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The Greatest Gift

My daughter and I recently returned from Disneyland. It was amazing. In fact, I had more fun taking her and watching the wonder on her face than I ever had being there as a kid. We met up with her three best friends there (whom she hadn’t seen since we moved from Vancouver) and it was a full-on Princess extravaganza. I felt a little badly for the one male in our group who resorted to taking shots of testosterone each night just to survive the whole experience! (Just kidding. He didn’t really dope up, and he survived just fine.)

The trip was made possible by my aunt and uncle. When they asked what they could buy Riley for Christmas, I thought and thought and thought. She doesn’t need stuff. She is like many North American kids…she has everything she needs and then some. As such, Eric and I have been gravitating to the concept of investing in memories rather than things. Don’t get me wrong, this is not necessarily the cheapest option. Sometimes memories cost more than the hottest toy – take that Disney pass for example. But unlike the hottest toy that will be outgrown and tossed out in time, the memories will forge greater relationships in the moment and then last over the years.

As this was about memories, we took a million pictures at Disneyland. My favourite one is Riley, exhausted from the first 12-hour day, in bed in her pajamas with her dinner on her lap. She almost fell asleep as she ate her quesadilla! She was so happy and so tired!

When our friend Louise came to visit for the holiday season, she built upon this memory-building gift giving idea. Her gift to Riley (and our family by extension) was tickets to a performance of the National Ballet’s rendition of The Nutcracker. For a little girl who has been taking ballet for three years, this was a magical moment. She even wore her pink ballet outfit to the performance and got to meet some of the ballerinas.

But since Riley is a bit too young to fully grasp the concept of “memory building = Christmas gifts”, we realized that we would need to wrap some things up that represented our time together. We figured a basically empty tree and an admonition, “But remember your gift happened weeks ago” would not cut it. So we framed a huge collage of Riley’s time in Disneyland as well as the signed poster that she got at the ballet. On Christmas morning, as she tore off the wrapping paper, she squealed and relived the memories as she poured over each photo. Now those frames hang in her room, representing the gifts that she was given this year.

I realize that I am too late to give you advice on gift giving this past holiday season. But here is a suggestion for the rest of the year – Valentine’s Day, birthdays, your anniversary. Take the amount that you would have spent on a traditional gift for your lover and invest that money into a “memory date” instead. Here are some ideas:

  • A Starbucks (or other favourite coffee/tea house) card charged with enough money for 5 coffee dates together. Make the stipulation that you can only use the card together so that s/he doesn’t use it all up on the way to work each morning.
  • Tickets to an event that means something to you as a couple (or at least the person who is receiving the gift – part of this gift is participating in their interests!). Perhaps it is a concert, theatre presentation, movie tickets or even a Monster Truck Rally!
  • A gift card to your favourite restaurant so that you can escape together when life gets crazy and stressful.
  • A weekend get-away package set for sometime when you can get good deals. Book the travel and accommodations and then plan some activities so that you can present the overall concept as your gift.
  • Gift certificates from your favourite babysitter so that your spouse can cash them in when s/he decides that the two of you need to get out for an evening. (If you think that handing your babysitter a wad of cash in return for a promise of service is an unwise idea, then have the necessary amount for 2-3 nights out tucked inside an envelope that is only used for this purpose.)
  • Coupons for a walk together at the local park, a boat ride, a time tobogganing, a trip to the local art gallery, a walk in the downtown part of your city, a ride on a train, time to volunteer together at a local soup kitchen, a trip to a local tourist spot, cups of hot chocolate delivered to bed complete with whipped cream on top, and so forth.

Here is my final suggestion: if it is decent to do so (because you can most certainly spice up the suggestions I have given above), take a camera with you during your “memory date” so that you can preserve your time together. Because while the primary investment you are making is time – the return on that investment are life-long memories.

