jealousy, you can also review the basics with Laci Green or check out this insightful piece on the experience of jealousy and how to process it written for The Stranger by Mistress Matisse.

Remember, you’re not in this alone!

Lovingly yours,

Clara


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Owning Your Emotions

This is a reblog of something I wrote a couple months ago, which I was asked to share with the intentional community I am currently living in on the Big Island of Hawaii, called Kalani. At our Monday morning all-hands meeting I signed-up to give an “inspiration moment” to our community. I felt intuitively that our ohana could benefit both as individuals and as a whole from hearing what I had to say about emotional ownership. Afterwards I was humbled and overjoyed to find that it resonated with so many people. You are all welcome to enjoy, or even make use of my words, I just ask that I am given credit for them. Thank you!


Owning Your Emotions

by Clara Lawryniuk

Today I would like to talk about an important lesson I have had to learn again and again and again… taking ownership of my emotions. It is one of the most important (and sometimes most challenging) skills we need to develop in order to have healthy intimacy. Part of emotional ownership is establishing healthy boundaries, another part is delineating where your own feelings begin and another person’s end, but a great deal of it is an active, intentional practice.

The concept of emotional ownership is not always the most intuitive. I could tell you that to have better intimacy in your friendships and romantic relationships you should strive for honesty, vulnerability and trustworthiness – however, these goals and all the good intentions behind them often go awry when we are not taking responsibility for our own feelings and expecting the same from others.

Emotional ownership is not obvious or intuitive for most of us because of many ideas instilled in us from society, culture, our families and often personal experiences. We are encouraged to accommodate and protect the feelings of others, often at the cost of our own emotional needs. Furthermore, when we find ourselves in discomfort we have been taught to figure out who is at fault while simultaneously depending on others to relieve the discomfort.

Do any of the following scenarios sound familiar?

  • He made me mad, now my day is ruined because of him.
  • If I tell her the truth, it will make her jealous and upset and it will be all my fault.
  • I’m so lonely, please someone make me feel better

When we engage this way it puts the responsibility of how we feel and how we handle emotions off on others, giving up our own power in the process. This can be extremely convenient at times, and even satisfying in the moment, but it means living a life where how we feel is at the mercy of others. Perpetually living in reaction to others emotions, or on-edge, worried you will upset someone, is an exhausting and anxious way to live. It is tremendously difficult to build healthy intimacy when carrying on that way. Thus I advocate for everyone taking their power back and owning their emotions. When we empower ourselves in this way we open the door for making conscious choices about how to deal with how we feel. Furthermore owning our emotions allows more space for self-love, self acceptance and self-intimacy.

I have often found it is helpful when discussing this concept with people to use physical metaphors to draw more tangible comparisons. There are so many things that people unequivocally agree with when it comes to respecting our bodies, yet have a hard time extending the same rights and responsibilities when it comes to emotional health. For example, if someone is being physically abusive and excuses their violence by claiming the victim “made me do it!” we would all see that as total bullshit. I ask you though, what about emotional abuse? In our culture and society there are still too many people making excuses for emotional abuse and blaming the victims. I realize I am highlighting some extreme cases, but still it is too common to see people shirking responsibility for their own feelings, blaming others for those feelings and then excusing the actions they chose to take as if it were beyond their control.

Now, all of this is not meant to invalidate your emotions, push you to feel differently than you do, or tell you to cut it out. Your anger when you feel slighted, your jealousy when you feel neglected and your pride when you feel successful are all valid and meaningful. Or as two of my favorite authors put is so eloquently:

“Emotions are never wrong; only actions can be wrong. Emotions are an expression of our emotional truth, and truth cannot be wrong. Nor do they need to be justified. They just need to be felt.” –  Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy

We need to accept that we cannot always consciously control our emotional reactions and experiences, nor should we, they are an important part of living a full, healthy life. They tell us something important in the moment and we should listen. But we can control the actions we choose to take. When we take ownership of our feelings (anger, jealousy, insecurity, joy, triumph) we are giving ourselves and those we care about permission to be authentic and vulnerable. It also demonstrates that we are safe and trustworthy. It allows us to know and experience each other and be intimate.

