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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 Self Empowering Monogamy Pledge

The part of monogamy that I was completely missing.

This year many of my friends and clients are newly monogamous, after single life, dating, or being in an open relationship. My conversations with them have had me realize that I’ve been ignoring something important about monogamy. It’s as if I had only considered half of the equation.

In the past I’ve written about monogamy in terms of fidelity, because that’s how I’ve always understood it. There are some things you can do with anyone — like commute to work — and some things your partner will want you to do only with them — like have sex.

In other words, the purpose of monogamy is in the effect it has on the partner. You are monogamous so that they feel secure, safe, committed, etc.

But what about the effect that monogamy has on the self?

I don’t believe that exclusivity is a fundamental requirement for love, or sex, or intimacy, or commitment. I see all of those things in abundance with and without exclusivity.

But recently when my friends talk about monogamy, they talk about letting go of their addictions —  to sex, to love, to novelty. Or about ending their eternal search for something that they are sure to find in the next lover, something that will sate the hunger — something that deep down they know they have to find within themselves. They talk about breaking their cycle of escapism and avoidance. Or about losing their taste for drama or intrigue.

And so they are choosing to be monogamous not just volitionally, but out of self-interest. Their reasons often have little to do with their partner’s comfort level or emotional needs, at least not directly. For them monogamy is a practice of cultivating connection and intimacy and depth with another human being that requires them to “play against type”, to break their patterns.

Speaking with them has given me a different kind of appreciation. Since I’ve never been one to exhibit addictive personality traits or compulsive sexual novelty-seeking, it’s all the more valuable for me to experience it through their stories.

It’s also given me a new understanding of my own relationship to monogamy. Being someone who was once plagued by low self-esteem and low self-worth… as that changed, there came a day where I said to a girlfriend — lovingly, honestly, and with no lack of commitment or investment in our relationship — “If you can find someone who’s a better fit for you than me, I want you to be with them.” It wasn’t cocky — it was more humble than anything else — but it was spoken from a newfound confidence and groundedness in who I was, as a person and in relationship. In that liberating moment I shed doubt, fear and clinginess. And I was able to step into the relationship in a whole new way.

Since then I have come to believe that third parties don’t break up relationships. Relationships thrive or fail because of what happens in the relationship. That flies in the face of all the beliefs of the fearful, clingy ones (like I once was), but it’s something they desperately need to know.

And to the same degree that the old me was threatened by my partner’s amazingness, the new me decided never to ask a woman to shrink or diminish herself in order to fit my tiny box of comfort. I don’t require her to have less, or be less, out in the world in order to have more with me.

So my relationship to monogamy is this: I don’t demand it from my partner.

And I’ve adopted that stance for myself, volitionally, because of its deep ties to my own sanity, my own clarity and solidity. Something I had to find within myself after years of searching for it in others. And what was initially my practice of playing against type has made me a much, much better boyfriend.

And in that regard… I am very similar to my newly monogamous friends after all.

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Men Want Sex and Women Want Love? Not Exactly.

This is the single most frequent topic I talk about whenever I give a talk or a workshop, because it ties in with so many other things that I teach.

If you want to see more videos like this, please leave a comment below.

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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.

How I Became Confident With Women

I was asked this in a forum. I thought about it for awhile and my answers surprised me. Here they are.

Q. I’m curious to hear your thoughts. For a man, what makes or allows him to be confident, especially as a lover/partner?

A. Great question. Here’s how I went from zero confidence with women to a great sex life, a fantastic relationship, and a career training other men how to do it:

I did things I feel good about. Things that boosted my sense of self-worth or self-esteem. Whether it was bravely having an uncomfortable or nerve wracking conversation, or accomplishing a difficult task, or “doing the right thing” even when I’d much rather take a different route….these things gradually had me come to like myself and think of myself as a good, worthy and capable person.

I began to trust my intuition, my gut feelings, and my ability to sense others. Sometimes I took risky chances, following an inkling that wasn’t exactly by-the-books. And sometimes I was wrong. But I was right often enough to start to believe my own personal wisdom. And all of my mistakes taught me something and made my intuition more accurate. I was able to be a skillful instigator, an initiator, a leader in the dance, not just an eternal follower or willing participant.

I learned how to forgive myself. I noticed where I was being hard on myself with regrets and comparisons that served no useful purpose and were harmful to my psychic well being.

