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For Couples Who Love Each Other But Wonder If They’re A Good Match

How your Happy Ending got derailed by a moment of connection

You’re a luminous being. You come to Earth and have a body of whatever size, shape and color. You live in a dwelling with furniture and faucets and family. You acquire political and religious beliefs, cuisine preferences, rules of etiquette.

You go to school/work, have friends/colleagues, and acquire more opinions — clothes you like and bands you hate and places you hang out. You go online or watch TV, and your preferences really kick into high gear.

From all this you start to form a vision of the life you want. The one where you’re living “happily ever after.” You compare your Happy Ending to the life you have, and set out to close the gap. You may spend the rest of your life at this.

Your identity is formed from the stuff of your environment, but no one else has had precisely your family, your friends, your browsing history, your baby temperament, your fractured finger at 7, your broken heart at 17, your role in the school play, your promotion at work. You are complex, quirky, unique, and evolving.

Likely your Happy Ending doesn’t just involve you alone. You see couples in love and want that, or you see playas playing and want that. And before long you’ve fleshed out in great detail the person or people in your Happy Ending —your attractive, successful, charming spouse, or the endless train of hotties in your bed, or whatever your vision is.

Now you compare everyone you encounter to your Happy Ending. No one fits perfectly. Nor do you fit theirs. Everyone is complex, quirky, unique, and evolving. Like elaborate jigsaw puzzle pieces that don’t quite fit together.

 

Then something unexpected happens:

Your Luminous Being has a moment of connection with someone else’s Luminous Being.

And all of the accumulated layers that you call you fall away, and the two of you, who have known each other forever, have a crazy, funny-meeting-you-here moment of familiarity and communion. And you know each other the way twins sometimes do. And you have a good chuckle together about everything that’s not working in the world and how tortured you are about it. And for the first time since you landed here you feel like you’re home. For the first time ever, you are not alone. You, the luminous being, have another luminous being there with you.

Then you pop back into your body and your list of preferences and your life, and you look over at the complex, quirky, unique person over there and think, that person does NOT match my Happy Ending. Everything about them is wrong. I have a trajectory, dammit, and it certainly isn’t embodied by that over there.

And then you think, what the hell am I supposed to do now, just abandon my Happy Ending altogether in order to build something with this person?

Or do I say, thank you very much, that was one helluvan experience we shared together, now I’m returning to my regularly scheduled programming, my pursuit of my Happy Ending?

If you are facing this dilemma in your relationship — Do I continue down a completely wrong path with this person, or do I get on with the enactment of my Happy Ending? — I have something for you to consider.

The importance of connection

The experience of human connection is distinct from every other experience that’s available to us. Even the very best four-star dining experience, deliciously and beautifully prepared… Even the very best downhill ski run, with pristine powder and azure blue sky… While wonderful, and peak experiences of their own, these are never going to be a substitute for human connection.

We are built for connection. It’s what we come to relationship for. It’s the reason we have others in our life. Everything else there is, we can experience alone. Did you know you can now have a beautiful dream wedding without a groom or bride if you want. That is an actual thing. You can have a once in a lifetime honeymoon vacation, without a partner. Our hunger for connection drives us to want to share life’s moments with another person. Our bucket list is populated with our best excuses to experience connection.

In fact, much of our Happy Ending is made up of ingredients that we decided at some point would be ideal for fostering connection.

Let’s have a conversation

Here’s a conversation I have had more than a few times with people looking for clarity on their rocky relationship.

Let’s say it’s a guy for pronoun purposes, but it doesn’t matter. I invite him to begin by telling me whatever he thinks would be useful for me to know about his situation. He starts to list problems they’re having. I listen to everything, and take notes. He wonders if he’s talking too much; I encourage him to keep going. Eventually after a detailed recounting of all of their challenges and struggles, he says, “I think that’s about it.”