Relational Eroticism Part 2

I am not a history teacher by any means, but I have heard the comment that those who do not study the past are destined to repeat it.  I understood that statement to be an indictment on ignorance, and I have never wanted to be ignorant.  So, in order to “study the past” I became a student of it, mostly by watching the History Channel and Mel Gibson movies every now and again.  And one of my, now less so, guarded secrets is that I love watching the History Channel.  I was watching it the other day when my husband walked in.  He stared at the screen for a moment and saw men dressed up in medieval armor and turned and looked at me…waiting for some explanation as to why I was watching historical battles reenacted. I didn’t really have one other than a meek, “there wasn’t anything else on.”  But the truth is that I found it fascinating.

I love the names we have given to periods of time in history:  “The Dark Ages”, “The Renaissance”, “The Age of Enlightenment”…these all sound so romantic.  It’s way better than simply saying, “I grew up in the 70’s!  Best I have is “The Age of Bellbottoms and Awful Moustaches”, and that doesn’t roll off the tongue.

Just like looking back at pictures from the 1970’s and wondering how on earth our parents could have thought those clothes were fashionable in any way, when we look back on other ages in history it is always interesting to see what odd and even ignorant perceptions and paradigms people held so dear to themselves.

For instance, look at the so-called “Middle Ages” or “Dark Ages” for instance.  It was not until hundreds of years later that scholars began to use those terms for it, and it quickly took on a derogatory meaning.  It became a way to sum up that section of time by focusing on what was deemed to be “wrong with it.”  For a while it was called the “Age of Faith” because religion reigned supreme in the culture. Later, when this was deemed to be inappropriate because it is in direct conflict with the subsequent deification of intellect and man, scholars began referring to that period of history as “barbaric” and “priest-ridden”, and spoke of “these dark times”, “the centuries of ignorance”, and “the uncouth centuries”.

By the same token, these same scholars began calling their own time the “Age of Enlightenment.”  Thanks to the great oracle Google, I can tell you that, The Age of Enlightenment (or simply the Enlightenment) is a term used to describe a time in Western philosophy and cultural life, in which reason was advocated as the primary source and legitimacy for authority.  In fact, during this time reason was held to be the primary value of society.  Reason was prized above authority, intuition, emotion, mysticism, superstition, and faith.

Why am I forcing you into my private interest in history?  Because there are things we can learn from the past.  In fact, our current culture is shaped, in many ways, by cultural past. Studies have been done that show as much as 90% of our beliefs are secondary – meaning, that we either heard or read it, but did not personally experience it, and yet we believe it to be true. So when we hear “Dark Ages” we believe those times to be “bad” and when we hear “Enlightenment” we believe those times to be “good”.  What follows from that are logical conclusions that we should do like those who were “enlightened” and not be like those who were “ignorant”.   The pendulum has swung fully from a time where mysticism and faith (belief in that which cannot be seen or explained) were revered to a place where reason and understanding reign supreme.  Anything that cannot be fully known, understood, and explained in minute detail is not to be trusted.

The problem with this, like with any over-reaction, is that we have thrown the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.  Believe me, I too love to know and understand things.  When my husband is telling me something, I often serenade him with a chorus us “details, details…I WANT DETAILS!!!”  Seriously, I really do sing this to him.  It’s cute when I do it.  Seriously.

Anyway, the point here is that I am like everyone else when it comes to knowing things.  I want to know.  I need to know.  It’s my God-given right to know!  And therefore I tend to not trust things that I do not really understand.

This same philosophy has wormed its way into our belief about relationships.  I cannot tell you how many people have told me that they “deserve to know” every detail of their lover’s past and present in every area of their life.  And if they don’t know every detail, then they assume that things are being hidden and if things are being hidden then they must be bad or they wouldn’t hide them, and if they hide things then they don’t trust them, and if they don’t trust them then they cannot truly love them…and round and round the circle goes – each link in the chain assuming more and more negative qualities and it will become a major block in a relationship (if not a causal link to it failing).  Somehow in marriage we have come to the point where we actively and intentionally strive to eliminate all mystery.  We lose tolerance for a spouse who loads the dishwasher differently than we do – we don’t even bother to see why they do it a different way, we just know that our way is better.  We lose all tolerance for ambiguity – everything has to be nice and predictable.  Orderly.  Able to be quantified and classified.  Simple and easy to explain and understand.

