Monday, May 14, 2012

Am I an Ass?


A high school girl told me this story:
A boy in her class said to her: "You should wear lower-cut tops, so we can see more of your puppies."
The girl, staring calmly into his eyes, replied:  "Do you know you're an ass?  I'm thinking maybe no one ever told you, and you should know."
I imagine the question, "Am I an ass?" rarely comes up in people's personal meditations, especially since what is an unwelcome, hurtful comment to one person might be, to the speaker, an innocent and sincere remark.
If the comment is labelled racist, sexist, anti-semitic, or offensive, the complainer is labelled oversensitive or unable to take a joke.  But sometimes people do see themselves in a new light.
In the late 1980s, I was teaching English to an all-male college engineering class.  One day, just before class ended, I read them a story I wrote called "Ma Bell's Revenge."  The story is about my former partner who would violently smash things when he was angry, particularly telephones. The story begins with me returning a smashed phone we had rented from Bell Canada.  (Back then, phones could be rented.)  They replaced it with a new "husband-proof" phone called The Harmony.  The customer service rep said, "It's so light that it won't hurt if he throws it at you."
The story ends with my partner returning from the hospital with stitches in his lip.  He had thrown the phone down so hard, it bounced up and hit him in the face.  The class laughed at the end of the story, at the man who couldn't control his temper.
As the students were leaving, one of the boys approached me slowly.  "My girlfriend says that I break phones," he said.
"Do you?" I asked.
"Yeah, I guess," he said.
Our eyes met.  It was clear that after hearing my story, he was seeing himself as an ass for the first time -- and he didn't like what he saw.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

What Do Teenagers Want to Know?

There I was in Halifax, reading The Power of Now in my hotel hot tub when two teenage boys joined me in the foam of pulsating jets and asked me what I was reading.  "It's philosophy," I said.
"What's it about?  We're totally into philosophy.  We read philosophy all the time."
That seemed a little unbelievable, but we started discussing the main ideas of the book when 15 more teenagers slipped into the hot tub with us.  They told me that they were from PEI and all in their high school senior band.  They were in Halifax with their music teacher and chaperones for a band festival.  In addition they were all performing in the upcoming school play, Annie.  Then they started singing "The sun will come out/Tomorrow" in four-part harmony.
I mentioned that I had a blog of questions people ask me, questions like "How do you know you're really in love?"  They said, "That's a great question.  We think about that all the time."  They wanted an answer.  They asked more and more questions.  In the hot tub.  In Halifax.  Here's some of that conversation:

"What is it like to be in love?"
I told them that being in love is mostly awful.  It's good for a while, and then it's over and it's really, really bad, and you hate how bad it is, so you fall in love again, and it's good and then bad again.  It goes on like that until you change or run away (sometimes with one or two kids in tow), and you learn to live with yourself.  Eventually you figure out what you want and need and what you don't want.  You've learned to live with yourself, so next time it's not as awful.  It might even be pretty good.
They hung on my words as if they were true.  I asked them who had been in a great love relationship that was good and then really bad.  Most of them put their hands up and nodded.

When should I say, "I love you" in a relationship?
I asked them for their ideas on this question.  One fellow said, "When 'I like you a lot' doesn't seem like enough anymore."  I speculated that saying "I love you" is our way of showing gratitude.  What you mean is that in the presence of the romantic partner you feel smarter and more beautiful than with anyone else.  You feel connected and alive and worthy.  You are so grateful to the other person for co-creating the situation where those feelings emerge that you are overwhelmed with a gratefulness that you call love.
One of the teen-age girls said, "That's so true."

"Should I stay friends with my ex?"
You can stay friends with your ex, but it might be a good idea to first ask yourself why you want to do that.  Some people want to stay friends because they feel guilty for breaking up and hope they would feel less guilty by staying friends.  Some people still have some control over the other person and they like having that power.  One person I know told me that he wanted to stay friends with his ex as a way of honouring the six good years they had together.  Are you "staying friends" because you actually are friends?  Does staying friends stop either of you from moving on?  Is it helpful or harmful to either of you?

My girlfriend of four months has a best friend who doesn't like me and wants to break us up because she doesn't have a boyfriend.  My girlfriend's kind of torn.  What should I do? 
Figure out what you want in terms of intimacy and time together and see if your girlfriend wants more or less what you want.  If you want to keep that relationship and give it more time, trust your girlfriend to do what is right for her.  Don't make her choose.  Say things like, "I trust that you'll figure out what's best.  If you can't see me tonight, I'm going to ... "  Then do that other thing.  Don't judge the best friend's behaviour and motivation.  There are probably things you don't know.

Doesn't everyone get jealous?
Look under your jealousy for a fear.  Face your fear.

I've been looking for a partner, but can't find anyone.  What should I do?
Tell yourself every day, "If the universe can make someone like me, with my qualities and characteristics, then the universe can make someone for me."

I don't want to be controlled by a relationship, but am I missing out?
Find a relationship that seems to offer endless possibilities.  Your relationship should make you feel that more is possible for you, not less.

Hot tub time was over, but two of them wanted to talk further and followed me down to my room asking more questions ("I'm 17 and I just met someone who is 25.  Is that too old?").

.... so that's what teenagers want to know.