Friday, July 31, 2009


I've always been a person who likes to get close to people both physically and emotionally. I love to hug. I've been described by several people as "nurturing" because I'm always willing to lend a friendly ear and emotional support to anyone who needs it; when I do, I tend to get very emotionally involved with the person whom I'm listening to. At times, I tend to almost "lose myself" in the life of the other person. I call it being an "open person."

"Open people" have a lot of difficulty learning the concept of "boundaries." We tend to view boundaries as barriers people put up because they're afraid, if others knew certain things about them, they'd think they were strange or bad people and no one would like them. So, "open people" often seek to break down boundaries. Our logic? "You don't have to hide your true self from me; I'll understand. I have weird things about myself, too, you know."

Because of that, the lesson that boundaries are more often about a person's sense of self and privacy rather than shame is a difficult lesson for "open people" to learn. Most of us take years to learn this lesson; some never learn it. Unfortunately, this lack of respect for boundaries, though it's with all the best intentions, has some rather nasty side effects.

When we get really close to someone, "open people" tend to get a sense of "entitlement" regarding a person's life. That is to say we start to get the idea that we have a "right" to know everything about a person; if a person tries to hide anything from us, we look upon it as an insult. "You don't trust me," we think. Unfortunately, this attitude opens up the door to abuse; feeling one has a "right to know" makes one feel justified in invading the other person's privacy.

The thing that blindly eludes us about this is that no matter how much someone may trust and love us, there are just some things we all want to keep to ourselves. One of my favorite Captain Kirk quotes is, "[We all have] ugly, savage things we all keep buried, that none of us dare expose." When we try to expose them in another person, from our perspective we're just trying to forge a closer relationship but, from the other person's point of view, we're intruding.

This ends up creating a dichotomy. We feel we're getting closer to someone by trying to pry into their private thoughts and feelings but they feel repelled by us. "Who the hell is this guy, thinking he has a right to know this stuff about me?" they think. Of course, our defense to that is, "Well, I don't hide anything from you," which is often true; "open people" tend to lower their boundaries in the hope of encouraging others to lower theirs.

It doesn't work that way, though; just because you tell someone your deepest, darkest secrets does not in any way obligate them to tell you anything. So what you end up with is one person expecting the other to tell them everything and, when they don't, trust breaks down. You start assuming, if the other person isn't telling you everything that, "Oh, they must be hiding something." Trust breaks down and, with it, the relationship.

For "open people," it's just hard to understand that someone can love and trust us yet still not want to tell us every single thing in their lives or every single thought that goes through their heads.

Several times of late, I've mentioned on this blog a friend I love deeply. Thinking about her tonight, and thinking about the concept of boundaries, I began to realize that one of the biggest reasons I love her so very much is the simple fact that she taught me this lesson where others, up to now, had failed.

She is one of the most private people I've ever met. The only reason I've been even mentioning her here in public lately, sans name, is because of the abuse "The Wolf" subjects her to; abuse must be be forced into the light if it is to be stopped. Ironically, one of the issues she has with "The Wolf" is this very idea of lack of boundary respect; he doesn't trust her so he also expects her to tell him everything about her and this runs in diametric opposition to her nature.

He, however, because he lacks trust, seems unable to learn the lesson that I have fought so hard to learn about her: just because she doesn't tell you everything does not mean she doesn't trust you or that she's trying to deceive you; she just prefers to play her cards close to the vest. She keeps the details of her personal business to herself mostly for the sake of simplicity; oftentimes, problems are easier to deal with when the fewest people possible are involved.

That, of course, isn't always true, either. There's always the old saying, "no person is an island;" every now and then, you need to tell people your problems in order to get help with them (like with abuse). However, again a lesson that's hard for us "open people," is that decision must be theirs even if it's unwise. In other words, if she chooses to handle something on her own that she shouldn't be, it's not mine nor anyone else's place to come charging in to "help" uninvited.

That being said, in my previous posting I described the hypothetical situation of someone preparing to jump off a bridge to drown themselves. Only situations like that, immediately life threatening, should one disregard a person's boundaries in order to save their life. Aside from that, however, we must accept that sometimes those we love will make choices in life that, from time to time, will hurt them and they have a right to make those choices.

