Esther Greenwood

Posts Tagged ‘romance’

The Five Love Languages

In Uncategorized on September 26, 2009 at 6:37 am

Years ago, I was sitting on my ass watching old tapes of The X-Files when my friend Spam came online full of wisdom and insight he learned from some class in college.  He kept talking about something that sounded straight out of a Dr. Phil book, the “five love languages.”  I ignored it for the most part: for one thing it sounded incredibly hokey, plus usually when this topic came up I was single and it never occurred to me to research the matter for my friends’ benefit.

However, corniness aside, I asked Spam not too long ago to re-explain to me this whole “love language” theory.  Spam, I have to say, is part of one of the longest, sanest, and by far the happiest, relationship I’ve ever seen.  He and his girlfriend Katie love each other, and are so damn good at encouraging one another and being there for one another it almost makes you sick (but not really because you are so happy for them).  Spam tipped his relationship success to what he learned about the five love languages, so I’m here to share because this is supposed to be a blog about dating and relationships and not just full of funny and inappropriate stories or me venting and or pondering.

According to Spam, who is quoting this dude Gary Chapman, there are five ways we humans express love.  The below is a quote from this site:

  • Words of Affirmation
    This is when you say how nice your spouse looks, or how great the dinner tasted. These words will also build your mate’s self image and confidence.
  • Quality Time
    Some spouses believe that being together, doing things together and focusing in on one another is the best way to show love. If this is your partner’s love language, turn off the TV now and then and give one another some undivided attention.
  • Gifts
    It is universal in human cultures to give gifts. They don’t have to be expensive to send a powerful message of love. Spouses who forget a birthday or anniversary or who never give gifts to someone who truly enjoys gift giving will find themselves with a spouse who feels neglected and unloved.
  • Acts of Service
    Discovering how you can best do something for your spouse will require time and creativity. These acts of service like vacuuming, hanging a bird feeder, planting a garden, etc., need to be done with joy in order to be perceived as a gift of love.
  • Physical Touch
    Sometimes just stroking your spouse’s back, holding hands, or a peck on the cheek will fulfill this need.

Now, as Spam (and this Chapman dude) explain it, we don’t all “express” our love in the same way.  As Spam recounts: “Words of affirmation, compliments, are really important to me, and probably my most important love language, for receiving.  When I was going out with XXX, she would never SAY nice things to me, so I thought she didn’t like me.  We broke up after six months because of it… turns out she was in love with me, I just wasn’t picking up her signals.”

So, the moral is, we’re supposed to use these different expressions to show people we care, and recognize the fact that we don’t all show in the same way, and adapt/recognize the other person’s “language” and try to see that just because they aren’t, say, holding your hand doesn’t mean they don’t love you, yadda yadda yadda.  At the same time, if the girl or fella wants their hand held, learn to hold their hand.  It’s a give and take thing.  You have to work it out, compromise.

And now it sounds like I am lecturing.

I swear, most of my other posts will be hip and cool.

So, anyway, I was thinking about this the other day, because I like to give people gifts.  Little things, like a note or flowers or cookies.  And I’m reminded of something my dear friend Stella told me once, about how at times it can be exhausting/daunting to be my friend (this is not to build myself up) because she couldn’t keep up with it, she showed her affection for our friendship in other ways (listening to me vent over and over about the same damn issue or person, for example). And I understood this and accepted this.

I’ve got to give this Chapman guy some credit, though I really do wish he’d change his theory’s moniker.  I’m reminded of how hurt and frustrated I was when I dated a gay guy (I didn’t know at the time he was gay) because he would never touch me (duh, dude dug dudes) or verbally say nice things to me or encourage me (I’m with Spam on the emphasis of the verbal front, as a writer I guess words are doubly important to me, though “actions speak louder,” so I don’t know… maybe I’m full of it– ANYWAY).  But what he did do to show he cared was, to use Chapman’s phrasing, the “acts of service” and “gifts.”  I can only see that now, five years later.  At the time I thought he didn’t give a shit about me.  And while I know now he didn’t in the way I wanted, I do believe he cared in some regard.  We just spoke a different language (and had different interests, or one main similar one).  And in the end, that ruined us.

If you go off of popular entertainment, a woman’s primary “love language” (I still cringe when I type that) is the “words of affirmation” and “quality time.”  Get those two together and it’s a cuddle fest on the couch talking about feelings, a guy’s favorite thing to do.  Hardy har har.  I crack myself up.  Oy.   According to this same popular entertainment stereotype, men’s primary “love language” would fall under “gifts,” “acts of service,” and “physical touch.”  I’m not one to give credence to stereotypes, but notice the lack of overlap.

Anyway, I just thought I’d post this interesting theory up there.  Next post will be something wicked or funny or at least a little less Oprah, a little more Dan Savage.  Maybe with a little Ellen.

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Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide

In Uncategorized on August 13, 2009 at 12:54 am

“Oh no love! You’re not alone
No matter what or who you’ve been
No matter when or where you’ve seen
All the knives seem to lacerate your brain
I’ve had my share, I’ll help you with the pain
You’re not alone.”

– David Bowie


Today I experienced one of those awful airport days you read about or hear told at a dinner party after the hosts laugh about how the “stupid airline” lost their luggage during their honeymoon.

The day began easily enough– I woke up, dressed, was picked up by my car service and arrived at the airport a full two and a half hours early.  I waded my way through baggage check and security for an hour, had an overpriced bite to eat, and went to my gate.  I sat down next to a friendly Midwestern family and waited.

First, the flight was only delayed an hour.   Then two hours.  Then three.  I finished one book (David Eggers’ Zeitoun) and volume one of the comic Scott Pilgrim— soon to be a movie staring Michael Cera.  I listened to a mix.  I listened Kanye and tried not to laugh at myself.  I listened to random music.  I started to notice Delta was canceling more and more flights and tried my best not to get frustrated.  There’s a lot of ugliness in airports, people packed together in stressful situations such as flight delays tends to bring out the worse, and I didn’t want to add to it.