The problem with this banal perspective is that it is, well, boring.  And aside from boring, it by definition extinguishes any erotic life from marriage.  Eroticism thrives in an atmosphere of mystery.  It allows for, and even encourages, spontaneity.  It provides fodder for our powerful imaginations to re-engage in the area of sex.   We regain a sense of wonder about sex.

I love the wording of that phrase: sense of wonder.  The very word bestows us with permission to not know.  To wonder is to not be sure – to not know.  And yet, one of the things we revere about children is their unadulterated sense of wonder – their amazing ability to simply look at things in awe without the overwhelming desire to understand it all.  They can take things at face value and appreciate them for what they are on the surface.  Faith comes easy to them.

We as adults, on the other hand, almost pride ourselves on our cynicism.  No one will take advantage of us.  We have ubiquitous sayings that permeate our sub-conscious like, “fool me once, shame on you – fool me twice, shame on me” or “if it seems too good to be true, then it is” or “I’m from Missouri, SHOW ME.”  We require proof.  In many ways we still cling to the pendulum that swung so far.

This is because, in North America, our thinking has been so radically impacted by the Age of Enlightenment. We can rationalize and explain virtually everything in our world. Intellectual discourse is high on our list of values. If I can explain things more articulately than you then I win the debate. We put very little value on mystery, on that which cannot be explained. Even our “mystery” shows on TV – CSI and Bones among others – are tied up neatly with a bow at the end of the episode. Shows which refuse to explain every little nuance – the show Lost comes to mind – drive us insane. (Why can’t they just tell us what is up with that island anyways?!)

And so it is with our relationships. Can’t communicate well? Head to your local bookstore and look through the thousands of self-help books. Or even better, flip on Dr. Phil – he will give you an answer. Can’t sustain an erection? Go to the doctor and get a prescription of Viagra or Cialis filled. If that doesn’t work, you can research penis implant surgery.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that diligently seeking solutions to life’s problems is wrong. Au contraire – I wholeheartedly advocate being solution-oriented. And yet, there are times when we cannot find answers. Times when the prescription medication he is taking to keep him alive has devastating side effects on his libido and despite all the things you have tried, nothing can take away the ache that he doesn’t pursue you like he once did. Times where even though she has never had an orgasm with you, she finally confesses that she cannot live like this any more. Even though you have tried and tried, nothing is working and your fear that she will leave is escalating with each failed attempt.

In these moments, do we stop looking for solutions? No.

Rather we have to act like the love illegitimate love child of Mulder and Scully from the X-Files.  While looking for answers, we have to simultaneously learn to embrace the ambiguity of mystery. We choose to learn from the very fact that we do not know the answers. Contrary to everything our culture teaches us, we realize that we can grow from not knowing. We choose to see this mystery box as something that will weave richness into our life’s story rather than an inconvenience that needs to be immediately eradicated.

Richard Rohr calls this place “liminal space.” He says, “It is when you have left the “tried and true” but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else… It is when you are in between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer. It is no fun.”

No, it is not fun. However, if we can survive liminal space without bailing out too early for cheap and easy answers, we reap incredibly rich rewards: we become adept at dealing with anxiety, living with ambiguity, and stoking the flames of eroticism.

You thought I had forgotten about eroticism. Trust me…I’m getting there, but we have to build the foundation first. Next week: Exploring the Mystery of the Erotic or The Truth Erotic is Out There…

the erotic is out there

A Christmas Gift for Your Lover

This week, the government announced that the recession in Canada has ended. The official definition of recovery has been satisfied, and the government is certain that growth will continue. Of course, this is very welcome news.

However, for the average Joe (or Jane), we have yet to see the trickle down effects of this announcement. Just this week, a dear friend of mine lost his job. Other friends are wondering what they will do to bring in extra money in the New Year. People are still hesitant to spend money and are scaling back on their Christmas shopping list. All in all, it is not a year to go out and buy that Jaguar that you have always wanted.

