Monday, December 1, 2008

If It Was Such a Good Month ...

This was my original "Thanksgiving Update" -- I started to write it last Friday but it just wasn't coming together.  Maybe now...

Friday November 28, 2008

I try to tell myself, "I'm ok, I'm fine."  But there is something about collapsing face down onto the floor on my apartment, crying her name into the carpet, that makes me think I'm not fine.

Flashback to July ...

In The End is mostly Tiggy's message to me, cutting off further contact.  It's damned painful for me to re-read.  I hate reminding myself how I've hurt her -- I certainly never meant to.  Sure, I can say that she knew what she was getting into, but that's no comfort.  I love Tigs and it's hard to bear knowing that I've caused her so much distress, no matter the reason.

Flashback to early October ...

In Where Am I and How Did I Get Here? I reviewed the history of my 29 year marriage to E and my year-ago affair with "Tiggy".  I wondered, in that post, whether my current marital separation would count as my being "available" in Tiggy's eyes.  I thought not, but it seemed foolish not to ask.  So, against the advice of several wise readers, I sent her an email and asked.

Tigs' reply was brief and carefully worded:

I would be curious as to the "outcome of your marriage counseling" once the process is complete.


This is a brilliant, sensitive and honest reply, so it's no reflection on her if I admit that it really spun my dials.  At one moment I read it as "cold and unfeeling."  But the next moment I was sure it was an invitation to see the process through and live happily ever after (together).

Since we are in a "no contact" agreement I did not feel that I could ask for any clarification.  I could only guess what she was thinking.  Gradually the dials settled into the conclusion that she was really done with me, and that I myself needed to move on.

The timing wasn't bad.  We'd had almost no other contact since July, and I had just started dating a few different women that I'd met through the Craigslist ad placed when I needed a date to the Symphony.

Fine.  I would move on.

About 10 days later was my birthday.  And I was completely surprised to receive a package from Tigs with a very thoughtful gift.  I won't tell you what it was, but will just say it was clever, sweet, meaningful, charming and yet somewhat ambiguous.

So my dials are spinning again.  Clearly she's not blowing me off.  But what is meant?  I churn on this, and finally conclude it's a statement of friendship.  But not more.  It seems that it would be foolish for me to read anything more into it.  She would not want that, I think, she would want me to take things at face value.

So what next?  Back to my work, my lonely apartment, counseling sessions with my wife, work on the house in preparation for remodeling.  A few dates with my new friends the Librarian and the Nurse.  The Nurse barely gets goodnight kisses, but the Librarian progresses through make-out sessions in her driveway to serious hotel time.  Great!

Last Saturday I had nice visit with my mother to celebrate her 98th birthday.  Had a good visit with one of my oldest friends.  Monday and Tuesday I attended a fascinating two-day conference in San Francisco called Happiness and It's Causes.  I think I learned a lot.  It was Tiggy who told me about it -- she sent me the brochure back in August or September and it was itself a big surprise at a time when I thought I'd never hear from her again.  Thursday I had a lovely Thanksgiving with my family.

It was a good month, a good week.  I should be fine.

So why do I find myself collapsing face down on the floor, crying her name?

Dear Readers, I know this is just a little pathetic sounding, but so be it.  My blog, my pathos.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving 2008

Well, the past month has been an unexpected hiatus from my blog. Thank you, each of you, who has written or commented to express concern for me. I'm as ok as I ever was, and there has not even been any truly substantive change in my life. But there were some serious distractions.

  1. Just a wee bit of contact with "Tiggy", culminating, most unexpectedly, in a nice birthday present from her. It's difficult for me to explain or even to understand how or why this has affected me so powerfully. I have been trying to write a post about this, but it's not coming very well.
  2. I had started dating a few different women that I'd met through the Craigslist ad placed when I needed a date to the Symphony. This has led to a couple of very delicious hotel nights with The Librarian in San Francisco, and several pleasant-but-not-intimate dates with The Nurse here in San Jose. These might deserve their own posts at some point.
  3. Reading! I can be an obsessive reader at times, and this became one of those times. I think I read at least six Sherri L. Tepper novels in the past month. Yes, it's an escape.
  4. Finally, I needed to get the hell back to work! My life in blogdom was definitely interfering with my productivity on the job.
Ultimately, the fact is that I'm not a great multi-tasker, but am often quite good at focusing on one or two things at a time, possibly to the exclusion of all else.

I have a lot of things to be thankful for, and it includes our blogging community and each of you readers who has ever commented or emailed. You have been a huge source of ideas and inspiration, laughter and compassion. I'm grateful to each of you.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Far Horizon



The far horizon's never clear
Broad sea beyond our cozy beach
We cross it by such fragile means:
The raft of friends we've gathered here.


-- Apollo Unchained, 2008

Monday, October 13, 2008

Marriage Counseling 8 (part 2): Me & Dr. S.

This is the conclusion of my eighth meeting with Dr. S -- the first part is here.  This session was without E, who was away visiting family.  It took place during the week of September 22.

The Pursuit of Happiness: At Some Cost

"Sometimes we assume things," declared Dr. S.  "'[Apollo] had an affair: bad guy.'   That's so simple, so easy, fix that in about five minutes.  When it's really, 'Who is this [Apollo] guy?   How did he get here?  What did he learn from that?  Where's he at today?'  [Answer: see this post]  You get a lot more of the texture and the fabric behind the picture, and recognize that, gosh, there's a lot more here.  So there's part of you that's trying to be happy.

"And you're not so unrealistic as to expect that all of life is 100% happy.  So part of your wrestling says, 'To what degree is my happiness important?  2%?  At what point is my happiness and my fulfillment important enough that even if it has an adverse effect on somebody else is it still ok to pursue?'  You wrestle all those things. It's not easy!"

This problem is very much at the crux of what we're doing here.  I agree, saying "That is definitely the point where you get a lot of stress, where your happiness runs across someone else's happiness, and it doesn't feel like you can have both."

Dr. S nods and concludes, "So, you're a guy who's just trying to figure it out, and you're at a point in life where those things matter more."

Oh yes, they certainly do.  My "point in life" is that my youngest child is now 19 and off to college.  So, regarding the kids I note that "They can deal with this. If they were younger I would have felt more constrained... We do make these trade-offs. I'm not going to pursue my own happiness at all costs. But at some cost."

Finding and Using Your Voice

Dr. S nods and repeats, "Yeah, you're just trying to figure it out,  ...  And I don't think you've had a voice for some of those arenas, a voice that even you backed enough to put on the table."

I agree but then add, "I don't expect that we're going to go, 'Oh great I've got my answer' and go off and run with it, that's not my expectation."

Dr. S calls me on this disclaimer, asking "But if it was, would it be ok to say it?"

"What the answer was?" I ask, uncomprehendingly.

"No, If that was your expectation, would it be ok to say that was your expectation?"

"I suppose," I said, still not seeing.

"Well, I hope so, see that's what I'm saying."

I interrupt, "Is that like expecting a silver bullet?" thinking he's talking about expecting an answer.

"But even if you were, it would be ok to say that. Just to say that. See that's that issue again. If I had a feeling, what are the little hoops it has to go through for me to determine just to put it on the table? ... Why don't we put it on the table first, then deconstruct it, then judge it, rather than judge it before it even comes through the starting gate."

Using Your Voice For Dialogue

This leads into a discussion on self-censorship.  Some of it is necessary, but excessive self-censorship is repressive.  Some people stifle almost every thought they have, with the result that they are incapable of dialogue.