But, when news came that my flight was canceled and I saw the line that I would have to wait in to rebook– easily already over fifty people long, with only one Delta employee to help them– I wanted to cry.  Instead I bit my lip, took out my cell phone, and texted those closest to me.

At that moment, as I lugged my backpack and purse and stood in line listening to a guy bitch out an airline employee on his cell and an elderly couple proclaim “this bullshit only happens to us,” two thoughts crossed my mind: sometimes it sucks to be an adult, and thank God I have people I care about in my life.

Regarding the first thought: when I was a little girl and things went wrong at airports, my dad– who frequently flies United for work and is one of their VIP passengers because of this– would just go and talk to someone and sort it out for me.  While I villainize my father a lot of the time (sometimes rightly so, sometimes unfairly), at times his temper works in my favor.  So when everything went wrong, the first thing I wanted to do was call my parents and have them sort it all out.

This, of course, was not an option.  I’m an adult and have been acting like one (or at least vainly attempting to) since college.   Just because the situation was new didn’t mean I had to panic.  Sure, I was overwrought and felt like sobbing and screaming, but I had to buck up and get myself together.

Looking back on it, I just wanted someone there with me.  I didn’t want to shoulder all this chaos (by then four other flights had been canceled and a security guard had been called to handle the hordes of pissed off passengers) alone.  Yet, there was another reason I craved company: When I’m in a terrible situation, if I have someone else there that I have to act “together” for, I usually am a hell of a lot better and being upbeat and cheerful.  For example, I HATE the rain.  When it’s raining and I’m alone in it I bitch to myself and want nothing more than to give the sky a glowing neon middle finger.  But if I’m out with friends and the weather starts sucking, I’ll turn it into a game.  Bad weather is a lot more enjoyable when you are out with people you like.

During my freshman year of college, my friend Danielle drove me and my friend Katie to see a play.  Well, a car t-boned us and totaled Danielle’s car.  We were all scratched up pretty bad and ended up going to the hospital.  But what I remember the most is the aftermath of the accident.  Danielle and Katie were hysterical, and while I was just as cut up as they were, I calmly talked to the one car that had pulled over and dialed 911.   I went into “take care of people/be strong” mode.  Meanwhile, three years later when the same thing happened to me but I was alone, I lost it.

Though, then again, the airport situation was pretty terrible.  I’m not sure I’d have been able to remain smiling even if I had Glenda The Good Witch with me all pink and sparkly.

The main reason I wanted someone there with me was because I needed, I wanted a hug.  I wanted solid comfort. So I was eternally grateful when I received support via facebook messages or text from friends and a consoling and considerate text from Boy who was all the way out of town and on vacation.  I felt bad pestering Boy with my shitty news, but at the same time I realized that had the situation been reversed I’d of course want him to do the same.  It’s what you do.  And, dare I say it, it’s one of the perks of being in a relationship (and having a cell phone)– even when you are physically alone, you don’t have to be so emotionally.  There’s someone you want to be there for, and there’s someone who can be there for you.  The same goes for close friendships.

In a way, I guess I was never really alone at the airport.  Everyone on those canceled flights were thrown together in a relatively awful situation.  For every asshole I heard complaining, there would be a gentleman.  It was while waiting in line that I got to know the kids of the Midwestern couple (the oldest girl was applying to NYU).  I made more polite conversation with an intern from a NYC bank who was being sent on a “business trip” by his bosses to Kansas City to pick up BBQ sauce for lunch the following day.  While I’ll never see these people again, they were nice to have around.

Of course, it’s not the same as having people who know you and care about you be there for you in times of stress and trouble.  But it’s something.

Eventually I talked to a ticket representative (though my father, again to the rescue, had managed to secure through a coworker who was big with Delta a not-too-painful flight for me the following day) and, seven hours after I had arrived at La Guardia, I made my way home.  A shower, some chocolate, and a food delivery later I was as right as the nonexistent rain Delta blamed for the cancellation.  But I know, had it not been for the support of my loved ones, not even a bubble bath and champagne would have cured my bad mood.

“No man is an Island, entire of itself.”

– John Donne

Cage #64581A

In Uncategorized on August 10, 2009 at 4:43 am

Author’s Note:

Sometimes I write fictional stories about relationships.

Below is one of them.


I’m watching my boyfriend coo sweet nothings at Susie.  In response to his praise Susie whimpers and drools.  I check my watch.

“She’s perfect,” Todd informs me as he stands up from his kneeling position.

“She sheds,” I reply.  It’s two o’clock.  We were supposed to be having lunch by now.

He pats me on the small of my back.  “So do you.  It’s cute.”

I wonder if he expects me to wag my tail like the tiny Beagle now shitting on the cement floor before us.  I have a feeling dog hair is a lot less cute than the hair of the woman who fucks you twice a week.

“Do you think we have room in our apartment for a dog?” I ask.  Off his look, I continue, “I don’t want her to feel cramped.”

I fail to mention that I’m the one who feels cramped, what with the antique bookcase Todd found on the street two days ago and installed in our living room half the size of a minivan.  As an empty bookcase makes Todd feel sad, the next day he went to the Chelsea flea market and had the bookcase overstuffed by seven pm.  He also had two ceramic cherubs displayed proudly on its top.

“They’re a symbol,” he told me as I served us Cajun chicken on the couch-come-dinner table.  He balanced his plate on his knees and poured Cabernet into the glasses sitting on the wood floor.  “They’re a symbol for how much I love you.”

I kissed his cheek and spilled my yellow rice.  Two years after we first started dating, he still can say things that make me blush and forget my carefully constructed insouciant demeanor.

Then he dropped the bombshell.

“I think we should get a dog,” he said.

So here we are, at the pound.  An employee whisks away Susie’s offending secretions while our adoption counselor Michael repeats the sob story already typed up via typewriter and displayed on Susie’s cage door.  Abused by her owners and left for dead on the New Jersey Turnpike, Susie fears men but will eventually turn loving after consistent affection.  She’s one of Michael’s “favorites.”