He figures he’s probably buried any glimmer of hope I may have had for the success of their relationship, and is surprised to see I’m not not worried. Honestly, nothing he’s said is a deal breaker. But we haven’t gotten to the most important topic yet.

“So you’re still hanging in there. How come?”

“Huh?”

“What do you like about her, what’s good about the relationship? That kind of thing.”

After a brief pause, he starts to say something positive but it quickly devolves into more complaint. Something like, “Well… she treats me well when she’s not [blah blah blah] — ”

“Hold on!” I interrupt, clapping my hands for emphasis. “Tell me why I should care about your relationship.”

Pause.

“I know there’s something special between you. You just gave me a pretty good laundry list of reasons to break up… but here you are. Talking to a relationship coach. Hoping beyond hope for it to work out. Obviously there’s a reason for that. But I’m about to become emotionally invested in you two thriving and having a fantastic relationship together. So you need to put into words, as best you can, what about her makes it all worth it. Because that’s what this relationship is going to be built on — why you two are actually together in the first place. So. Make a case for why you’re with her. What has it be worth continuing. Tell me why I should care. Because obviously you do.”

At this point, one of two things happens.

Either he starts to give me The Checklist — all the ways she’s so perfect for him, and everything he was searching for, and he’s everything she was searching for too, and how ideal it all seemed in the beginning, and how he doesn’t understand why he isn’t happier, why they aren’t happier, and it just doesn’t make any sense….

If that’s his response, we’re in trouble.

Because if they’re each other’s ideal Checklist partners but they don’t have connection, it’s going to be tough. They’ve created a perfect recipe for an affair later on down the road, or working out an “arrangement,” or settling into a passionless marriage of companionship and convenience and appearance for the career and the PTA, or getting divorced. If I work with them it’s likely to look a lot like the work I do with someone who’s not in a relationship at all, looking at the blocks to intimacy and getting each of them, as individuals, to open up and be connectable. Then there comes to be the possibility of actual relationship coaching.

The Commitment Threshold

But the second possibility is that, after my question, there’s a long pause….

…And then finally he says, “I honestly don’t know. I don’t know how to answer you. I just know I love her and I want to spend the rest of my life with her.”

To which I reply, “Good enough for me.”

That I can work with. Because connection, the very thing he’s struggling to put words to, is what relationships are made of.

And if I work with this couple, first thing we do is to delve deeply into why they’re together, what the nature of their complex, quirky, unique connection is. Why — out of all the billions of people on the planet — why him, why her What arises between the two of them that exists nowhere else.

And all of the things they love most about each other are precisely what they hate most about each other. And all of the differences between them that complement each other so beautifully are also what they clash over the hardest. And all the ways they’re like two peas in a pod are also how they live up to the phrase, “You wouldn’t want to date you either.”

We keep going until we have it in our bones what the connection is between them that underlies the relationship.

I’ll be honest: some couples decide to break up at this point. If that happens, unlike the typical break-up, they usually split amicably and with mutual clarity, a ton of gratitude, and renewed optimism about what the future holds. The love between them is restored, not lost.

If they stay together — the more common case — they do so with a renewed sense of commitment. They have crossed a threshold. Three things are true now that weren’t true before.

First, they have no fear. They’re still facing the same problems, but their doubt, hesitancy, and ambivalence about the relationship itself is absent.

Instead of thinking, We have major challenges and I’m not sure if it’s ever going to work, and I’m trying to decide whether to keep trying or just give up… now they’re thinking, We have major challenges and so help me we are going to work it out. You’re the one I’ve chosen to share this life with. That’s not even a question.

Second, they have a rudder. When they disagree or don’t know how to proceed, they know the best answer will be the one that honors and cultivates the underlying connection they have.

And third, they have a fresh start. They’re well set up to reconstruct their relationship from the ground up, based on who they are and the nature of their connection. A relationship unique to them — one that’s not going to look like any other relationship on the planet — and more importantly, a relationship true to them.

