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Thursday, May 9, 2013

A few lessons in love... my love

True love is a distant castle, but you can make your way to it. Salzburg, Austria, 2009.


Foreword: 

1) This post is written from the perspective of advice given to a young female (I will have my daughters read it one day), and assumes heterosexuality for the sake of conciseness. But a lot of its contents are universal. Please feel free to adapt to your own situation. 
2) I was listening to a Beatles playlist as I put the final touches to this post, and so it contains many songs by them... and others, all picked because they relate so well to the theme. Have fun finding them! There's a total of 7 songs embedded in this post (some more are just mentioned).
3) This post has been created over the course of the past few weeks, and it turned out to be a pretty long one! When it comes to love, it's easy to get carried away! I added pics to create pauses in reading. Just make sure you have a good chunk of time ahead of you, grab a bowl of strawberries and a glass of Champagne, and enjoy! 
4) I'm looking forward to read what you have to say about this whole love thing! Please leave a comment!



Exit the stereotypes and unrealistic expectations: Prince Charming is a jerk, Princess Charming is a bitc*, and they've both been thrown in the dungeon (Dragon is chewing on them)

Fairy tales are just that. Fairy tales. No one is gonna take you away on a big white horse. No one will come save you from a high tower (or any other doom). In fact, you should get prepared to fend for yourself. Expecting the other to offer you a good life not only makes you vulnerable, it puts way too much pressure on your partner. I remember M's reply to someone who said she was hoping that her daughter would "meet the guy who will make her happy"; M said: "What do you mean? She can't make herself happy?"

So make yourself happy first. You are complete as you are, and love is just a bonus. Your companion should not play the role of a pair of crutches (a theme well exploited when you consider all the songs with "rescue me" in the lyrics; see, among others, Fontella Bass and Bryan Adams).

Bottom line is: beware if someone is filling too big of a void in your life. No one should have that responsibility and power over you.

R fending for herself. Vienna, Austria, 2009.


Learn to distinguish a) love from b) a crush c) passion

I blame schmaltzy music and romantic movies: a lot of us have a hard time distinguishing love from simple infatuation. I know I've mentioned it before but I think it's worth a retell: you know you have a crush when you're busy focusing on the way you feel about the other person. You know it's love when you're busy focusing on how they feel... when that becomes as important as how you feel. In true love feelings are reciprocated, and directed toward the other, not toward oneself!

The distinction between love and passion is a little bit more complicated, because at first, they blend into each other. In the beginning, it's intense, it's good, but figuring out what this is, precisely, is another story. And the fact that you have no blood left to your brain does nothing to help you think. Here's a short description of how you might feel in the early moments:

Not being able to think about anything (or anyone) else but the object of your infatuation. Not being able to focus. Waking up thinking of him, going to bed thinking of him, dreaming of him at night, daydreaming of him the rest of the time. Wasting precious hours drawing little hearts with his name in it.

(Been there, done that. Gawd, I might have wasted half my teenage years doing it!)

Imagining what your children with him will look like. Imagining elaborate scenarios for the first kiss.

(Is anything as mind blowing as a first kiss?)

And all those overwhelming, physical sensations. The butterflies in the stomach. The racing heart. The warm honey flowing in your veins. The burning desire that makes you feel like you got steam coming out of your ears (or elsewhere!)

(Does anything feel better than that? I don't think so! But then again I've never done hard drugs.)

To see what burning desire looks like (and for a super sensual clip), click on this (contains some low grade, all in good taste, nudity):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QwkOJvRjSKk

As good as it feels, my love, try and hold your horses. This is not the time to order flower arrangements. Even if it feels as full of promise as April in Paris.

April in Paris. Ah! the memories. Paris, France, 1999.


Infatuation is misleading. You feel like he's the man of your life. All love songs suddenly sound like they've been written specifically for the two of you. You suddenly start wondering if you were even fully alive before you met him. You've never felt that way before. You'll never feel that way again. Or so you think.