That's a hard thing to do. As I said before, she tends to put herself directly in the path of harm far too frequently. I try to advise her, I try to convince her to do what I feel is the right thing but, in the end, I always have to accept the choices she makes and their consequences. It's hard to watch her get hurt but, though it's often hard on me, I've learned to do it; it was necessary in order to earn her trust.

The thing is, I've never met anyone like this woman. It didn't take me long to realize she was something special; I'd never been more determined to get close to someone as I was with her. In the beginning, before I'd learned what she eventually taught me, I found her tendency to keep to herself frustrating. I was perceptive enough to realize she wanted, even needed, a friend and I was anxious to prove she could trust me; it was disheartening when she wouldn't.

However, I had observed other people trying to pry their way into her heart; those who pried all failed. There were only a handful of people who managed to scale the walls she surrounded herself with and they all had two things in common. One, they were persistent; those who didn't give up survived. Two, they did not pry; they waited for her to come to them.

That's when I realized, if I wanted to get close to this woman, that's what I had to do: be there for her, keep reminding her I'm there if she needs a friend but, if she didn't want to talk, stand back and give her the space she needs. I waited for over a year. I stayed in touch, called her regularly, let her know I was thinking about her but I'd avoid asking direct questions; I'd just ask how she was doing in general.

As I got to know her, I began to be able to read her mood solely by the tone of her voice. If I knew something was bothering her, I'd simply say, "You sound depressed/stressed/angry etc." Sometimes she'd talk about it; sometimes she wouldn't. If she didn't, I'd simply say some variation of, "Well, if you change your mind, call me any time, OK? I'm here." As time went on, she took me up on that offer more and more.

Eventually, she began to lower her boundaries voluntarily. She began to confide in me about aspects of herself I never, in my wildest dreams, thought she'd ever discuss with anyone. Before I knew it, we were talking every single day. Sometimes we'd be on the phone for many hours; the longest I remember so far I think was about five and a half (that's is rare, though; most of our conversations average between 15 minutes and an hour and a half).

Today, whenever she needs a friend, whether she needs a shoulder to cry on, someone to vent to, someone to share her joys with or just someone to relax and chat with for a while, I'm the first person she calls. I do the same; I tell her things I tell no one else.

Still, she doesn't tell me absolutely everything; I don't tell her everything about me, either. Before I met her, I used to feel offended when people would keep things from me; now, having gotten to know the heart of a person so private I understand: boundaries aren't about trust; they're about establishing identity. Keeping a few things to yourself helps keep you from losing yourself in another person and giving that person too much power over you.

That is one of the many reasons I love this woman so much; she taught me what is probably the most valuable lesson I've ever learned about what closeness really means. I feel far closer to her than I've ever felt to anyone because she showed me her heart willingly. Prying may have eventually yielded the same information but it wouldn't be nearly as special; it's so much more intimate when someone opens up to you solely on the strength of their trust in you.

Ironically, I know her 10 times better than "The Wolf" could ever hope to. It's not in his nature to respect boundaries but, even if he could learn that lesson right now it's too late for him; by trying to pry his way into her heart, he's irrevocably damaged even the slimmest chance she'd ever trust him to the level she trusts me. Given the danger he represents, I feel that's for the best; it'll make it easier for her to break away when she finally summons the strength to do so.

Sometimes I think it's unfortunate I couldn't have learned this lesson earlier; it might've saved the relationships I recently lost. However, my friend believes everything happens for a reason; I'm starting to agree. If I had learned this lesson earlier, if I had saved those relationships, I might be miserable now; both of those relationships needed to end. One, I just wasn't compatible with; the other was a pacifistic Annie Wilkes. I think it's best I'm free of them.

Honestly, though I have no "romantic" relationship right now, I feel far more fulfilled in my friend's love than I ever did with my girlfriends.

Between our lives, there are boundaries; between our hearts, there are none.

Maybe that is the ultimate definition of healthy love.

Monday, July 27, 2009


In my family while I was growing up, everyone it seemed had the skill of manipulation down to a fine art. I used to hate being manipulated or guilt-tripped into anything. In my younger days, sometimes I would catch myself doing the self same thing to people in my life. Even today, I occasionally backslide into guilt-tripping territory but, by and large, I've learned not to do it because I know all too well how it feels and I don't want to make people feel that way.