"So they don't even have the benefit of banter back and forth that gives them some different texture, different insight, different perspective.  We sometimes get afraid of dialogue.  We hear things that we disagree with, we don't trust that dialogue can produce some fruit. 'This is what I'm thinking and feeling, I'd just like to someone to talk to about it.'"

The fact that this is a huge problem helps to explain why blogging, and especially anonymous blogging is so popular.  It gives us a chance to lower the barrier, to speak about those things that we hide from our friends and family, and thus to 'banter' about them.

I interject, "I think I like dialogue, I think there's just certain rocky areas."

But he challenges me for the obvious clarification, "What's the difference between a dialogue that's okay and a dialogue that's harder?"

I answer after a very long pause, somewhat obliquely discussing the way I dialogue at work.  "I wouldn't say I don't state opinions. I can be pretty out there with opinions, without necessarily a lot of qualifications.  And I'll even take chances with it, something that I think might be true I'll go ahead and push it."

Defining Success For Yourself

I'm not really answering his question, so he interrupts me, "What's the difference there?"

I answer, "Maybe because there's less at stake.  Even if I get proved wrong, so what?"

This seems to interest him. "So how did you learn to make that ok?  Some people have the opposite.  They can be really free here, but at work they're really tentative."

I reflect on this. "Well, they don't pay me to be tentative. My observation in the workplace has been that people succeed more who are willing to go out there with stuff."

"So that's what's interesting. Look at your Achievement score and how high it is. you've defined Achievement in such a way that it facilitates that. You've said, "Success is based on people being like X. And since I want to be successful I want to be like X." You could as well have said, "Success is people being quiet and keeping their thoughts close to their vest" and you would have been that, but it would have been for the same reason."

"Because I would have defined it that way. Hmm interesting."

"Right. ... So the definition of what fits in those categories is based on some experiences that you've had that you've bought into. And how a 90+ score in Achievement plays out for you might be different from how it plays out for somebody else.

"Part of the journey [toward] happiness for you: this realm of personal relationships has not been an arena where the stakes were low enough that you could afford to make mistakes, where you could afford to speak your mind and be wrong. Somehow the stakes were higher. And success here is defined as 'getting along'."

I nod. "That feels pretty true, success being defined as "getting along."

And it's only looking at it now, in retrospect, that I can see what a shoddy definition of success that is! God! To have set my sights higher from the beginning ...

He continues, "It would be interesting to ask 'What different definition would I have to have that would allow me to have a voice? How I would I have to define success differently?' And that opens up some doors."

The idea intrigues me. "Yes it does. Doors to have disagreements, even argue. There's a lot of objective support for that being a better definition. Even the fact that our kids complain that we didn't argue enough."

This leads to a long digression regarding our kids, followed by a case study of a recent "argument" between E and myself which I won't recount here.

The Ability to Banter About What Threatens Us

Dr S: "The more we feel threatened by something, the harder it is to talk about it in a banter kind of way. Right?"

"Well yeah. And 'threatened' might be a lack of confidence in negotiating the consequences. At work if I say something that proves to be invalid or a stupid idea, I have a lot of experience with negotiating the consequences of that ... you have to take a chance sometimes. But at home... I don't think I have that confidence in negotiating the outcome. If I say something and get the negative reaction then ..." I end the sentence by making a fatalistic, 'you're dead' kind of sound.

Dr S continues, "See, the whole journey of your son [coming out as gay] is an excellent example of what happens when we can or we cannot discuss things that we have different feelings about. And have it be a discussion and not an energized agenda kind of thing."

In retrospect, I like the contrast between discussion on the one hand and on the other hand pushing an agenda. I didn't really catch this at the time.

I note that our son has been able to discuss this with E at length and on multiple occasions, even though she gets very emotional about it. "And yet he's worked through that ... as he's progressed. I just respect so much that he could do that ... I know it wasn't easy for him, it just took huge courage I think to press forward." And I contrast this with my own paralysis in face of the same need to have a serious discussion.

Dr S suggests some ways to have a meaningful discussion, instead of a debate. "Let's say you disagreed with the choices he made. The key is to find areas of agreement, like 'I really like your thinking process, it's obvious you've really given this a lot of thought. I appreciate that you're really trying to look at both sides here.' You're looking for things they can notice so that the subject is not so overwhelming so that your own emotions run amok. ... What would cause people to say, 'Gosh they like each other.' I think that's the very thoughtful picture you have in scripture of how Jesus interacted with people ... very calm, very thoughtful, very empathic. And in that mode it's not as threatening.

Returning to my own situation, "So, the more that inner man feels just as relaxed in other realms as he does at work -- not anxious, not fearful of the response -- then the more you're going to be able to have a voice."

So for example, in a discussion with E, imagine "saying [to her], 'It's ok if you see this differently. ... The ideal would be that no matter how you respond, I feel ok with me, I like the way I responded, I like the way I talked to you. Maybe you responded well in return, maybe you didn't, but I feel really good about how I handled that.... I was thoughtful, I was empathic, I gave a fair hearing to what you said, I allowed you to be whoever you were.'"

I added, "'And if you didn't like it, that's your problem.'"

But he corrected me. "Not, 'your problem' meaning I don't care about you, but I realize that I can't hold that, I can't fix that."

"Right, but if I do care about the person, and I give my response, and if I have good reason to believe that's going to set them off in some way, wouldn't it be only natural then to withhold that?"

"Oh it's absolutely natural. That doesn't mean it's healthy, it's just natural. Because then I don't share anything that's difficult based on [the other person's] response."

"Yeah," I reflect, "Draw little lines around the difficult stuff and don't go there."

"As opposed to, imagine having the mind that says, 'I have a pretty confident position on this subject, but I have blind spots. Maybe I'll hear something from you that I didn't hear before -- it wouldn't be the first time. And I purposely tried to be open to that. I was able to mirror back to you what you said. You just didn't like my thoughts, you felt I shouldn't even have them. I can't fix that for you.'

"'But I feel good about the fact that I had a thoughtful position, I was open to your feedback. I thought you had a couple of good points that I hadn't considered before. You still were mad that I couldn't [change my view], and I have to let you be there. If I want you to be accepting, I have to be accepting of where you are.'

"That's the ideal, but it takes some mastery to get there. And we have to allow ourselves to be imperfect for a while. And that's okay."

I add, "Well, it'll have to be," and laughed.

Defending Your Position

"And so if we look at your decision to move out, and let's say we decide to look at that as a good thing, because I can put whatever meaning I want on things as long as I can defend it, and say 'what if in your own wisdom you realized that if you move back home prematurely then your mind would have more of a magnet for everything that made you feel discontent. Where if you can just do it in small parcels and have some small victories, then that gives something to build on and we have a greater chance of being successful with that model, in terms of not just repeating the past, than we do if we just jump into the deep end.' That may be true. You may have a good point in terms of just having short scheduled times and have those go well and have them very targetted and thoughtful, I could just as well build a case for that.

He continued to note that I can apply my wisdom to whatever option I have chosen or am given, and try to make that the best one. But looking back on it now, I'm still not sure if he means to conclude that this is a fruitless intellectual exercise in rationalization, or a healthy application of the 'inner defense attorney'.

"The more you feel accepted where you're at, that is a much better fertilizer than your not feeling accepted and feeling pressure to do something you're not ready to do. So we're wanting to see if something can be grown."

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Marriage Counseling 8 (part 1): Me & Dr. S.

My eighth meeting with Dr. S was without E, who was away visiting family. This session took place during the week of September 22 (yes, I'm a little behind on writing these up).