The positive changes that will take place in your life by owning your emotions are plentiful. You will be less vulnerable to emotional manipulation and will be less likely to manipulate others. You get to take your power back and become a person with agency in their life rather than a passive victim of other people’s’ moods. You get a chance to learn that the emotions that scare you aren’t so scary after all – almost always they are more tolerable than you thought. You still get to be compassionate and empathetic towards others without feeling the need to fix/change their experience. True compassion and solidarity happens when we let others experience their feelings without trying to change them, define them, or co-opt them. I know we have all been involved on one side of that or both…do any of these sound familiar?

  • A family member is feeling sad and looks to you to change that for them.
  • Your significant other is jealous about how you were interacting with someone else and lashes out with mean-spirited words to get back at you rather than have a discussion about it.
  • Someone tells you something you don’t want to hear and you think, “How could you do this to me? You made me feel this way!
  • You confide in someone about your feelings and the impression you get from them is ‘Don’t be sad around me, because it will make me sad. I can’t handle the truth of your feelings.

Taking responsibility for our own feelings is just as difficult as it is liberating. I’m not going to lie, it is hard sometimes. Certain feelings are painful, some can seem downright unbearable, and at times you fear they will go on forever. Ask yourself what would happen if you really let yourself experience and embody your feelings? I can tell you one thing, you will survive. You will see that as unpleasant as they can be, they are tolerable. And experiencing them will make you feel stronger. Now there are times when emotional pain is so great that for a multitude of reasons a person might contemplate self-harm or suicide. I am not advocating for white-knuckling through serious distress alone until a person feels hopeless. If you or someone you know ever contemplates self-harm or suicide, please seek help.

There are resources out there to help you get the help, comfort, love, or attention that you need. Taking responsibility for your emotions does not mean suffering alone, does not mean keeping silent about how you feel, it just means recognizing that these feelings are yours, these choices are yours. You do not have to censor yourself, be silent, deny your subjective experience or be blamed for other people’s feelings.

Now I would like everyone to take a deep breath and please take what I am about to say to heart. This is a sort of pledge that I have made for myself, and I encourage you all to take it:

  1. My body is my own. It is my responsibility to take care of my physical health and needs. I will ask for support when I need it. I do not owe anyone access to or control over my body. Others cannot force me to take actions or enact behaviors (if they did that would be assault). I have the power to choose what I do/do not do with my body.
  2. My feelings (yes, all of them) are my own. It is my responsibility to take care of my emotional health and needs. I will ask for support when I need it. I do not owe anyone explanations, excuses or apologies for how I feel, nor do they get to dictate to me what my feelings are/are not. Others cannot force me to feel a certain way. I may not have a choice on what I feel at any given moment, but I do have a choice of how I treat myself/others and the actions I take.

Go on now, own it.

own_it02

Lovingly yours,

Clara


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Ask Love(r) – The Bisexuality Basics

It is time again for Ask Love(r), wherein some brave soul pitches me a question/request for a blog post. Without further ado, this week’s request…

“I would love to hear your take on bisexuality, how people meet bi people, etc.”

 A short, sweet, simple question that inspired a long, detailed post! Bisexuality, or any orientation outside of the perceived monosexuality norm, is not a simple subject to unpack. This is primarily due to the issue that there is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding surrounding bisexuality, not to mention straight up misinformation. So what does it mean to be bisexual? On the surface, it would seem to be no more complicated than an individual who is sexually attracted to both the male and female sex. But when it comes to human sexuality things are never that simple.

First off, the term bisexuality assumes that there are only two sexes/genders that a person can be attracted to: men and women. What about individuals who are trans, inter-sex, or do not fit inside either of the sex/gender options given to us by society? Furthermore, the term bisexuality covers a person’s sexual orientation, but what about their romantic orientation? A person can be bisexual and bi-amorous (sexually attracted to, and romantically interested in, both sexes), but there are many people who feel sexual attraction to both sexes and romantic interest in only the same or the opposite sex (homoamorous and heteramorous respectively). Some people might even believe that they do not technically qualify as bisexual, because they do not have equal sexual attraction to both men and women, as well as a desire to build significant, intimate and/or committed relationships with both sexes. This just isn’t the case. There are no quotas or qualifications one must meet to be bisexual. All that matters is identifying that inner truth of what one’s own desires and needs are, whatever combination they may take. So you see, what seems like a fairly straightforward topic is actually teeming with nuances. This folks, is one of the many reasons why I love human sexuality – it’s resists simplicity.

