Tag Archives: relationships

Letter to my boys – 3

On love, sex and relationships

Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash

There has been much talk in the British press, following the killing of Sarah Everard, of the social responsibilities of men and their behaviour towards women and the role that parents play in instilling responsibility. As a mother of three boys well on their way to manhood, I naturally felt concerned and targeted. Two of my three boys have been in relationships for a while (longer than I did at their age at least) and the third one looks to be following in their footsteps. And while the chimp in me is saddened to have my boys turn their attention elsewhere and love other women, my sadness is more than compensated for by my satisfaction at having raised normal social beings, capable of loving and relating. In other words, I am happy that I have not reared mama’s boys, incapable of leaving their mother’s petticoats. 

For some obscure reason tradition has dictated that fathers speak to their boys about sex. That tradition has well and truly broken, with boys now probably more knowledgeable than their fathers about such issues. And if it hasn’t yet broken, I am breaking it now. And while I understand that this is only one perspective, that of a heterosexual woman, it is the only one I can offer with confidence.

On the subject of love, I say to my boys: “Trust yourselves.” When you love you will know. Do not shy away from love, on the contrary, lean into it, embrace it, for without it nothing has meaning. Do not be afraid of love on account that it may hurt you, for it is the lack of love that hurts a lot more.

You can love your friends, your parents, your pet or your partner. Love comes in many tastes and flavours but the recipe is always the same: Respect, attention and empathy. Do not mistake love for anything else. Love is not lust, love is not anger, love is not envy. Recognize love for what it is, and when you do, throw all caution to the wind and dive headlong into it. 

Respect, attention and empathy

If you love, do not be distracted. If you choose to love, and it is always a choice, do not be distant. Do not enter into a relationship if you will not engage. You are never trapped in a relationship—leave it physically if you must but do not choose to remain and disengage mentally.

On sex, I say to my boys: it is not PornHub. There are two forms of sex: sex as a physical expression of love and sex as a form of release. Sex for love is usually between two people, any other number becomes sexual play. Which is fair enough, both forms are natural. But do recognize them for what they are and more importantly, understand the difference. How will you know? Again, I would say trust yourselves. But I will give you a hint, sex for love is not on YouPorn. (Though you may want to check out Bridgerton).

On dealing with women. 

No means no. Take it as it is. It is not your problem, or prerogative, to decide if no means something else. If your partner is being coy, or unsure of her desires, it is her problem, not yours. Give her space and let her deal with it. Accept the no. Walk away. Take a cold shower. Watch porn. And never touch her without her prior consent. And by the way, women also watch porn though they may be too shy, or socially conditioned, to admit it.

On relationships I say to my boys: In any relationship there are two equal partners. I stress the equal because a successful relationship can only be made through an equal contribution from both partners, a sort of dual carriageway, if you will. You are two separate entities and only as separate entities can you stand stronger, more solid. Do not meld into each other. If you become the same person, sharing anxieties, worries, and neuroses, then you become boring to one another. And to everyone else.

But do share your dreams if you can.

Do not let your partner’s fears and insecurities drag you down. You can be a support, but you cannot be the answer.

Do not fall into the trap of the “fragile” woman. Neither your trap nor hers. A woman has made you, borne you, carried you, and fed you and in many cases, raised you. Women are strong, resilient creatures, you do not need to treat them as fragile but you do need to treat them like anyone else, with respect, attention and empathy—just as they should you.

Do not lay your weight on her either, for as strong and resilient as she is, she cannot carry both of you. Stand up tall and be responsible for yourself. Ask nothing less of her.

And whatever you do, do not try to be the strong silent type. That never works. Even in the movies the girl ends up leaving him.

Letter to my nieces

As blessed as I am to live with boys, I am equally blessed to have nieces, five of them. Fierce, beautiful, bright young warriors forging their way to womanhood. And, having surmised that boys do not listen—or at least do so only sideways—I figured I would dedicate this post to the girls in my life.

Without intending to preach, here is what I wish I was told in my late teens and early twenties, and spent the next 20 years learning:

Love, but stay emotionally independent. Do not be scared to love. Love with all your heart, with all the fire in your core, unconditionally and unreservedly, but walk away when you need to and leave no strings behind you. Do not be subsumed. And yes, someone out there does deserve you.

Manage your money.  No one, and nothing, will give you the self-worth that making and managing your own money will give you. Start saving early, start investing now, and before you know it you will be on your way to financial freedom.

Do what you love…When you work at what you love, you live. When you don’t live what you love, you work. Cultivate your interests, develop them. Be curious, only this way can you tell what it is you really love to do and what makes you happy and fulfilled.

…And become really good at it. When you discover what you love, be the best at it. Become an authority on the subject. Let no one be better than you. And even if you feel you’ll never be the best, keep trying. After all, someone has to occupy the top spot, why not you?

Shut out the noise. Do not let people’s fears and insecurities derail you. Live your life, they can live theirs. We are all looking for a purpose, find yours, do not take someone else’s. And when you do find it, take it, hold it high and run out of town like a bear on fire was chasing you. And scream your lungs out on your way.

Be productive, not busy. Set goals.Measure the steps you need to get there. And when you’re done for the day, put your feet up. Why run on a hamster wheel when you can run on the road and actually get somewhere? Measure your productivity by your achievements, not by how many hours you are putting in a day.

Focus. It is the only sure-fire way to get anywhere. Focus on your goal, focus on the road. Don’t let insignificant events hinder or block you.

Practice a sport. Preferably outdoors. Practicing a sport gives you a sense of purpose and a goal to work towards when nothing else is working (and believe me there will be such a time). A sport is the faithful friend who will never leave you, stick with you through thick and thin and never ever tell you you look fat. It will move with you wherever you go and see you through the sad and the happy times. And the kicker? It forces you to breathe.