With E out of town, we didn't cover any of the psychological tests, and the session meandered its way through some different areas.  In the first few minutes we chatted about various things, including my older son's homosexuality, a topic we return to part way through the session.

Communication and Attraction

Dr. S wanted my reaction to the last session.  I told him that, "I think it's really clear there a lot of things I have trouble talking about with E" and that it's worth pursuing, adding, "I'm not sure it's going to solve our problem, but I don't know what is."

Dr. S wanted to know more about that so I answered, "There is just such a lack of desire on my part -- for her.   I love her and she's the sweetest lady and of course we have this intense bond for all the life we've spent together, and it's not that she isn't attractive, she is attractive. But, I don't know why, but I'm not drawn to her the way I used to be."

Dr S questioned me, "What are you expecting, [Apollo]?  Are you thinking that [the attraction] is supposed to be there?"

I said yes, I do think it's supposed to be there. And "Part of me is hoping it will come back, because that would be a nice solution... And it could come back, I'm not dismissing that at all, and it could be gradual and I'm willing to work at that."

Thinking What I'm Supposed to Think

But Dr. S. called me on this. "What is 'that'?"  And he continued, "That's another thing that you do, there's a part of you that has this bent to figure out what you're supposed to say, what you're supposed to think, you've gotta be reasonable. And what was nice about what I saw at the last session, I saw some of the raw [Apollo]. A glimpse, not a big picture, but a little glimpse. And you were unable to muffle it and to hide it and there was this raw emotion that had pain written on it, and discontentment written on it, and disappointment.

"And so all the rhetoric about 'I'm open, I'm not closed to coming back', and 'maybe it will come back' ... so when you first brought up the sentence about the lack of desire, saying 'I'm not sure', stay with that. What are your thoughts and feelings, fears, what's that going to mean?"

I answered that, "The idea of moving back home doesn't sound very pleasant."

Greenhouse for Discontent

And Dr S agreed, "It won't work, it won't work. You know why I say that? Once somebody has tasted like you have, now your brain has a point of reference, you have a neural pathway to what you're wanting. And to go back if there isn't any significant shift internally will just be a greenhouse for discontent.  It won't be overt and raging, it would just be ..."

I interjected, "Well, I know I would feel trapped."

"Right, you'd feel more and more emotionally distant.  You've got to protect yourself."

I said, "The nice thing about our current arrangement [living apart] is that when I do see E it's a special time because we don't see each other that often."  And I continued, declaring that if my desire for her doesn't come back, "I can't see coming back together, although there's a range of possibilities, we don't necessarily have to get divorced."

Legal Separation is a Sham

He leaned forward in his chair, "Why would you say that?"

"Well I've heard of people just separating for the long term."

"I understand that, but that's a sham."

"Is it a sham? I don't know."

"Oh yeah. If you're involved with somebody else, and just because you're legally separated, what's the honor in that?  That locks her into hoping that somehow, someway you'll change. Maybe you'll 'see the error of your ways.'  So she gets locked too. And you're off seeing someone else because you have no desire to be alone.  You want passion in your life, you want all those things.

"People seem to do that though," I answered a little defensively.  His opinion was pretty clear, so I decided to try to get something more out of it and asked, "Have you seen that much?"

"Oh I've seen it, everything from people having their own girlfriend and boyfriend, and the only thing that's keeping them together is the finances.  And I guess some people think that that's workable.  But usually when I start scratching the surface and hit some of the raw nerves all of a sudden the truth about their negative feelings about the arrangements come out.  It's a nice facade and people have collaborated in that facade.   Again, people are designed to resonate with certain things. It doesn't matter what we cover it up with, at some point we know that this doesn't work or this doesn't fit or doesn't feel good."

My Fears of Moving Back Home

He shifted gears: "What are some of your fears?"

"My fears?  I have a lot of fears.  I have a big fear of trying to go back to the way things were. And I appreciate the fact that even E doesn't want to do that, she also wants change.  ... But it's still a fear... I know she'd like me to move back home, but I don't feel like we have a basis for that. What's going to happen [if I do]?  It feels like a step backward."

Dr. S interjects, "A lack of confidence."

"Lack of confidence?" I repeated.  A long pause ensued.  I'm not wholly without confidence and wasn't sure I wanted to wear this shirt.  "I guess maybe a little."

"Lack of confidence in the outcome" he clarified.

"Certainly a lack of certainty" I stated, still hesitant to admit 'lacking confidence' but saying much the same thing.  "It's like to do that is to say, 'Well, if you just move back home things will work out, your feelings will return,' or 'You'll just get over them, you don't need to feel in love, a lot of people don't.'"

"It feels dismissive doesn't it?  Of the things that are important to you."

I liked that.  "'Dismissive' is good.  It feels like a knee-jerk reaction, 'Oh my god, you've got to come back, it's the only answer.'  It's understandable."

My Feelings Cannot be Dismissed

"Well, your ability to intellectualize these things is over" he stated flatly.

"Is over?" I repeated stupidly.

"You cannot dismiss or put aside your feelings and hide from them anymore. It doesn't work."

This caught my attention and fired my 'amen' reflex.  "No!" I replied.

"They're there."

I responded enthusiastically, "They're there, they're out there!"

And he continued, "So we have to be very protective of that, at least in here."

"Well I appreciate that." And began laughing -- a nervous release -- then added parenthetically, "I don't necessarily expect to have them protected."

But this fired him up even more, "If we don't, what's going to be the consequence? You're not good at it."

Laughing more, I agreed.  "That's true."  We had discussed in an earlier session that I have no 'inner defense attorney' when it comes to my feelings.

"So that sets you up, that means you have to have a level of energy to finally give [your feelings]  a voice, and by that time their level of intensity is pretty overwhelming."

"That could be," I admitted lamely.

"You would have not seen yourself having an affair years ago; that would not have been part of your picture of you.  So think about the level of energy that took.  The kind of building up that that took, to become such a force that it pushed other things aside."

There was a nuance to this 'building up' that bothered me.  "I wonder if it's building in the sense of something getting pent up, or in the sense of the way a plant grows, how it just grows in a certain direction."  I preferred to think of it in the latter sense, though I doubted whether Dr. S saw it that way.

"Maybe both," he answered without hesitation.  "Either way it wasn't planned. ... So it was a 'pulling' kind of thing. And that by itself is a statement of how powerful our feelings can be. And they didn't get that way because you're just this impulsive guy who just does this from time to time. So once someone like you does this we better take a step up and take notice and say 'Something important happened.'"

It's nice to feel important.  Though the metaphors have become a little muddled.  We've got some 'pent up' pressure like a steam engine, or the organic force of a growing plant bursting through it's container, and now a 'pull' which implies to me some external agent.

Going For Growth

After a while I commented, "It would be so easy if I just was falling back in love with E."

"There'd be no growth in that" he answered at once.

"Well maybe there'd be growth, you go through this path ... "

"There wouldn't be," he interrupted definitively.  "This is going to have to be a lot more deliberate and intentional."

"Not so easy, huh?"

"No.   And part of the journey is getting more comfortable with the inner guy.  Not being so judgmental, just getting to know him."

I like it when he talks about 'the inner guy'.  "Yeah, I do get hard on myself."

Opinions Without Disclaimers

Now he pounces, "And that's where I think you've become a master at saying what you think people need to hear, being reasonable."  Mocking me gently, "'I'm not saying this, I'm not saying that.'  These little disclaimers!"