As I began thinking of a gift I could give my husband which is both meaningful and easy on the pocketbook, I began mulling over the presents that he has given me over the years. What a stroll down memory lane! I find it intriguing that the gifts which come to mind aren’t the most expensive ones he has given me, but they were the gifts which reflected the fact that he just knows me.

Here is an idea for a Christmas gift: write your lover a letter thanking him/her for the top 5 (or 10) gifts that s/he has ever given you over the years. List out the gifts AND the reasons why they are so precious to you. Then tuck the letter under the tree.

I considered blogging about my own list, but I think I will save that for my husband. Perhaps he will allow me to share it with you in the New Year!

How to Look Good Naked

“All we’ve ever wanted is to look good naked; hope that someone can take it.
God save me rejection from my reflection; I want perfection”

Robbie Williams, Bodies


How to Look Good Naked

I am endlessly fascinated by the British series How to Look Good Naked. During each show the host, Gok Wan, will hone in on the deepest insecurities of a female guest and discover which body part she despises most about herself. He will then have her strip down to her “knickers” (or underwear for you non-British folk out there) and introduce her to a line up of average-looking women who are also in their undies. Gok explains to the guest that these women are lined up from smallest to largest of the hated body part. The woman then has to place herself where she thinks she fits in the line up. So, for example, if she is really concerned about her thighs, he arranges the women from smallest to largest thighs and then has the guest decides where she believes she measures up.

I have never seen a show where the guest didn’t go right near to the end where the largest body part was. Sometimes, while she does this, she is in tears completely undone by her self-loathing. However, Gok will then move her to the place where she actually belongs – this is most often nearer to the smaller end. The brilliant point that the show makes is that when it comes to body image, how we perceive ourselves is not necessarily reality.

We are besieged, each and every day, by images of “beauty” as defined by marketers. We somehow forget that it is their job to make us feel insecure about ourselves so that we will go out and buy their product. In fact, we get so caught up in what beauty is supposed to look like that when our lover tells us how good we look, we grimace and respond with an ungracious comment such as, “you need to get your eyes checked”. Internally, we are running through a checklist – formed through our consumption of airbrushed images – of all the reasons why s/he is wrong. But we, like the women on How to Look Good Naked, might have perspectives on our bodies which are very, very wrong.

Most people at this point go into a diatribe about how our character, our choices, our love for each other, our insides are most important in life. And I am all for those things. Truly.

However, there is no doubt that attraction is essential to a great sex life. You go to bed anticipating hot, steamy sex and all that passion you are feeling is immediately extinguished when he kisses you with unbrushed teeth and you get to taste what he had for dinner. Or she sidles up to you in her ratty sweats – so she can stay warm during foreplay, of course. Or he hasn’t cleaned under his finger nails since 1995. Or her hair hasn’t come down from that pony-tail since the kids were born. Physical attraction matters. You might be a beautiful person inside, but s/he is not making love to your insides.

When I am coaching couples, I try to redirect their focus from what our society says is attractive to what they find attractive in each other. Instead of scrambling to reach some unattainable cultural expectation (let’s face it, we’ve all seen rather unflattering photos of what the media refer to as “beautiful people”), find out what your lover sees as beautiful and what makes you feel attractive and sexy. Then set a goal to work on those things.

One of my clients shared with me her road to finding her “attractive self”. She has terrible skin sensitivities and so she cannot wear makeup easily and even hair products can be problematic. She always felt “less-than” because she couldn’t have the glamorous hair and makeup like the models. However, she discovered that she feels really attractive in skirts. So, she started to look for skirts which really make her feel sexy. Sometimes they are long; sometimes they are short. They had to be made of a fabric that felt good to her. She works with her husband, and so sometimes she goes to work with garters on underneath her skirts. And he loves this. Just knowing that his wife is wearing garters under her skirts is a complete turn-on to him especially since he can think about it all day at work. Now, if you saw her walking down the street and you were looking only for women who fit the model version of “gorgeous”, you might not give her a second glance. But she knows that she is attractive and her husband knows this too. They have found what really works for them.