Never stop learning, never stop growing. When you stop growing, you start dying. The world is constantly changing and at exponential speed, be a part of it, engage in it, change and grow with it. Don’t be left on the sidelines. Do not die while you live.

Follow your gut. And when in doubt, say no. Don’t overthink it. If that niggling feeling in the pit of your stomach is telling you something, listen to it no matter what anybody else says.

If you think you hate your body now, wait 20 years. Appreciate your body, your face, your hair, your little toenail even. Now. You will never look this good again.

Be as kind to yourself as to an orphaned puppy. You deserve it. Nothing good can ever come out of chastising yourself, except feeling bad.

Why wait? This one is from my sister, your other aunt. The future is now. Don’t wait for when you have more money, more time, more energy. Chances are it won’t happen. Take what you can. Seize the day.

Admit your mistakes, say sorry, move on. We. All. Make. Mistakes. Leave the perfectionism behind and wallow in the mud. You’ll be a better person for it. And if the person does not accept your apology, leave them with their anger and move on. It’s them, it’s not you.

You are special. You are unique. But so is everyone else. Take yourself seriously. But not too much.

Do not be sad about losing or breaking anything that money can replace. Don’t get attached to things but cherish the memories behind them. You can fix the item or buy it again but you cannot recreate lost moments.

Everyone needs a helping hand, and everyone loves to help, just ask nicely. Whatever you do, do not walk solo. There is no glory in braving it alone. There are people out there who know more things than you, use them, learn from them. People love to help, so make them feel useful.

Be kind. Generosity is not about giving money. Give your time and attention, they are more precious than objects. Go out of your way sometimes if it tells someone you care about them, even at a minor discomfort to you.

All things can be taken away from you, except your dignity, and your word: don’t give them away for free. Stand by your word. Say what you mean and more importantly, mean what you say. Your word should be your strongest bond. Spoken words cannot be erased.

Be stubborn, but only where it matters. If it won’t make a difference in ten years, drop it. Fight the battles that are worth fighting and know when it is time to lay down your sword. Some things are just not worth it.

Raising kids is the loneliest, scariest thing you will ever do, which is why you should do it. A child will challenge you, make you doubt yourself, leave you traipsing dark, lonely corridors at night, make you question and second-guess yourself, over and over. But they will also bring out the best in you.

Do what scares you, get lost on purpose. True character shows in adversity and grows only when challenged. See how you behave when things are not going your way, when you are not in control, when you do not know where you are or where you are going. You will learn a lot about yourself.

Find your truth, and live it. Be authentic. Be true. Engage in what makes you happy regularly. We all want to please, we all want to belong but in the end, we are born and we die alone. Be your own best company. Stick to your values.

And music. Always music.

On raising dogs…and boys

There are two kinds of people in this world: those who like dogs and those who don’t. Some would claim that they are indifferent, or ambivalent, but that is not true. They just haven’t bothered to really sort through their feelings on the subject yet. I used to think that I was indifferent to dogs until I had my own—not too different from my boys actually–and then I realized that I liked them. I like them a lot.

Then there is a small splinter group: those who say they like dogs in general, just not my dog. My dog, apparently, is too boisterous, too big, too brown, too friendly, too intrusive, too jumpy and too talkative. They would rather, they claim, that my dog kept a safe distance from them, better yet, ignore them.

I had even had the occasional claim that I let my dog, a female chocolate Labrador, get away with things I would never let my kids get away with. That is true. Naturally, I would rather my boys not chew bones, eat dead rats, rub themselves against slugs or sniff other people’s butts in greeting.

My point is this: a person is a person and a dog is a dog. It would be better and easier for both species if hey were not equated. Yet if you were to read Karen Pryor’s excellent book Reaching the Animal Mind, you would understand that there are many similarities when it comes to communicating with animals and people.

And yet so many people still do not know how to communicate or interact with dogs. They either fear them, causing their heart rates to rise and the dog to run to them in aid, which further raises their heart rate, or they run away from them, prompting the dog into a much-loved game of tag. Or they keep looking at the dog and telling it to go away, engaging the dog in conversation—dogs, as you know, cannot talk. They bark.

One thing that people, in my environment at least, do not seem to understand is that you simply have to ignore the dog—not engage with it in any way. Keep going about your business and it will understand. Believe me.

Because when dogs are communicated to properly, they understand. They understand faster than people do. They certainly understand faster than my kids do! For over ten years now I have been trying to teach my boys to say please when they want something, to eat properly and to raise the toilet seat when they need to pee and lower it back down again of course. Ten years and they still have not learned these basic skills. My dog, on the other hand, who is only three, knew from the age of six months to sit for her food. She slurps her whole plate clean without making a mess and knows not to pee except in certain places!

But there is another secret to dogs. Dogs have no shame, no pride and no ego. That makes dealing with then a lot easier than dealing with people. And most of the time they are more fun.

The problem my dog seems to have is that she is too friendly. She believes that everyone she meets either wants to be her friend or they need rescuing because they are in distress. Her only fault, it seems, is that she is being herself. An ideal that, according, to Caroline McHugh, founder and CEO of IDology, a movement dedicated to helping individuals and organizations be fully deployed, original versions of themselves, we should all be striving for. You can watch Caroline’s excellent TED talk here.

My dog, it seems, is not as well trained as my kids. Therefore she has not yet learned to think, and judge, and be critical and cynical. She is still primitive, asking for, and giving in return, love, companionship and comfort. My dog lets me be (except when I’m on my home trainer, in which case she runs to help!), accepts me for who I am and I, indeed, plan on returning the favor.

Although I will concede that her habit of snatching scarves and jackets is very annoying. We are working on that.