It hits me.  "You're absolutely right, people have noticed that.  I have one friend who was real good at calling me on stuff like that."  The friend was Tiggy, but I don't elaborate.

"Now sometimes it's a very useful skill, as long as it's by choice. But when it's a habit then it covers [up] an awful lot of important territory."

So this is familiar ground, and a habit that I really do want to break.  Though it's doubtful to me that it has much to do with my marriage.  "Hmm. I agree ... It's a way of saying, 'My real opinions, I don't have confidence in them' or 'I'm not willing to let my real opinion be judged on its own merit, I have to provide all these disclaimers.'  So I think it makes me less effective in a lot of things, less influential. It would be a good thing to resolve, or just practice getting better."

Is It Okay To Make Myself Happy?

Referring to the first minutes of our session today Dr S says, "When you first came in here and you were talking about your son, it didn't seem like you were just talking about your son.  It felt like you were talking about you.  That [his journey] has been your own journey, 'Is it ok for me to think about what makes me happy? Does anybody care about that?'"

I leaned back and answered, "Well watching [my son]'s journey did have an impact on me: seeing that he didn't end up spiraling down into this depth of despair but actually is making a good life for himself by anybody's objective standards, and I could see that he was getting along better with himself and with his surroundings.  And that he did this through ... a process of understanding who he was or who he felt he was, is, and taking actions that we didn't necessarily approve of, but took real thought, were very deliberate.

"It's funny to think of one of my children as a role model, but I just admired his integrity in the process."

"I think you're trying to figure it out. It's complicated."

"Well yeah it always is, isn't it."

Peace vs. Process: Facing the Universal

"Yeah, and we like to make things simple, and they're not.  And so there's elements of every person's journey and that is that sometimes you have to face the universal.  And part of that journey involves a lot of different pieces.  Sometimes we have peace just because we give in to something, and we no longer fight.  So it gives us an illusion of peace but it's not real peace. Sometimes it's because we've got clarification and we now have conviction about something and that gives us peace.  So, 'peace' is not the litmus test, it's the actual process that's the litmus test. ... The danger is giving too much or too little value to our emotions. People do that all the time."

"I am big on the process," I interjected.  "If I feel good about the process then I feel good about the outcome.  If there's no process then you just have an outcome."

Dr S ignored me. "And sometimes we're not really privvy to the whole process, sometimes that's only between that person and themselves.  It can look a certain way -- maybe it looks defective --  but if we were in their head we'd be impressed."

This is a little more than half the session.  I'll continue the rest in a later post.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Where Am I? How Did I Get Here? Where Am I Going?

There have been huge changes in my life these past few months and sometimes I wonder how this all came about. It can be very disorienting.  Time and again over the past couple of weeks I've imagined myself waking up from a daze and asking, "Where am I?  How did I get here?"

So I decided to review the answers to those questions ...

  • Thirty years ago E and I meet and are married less than a year later.  The next twenty years are affectionate and committed.  Though I certainly notice other women, my actions stay "pure".
  • Ten years ago, after getting my masters degree, I begin to make big changes in my career. I also begin to look seriously at other women. The career changes come quickly, but with women it is slow: I kiss an old friend, I make out a few times with a former co-worker. But nothing develops and I'm not really making much of an effort.
  • Two years ago I am still comfortable in my marriage, affectionate toward E, and looking forward to home improvements and travel opportunities. But our sex life is breathing its last gasps as E's weight reaches 250, and I begin to worry about never having sex again.
  • Fifteen months ago I decide it is time to take action. I sign up on Adult Friend Finder and begin looking in earnest for another partner. I meet several women.
  • One year ago I meet Tigs.  We like each other at once, and have sex right away.  Besides being a fascinating and charming individual, she is far and away the most exciting sex partner I've ever had.   As I grow closer to Tigs, the distance between E and I becomes greater, to the point that E starts asking about it.
  • Six months ago, Tigs calls it quits and two months later asks for "no contact." Meanwhile the emotional distance between E and I is growing as I begin to believe that our marriage is an obstacle to my future happiness.
  • Two and a half months ago, after suspicious questioning from E, I admit to her, with some relief, that I have had an affair.  E and I separate.
  • A month and a half ago I move into my own apartment, leaving the house where I've lived and raised my family over the past 18 years.

So here I am, that's how I got here.  Now here are some thoughts on where I am going ...
  • I have a six-month lease and hope, within that time, to make the decision: whether or not to re-commit to E. I love E but the prospect of going back to her still seems to me like a sort of death. I'm not ruling it out however -- maybe my feelings will change.
  • Within the last two weeks I've started doing some dating. I've met some nice women, but so far no fireworks.
  • The biggest issue for Tigs was that I am married -- I am not available. But I don't know how she would view my separation, I am only guessing as to whether she would be open to resuming a relationship, and my guess is "no". I want to ask her but am not sure it's wise to touch the scabs on our respective wounds.
  • All this turmoil is affecting my work -- it has not been getting my full attention and energy, and my results show it. I really need to fix this.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Cock Robin and Ms. Tiggy Winkle: Fireworks Above the Bay

(continuing from Meeting On the Wharf)

The wharf was still and dark, the noise and neon of the Boardwalk shone across the harbor waters, and we had just walked past my car when I said to Tigs that I would very much like to kiss her.

When she answered, "Okay," there was no hesitation.

A first kiss is often awkward, but not this one. As I gathered her toward me, our mouths sought each other, gently, but inexorably. I can still remember the softness of her lips as we touched.

Our lips, our mouths, seemed to know each other, they were old friends getting reacquainted:

"Hello"
"Hi, how are you?"
"Fine, great to see you again!"
"You too, seems like forever!"
"I've been missing you."
"I've been desperate to see you."
"Tell me everything!"
"Everything!"

And a long conversation ensued.  Soon, like two shy children who meet while their parents gab, our tongues found each other and began their own dance of friendship.

I forgot where I was, who I was.  I forgot everything except Tiggy.  She seemed to snap into place like the missing piece of a fine machine and made me whole.   Our first kiss may have lasted for minutes as we held each other in this perfect time-space bubble.  Cars drove past, people walked by, I didn't notice or care.

This kiss had begun in great purity, but now my passions began to stir as I felt her, warm and supple, against me, her arms around me, breathing her into me.  So, continuing our embrace, I took one careful step, then another toward the railing of the wharf.  Now, pressing Tiggy against the railing I leaned into her, my hips beginning to grind against hers.  My passions flamed.

It was not very long afterward she remarked that our location was not very private and suggested, "Would you like to sit in your car?"

Oh.  Yes.  I.  Would.

I have a Honda Civic Si hatchback like the one shown here.  And when was the last time I made out in this car?  Never.  Any car?  It had been a while.

Tigs and I climbed into the back seat and I moved the passenger seat all the way forward.  The result was surprisingly spacious, but still cramped compared to the open air.  Twisting to kiss each other was still kissing, but it was awkward.

Then Tiggy climbed on top of me.

I'm still impressed that she could do this -- at 6 feet tall, I'm just too big and inflexible to even think of it.   I was on the right side of the car, she on the left.  Tigs simply turned toward me, swung her left leg over me and sat on my lap facing me, knees on either side, my face in her chest.  She said it was the payoff for all her yoga.

Tiggy's face was softly lit by the dim lights of the wharf, made dimmer by my tinted windows.  Her eyes closed as her hips began to move in rhythm upon me.  Her smile proclaimed her patient pleasure; it was the most beautiful and heavenly I can imagine.

She unbuttoned my shirt and began to run her fingers across my hairy chest.  Pausing to tug on my nipples.