What works for you and your lover? Do you actively put effort into being attractive for your spouse? If this is an area of your relationship that you would like to address, here are some things you can do:

  1. What does your lover find attractive about you? Have you ever asked or have you just assumed? Ask him/her – what is your favourite feature about me? What do I do that you find attractive? If I am able to do nothing else to make myself attractive, but I could only do one thing for you – what would that one thing be? If s/he is open to the conversation, turn it around and tell him what you find attractive about him/her.
  2. What makes you feel attractive, beautiful, sexy, hot? Do you allow yourself the time, the energy, the money to invest in this? How would your demeanor change if you did? Would your lover notice a difference? Would other people around you notice a difference? Find one (even small) way that you can feel more attractive this week and do it.
  3. Buy an article of clothing that makes you feel incredible. How does it feel against your skin? What do you love about it – is it the colour, the shape, the fabric, the way you look in it? How does your lover respond when you wear it?

Top Ten Technology Flirts

technoflirt_590x300

Yesterday was a crazy day. You know the type where you have to carry a colour-coded schedule just to make it through the day without doing something foolish like, well, forgetting your kid at school??? (Don’t laugh too hard. We did that earlier this week) It was bonkers. Eric and I were flying in different directions, Riley had places to be and needs to be met. We ended the day flopped on the bed together, eating pizza and watching a kid’s movie about enchanted princesses and undying love.

After we put Riley to bed, Eric and I ventured downstairs with ambitious plans to work some more. This is one of the significant pitfalls of working from home. The lines between work and home life get completely blurred and it becomes exceedingly easy to work all the time. There is no such thing as a 9-5 work schedule. That could be a blog post in and of its own!

But on this occasion, we were just too tired to work. Instead, we ended up sitting right next to each other with our computers out. Then we found each other on Facebook. And we starting flirting. Outrageously. Which led to hearty laughter. Then our friends and family started to chime in on the discussion and we giggled even more. At last count, we were up to 32 comments and one “like”. I’m not sure what the record for comments on Facebook is – I am sure that we fell far short of that record – but that was a lot for us!

This interaction led me to think: who is your spouse flirting with on Facebook today? If it’s not you, there is a problem. This is a skill set you might want to pick up.

Realizing that this is a significant issue, I consulted one of my techy guru friends for his hottest tips on ways to use technology to flirt with your spouse.  Around here we call him JDog.  I think you’ll find him to be as refreshing and enlightening as we do.

J-Dog’s Top Ten List:

J-Dog’s Note: Ok, so Eryn-Faye asked me to come up with ten ways to flirt using technology, and I thought, “Oh, that’s easy!” Turns out that with the steady march of this thing we call ‘convergence’, the lines between various technologies are becoming less and less clear. Some of these suggestions will obviously cross over to others, and some won’t as much. The one commonality should be creativity – as long as you can think of something fun and creative to say to your lover, the technology can help you convey that message. I managed to come up with ten, although the last one is illegal, so don’t do it, ok?

Also, I’ll add the standard disclaimer that I’m a guy, and in spite my attempt to balance this with tips for both sexes, my own biases will show. Whatever.

1. Texting. Most people have mobile phones these days, and many couples each have their own. Texting is usually free, especially between family members (check your rate plan before going crazy with the texts, though!). Send your spouse a short, badly-spelled note informing them of just how hot you think they are. If you’re female, include details about your underwear. While this is quite effective if they are at work, it can be even more fun to do when you’re in the same room as each other. It’s a very good way to build the sexual tension between you when you’re at a party, for example.

A sub-genre of this is known as ‘sexting’, and is generally more risqué (and risky!) and involves sending sexy photos of yourself to your spouse’s cellphone or email. A couple things to keep in mind if you want to try this are that you shouldn’t be stupid and include pictures of your face, because it’s pretty much guaranteed these pictures will not remain entirely private (especially if the recipient is a guy!). Also, be very careful when selecting the recipient from your address book, as a slip of the finger on that tiny keypad means the wrong person gets to see your naughty bits! Again, check your rate plan to make sure it’s not going to bankrupt you to send that picture.

