Being The Hero of Your Own Life

“Dennis” wrote to me in email:

I am in a similar situation as “Darby”, i.e. my kids are the same age (actually I have 3 in stead of 2) and my wife’s libido is zero too – when we do “do it” it is about once every two months or so. We don’t have as much money, as I don’t make as much, but I do work five minutes away so I am there for my family – my father was a traveling salesman and was not home very often – I try not to replicate that.

When we do talk about sexual frequency (or the lack of it)she says that she is too tired; her sister and her friends (who also have small kids) are the same way (or never have sex at all). She also assures me it has nothing to do with me technique or style-wise, etc.

Your blog does have some interesting suggestions – the body odor/farting issue is an important observation and needing to get away from it all, say to a bed and breakfast is a good suggestion as well.

A contributing factor is that my wife is on Paxil; I know this has an effect.

Finally, I also think that our marriage has settled into a pattern in which my wife is perfectly comfortable. One of my problems is that I try to avoid conflict at all costs and I think if I move my wife out of her “comfort zone” it will cause of great conflict.

My question is: how do you break the routine?

You are looking at your wife as if she and her emotions are chess pieces you could move around on a board of your devising if you just knew the rules of the game or the “tricks” to try. But the answer is that you don’t “move your wife out of her comfort zone,” you move yourself out of YOURS.

Your comfort zone is the one where you”avoid conflict at all costs.”

Maybe in some part of yourself you LIKE being a quiet, self-righteous sufferer, clutching your virtue to your bosom and resentfully telling yourself how your spouse is so awful to you, how her behavior or personality limits you so fatally, how she makes it just impossible for you to…(fill in the blank).

You break the marital routine by breaking your own routines, especially the routines inside your head, the main one being the childish fantasy that if the other person would just straighten up and fly right –“flying right” defined as behaving in consonance with your pleasure — you would finally be happy in your life. Meanwhile, YOU don’t have to do squat. You can wash your lily-pure hands of the whole thing and sit back, secure in the knowledge that The Problem of the Marriage is the other person and their failings.

Cushy gig, huh?

Being afraid to cause conflict is a big part of the problem, of course. But you also don’t want to just go out and start breaking things before you know who you really are, what you really want and the right way to get it.

So ask yourself (ideally you’ll sit down and write the answers, or at least make a few notes to yourself):

What kind of man are you?

What kind of man would you like to be?

What is the most ideal man you COULD be?

How did you get to where you are and who you are today? What is your family and romantic history?

How would your enemies turn your life story into a movie? How could you turn your story into an uplifting movie, with the happiest ending possible? (No fair saying “a fairy godfather makes me rich” — the story has to be driven by YOU and your character.)

That imaginary movie is your personal myth, the one you’ll base your ethics and behavior on in the future.

But be careful: you don’t explore your history, your “story so far,” to make yourself unhappy or to give yourself excuses for failure. You’re looking for (a) the real, live truth about yourself — as brutal or ugly as it might be — and (b) the basis for your future story, the one in which you become your best possible self. The one in which you become a Hero.

The Heroic You is defined from within, by examining your own reality, not by comparison to other people.

So you don’t say to yourself, “I’m okay because other people are worse.” But you also don’t say, “I’m terrible because other people are so much better.”

You don’t restrict your adult self, going forward, to what Mommy or Daddy did/didn’t do to shape — or “ruin” — you.

You don’t define yourself by what other people might think of you.

You don’t define yourself by what other people will “let” you do.

You don’t define yourself by measures like

how much you have,

how you got it,

what you can’t get,

why you’re not able to get it, or

what other people won’t give you.

This is dangerous territory, of course. When you first start thinking in this new groove, of your new self, emotionally independent of others’ opinions or demands, it will be tempting to believe that you can chuck realities you don’t want to face and dismiss responsibilities that you think are interfering with your ability to Be All You Can Be. But the inconvenient thing about being a hero is that they always fulfill their commitments in life, one way or the other. Dealing with their their personal demons and their tough situations — in a forthright, proactive way (not just suffering through them) — is what MAKES them heroes.