There were times when my ego took a major pounding and I began to let go of it. Without a fragile ego to protect I suddenly found a new freedom—to be vulnerable, to let someone else win an argument, to stop worrying about looking good, to be wrong about something, to apologize, to receive feedback, to recognize that someone else is better at something, etc. Where my ego had been threatened by these situations, my confident self wasn’t.

I got to the bedrock of why I put soooo much weight into women’s approval of me. I got to a place where I could see my upbringing, my teen and adult years, and how it came to be that I placed so much credence over there rather than over here. And in seeing it, something dissolved. And I could let go of approval-seeking tendencies, performance anxiety, trying hard to impress rather than being authentic, etc. and I could just relax and enjoy. This made me way more fun for women to interact with. With this came other changes as well. I stopped the habit of giving-giving-giving while being a doormat. I also stopped depending on women to bestow my rightness; I showed up with my own rightness, which women found attractive.

I stopped believing in the existence of a formula or algorithm or technique that would tell me the right thing to do. I started to see that everything I needed to know was right there in the actual moment of interacting with someone, and that all of my attention should be there, with nothing wasted mentally sifting through matching templates or similar situations. I came to see that the worst thing I could do was drag my success with someone else, or my success yesterday, or my success 5 minutes ago, or someone else’s success story, into the current moment with all of its nuances and complexity. Everything I need to know is right here, right now, with this person.

I asked and listened and learned. Without a fragile ego needing to be told I was doing it right, I had a ton of leeway to learn how to actually do it right. To learn what she likes and doesn’t like — in touch, in relating, in all aspects. I made women my teachers.

Those are the biggest contributing factors I can think of on my road to confidence as a lover/sex partner and as a man.

4 Flavors Of Cocky

Not all arrogance is the same.

He got a big ego

Such a huge ego

I love his big ego

It’s too much

He walk like this ’cause he can back it up

-Beyoncé Knowles, “Ego”

I’m not naming any names. Instead I’m just going to leave this here in case you happen to know someone who could benefit greatly if this article were to somehow show up in their newsfeed.

Extreme confidence can be ballsy and compelling or just plain irritating. If “he can back it up…” more power to him. But we’ve all known someone with misplaced arrogance; a kind of ill-fitting bravado that fails to persuade.

There’s a particular flavor of cockiness that one often sees in the relationship business, that arises when someone evolves rapidly. The best way to describe this is to use an example… so ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Exhibit A.

…Me.

When I was young I was shy and timid around the opposite sex. I was also desperately lonely and hungry for connection. Like many people I encounter now as clients, I was suffering unnecessarily because there wasn’t anything fundamentally wrong with me.

Mind you, I’m not rich. I’m not tall. I’m not notably athletic or handsome. In fact back then I came off as pretty nerdy. I wouldn’t say I’m particularly charming, socially adept, or outgoing. My path to transformation did not involve learning to skillfully pick up chicks in bars. I can’t claim a fancy pedigree or highly exclusive credentials.

Fortunately none of these qualities stood in the way of me having a great relationship, a fantastic sex life, a deeply gratifying web of social connections, or worldly success. But I didn’t know that at the time.

This meant several things were true of me:

  • An ounce of connection was like a glass of water in the desert.
  • The fundamentals of human relating were within easy reach.
  • I wasn’t far off from having very, very different experiences with women than I’d been having.
  • My newfound ability to connect rapidly outpaced my emotional capacity to handle what I was experiencing.

In other words, my biggest problem was growing into the new me. You see, I was highly impressed with my own success. My tiny little triumphs were monumental to me. I had no perspective.

Or more accurately, my perspective was very different from everyone around me. My new relationships, my sex life, and my social life weren’t at all impressive to anyone else.

So this presented a big problem to anyone trying to deal with me. Especially if they were teaching or training me — whether it was a girlfriend who had the graciousness to be honest with me, or a mentor trying to steer me toward manhood. In either case they genuinely wanted me to become a better man. And had to deal with my suddenly huge, gigantic ego, with a head so big it could hardly fit through the door.

(The path from fragile arrogance to humble confidence is worthy of a whole other article.)

So this is our first flavor of cocky: misguidedly impressed with himself after a rapid up-level.