We all try to dominate, control or manipulate others in some way, shape or form whether we realize it or not. Most people consider this to be a bad thing; often it is but, like many things in life, whether it's good or bad really depends on the circumstances. It's been my experience that whether it's a good thing or bad thing depends largely on the motivation behind the person trying to exert the control.

To illustrate the point, let's draw examples from two popular movies that most of you have probably seen: Forrest Gump and Titanic.

In Forrest Gump, when Forrest's mother tries to get him into school, the principal tells her he can't accept him because his IQ is five points too low. However, the principal implies that, if she was to grant him a sexual favor or two, he might be persuaded to look the other way. Obviously she doesn't want to have sex with the man but she also doesn't want Forrest relegated to "special classes." So she agrees to the sex.

In this case, the principal manipulates Forrest's mother to have sex with him. He isn't doing this to help Mrs. Gump or Forrest for that matter; he's doing it solely for his own pleasure. This is a case of bad manipulation: manipulating a person to do something that benefits him alone. Selfish manipulation like this is inevitably destructive to the person being manipulated; this was undoubtedly not one of Mrs. Gump's happier memories.

In Titanic, Jack comes upon Rose getting ready to commit suicide by jumping off the back of the ship. He manipulates her into reconsidering what she's doing by describing in intimate detail how painful what she's about to do is likely to be. In the end, this breaks Rose's resolve and she decides not to go through with it.

In this case, Jack manipulates Rose out of committing suicide. Doing so is of no direct benefit to him; he does it solely to help her. This is a case of good manipulation: manipulating a person to do something that benefits them. There are times when it's necessary to manipulate someone for their own good; a person about to commit suicide convinced to live is probably among the best of examples.

Now, fiction has the advantage of being a bit more black and white than real life. In both of these cases, the motivation behind the manipulator was absolute black or white. One was entirely selfish; the other was entirely selfless. Unfortunately, real life is rarely so cut and dried. The trouble with manipulation is the very nature of manipulation most times makes it extraordinarily complex both in motivation and execution.

For example, the friend I've mentioned before whom I love so dearly has an unfortunate predilection for putting herself directly in harm's way. Now this is one of those situations where manipulation, theoretically, is good; if she's putting herself in danger, like Jack with Rose it makes sense for me to try to talk her out of it. Unfortunately, the situations are more often than not a hell of a lot more complicated than Jack and Rose's.

First of all, it's often like pulling teeth just to get her to recognize danger in the first place. One incident I remember was she was going boating. She said there'd be drinking which is never a good idea when boating. Since I couldn't stop the drinking I asked her to wear a life jacket; she refused saying, "I can swim." I tried to tell her that, under the influence of alcohol, even good swimmers drown but I simply could not convince her to put on that life jacket.

Second, even when she does recognize danger, she often doesn't seem to care. She seems convinced that, if she were to die, no one would miss her. When I tried to explain how much it would hurt me if she died, I remember her exact words to me: "You'll survive." Well, maybe my body would survive but my soul wouldn't. She's claimed a huge piece of my heart; if she died, that piece would die with her and I doubt there'd be enough heart left to keep me going.

Now the problem is she's clearly putting herself at risk in situations like this but, again, it's not totally cut and dried like fictional situations often are. It's not like she's hanging off the back of a ship threatening to jump. She's not trying to hurt herself; she's just being reckless.

How far you can go trying to control a person also depends on the situation. For example, if she was standing on a bridge threatening to drown herself, I'd be perfectly justified in grabbing her and physically restraining her. However, I would not be justified going down to the dock where she's boating, grabbing her and forcing a life jacket over her head. Actually trying to hurt oneself is different from just being careless with one's safety.

Of course, where do you draw that line? Sometimes it actually seems like she has a death wish, deliberately putting herself in situations like the boating and drinking which she herself would admit were dangerous; she'd defend her actions saying, "If God wants to take me, He will; if He doesn't, He won't." Is she trying to put herself in situations where she'll die without having to do it by her own hand? If so, is that the same as actually threatening to drown herself?