The person you're in love with (and we could argue it's not really love at this point, even if you do feel like saying "I love you" - and you can if you want) is not the real thing. You're in love with the image you have of that person. That person is also presenting to you his best side. This is not love yet. It's an illusion. A delectable illusion, but nonetheless an illusion. See Chekhov's The Lady With the Dog:

Why did she love him so much? He always seemed to women different from what he was, and they loved in him not himself, but the man created by their imagination, whom they had been eagerly seeking all their lives; and afterwards, when they noticed their mistake, they loved him all the same. And not one of them had been happy with him... And only now when his head was gray he had fallen properly, really in love - for the first time in his life.

What you feel in the beginning is also passion. Passion means you crave the other person, and feel withdrawal when he's not around. That's not the same as love. In love you have a deep attachment that does not suffer from not being together 24/7 (although being together still feels great). In love there is true, profound caring. It means that if your loved one was so ill that he became incontinent, started drooling, and you had to feed him purees, you would in a heartbeat. Ya, I know. But really. That's what true love is. What you're feeling at first is more likely passion, and passion is defined by novelty and uncertainty, which explains why it doesn't last forever (Thank goodness! It would be exhausting!)

But how can you tell if something has the potential of becoming more than a fling? How do you know it if it has a future? There's only one answer: time.

Only time can tell. And not any kind of time. Ideally, time spent dating. As long as you're not dating you're still in the seduction process, and that's another very misleading (if exhilarating) process. You have to discover how he will behave once he knows he has your attention. Once he's got the first clear sign you're interested. Once he's got the first kiss (and more, maybe, but only if you really want to). From my experience, within 3-4 months, you'll either see the jerk emerge (in which case it's time to say farewell!), or you'll see a wonderful guy bloom and you will start thinking "Jeez, have I hit the jackpot or what?"

How to know he's interested

That's usually simple enough:

1) He can't get enough of you
2) His eyes sparkle

We like to look for signs when there is none, but the truth is simple (if cruel at times): if it doesn't seem like he's interested, he's probably not.

The game of seduction

Seduction is a dance. Each partner makes a move, taking turns. You can only do good at that dance if you focus on both 1) your own moves 2) the other person's moves. That's the only way you'll manage to create a harmonious, graceful dance. If you don't you'll either find yourself too far from each other, and feel an uncomfortable pull (never a pleasant thing when trying to dance together), or you'll step on each other's toes (not much better!) One partner might take the lead, but both have to participate, otherwise it will find its end quickly.

One of the greatest things about getting to know someone is that you also get to discover a whole new universe, and that's very exciting. The odd time you meet someone who has extremely similar interests and values, it will feel more like rediscovering your own universe in somebody else's eyes, and that can feel even more exciting!

In any case, enjoy the dance. Seduction is delightful and intoxicating. (Sometimes I wonder if it's not the best part of it all.)

Be brave

Here's how it goes: If you don't try, you'll never know. How many potentially wonderful love stories (or even just lovely flings) never even got a chance to exist because both protagonists were too hesitant to show the extent of their interest? I know, it's scary, and I don't suggest you do this "Cyrano de Bergerac way"... often times that just throws everything off balance. But by all means throw some lines, show some signs, do something! Don't sit there waiting!

Balcony, perfect for a serenade. Crete, Greece, 2012.
Quiz question of the day: who can tell me if those columns are Doric, Ionic or Corinthian?
If you provide the right answer you win my free advice on any love question you have! :-)


There is a thin line between putting yourself out there and coming on too strong. Showing your interest requires accepting a little bit of vulnerability, and the risk of rejection. It can be nerve-wrecking, but at least you'll have your answer! At the same time you don't want to do too much. Remember, you wouldn't stay interested in someone very long if you got the feeling that you're the only thing they care about! Keeping some level of mystery, letting the other "read between the lines" a little bit, when it's done properly, has nothing to do with teasing or "playing games", and everything to do with maintaining some healthy dose of tension. When both protagonists do it and let it linger a little bit... it's fun!