The second type is more common but more subtle. I’ve known a lot of guys who are genuinely dicks toward those who are drawn to them. And I always wondered why.

If it’s easier for us to recognize it for what it is — a defense mechanism — when a woman does it… well, that in itself reveals something about us and our stereotypes.

Whenever I spoke to these guys, there was something they weren’t saying, something they weren’t aware of within themselves. They were full. They didn’t have much actual hunger for connection. They acted like they did. They believed that they did. But the amount of interaction that was available to them was surpassing the amount they could ingest. They were deliberately, but unconsciously, holding people at bay. And the way they did it was through becoming increasingly, intolerably arrogant. Having gotten adept at chasing women they were now unconsciously chasing women off.

It may look paradoxical to the people around him. Like, why is he doing this? Until you realize that his capacity for connection, or intimacy or sex or love or whatever, is about the size of an eyedropper. He has a small amount and then, unbeknownst even to him, he’s had as much as he can take. In fact he will likely be the last one to recognize or admit it. Instead he becomes an asshole, an arrogant prick.

So that’s the second flavor of cockiness: arrogance as a cover for overwhelm, deliberately warding people off.


The third flavor I’ll just name: clueless. Let’s return to that list of all the things I’m not. Because I am now the guy who women bring their tall, rich, hot, athletic, charming guys to, in the hopes that I can train them in all the relating skills that they never had to learn in order to be well-liked and frequently fucked.

The single biggest question that will determine whether I can help turn this guy — the one with all the checkboxes, who basically has what we’ll call “great advertising” — into someone she would want to spend the rest of her life with, is whether he has sensed that there’s something beyond what he’s had up till now.

Let’s imagine he’s become bored with surface-layer relating. He’s popular but not gratified. At this point it’s possible he gets fed up with the whole relating game and turns his attention to financial success or some such. But maybe he craves something deeper. Perhaps there’s a woman in his life that he knows has ton of depth and he’s discovering that he has no idea what to do or how to be with her. He’s starting to realize that his playbook is useless in this arena.

Underneath their cocky exteriors, these guys are some of the most humble, beautiful men I’ve ever known.

Flavor number three — has all the checkboxes, clueless when it comes to relating with any depth.


And finally I want to talk about the self-help guy of the twenty-first century: the life-hackers, pick-up aficionados, flow junkies, do-it-yourselfers. These guys take on grand confidence as an x-game. Confidence is the decisive factor of success or failure in so many realms of life, and they see it as a brain hack, a life optimization. They’re not hard to spot because you can sense the shakiness underneath their bravado. But I always root for them because, holy shit, they’re really going for it. It’s the very definition of ballsy. You can see them fall flat on their faces, learn, get back up, and try again. I always find them inspiring. If they can do it, I can do it.

Flavor number four — life-hack bravado.

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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.

 

How Masculine Relates to Feminine

Out in the world, there’s this idea that the Masculine’s right role is to lead, and the Feminine’s is to follow.

That’s not true but I can tell you how it comes to look that way.

Yes, the Masculine thrives in the leadership role. But he’s an equally great follower. Truth is, the Masculine does well in either position. In the world of Masculine-Masculine, after some initial jockeying (and allowing for the occasional upset), all the players fall comfortably into their respective positions as leader/followers.

But in the world of the Feminine, what’s being asked of him–what’s being offered him–is neither leading nor following.

She’s pure power and he’s built for implementation.  The relationship is one in which she runs her power through him.  He has no idea how this works. Culturally there’s no role model.  (Well, there’s a derisive model–”the woman behind the man”.)   If he can overcome that, it can, at its best, feel like he’s wearing rocket boosters; everything he does feels turbo-charged and he can accomplish great things with ease.

To the degree he doesn’t get the concept of being the instrument by which her vision is realized, or a conduit through which her power can gain further impact the world–to the degree he sees the surface layer–it might look to him something like:

She just wants what she wants and she doesn’t want to have to do it, she wants me to do it.

And that will be all he can see.

Scary_rocket1From this vantage point it looks like the Feminine wants to be a back-seat driver. (Make that an insane, contradictory, impossible-to-please back seat driver, who manages to be both paranoid and reckless on the road.)  Neither her role nor his makes any sense to him whatsoever.

And to the degree that some part of him actually believes that women are crazy and/or inscrutable, he will be stuck there.

