Friday, September 28, 2012

The Worst Thing In The World.

Because Nothing is Scarier.
I used to believe there was such a thing as The Worst Thing In The World.  It's a pretty nebulous thing, more a feeling than a thought, but God does it push you to irrational desperation to avoid it.

TWTITW is a yawning chasm of failure, constantly open beneath you, and there is no describing the horror at the bottom.  You just go around with the knowledge that if you make a mistake big enough, you can fall in.  If a relationship fails, if you get fired, if you get rejected... you'll fall into TWTITW, so you put everything you've goddamn got into that relationship.  You'll try anything to keep the relationship. Because it's literally unthinkable what will happen if it ends.

That unthinkability is how it traps you.  Because it's like Stephen King says in Danse Macabre--knowing that there's something horrible behind a door is terrifying.  Once you open the door, it's ruined.  Even if it's a really terrible thing behind that door, even if it's a six-foot cockroach, any horror you feel is going to be mixed with relief.  "Oh, thank God, it's just a six-foot cockroach. It could've been a sixty-foot cockroach."

I remember when my first "I love you" relationship ended.  I couldn't abide the thought.  I screamed.  I cried.  I tried to seduce him.  (While still crying. Sexxxay.)  I threatened to harm myself if he didn't come back.  I called him until he stopped taking my calls.   The ridiculous thing is, I didn't even like him that much.  It wasn't about getting the joy of the relationship back.  It was about avoiding TWTITW.

At some point I bawled myself to sleep, and the next morning I woke up and had to pee.  Because even in the wake of The Worst Thing In The World, you still have to pee.   I peed and went to work. It was the day after the end of eeeeeverything, but the bus still picked me up at 7:08 and I still got a half-hour and a chicken sandwich for lunch.  I was in pain, I was in bad pain, but I had thought it would be infinite pain, and it was finite.  It was only a six-foot cockroach.

I can't say "and then I never believed in TWTITW again," but it was the start of a journey.  Failing a class helped too, as did getting fired from a job, as did very messily breaking up with a very close friend.  Not because these things weren't bad.  All of them sucked, all of them cost me opportunities I would never get back, all of them caused real and irreparable harm, yet the morning after... I still had to pee.

Eventually I started to understand.  The next time a relationship ended, I cried and yelled plenty, but I didn't do anything inappropriate or harmful.  I didn't want to let it go, but I wasn't filled with blind animal terror of letting it go.  Breaking up was a bad thing--just not The Worst Thing.

I think belief in The Worst Thing In The World is at the heart of a lot of abusive and dysfunctional relationships.  I believe that many abusers believe that breaking up, being rejected, feeling emasculated, or losing their power in a relationship are TWTITW, and that's why they're willing to go to desperate lengths and hurt people to avoid it.

What I did to my ex-boyfriend--threatening myself and refusing to leave him alone--was abuse.  Fortunately it didn't go on very long, but it was abusive.  And I didn't do it because it felt good to scare and upset him.  I did it because I was so deeply afraid of losing him.  You get ugly when you're really afraid--anyone with a phobia can empathize with this.  If you're phobic of snakes and suddenly you fall in a snake pit, it doesn't matter what kind of nice gentle person you normally are. You'll do whatever it takes to get away--you'll step on people, you'll scream at them, you'll shove them out of your way even if it hurts them.  What I felt when I screamed "talk to me or I'll hurt myself" at my ex wasn't a power trip or an evil cackling glee. What I felt was snake-fleeing desperation.

I don't think this accounts for all forms of abuse, but I think it's a pretty common motivation.  I think cultural narratives of Perfect Love and Forever Love play into it big-time, too.  We don't teach kids "someday your Prince Charming will come, and hopefully you'll have good times together even if it doesn't work out in the end."  We teach them that people are expected to hook up permanently and seamlessly, and if they don't... we don't really address that possibility.  It's left hanging, unspoken but definitely undesirable, perfect conditions for setting something up as TWTITW.  The idea that maybe a relationship problem can't be fixed or maybe you will be single when you don't want to be, that these are painful but not infinitely painful, doesn't come up much in any media or education aimed at people under thirty.

I suspect a class on "rejection happens to the best of us, and it's painful and awkward for everyone involved, so here's how to take care of yourself during and after a rejection" would prevent more abuse than just repeating the messages of "no means no" and "hitting is bad."

Realizing that emotional pain is a cockroach, but only a six-foot cockroach, has given me comfort and self-control.  I can't say that being rejected or broken up with wouldn't hurt.  But I can say it would only hurt some.  I can face "some" if I have to.

[Obligatory awkwardly self-effacing comment about not writing an on-topic or timely post.  I'm gonna try super hard to get back on schedule and write a kink post Tuesday.]

Monday, September 17, 2012

Cosmocking: October '12!

