The Power Play

August 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

As a man it is hard for me to imagine anything much more humiliating than having my wife or girlfriend cheat on me. Anyone that has had this experience will know what I am talking about. It hurts.

As guys we wax and wane tales of infidelity as we grab a beer with a friend, get in some batting practice, swat the tennis ball back and forth or grill some steaks with a buddy.  Always we are left baffled, bewildered, aghast and rattled.  We shake our heads, stare off into the distance as if there lies the answer. Sadly, it doesn’t.

Not too long ago, I had a young man call me whose girlfriend just broke up with him after sleeping with another guy.  I know he is not the first guy for this to happen to, but when you are the one going through this pain, it feels like you are. Sadly, this happens all…the…time.

And of course, the question that always is asked and which we never receive a honest explanation is, why?  Why? Why? Why?

It’s not an easy question to answer and I would implore you to find someone else that has answered it accurately, without any new age mumbo jumbo or finger pointing, but instead sharing the straight, painful, but honest truth.
Are you ready for this?

I know many of us consider ourselves well rounded, twenty first century men who believe in women’s rights, who support their decisions, their views, their careers and never, ever consider ourselves better than them.  However, despite our newly found view points, our khaki pants and our sophisticated glasses, the fabric of our culture has yet to have been as fashionably updated. In fact it has become quite unfashionable and politically incorrect to speak about how male dominated our culture truly is.  In this case the truth and what we chose to believe just seem to clash.

The truth is, despite the efforts of the feminist movement to wash away the shadow of male domination upon women, that sticky stain is still there.  Many successful, sophisticated well educated women still feel dominated by men, especially in their love relationships.

On a more personal level some women grow up with a particularly dominating father or a mother who wasn’t able to express herself very freely. The most personal example she had of how a relationship works is dysfunctional and almost everything we do in our relationships now is based on what we saw our parents do. So whether we rebelled or whether we adopted their belief system, it is still theirs. It isn’t ours and we are operating with a relationship users manual that is just out of date.

When these women enter a relationship and when that relationship is still Downy fresh, they feel they have plenty of control over the situation.  The sex is new. The dinners are still fascinating. There are surprises and fearless kisses, but when the honeymoon period wears off and the couple actually begins to weave a life together, when they actually face making that deep commitment, some women fear they will lose their identity in the wash.

Panic sets in. She may start back peddling and before you know it she has fallen right into another man’s bed.  This romp in the sheets is sure to end the committed relationship and abate the feeling that she is entering a danger zone, a no talking, no expressing zone in which her thoughts, beliefs and ideas are unimportant and uninteresting.

Her tryst gives her the excuse to leave that she was looking for. She can simply fall on the sword of her own lust.  But this won’t solve her problem. She will continue to experience this uneasiness of feeling dominated. It’s similar to getting high. It’s a temporary relief for a much larger problem.

Cheating is a pretty serious power play for a woman. She risks losing everything. She could lose her family, she could lose her friends, she could lose her colleagues and she will almost certainly lose her husband or boyfriend. For a woman to cheat is much less socially accepted than it is for a man.

If a man has a problem in his relationship he can trade his parnter in and there are plenty of men that would slap him on the back and congratulate him for “movin’ on up.” I don’t personally agree with this, but it is an accepted part of our culture.  Men struggle more often with straying eyes and pornography and infidelity because they have permission to do it.  Consider for a moment the woman who is into these things? Does your wife have any friends like this? She may not. It isn’t a very socially acceptable way for women to behave and if they do have these tendencies, they are certainly not on display as male lust almost always is.

We believe women, on the other hand, need to buck up and make the best of the situation. That is the common understanding. Again, I don’t personally agree, but it is what we all have culturally accepted, whether we like it or not.

If we mix together a woman who grew up feeling dominated by men with a big buttery cup of male dominated western culture  we have a pretty volatile situation. It is a situation in which some women are going to feel they have no option to get out of a relationship other than through the door marked infidelity. The woman never finds a healthy way of expressing herself, never loses that uncomfortable feeling of being dominated and men are left feeling bewildered and upset and humiliated by their partners.

This certainly isn’t a pleasant or satisfying way to live. So how can this be reconciled? Women who feel this domination strongly need to begin to practice expressing themselves freely in a safe relationship. Over time they can find a voice, a safety and confidence in their own self-expression, but not without practice and support.  Then someday if she finds herself in a relationship that just isn’t working out, there need be no drama.  She can confidently look a man in the eye and say, “You know, this just isn’t working for me.” She doesn’t have to create an excuse to substitute her self -expression. She can simply say what is on her mind and leave sex for what it is meant for, enjoyment, not manipulation.