Magnetic Puzzle Pieces

And so we might be complicated puzzle pieces but we have magnetic cores. And our connection doesn’t care whether our edges fit. I’d sooner put my money on the incompatible couple whose cores are bound to each other, than on the perfectly matched couple who have no magnetism between them.

So take a moment to think about your partner and ask yourself: of all the billions of people in the world, why them? What exists between the two of you that wouldn’t exist between one of you and anyone else on the planet? Because that is going to be your guide to how to have your relationship thrive.

This is a start. If you’d like to continue the conversation, contact me at ken@kenblackman.com.

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On Open Relationships and the Exclusivity Slider

“Infidelity”

Comedienne Rosie Wilby tours a one-woman show titled, Is Monogamy Dead? As background research for the show, she conducted an anonymous online survey, “asking what behaviors would be considered infidelity. Seventy-three out of 100 respondents thought that falling in love with someone else with no sexual contact still counted, 31 percent selected staying up all night talking to someone else, while a scary 7 percent decided that merely thinking about someone else was unacceptable.”

Over the last few months I’ve asked people similar questions. If you are monogamous, where do you draw the line, and why? If you are in an open relationship, where do you draw the line, and why? And my conclusion is that… the question is irrelevant.

One easy way to think of relationship rules is as a slider that marks the dividing line between things your partner is free to do with anyone and things they are expected to reserve for you. Run the slider one way for more freedom, or the other way for more security. In truth it’s two sliders — one for your rules and one for your partner’s — and they’re held together with a stretchy rubber band. Because of course if they’re set too far apart, well, that wouldn’t be fair, it wouldn’t be reciprocal. (Right?)

With this metaphor, the concept of monogamy vs. open relationships lives inside the bigger question of where we set the slider on, as Wilby put it, “behaviors that would be considered infidelity.”

Only one stipulation

I called that an easy way to think of relationships rules. But it’s not how I think of it. At all. I’m in a committed relationship. We have boundaries for each other, but not about exclusivity. We communicate and we’re responsible. My girlfriend being the passionate, fiery human being she is, our relationship has a lot of intensity but little to no bullshit drama. We’re quick to apologize, and we’ve got each other’s backs.

My best gauge for how things are between us is… how things are between us. Outside of that, I’ve really only been able to come up with one stipulation.

If she’s doing something that consistently has her come back to me in bad shape, or worse off than she was, then I’d ask her to stop doing it.

That’s it.

The intent of most people’s exclusivity rules is to prevent their partner returning in significantly better shape.

Wow. How does that kind of thinking affect your relationship with someone?

Desperately turning the knobs

Ok, I get it. I totally get why people would think open relationships are difficult, dangerous to the heart, hopelessly complicated, and impossible to maintain. I get why they might think open relationships lack depth, intimacy or commitment.

I watch people testing the waters, “opening up” their relationship. I watch them adjusting and re-adjusting their exclusivity slider, multiplying it into a complicated panel of knobs and buttons, trying desperately to dial in the settings that will maintain their sense of security while adding richness to their lives.

“NO, I wanted to be told BEFORE you did it! We agreed to that. It’s not enough to technically send a text just before you’re about to do it — you didn’t even wait for an acknowledgement from me or anything! So I get out of my meeting and I’m reading about it while you’re in the middle of doing it! I felt totally sideswiped, dishonored and violated! Honestly, what were you thinking?? I’ve been going crazy! From now on, I want at least a 6-hour window. Oh, and if I text you, I don’t care what you’re doing, you better make it a priority to text me back within 5 minutes! Understood?”

It’s hard to convince them that the exclusivity slider is the problem, not the solution. They can adjust all they want. It isn’t going to adjust their sense of security. Or their partner’s level of commitment. Or the quality of their relationship.