Heroism starts within you. It’s not a product of your situation, your opportunities, or the people you have to deal with. It’s inner strength and quiet assurance without any taint of “Look how much I saaaacrifice! Look how much I suuuuffer!” Wanting people to notice how good you are, demanding to be admired or rewarded because you’re Such A Nice Guy (or having tantrums to make sure they know you’re baaaad) are some of the ways you enslave yourself to them.

The above was the final WYW post on the old Salon blog, so I thought I’d make it the final post here, as well. To see the very interesting commentary that followed, please see the corresponding Page.

I’m finished with the task of moving the posts and stories over here to WordPress. Everything that I thought could be of any value (and a lot of bullshit from a few commenters) is here. As always, take what you can use and toss the rest.

The Salon blog will go dark on December 31, 2009, but I have essentially abandoned it as of today. I will be stopping in here from time to time to maintain links, pick up suggestions, see what’s happening in comments, etc., but I won’t be here to respond on a day-to-day basis. However, as often occurred over at Salon, the comments threads can become their own independent conversation areas to share ideas on these issues. Please feel free to use them as such.

Thanks for reading.



Misunderstanding: More on Kerry’s Questions

The reason I thought Kerry’s questions would provide a good introduction to the subject of misunderstanding was because I thought they were illustrative of how often we make ASSUMPTIONS about our spouses’ feelings, attitudes and erotic realities, assumptions that we then act on as if they have been confirmed.

The most common mistaken assumptions with relevance to our subject have to do with our partners’ conception of the relationship between sex and love. This was how it played out between my husband and me:

When I lost interest in sex very soon after we were married and began to decline intercourse, my husband reacted very badly. He fussed, he huffed, he fumed, he pushed out his lower lip and sulked. I felt that he was over-reacting, and it pissed me off. Since (as I’ve since realized) simmering and mostly subconscious anger was already contributing to my loss of libido (among other things, as I’ll get into later), my further irritation at his inability to be the tiniest bit mature and gracious about not always getting the sex when and how he wanted it only made things worse.

I couldn’t see why it was such a frippin’ Big Deal, why he had to be such a damn Crabass about it. So what if I was tired or not in the mood? Did he have to throw such fits? I thought, “He doesn’t care whether I have any erotic feelings or not. With these punitive histrionics he’s essentially demanding that I just lie down and let him stick it in, my desire be damned.”

And (my train of assumptions went) that meant he didn’t really Love me. His desire for sex was obviously “merely physical.” He just wanted to Use My Body to get off on (or in). Naturally, I didn’t like the idea of being his handy-dandy sexual appliance or nightly sleeping pill, and the anger got worse. I would “give in” some nights just to avoid the drama, while literally gritting my teeth.

Meanwhile HE was terrified that I had stopped loving HIM. Most men assume that any “normal” woman who loves a man will want to have sex with him, and lots of it. In fact, according to one particular form of this idea, any woman who’s really in love will be practicallly insatiable. Given that this was my husband’s fervent belief, when I didn’t want to have sex with him he assumed that I didn’t love him anymore.

He couldn’t understand what had happened.     … continued …

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Insecurity: What is her PROBLEM??

Here’s a common situation “Steve” outlined in the Comments sidebar to one of my earliest posts:

Man wants sex more than woman. Man seeks to find occasional sexual release in masturbation to pictures of other women. Woman throws giant fit, throws out magazines etc. Man feels woman is trying to completely control all sex by setting herself up as only provider, sees masturbation as harmless. Woman feels jealous, hurt and betrayed; feels threatened by masturbation. Man feels he has lost all control of sex life with woman completely in driver’s seat. Sex between them deteriorates.

Let’s get something out of the way right off the bat: as much as I understand and sympathize with what’s going on in this woman’s head (something similar having gone on in mine once upon a time), she is not behaving well. At all. She has unreasonable expectations and is making unfair demands. She is W.R.O.N.G., and that spells “stoopit.”