“I bet you say that about all the bitches,” I joke.  Michael blankly looks me and then turns back to Todd.

“Shall we go sign the paperwork?”

“She’s so cute!” Todd squeals.  He smiles down at Susie and starts to clap his hands.  “Who’s the cutest puppy in the world?  Who’s the cutest puppy in the world?”

“She’s not a puppy,” I correct.  His repetitive baby talk is annoying.  I’m hungry; I want my Caesar salad and glass of Pinot Grigio.  “She’s five years old.  Isn’t that like thirty-five in dog years?  She’s older than your big sister.”

Todd ignores me and gives Michael a thumbs up.  “Let’s get her out of here.”

It’s only when the boys exit Susie’s cage, which Todd pointed out earlier was half the size of our aforementioned miniscule den, that I realize the “her” Todd speaks of is Susie and not myself.

Apparently my response, “There’s more breathing room in here than in our den,” was not appreciated.

“Why don’t you stay behind and bond with Susie?” Todd suggests with a look that informs me this is anything but a suggestion.

He’s still mad about our discussion over oatmeal three days ago, the day he fled the apartment and found that horrific bookcase.  I nod mutely and try not to cringe when I hear the cage door close.  I watch the boys walk away and then turn to look down at my dog, our stand-in for the child I do not want to have.

Susie sits on her haunches and stares up at me.  Her brown and white fur is dirty and matted.  This dog is not cute; she’s a mess.  I wonder how often the pound cleans these dogs, whether she’s been checked for fleas and, most importantly, how often I’ll be expected to wash her.

I’ll make no bones about it (pun intended), Todd wants the dog but I know I’m the one who will be stuck taking care of it.  For him, this is a lark, another venue where he can express love without repercussions.  Last year we became supporters of some starving child in Uganda.  A gold-framed photograph on Todd’s desk represented our “daughter” Anita.  The most noticeable thing about Anita was her array of bones: they stuck out prominently from areas that hadn’t even occurred to us contained bones.  Todd wrote her every day and donated an extra twenty-five to fifty bucks a month.  Six months after we joined the program we received a notice from the government that Anita was a scam.

Susie waddles up to me and starts to lick my flats.  Awkwardly, I reach down and scratch her head.  Her hair is coarse.

Todd will run off to the lab and study chemical compounds while I, the writer who works from home, will be the one who takes Susie for walks around the block, feeds her, and begs her to stop barking while the neighbors call to complain.

My feet hurt, and the dog’s slobber only accentuates this.  I have a feeling Todd will be a while.  Most likely he will get distracted by the pound’s pet supply store we passed on our way to the cages.  With a sigh, I sit down Indian-style on the cement and thank God I am wearing jeans.

Susie launches herself into my lap and knocks my stomach with her hard ball of a head.  I wince; I still haven’t fully recovered from the surgery.

I will never tell Todd about last month’s abortion.  What for Todd had been a “quick trip home to visit my friends who you find childish” was really a “quick trip home to let my friends take care of me while I killed your child.”  I hadn’t outright lied, the girls had been visited, but the reasoning for my trip was left purposely vague.

Avoiding sex hadn’t been too tricky.  My lie of an ulcer (conveniently discovered when visiting the girls) had been believed, and as long as I went down on him a few times a week and let him cum in my mouth Todd remained unsuspicious.

Susie licks my face.  Her breath smells like dog food.  When I turn away so as to not get her slobber on my lips, I come face to face with Susie’s neighbor, a large black poodle missing her left eye.

“Hey girl,” I say.  The poodle grunts and turns away.

Suddenly hot, I stand and push Susie off of me.  She lunges for my Met Museum tote bag while I look around us and try to imagine what it feels like to be a dog in a pound.  There are so many cages, and so many disgusting, rank smells.  The staccato shrieks of children (“Look Mom!  A puppy!”) interrupt the chorus of barking dogs.  I want out.  The cage is locked.

Susie starts making unsettling wheezing noises behind me.  I turn, my personal effects are scattered on the floor and haphazardly pushed around while Susie continues to choke as she runs in misshapen circles.

“Shit!” I gasp.  “What did you eat?!”  The dog pants in response.  My lipstick is there by her water bowl, so is my wallet, and my cell phone…

The chorus of canines increases in volume.

“Susie!”  I fall to my knees and shake her.  Her eyes meet mine, and I see fear so pure I catch my breath.  I let go of her and she continues to wheeze.  I pry open her mouth and can just make out the pink and white wrapper of a maxipad.

My friends told me that when I came out of my surgery, morphined to the max, I was crying.  They kept asking me what was wrong, was I in pain, what could they do, but all I did was cry in response.  They say it was the scary kind of crying, the kind with no sound, just empty, open mouth gasps.

Susie is on the ground, gasping heavily on her right side.  Unsuccessfully I pry open her chops, with red-manicured hands wet from her saliva I tug at the end of the pad to no avail.  I stand up and yell for help.  My voice is surprisingly hoarse.  No staff employees or volunteers pay us any attention; they are too busy assisting happy families with the adoption of their new members.  It is only when I try to wipe dirt out of my eye that I realize my cheeks are wet.

Five minutes later, Todd and Michael return.  Todd’s arms are filled with multi-colored doggy toys.  I hold Susie’s body, rocking her back and forth.  I’ve stopped crying.  “I killed her,” I say flatly from behind the cage bars as Michael rushes to get help.  Todd stares at me, his eyes an echo of Susie’s from moments before, and I am fully aware that at that moment, the relationship is dead.

Friends as the Benefit

In Uncategorized on August 7, 2009 at 8:01 pm

“The bird a nest,
the spider a web,
man friendship.”
– William Blake


A common question I ask when meeting my friends’ friends is how they met.  Usually there is an entertaining story involved, where the friends in common giggle and swap inside jokes.  An amusing anecdote is shared, and everyone comes out feeling a little more chummy.

