An Attractive Woman at the Table

…and the battle of two male egos.

I went to a garden party. There were people I knew and people I didn’t know. I sat at a table with strangers
–a man, his attractive wife and also a man I’ve seen in passing. Daniel was there too. He made a beeline to my table…not because I was sitting there but because he noticed the attractive married woman sitting across from me. The men were in conversation. Daniel, wanting to impress the woman with his intelligence and wit, anchored himself into the conversation. Pretty quickly, the conversation turned into a battle of egos between Daniel and the one other man, not the husband. If I had a recorder, it would have been a great record of runaway egos.

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Later in the week when Daniel and I had our weekly conversation, the topic of the party came up. Daniel brought up the battle of the egos. After the fact, he was aware of his behavior at the party. However, in the moment, it seemed to me he was caught by a primal male instinct. To be the smartest male…the one that a woman might want to go home with.

Daniel: “I wasn’t hitting on her. I wouldn’t go there, but at the same time, in all honesty, I found the woman attractive and I didn’t walk away. In fact, I stayed at the table and one of the reasons that I stayed was because of her–apart from the fact that I like the sound of my own voice…” (he laughs)

Daniel admitted to feeling more comfortable talking to women.
“If there’s a woman around, you kind of focus on her, the better looking, the…you know what I’m saying?” he semi-queried me.

Reflecting on this incident later, he recognized himself and the other man as two battling egos trying to impress an attractive woman.

Daniel: “I didn’t feel for one moment that he was listening to me and I sure as hell wasn’t listening to him.”

Me: “I had some opinions that I wanted to express–there wasn’t a bit of room between the two of you for me to get a word in.” (I don’t think the wife made a single comment either.) At one point, the husband said something. The only way that I got to say one thing was to interrupt the husband, to throw my voice into the mix.”

Daniel: “Ironically, him.”

Me: “He was the easiest one to interrupt before the two of you started up again. And I thought this is not good because men need to learn to listen! Women need to be included in the counsel of opinions, otherwise nothing will change! Everyone really needs to practice deep listening and hear the other.”

Daniel: “Yes, that was all ego. It was nothing about listening, honoring, nothing about acknowledging. And it wasn’t giving service and respect to what was being said.”

About the man who was engaging this battle of wits with him, Daniel said sarcastically “He’s the teacher…we’re all supposed to listen. Screw that. And I did the same thing. I’ve got a powerful intellect. Listen. I’ve done it my whole life.”

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I remember too well those occasions when my ex-husband, as we were being served by an attractive waitress, would carry on a flirtation right in front of me. I used to say that he had one of those swiveling necks–whenever an attractive woman walked by his head would swivel to blatantly follow her while I was present. Once, we were talking to an attractive woman and he actually scooted in front of me to screen me out.

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As I listened to this recording and recalled the party experience, I realized how entrenched and primal certain behaviors are. I wondered if Daniel would do this any differently today. Same circumstances–an attractive woman, a man of equal intellect to engage in a conversation. I think he would have to be super conscious to change this pattern of behavior…or perhaps too old and/or too tired to rise to the intellectual battle of egos. I can only wonder. While Daniel and I were hoping to focus on new ways of relating, we decided it was necessary to bring to light some of these unconscious patterns of how men and women relate. We can’t change anything if we aren’t aware or conscious of it. So, it seems that’s the first step. Awareness or naming it.

Can You Help Me To Understand?

So there it is. In this time when we experience heightened awareness of our patterns of communication, we come up against a belief system in someone else that is so contrary to how we see things. It is their “white to our black”–an opposition, and we can’t get past the distinct differences. There are many opportunities to explore this over the course of one’s life. We’ve seen it in our politics a lot lately. And, sometimes up close and personal, within our own families.

While there may be some situations where I am able to put myself in someone else’s shoes and get an understanding of how they might feel, there are some beliefs or perceptions that I really don’t get.