There you go. Do you feel better now? I’m glad.

Now the less happy news: knowing that the woman is wrong in this situation might make the guy feel deliciously righteous and nobly long-suffering, but it does absolutely nothing … zero, zip, zilch, nada … to solve his basic problem. Let me repeat that in starker terms (because it can’t be over-emphasized): sitting around seething in virtue and moaning about how unfair women can be has never, ever in the entire history of the universe gotten a man laid.

So the guy’s strategy has to be to think the situation through and decide on something to DO rather than simply feel sorry for himself. The thinking part is crucial, because a (justifiably) angry person who is not thinking is likely to respond to this complex and hurtful situation with impulsive, destructive, counterproductive crankassity hostility. He might even throw a “giant fit.” Or several.

But as satisfying throwing fits might be to any done-wrong guy’s immediate feelings, a steady diet of hostility + reaction to hostility + more hostility is not going to improve his sex life. You may already be seeing the results of this kind of vicious cycle in your own marriage. Like it or not, and as much as it might interfere with your idea of What Should Be, breaking these kinds of emotional spirals requires ONE of you to use adult and disciplined brainpower in the struggle against furious emotion. Guess who it’s gonna have to be? (At least at first.)

Steve has offered a couple of places to start the thinking process. One is to acknowledge that the man’s sense of control over his own sexual enjoyment and expression is a fundamental part of the impasse: “Man feels woman is trying to completely control all sex by setting herself up as the only provider” and “Man feels he has lost all control of sex life with woman completely in driver’s seat.” Another place to start trying to analyze the situation is the man’s knowledge that the woman is acting the way she’s acting because she’s feeling “jealous, hurt and betrayed.” Why she should feel that way about his merely recreational jerking off while looking at pictures of women who are utter strangers to them both is what has him puzzled — and severely annoyed.

Human beings, living as we do in sentient appreciation of the uncertainty of nature and the randomness of our fate, have a very fundamental, irresovable existential problem: we are hag-ridden by insecurity. The thing we hate most of all is admitting that we cannot, in fact, make the universe do our bidding, or worse, that someone else can make us do theirs. As a result we, all of us, male and female, put an extraordinary premium on feeling some sense of control over ourselves, our environment and — most unpredictable and dangerous of all — other people.

The only thing on earth that can diminish this grasping, desperate and constant need for some sense of control (over something, someone, somewhere, somehow) is… you guessed it … L.O.V.E. Love, giving and receiving, soothes the essential ache of insecurity. So now it’s time to put the big, face-smackin’, outrageously obvious point on this post: what Steve’s man and woman are really responding to, in their own peculiar and roundabout ways, is a sense that their partner no longer loves them. Because it is only when we start to give up on love in a relationship that we begin to seek power.

Now when I say people seek power when they become unsure of love (and a guy can become very unsure of love when a woman doesn’t want to have sex with him), I don’t mean that this is a conscious process. Nobody in Steve’s scenario is thinking, “By golly, I’m gonna get OVER on that bitch/bastard!” If we could all recognize our instinctive motivations that clearly and admit them to ourselves that frankly, life would be much easier for all of us — albeit also a lot less interesting. Where would art be without repression?

So that’s what we’re dealing with here: two people who are hurt and feeling betrayed because they suspect that the person who was Supposed to love them forever doesn’t. Two people whose natural “background” level of existential insecurity has just taken an enormous jump into high-blood-pressure territory. It’s “fight or flight” time, and humans, whose personal pride is an essential bulwark against their knowledge of uncertainty, are notorious for choosing “fight.” So the woman has a fit (demonstrates aggression) and throws out the dirty magazines (disposes of the threat).

But this is the mystery to you: WHY do these magazines threaten her? You could understand it if she was jealous in regard to a real-life woman, who might actually succeed in seducing you away, but what the hell is the problem with a little porn? It’s not like you’re having any kind of genuine relationship with those glossy pictures, is it? You’re not going to leave her and go live happily ever after with a photograph!     … continued …

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THIS is why

Here’s another letter from one of my “fans.”