When it comes to a group of my closest friends, or at least the friends I’ve known the longest, my story is also a bit awkward.  My closest friends, often referred to as  “The EEP Crowd” (EEP stands for Early Entrance Program, they all skipped high school and went straight to college), I met through my first boyfriend when I was fifteen years old.  Now, nine years later, I still talk to many of them regularly.   When I’m homesick, it’s their hangouts (Dungeons and Dragons, Rock Band, all of it) I miss the most.  I think I was always the baby of the group– after all, I was the youngest.  Jon was 19 to my 15 when we dated for our brief couple of months, and so most of the EEP crowd happens to be a good four to seven years older than me.  They watched me grow up from a teenager to a chick approaching 25.  They know my most embarrassing stories, my weaknesses, and I miss them terribly.

But I realize that’s weird.  After all, they were Jon’s friends first.  And he’s still friends with them too; we’re all friends.  It was only awkward when we first broke up, as all teenage breakups can be.

My EEP friends aside, I realize friendship with your beau’s friends is a tricky territory, especially with the dawn of Facebook.   I know people who get friended by random dudes they meet in a bar on Facebook and are totally okay with it, yet when it comes to friending their better half’s friends, fears of intruding on their personal space come in to play.  For example, my friend Henry is afraid to Facebook-friend any of his girlfriend’s amigas: he waits for them to friend him.  But what if you’re the girlfriend and want to friend your boyfriend’s awesome pal on Facebook?

In the past, I’ve especially have a hard time because I usually really like my boyfriend’s friends.  I think it’s because I tend to get along better with men than with women, and so I’m immediately more comfortable joking around with them.  But I’ll hold back on Facebook friending them, because nobody wants to be that creepy girlfriend who forces herself into her boyfriend’s life.  And nobody wants that creepy person doing that to them.  So it’s with a smile and a sigh of relief that their friend will Facebook contact me, because it means a) I didn’t freak them out and b) I can continue the witty repartee when appropriate.

I used to get really nervous when meeting my beau’s friends.  After all, I really want them to at least approve of my existence.  The only more nerve-wracking thing is meeting their family.  As I’ve gotten older, I’m a little more calm about the whole meeting-friends situation, especially because I realize that when the roles are reversed, I’m well aware of how possibly awkward it can be for the other person.  The point is to have fun with people your date has fun with, and chances are, if you get along with your date, you’ll at least have a passably good time.  And usually, a great one.

If not, don’t worry about it.  You’re dating the person, not their friends (and if their friends become an issue, well that says something about the relationship/person involved).

In the show How I Met Your Mother, two of the leads Robin and Ted begin as sort of romantic interests, with Ted in love with Robin and Robin not quite as interested.  Yet, Ted and Robin and Ted’s roommates and friends become a tight nit group.  While it doesn’t usually work like that, it’s nice that that fiction is out there to tell us it’s okay to get along with your love’s friends.  They don’t need to be best buddies or pen pals, but an ability to get along in the same space is always appreciated.

The problems come about when you like the friends more than the paramour.  Then of course it’s time to break up, and if you have to break up with the acquaintances too, so be it.  That’s life.  Maybe that’s a way Facebook is actually helpful– you can still remain fringe friends with the people with whom you’d already lose contact.  In other words, if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.  Kind of like with all relationships.

A Lesson From The Simpsons

In Uncategorized on August 1, 2009 at 4:09 am

“Love is a snowmobile racing across the tundra and then suddenly it flips over, pinning you underneath. At night, the ice weasels come.”

– Matt Groening

My brother was in town this week, and like many sibling relationships we don’t have much to say to each other.  After a couple hours of awkward chit-chat, we turned to the television for entertainment.  I’ve started to record The Simpsons on DVR (what’s the purpose of paying five dollars extra a month for a recording program if you’re not going to tape classic television), so Chris and I, in an homage to how we spent most nights of our childhood at 7:30pm, sat on my bed and watched the adventures of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie.

The episode we watched was number forty-seven, “I Married Marge.”  In it, Marge has a pregnancy scare and Homer recounts to the kids how he and Marge got married and Homer earned the job at the power plant.  It’s a sweet episode.

There’s a specific scene in the episode that stuck out for me: young Homer and Marge are driving and Marge leans her head over onto Homer’s shoulder. Smiling, Homer puts an arm around her and continues to drive.

It’s an adorable, lovely moment.  Yet all I could think while watching it was What an uncomfortable position for Homer.

I mean, think about it: you’re driving a car and someone rests their head (the heaviest part of the body, by the way) on your shoulder.  Hoping to keep the moment romantic (and kudos!), you put your arm around your love.  But how do you drive well with one arm, especially with this mass pushing in on your right?

I’ve run into this conundrum before.  After all, I’m one of those chicks who likes to snuggle up and all that jazz.  So often in say, the car-driving situation (which, living in NYC and not having a serious relationship since 2006 in the state of California, has admittedly not occured in a while) I weigh the options: make the guy (and my head) uncomfortable with the head-to-shoulder lean, or not.  I find a good middle ground is when the guy reaches over and holds your hand, or rests his hand for a while on your knee, or you do the same.

There are a lot of awkward, physical moments in relationships (that have nothing to do with sex).  For example, in New York there seems to be an influx lately of couples that walk with their arms around each other.  Perhaps this is popular in New York due to the lack of car ownership and the subsequent above-mentioned head-on-shoulder action.  Anyway, I’ve had friends put their arms around me and practically have me carry them across a sidewalk, and let me tell you– it’s uncomfortable.  ESPECIALLY with the humidity hear in the East Coast.  What I never understand is why these couples don’t just hold hands.

But then again, some people don’t like holding hands.  Especially because your palms get sweaty and I’m aware some people get self conscious about that.

All this griping makes me sound like I hate physicality, and it’s quite the opposite– I love touching the people I like.  I’m big into hugs, the snuggle, the hand-hold.  While I’m not into making out in public (seriously, high school kids on the subway, go find a space where we’re not all forced up against one another), I do like signs of affection.  But I’m also practical and aware that sometimes you do those physical signs not because they are comfortable but because you like the person you are with.

