It’s Just Lunch – Holding Hands

Fifth in a series [gs *]

As I tried to offer my hands over, or under, or around the table, for our handholding exercise, lunch-man said ‘not here’. This mall was near his workplace – friends or colleagues might walk by. He would be uncomfortable, and they might tell his wife, who would freak out. He wanted to go somewhere more private.

This was starting to feel like a red-flag to me, but some stupid logic that required a clearly articulated reason before knocking something off it’s trajectory had taken over, and though it no longer felt ok to me, I couldn’t, in that moment, find a good enough reason to say – stop the train, I want to get off.

People tell me the hand-holding part of this story sort of freaks them out, but that wasn’t weird to me. There are all kinds of realms where a hand-holding exercise would be perfectly reasonable, contexts I’ve spent ample time in. No – it was his need for privacy, combined with my psychic exhaustion that I should have, and didn’t, address directly.

I did, however, symbolically bring my husband into the picture by telling this prospective hand-holder that my husband was waiting for me, at the opposite end of the mall, in a bookstore. If he decided to get up for a stretch, he, also, could walk by. Which was true – we currently share a car, he was bored, he likes hanging out in bookstores, he tagged along for the ride.

‘Would he be bothered by this?’ my lunch mate asked. ‘No’, I answered ‘but you should know that, so if we bump into him you’re not surprised.’

Well, actually, my husband probably would have been bothered, in that particular instance. Not by the hand-holding, and not even by lunch-guy’s erotic confusion. My husband appreciates the difference between: what I can give freely; the parts of me one only meets by walking through fire; and the parts one only knows by living in fire. There’s nothing on the table that would feel like betrayal to him. But he would have been bothered, if he knew what was up, because of what happens when others, unaware of those lines, wander too close and I fail to warn them in time. He’d be bothered because, while this handholding exercise might be perfectly fine at another time, it was absolutely not fine, for me, right then.

Anyway – lunch-man wants to find a better place, and there’s no way I’m going into a completely private place with him right now. I’m not afraid of him, per se. But if he would so invade me psychically, in such a public spot, with no physical connection, what would happen with more privacy and more physical contact?

Even still, it’s not me I’d be concerned for. The animal instinct I’m trying to contain is not his, nor is it an erotic response on my part to his psychic groping – the first is insignificant to me (he’s way too domesticated to be a threat), and the second non-existent (ditto re: domestication). The animal instinct I’m trying to restrain is that if he gropes just one inch further, I will reflexively tear his head off. My restraint is getting exhausted, which is exactly what would have bothered my husband – he hates it when I drain myself out of politeness.

I didn’t ask what kind of place he had in mind. I told him we’d go to a place I knew of (in the mall) that had comfortable chairs, and far less traffic. He objected that it was still too public, I said ‘there are back rooms, they’re pretty far off the beaten path, no-one you know would be walking there at lunchtime, and they couldn’t see us through the windows’. But it would still have occasional shoppers and salespeople glancing in.

We got there, and I said ‘see, it’s not so bad’, he still felt it was too public and I said ‘Oh, c’mon! It’s not that big a deal!’

‘Are you challenging me?’. He asked.

‘Yes,’ I said, ‘I guess I am.’

‘Ok’ he giggled, ‘I guess your role is going to be to push me outside my comfort zone.’ And suddenly, somehow, that made things better. I’d emerged from the mirror without shattering anything. I sensed that he realized how far he’d drifted outside of his league, that I wasn’t a blow-up doll imbued only with the characteristics he could imagine for me. He felt vulnerable to me now, in a way that was less invasive. I felt subtly in the lead, like he’d finally registered the differences between us.

Sales people greeted us. I whispered ‘if they try to talk to us, I’m going to tell them you’re my little brother’, and we jested about the logic by which that could be believable. I led him to a back room, selected seats in a direct line of the door, and proclaimed this was the spot. He wanted me to sit on the soft chair – because he was going to beam pure love into me, I was supposed to relax and receive.

As he said that, I felt an empty container pouring anti-energy into me. If I let it in, it would create a kind of vacuum in my chest, and I already felt drained enough. I knew that wasn’t the direction the energy would go, but I sat in the soft chair without comment. He took the hard chair facing me, with his back to the room’s entrance. We held hands, my palms up, his down, and he gazed into my eyes.

Occasionally someone would enter the room, which at first seemed to unsettle him.