The door marked infidelity can be locked, the key tossed down the sewage drain of bad ideas and she can move on with her life a little freer, a little happier and without looking at the next guy that walks into the room as Mr. Exit.

The Losers Club

July 24, 2011 § 2 Comments

The other day I had a “wanna be” fashion designer call me. I say, “wanna be” because she isn’t actually successful at anything yet.  She isn’t that young anymore, so it is time she gets it together, but like many people who consider themselves cultural creatives, she can’t.  She dials me up when she is faced once again with the inability to get a job, pay the rent or go to school.

I know a photographer, a dancer and a painter who all suffer from this same problem and I am sure many of you do to. In fact if you visit Los Angeles or New York or any major city with lots of young creative people you will find this problem grows like a rapid cancer, infesting all who hang out in the same coffee shop or go to the same drawing class.

These young artists live with a sense they have accomplished something great and the rest of us just aren’t up to speed with their accomplishments. Down their noses they look at those of us who do pay the rent, hold a job and work really hard to lead successful lives.

In their heads they have had a hundred successful performances and a hundred headline making gallery openings. “Really important people are coming to look at my work”, they declare.  In reality they live in a loft in the ghetto with other “up and coming” artists eating the cheapest food, when they actually have the money to eat at all.

This arrogance doesn’t allow them to get a job because they feel that working in the grocery or coffee shop or bartending is beneath them. It is remedial work for the breadth of their creative mind. Oh, please. How many of us had to struggle at jobs we didn’t like in order to get to a more successful place? It is just part of the process.

Their arrogance prevents them from going to school because they believe they are more talented and superior even to the professors! Lord, how many of us had to struggle through night school, college, law school or medical school to get the education we needed in order to get the job we wanted? That is how it works.

I have been know to tell those that call me with this problem that they are losers and it is time to embrace being a loser.  That doesn’t mean giving up on your dream of being a painter, dancer, writer or musician. It means admitting you know nothing about how to do that. It means getting some humility in order to go learn how to be successful in that particular area.

This can be a hard pill to swallow. Unlike the comfortable cancer that they have been wrapping themselves in, this means laying down the layer of arrogance that keeps them insulated from reality and ultimately the truth.  It means saying, “I don’t know, but I want to know.”  It means saying, “I’m a looser. I can’t sustain my life in the most basic ways. I have got to learn and find some skills to be more successful.“

Many young people aren’t taught that there is a process we all must go through in order to be successful. We aren’t born instantly successful people. We have to go through the process of looking up to someone, whether it be a photographer, teacher, business leader or quarter back. We look to them filled in aspiration. This impels us to learn and slowly, overtime we begin to be successful.  We often fail to tell our kids about the thousands of hours an extremely successful artist, musician or athlete puts into their work in order to reach that level of prestige.

It has become so politically correct for us to tell our kids that they are great that we don’t tell them how hard they need to work. We speak so much about the innate goodness and wonder and accomplishment that lies in each us, we have distorted the truth. While that greatness may lie in us, we still have to work hard to bring that potential to fruition. Our kids may be smart people, they may be creative people, but they don’t have any skills to succeed in life. These must be taught and it is our job as parents, teachers and mentors to do that. If we are simply filing their heads with silly notions of instant stardom, then they will grow to be looser adults with so much arrogance they will feel deserving of prestige and success they have never earned and will never have.  It is easy to see the kind of hell that this puts a person in, always feeling they deserve something that they don’t have the skills to actually get.

We have to help our kids understand that they are unskilled students that have things to learn. When we put ourselves in the position of being the student, no matter our age, we are instantly humbled.  We have given up on pretending to ourselves and to the world that we are something we aren’t. We can finally learn.  When did it become so politically incorrect to go through the process of learning something? We all push so hard we seem to forget that success is a process.

Being a successful photographer means putting in hours and hours of grueling, thankless work. Being a young fashion designer means putting in thousands of hours of work for other successful designers until you have earned the respect of those who run the industry.

And ultimately this is all about respect. It is about teaching our youth to respect and learn from the establishment that exists. They will have their opportunity to change and mold that establishment, but first they have to learn the skills of those who have come before them. Then they can use those skills to create and market anything they want.