In response to the Masculine balking, the Feminine reverts to one of two positions. The first is,

No you lead baby.

At this point she’s given up hope of getting what she wants, and lost faith in his desire for anything beyond using her to stoke his own ego. Confronted with the alternative of being on her own, she tells him he’s doing a good job and accepts whatever he gives her. This eventually leads to a man who’s both fragile and dumb, and a woman who’s fake, perpetually ungratified and dead inside.

Or alternatively, she takes the route of, I’ll do it myself. At this point, she takes the lead and he willingly follows, thinking everything’s OK, not realizing how resentful she is at his uselessness. She’ll tell him exactly what to do, he’ll do it all to a tee, she’ll still hate him and he won’t understand why.

In either case she’s had to resort to the Masculine-Masculine model of relating, his familiar territory.

As an alternative to all of this, the Masculine can fully take on the mantle of Implementor. This is different from leader or follower. It’s more like… the role of the sword in battle.

It may take him awhile to get into alignment with what this actually entails, and until then it may feel to him like the worst of both worlds.  In the world of business there’s a concept known as “responsibility without authority.” This is considered the very worst place you can be. It’s considered a management blunder and a worker’s worst nightmare. And for the Masculine mind that is trying to use the same kind of thinking he uses in business deals and car repair in his relationship, and wondering why that’s not working out so well, this is what his role with the Feminine resembles.

But there’s something he’s been unconscious of his whole life: The Feminine herself is stellar at making things happen from this place that looks to him like responsibility without authority.

Because she’s likely been called upon to do this, and do it well, thousands of times in her life.  She can knock it out of the park.

And since, as Arthur C. Clarke says, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” what she can accomplish looks like total magic to him.  (If he ever wakes up enough to notice it.) Because she is masterful at manifestation that doesn’t rely on authority or force.

wonder_woman__81_superman_blank_bg_by_superman8193-d65fjseAnd so he needs to learn some of her magic.

Because if he has none, if he’s all concrete and tax forms and Ikea assembly instructions and I will never understand her, then they will forever be relating through prison glass with telephones.  So he needs to cultivate an ounce of her magic within him.

And then from that place the Feminine no longer looks crazy or inscrutable.  And what she has in mind for how she wants to make use of him is seen for what it really is. Once he steps into the role and lets her power channel through him it feels like peak performance on steroids. It’s like an effortless, superman state of grace. And he feels both well-used and accomplished. He is Excalibur itself.
_commission__superman__man_of_grease_by_ashlee1012000-d6a3esu

Communication in Relationships (interview)

This is a snippet from an interview I did with Raw Attraction magazine, on communication in relationships. ~~~

R.A.: Hi Ken. We all realize that great communication is pivotal in a developing a strong relationship with someone. But, what makes great communication?

K.B. First of all, it’s important to recognize that everything is a communication. Everything. About 5% of any given communication is conveyed in the words, and words are sometimes the least revealing. So, if you pay attention to everything, and notice how-it-feels rather than what-it-might-mean, then you can start to pick up on all the nuances and metamessages, and you’ll discover your partner is already telling you everything you need to know.

Second, it’s really important to know that men and women use language differently. Men think language is for conveying content, whereas women use language to evoke an emotional flavor in the listener — they skilfully exchange packets of emotion. So a man may get annoyed when a woman is factually wrong, even though the emotional message is loud and clear; he deliberately tunes that channel out. Meanwhile, a woman gets annoyed when a man uses the same language he uses for business deals and car repair in what is obviously an emotional situation, but it’s the only language he’s got. Unfortunately for him, her language is better suited for the stuff of relationships than his. The men who do best with women are fluently bilingual.

R.A. How can men become better at the language women speak?

K.B. Ok, you know that moment when you’re sure she wants you to do the dishes, and you get irritated that she won’t just come out and say it? Brother, if you picked up on it, then she communicated! So stop pretending you didn’t get the message, or it doesn’t count if it’s not delivered to you in proper man-speak. You want that spidey sense, you want to get good at listening to it and acting on it, because it’s exactly the same as the moment when she’s yelling, “I’m really irritated with you!” and you’re savvy enough to detect the hint of “Please, just throw me on the bed right now!” that’s underneath it. So make use of every opportunity to use that skill and be grateful for the intuitive connection…

[ you can read the full interview here… ]