If you don’t have a mobile to send text from, most carriers allow you to send texts from their website, or via email. For example, for Telus Mobility customers, you’d send an email to tendigitmobilenumber@msg.telus.com. Check your carrier’s website for details on how to do this.

2. Skype. This would include other kinds of real-time text chat as well, such as MSN, Yahoo! Chat, or Google Chat. Whatever network you both use, put it to good use by turning up the heat now and then. If you are apart from each other during the day, try to get online at the same time now and then, and just talk about how much you love each other, or how much you miss them. Tell him about your underwear. If your network of choice supports video, use it! It’s amazing what a turn on it is just to see your lover’s face while you talk to them. And if you have the opportunity, live video can spice things up in other ways too!

3. Music. It’s long been known that music is a great way to romance a woman. Dudes, fire up iTunes and buy her a gift card or use the Gift This function to send a specific song directly to her inbox. Browse the Latin and Jazz genres, or find a new mix of one of your old favourites. Girls, just send him a song about underwear. There’s lots on there, trust me.

4. Twitter. You can say a lot in 140 characters or less. Tweet about your lover. Let your followers know how much you appreciate them. Just for fun, start a hashtag with their name, and use it lots. And use the private message capabilities to add some spice!

5. Facebook. Eryn-Faye mentioned this one in her post, and I have to say it was a lot of fun watching that conversation go on! Facebook is a great way to publicly flirt with your lover, and letting your friends inject their own humour into the process can result in some hilarious moments. Use your status updates to brag about how great your spouse is – making oblique references to their sexual prowess not only tells them you think they are ‘all that’, but it is a great self esteem booster to have one’s praises sung in public. Doesn’t hurt the libido, either – which is what we’re going for here!

6. Telephone. Sure, it’s old-school, but sometimes, it’s just what the doctor ordered. The ability to hear your lover in real-time, with no delays, jitter, or dropped packets can be very refreshing. Call her up and let them know exactly what you’d like to do with her when you get home. Or, call him up and tell him about your underwear.

7. Voicemail. If your lover works in an office, you can call the switchboard and ask the receptionist to transfer you directly to their voicemail, rather than ringing their extension. This way, you can leave them a surprise message – be sure to preface it with “Darling, please make sure your speakerphone is off”!

8. Email. Even those of us without mobile phones have access to email, and this can be put to great use in the flirting game. Guidelines involve not using corporate email accounts for naughty exchanges (get a gmail account – it’s free, already!), and remembering to be careful about sending incriminating photos. Underwear shots are great, as long as your face isn’t visible.

9. Video. The availability of video recording technology such as camcorders, cell phones, and webcams means that it’s easier than ever to create a visual delight for your lover. This can be a lot of fun, especially because it’s so very ‘naughty’. You know what makes your lover tick, so include those things in your video. As with other forms of electronic flirting, it’s very important that you ensure the privacy of your material: no faces or identifiable markings such as tattoos; don’t use workplace networks to send private files (most log everything, and copies can be made for auditors or investigators upon request); and make sure that your personal computer is secure, both from outside penetration (hur, hur) as well as from family members (especially children, for heaven’s sake!). I would suggest getting PGP encryption keys and using them to lock all your private files.

10. Hack one of those roadside construction signs with the big digital displays. Replace the warning message about the bridge washing out or whatever with something that tells passersby how amazing awesome your lover is. You have fewer characters than Twitter, here – so use shorthand! And wear gloves so you don’t leave fingerprints, ok? I’m just sayin’…

As with all types of flirting, it’s important to remember that the most effective methods will employ your lover’s Love Language. Once you have that figured out, technology and gadgets can really help you push those buttons!

Eryn-Faye’s note: Ladies, for what it’s worth, underwear seems to be a consistent theme!