Keep an open mind

Love can take all kinds of shapes and colors. You will surprise yourself at falling for people who you didn't think you could fall for. Examples include crushing on someone who's very different from you (in age, background, culture, etc.), crushing on someone who's "not your type", or crushing on someone who's the same sex as you. Anything can happen. Just let it happen. I encourage you to not judge your attractions or try to explain them to yourself. Attraction often cannot be rationalized. If you feel it, it exists, and that suffices. Find out if the attraction is returned, and go from there. That's all.

To keep your mind open, watch this: http://www.upworthy.com/watch-these-straight-people-answer-a-question-gay-people-have-been-asked-for-years-6?c=fea

Unexpected combination of tam tam and bagpipe... with surprisingly good results! 
Glasgow, Scotland, 2005.


Excuses are just that. Excuses.

If someone tells you they don't have time [for you], what it really means is you're not at the top of their priorities. Simple as that. Yes, people do have a life, some a very busy one, but someone who's falling head over feet for you will always find 2 minutes to send you a brief text or give you a quick call. It won't feel as a chore for them, either. This applies to you, too. If you feel you "have to" get in touch with someone... ask yourself if you really feel like it, and why.

As for obstacles... I'm afraid I will sound cliché if I say "True love can move mountains", but experience has shown me that it does. In presence of true love no obstacle is too big. On top of my mind I can think of 4 different couples who met (and fell in love) while living thousands of kilometers apart, (think across the Atlantic, or across the continent) and who made it work (the 4 couples I'm thinking about are still together after more than 10 years - obviously one of them moved at some point). On the other hand, I've met a guy who told me that 150 km was too far and that we shouldn't envision a steady relationship. I was surprised because another guy had once driven 6 hours (both ways) just to spend an evening with me! Interestingly enough, a few months later I met another guy who lived 350 km away, and with him distance never even came up in the conversation. We just made it work!

Always remember: if he's not showing the interest you hope for, it's most likely because "He's just not that into you". Forget him.

Ain't no mountain high enough! Isle of Skye, Scotland, 2005.


Ain't no wall that can't be torn down.  Berlin, Germany, 1999.


No one should have to change for someone else

I mean, we DO all show our best side while in the seduction process, and we DO all make efforts and compromises afterwards. Obviously. No healthy love story survives selfishness and stubbornness for very long.

However. If you feel you have to make extra efforts just to be "good enough", or if you have a short (or long) mental list of things you would like to change about your partner... red light! Not good! The person who will love you will love you for who you are, and vice versa. Sounds cliché? Maybe. Yet most of us waste precious energy trying to fit into what the other is expecting of us. When you meet the right person, he will like pretty much everything about you. Especially in the beginning! Actually, from experience, I can say that the right person will make you feel even more beautiful and interesting than you thought you were. The image this person will reflect to you will indeed be a very flattering one: "I like to see myself in your eyes because I'm at my prettiest there."

I like to say that the right person is not the one who has all the qualities you're looking for, but rather one whose flaws don't bother you too much.

Know when to call it a night (no pun intended!)

And that's very simple, my love: when the hassle becomes greater than the pleasure. When it requires more effort than the benefits it provides. There's enough unpleasant stuff to put up with in life, no one needs a complicated, filled with drama, love life.

Some people's presence in your life will be brief (if intense): they will come in and out of your existence rather quickly. There's nothing wrong with that. Other people are here to stay. That's okay. You don't need to get a mortgage with everyone you fall in love with. Take your time. True love doesn't need to be rushed. And true fun can be just that: true fun. No need to attach strings right away! Enjoy the moment. If it lasts, it lasts. If it doesn't, that's okay! If it was good, even if brief, then it was worth it!

It's hard to get out of even the worst relationships. When it started it started for a reason, and you might still be attached to that idyllic past. Unstable relationships also have a way to create a form of psychological dependency. The real test is: take your distances, and if you suddenly feel much lighter and generally happier... big neon sign!