Relationship without control

At this point you’re probably thinking I’m crazy. In order for this to make sense, we have to travel back in history. To a time when I’m young, successful, riding the tech wave in Silicon Valley… and completely clueless about women or relationships. I haven’t been with very many women, and I’m basically terrified of them. (Give me a break, ok? I was a nerdy software engineer.) The path from that man to who I am today is long and storied but for the purposes of this conversation I want to introduce you to Jennifer, my first experience stepping into the emotional firestorm that is non-monogamy.

To put it in the archaic language of the man I was: this woman is way out of my league. Confident, beautiful, charming, generous with her smile, completely comfortable with her sexuality, great in bed. I wasn’t really sure what she liked about me, but she did. That wasn’t the problem. The problem was, I wasn’t the only one.

She spent time with me when she wanted, and with someone else when she wanted that. Time and again, I would be overwhelmed in her presence, in heaven, hearing the angels sing, more blissfully happy than I’d ever imagined… and then crushed, heartbroken, devastated, and left in a broken, sobbing pile on the floor. And each time I was faced with the choice to see her, or not. And I always chose to see her.

Our time together was the most fulfilling, gratifying, healing experience I could imagine, and made me feel alive. And the reality of our relationship was that I would never control her to meet the demands my long-standing connection deficit, or shrink her to placate my insecurities.

After riding that emotional roller coaster numerous times, I learned something. There would be no threats or extortion to get what I wanted. No molding and shaping her to meet my expectations. Instead I started to discover what it takes to build a relationship with another human being.

I began to realize that it didn’t matter what she did with other men. Our relationship was either doing well or it wasn’t, and that depended solely on us. Since it hinged on how I felt, how I was showing up and how I treated her, I found I had a great deal of say in the relationship indeed.

This was my first step in learning how to forge a truly great, unshakable relationship, one that didn’t need a rickety fence around it to ward off marauders. We were together for a number of years. And, crucially, when in time we saw each other less and less frequently, it wasn’t because of some other guy. It was because our relationship had evolved, we had each evolved as people, and it was time for the relationship to take a different form.

Build a strong relationship

So that’s why I don’t think of my girlfriend having a rich, happy, successful, abundant life outside of our relationship — a life full of connection and intimacy and love and sex — as infidelity.

It’s why I see no clear relationship between exclusivity and commitment. I’ve seen monogamous relationships that fail, and open relationships that are resilient and solid.

So my advice is to set aside the exclusivity slider and build a great relationship — one that’s better than anything you or your partner can find elsewhere.

Because freedom and security aren’t opposites. A great relationship, even one that includes a great deal of freedom, can create the kind of deep security that shackles never can.

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The Compersion Matrix

Schadenfreude — taking pleasure from someone else’s misfortune

  • Three Stooges; Wile E. Coyote
  • Smiling when your ex gets dumped

Empathy — the ability to feel and experience another person’s suffering

  • Rushing to the hospital when your ex gets in a car accident
  • If Moe actually blinds Curly, it’s not funny anymore

Mudita / Compersion — taking pleasure from someone else’s happiness

  • Mudita — enjoying other people’s happiness in general
  • Comperson – enjoying your partner having fun outside the relationship

Jealousy / Envy — at what point does your capacity for compersion lose out to jealousy or envy?

What if Jealousy isn’t a bad thing. What if it’s too much of a good thing.

Like your favorite song cranked up so loud that it hurts your ears.

Because, let’s be honest, your goal isn’t to be with someone that no one is attracted to.

Or someone who has no life outside the relationship whatsoever.

No friends, no sex appeal and no life.

So at what point does your capacity for compersion — your ability to be happy for your partner’s happiness — lose out to jealousy, envy, insecurity, or possessiveness?

Share your thoughts in the comments below.