It is a sobering process in which we are no longer high on our own ego that tells us that we are more than the world knows us to be.

We don’t have to be an artist or musician living in angst, in the ghetto, chronically short on cash and always “misunderstood.”  We do have the chance to be successful. Every artist does.  It’s a choice to either live with this lie as a loser or open up to being  a successful, humble person. It’s entirely up to the artist.

When Her Looks Start to Fade

July 17, 2011 § 1 Comment

The dating scene can be brutal when we are young. Many of us have been through our fair share of rejection, disappoint and encounters we realize later were abusive.

I have helped several women over the years who have been the source of verbal and sometimes physical abuse towards their partners. If you are a guy that has ever been on the receiving end of this you may understand how difficult this situation can be and how little is understood about why some women suffer from this problem.   Here is a woman who feels she can yell or scream to get she wants. She will cry. She’ll curse.   In extreme situations she’ll throw a curling iron, tear up a hotel room, scream in the lobby of the apartment building until someone calls the cops.   She’ll stand at the bar and curse out the toughest guy in the room and never even blink, never think twice about her well being.  She feels completely justified in her actions.  She impels violence from questionable men, men who other guys wouldn’t even pick a fight with, but she seems to have no boundaries about what she can and cannot do.  As soon as she meets a man that doesn’t feel like an inferior subject to her, she will probably end up in big trouble.  But our society does women a disservice when they don’t hold them responsible for their side of the abuse.  Men are most often held accountable for abuse or if a guy were to beat up a verbally abuse woman, he would be punished, as he should be, but there would be no one there to address the woman’s rage.  We’ll send him to counseling, but the pain the woman is in will never be addressed, most of the time won’t even be acknowledged.

So the cycle continues.  She feels she can “get away” with this behavior and the man, usually, doesn’t want to act on the anger that she is inciting from him. He already knows how that will end.  She sails through her twenties like a sex goddess, untouchable, above everyone, everything, even the law. She has to take responsibility for nothing and she knows that if something bad happens to her, we will all look to her as the only victim in the situation.  She forces herself and others to believe that the violence she is displaying has to be not only tolerated, but that her assessment of the situation is absolutely correct and warrants her behavior.

There are two ways this behavior can finally come to a halt. The first scenario is the more unfortunate of the two.

#1. She will eventually attract a person that can match her violence, someone that won’t take being verbally or physically abused easily and won’t keep his own temper in check. We can imagine how this will go if these two meet.

Scenario number two is much more pleasant, but the harder of the two roads.

#2. She meets someone that she wants to have a relationship with, perhaps even marry and her mate doesn’t want to live with someone that acts this way. Now if she wants to keep the relationship she will have to do some work. The tricky part about this scenario is that she won’t feel pushed to change until she reaches the point that her sexual lure starts to crumble. After all it is her attractiveness and sexual power that have propped up the entitlement to rage at a man. What happens when her looks start to fade?  She isn’t the immortal goddess her attitude has lead everyone around her to believe she is.  Her choice is to be washed away in an ongoing wave of failing relationships or she can choose to create something better by setting aside the diamond studded boxing gloves in order to begin to build a life based on trust.  Up until this point she hasn’t treated men with the kind of respect that would warrant having a meaningful relationship.

Look at it this way. The divorce rate in this country is 50%. If you polled the fifty percent that do stay married, you may find that those who remain married do so for reasons other than happiness. If you went into a job interview and your future employer said their is a fifty percent chance you will get fired and even if you stay on, there is a good chance you are not going to be happy, but you’ll stay because you need the job. Would you take the job? This is how she can look at her marriage prospects if she decides to move forward without addressing her anger.

She must have the baseline realization, “Maybe I don’t know.  Maybe I don’t know if I should act this way? Maybe I don’t know who I am really mad at? I don’t know, but I want to find out. I want to find out because being angry isn’t a good life. I don’t feel happy when I am yelling. I don’t feel happy when I am hurting others. Maybe I don’t know if this is the right route to take in life.” She has to build some humility to reach this point and most of us can’t muster enough humility to admit we are wrong until all other options have run out.  Her choice is to make her life an ongoing circus of abusive moments, attacking or being attacked, or she can begin to unearth and clear out the ideas that are causing her pain. She can move on to be a more stable, happy person, someone that can build a life with another. She can choose to stop the cycle of violence.