What a sad article you wrote.

And yes, I am bitter and angry, but more importantly I’m ready to tell it like it is to anyone willing to listen.

No, I’m not a beer swilling, football watching, fat lazy lay-around-the-house-and-pass-gas kind of guy. Quite the opposite. Not trying to brag through the anonymity of email, but I’m a good looking, college educated enterpreneur that is able to pretty much do whatever I want and when I want to, at least for the last few years. That goes for my wife as well.

By that, I mean she benefits enormously from my success. She doesn’t have to work, she refuses to work in the yard, she does minimal housework/cooking, leaving her only real responsibility in life to care for our 6 yr old daughter, who incidentally, is in pre-school the better part of the week. What a life she has. If only I could have achieved our level of comfort by doing what little she has had to do.

And there are many women in her situation, or at least in part. They have a man who provides a life of luxury (or at least extreme comfort) for them. Yet they refuse to have sex with their husband. Or at least they complain, or find an excuse, any excuse, not to satisfy their husband sexually. We’ve all heard the stories you alluded to in your articles, the jokes about how your sex life goes down hill after marriage etc. It is all true to be certain.

And the fact of the matter… women owe it to us. They owe us sexual satisfaction. Especially the women I described above.     … continued …

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Comments on “Anger”

COMMENTS from the original blog on the “Anger”post
Before you can get to “why your wife won’t have sex with you” you have to find said wife, and before you can do that there’s courtship rituals and mating dances and meeting in-laws and writing pre-nups, and before you can get to that, there’s dating and talking to women and meeting girls, and long before any of that happens or is even possible there is this extreme physical need, every day immediately upon waking and lasting until I finally get to sleep, to sink my aroused phallus up inside some female flesh; it’s usually always on, roaring and ready to go, and easily reinvigorated just by looking at pretty faces and breasts poking out from under cloth. I am man and this is what it’s like. So while you’re crying, cry for me too.

Apologist • 4/5/03; 8:05:00 PM

extreme, yes.

Apologist • 4/5/03; 8:19:34 PM

Very interesting. I haven’t read all of it yet, so this might be covered, but does it make any note of the evolutionary reasons for women’s control of sex? It’s generally the same in the lower animal kingdom: males seek, females choose.

The basic reason is because the potential costs for each sex act are far greater for the female of the species.

Will try to read more during the next few days.

Julia Grey • 4/5/03; 8:38:06 PM

P.S. I ain’t cryin’.

Julia Grey • 4/5/03; 8:41:07 PM

Over my nearly 50 years on the planet I have seen numerous examples of what you have described here from both sides of the equation. The two things that have surprised me the most are: the number of women who put up with the situation and the number of men who have been led to expect such a division of labor by their mothers.

A bizarre combination of these that I have seen over and over is the wife and mother who is running a constant battle with her husband over the household chores while requiring her son to do next to nothing, thereby perpetuating the problem. Another generation of young men are produced who see cleaning a toilet bowl as woman’s work. 

Steve • 4/7/03; 4:56:55 PM

 What’s almost worse is the woman who resents having to do all the daily crap, but in her secret heart doesn’t WANT him to do anything because then she won’t have the moral advantage.

Again, having the moral advantage only becomes that important to a woman when she thinks the love is going or gone. 

Julia Grey • 4/7/03; 5:18:44 PM

Interesting series so far. As a single male, it behooves me to pay attention to these sorts of things before they’re an issue. A useful look at what the years to come may bring.  On the flip side, it makes me want to go hug my computer and sign up for *those* channels on cable, then never leave the house again. 

Thank you for sharing your perspective and thoughts on these matters, Julia.