The Path from Acquiescence to Surrender

 

  1. Acquiescence: Being a victim at the mercy of your environment. Having gone limp and being carried by the tide.
    • powerlessness, or unwillingness to exercise power
  2. Boundaries: saying no – the first act of having a defined shape. Other markers:
    • “recovery” programs
    • non-violent communication
    • “self help”
    • “healing” as a focus
  3. Independence: letting go of a dependency. May involve ending something, for example:
    • a dead-end or golden-handcuffs job
    • an abusive or codependent relationship
    • a behavior pattern based in powerlessness or dependence
    • emotional addiction
  4. Agency: re-discovering your own capability.
    • personal responsibility replaces blame and victimhood
    • cultivation of self-reliance
    • exercise of power
    • deliberately choosing how to feel and act
    • careful selectivity of engagement
  5. Solidity: confronting that you are still you regardless of which direction you take.
    • A shift from external to internal focus
    • Access to the core part of you that is not changed by circumstances
    • Complete re-evaluation and rewriting of past experiences
    • Reconciliation and re-connection
    • A sense of wholeness / completeness within oneself
  6. Play: remembering the game of it – having the freedom to choose any option and take it on as a game to be played.
    • Volitional emotional play replaces involuntary, triggered emotional reactivity
    • Broad emotional range, freely chosen and easily switched
    • Easy connection with a broad range of people
    • Experience of happiness and flow in a broad range of circumstances
    • Ability to switch hats or exchange roles with someone
    • Shift of focus from healing / health to potential, possibility, play, and going from good to better
    • Actions are generative, not threat-avoidant
    • Saying Yes
    • Deeper, richer engagement, but less attachment
  7. Surrender: no real need for boundaries. You are not fundamentally at risk in the world.
    • Humble confidence
    • Can concede, apologize, change directions, support, etc. without any sense of loss
    • Unshakable power, sourced from within
    • The capacity to get behind a leader, to act in a supporting role
    • Allowing someone who’s new or learning to take the lead
    • Recognition of others’ inherent rightness
    • Complete surrender to a lover; relinquishing control
    • Devotion as an elevated or sublime state

What is the difference between acquiescence and surrender? And which are you engaged in?

Let’s say that one feels like defeat in a battle with another — like submitting to an opponent in a fighting ring.

The other feels like triumph in an internal struggle — like the dedication of a devout to their practice, beliefs, or God. This is the sense in which I mean the word “surrender.”

They may be similar in action. But in intent, they could hardly be more distant. An entire life journey can be taken on the road from one to the other.

The sequence above is very common. Whole books have been written about each step here. But it can be helpful to zoom out to see your current location in the bigger picture.

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Working Monogamy

Monogamy that works.

Let’s survey the landscape: “Serial” monogamy. Affairs. Monogamish. Famously high divorce rates. Friends with benefits. Is true, lasting monogamy a fading institution?

I’ve worked with individuals, happily married couples, people on the dating scene, marriages on the rocks, new relationships, poly-amores, and everything in between. And I’m going to speak a brutal truth. Monogamous relationships are harder to really pull off well than “open” relationships.

The trajectory I set for my clients is fantastic relationships, and at that level monogamy simply doesn’t arise as an issue. Seriously, people who are in a fantastic relationship aren’t coming to me to discuss monogamy. It’s a non-issue.

That said, here is what we know about monogamy that works:

Working monogamy is monogamy in practice. It’s not conceptual. It’s not a personality type (as much as one might insist that it is). Monogamy is a relationship state. It involves being monogamous to a real live human being, with all of their quirks and gifts and uniqueness.

If you’re currently in search of your ideal soul-mate, your perfect match on this Earth…
If you left a partner who cheated on you…
In short, if you are not in a relationship…
Then I hate to break it to you: you are not monogamous.
You can’t be monogamous without the who that you are monogamous to. What you are instead is what we call monogamous to monogamy. You are monogamous to an idea. It’s simply not the same as being monogamous to someone.

Why?  Because it takes a lot to connect with another human being. All the more so, to connect in a way that eclipses all others. If you’re not actually in such a relationship—if you’re not doing what it takes to connect with someone at that level, grappling with the beautifully messy realities and complexities of human relating—I’m sorry but you have no claim to monogamy. There are plenty of people out there who use their laundry list of ideals, monogamy among them, to avoid relationships rather than to get into one.

