First in a series [gs *]
I had lunch with this guy a little while back. We’d met in a group where I’d ‘owned up to my life’, which was relevant and significant in the context, and is always impactful. He’d wanted to get together afterwards.
The backdrop, and a major impetus for writing my story, is that for the past decade I’ve been studying and practicing the principles that allow groups to move beyond the dysfunctional muddles almost all organizations spend way too much time mired in. Serving those transformational principles that spark magic between people is the ultimate point of my story. This was a gathering with the same goals in mind.
I’m always open to connecting with others who are also exploring transformational principles – especially others who get how telling my story fits with that agenda. And this guy seemed to be of that sort. We had professional interests in common – I looked forward to our lunch.
Still, a woman’s suspicion immediately snaps into place – we know what he really wanted . . .
But I’m not new to this charged landscape – I was open about being an ex-whore for nearly a decade before I took my secret underground. My single-mother dating years all took place under that rubric – I’m not naive about the impact of the word ‘whore’ – it’s territory I’m relatively comfortable navigating, at least personally, one-on-one, if not in a broader context – socially, professionally, culturally.
So sure, maybe he felt a little harmless lust, but that possibility didn’t bother me. It’s how lust is handled that makes the difference. I expect adult men to manage their feelings around a woman, and he seemed like an adult. Plus, I’ve heard some fascinating stories in my life, triggered by the vulnerability of me telling mine – stories you’d never suspect are hidden among us – black-market stories, the kind you’ll only hear after you’ve offered your own. I was curious.
And anyway, I’m not looking for an antiseptic, anti-erotic world – I see that as a big part of our current trouble. I’m looking for a fully embodied world, wherein we are conscious of and responsible for our own sacred erotic energies, and we cherish, honor and respect those energies in each other. A world wherein we dance masterfully with those energies in the service of transforming our lives and our world. As opposed to using them to work out infantile traumas, numb repressed needs, or to exploit and demonize others. My whole story is about how prostitution once (if only in myth) represented the former, but has been tortured into a full enactment of the latter. My story explores how that happened, the separation that causes, and how we might repair that damage.
Of course, there’s a a big learning curve . . . . for all of us.
But I digress – we had lunch.
According to his follow-up emails, the lunch went way beyond his expectations and made his heart soar. For me, it was a slippery slope into a dynamic I’d pretty much forgotten about. A dynamic that started out, not predatory, not ill-intentioned, and at least in my mind, not even gendered or sexual – just one of differing interpretations and expectations.
It was all very subtle, and wrapped in an ever-so-correct, polite yet joyful, respectful, spiritually transcendence-seeking honorable earnestness. Therefore, I quickly realized I’d gotten myself into a gooey muddle of complex projections.
Oh, good, I thought! This is one of the reasons I started keeping a secret! (all this was coming to me as I broke from our over-intense eye contact to spoon up my soup). I didn’t like this dynamic (back in the day), and I didn’t know how to protect myself from it without hiding. I didn’t know how to show the light of my soul while simultaneously fending off the inevitable moths drawn to the flame. Predators, I could deal with, but these moths were more subtle, and sticky – and in the long term, nearly as hazardous. At first it took a ton of energy to get rid of them. Then I learned how to swat them dead in an instant, but that made me a castrating bitch. I didn’t want the responsibility of adding another innocent and misunderstood woman-hater to the population – it was simpler to just put this part of myself in a box in the back of a drawer, and avoid the whole problem altogether.
Once you get sexualized – however gently – dealing with men’s delicate egos around that is an impossibly tricky balance. The problem was, all my most powerful gifts went into that box along with my secret.
Anyway – I had a blurry understanding that this unpleasantness would arise again, along with all the other attendant hazards, once I took that box from the back of the drawer, pushed off the lid and popped out of it in all my glory – like a stripper from a cake at a bachelor party. But gooey projections from strange men was nothing compared to the other challenges I anticipated facing as I come back out from hiding and didn’t require worrying about it ahead of time.
And now here it was, unfurling in front of me. A perfect chance to figure out how to do this better. To draw my boundaries even more clearly (paradoxically – in the midst of my openness and practice of vulnerability), to find graceful ways of avoiding the gunk in the first place – ways that didn’t require boxes in drawers. Because far too many of us put away our strengths, for the sake of evading boyish goo without hurting their egos – or worse.
I wanted to figure out another way of dealing with that dilemma, because if we all start to ‘show up’ more fully, this stuff is bound to happen over and over again to everyone, and if I still find it a difficult trap (I, who have dealt with it many, many times already) what must other women experience? And regardless of its relevance to other people, I feel a sense of urgency in life and don’t have time for unnecessary muddles that don’t further my purpose. But I couldn’t practice that un-gooing dance without a partner, so this particular muddle was welcome, as long as I wrung from it every drop of practice I could – and a perfect partner this guy turned out to be. He’s helped me uncover far more than I anticipated, and become the perfect foil for writing about it.
So, in the words of some wise person somewhere, I leaned into the discomfort. I seized the opportunity to try on a different response.
Let me clarify – in the moment everything was fine. I was perfectly comfortable sitting there, making deep eye contact, swapping personal stories. But I could feel him moving in directions I wasn’t inclined to go, and idealizing me in ways I wasn’t interested in encouraging.
What I would have done in the past would have been simply to pull away. To shut down my heart, back up, move into mental presence and vigilance – hide out in a ‘head-space’. On the surface, my hiding in head-space might have looked just like what I did do, but it would have felt completely different. It would have messed up his fledgling efforts to follow his heart, leaving him confused and frustrated. It also would have added a new crust of disappointment to my own heart. Which wasn’t my desire – I know how to do all that already. There would be nothing transformative for either of us in a such a defensive ‘head-space’ solution.
It seemed my practice should be to learn how to remain open in the present, articulate my limits relative to his apparent expectations, articulate my own truths about what was happening even if they contradicted his, and thus taking the risk of offending him and being misunderstood. It was the need to do those things which made me uncomfortable, not the ’emotional openness’ of the interaction in that moment.
So, yes, I leaned into the discomfort, and watched a mini-disaster slowly unfold. He didn’t think he was having a disaster just then. He thought it was all beautiful. I wasn’t having a disaster yet either, just an opportunity for growth. And if I’d taken the common path, all this potential for learning would have been wasted. If I’d just smiled politely through lunch, and found a polite but dishonest way to shut the door in his face afterwards – like not responding to his emails, or professing super-busyness – doing the vague-evasion routine we’ve all become so adroit at – I wouldn’t be writing about this mini-disaster now.
By the end of our lunch, I knew I didn’t want to engage with him further without a lot more clarity around expectations. But time (for that day) was running out and I needed to feel my way carefully into that task – not just have a knee-jerk reaction like I usually do. I’d dropped clues throughout, and if he was a hair more astute than I was giving him credit for, the problem would go away on it’s own. I left the door slightly ajar, thinking I’d have time to let my next step emerge (if necessary), went home, and found that as I ruminated on the exchange, it became more unsettling than I’d given it credit for in the moment.
I also found I’d underestimated his sense of expectation.