When you're in a "bad relationship", remember that good relationships exist (even if you might sometimes doubt it, especially if you've been through a series of disappointing ones). Like your grandfather used to say: "If you stay in a bad relationship you don't make yourself available for the good one that might be waiting around the corner".

Of course you might have to pick up the pieces when it's over. That will most likely happen a few times in the course of your life. Those are painful moments. But time really does help. Have trust. Your joy will return, and you will once again be happy... without that person in your life.

You can totally be happy on your own. Nova Scotia, 2007.


How to find the perfect match

Studies on interpersonal relationships have shown that the two major factors in attraction and intimacy are 1) proximity 2) similarity. Proximity because you have more chances of developing a connection with someone you encounter, obviously! Similarity, eh yes! It seems like "birds of a feather flock together" holds more than "opposites attract". There IS something very pleasurable about discovering multiple commonalities with someone, and it tends to facilitate the development of "friendship or more".

At first you won't really know what you're looking for, and I don't advise you make a list of criteria. With time, however, and if you've had more than one or two relationships, you might start to see a pattern. I, for example, tend to fall for brains. I just do. The most good looking person will do nothing to me without the charm of knowledge and wit. I've also had a tendency to fall for people who had at least half of the following characteristics (I don't actively look for it! It just happens!): tall, skinny, interesting hair, blue eyes, nice skin, calm, curious, well-read, a little adventurous, a little introspective, physically active/leading a healthy lifestyle, and who plays a musical instrument. And I could not possibly be with someone long term if they don't enjoy travelling!

What I've discovered, however, is that the first and foremost success factor in a relationship is not the specific characteristics of the protagonists nor a specific set of commonalities, but rather a shared vision of what the relationship should be, i.e. a similar level of commitment. Both have to agree on the nature of the relationship. (Even if such nature is an adulterous, sporadic affair - not that I advise going for that!) Even from the beginning. Without that, both "partners in crime" will be dissatisfied, and the best match "on paper" will crumble down rather quickly.

When you're with the right person (and I don't necessarily mean the right person for the rest of your life - it might be the right person for the rest of the summer, or even the right person for the rest of the night), it usually just flows. That's how you can tell it's going to be good no matter how long it lasts. Things just happen spontaneously, and if you think about it afterwards you'll get the feeling that you were just "sucked in". That's where the good stuff is. It's so natural sometimes you don't see it happening until you realize the carpet has just been pulled from under your feet (in a good way). In those cases, my dear, enjoy it while it lasts!

Enjoy! Venice, Italy, 1999.


The flesh is weak

We will all fall for the wrong person at least once. We will all stay a little bit too long with the wrong person. Our mind will play tricks on us. I was once with a guy who was a total manipulator: sweet at times, rude a others, just very unstable. With him I felt uneasy; I sometimes wondered if I was crazy (HUGE sign you're dealing with a manipulator! Run in the opposite direction!) Yet I stayed because he was so intellectually stimulating. (Told you this was my Achilles' heel!) I thought "Where else am I gonna meet someone who keeps me on my toes intellectually like he does?" (Plus, sex was good. Very good, actually. But I digress.)

You would also be surprised to see how many people don't make a fuss of already being in a relationship. When Cupid hits, apparently, he hits hard! In the past I've shown my wedding ring to a few forward, hot-blooded dudes, and you know what? Most of them didn't give a shi*! They wanted me, hubby wasn't in the vicinity, who could care less? Make up your mind in advance about what you consider acceptable and not, because once you're sipping on your third serving of booze in a room with dimmed light and loud music, you cannot trust your willpower! Hundreds of people could testify on that, but I'm afraid I won't get many testimonies if I ask!

Keep the partying within reason! Quebec, somewhere around 1995.


Love is good (very good, actually)

Love should be 99% good the first 6 months. If serious issues emerge that early it's probably a sign that it's not meant for long term (of course an occasional disagreement is fine). Afterwards it does require some "work" to stay on track, but as a general rule love should give you more benefits than trouble!