Before I discovered that I was pansexual I identified as bisexual.  Which just goes to show the more you know *queue music* the better you can understand yourself!

THE MORE YOU KNOW!

But for a long time before that I did not even recognize that I was bisexual. I consciously or unconsciously chose not to acknowledge it. I was young, naive and insecure. It did not occur to me that my attraction to other women (sexually and romantically) was significant and not just some fluke I could ignore on my quest to appear and feel “normal”. Fake it till you make it. Fake it till people think you’re totally hetero-normative. Yeah, take it from me, faking it doesn’t work.

It is a sad state of affairs that in 2015 misunderstandings about bisexuality still run so deep some people don’t even believe bi/pansexuals are real. These people are what we like to call “mono-sexists”, those who believe someone can only truly be attracted to one sex/gender. In the mind of a mono-sexist you’re either straight or you’re gay and anyone who claims they are somewhere in between must be lying to themselves, stuck with one foot in the closet, going through a phase of rebellious experimentation that will eventually end, or so on. These are all dismissive and hurtful beliefs that contribute to the hostility that bi/pansexuals are met with in straight and gay communities alike. If you’d like to learn even more about monosexism and how to confront it, I highly recommend reading this piece by Erin Tatum.

“Our identity belongs to us. We are not confused, we are not bored, and we are not desperate.We’re proud of who we are, and no amount of petty judgment or stereotypes can take that away from us.“ – Erin Tatum, “Monosexism: Battling the Biases of Bi/Panphobia”

There are a few reasons for this disbelief in bisexuality. Some of it might have to do with gays and lesbians who came out as bisexual before coming out as homosexual, contributing to the idea that a bisexual is just someone transitioning out of the closet. While, yes, this might have been the trajectory for some people, it does not prove that all bi/pansexuals are just closeted. I think this myth will die out on it’s own as our society becomes less and less homophobic and more people feel safe to be true to themselves in the first place. A lot of the disbelief probably has to do with the fact that human sexuality is actually much more fluid and fluctuating than most people acknowledge. However, the biggest contributing factor is how few bi/pansexual people are out publicly about their identity. Many live their lives in a state of presumed hetero/homo-sexuality and thus they may never feel the pressure to come out about their true sexual orientation the way a homosexual person does. You might think you don’t know any bisexual people, but trust me on this, you do, you just don’t know that you do, because they aren’t out and open about it. Some studies suggest that 5.9% of men and 12.9% of women report being attracted to both sexes, with reason to believe that the actual number of bisexual people is much higher due to under-reporting. I know for myself, even after I became comfortable with my own sexuality I still passed as “straight” for many years to the majority of people in my life. This was mostly because, while I was with an opposite sex partner why would anyone think differently? I know that if more bi/pansexuals were out, open and proud of their identity as much as straights or gays often are, it would do a lot to help visibility and squash these hurtful myths.

tumblr_n5mwr2M91y1qj4315o1_500

You could try talking to me instead…

There are even more specific problems bisexuals face, depending on if they are a man or a woman. Many bisexual men have to face hostility, assumptions about them actually being a closeted gay man, they encounter a lot of homophobia, and often face a great deal of misogyny too if they are perceived as “feminine”. Bisexual women may face less hostility, but still face the problem of fetishization, slut shaming, the myth of the overly promiscuous bisexual, and/or the condescending belief that they are just “going through a phase” or “looking for attention”. These problems, like so many, come down to patriarchy, sexism, homophobia, sex-negative bullshit, etc, etc, etc…