See what I mean about it being complicated? It's a no-brainer that she should be wearing that life jacket so my attempts to convince her to do so in and of themselves are obviously the right thing, but how do you decide how far to go when you're trying to get someone to do something for their own good?

As it happened, she didn't wear the life jacket and she ultimately got through the night safely though I was terrified the whole night; I was never so glad to get a call from her as I was that following day.

Of course, attempts to manipulate someone in a positive way aren't always tied to safety or life-or-death situations. For example, when I got out of high school, I wanted to take a year off to figure out what I wanted to do with my life before I went to college. My uncle, however, pressured me hard to go to college right out of high school because he thought that was the right thing to do.

Now, he had the best intentions; he was trying to give me a head start. However, in this case he was wrong. He ultimately pushed me into a business management course at Cape Breton University that I absolutely hated; in the end, I just couldn't do it. Maybe if I'd taken a year I might've realized what I know now: that I really wanted to make films. Maybe if I'd realized that then and gotten into the industry, I might've made something of myself by now.

Not that I blame my uncle; I don't. No one can manipulate you unless you let them (remember my friend above did not wear that life jacket I tried so hard to convince her to wear). Still, if it hadn't been for his influence, I certainly wouldn't have wasted two years of my life in a course that has been of little or no use to me in life.

Ultimately, though, I think it turned out for the best. The most important thing in my life is to always be there for the people I love. Making a film tends to be an all-consuming thing; you have very little time for anyone or anything but the project. I don't want to be that way and, if I had gotten into the industry the way I wanted, I probably would be that way.

Still, I continue to write screenplays; I'd just prefer to leave the execution of them to other people whose vision I trust to bring my stories to life. You can always get up from writing a screenplay if someone needs you; getting away from a film you're directing, however, with all the actors and crew being paid by the hour waiting for you, is way more difficult.

Therein lies the biggest problem with trying to manipulate someone: you never really know what the ultimate outcome will be. No one's perfect. You might think what you're pushing someone to do is the right thing but that doesn't mean you're right.

For example, my friend is in an abusive relationship that she obviously needs to get out of. Now she doesn't want any interference so if I wanted to manipulate her into acting I could, say, threaten to call the police. The problem is, she'd resent that so, even if it did force her to act, she'd probably end up back with him in the end and I'd be risking damaging our friendship as well at a time when she needs a friend probably more than she ever has.

Of course, even if I did call the police, that also would probably make the situation worse. The abuse is not physical (yet; it's definitely headed in that direction) and abuse cases where there's no physical injury are notoriously difficult to prove. In the end, when the police leave, he'd be angry that they were called and would likely take his anger out on her. Transition House warned me about that possibility (though I'd already surmised that).

Unfortunately, that's why I often feel so helpless when someone I love's in trouble. Sometimes, it's obvious what the solution is and I know where I need to try to push them. Other times, however, situations can be much more complicated and, while I know my loved one's in trouble, I might not have any idea what to do to help. In these situations, all I can do is pray for them, be there for them and hope they survive.

That, however, is one of the hardest things to do in life. Particularly with my friend above, I sometimes wish I had access to Star Trek-type technology like transporters so, if I saw she was about to do something foolish or dangerous, I could just beam her away from the danger. She probably wouldn't like that but at least I'd know I wasn't going to lose her to some senseless, avoidable tragedy.

I often wonder why God guided me to this woman and gave me such love for her. Maybe if I was able to actually do something to help her I might understand but, most of the time, I'm rendered powerless by circumstance. Sometimes I just want to go to her, grab her by the shoulders and scream: "What is wrong with you?! Can't you see the danger you're in?!" then drag her out of the situation, kicking and screaming if need be.

But I can't do that. Just like I had the right to stay in my abusive situation with Lisa for 12 years, so too does she have the right to stay in hers. I will say this: watching her situation has given me a whole new respect for my friends who stuck by me through the "Lisa years." They must've been going ballistic worrying about me and I must've been just as frustrating as my friend above is to me; I never listened to them any more than she listens to me.

In the end, we all try to manipulate the people in our lives. How and why is mostly a function of the kind of person you are. The good person will try to use manipulation to help those they love; the bad person will use manipulation to get what they want out of people. Even when you're manipulating someone for good reasons, though, you still need to remember that old saying:

"The road to hell is paved with good intentions."