And that’s likely a good metaphor for a lot of what goes into making a relationship work.  The give-and-take, the compromise, the sometimes doing something uncomfortable because you care about the person.  I bet to this day Marge and Homer still maybe have moments where Homer drives and Marge rests her head on his shoulder.  Maybe not as often, and maybe with Homer’s extra pounds it’s a little more difficult, but it’s still a sweet, simple action.  I might snicker when I see you, young man with a girl practically hanging on you as you cross Second Avenue, but that doesn’t mean I’m not silently rooting for you.

Unless, that is, if she’s on roofies.

Gothic Romance Novels I

In Uncategorized on July 31, 2009 at 3:33 am

A dirty book is rarely dusty.

~Author Unknown


Lately, I’ve been battling insomnia.  When late night viewings of Gilmore Girls (save for the last season, one of the greatest shows of the 2000s for women) and Arrested Development won’t cut it, I move to my collection of gothic romance novels.

These aren’t your typical, Mysteries of Udolpho, horror-meets-romance-meets-damsel in distress tales with a random skeleton or dead body or thrown in for shits and giggles.  No, I read “well-written” gothic romances by the great writer Dame Mary Stewart.

Mary Stewart is well-known for her Merlin trilogy, which I highly recommend.  They are popular enough that they remain in print.  Meanwhile, for a time when I was a little girl I was only able to read her many romances via my mother’s own dilapidated copies from when she was a fifteen year old girl.  The pages were faded if not outright falling out, and the price listed on each was 79 cents.  Those were the days.

Luckily for us, most of her romances are back in print, and I highly, highly recommend them for a long night of escapism.  If you are looking for a sex scene, however, you won’t get one.  Instead, you’ll get witty repartee between protagonists, descriptions of exotic lands, and Shakespeare quotes.  These tales end with a passionate kiss or the promise of marriage.

So why do I like these books so much?   I’m going to do a close study of one of my favorites by Stewart, and maybe do a follow-up post at some future time.

So, let’s start with Thunder on the Right (later I’ll be discussing The Gabriel Hounds and This Rough Magic):

Artist Jennifer Silver has come to the picturesque, secluded Valley of the Storms in the French Pyrenees to meet with a young cousin who is about to enter the convent there– only to discover that the young woman has died in a dreadful car accident.  Or did she?

Lies abound in this strange and frightening place, but seeking the truth could lead Jennifer to her own violent death.

While the plot of Thunder on the Right is one of my least favorites, I LOVE the romance angle of it.  While looking for her cousin young Jennifer runs in to an old music school acquaintance, Stephen, who has always had a thing for her that we as readers quickly realize while silly Jenifer does not.  Before the ending of the novel, there are two separate situations where Stephen sees Jennifer coming towards him and his heart leaps and he thinks it will work out.  Third time, after he helps rescue her from evil wrongdoers, of course, is the charm.  Whenever I was having a bad day in middle school I used to go to my school library and flip open to this passage (we were lucky enough to have a copy of this book in our school library):

And so for the third time Stephen looked up and saw her running toward him with outstretched arms.  And, as is the way of all stories, the third time is the right time, luck’s time, winner-take-all time… This was it.  The barriers were down, dust in the wind.  The sleeping princess was awake, the guarded bower as if it had never been.  He held out his arms and she ran into them as if they two had been alone in the darkness, not out in the brilliant moonlight exposed to the grinning gaze of a dozen men.  His arms accepted her, he pulled her to him fiercely.  Only now, his own barriers crumbling, did he realize how deep and absolute had been his need for her; and in the very moment of fullest realization she was here and she was his; his anchor, his still center, his searing flame, his peace…

Oh my God.  This is what is wrong with women, I swear.  We read passages like this and expect them to happen in real life.   And while men can certainly be romantic, they don’t express themselves like women writers from the 1970s.  That’s why we escape to these books, ladies.

Why do I like this passage so much?  Maybe because it’s passionate, and the guy loves her and wants her, and he finally “gets” her.  When I’m a single woman with a crush, a real crush, you know, when you’re past that “I might like him” phase and onto that “I definitely like him” phase, I constantly feel like I’m stressing out about the guy and worrying about him more than he is worrying about me.  Of course, this is likely the case because I’m a woman and I tend to overthink things.  In Thunder on the Right, for once, the guy is doing some of the wondering, too.  And while I am sure that’s the case in real life, too (men aren’t blithering idiots), it is expressed so beautifully here.  It makes me happy.

Plus, we have the added advantage that the book ends a few pages later, so we don’t get to watch the eventual fights.  😉

Maybe what also makes this passage so meaningful to me is that Stephen has seen our protagonist at her worst, and he still loves her.  It kind of reminds me of a quote from Buffy The Vampire Slayer, where Spike proclaims his love to Buffy.

“When I say, “I love you,” it’s not because I want you or because I can’t have you. It has nothing to do with me. I love what you are, what you do, how you try. I’ve seen your kindness and your strength. I’ve seen the best and the worst of you. And I understand with perfect clarity exactly what you are. You’re a hell of a woman.”

Again, not the most well-written declaration of love but it’s beautiful because (we believe, in this fictional world) that he loves her.   The real her.  And women want love like that, we want to believe a guy will care for us no matter if we gain five pounds or have a bad day and start crying randomly at a restaurant.  Maybe that’s why these romance novels are so popular.  In these books, we can escape our own neuroses and live in a world where everything works out.  It sure as hell doesn’t necessarily happen in real life.

A Family Affair

In Uncategorized on July 29, 2009 at 2:54 am

I have a weakness for stationery.  I’d like to blame my mother, who told me that all gifts deserve (nay, demand) a handwritten thank you card.  But once I hit elementary school my love of stationery blossomed due to my love of words and had very little to do with my mom.  There’s something so intimate about writing a person a handwritten note, even if it is just a line telling them you are thinking of them.  I tried various pen-pal relationships, but those mostly failed.  And once I began driving and independent stationery stores hit my radar it was all over– I could send a handwritten note on cute stationery that was witty/sparkly/relevant?  My love of writing letters became pricey.  So now I stick to sending a friend or loved one a note just to tell them I’m thinking of them, or to offer encouragement, or love.

