Part 1 in the “What love is all about” series
For the next weeks, we’re going to be zooming in on love. What it’s all about. This is a revisit, renewal, retrieval, reimagining of the “Love is...” series we started a while ago, and here we are again, by popular demand.
Love is a huge part of our lives, and the fact that it is such a mystery to so many of us is a shame. The more we’re able to understand it, the more likely we are to be successful with it. And so happier in our lives.
I was talking to this guy—a guy who was my patient—who’s involved with a woman with whom he has a really good sexual relationship. They’re both horny, sexually adventurous people, and so things tend to work for them in bed, or on the floor, or on the kitchen table.
But then he told me how at one point he initiated having sex and she rebuffed him. Now of course it’s totally fine to say you don’t feel like having sex on any particular occasion. But on this occasion she rebuffed him by mocking his overture as being crude.
He was so hurt by this mocking that he went into a kind of emotional shock that he didn’t recover from until the next morning.
And this story points to what sex is about in the land of love. You’ll see...
Sex itself is when you get pleasure with your genitals and other body parts. Sex with another person is when they’re somehow involved with that pleasure. As we all know, you don’t need love, or even liking, for that. Just availability. Proximity!
And if the sex isn’t good you just move on.
When you love someone, and they claim to love you back, and that love is supposed to be why you’re together, then this is turned upside down.
Sex is an area of great and unique vulnerability. That’s the key. That’s what happened to that guy. In normal, everyday interactions with the person you love, your risks are minimal. Yes, couples have fights, but most of the time we can avoid them if we want to.
But sex is the land of the involuntary. Dicks don’t get hard when we’d like or the way we’d like. Vaginas don’t lubricate on command. Turn-ons can’t always be turned on. The things we say can hit unexpected, unpredicted vulnerabilities. We can hurt and let each other down in so many ways. We don’t always or even most of the time. But we can.
And that’s where the sex part ends and the love part begins. That’s when we realize that we come to each other with all kinds of vulnerabilities and we deeply need tender loving care. Except that the very mutuality of sex means that when I’ve been hurt by you it’s very possible that’s because you’ve been hurt or let down by me.
What his girlfriend said to my patient hurt him because the way he made his overture hurt her.
And so it’s where we’re most vulnerable and most likely to hurt someone and be hurt by them that we most need love to bind the wounds together.
What does that mean in practice?
Well, it means understanding this. Sex isn’t like mixed-doubles tennis, where if your partner lets you down your team loses to those horrible McMurtry’s whom you both hate so much, and now you have to face their gloating over their victory. Sex is an incident in the game of love, where if bad things happen, you win big time by showing understanding and compassion and eagerness to find hope for new beginnings after new beginnings.
The McMurtry’s are your inability or unwillingness to be kind and understanding while at the same time problem solve your way through whatever happened.
And so in practice it means talking and listening and helping and hoping—finding hope wherever possible. Because love IS hope. Why else have you taken that leap of saying “I love you”? Because you hoped that with this person all problems would be solved? NO! But because deep down you, with all your life experience, hoped that you could with this person find a way to solve your problems. To work things out. In a loving way.
And so sex, when it comes to love, is the place where in the midst of your greatest vulnerabilities you can show your greatest love. Attending to your own needs while never losing sight of your partner’s hurts and longings.
And if your name really is McMurtry, my deepest apologies. I wasn’t really talking about you at all. I’m sure you and your partner are lovely people. Pretend I said, “those horrible Gundersons.”
And if your name really is Gunderson, my deepest apology, I wasn’t talking about you at all either. I’m sure you and your partner are lovely people too. Pretend I said, ... oh, forget about it.
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