The Dishrag Saga

July 14, 2011 § 3 Comments

Many times I have young women call me that are looking to improve their love relationships. They want a boyfriend, they want a husband, they want to work on the problems that arise in their current relationship or they want to end the relationship and are having trouble gracefully exiting.

One of the most common blockages I see to a woman finding the partner she wants is what I have come to call “dishrag syndrome.” No, it doesn’t have anything to do with being chained to the kitchen sink, washing dishes or wearing an apron.  It has to do with the ongoing issue some women have with expressing themselves. Instead of being the bold, intelligent women they are, they consciously and unconsciously choose to behave like a limp dishrag. They are going along for the ride, cleaning up someone else’s mess and then being left in sink.  No one really thinks about their dish rag. No one likes it or dislikes it. It is just there out of function. Whatever expression that dishrag has comes from the user of the rag. Not the rag.  This doesn’t sound like a very appealing life, does it?  Yet, many women sign on for just this sort of relationship. Unable to express their own desires, intellect or creativity, they choose to be the dish rag partner. After all at least they have a function in the relationship.

Hiding behind the façade of the supportive wife, they give themselves over to fulfilling the needs of their partner, often neglecting their own desires, rejecting their own thoughts and ideas, no matter how good they may really be. It doesn’t matter. Inherent in her thinking is the understanding that her ideas are not good enough, her expression is not good enough, her creativity is not good enough. Why bother?

Ms. Dishrag searches and searches for her prince, but will never find him. Never will there be a man who worships her. Why? It isn’t because no one can see her amazing qualities. They can. It isn’t because they don’t think she is pretty enough. They do. It isn’t because they don’t think she is smart enough. She is. The problem lies in the fact that when men do get on their knees and worship her, she runs for the hills.  It makes her uncomfortable, squirm with judgment about herself. “How could anyone ever like me that much. I don’t even like me that much!”, she says internally.

And then what happens is that unconsciously she says, “I would much rather be with someone that rejects me like I reject me.” So she finds that man and stays with him, even though the experience is passionless, the time they spend together may be boring or the sex may be terrible. At least no one is throwing themselves at her feet, right? She never has to look into the mirror and face the self condemnation she has lathered herself in every day for years.

But what happens when Ms. Dishrag wakens one day and just can’t take the mediocrity anymore. Her life is dry as toast. Isn’t there something better than this? Isn’t there somebody better than this?
Yes, there is, but first Ms. Dishrag has to open herself to a few new possibilities.  She has to begin to make very different choices about who she believes herself to be.

Just for a moment she must suspend the judgments about not being good enough. She must begin to recognize the beauty she has to offer. She is interesting. She is playful. She is creative. She is intelligent. She is nurturing.

Embracing the truth about herself she will soon find there are a million and two reasons why someone would worship her.   More importantly, why isn’t she with someone that is doing so? Now she is ready to pack her bags and search out that man who will pursue her like the goddess she is. Her palette of men will explode at this point.  As she becomes more and more unrepressed, her passion will flow more and more naturally and she will be walking a truer path.

Ms. Dishrag will no longer be a dish rag. Her head won’t sag, dripping in self-condemnation. She won’t be wrung out to dry and forgotten on the clothes line. She will finally be whoever she is meant to be.

The Final Put Down

July 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

How do we know we are being rejected? Most of our relationships don’t end with a rejection letter. We have all felt the sting, the sink in our stomach as we watch the person we had pinned our hopes of approval on walk away.  But where does that sinking feeling coming from? Did they cause that feeling or do we? Most of the time we start framing them as the traitor, the villain in our little approval saga.  They were supposed to support us, love us, prop us up. It is all their fault my day, my week, my life has turned to shit.  Is it really? How can we be for sure?

The interactions we have with someone lasts no more than a moment, maybe a few seconds and yet that interaction has the power to color the rest of our lives? If somewhere in our childhood we experienced what we interpret as rejection, we sadly often define ourselves  by this one brief experience. What’s worse, is that it may not have even been true. That person may not have been rejecting us. Perhaps it was just a misunderstood interaction between a father and son. Sadly, we will take what we believe to be true and carry it with us, allow it to take a life of it’s own, allow it to take over our lives.  All this from one brief moment in time.

For an instant after the interaction there is a moment of choice. In this instant a choice is made about how we are going to interpret the situation and how we interpret our response to the interaction. Whatever choice we make, whatever we choose to believe acts as a compass forever, unless we choose  to dig up that moment in time. Like archeologist we have to sift gently through the dust and dirt of our past to find that moment that led us astray. When we find it we have to ask, “Was it true? Were we really rejected or was the moment simply misunderstood by a child’s mind?”