I unbuttoned hers, and began to fondle her breasts, first through her bra, soon pushed up and out of the way to squeeze the soft, bare flesh, feeling her firm nipples between my fingers, between my lips, between my teeth.  Sucking, licking, not quite biting.  Holding, cupping, squeezing.  Kissing.  And all the while, the heat of her sex radiating through my Levi's as she rubbed herself against my button-fly.  The beauty and the pleasure shone in her face in the diffused pale light.

The windows were dripping with our heat.

And the words I'd dreamed of, but never spoken, came now from my lips.

"Would you like to get a room?"

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Cock Robin and Ms. Tiggy Winkle: Meeting on the Wharf

Tiggy's reply to my admission that I had discovered her identity was thoughtful and charming:

From: "Tiggy Winkle"
To: "Cock Robin"
Subject: Re: A Tiggy by any other name ...
Date: Sun, 7 Oct 2007 10:46:53 -0700

Tiggy Winkle arose with the sun's rays, as was her habit. She waddled off to the local coffee shop to buy her morning herbal brew, talking to various neighborhood cats upon the way. She could hear the sea lions barking in the distance, the familiar smell of salt in the still chilled air. The barest silver cresent of the moon shone in a sky of the palest of robin egg blues...

Back at her tiny cottage, she futtered about while other's slept, getting together belongings, dusting the furniture, changing cat litter & putting away the night's dishes. She decided to check her messages before pruning the roses.

[My email to her included a link to my personal website]

"Oh, my!" Her eyes grew round, "What a big...

She busily clicked through the pictures, roses quite forgotten, noticing Robin rowing gently down the stream, playing with the cat & the Fiddle, ... .

She realized her trembling was not due to the caffeine she had just imbibed, but a strange mixture of emotions, especially after viewing the lovely Mrs. Cock Robin, whose golden locks and smiling [countenance] looked very pleasant indeed. What was she supposed to learn from this? Tiggy wondered.

Ms Winkle fretted for a moment and decided to go meditate. She found herself questioning her own integrity, journaling upon intentions, and at long last coming to many satisfying conclusions about her nature and that of the universe.

At last at peace, she could now focus on pondering the deepest question that now seemed to preoccupy her entire being:

"What should I wear tomorrow?"

Picking up her clippers, she moved into the garden, humming a little tune...

... our date was still on.

Monday October 8, 2007.  We had agreed to meet at 5:15 pm, at the end of the Santa Cruz Wharf.  Even leaving work that early, traffic through Silicon Valley is very slow so I allowed plenty of time.  It was about 4pm when I changed clothes at work and got into my car.

I was in the lane to get on the freeway when I realized I'd left something in the pocket of my other shirt, which was now at my desk.  Should I go back?  Well this was our first date; almost certainly I wouldn't need it.  I continued and merged my way onto the crowded freeway.

The slow and go traffic down Highway 85 seemed to take forever. Finally I merged onto Highway 17 for the trip over the hill down to Santa Cruz. For a mountain road, 17 can be very fast, especially on the downhill side. Over the summit, I found the curves exhilarating and relaxing until 17 straightens out in Scotts Valley and becomes yet another freeway. Off the highway, into Santa Cruz, and make my way through town to the Boardwalk area. It was around 5pm when I parked my car on the wharf and walked to the end.  Choosing a bench from which I could see people approaching, I sat and waited.

The sun was still well up -- it wouldn't set until 6:42 -- but evening low clouds were lurking just outside the bay and the day was cooling fast.  The wind was rising and I couldn't help shivering a little.  Moonset was to be at 5:30, but the slender crescent was invisible, low in the hazy sky.

I saw a woman approaching and I knew it was she, still about 25 yards away, coming down the wharf directly toward me.  I rose and walked toward her.  She was petite, about 5' 2", dark hair just below her shoulders, and she looked younger than the portrait on her web site.  I would have believed she was 31.  Tiggy wore a broad smile.  And she was so cute!

Cuter, in fact, than I expected.  For a few moments, worries crept up my spine that she'd be disappointed in me.  Almost violently I shoved those destructive thoughts aside, and strode on with something like confidence.

We were about five yards away when she called out "It is Apollo!" and made a reference to the sun.  I blurted out "Can I help you with your skates?" a reference to her AFF profile.  And then we met.

It was quick hug, but warm and friendly.  Not tentative.  We seemed to agree at once that we liked each other.  Any discomfort I had was gone.

We talked and sat on the bench, talked and walked on the wharf, talked and looked out over the ocean, for almost an hour.  I have no idea what we talked about.  I gave her a gift: a copy of The Tale of Tom Kitten by Beatrix Potter (the bookstore had been out of The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle).

Our restaurant, Olitas, is near the end of the wharf. A little after 6 we climbed the stairs, out of the wind, and were seated by the window to enjoy the sunset.

It was natural and comfortable.  Tiggy looked beautiful in the golden light of the sunset and I was drawn to her like a fish to water.  I couldn't help touching her hands whenever possible, it was the most natural thing in the world.  We didn't drink much, two glasses of wine I think, but our lives poured out.

As we left our table, I began to regret the lack of that which had been left in the pocket of my other shirt.

The sun had set and it was quite dark when we left Olitas, strolling down the pier toward the Boardwalk, where we were going to play miniature golf.  The wharf was still and dark, the noise and neon of the Boardwalk shone across the harbor waters, and we had just walked past my car when I said to Tigs that I would very much like to kiss her.

When she answered, "Okay," there was no hesitation.


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Monday, October 6, 2008

More of Marriage Counseling 7 - Apollo Chokes Up

This conversation was part of the Marriage Counseling 7 session.  That post was long enough and complete in itself, so this became a separate post.

E and I had been comparing our polar opposite Affiliation-Succorance-Nurturance scores and had reached the point of recognizing that my apparent detachment was thwarting her need to be needed.  I've seen many blogs where that sort of detachment is the root cause of unhappiness and infidelity by the wife. But in our case, E is not the one wanting to leave the marriage, I am. So the causality is backwards: I'm detached because I'm unhappy in our marriage, not the other way around.

But Dr. S presses the topic and as we're discussing how to give E more opportunity to nurture, we  touch on the subject of household chores.  We have this in common: E hates having to deal with "boring details" while I, very similarly, hate repetitive tasks (but don't mind details).  In order help E motivate herself to take care of  the things she doesn't like to do, Dr S suggests that she could frame it as "It would really help [Apollo] out," thus engaging her "nurturing" motivation. E says yes that would help. And she continues and says that we've always split chores down the middle.

But this is one my long standing grievances against her, and on the recording I can hear my voice change. "I don't think we've split it down the middle. Certainly as long as the kids were involved, I can see that... But other household stuff, I don't think we've split it down the middle. I pay the bills, I do the laundry, we have a cleaning service, we have a gardner and a pool service..."  My point, still not expressed very well, is that E, even though she has no other job, has just never been much of a homemaker.

Dr. S stops and asks E how she's doing. "I'm kind of laughing actually" she says, "It's interesting that you've never said anything."

Dr. S interjects, "Imagine that he thought he had" and suggests that this could be part of our communication issue.

E: "But have you ever? Because I don't think you ever have because you've always been kind to me, so I don't think you ever really lodged a complaint about any of those things."

Dr. S: "Good, that's perfect. So, he's in a double-bind now: if he admits he's had these feelings then apparently his kindness was all phony."

He has a point.  Dr S prompts me, asking what I am thinking.   I'm feeling this "double-bind" and don't see a way out.  I tell him that none of the paths lead anywhere constructive, so far as I can see.