If you have recurring doubts, even if they're blurry, trust your guts. Don't abandon at the first little annoyance, but don't hold on to something that just doesn't feel right. The few times I was on the impression I was lied to... time proved that I was right. (Liars beware! I can spot you!) If someone is fu**ed up enough to lie to you, they don't deserve any more of your time or energy. You might never get the whole story straight, but if it makes you uncomfortable enough, slowly make your way out while remaining courteous. I do not believe in open confrontation, especially in those cases where you are dealing with a narcissistic storyteller. They often believe themselves anyways!

Of course love is only as good as the person you're with. There are plenty of interesting fishes in the sea, and many guys will be very eager to take you on a date (and to their bedroom for that matter!), but the real good men (good enough to spend at least a couple years with) are few and far between. I met one when I was 17. I left him. Twice. (He was good enough to come back!) I'm not gonna blame anything else but plain immaturity on my part. But then it took me 4 years before I met another one of the same caliber (in fact, he was even better): it was your father. Don't despair if you keep meeting guys who disappoint you; the real thing exists, but sometimes it takes a little bit of patience.

Sex is good (very good, actually)

Disclaimer: 

This section might need a PG rating. What age is appropriate to talk about those topics explicitly? Sexologists would say "as soon as the kid asks", but of course everyone has different (and usually strong) views on those matters. 
As for trying to determine the right moment to engage in sexual acts with a partner (sexual acts with oneself are another thing altogether!!!), it varies from case to case. Share your personal views with your kids... and hope they will listen!

If sex doesn't feel good, don't accept that state of affairs. Do something about it. It's supposed to feel great! Awesome! Mind blowing! A festival of sensations! A celebration of the five senses! (Okay, you get the idea.) Here's my 2 cents advice: 1) get rid of whatever "uncalled-for inhibition" you might be carrying along; 2) create propitious circumstances; 3) get to know your body; 4) get your partner to know your body/get to know your partner's body. This should usually do the trick. Of course for sex to be good a few guidelines have to be followed: 1) you should only do what you feel like doing. Pressure has absolutely NO role to play in sex (and love for that matter); 2) you should take all steps possible to ensure no unwanted pregnancy and no STDs. Health and safety first! Other than that, enjoy yourself!

Now one important warning. There is a double standard and even if this is the 21st century, women are not allowed to claim publicly that they enjoy sex. You don't believe me? I would tell you to try it and see how people react, but nah, don't do it. You'll have to trust me on this one: most people are not ready to hear a woman talk about sex openly, especially if she says she loves it. Some will take it as an invitation; some will judge you badly. Some will be envious, and even those who also enjoy sex will judge you for saying it out loud. One way or another, it usually doesn't yield good results.

If you're anything like me, you might become overly enthusiastic about your sexology classes (I took a few as an undergrad), enough to turn you into a "taboo fighter". Please choose your audience carefully if you ever decide to advocate for the respective merits of oral sex or masturbation or frequent orgasms! Just because you are comfortable discussing those topics doesn't mean everyone is. I once had an acquaintance who exclaimed "Ewww! this was not meant to go into that! I'm certainly never, ever gonna do it!" Everyone around the table quickly switched topics.

The good news is that I'll be perfectly comfortable telling you about the birds and the bees, and answering any question you might have. The bad news is that you cannot scream your love of sex from the rooftops (although you can probably scream it from the bedroom... but maybe close the windows first?)

Of course in order to have a good, fulfilling sex life, you do NOT need to disguise yourself in a sex goddess (i.e. hypersexualise yourself) or become your school's BJ vending machine. You should never engage in sex for the wrong reasons and with the wrong people! Self-respect comes first!

And... make sure you wait 'till you're at least thirty! LOL

I finally found a place to put this picture! LOL Crete, Greece, 2012.


A few more random pieces of advice

If a guy tells you he recently composed a song while thinking of you, insists on singing it to you (accompanying himself with his guitar), and does so while looking at you with hearts in his eyes... he IS interested! Stop wondering!!!

In the same vein, a guy who insists on showing you his collection of guitars (or any other collection for that matter) probably has something else in mind that he'd like to show you.