I’d begun to realize, as we strolled through the mall, that he wasn’t just out of his league, he was, by my standards, pretty conventional. Not practiced in non-conformity. Uncomfortable sticking out. Worried about what people would think.

For me, that concern is a switch I can flip on or off. If I’m trying to fit in, be conventionally successful, influence people in the standard-paradigm world, then it’s a concern I’ll put just as much energy into it as anyone else. I’m a master of fitting in when I want to. But I flip it off the moment it’s not useful. I’ve always been a bit of a freak. Fitting in is a tiring skill I had to learn, not a cloister I dread stepping out of. Shocking people is just another part of a varied day in my world.

But in spite of his concern, no-one was going as far as being shocked by us. I glanced occasionally at the shoppers behind him and then smiled at him, as if to say – it’s all good. Clearly, no-one quite knew what to make of us sitting there holding hands, but Minnesotans don’t invade one another’s privacy, they averted their eyes. I’m a middle-class old lady – how untoward could it be? I imagined they might have thought one of us was grieving some great loss, and the other giving comfort. No-one stared, no-one came anywhere near us. They strolled casually through the room, but didn’t linger.

I had a sense of holding him in that. Of letting him know, with my eyes and the energy in my hands, that yes, you can be real and open in public. They don’t have to understand or approve, they’re not going to interfere.

So we sat, a little over fifteen minutes – the occasional person or two strolled cautiously behind him – holding hands, gazing (in a gentler way now), and somehow the chatting shifted. He talked about troubles with his wife. He seemed less all-pure-love-and-light-and-spiritual-jargon-y, more simply human. I started to feel some of my own energy coming back.

Then it was time to leave. He proclaimed how good he felt right then, how beautiful and loving my energy was, and I, per my most common response with him for that day, just smiled. But not forced.

Then, as we were standing up, he asked me, in what memory presents as a smallish voice, a wondering, lost-little-boy voice, ‘did you touch men with this kind of loving energy when you were a prostitute?’ Wistful might be the word.

It’s a meaningful question to me, and it was meaningful that he asked it. My hand, of it’s own, reached out and pressed lightly on his heart.

‘I tried,’ I said. ‘that was my intent, and I tried, at first. But most men didn’t want that. Some liked it, but most of them redirected me. They had other agendas. After awhile, I quit trying.’ We stood there together for a moment, my hand on his heart, and I could finally feel him, that delicate new thing emerging through a sadness, with it’s fragile wet wings not sure it really could fly. My hand connecting my heart to his, saying, without words ‘Yes, I can feel that yearning in there, and you can, yes, you’ll fly, just be kind to yourself, and be patient.”

Finally, it seemed, we had reached a place of communion. Relaxed and open and real with one another. As we headed out I said ‘good luck with your wife’.

‘Yeah,’ he said ‘thanks. I’ll need some.’

We started toward the front of the store. ‘You probably could give me some good advice with her,’ he says and he starts to summarize again for me all the ways he thinks she is currently challenged – recent stresses, etc., that he thinks she should be dealing with better, or faster or something, and that are getting in the way of their ability to connect.

‘The one thing I know,’ I say, finally feeling free to just say what I think, ‘is that I hate it when my husband interprets my problems as though he knows what’s good for me better than I do. That never works very well.’

‘No, you’re right.’ he says ‘I’ve been doing that, that’s an important reminder. I need to stop that. I need to just leave her alone and let her follow her own process.’

‘Well, no, don’t leave her alone either. I hate when my husband does that even more.’

Where do people get that binary – either you let me fix you, or I leave you alone?

I say ‘With me, that’s usually a bad move too. What I want from my husband is for him to just be present with me. For him not to analyze and fix me, but not to go away either. To be close by as I do whatever work it is I need to do.’

‘You’re right!’ he says ‘that’s really good advice – see, I think you can help me a lot! I’ll do that, you’re so wise,’ he says ‘thank you.’

We walk back out through the store, I go meet my husband in the bookstore, and we drive home as I tell him the story of lunch. It had it’s good parts and it’s less-good parts. I’m not sure how I feel about it overall, and I’m not sure if there is a problem to be addressed or not. I let it sink to the back of my mind, trusting that something will arise to tell me which direction to go with it before the next step is necessary.

To be continued . . .

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"For a woman to explore and express the fullness of her sexuality, her emotional and intellectual capacities, would entail who knows what risks and who knows what truly revolutionary alteration of the social conditions that demean and constrain her."

-Louise J. Kaplan - Female Perversions