Dr. S: "That's a great point, remember his 99 in Achievement? So if I tell him what the goal is, he can do it. The goal is to free you up. The goal is to change the system of this relationship that has made it difficult for people to talk about things. The goal is for you to see that you can actually have a voice, and even if it's not perfect it'll be valued, considered and a thoughtful response will be waiting. Are those worthwhile goals?"

Me: "Yes."

"So what happened? What did you feel?"

"Well, I'm a little stuck, I'm just trying to think this through here."

"What's the emotion?"

(tension rising in my voice) "I'm feeling frustrated because I don't feel it should be that difficult to talk about these things."  (tense laughter, trying to be funny) "I'm frustrated that E hasn't read my mind and understood."

"Is that the only emotion? Because it doesn't look like frustration only. It looks like there's something more tender there."

(to E) "Well, I don't want to say things to hurt you." (my voice is tightening, catching. Fighting tears)

(Dr S, softly) "What's the tender thing?"

I pause, laugh nervously, then continue in very strained voice.

"It's not like it's that big a deal, right?"

(and then I go quiet, tears begin to run down my checks)

E: "It's ok, it's ok."

Dr. S (very gently): "This is one of the reasons why things haven't been shared, because internally you've had a voice that's discounted them, come up with all sorts of reasons why it wasn't even worthwhile, wouldn't be understood, wasn't important, if the other person doesn't know they obviously don't care, I just need to buck up and just take care of it, I shouldn't let this stuff bother me, and on and on. And so you're in pain. And that's ok."

Me: "There it is."

Dr. S: "I just want you to notice that we pulled the sheets off of that, and nothing bad has happened, you're not in trouble, you haven't made her feel worse, it's ok to share more. You may not be able to yet."

Me: "Nah, that's good for right now."

Reading this now, reading it again and again, I'm struck by how silly I seem.  This is such a small thing to talk about.  And yet that's my failure: I treated my grievance as being too insignificant to express.  And it wasn't.  And so it goes unexpressed and my resentment builds for 29 years.

Dr. S (to E, very gently): "So do you see that struggle? Do you see that turmoil? No wonder he hasn't shared as much as you'd have thought he'd have shared. All sorts of assumptions about what you can handle and what you couldn't, what you wanted to hear and what you didn't. And those have built up over the years, and a part of him gave up... So what would you like to say to encourage him?"

E says that her need for relationship and nurturing is going to make her very receptive to what I have to say when "it's things to improve in our relationship, or things that we think we have problems with" and that "we can change."

"If we can learn to talk in a way that doesn't make me feel that you find I'm inadequate, but rather it's just something that we have to address that is about me or is about the house. Then I think you can learn to do that and not be afraid of doing that."

Me: "So do I do that? Do I talk in that way?"

E: "No, you haven't done it at all."

Me: "So what do I have to learn to do then?"

E: "Dr S may say that you've tried to talk to me..."

Me: "But you said, 'If I can find a way to learn to talk to you so you don't feel inadequate.'  Does that mean that I've been talking to you in a way that makes you feel inadequate?"

E: "No, but I don't score well on criticism. Neither do you. I score even worse. [But] things like the laundry, or the gardner, if these are things that you feel bitter about or have built up, those are things we can talk about, it's safe to talk to me about it."

Me: "Well it hasn't felt very safe."

It hadn't felt safe because, from the beginning of our marriage, E would be offended, angry or hurt if I complained about any household deficiency.  So I learned to say nothing.  Looking back, I should instead have helped her learn not to be "offended, angry or hurt."  Looking back even harder, I can see that it wasn't just because of kindness that I chose not to press E on these issues.  It was also my own fear and cowardice hiding behind the kindness. Afraid of having to deal with her anger and hurt.

Dr. S: "Let's start over, what if the first thing I said to you if I was E, was 'I am so sorry. I did not know that you didn't have the freedom to tell me things. And now that I recognize with all my high scores I can see that you've seen me as a person that should have known. I'm sensitive to people, I'm sensitive to their feelings so why didn't I pick up on those things from you? ... You tried to send messages to me and I didn't want to hear them, so you probably stopped after a while.  And I'm so sorry, I can see that now. 

"And I have some good news for you -- it doesn't have to be that way any more.  I'm stronger than you think.  I can handle more than you think.  It's not just about how you share things it's also about how I receive things.  I think we both can do this better.'

"Do you know why I share things this way?"

Me: "to get used to how it sounds?"

Dr S: "It's a lot more disarming if I start with humility, isn't it? If I can find something I can name on my side of the street and take ownership for that. Or I can take responsibility for wishing that I had been more sensitive to where you're at, then that's where I start. Any ideas I have for what you can do differently will always be better received.

"That tenderness I saw over there, I wanted to reinforce that. I want to stay holding the pain, and care about that. Just like I want him to hold your pain and care about that. Because if he has had in his mind a series of thoughts and conclusions that have inhibited his ability to talk to me, then how sad is that."

E: "Yeah, that's pretty bad."

Dr S: "And that's built up and built up until he just kind of gave up on some things... I've got some good news for you... Anything I can do that makes things more of a 'we' is always going to be better than a 'you'."

(A little later)

Dr S (to E): "What's the one thing today that you can get encouragement from."

E (after a long, long pause): "I think the one thing that was encouraging for me was to see [Apollo] cry."

Dr S: "That says that we were actually able to penetrate some of that wall very well. It also let you know something else about him. He's not so comfortable with those feelings is he?"

E: "No, that doesn't surprise me."

Dr S: "And they don't make sense to him, and he discounts them. That will be revolutionary when we get rid of those two. That's going to change the depth of the communication between the two of you across the board."

Cock Robin and Ms. Tiggy Winkle: Getting to Know You

Our first email exchange was a year ago, on September 8th 2007.  More messages followed of course.  Tiggy was clever, teasing, sexy and smart, and I enjoyed our banter.  I didn't have any real expectation that it would go anywhere -- she was 31 according to her profile, more than 20 years my junior, and she wasn't interested in a married partner.

I don't have those early AFF emails anymore, but she was so friendly and fun that at the end of the month, I asked her to dinner.  She accepted and we agreed to meet on Monday, October 8.  I could hardly wait!

Somewhere in there, Tiggy told me that she was really 40, and a relationship started to seem like more than a distant possibility.  And as we moved our conversation off of AFF and onto regular email, an important thing happened.

That Saturday I went to the bluegrass festival in SF with my daughter and her husband (much like this year), and when I got home was pleased to find a nice email from Tiggy waiting for me.  But she had made a small mistake: Tiggy accidentally had used her regular email address. I noticed the address immediately and, without giving it much thought, entered it into Google.  This revealed her web site, her name, profession, and even a nice face pic.

It was exciting for a few minutes, but then I felt the moral dilemma: I didn't want to deceive Tiggy on our first meeting by pretending not to know her real name and profession.  After a short time, I wrote her this email (yes, Cock Robin is me):


Date: Sat, 6 Oct 2007 21:38:44 -0700
From: "Cock Robin"
To: "Tiggy Winkle"
Subject: A Tiggy by any other name ...

Cock Robin had had a wonderful day. He flew up Golden Gate Park with his oldest chick and her mate and perched in the branches at the "Hardly Strictly Bluegrass" festival. He kept thinking it must surely be the sort of thing that Ms Tiggy Winkle would enjoy (or perhaps that hot newcomer Foxy Loxy that he had seen around once or twice). Robin kept looking around, wondering if she might be there, but had no luck.