Groovy Dave • 4/7/03; 9:28:21 PM

Regarding the husband’s impression that things “just got done”: Men and women have different messiness tolerances. For example, cleaning bathrooms doesn’t strike most men as a necessary “daily task”. Once a week or even once every couple of weeks would be fine. So there’s probably a big gap between the amount of work the wife actually does and the amount of work the husband sees as being /necessary/.  If a man chose on his own initiative to wash the car and trim the lawn for an hour EVERY SINGLE DAY and then went around complaining about how hard he has to work at home, people would think he was being a nut. They’d ask, why don’t you cut back a little? So I have to take issue with the claim that the “daily drudgery” is all work that MUST be done and the only solution is to share the fixed amount of work “more equitably”. A little expectation adjustment is probably in order as well.

My best suggestion is to hire a housekeeping service to come in and give the house a thorough cleaning once or twice a month.

Whether it needs it or not. 🙂

Glen • 4/9/03; 12:33:52 PM

Wow, I really find you incredibly insightful. I am not married, but I will be in 33 more days. Fortunately my fiance reads this blog. I just hope he is taking notes and not just being entertained!

April • 4/8/03; 10:52:27 AM

Interesting. I haven’t read the other parts of this thread but I fear you are generalizing from your particular situation. We have a 5 year old son. My wife took the first year off with my blessing, as she felt strongly that she needed to. I committed to supporting the family financially.  After the first year she went back to paid employment half-time, two days a week. Again, this was her decision. I changed jobs, giving up seniority for a more family friendly workplace (telecommuting options, flexible hours, etc). In the four years since she returned to paid employment I have supplemented her income with three infusions of cash, paid the entire mortgage, all insurance, 75% of utility/ telecom bills which are in my name, and paid for 80% of the groceries. I won’t even go into the inequities of gifts except to say I’d estimate the ratio at 50:1 cost-wise. I also pay for daycare on the two days per week I work from home. I cover the annual vacation costs and one-time expenses like new computers, appliances, and furniture.

Lest you think I’m a cash-only-kinda guy, I cook three-quarters of the meals, clean the house between maid service visits. It’s also my job to give our child his bath, and always has been. I take care of him when my wife is out of town, at least once a week for a whole day, and once every three months overnight or longer. I haven’t been out of town solo in five years . . .

Not only does my wife not even ~offer~ to help with the mortgage or childcare costs, I recently got the word that “we” needed to save more for our son’s education.

Sooo . . . while I can understand your reaction to your husband’s fiat, I must tell you that in some situations it *IS* “my money”.

P.S. As for why my wife won’t have sex with me I suspect it’s because she only wants sex for one reason – to have another kid. No thanks, I’m tying a knot in it.

Can we change my name to something else? • 4/9/03; 8:19:15 AM


I’m struck by the very precise “accounting” you’re doing, and how resentful you sound.      … continued …

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My husband used to come up behind me and pinch my butt. Yes, really. Like some sleazy would-be-Lothario in a Milan elevator. He’d pinch it hard, too, really give it a clamp, and it hurt. It was like he was sticking a needle in my ass. To make things worse, he always did it when I was completely oblivious to him, thinking of something else, doing some routine chore like the dishes, so it would shock me, too, practically stop my heart every time. I didn’t know why he did this infuriating thing, but I had some vague idea that he thought it was cute or funny or something.

Then one night he pinched me when I was standing at the kitchen counter cutting cherry tomatoes in half with a paring knife and there was a split second there when — in addition to grinding my teeth in rage as I always did — I almost turned around and stuck that knife into his stomach. Whoa! Death in the Afternoon! Could you see the headlines? “Tomato Slicing Mom Snaps, Opens Husband’s Small Intestine…”

Aaaaanyway, contrary to what you might be thinking, this is not a story about how I righteously suffered my clueless husband’s casual sadism. This is a story about how I was such a dimbo bimbo that I never told him how much I hated being pinched!

Do humans get any stupider? Seriously. What kind of terminal twit wouldn’t tell the guy the FIRST time he did it that a) it hurt like blazes and b) it better not happen again? Why was I was such a pansy-ass?

The easy, surface answer is that I was brought up in the “ladylike” tradition, which demanded that I swallow a significant ration of shit in my everyday life. Now, there’s nothing wrong with teaching kids that they can’t always have their own way, that they can’t make non-stop demands on others, and that they can’t squall and scream about every little annoyance. There is certainly a dynamic in many relationships which could benefit from a big ol’ bolus of Calm the Hell Down.