So get all up in there with someone. Then maybe we can have a meaningful conversation about monogamy.

Working monogamy is organic monogamy. Monogamy that arises spontaneously because the relationship really is that good. Where the thought of being with someone else draws a rather blank stare and a “…Why?”  Organic monogamy is descriptive rather than prescriptive. It requires no effort and draws little attention. It isn’t so much chosen or negotiated as discovered. “Monogamy” is a convenient label for what you’re naturally doing, left to your own devices. Just as the Moon travelling freely through space orbits the Earth. There’s no resisting temptation because there isn’t anyone funner, sexier, more attractive, more alluring, or better in bed than the one you’re with.  There isn’t any wandering because there isn’t anywhere to go. Any step away is a step down from what you’ve already got.

Working monogamy is being monogamous to someone (as opposed to demanding monogamy from someone). It doesn’t work that way. Monogamy has everything to do with your behavior and nothing to do with your partner’s.

Sure, you can extort / demand / insist on your partner’s monogamy. Perhaps indefinitely. But it will never get you a good relationship if you don’t already have one.

I frequent a Facebook group for singles who are all followers of a certain very popular motivational speaker. Recently a woman posted that she met a great guy. She described his many wonderful qualities and how well-suited they were. But he “refuses to be monogamous,” and she was asking the group for thoughts on what to do.  I read through the many responses, most of them some variation of telling her to dump the scoundrel and run as fast as she could, since he’ll never change. Until we got into a discussion of what she really wanted, what monogamy represented to her:

Exclusivity isn’t the same as longevity. Exclusivity isn’t the same as depth, or intimacy, or commitment. If your desire is to have a committed, long-lasting, passionate, deep, intimate relationship with someone, the only way is to build that kind of relationship with someone.

As for monogamy itself, the only kind of monogamy we really care about is the organic kind, where the relationship is so fantastic that nothing out there compares to what you’ve got at home. But that too has to be built. If you demand it, you end up with monogamy without longevity, without passion or intimacy or depth.

So having a monogamous relationship does not consist of finding a “monogamous” partner. Crappy relationships are the birthplace of all the affairs of the monogamy-minded. Newlyweds are generally not planning their future affairs.

By the same token, building a fantastic relationship can render “open relationship” status functionally irrelevant.

But in all my years of coaching/teaching—and living, for that matter—I’ve never seen monogamy, in and of itself, make a crappy relationship fantastic.

Focusing on monogamy as an issue won’t improve a relationship, but focusing on improving the relationship can neutralize monogamy as an issue.

 

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Tango

First lesson.

“Can I walk you to your car?” “Sure.” We stroll down my driveway, chatting, bodies buzzing from an OM, arms gently brushing on occasion. We stop at the sidewalk. After a pause, she looks at me in confusion. “I don’t know which car is yours,” I say. She laughs, realizing what she’d done. “I was following your lead. It’s…what I do.”

I think back: she was walking in sync with me, stopping precisely when I did. She’s been practicing Tango avidly for 9 years, studying with some of the best teachers in the region. There’s a way my relaxed confidence with her had put her into that kind of surrendered state of meeting and matching my cue. (Similar to an OM demo, in which the strokee responds with pitch-perfect response to whatever stroke comes her way.) She wasn’t even conscious she was doing it.

I notice it the next time we’re kissing. Our make-out is very much a Ouija experience; there’s a natural ebb and flow to it that feels self-guided, effortless to follow—but then I become conscious of how perfectly matched our kisses are—flowing from passionate to gentle, fast to slow, pursed-lips to tongues-caressing-lips to open-mouthed and back, tight embrace flowing to light caress. “You kiss just like you dance Tango,” I tell her. I feels like open road, where one can go anywhere.

Second lesson.