Robin flew back south with the chicks and dropped them at their nest before arriving at his own about 7. Mrs. Cock Robin was out, so Robin started downloading his many photos. "Can't believe I took over 400," he said. "In the name of Apollo, thanks be for digital!"

While waiting for the downloads, Robin busied himself pecking out some email. And here's where our real story begins.

Now when Robin wasn't flirting with attractive hedgehogs, he was a very busy software engineer at _____. And Robin was so used to searching for things that he really didn't think about it very much. So when Robin happened to notice that Tiggy had used a different email address recently, he just pecked it into Google out of curiosity...

(Time passes. Outside a dog barks. The photo downloads are forgotten.)

At first Cock Robin was fascinated, and happy to learn more about his new friend. But soon he began to feel awkward, like he was spying on her. He liked Tiggy very much and didn't want to feel that he had taken advantage as they got to know each other.

Robin thought of just pretending nothing had happened. But it didn't seem right.

Finally Robin opened Gmail again and pecked on the hyperlink for "Compose Mail". He wrote a message to Tiggy explaining what had happened. He told her that he felt the need to apologize for getting ahead of things. And finally, he wrote, "Tiggy, if you'd like to level the field you can search for '_______'" (which is the odd name that Robin uses on most other occasions).

And then [my real name] wrote:

I am looking forward very much to seeing you Monday! I really do work at _____, and I search things all day long without giving it much thought. Your website is indeed fascinating, but now I realize that I violated your privacy, and that was not my intention. I hope you will excuse or forgive me. You can find out a lot about me at ______.

At that time the earth shook, the sky darkened, there was a crack of lightning and Apollo spoke from above with a mighty voice, "Robin! You did the right thing to tell Tiggy. But remember, how she feels about it is up to her."


The next day, Tiggy replied.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Cock Robin and Ms. Tiggy Winkle

Tiggy and I met online on AFF last September.  And on October 8, it will be exactly one year since we met in person.  I wrote this first part of the story on December 1, 2007, but it didn't feel finished to me so I never posted it anywhere.  Readers, what do you think?  Should I finish this story?

Her user id "Ms. Tiggy Winkle" just leaped out at me.  There was a sassy, neck-down picture of a girl on roller skates with great legs and the question, "Help me with my laces?  Pretty please."  What a difference from the usual "looking for a big dick" AFF come-ons.

And I am a fan of Beatrix Potter (and roller skates) from of old, so of course I took a look at her profile.  Here again it was completely different from the typical "me so horny, love you long time."  Here was someone who took the time to dream, to fantasize, to communicate and to share her fun.  It's gone now, I wish I'd saved a copy.  

It didn't look like we were a great match -- her profile says she's 31 -- I'm 53 -- and besides that I'm married.  But I was intrigued and wanted at least to compliment her -- "Ms. Tiggy Winkle" sounded like she was having fun.  So I dug around on-line for a copy of Beatrix Potter's book "Mrs. Tiggle Winkle" and gave it a quick read, hoping to find something clever to say.


Subject: Cock Robin's lost his Waistcoat
... will you help me find it? Or help me get a stain out of my pocket-handkin.

accompanied by a picture of the original Mrs Tiggy Winkle (a hedgehog).

On AFF, I find that I send out 80-100 emails to get one reply.  So it doesn't really make sense to spend this much time on one.  But it was fun and I wanted to do it.  And I was more than a little surprised to get a reply only a few hours later.

Subject: RE: Cock Robin's lost his Waistcoat

tell me how that naughty cock robin got that stain in his pocket-hankin to start with...

you get big points with me - not just for being honest on your stats, but for taking the time to find a pic of that fuzzy hedgehog...

now my fuzzy hedgehog certainly can be bristly...

cheers
MsW.


"Woo-hoo!"  I said to myself.

The Imperative of Change

In This Much I Know, Z writes

Relationships need change to keep them alive, and it is the energy generated by the relationship that generates that change. Without it, they fizzle out and die, and you’re left staring at someone you feel great affection for, and nothing else apart from the damp squib of worn-out desire.

I doubt there possibly be any more relevant term for my feelings toward E than damp squib of worn-out desire.  I do love her, I feel the greatest affection for her.  But where is the lust and passion?  After nearly 30 years, it's spent.  We haven't allowed enough newness to freshen our love.  And when there has been change, too often it has not served us well.

Sustainable relationships regenerate themselves constantly – sometimes with tiny little indiscernible movements that are only apparent in retrospect, and sometimes with great cataclysmic crashes that rend your heart. Sometimes the change is orchestrated, and sometimes it is brought upon you. And you change, because there is no choice, and you redefine, and you go onwards, holding tight to everything that is good, and valuable, in this unfamiliar landscape.

So I'm blundering forward with courage, intelligence and love.  With confidence and hope that somehow I'll find a personal "Northwest Passage" through the ice and snow for myself and my family.  And even if I meet Franklin's fate, it's better than a living death in stasis, at home by the fire.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Marriage Counseling 7: More EPPS Score Comparisons

In the seventh session with Dr. S, about two weeks ago, my wife E and I continued the discussion and comparison of our Edwards Personal Preference Schedule (EPPS) results that began in the previous session.  We covered only three more EPPS variables, but they were the most difficult to discuss, and it's taken me forever to finish this post.  

Getting To Know You

We start by going over our thoughts from the last session, and E has some astute comments. 

E: I think unless we're truly honest with each other we don't have a real relationship.  ... Our relationship was becoming a hollow skinned balloon that didn't have substance in it, because we weren't disagreeing and we weren't dialoging and we weren't communicating because we weren't being honest.

I thought I knew you but I come to realize that you've changed and I didn't know that.  And I've probably changed and haven't expressed that... 

E looks at me, smiles and says, "So, 'Getting to know you...'"  We finish the sentence in unison: "Getting to know all about you."  It is of course a line from an Oscar Hammerstein song featured in "The King and I".

Yes, we can be very cute and cuddly at times.

E resumes: That's what hopefully we'll do, come to a place of rediscovery.  I still think it's worth being committed, but that's for you to decide for yourself.

She cuts right to the heart of the matter.  Yes I need to decide, I need to choose what our future together looks like.  But I don't have to decide everything at once.  So far, I have chosen to admit my issues and move out of the house: I've come a long way.  It's enough for now.

"I Like Being In Charge"

E continues, noting that in my absence she's accomplishing a lot around the house.  "By not having to go through you I'm finding I'm freer.  By having a sense of being in charge I'm finding that it's very gratifying because I like being in charge.  It's really fun.   Today I'm managing all these guys on this work crew and having a great time."

This surprised me!  I really thought E hated this sort of responsibility (today she had arranged for a crew to do a bunch of work in the back yard).  We will come back to this shortly

"Are You Ready to Be Challenged?"

Dr S suggests that we should be less afraid of taking risks, that doing so will open some doors.  "Are you ready to be challenged?" he asks.  And with this he leads us into the three EPPS areas where our scores differed the most.

Affiliation
To be loyal to friends, to participate in friendly groups, to do things for friends, to form new friendships, to make as many friends as possible, to share things with friends, to do things with friends rather than alone, to form strong attachments, to write letters to friends.

I gave myself a 60, scored 18 and estimated 80 for E.
E gave herself a 80, scored 88, and estimated 50 for me.

Succorance
To have others provide help when in trouble, to seek encouragement from others, to have others be kindly, to have others be sympathetic and understanding about personal problems, to receive a great deal of affection from others, to have others do favors cheerfully, to be helped by others when depressed, to have others feel sorry when one is sick, to have a fuss made over one when hurt.