That was not my problem, however. As I grew up I somehow absorbed the thought that when there was conflict in a relationship it was My Job to sop up and dispose of as much of the negative energy as possible, so that the conflict wouldn’t manifest itself in Unpleasantness. At least not before unpleasantness became Absolutely Necessary. I told myself that I was “picking my battles,” that when I did blow a gasket it was more effective for being so rare (and to a certain extent this was true).

I also told myself that I was steadier, calmer and more capable than most human beings, so it was up to me to be the most “mature” person in every relationship, the peacemaker, the one that kept everything running on an even keel. I was A Good Wife, see, the Heroine, and — (I’m so ashamed) — the Martyr. In other words, there was more than a little pride in my failure to tell my husband that he was reeeally pissing me off with that “minor” pinching thing.

As I mentioned earlier, imagining that you are the marriage’s MVP (More Virtuous Person), the long-suffering partner who is holding everything together, the one who puts up with more disappointment, more work, more emotional engineering than your partner, is very seductive. It is its own kind of power, isn’t it? It means YOU are In Control, and that’s what we all want.

But trying to be more-perfect-than-thou was playing hell with my love life.     … continued …

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Introduction: A Learning Curve

I used to be a “frigid” wife.

I knew even before I got married that I wouldn’t be able to keep up the “schedule” of sex my husband and I had established during our courtship, and once I even warned him that it was going to have to slow down. But I think that went in one ear and out the other at supersonic speed, touching nothing in between.

Sure enough, not long after we got married sex became a battleground for us, and we struggled with the problem like two fish flopping around next to each other in the bottom of an open boat: gasping for a natural breath and injuring ourselves with every pointless, ineffectual spasm.

To me it seemed simple: he wanted me to be his sexual appliance, a handy-dandy love machine that could be switched on and off at his command. I felt no desire, and I didn’t want to “submit” to being handled and penetrated when I wasn’t in the mood. If he really loved me, this sex thing, this “merely physical” part of our lives, wouldn’t be such a big freakin’ deal. And his pissy, furious responses to my refusals only made me more sure that he didn’t really love me. He just wanted to use my vagina.

To him it seemed simple, too. If I loved him — as I consistently claimed — why didn’t I want to make love?

These things always look absolutely nuts in retrospect. You wonder how you managed to get through that crazy period in your life, how you could have been so wrong, how you could have set yourselves up in such a no-win situation. It looked hopeless at the time, a total impasse. Yet we succeeded in overcoming it, and one of the things I discovered in the five or six years since I started talking about our sexual renaissance in public is that this kind of sexual recovery is not as rare as I imagined. Being a writer by trade and a blabbermouth by inclination, a blog like this was inevitable.

In March of 2003 I started the first blog devoted to this subject and almost immediately, in between some positive, even enthusiastic reactions from both genders, I started getting hostile email. Sometimes very hostile email. When women wrote to me in a negative vein, it was usually an objection to my “cynicism” or “cold-bloodedness” about the subjects of sex and marriage. But when men wrote in to disagree with me they seemed to be pissed off about everything, up to and including (it seemed to me) the fact that women existed at all. As time went on I had to accept that the dominant emotion a large proportion of men were feeling when the subject of marital sex came up in the discourse was pure, unrepentant rage. You could power the Enterprise with the fury these guys were generating.

So men are angry. That’s not a very original observation, of course, but it is effectively the dark center of the problem we’re talking about in this blog. Here’s another banal observation: American intercentury culture has put some peculiarly frustrating pressures on men and women alike, so we all have unrealistic and — worse — essentially non-negotiable expectations when it comes to marriage and sex.

This is the rock: we all want Love, which we have redefined toward an unsustainable ideal, and this is the hard place: when we feel we aren’t getting Love, we seek Power, which the culture has restructured in ways none of us can any longer confidently use.