She puts on an ancient-sounding recording.  Band music—rhythmic, syncopated, with prominent accordion, violin, horns, piano. The sound is moth-eaten and compressed, as if it had been recorded on Edison’s own Gramophone and played back through an old telephone earpiece. After showing me a few basic steps, she has me take the lead.

Dancing with her feels like a microscope into my own head, projected on the side of a building for everyone to see. Because she will do whatever I think. After some initial awkwardness of getting comfortable with the physical moves, there is the much bigger problem of deciding on the fly what I’m going to do. If I spend a few milliseconds half-considering stepping to the right and then decide to step across… that’s exactly what she does. If I’m only half-committed by the time the next beat arrives, we bump into each other. Everything boils down to the decisiveness of my intention.

To the degree I know what I’m doing, it feels effortless, like two nervous systems hard-wired together to form one smooth motion.  I’ve had this experience countless times in an OM, but I haven’t partner danced since my teens.  The result is an eerie parallel familiarity with the deeper game of this dance, borrowed from another universe, interwoven with my beginner’s stumbling with the basics.

When I was 16 I heard a jazz song on the radio, “So What” by Miles Davis. I had no recollection of having ever heard it before, and yet I knew every single note, every nuance, every tap of the cymbals, everything. Come to find out later, my mother had the album and played it quite a bit when I was an infant. It was the same eerie familiarity that I was experiencing here with Tango. Some deep, universal body-wisdom about human interaction and connection and entrainment, acquired over thousands upon thousands of OMs, is invoked in this totally different context.

Third lesson.

I have been gifted an official Tango lesson with one of her teachers. Unbeknownst to me, she’s told the instructor not to go easy on me, to push me hard, because I’m a fast learner and will respond well to the compression of being well-worked. The instructor is very warm, encouraging and gracious, but from the moment I walk onto the floor she deftly handles my ass, relentlessly pushing me slightly past my edge for the entire lesson. I like it. My friend’s hunch was right. It has some part of me relax and surrender into being skillfully handled. Even as the rest of me is struggling and stretching.

We are playing two quite opposite games simultaneously. On one level she’s adeptly leading me around the terrain of how to dance Tango. On another level, I’m oafishly learning to lead her around the physical dance floor. She reads my signals and deconstructs them so I can understand what I’m doing. Again it’s clear that the road bumps aren’t so much an inability to execute the moves she’s teaching me, but rather, selecting and committing to them.  Whenever I can string together a longer series of steps, we’re like butter, a single unit. I’m not sure how it is she knows what I’m about to do. The less I think about trying to communicate to her what I’m about to do and instead just commit to doing it, the more in perfect sync we seem to be.

My instructor is statuesque, sexy, graceful, leggy, gracious, perceptive, and fearless. At an energetic level this stranger is inviting me to bring it. The more I do, the more she has something tangible to play against.

Fourth lesson.

As it happens, tonight is my instructor’s birthday party, here at the house. After the lesson she and her husband/dance partner/business partner invite my friend and me to join the potluck.  The food is delicious and the gathering is friendly and boisterous. Warm affectionate greetings and introductions intermingle with raucous laughter and kitchen activity.  They are all avid Tango dancers; several are instructors.  The closest analogue I can come up with is a big Italian family dinner.

I’m talking with another Tango teacher, a distinguished man about my age, discovering deep parallels between the Tango world and mine. My friend of course knows this, having been in both worlds, and out of the blue she suggests, “Hey, why don’t you have Ken give a short presentation on man-woman dynamics at your next Tango workshop?” By the end of the evening I have the seeds of a good lecture, and over the next few days I work out some bullets for the talk:

Fear -> Desire
Tentative -> Confident
Docile -> Passionate
Bossy Leading -> Surrendered Leading
Acquiescent -> Willing to Take Risks
Fragile Arrogance -> Humble Confidence
Reliance on Technique -> Ability to Feel
Rigid Structure -> Safe Container for Play

We quickly design a simple business card to hand out, with my contact info on the front and these bullets on the back.

