Tag: respect

Advice to a Younger Man on How to Choose a Mate

Dear R,

You say you need to make a decision. Quickly. You need advice on choosing a mate. You’re asking me I suppose on the assumption I know something based on the great difference in our ages.

Let me say first, I’m not an expert. But then again, no one else is either. What I have to say–my two cents worth–I like to think applies to a mate of either sex, as well as to a chooser of either sex. Hence, please feel free to interchange the pronouns “her” and “him” when you read what I have to say.

It’s kind of a crapshoot, who you end up with, and I suppose that is why you’re frantic. It could be anybody, and there’s so little to go on. You ask, “How do you know if she’s the right one?” Well, this is what I would ask myself: Do you laugh when you’re around her, is it okay to get an idiot grin on your face and keep it? How about your belly? Is it relaxed, as opposed to tight, and are you policing the muscles in your face when you’re around her?

Look for this. You can say things and not worry a whole lot whether you’re being judged, and it’s okay to just say what you think? In fact, you find yourself quite articulate sometimes, talking about the way you see the world or a particular small segment of it–and you’re not just babbling about yourself.

It’s important to feel free when you’re talking. That means–maybe–she’s not pushing up against the bubble of the world you’re describing. In fact, she’s not pressing at all, and when your bubble is big enough or has been up long enough, it just goes puff, and then it’s her turn, and you listen to her bubble, and you don’t press against it either.

But there are other things to look for as well. Are you bored when you see her on the pillow across from you the next morning? Or is it the beginning of a new scene in the play–lines familiar or unfamiliar that go back and forth with attention and care and respect and a smile?

I think puns and puzzles and conundrums offered back and forth anywhere from 3 AM to 6 AM is a good sign. Are there witty remarks, welcoming hands during joint turnovers in bed when changing the side you’re lying on? Do your limbs, find comfortable resting spots and intertwine easily as you settle into a new position? Is there grace and humor when farts are exchanged at close range, bed clothes clamped down, complaints wailed–but gently, and with love?

Ah, that’s the word. Maybe one that makes more sense when said in context. I like to say, “I know I love you, when….” followed by the context. I don’t begin with that phrase that often, but when I do it’s in a moment of clarity about what it is exactly that I love–and therefore it is a useful way to measure.

For example, I say, “That’s when I know I love you–when you laugh like that.” That’s when I know I love you when you make a stupid joke at 3:45 AM and then roar at your own joke, and it’s cold in the bedroom and it’s winter and dark and desolate outside–except that you push your butt over into my stomach, reach around for my hand, and place it on your stomach or hip or, if your thinking of shocking me a little, on your breast, and I say, “What are you telling me?” And you give a throaty laugh, a wriggle with your butt, and say, “Nothing! Go to sleep, you goon!”

I would also look for someone who is independent, and yet suddenly turns on you and says, “You’re my good friend, aren’t you,” and puts her arms around you. On the other hand, be aware when you are not laughing around someone. A friend once told me about his Mexican mother. Holding her hands behind her, she called him over and told him she had a gift for him. He was just a boy. So he said, “Where is it?” and tried to see behind her. She said, “I’ve already given it to you. It’s the gift of laughter, and if you ever find yourself somewhere and you are not laughing, leave that place immediately.”

Sex? Ah, that’s probably less important than you think, if you have a friend. No one should have to prove anything. Friends can give each other presents, and I think love making, being made love to is like present giving. You give pleasure, you receive pleasure, you wrap the package a little differently each time–a different bow, a different paper, a different image directing your caresses–always being careful to present a gift that you know the other likes, because you have asked her how to give. And being gentle, and listening for the message, in the breathing, the murmurs, the trembling, the racing heart, the opening mouth, the fluttering tongue, the soft sighing dilating pupil.

Do not be too close. Friendship thrives on indirect intimacies, offered in the context of respect. That is the most important word. Analysis kills, questioning is oppressive and limits the other’s freedom. Do not demand loyalty. Such a demand only limits your own freedom. There are no guarantees, ever. Loving comes with a risk. If your mate goes away, you have acted with respect and self-respect. Therefore you are not broken. You knew the risk, and you lived as if you were alive, not fearful and dead. A man or woman upon whom you make no demands other than respect is freer and more likely to be able love you back–and to respect you.

So these are my answers to your difficult question: Are you just as happy to see her in the morning? Have you learned not to make each other over into the image of yourself? Have you put aside the power struggles? Will you avoid giving each other unnecessary pain? Will you continue your affection as you would continue watering a plant?

Are you man enough to face your own aging and therefore be able to face hers? Can you see her watching you be gravely ill or dying, or you her? Can you imagine approaching the challenge of aging and death together? Is she friend enough and present enough for that? Whether you stay together, or not?

Are you man enough to create a group of men with whom you can talk, and who will love you indirectly and be your male family, so that she does not have to be your entire family?

Are you man enough to tell your story each day, without directing sidelong blame at her? Can you insist that she just listen and not try to tell your story for you, or fix whatever is bothering you?

Are you man enough to negotiate meaning, so that you are sure that you understand each other’s commentaries on the world, or on each other? And are there signs that each of you will lead and let himself be led, when you act together?

Are you both wise enough to leave space between you, so that you can go your separate ways during the day, but spoon together with trust, in that warm bed, in this sometimes wintry 3 AM desolate world?

I hope this helps…

Your Friend,