Without this kind of inquiry into our past, we could walk around feeling rejected forever, never realizing that there is no truth or validity to that experience. Can you imagine wasting an entire lifetime misunderstanding your interactions? Yet, many of us do until we awaken to the fact that our child mind is no longer in charge. What we choose to believe now, what we can stretch to understand now is so much greater than it was then. We can change our behavior today simply by embracing a new understanding of who we are.   This new understanding can completely change how we feel in interactions with people. Where we once saw only rejection, now we can experience peace and freedom.  Now we can understand that another person’s reaction truly has very little to do with who we are.  When we can embrace this indifference we can be free of the constraints of worry about what others think of us and the fear of sinking deeper and deeper into the pit of rejection. With this freedom who knows where life may lead us.

Why Nice Guys Finish Last

July 11, 2011 § 2 Comments

How many of us know nice guys? Perhaps you are even one of them. You’re the kind of guy that doesn’t speak unkindly about others, loves to please people and generally looks to make the world a better, happier place.  But what happens when being a nice guys gets in the way of your life? What if at the end of the day being a nice guy just isn’t that fulfilling? Do you secretly yearn to be just a little bit of  bad boy?

Recently I did a session with an artist who suffers from nice guy syndrome.  It can be hard to spot because the individual appears to be such a  nice guy, but I can assure it is out there, lurking behind toothy grins and shallow laughs.

How does this happen? It starts in childhood when a boy feels that being angry is bad, being aggressive is bad. Perhaps his mother discourages him from being aggressive or being angry. He begins to mold his behavior in such a way as to never let the dark side out, even when the dark side may  be just what is needed.  Life goes on and soon he becomes a young man that is awarded for being such a nice guy. People like him, women like him, he goes far in his professional life. What could possibly be wrong? He walks around each day feeling the weight of that repression, judging his anger, his darkness, his sometimes natural desire to tell someone to fuck off.

This repression will undoubtedly affect his work. He becomes a successful artist, but cannot accept the throne he is being offered as the king of his parcel of the art world. He must keep turning it down nomination after nomination. After all, only a true asshole would reign over others. Only a true asshole would want to be superior to others, but the desire burns inside him, leaving him loathing his inability to be famous. He hates himself. He cannot acknowledge that he is a successful artist while others are not. The nice guy inside of him insists on believing that all artists have the same potential. They are all wonderful in their own way. Is that true or is that just another nice guy lie, an excuse the nice guys uses to push down his anger, his rage, his aggressive desires to punch, kick or yell?  That rage will pollute the artistic process making it impossible for him to create to his potential.

He must begin to heal this judgement about anger if he wants to be happier and wants his work to flourish. How is this done? To begin he must understand that anger is a natural part of our experience. Life is not a series of pleasant experiences. It is simply a series of moments strung together, some more comfortable than others. Anger may not be the most pleasing of those moments, but it is part of our existence. Just as a mother lion acts on her anger when she spies an intruder lurking about her cubs, a human must act on negative as well as positive emotion. These emotions are our bodies natural response to stress. Our bodies, our minds are telling us that something is wrong. We need to act. When we do not follow the natural rhythm of our anger a resolution to the problem is impossible to find.

It reminds me of a Seinfeld episode in which Jerry’s girlfriend believes he can’t get mad.  Jerry tries and tries throughout the episode, but can’t do it.  Friends and strangers take advantage of him and women walk all over him.  Does this sound like a happy life?  Any life that resembles a Seinfeld character should be examined and definitely not emulated. What is funny for a sit com may be hell in real life.

For the artist to claim his gift, to understand his place in the  world is not to be arrogant. It isn’t un-nice. In fact it is the most loving, selfless thing he can do.  With this acknowledgement he can better serve others, share freely his insights and his gifts because he now better understands his role in this lifetimes. He understands what it is he has to offer.  He will understand his gift is great and it needs to be honored and respected by himself and by others. His work can flourish and reach beyond the influence of the repression. He no longer needs to serve the impressions of the past, the ideas that have up until this moment haunted him. The poor experiences of childhood can be left there, quiet and historical, but not the rulers of a current life that has little do with the frightened boy who yearned for his mother to accept him as a nice guy.

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