But what do you do about being bisexual? Here I just told you all these issues surrounding bisexuality, issues with even the word itself, but what does one do once they have actually accepted their own bisexuality? Get comfortable with it and have some fun! Also, if it’s not a great risk to do so, please come out to people you trust for visibility sake. Like I stated above, so many people identify this way, are outside of the monosexual “norm”, and you probably know a few, you just don’t know that you know them. So if you want to meet other bi/pansexual people, I suggest putting yourself out there! Look on bi/pansexual-friendly dating sites like OkCupid, make a profile on fetlife, or try just being out and flirtatious with people and see who responds. It really isn’t very different from the way straight or gay people go about dating or hooking up, there’s just more options available for potential partners. But that doesn’t mean bi/pansexuals are indiscriminate. You can, and should, be as picky as you want to be. If you’d like some solid advice about bisexual dating I recommend reading this piece by Abi Brown. Even though it was written with bisexual women dating other women in mind, I think most of the advice is relevant regardless of sex/gender.  

So there you have it, all your bisexuality basics! I look forward to more of your fun questions in the future.

Lovingly yours,

Clara


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We Need More Words for Love

I take issue with the word “love” and its ambiguity. It has grown to be nuanced at best – amorphous and euphemistic at worst. I propose that we as English speakers need to implement more words to express the variety of emotional experiences and bonds that are currently encompassed within the blanket term “love”.

Think about it, what does “love” even mean? Pretend for a moment that I don’t speak English, nor have I been exposed to Western culture, and then try to explain to me what you mean when you say “I love you…”. To complicate this hypothetical even further, how would you explain to me why the word “love” is used in so many different contexts, but that Western English-speaking culture views these various contexts as not actually equivalent. We use “love” to describe the way a mother feels for her children, the way two best friends with a platonic yet affectionate bond feel for one another, and of course it is used for passionate sexual romances, as well as the infatuation between two lovers. Even the term “lovers” is confusing! Native English speakers intuitively recognize “lovers” as sexual and would not use it to describe two friends who in fact love each other. How can all of these feelings and bonds be the same and yet… different? Confused yet? Not to mention that the word “love” has been somewhat diluted by overuse – how often do people say they love chocolate when they mean they’re fond of it? Sorry, chocoholics.

Hello-Im-a-Chocoholic

sorry, not sorry…

If you still have any doubt that the singular term “love” isn’t enough, think about the cliche of a person rationalizing the end of their romantic relationship with the awkward explanation “I love them, but I’m not in love with them”. Semantically that makes very little sense. Yet we all know what they mean, or at least what they mean to mean, when people say it. Or do we? This is one of the problems with one word stretching to cover all these semantic needs, it leads to a lot of miscommunication and misunderstanding. Personally, I think the more effective our communication, especially when it comes to our feelings and relationships, the better.

There is a the linguistic phenomena that affects all of us, the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis, also known as Linguistic Relativity.  The gist of this principle is that the language you speak and the words it contains actually affects your ability to conceptualize the world and thus influences your reality. Cognitive linguists debate over how strong or weak this influence is, but they all agree the influence between language and thought exists. All conscious thought is mediated through language so it makes sense that you can only explicitly think about concepts/ideas/feelings/etc for which your language has words. On the flip side, if your language doesn’t have a word for a particular concept it is much harder for you to think about it. Not impossible, just harder. Language shapes our reality, but that means our world can be expanded by expanding our language. The more words we have to illustrate the variations and nuances of love in all its forms, the better able we are to think and talk about it.

All I’m saying is that we should have just as many words for love as we do for cheese, because let’s be real they are equally important and essential to happiness.

The ancient Greeks were meticulous when it came to philosophical thought and we owe them a lot. They had about six different words for what we try to convey under the “love” umbrella. I think we could benefit from having just as many if not more.

  1. Eros, or sexual passion
eros

The Abduction of Psyche 1895,                                 by William-Adolphe Bouguereau.

Eros was named after the Greek god of lust and desire, known later in the Roman pantheon as Cupid. The Greeks appreciated the irrational and potentially destructive qualities of this sort of love along with it’s pleasure. Experiencing eros could be passionate and thrilling, or fiery, maddening and lead to a loss of control that was considered frightening. It was seen as a loss of sense and reason as a person was overcome with desire. This is the sort of love that could drive someone mad, make them act recklessly, and even destroy them. It is like playing with fire.