However, when it comes to Christmas Cards, anything goes.  I shell out.  (Seriously, I’ve already purchased the cards I’m sending out this year.)  There’s a bit of a tradition I have with myself– I find the cute cards in summer/fall.  A couple weeks before Christmas, I tune up Home Alone or Home Alone 2, find my green and red pens, and choose who gets what card.  (Would my best friend prefer the card with a sexy elf girl or the dove?  Is a sparkling wreath too boring for Grandma?)   Anyone who has touched my life gets a card.

Once, this included my (now ex) boyfriend’s family.  They were Cuban, and believed in meeting girlfriends.   Plus, I met Andrew and started dating him a few weeks before his college graduation (he was a year older), so I was bound to run into them amidst the congratulatory handshakes and hugs.

What I love about ethnic families is how welcoming and yet protective they can be.  Mothers tend to dislike me, in the past this has been because I dress odd (I’ve now learned to “tone down” when meeting beaus’ families) or because their son is a lot older ad they are worried I’ll get them in trouble.  (Plus, I think it’s a Mom thing to dislike your son’s girlfriends, this just drives me nuts because I love approval and if I like their kid I want to like the Mom and I want her to like me.)   What was wonderful at first about The Cuban’s family is they embraced me.  The grandmother who didn’t speak English kept saying in Spanish how lovely I was, the father made some lame joke or another, and the daughter did her best to not freak me out.

The Cuban’s mother was the only hold-out.  She was cold at first, shaking my hand with a limp wrist with her eyes focused on the sun who had his arm on the small of my back.  But even she opened up once I sat in the kitchen with her.  I liked her, she threw this huge Cuban cookout for her family and obviously really loved her son, and finally, finally, after I sat and chilled with her in the kitchen and did dishes she warmed up.

So the holiday season right before my breakup with The Cuban it was only natural that I send his family a Christmas Card.  What I wasn’t expecting was to receive in reply a handwritten note from the mother.

A year later, after I had been out of that family’s lives for eleven months, I received yet another Christmas card (this one harping a bit more on Christ), from her.  I didn’t know what to do.  I sent a card in reply, a simple and to the point “Happy Holidays,” and I have yet to hear from her since.

Families are stressful.  Meeting a beau’s family is even more so.  I especially have a hard time because I so desperately want them to like me.

Dealing with your own family and a new romantic interest is also difficult.  It’s only natural– they want to know who might be causing your heart to pitter patter a bit more than usual.  How much do you tell them?  When I told my mother about my first breakup she demanded I call the guy and apologize.  Then she later emailed him and told him how much she missed him.  A few years later the dude would be tutoring my brother.  The Older Man got along superbly well with my parents, which is both understandable and unusual.  After all, he was “older” and could talk to them on that level.  At the same time, I’m amazed my parents didn’t kill him for being that aforementioned “older” and simultaneously dating their underage daughter.

I think I’m super neurotic about family because one guy refused to ever let them meet me or tell them about my existence.  This hurt.  While I didn’t need to have dinner with them or have a kumbayah moment around a fire, it would have been nice for them to know about my existence.  This is why I am always, always thrilled when a guy tells me that his family knows he is seeing someone.  At least this means the dude isn’t ashamed of me.

My mom gets attached to my beaus.  Or, she tends to, if she hears good things.  “I like them because they have the good taste to like my daughter,” my mom claims every time I yell at her for victimizing the boy against my evil feminine wiles.  “I feel bad for them.”  This after she points out for the millionth time how terribly I treated some boy when I was fifteen.  The fact that my family is insane, however, is the main reason why I am always scared to introduce a beau to them.   Whatever with my mom getting attached, I’m more worried my family with their crazy antics will scare the guy off.  Plus, I don’t want him to feel as if he’s on display.

I don’t know how to navigate families, mine or anyone elses.  I know I find them fascinating, I love to hear and witness the family dynamic.  I mean, “blood is thicker than water,” as the saying goes.  I think that’s what can make the introduction of “water” (girlfriend/boyfriend) to “blood” (family) so stressful… what if they don’t mix?  What if, in the end, it’s better just to write a note?

Sex Changes Things

In Uncategorized on July 27, 2009 at 9:50 pm

[My follow-up to “265 Cloverfield” will be delayed.]

Last night my friends and I hit up this amazing bar in Greenwich Village called The Olive Tree.  The place is pretty cheap, has a full menu plus full bar complete with cool cocktails,  constantly projects old Charlie Chaplin silent films and has chalkboard table tops that you can draw on.  I was out with my friends Leah, Claire, and Ollie.  Ollie brought with him his friend Richard, whom I had never met.  Like all mature adults, the minute we sat down we started drawing genitalia on the table.

About a beer in, Richard started telling us about a girl he was dating.  Last night, apparently, had been their “first time” together.  I didn’t know the dude from Adam so I stayed quiet and drank my Diet Coke.  Richard proceeded to groan.  “Fuck,” he said.  “I slept with her and I don’t know if I want to be with her.”

This struck me as tragic, while it struck the rest of the table as hilarious.  Sure, it’s funny, if it’s not happening to you.  But I can’t help but put myself in the poor girl’s shoes and feel bad.  What a horrible thing to do to a girl.  That’s like our worst nightmare, sleeping with a guy and having him “fuck and chuck” you the next day.  Or worse, what if he just stays with you out of obligation? It’s better if he does makes this decision pre-sex, but post… it hurts so much more.

So why, why, does sex change everything?

After my second cousin Stephan slept with his ex-girlfriend, she got ten times more “clingy.”  She expected him to call, go out on dates, be a part of her life.  Granted, this was a given as they were a couple and that’s sort of supposed to be how it works.  But I think the minute you sleep with someone the tiniest of grievances can tend to freak a woman out.  The guy frowns or doesn’t want her to stay over?  He forgets to call?  She immediately assumes it’s something wrong with her, and maybe not that the dude in question needs some alone time.