Saturday, July 11, 2009

"Sport Nookie"

"I need sex."

This is a concept that's really starting to annoy the hell out of me. I hear this everywhere lately: in advice columns, in TV, in movies, even from my friends. Everybody talks about "needing" sex as if it was as critical to one's survival as air, water and food.

OK. It's natural to want sex. It is, after all, the most fluent language one Human being can "speak" to express love for another; this makes it our greatest pleasure. It's also necessary to the survival of our species as a whole; if everyone stopped having sex right now, our species would die off completely in a space of 100 years or so. So, as a species we "need" it, yes, but as individuals, we don't.

On the Golden Girls episode "Love Me Tender," Dorothy was having a sexual fling with a man she had nothing in common with except that they had great sex. Sophia felt Dorothy was cheapening herself doing this; Dorothy objected, saying, "I am a grown woman and I have needs." Sophia replied, "Needs! You need food. You need air. You need a better wrinkle cream. You don't need sport nookie!"

Sophia was right; one does not need sex to live. Yet, somehow, more and more people today are getting it into their heads that sex is something that people need.

There are people out there who never have sex their entire lives. Are they unhappy? Sometimes, but not always. For the most part, the only people who suffer in a life of celibacy are those who buy this notion of "needing" sex. Those who recognize sex is not a "need," however, are often quite happy celibate; some even choose a life of celibacy because they prefer the simplicity of a life not tied to the inevitable emotional complications of intense passion.

Despite that fundamental truth, I continually encounter person after person who, in the grip of loneliness, feel they "need" sex to fill the void or who "need" sex as a stress reliever, losing themselves in the endorphin rush to try to forget all their problems. Sex sought out as a "quick fix" inevitably bears no emotional connection or meaning to the person in your bed. That's because love takes time to develop; sexual attraction does not.

Two people can be attracted to each other the moment they meet then immediately jump right into bed with each other before they even know each other's names. Now the endorphin rush of touch and arousal feels good in the moment but it's a mere shadow of the feeling of being touched, caressed, held and joined with someone you truly love and who truly loves you.

Love is born from the heart, not the skin; it's not possible to love someone from the first moment you meet. If you go out seeking sex as a "quick fix" you won't find love; you'll just find empty pleasures of the flesh. In the end, it doesn't fill the void of loneliness and, when you come off the high of the physical pleasure, the stress is still there.

To further complicate matters, the endorphin rush of sex radically alters ones judgment. When we have sex with someone for the first time, our brains instinctively "imprint" on that person. At a subconscious level, the cave person within now thinks, "This is my mate." This is a powerful drive, forever altering the way you see that person. Unfortunately, the drive is so powerful that people tend to get confused and think that this drive is "love."

So here's what often happens: lonely people, desperate for love, look for it by seeking sex. When they find sex, the endorphin rush tricks their brains into thinking they're "in love" so they think they've found what they're looking for. They're so glad to have found what they think is "love" that they don't bother to examine it and realize that all they're feeling is shallow pleasure.

This illusion of "love" is so powerful that their endorphin-soaked brains even trick them into believing they love this person more than their best friend. If you really stop and examine that, however, you realize that this is not possible. A real friendship develops over many years. How can two people, only having just met or even known each other for a few weeks or months, possibly understand each other better than longtime friends in just a single night together?

Yet that's exactly what the endorphin rush of sex makes you believe in the moment; it's that powerful. The problem is, it is an illusion; in the final analysis, you really know this person no better after a night of sex than you know your next door neighbor you only see in the hall occasionally. Would you trust someone you barely know to handle you at your most vulnerable? Most of us would say no.

Yet those who get into bed and have sex with people on first meeting are doing just that. In bed with another person, the clothes off, nothing between your body and the body of the person before you but your skin and theirs, is probably the most vulnerable one Human being can be to another, not only physically but emotionally as well. The outcome of such an intimate act inevitably imprints itself in our souls at our most fundamental, primal emotional level.