We definitely need a better way to identify and discuss this sort of love, characterized by passionate infatuation and a loss of rationality. To say that this is what love is supposed to feel like does a disservice to all the other ways a person can feel affection for another. It can also raise concerns that two people don’t love each other anymore once this fire calms the fuck down, which is often not the case. I could write a whole post about infatuation, and in fact, I promise I will.

  1. Philia, or deep friendship

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, OTP

This second variety of love was valued just as much, if not more, by ancient Greeks than what was seen as the erratic and fickle eros. Philia concerned the camaraderie and loyalty that develops between two people who have a mutual respect and a genuine concern for one another’s well being. This is a a friendship built through experience and trust. The feeling that someone has your back and you have theirs. This is totally a form of love that is just as important as eros, and yet our culture tends to down play it or marginalize it completely. I think that is silly and unfair.

“the central idea of [philia] is that of doing well by someone for his own sake, out of concern for him (and not, or not merely, out of concern for oneself)… [a] kind of mutual well-doing.” – Philosopher, John M. Cooper

  1. Ludus, or playful love

Ludus is playful love, the kind of lively fun and affection that happens between children when they play, adolescents and adults when they flirt, new lovers when they tease and find fun ways to get to know each other and of course red pandas when they pounce. This is the banter, the dancing, the laughing and the feel-good frivolity who’s worth is often under appreciated.  I’m here to reassure you that having fun is important and love is not always so serious.

  1. Agape, or selfless love

agape

Agape is selfless love and is even the origin of the word “charity” (from the Latin caritas). This is the love an individual feels for the entirety of human kind, which can inspire and motivate them to contribute to the greater good. Agape is distinctive from other types of love because it is compassion for other humans simply because they are human, not because you know them, or they are your family member, or you are fond or them, or they can do something for you, or you like the way they make you feel. I would argue you that it does not stop at our own species and that one’s desire to protect animals or preserve ecosystems is also a form of agape. Charity and selfless acts are important acts of love and should be recognized as such.

  1. Pragma, or mature love

Pragma is the mature, intimate love that develops between two people who have known each other for a long time. This is patient, loyal, respectful love that comes from understanding each other, sharing many experiences and compromising on one another’s behalf. Often eros, the fiery, passionate beginning of a relationship gets all the attention and praise (likely due to it’s intensity), but pragma is what most of us hope to have in our lives. Pragma is secure and satisfying and doesn’t have to be boring. In many cases eros can grow into pragma after time has passed and compatibility and intimacy has been established, but pragma is also often found between long lasting, platonic friends.

  1. Philautia, or self love
kanye love

Kanye West, the most philiautia-est rapper of all time.

This sixth type, philautia or self-love, was believed to have a healthy side as well as a dangerous one. There was the unhealthy and potentially destructive narcissism, where a person becomes self-obsessed to the point that they only truly love themselves and relate to others as an extension of their own self. A healthy expression of philautia though, was thought to not only bring the individual greater happiness, but improve their capacity for kindness, compassion and love towards others. Aristotle said, “All friendly feelings for others are an extension of a man’s feelings for himself” with the understanding that the more love we have for ourselves the more we have to give to others.

The truth is no one person can be your everything and fulfill your every need. Friendship, family and the community at large are just as important and can be just as much sources of satisfaction as a committed, romantic relationship. The ancient Greeks recognized this diversity of love and relationships and they had a more complete picture of life because of it. They saw the potentially destructive side of eros, just as they believed in the importance of philia. This ability to see the good, bad, beautiful and ugly about the ways we love each other allows us to be more conscious of the relationships we build. Furthermore, it shows us that our lives are full of love even if we do not have a spouse.

Expanding our vocabulary will allow us to think about love more completely and in turn communicate about it more effectively. It will allow us to recognize and appreciate all the various types of love and affection present in our lives. It helps us to see that all of these types of love are important and enriching. It eliminates the hierarchy that puts romantic love as the pinnacle and everything else as good, sure, but not the epitome. It shows that labeling the love we receive from friends and companions as less than what we receive from a romantic partner is flawed and does us a disservice. It enables us to talk about the changes that happen in a relationship as one moves from eros towards pragma, or how much ludos we experience. Expand your vocabulary, expand your mind and see all the many forms that love takes in your life.

Lovingly yours,

Clara


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