I gave myself a 40, scored an 8 and estimated 85 for E.
E gave herself a 90, scored 88, and estimated 80 for me.

Nurturance
To help friends when they are in trouble, to assist others less fortunate, to treat others with kindness and sympathy, to forgive others, to do small favors for others, to be generous with others who are hurt or sick, to show a great deal of affection toward others, to have others confide in one about personal problems.

I gave myself a 60, scored a 2, and estimated 80 for E.
E gave herself a 90, scored 87 and estimated 80 for me.

"These Numbers Really Floor Me"

E finds my scores "astonishing", "hard to believe."  Noting that I got a mere 8 on succorance, she asks, "Don't you want 'support and affection'?" and I start getting defensive.

Dr S steps in.  He challenges us to consider that our needs in these areas area are simply different right now.   That my low scores suggest that I'm actually pushing myself hard even to be doing these counseling sessions. Looking back on it now, I see that he is defusing her alarm, asking her to view the glass as half-full.

Dr S: Imagine that I was [Apollo] and said that 'The old me, who doesn't like conflict, would already be worried about what you're thinking, but the new me is able to say, 'Now this is something we can talk about.  If we're going to have a a future together we can talk about these things.'

A Better System

Dr. S wants us to keep talking, even when we're having emotion: 

The system that the two of you have had over time is to "hear things and judge them". You could go to "Tell me more about that". Instead of being anxious about it, make it into a conversation.

Don't get threatened and stop.  Be more overt.  Don't shut down, don't get sidetracked.  It's a different system that we're trying to install.

We're not going to allow things to get stonewalled, not in here.  Emotions aren't going to be our enemy, whether it's fear or sadness or hurt.  That's not going to be our enemy.  They're just emotions that we're having.  They matter.  But they don't matter so much that we can't keep on talking.  Your emotions aren't the enemy here.

Detachment vs. The Need to be Needed

Nurturance is E's highest score: she needs to be needed.  In contrast, my own low scores indicate detachment.  One result is that she doesn't get to express this thing that's most important to her:

Nurturance: To help ... to assist ... to treat others with kindness and sympathy, to forgive ..., to do small favors ..., to be generous ... , to show a great deal of affection ..., to have others confide in one about personal problems.

I admit that I have avoided giving her things to do for me and I can see how this might create distance.

But this seems backward.  The distance has developed on my end.   I'm the one who has pulled away.  So while it may be true that in doing so I have frustrated her need for nurturance, that is only an effect, not a root cause.

Dr. S runs with this nonetheless and discussion ensues.  It gets emotional and I cry a little (greatly pleasing Dr S) when confronted with the fact that so often I remain silent when I have any kind of negative feelings toward E.  Instead of talking about my issues, I discount them: I say they aren't important, it doesn't matter, it's not worth causing a fuss

Appendix

You know it's a bad sign when your blog post has an "Appendix" ...

Here is an updated summary of all our EPPS data up to this point.  The three that were added in this session are Affiliation, Succorance and Nurturance.  Rows with "__" are those which we have not compared yet.
PreferenceMy Est.My Act.E's Est. for meMy Est. for EE's Est for EE's Act.
1.AchievementA need to accomplish tasks well909995409050
2.DeferenceA need to conform to customs and defer to others301805606509
3.OrderA need to plan well and be organized4033__50____
4.ExhibitionA need to be the center of attention in a group4082__30____
5.AutonomyA need to be free of responsibilities and obligations7070__70____
6.AffiliationA need to form strong friendships and attachments601850808088
7.IntraceptionA need to analyze behaviors and feelings of others7028__75____
8.SuccoranceA need to receive support and attention from others40880859088
9.DominanceA need to be a leader and influence others809890257585
10.AbasementA need to accept blame for problems and confess errors to others20120070(20)4000
11.NurturanceA need to be of assistance to others60280809087
12.ChangeA need to seek new experiences and avoid routine708290608591
13.EnduranceA need to follow through on tasks and complete assignments8067__75____
14.HeterosexualityA need to be associated with and attractive to members of the opposite sex8589__50____
15.AggressionA need to express one's opinion and be critical of others355445103555

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Meet Linda

I want to finish some Marriage Counseling posts, which usually take me a long time to write, and it's causing blog constipation. But Veni has convinced me to share an anecdote that occurred just last night.

Last week I posted about needing a date for the Symphony last Saturday. Regrettably, none of my local readers (I know you're out there, cuz I have harnessed the power of Google Analytics) was able to overcome their Approach-Avoidance conflict and actually contact me. So, inspired by a comment from Coquette, I finally posted a similar ad on craigslist.

This was my first craigslist experience. I got replies from eight different women, enough to create a spreadsheet for keeping track (I'm not anal about Order, but I value it when it contributes to Achievement). The symphony date warrants a nice long post, but this isn't it. I've also been meeting most of the other women who replied, and "Linda" is one of them.

Linda and I didn't do the symphony because I had already invited someone else by the time our contact got off the ground. But we met last night after work. She is in her mid-40s and Linda's pix were way more attractive than any of the other ladies. Career-wise she appeared to be a techie (like me), she works out, and she lives and works right near where I work. So: younger, prettier, closer. Looking good!

Our agreed meeting spot was upstairs at Books Inc. in Mountain View. I didn't recognize Linda at first. She was blonde in all the pictures I'd seen, but now the roots of her "blonde" hair had grown out about 6 inches. More surprising, she has apparently had facial reconstruction surgery in the past. It's not too noticeable when she smiles, or on her right side, or in certain light. But I first saw her from the left. She was just reading the paper and the natural light through the window was not kind to her.

I can look past that, and Linda is really very nice looking otherwise, starting with her broad, radiant smile. She is reasonably trim, fairly tall at about 5'9", and dressed in a nice combination of elegant and casual. But there are some warning signals ...

When she orders "tea" at the counter, the waitress asks "What kind?". This being California, there are of course 12 different kinds of tea on offer. This is normal. But Linda says she doesn't know. "Any kind." The waitress insists she must pick her own and finally she does. Hmm, strange.

As we sit and start to talk, she tells me she actually hates classical music but it sounded like a nice evening and that's why she replied. Well, ok, I can accept that.

Now I had gone into this meeting with Linda thinking that I might invite her to a country/bluegrass music festival in San Francisco this weekend (no, not for the whole weekend...). Linda is continuing to talk about music (good!), she tells me she likes all kinds of music, including hip-hop and rap (wow, broad tastes!)... except classical and ... country! She hates country music, she hates the twangy sound. I ask leading questions about modern country, different kinds of country, comparing modern country to classic rock and folk, but she really doesn't rise to it. I decide not to invite her.

The real problem is that Linda is boring. The music discussion was the deepest we got, and she can't even really articulate what she dislikes about country music, except that it's "twangy".

Oh well, maybe we can get physical... Now, meeting in a circumstance like this, I've discovered that I like to touch women. Looking at each other across the table, I like to reach out and touch their hands gently, hold their hands briefly, perhaps touch their arm, maybe even brush the hair above the ear if the signals are right. Well Linda kept her hands mostly in her lap, out of my reach. No touchie.

Sometimes I'm really slow on the uptake, I don't know when to cut my losses. I ask if she'd like to get dinner. Nope, she's really tired because she's not used to working full time. Only been 1 month in her current job after being laid off for a while. In fact, as I understand it, she's apparently been laid off from every job she's every had. Yeah.

Goodnight Linda, it was nice to meet you.