Meanwhile, I bet after couples do the deed the first time the guy thinks everything is great.  I mean, the girl slept with him, after all.  It’s all got to be good.  He can relax, be himself.  The girl, meanwhile, raised by a society that told her the minute you give that milk away for free the guy isn’t going to value her as much, looks for those warning signs/red flags prematurely and freaks out when she really should just take a chill pill.

Men, women know this.  We realize this is our cross to bare.  And, I speak for the women I know, we’re trying to calm ourselves down.   Please understand and give us a hug.  We’re crazy, and we need you to be steady while we try to find something to grab on to.

Sex changes things.  At least when it’s not a casual hook-up, when it’s two people who like each other, it does. Suddenly you are seeing that person in a new and vulnerable light, and I’m not just saying that due to the likelihood of nakedness involved.  When you sleep with someone, you’re opening up to both a basic, carnal part of yourselves (a part much of puritanical American religious culture can cause us to loathe) and a more intimate, scared side.  And once you open those parts of yourself, you need to know that person there isn’t just going to rip at that soft underbelly and leave you open and bleeding to death.

I guess this is why communication post intercourse is important, and it’s what I would have advised Richard had he not ended up going home sick.  Instead of telling friends and random strangers his concerns, he should have talked to her about slowing things down.  Who knows, maybe they would have worked out.

The X-Year-Old Virgin

In Uncategorized on July 24, 2009 at 4:07 am

Sex is a discovery.

– Fannie Hurst

Like a lot of firsts, losing my virginity involved a great deal of anxiety.

For one thing, I was young.  Older than some, but the youngest of my friends.  So this meant that once I “popped that cherry” I felt like a slut.  Nobody else close to me was having sex.  Nobody else was even talking about having sex.  (Now, years later, I realize we were all just a bunch of closeted horny teenagers but hindsight is 20-20.)  And there I was, with my much-older boyfriend who told me flat out (albeit very passive aggressively) that if he dated a girl for three months and she didn’t sleep with him he would consider breaking up with her.   So when I finally did sleep with The Older Man, I waited a year to tell any of my friends, even my best friend to whom I confided everything.

But the act itself… I remember being especially tension-causing.  I didn’t know what I was doing.  Do I take off my undies?  Does he?  When he asks “Are you sure about this?”  was I really sure? I still don’t know the answer to that last one, though I can honestly say, eight years later, I don’t regret it.

My friend Lindsay suggested that it was a lot more stressful for girls to lose their virginity than for boys, and I think that’s a crock of feminist horseshit.  While sure, it’s maybe “easier” for a guy to get off on his first time (I have yet to meet a woman who has accomplished that), he’s got to worry about a) stamina (I mean, from what I know losing your virginity for a boy feels pretty fantastic and most guys lose it in under a minute) and b) you’re probably worried about hurting the girl if it’s her first time, too.  Because yeah, for most women it can be painful.  Nothing close to the pain of anal sex, which another friend Lisa describes as feeling like “a snake breathing fire,” but still painful as all hell.

So yes, here’s the thing: losing your virginity is awkward as fuck (ha) for everyone, physically.  Emotionally, though, it can be made a lot less stressful.  For example, when I lost my virginity to The Older Man, it hurt at first.  I was scared and there was this pain.  (I remember thinking to myself, “Holy shit if this hurts there is no way I am ever giving birth.”  That shows how in to it I was.)  But then the dude looked down and told me he loved me (and while I don’t doubt the veracity of that comment at the time, I’m dubious) and, suddenly, it hurt a lot less.  I relaxed.  And I lost my virginity.

Years later, regardless of whatever ill feelings I might feel towards The Older Man, while I know what we had was definitely not love, I am always thankful that he tried at least in that one moment to be sweet.  First time sex can be awkward, but if you can be rational about it, if you can realize that and laugh at yourselves, and be having it with someone who is on the same page as you (meaning, be romantic and kind and maybe silly if you’re in a relationship, get down and dirty if you’re just being fuckbuddies or hell, also in a committed relationship depending on the mood) I think you can embrace the awkwardness and have that “life changing” experience your parents tell you will only happen if you wait to make love until you’re married.

But maybe practice really does make perfect, in that regard.  You might not realize the importance of making the other person comfortable until you’ve already been “deflowered,” and by then, regardless of those Spam emails you get, it’s gone.  Oh well.

Meanwhile, my friend Vince told me point blank he would never want to sleep with another virgin; while Kevin on the other hand points out:

Kevin: oh oh oh
how
a huge hilarious difference between girls and boys
is that no one ever fantasizes about taking a boy’s virginity
sleeping with a virgin who is female has practically been deified.
it’s like everything you ever thought about the sexual experience wrapped up in one experience
but then it’s like sleeping with a virgin who is male is like,
Kevin: “hey wanna have an awkward time that probably ends up with him masturbating in your bathroom”
with door closed. alone.

I actually feel bad for guys when it comes to virginity.  There’s like this stigma out there, at least I feel, that you have to “lose it” right away.  For example, The 40-Year-Old Virgin mocks Steve Carrel’s character because he’s, that’s right, forty, and hasn’t had sex.  Well ya know what?  Maybe he hasn’t met the right girl yet.  Some of my closest guy friends are still waiting to have sex, and I don’t think they’re freaks.  Right now it seems that it’s more accepted to meet a virgin woman (though still, in our culture, eyes are raised) than a man, and I think that, to put it in sexual terms, blows (with teeth).

There’s an episode of How I Met Your Mother (possibly my favorite current show on television) that I think is relevant to this discussion with myself.  Guest-star Sarah Chalke tells the main protagonist, “Guys regret the girls they didn’t sleep with; girls regret the ones they did sleep with.”  For the most part, I think this is true, and I’m not awake enough at this point in time to make a smart comment on what this says about society.