White cover!  Zooey Deschanel!  I don't know if her "quirkiness" is a marketing strategy or is the Real Her, but frankly, not having any personal relationship to her either way, I'm not bothered by that lack of knowledge!  "Orgasm Guaranteed!" Because "this helps some people have orgasms so maybe it's worth a try for you" is just not how Cosmo rolls!  "Secrets Even a Good Boyfriend Keeps From You!"  Spoiler: they're all incredibly mundane white lies like "he thinks you do look fat in that dress," but boy, doesn't it look scandalous on the cover!  "Feel Happier In 9 Seconds!"  I did it in 2, but then I had to dig Cosmo back out of the bin so I could finish this post!
Girlfriend apartments are amazing.  They smell nice, have the most comfortable beds, and are always clean.
The instant I read this, I got up and took a picture of my bedroom.

So, uh.  Hi Internet.  I didn't realize you were coming over. I would have straightened up.

(Okay, not exactly a woman, but raise your hand if you don't know a woman whose apartment makes mine look like a Better Homes and Gardens spread.)
The C-Spot: Yep, he has one too. It's the C-shaped outer edge of his ear, and it's supersensitive. 
The N-Spot: It's the area right in the middle of the back of his neck. 
The K-Spot: The skin behind his knees is thin and full of nerve endings. 
The A-Spot: Your guy's ankles called, and they want some love too.
I hope they follow this up in the next issue with an article about "Does the N-spot really exist?  Does it contain nerves?  Or is it all a myth?  Science is still debating!"
The Random Way He Decides if You're Dateable
By your dog.  See, if you have a poodle, you're only good for a one-night stand, and if you have a chihuahua, you're "hot but flaky," but if you have a golden retriever, you're "the total package."

The article, sadly, does not go on to say that if you have a pet snake, you have hundreds of ribs and only need to eat every two weeks.

...wait, why does he need to look at your dog to know if you're hot?  Can't he see you?
"If you're in the electrical section [of a Home Depot], ask him if he feels the sparks flying too. It sounds dumb, but guys love humor."
Most guys do love humor. That's why they're cringing right now.
[If "your man" doesn't cook:] You have to teach him--start by asking him to food shop.  If he gets the wrong kind of cheese, don't make a big deal out of it, otherwise he'll curl into the fetal position and never go near the dairy aisle again (kidding... kind of). Once he finds out he can gather supplies for a meal, have him help with the food prep.
This is great advice for teaching a five- or six-year-old child to start helping out in the kitchen.  It's a little disconcerting when the man in the image illustrating this article looks roughly thirty-five.

There's three main reasons men (or anyone) don't cook: Not caring what they eat, thinking someone else should cook for them, or not knowing how to cook.  All three have different solutions and not one is "baby him along like you're trying to convince a timid puppy to go out in the snow."
Five: The number of times you should casually touch a guy you're into within 15 minutes. Men aren't always fluent in subtlety, so several pats on the arm, pecks on the cheek, and hands on the knee are necessary.
Well, touching someone who isn't your partner or close friend every three minutes is not subtle.  Sort of creepily intrusive if the attraction isn't mutual but your touches have enough "plausible deniability" that they feel weird asking you to stop... but not subtle!

Of course, overcoming all this subtlety wouldn't be necessary in the first place if Cosmo gave advice on verbal flirting any more direct than "try changing the angle of your hips slightly in his direction."

Maybe you could ask this guy if he feels sparks flying too?  And if he gets confused just ask him to go to a Home Depot electrical department with you.  That's a great first date anyway.
By the time you're 32, your clitoris is four times larger than it was at puberty.
Far be it from me to dispute such an authoritative-sounding claim, but wouldn't that make it, like, four inches long by now?  I'm pretty sure that didn't happen to me.  I would have noticed.

(I feel weird needing a citation to prove something that is already proven in my pants, but here you go.)
Most 20somethings have sex 112 times a year, according to a study.
One of these days I'm going to offer Cosmo's editorial staff a free seminar on the use of the words "average," "median," "majority," and "plurality."  I know they don't want to confuse readers with fancy math terms or whatever, but this is just embarrassing.
[On how to initiate butt-play:] Slowly massage his perineum (the tender spot between his balls and his butt). If he doesn't object, work your way back.
You know I'm going to say this is a consent fail, and it really is.  Both because "not objecting" isn't consent and because consent to having your taint tickled is not consent to a finger up your bum.

But there's another problem here.  One that ought to chill the bones even of people who think asking before buttfucking is unromantic Robot Lawyer nonsense.  If you don't give your partner an unambiguous heads-up before going for his butthole, you don't give him the chance to say "whoa, not right now, I've got a massive poop on deck."

Reflect upon this.
Hit a used bookstore and grab a few big travel books. Having these pretty tomes stacked on your coffee table screams "world traveler."
I don't want to end this post on a non-consensual poop-smearing note, so I'll just say: buy books because you want to read them, goddammit.  If you've traveled the world, you'll have more personal ways to show it off, and if you haven't, why not show off something you're actually proud of?