Because that vulnerability is so deep, loveless sex isn't merely empty; it's dangerous. You're exposing your body and the most primal level of your emotional awareness to another person whom you know virtually nothing about. How do you know this person can be trusted with your deepest emotional drives if you know nothing about them?

That's why abusive relationships are so common. Blinded by the endorphin rush, addicted to it, wanting more, we overlook red flags in our partner's behavior. To complicate matters further, Western Culture's "romantic ideal" is "'till death do us part." We so much want that fairytale romance we see in the movies that we're willing to hang onto a relationship sometimes even when a person does things to us that, if anyone else had done to us, we would never forgive.

So, in the end, that "quick fix" can lock you into a relationship with someone who, far from making you feel loved, only makes you miserable, far more miserable than loneliness ever made you.

People often look back on old fashioned romantic values, saving sex for later in the relationship (waiting until one is married traditionally), with a dismissive eye. "This is 2009, not 1909," they'll say. Granted, perhaps the rules of conduct back then were a little too stringent but, in principle, I think our forefathers were onto something. There is value in letting a relationship develop unfettered by the blinding endorphin rush of sexual pleasure.

Worse yet, the idea that one "needs" sex doesn't only create bad relationships; it also can damage otherwise good relationships. Consider the case of a man and woman, happily married, then the wife say loses her sex drive because of some illness or emotional problem. If her husband subscribes to the theory that one "needs" sex, what happens? He pressures her into having sex even if she doesn't want to; occasionally, this can even lead to rape.

In a recent "Annie Mailbox," I actually read a letter from someone who said that one partner denying another sexual pleasure in a relationship is "abuse." That, actually, was the catalyst that started the posting you're now reading. Reading that angered me. If you love someone, really love them, then their presence in your life should be fulfilling enough. You can always give yourself sexual release if you want it that badly, but you can't give yourself love.

That being said, I do agree that someone deliberately withholding sex as a punishment is abusive; I'm speaking here of people who simply don't want sex for whatever reason. One should never feel "obligated" to have sex. Old chauvinistic attitudes about a "wife's duty" to her husband are born, not out of "need" but out of selfishness. Emotionally healthy sex is always about showing love to the other person, not seeking your own selfish pleasure.

Myself personally, I haven't had sex since August 2006, just shy of three years ago. Am I suffering because of this? Not at all. I may not have sex but I do have love. There is someone in my life now that I love more than I've ever loved anyone and they love me. The fact that our relationship isn't sexual is irrelevant; their love is the most precious thing in my life. I'm happy with that.

It's so much more fulfilling to feel loved than have sex.

That doesn't mean I haven't been tempted; I have been. There have been times when I wanted sex badly enough that I thought of having a cheap one night stand. I am, after all, only Human. I haven't actually had a one night stand, however, because I have never been in bed with a woman I didn't love and I want to be able to say to any woman I'm with in the future, "I don't go to bed with women I don't love."

I have never had sex with a woman I didn't love. When I get into bed with a woman, I'm there to show her how much I love her. A friend of mine recently offended me deeply when he implied, if I was rich, I would "buy" the love of a woman I love. "I'm a man, John!" he said. "Don't insult my intelligence and tell me you wouldn't try to buy her love if you could!"

Sex can be bought; love cannot. It's not possible for me to buy love and I would never buy sex; I never want a woman to touch me in that way unless she wants to because she loves me.

My friend above sometimes accepts the "services" of women whom he pays for sex. If that's what he wants in life, more power to him, but I sometimes worry about him. He's never going to find love that way and he's putting himself at risk of being hurt. Despite the insult, he is a good friend and I don't want to see him sell himself short just because, like so many before him, he feels he "needs" sex badly enough to pay for it.

I feel sorry for anyone who pays for sex. Anyone who does that cannot understand love and the true intimacy of the sexual act.

Sex is, in the end, the most profound way one Human being can express love for another. It's a powerful force and, like like all powerful forces, it must be respected. Sex must not be treated as a commodity that can be bought. It must not be treated as a need one's partner is obligated to provide. It must be treated with respect as the ultimate language of love and the progenitor of new life.

In the words of Sophia Patrillo, we don't need "sport nookie;" we need love. Sex is not love; one can have love without it.

Being loved is far more fulfilling, than sex alone could ever hope to be.