What’s my point?  I lost it somewhere in the midst of this post.  But I believe it was  aiming to be simply this: there’s a lot of things said about virginity, there’s a hell of lot of emotions surrounding it, but once it’s gone it’s simply one of those things you can look back on, talk about over a pitcher of beer, and put away towards the back of your mind while you move on to the good stuff.

Makeout Mix

In Uncategorized on July 21, 2009 at 8:21 pm

“I can hear you singing to me in my sleep.”

– Semisonic

The other day I was talking to my friend Spam online about seduction.  The conversation was going normal enough until he mentioned that his favorite “makeout” album involved Jewel.  This threw me for a loop, because when I think of Jewel I think of whiny girls with guitars singing about angst and evil men.  As a woman, such thoughts do not usually make me want to stick my tongue in some dude’s mouth.  Jewel makes me want to cry; Jewel wants me to punch the men who have hurt me.  Unless I’m trying to have angry revenge kissing I don’t understand the use of Jewel.

But this brought up for me what had always been an interesting question… to have or to have not music while making out?  A guy I knew, we’ll call him Santa Monica, had spent hours on what he would call a “sex mix.”  I never listened to it (thank God), but I knew some of the songs on it.  One included the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s “Down Boy” from their EP and I believe a Kills song was on there like “Tape Song.”  These are certainly sultry songs, and “Down Boy” is one of my favorites, but again… I think that leads to rather passionate, angry, making out.  Now of course you want passionate, but I’m not so sure about the anger.

How can music so easily change a mood?  In a recent article by Scientific American, scientists explore what it is about music that “moves us.”  One passage states:

“Instead of facilitating a largely semantic dialogue, as language does, melody seems to mediate an emotional one. When a composer writes a lamentation or a toddler exuberantly bangs out a rhythm on a pot, that person is not only revealing his or her own emotional state but also causing listeners to share those feelings.”

Well, this makes sense then why a dude or dudette would want a “makeout mix,” we’d want someone to feel those same “I like you/I want to kiss you” feelings as us.  But again, everyone has different taste in music and I, for one, can learn to love a song I never used to love because of the feelings I had for the person who was sharing it with me or the situation we were in, not because the song is particularly good.  (Interpol’s “No I In Threesome” is an example of this.)

Anyway, I’m no academic.  So I decided to take my question to the streets.  Below is a conversation with good old Vince, the standard interviewee in these blogs:

cafevince: um
cafevince: first of all I haven’t made a mix since like freshman year
cafevince: I guess I have playlists
cafevince: none of those, however, are specifically for making out
SpookyEmyII: do you have selective songs you play though or an album?
cafevince: absolutely not
cafevince: I have to say that nearly 99.99% of my making out is spontaneious
cafevince: meaning there’s really no place for advance planning and putting on mood music

cafevince: is this something others do?
cafevince: wait so you would get back to his place, and then he’d pop in the cd and you’d know it was “makeout time?” Or you’d start making out and he’d interrupt to pop it in? Like how does this even work?

I’ve bolded above what I think is important.  Now, we’ll take words from a woman, Callie:

Callie: I actually can’t make-out to music
Callie: because my mind gets hooked onto the song if I know it and so instead of focusing on the matter at hand I’m focused on the music and potentially the meaning of the words
if I don’t know it, I get caught on that I don’t know it
Callie: it’s like audio velcro

This is a phenomenon I am familiar with.  Why, just today I was having an absolutely lovely brunch with someone when The Animals’ House Of The Rising Sun started playing on the radio.  I literally kept interrupting dialogue to sing along.   I’m pretty sure doing that in the middle of making out would be embarrassing for both me and the other person involved.

Leah seems to echo Callie’s remarks:

Leah: i hate making out to music
unless it has no words
Leah: like, jazz is really nice
otherwise feel like I’m in a music video

I’ve made out with music (as far as I was aware not pre-arranged) and with silence, and I couldn’t say I prefer one to the other, though I do agree with Vince’s praise of the spontaneous.

Kevin: you should post all of this. i feel like ur format is for people who can read long paragraphs.

i generally like to consume my info via bullet points
and blurbs beneath fotoz
but anyway i would never use makeout music
it’s far more sexual to hear someone else’s mouth move against yours

Kevin might have put it best.  But at the same time, music can’t hurt unless you’re playing like Nordic Death Metal.   Then again, I made out to Jaws eating loudly screaming women and it was awesome so maybe, with the right person, even Nordic Death Metal can be good. And, speaking of film, what about when you have someone over to “watch a movie”?  That’s code about 75% of the time for making out, unless you’re just starting out dating or really do actually want to watch the movie.

Susan: ooh the right movie can be good.  A nice romantic movie like love actually……..or do you mean something more hard core like a porn

I have got to disagree with Susan there… I’m pretty sure Love, Actually would put me in more of a hand-holding mood (and we all know how I love to hold hands) than a “let me jump you” mood, but then again… A usually leads to B.

cafevince: I think my problem is your choice of semantics
cafevince: I have certainly started making out while watching a movie
cafevince: but I’ve never “put on a movie” to make out
cafevince: that would be very strange in my mind

So I guess what I’ve learned is everyone has different “moves.”  Some just go right at it.  Others put on music and let the music move them.  Others do the movie.  What I think we’ve learned is nobody out right admits “hey, I’m having you over to kiss.”  Everyone enjoys the act– whether or not it be a facade– of spontaneity.

Granted, this makes me think about the art of making a mix tape… likely a blog entry for another time.  An entry that will also likely include some of my favorite romantic movies and songs.

Until then, put on a movie, put in a CD, curl up with your loved one and have a nice night.   Some need alcohol to do that, others need music/media, but in the end all you need is that other person, singing to you in your sleep.

ADDENDUM:

cafevince (5:04:12 PM): I think your entry might just be missing the point that making out has nothing to do with the peripheral efforts made to “get someone in the right mood to make out” and more to do with whether A and B like each other in the first place. If they do, they’ll probably have a grand time kissing and more regardless of whatever the hell else is going on.