So what am I to do when the divide between me and someone else seems high and wide? I don’t know exactly where I heard this line: “Can you help me to understand?” The rest of the question might be “Can you help me to understand why you see it that way?” or “Can you help me to understand why you believe as you do?” or “What experiences in your life have lead you to this perception?”

These questions don’t feel confrontational to me. Any one of them would cause me to pause and consider the formation of my perceptions. If we’re both clear that the questions are an effort towards better understanding, that might help too.

When such a question is posed, there can be no attachment to trying to change the other person’s view. It is asked with an honest curiosity to get to know someone a little better, without judgment. That’s easier said than done. With someone else, can we deeply listen without confrontation or judgment? Can we decide that we don’t have to defend against the expression of someone else’s perceptions?

Yesterday a friend said something about her own thoughts that go astray…the ones that she disapproves of in herself. She is trying a new tactic–to witness without judgment and allow the thought to come in and go out. It seems that the better we get at doing this for ourselves, there is hope that we can then practice this with another. We cannot tell our mind “Don’t ever have that thought again!”, voicing our disapproval. Rather, we notice it and see it as a cloud passing through.

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Humanity, on the whole, is young. We are finding our way, discovering what it is to be an evolving human being. We have a diversity within this being human. That diversity offers us an opportunity to explore and learn about the many aspects of what this means. Reviewing human history, I witness a less-than-genteel, coming of age as we move past the survival mechanics to a more tolerant and inclusive view of life on earth. However, we teeter between our evolution and the survival instincts–i.e., antiquated war as a means to handle conflict! We don’t seem to be very far along.

When I wonder how are we ever going to have a meeting of the minds, let alone the hearts, the words active compassion surface as power words. Perhaps, in any efforts at communication, we need to bring this quality into the center of the circle engaging active compassion as the basis for any discussion where there is a great variance.

Today, this is only me thinking on paper. Please take from these mind meanderings what you want and leave the rest. And, I’d like to hear what you think in response. Truly.

Being in the Creative Stew

Sometimes, I make a request into the ethers, “Which direction do I pursue in my life/career?” or “What is the next step with this short story I’m writing?”  or “Where do I go now with this painting in process?”

The next uncomfortable position is to find myself in the creative stew!  For awhile, I simmer there without understanding what is going on.  Feelings of uncertainty, doubt, discomfort arise and I probe these feelings.  “What?  What?”  I forget that I asked the question(s) or invoked help and that I’m on the edge of unknowing, the precipice of what’s next.

I have been known to call this the “fertile void”.  Though there is nothing apparent on the horizon, I have invoked the powers that be to show me a direction, how to proceed.  Inwardly, I churn.  I feel discomfort.  An inner edginess.  And resistance too.  All these things and feelings bubbling in the cauldron of “where do I go from here?”  Sometimes, the harder you push, the more elusive the answer.

When a writer, poet, artist is creating something…there are bound to be times when they are stuck and can’t see the next step.  They’ve been deep in process, things seemed to be flowing and then…nothing.  Flat out, nothing.  Whether at the desk or canvas, they are inwardly working something out.  When I remember that this is what is going on, there is some relief.  “Ah, yes, I’m in that disconcerting void place.  It looks like there is no forward movement.  How long is it going to last?  Is there something that I need to do to get unstuck!!??

At these times, I’ve found, the best thing to do is to walk away for awhile, literally and figuratively.  The impasse is in place.  Do something to take your mind off of it.  Dance, do the laundry, get out in nature, do something you are good at.  Anything that isn’t related to the dilemma.

Simultaneously, it’s a time of deep listening and seeing.  Sometimes, answers come to us indirectly, through metaphor.  Other times, someone says something like “You are really good at painting portraits.”  or “I appreciate your sensitivity.  It comes through in your poetry.”  During this time of uncertainty, it pays to be alert to clues as to what the next step is.  Sometimes, a direction presents  in a dream.  You might wake up one morning and know exactly what to do next.

Regardless, this gestation period is part of the creative process, not separate from it.  We ride it out.  We trust.  The flow returns.

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