The man of your dreams will not suddenly show up at your door. Well, maybe he will. My grade 11 crush was driving on my street one winter night, and got stuck in a snow bank. He came knocking at my door for help. The next day I asked one of his friends "I wonder what he was doing in my neighborhood?" The friend replied: "What do you think he was doing?" with a wink.

If a guy is working really hard at trying to impress you with his credentials and achievements, even if it's excessive and borders on ridicule, refrain from asking him "Oh, and how far can you pee?"

If a guy pays you a very straightforward compliment on your charms, but you're not quite ready to move on to the next step at that point, refrain from replying "Gawd it's hot in here!" (For some reason it puts ideas in their minds.)

I know, I know. Everyone learns from their mistakes!

In conclusion

Well, we've done a lot of talking. What you need to remember now is that love is a gift, one of the most enjoyable things in life. Say yes to it!

Your turn, readers! What do you have to say on this hot topic?

P.-S.:

No later than today I heard on the radio that human beings look for dog-like characteristics in a perfect mate. Some examples:

  • Is always in a good mood
  • Greets me with enthusiasm when I come home
  • Is content lounging at home as well as on an excursion in nature or hitting the town
  • Is always in the mood for a cuddle on the couch

I say that's not a bad list! But what about "keeps nibbling on my fingers"? Is that desirable? (From experience... sometimes it is!!!)



11 comments:

  1. Hi Julie! First of all, I loved the photos. What a lot of lovely places you've visited.

    The best point, in my opinion, is to learn how to make yourself happy. I've been married almost 25 years, and there were plenty of times when I could not rely on my husband to make me happy. I needed to do that for myself, even though I was married.

    It's very sweet, and your daughters will appreciate this when they get older. :D

    :-) Marion

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    1. I agree Marion, and that's exactly why I mentioned that early in the post: make yourself happy first, don't wait for someone else to do it for you. That being said, love adds a great bonus! :-)
      Marriage and committed, exclusive long-term love relationships are not about unhealthy mutual dependency; they are about a fulfilling companionship (with sparks of excitement of course!)

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  2. I wish I'd had your clarity and knowledge on the subject in my younger years - but then maybe making mistakes and all the Mr. Wrongs made me fully appreciate Mr. Right when he finally came along.

    In high school, I made a list of traits my 'dream' man would have - I think #1 was sense of humor - but most things were shallow or stupid ( must wear boxer shorts? Must have red hair?) I wish i could remember the rest!

    After so many Mr. What- Were-You-thinkings, I threw the list away and Mr. 'Not my type ' who was right in front of me turned out to be 'the one'.
    Sorry for the long comment - I guess I had more to say than I thought!

    A.

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    1. You're right about the role of Mr. Wrongs! :-)

      And I'm glad I met a Mr. Right when I was so young (17), even if I failed to appreciate it completely and left him, because later on, when I was looking for someone, I kept reminding myself: "you don't need to settle for less. Mr Rights DO exist". And eventually I found another, better one, and had my kids with him! :-)

      I agree that humor is super important too! And it does not mean that the person is extremely funny, but at least that they appreciate my humor! LOL

      I wonder what I would have put on my "dream man" list when I was a teenager. Probably that he was a basketball player and had a nice car, haha! We all become less shallow with time hopefully!

      I love long comments, so thank you! :-)

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  3. I want your life!! lol

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  4. I believe in the less is more approach when it comes to writing about love.

    For that I will paraphrase that love "expert" Mike Tyson:

    "Everyone has a plan until love punches them in the heart!"

    Book it!

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    1. Ya, that post was more akin to a book chapter wasn't it! Writing it made me realize how much I have learned with experience! Guess I should thank all the Mr Wrongs of my life for that! LOL :-)

      Tyson's quote is very accurate though. I like to say that love is the one thing we can't control... and that's wonderful!

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  5. PS: I'm a basketball player and I have a very nice car, lol!

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  6. I changed my mind... I want YOU! ;)

    ReplyDelete