I end up attending the workshop as well; my lecture is scheduled as a mid-way break. I’m absorbing the language and nuances of this world, along with the moves. It’s a very different way of tapping into the same basic energy that is my stock in trade. I’m scrambling to rewrite parts of my lecture in my head while practicing the steps. The teacher tells the group that the words leader and follower aren’t really used among traditional Tango practitioners; they’re referred to as the man’s role and the woman’s role.   The man begins by sending out an intention, but then in the wake of her response to it he remains deeply attuned to her. The teacher goes into the nuanced interactions that take place between them, beyond simply his declaration of what the action will be and her carrying it out.

For the lecture the group is small but attentive. They are no push-overs, they need to be won over. One woman is triggered by my use of the word “surrender”. After the lecture it is clear that many are won over and others are skeptical. Throughout the afternoon the teachers weave in snippets from my lecture, and plenty of lively if sometimes heated conversation ensues. Watching from the sidelines I smile and think, My work here is done. The triggered woman seeks me out and we chat on and off throughout the práctica. Some part of her has been cracked open, something she’d given up on in her life has perhaps been rekindled. We shall see.

Create The Effect To Bring About A Certain Cause

(A relic from my distant past that a friend reminded me of recently)

We tend use cause-and-effect thinking as a way of trying to predict or control the environment.

But we tend to go overboard trying to ascribe cause and effect relationships to everything.

We’re constantly trying to do elaborate forensics to basically come up with our Lucky Shirt formula for success.

But experientially, effect precedes cause.

So a baseball crashes through the window and we look outside and see kids running away, then we come to a bunch of conclusions / reconstruction / assumptions about what happened. We experience the effect, and then identify the cause.

Once you really get this, you can create the effect that will bring about a certain cause.

So if you decide right now that conditions are right for you to be happy and that life is amazing, the universe is more than happy to lend a ton of support to your viewpoint that life is amazing.

Having fun is the best and only way to create a party.

Being the person you would be if you had a BF/GF wakes you up to all the BFs/GFs that are lined up to fill the void.

Etc.

The back-story is just a construct. It’s created retroactively to support the now. This is how the world works experientially.

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The Evolutionary Purpose of Emotions is Communication (an essay in YouTube Videos)

A set of brain structures commonly referred to as the limbic system gives rise to our emotions.

The limbic system is associated with mammals. Reptiles, on the other hand, don’t have much emotional range. Sure, they experience sensations such as heat, cold, hunger, pain, and an urge to reproduce; and they respond accordingly. But they don’t feel joy, grief, anger, or terror. They don’t mourn the loss of a loved one (or celebrate their return, an experience every dog owner is familiar with).

Emotions are the domain of social animals—those that have come to rely on the advantages of living in groups. The more intelligent, and the more advanced their social structure, the more emotional. (So for example, dogs have more social structure than cats… and are also more emotional than cats. Elephants — social animals — are emotional. Etc.)

The limbic system is also exquisitely adept at recognizing the emotional states of others. This provides a clue to the evolutionary origin of emotions. The purpose of emotions is communication. If a group member is threatened, that’s important for the others to know as well. Fear is the expression of perceived threat, and is contagious. It instantly agitates others and puts them on alert. Happiness puts others at ease. If you see someone get nauseous and feel disgust and nausea yourself, that’s good, evolutionarily speaking—out on the savanna, you might have eaten the same thing that’s making them sick.

So we’ll say it again: The purpose of emotions is communication.

I see this a lot with my clients. It’s been said that conflicts tend to be 10% difference of opinion and 90% tone of voice. All of the real transformation in relationships takes place at the emotional level. Everything else is just a MacGuffin, a plot device to move the action along. Most of the time disagreements brought to the table are trivially easy to resolve. They’re not the real issue. Sometimes you don’t even have to know what they are (take this video for example):