So I’m not going to blithely tell you to take Deep Cleansing Breaths and chill out. You feel what you feel. Some of us obviously feel worse than others. But even the most charmed, most actualized human being can’t feel Loved “enough.”

Still, we can sometimes work it out. With effort and introspection we can come to feel content enough to let go of desperate striving and angry scrambling for ascendancy over other people and concentrate instead on controlling the one thing we can ever really have power over: ourselves.

In this blog I’ve been telling my story, my struggle with Power and Love within myself and my marriage, with a view to helping you examine your own. I used this narrative method because the final chapter in the saga of my sexual recovery involved a special kind of re-imagining of my life story, so that in my own mind I became the odd, unusual protagonist of a romantic novel of erotic renewal. Eventually I hope you’ll be “re-writing” your own history in a similarly heroic way.

This approach is not only an outgrowth of my own experience, but has been guided by several discussions I’ve had with academics and research I’ve done in my freelance journalism that talks about the problem — if you agree that it is one — of sorting out the differences between “femininity” and “masculinity” in a world that demands recognition social equality. I can promote the goals of feminism and still recognize that there has to be an erotic difference between men and women to maintain sexual chemistry and stave off boredom (to the extent that’s possible). If you want to have more and better sex, the last thing you want to do is turn yourself into a Unisexual Being (whose penis is merely an afterthought). Ugh.

What qualities make a man sexy, what makes a woman notice and respond to him as a man? What kind of behaviors and attitudes make the difference? I believe men should have “permission” — sorry, that’s the only way I can think of to phrase the thought in this day and age — to develop their own vision of masculinity and sexiness without a lot of fainting and hanky-wringing from people who seem to fear that adult, intelligent men can’t make responsible use of the feelings, images and narratives of “heroic” art and literature.

This is also a way to help you see your marriage as a major component of your Big Story, the moral narrative of your life, and not just a vexing little contractual arrangement that you’re going to cancel if you don’t get your way (and pronto). You’ll want to strive for what I call “intentional manhood,” the kind of manhood that’s action and not just reaction. Because a man who goes through his life like a paramecium, recoiling from one stimuli and caroming off the sides of his Petri dish into another, is going to feel confused and frustrated about everything, not just his sex life.

In the old days most men had the mythology of religion to help them frame their lives, their aspirations and their everyday goals. If you had faith, you could pattern your life after Moses, Mohammed, or Mithra, follow the rules and expectations of your particular tradition, and understand your little life as a part of some Grand Design.

These days, most of us don’t have — or want — that kind of pre-packaged Big Picture. This is both bad and good. Bad in that it leaves us adrift, existentially speaking, and good because it allows us to make use of our individual human creativity and experience to create our own Big Pictures. One size does not fit all, and it’s usually best to let people work things out for themselves — as long as they can see the full reality of their circumstances and relationships.

That’s why I’ve been giving very up-front, very blunt advice/analysis (see the long list of Stories in the sidebar). And a lot of people of both sexes haven’t liked it one. little. bit. But here’s the thing: American “self-help” literature is piled high with boneless attempts by pop psychology gurus to address these issues in a soothing, sweet-talking, I’m Okay, You’re Okay kind of way. Not only is their glib, bourgeois blandola the next best thing to useless, it’s boring. So while I can understand how you might not want to hear a lot of what I’m saying (except for the sexy bits, maybe), being too careful of your feelings would be the death of my ability to be honest with you. Besides, I figure you can take it.

So what about this storied marriage of mine? I could paint it as high drama, in some kind of classical story arc, a suspenseful narrative driving to a stunning climax, followed by a satisfying denouement. Unfortunately for my artistic instincts, the truth is rather more prosaic. Our twenty-five-year marriage has been like most other people’s: a series of rising and falling waves of affection, distraction, anger and happiness. In and out of love, convinced it’s not going to work, sure it’s forever, not sure again. As the years spooled out, though, the trust and sureness grew.

But there was a moment that might qualify as a Turning Point, when I had my first glimmering of the central truths of this blog, so let me tell you about it.    … continued …

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