Life is too damn short to waste on looking cool.  Don't waste a second or a penny that you could be spending on being cool.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Models of Sex.

When I was sixteen, my boyfriend Kevin brought me a vibrator.  (His mom had bought it, which... awwwwkward, but it was her well-intentioned effort to keep me from getting pregnant by her son. It didn't stop us having intercourse, but I didn't get pregnant so it all worked out in the end.)  The first time he used it, it was mind-blowing.  I'd never used a vibrator before, it happened to be an exceptionally powerful "back massager," and it was a goddamn revelation in sensation.  I came hard, immediately, and repeatedly.  I screamed and writhed and clutched his arm.

For about a minute.  Then he stopped.  He didn't look aroused.  He looked concerned.

"That was amazing!  Do it again!" I said, very happily.

"No," he said.  "I don't want to do any more of that."

Well okay then, that's certainly his decision to make.  We put the vibrator away and had a bunch of non-mechanically-assisted sex, which went fine.  When Kevin was about to leave for the night, I asked him to leave the vibrator behind, and he refused.  He told me he was going to throw it out.  I asked him, in roughly the tone of voice of a puppy that's just been told it can't go to Disneyland, why.

"I'm afraid it can pleasure you better than I can," he said.  So I couldn't have it.

Because I was sixteen, and meek, and naive, and did not have much power in the relationship, I said "oh okay," and then I burbled out a lot of nonsense about of course you pleasure me most of anything in the whole entire world, baby.  But even at sixteen and naive, I knew this was some bullshit.

What interests me now, at twenty-six (and still a bit meek but definitely not naive), is not that it was bullshit.  Telling me I'm not allowed to masturbate in certain ways because I might enjoy it more than The Mighty Penis is clear and obvious bullshit, now.  What interests me is why my boyfriend bought into that bullshit.

I believe it comes down to models.  There are many different ways to model sex, many answers to the questions "So, what exactly is sex? What is it for?"  I believe that once you know someone's answers to those questions, you can understand why their sexual choices make sense to them.

In the economic model, sex is a consumable good, produced by women and sold to men.  (And, in the nastiest implications of the model, sex can be "stolen" without losing value.)  In Thomas Macaulay Millar's performance model of sex, sex is like a cooperative musical performance, ephemeral and existing only in the moment of cooperation between performers.

I've seen people talk about sex in a maintenance model, in which sex is a task a women has to perform fairly regularly to keep her man contented in the relationship.  There's also an achievement model, in which the goal is to do the "naughtiest" or "sexiest" thing, regardless of whether you really like it or not--Cosmo espouses this a lot, and porn tends to encourage it.  And, famously, there's the competition model of sex, in which women are the mile-markers in a race men run against each other.

Or sex can be modeled as a cooperative sport, with the participants acting as teammates encouraging and challenging each other.  There's a communication model of sex, in which sex acts are a way for partners to express and strengthen their feelings for each other.  Personally, I tend toward almost a utilitarian model of sex, in which the goal is to work together to attain the greatest net pleasure.

Kevin's problem, I think, was that he had internalized a shitty macho-culture model of sex.  Going beyond "it's wrong to tell your girlfriend not to use a vibrator," why would it even make sense to tell your girlfriend not to use a vibrator?  In a utilitarian model of sex, it makes no sense--I gain fabulous pleasure, he experiences no harm to his body or his autonomy--this obviously ought to be a win-win, or at least a win-neutral, situation.

But in a competition model of sex, I was making him come in second place to a piece of plastic.  If he believed sex was about showing off his prowess, it was an embarrassment that his prowess couldn't compare to a machine--and it was as cruel and unfair as making a runner race against a motorcycle.

Because I believed that my pleasure was my pleasure, I thought the vibrator was harmless fun.  Because he believed that my pleasure was his measure as a man, he thought the vibrator would make him the loser in a race I didn't even know he was running.  It's no wonder he took it away.  He wasn't pointlessly depriving me of pleasure.  He was depriving me of pleasure because, in his model, he had to.

If I have a Grand Unified Theory Of Everything, it's this: I believe that people always do things that make sense to them.  Hard as it is to believe with all the hurting out there, almost nobody hurts others just to be a jerk.  So if you want to change human behavior on a grand scale, you can't tell people "stop being a jerk."  You have to dissect and then recreate their models of the world until being a jerk doesn't make sense.

[So here's the deal, scheduling-wise.  I'm going to try and have a post up every Tuesday night.  (Last week didn't go so well because Comcast accidentally cut off my cable for most of the week.)  Cosmocking is "extra", not one of the Tuesday posts, and I'll do other "extra" posts as time/inspiration allow.

Also, I just got this month's Cosmo, so that's coming up sometime this week, whee!]