Thursday, October 20, 2005

Staying in Touch—It's About Love

I am single, 56, male, and living alone. I have a wildly creative mind (which is not always an asset), a huge love for humanity, and I long to see changes made in how our dreary society works.

For me, one of the most serious yet seriously ignored social problems of our time is loneliness. We live in a materialistic, highly competitive culture that stresses job security, earning your way to riches, and spending more than you can comfortably afford on a huge variety of objects. This creates many situations where people’s whole lives are dedicated to earning enough money to keep on keeping on.

As a single person I have met too many women in their 40s, 50s, and 60s who feel very much alone in any romantic context. Many are divorced with adult children, and much of their lives are devoted to mothering and grandmothering. This may be quite fulfilling for them, but they still lack (and secretly crave) adult-to-adult intimacy in their lives. They confess to me how much they want a man.

The standard-issue model for finding adult-to-adult intimacy is to miraculously find that one special person with whom to fall in love. Yet falling in love in later years is much different than before. For one thing, there’s home ownership. Who moves and who rents or sells—and what happens in that arrangement if there is a break-up? For another, there’s proximity to jobs, assuming everyone’s fortunate enough to be happily employed. Third, there are often considerations involving the children or grandchildren that have a way of interfering masterfully with growing middle-aged love.

In romantic love, I’ve experienced a series of “near-misses.” I’ve found enjoyable relationships, but each one had a major obstacle, mostly related to the above list, that prevented the romantic solution from growing to fruition. I also discovered that each of these relationships contributed to my life in some positive way, even though the eventual outcome was painful.

For the longest time I have wondered why our society continues to support systems that don’t lead to fulfillment. It doesn’t take a rocket sociologist to know that there are droves of lonely people out there longing for meaning, stimulation, a sense of inclusion, love. Why don’t we do something to solve this?

I’ve wondered what a solution might look like. Putting on my idealist’s cap for awhile, I have always been fascinated with the idea that people who felt as I do should form a group, like a support group, that addressed these needs for intimacy. Call it a hugging group (hence Staying in Touch), a healing group, an intimacy group. It would be a safe place to gather to fulfill a craving for intimate connection.

What is intimate connection anyway? I look at intimacy as something wholistic—physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. I look at it as being real and authentic, which means that people talk from their hearts without censoring or filtering what they say. They don’t mince with political correctness. They let it all hang out.

Over the last quarter-century, in my view, people have been steadily creeping (imperceptibly, like drifting tectonic plates) away from intimacy. Rather than being intimate we’ve been lured by cable TV, the Internet, and corporate marketeering into bubble worlds of isolationism—the antithesis of intimate connection. We’re so bombarded with stimulation we don’t have time to think and feel. Deliberately focusing on intimate connection is making time to think and feel.

What do you do if you’re lonely? Turn on the TV or log onto the Internet? Many lonely people tell me that they “just like background noise.” Some swear that they don’t pay attention to it. Yet I firmly believe that the preponderance of negativity that is strangling our country’s vitality is directly related the numbing influence of the media. Thus, lonely people who turn on the TV for background or to escape loneliness are essentially tanking up on artificial conflict, which noticeably adds to their stressed and gloomy demeanor.

Intimate connection is also about love. Here’s where it gets tricky because we live in a country that is predominantly about monogamous romantic love. Very few of our social conventions support loving more than one person at a time—except, oddly, children. You can have and love all the children you want without penalty. There aren’t any conversations about how having and loving more than one child fractures and dilutes energy. However, if your affection for a second adult reaches beyond a moving target level of intimacy, lightning bolts and thunder rain from the heavens in an outburst worthy of a TV soap opera.

Yet I have found in several time zones in my earthly journey that sharing love with more than one adult at a time can be a very good thing. Many people cannot accept the idea of this possibility for them, and I am the first to support their stance. However, for others, the journey of loving more than one person can be awesome. Different people with different personalities open different doors for you. The composite effect of two (or more) simultaneous intimate relationships is having more people reflecting back your personality—through a process called mirroring—in different ways. If you want to know bunches about how you really tick, try having two lovers, each of whom sees a different personality in you and draws out different facets than the other.

But what about sex? Oh, yeah, that. Can you have intimacy without sex? Yes. Can you have sex without true intimacy? Many do. Even in deeply monogamous relationships, people sometimes feel empty inside because they have not learned how to share their souls intimately during physical lovemaking. Arguably the most contentious issue about multiple love is nonmonogamous sex, and in my experience the orgiastic behavior mostly dwells in the fantasies of the monogamous ones who have never been there, done that.

I have a big issue with how immature and uninventive our society is about sex. From Puritanism to porn, hardly anything casts the sexual relationship in a positive, healthy, wholesome light. If you want to find something positive about sex in the media, where do you go? It’s not easily accessible.

In my own perfect universe, a Staying in Touch Network would be composed of people who for whatever reason wanted to share intimate connection. Part of this network would be local small group meetings where some folks would gather in a safe home environment. Like many support groups, people would share what’s going on in their lives and get feedback from the group. Unlike many support groups, this would be done in an environment where people would share physical touching—hand-holding, neck rubbing, back rubbing, cuddling, hugging.

This idea springs out of some real-life experiences I had, mostly in the late 1970s and early 1980s—not ironically before cable TV and the Internet wired everyone. It just never dawned on me then how important these experiences would be in my retrospective memories thirty-some years later.

I really don’t know of any more powerful and quick feel-good tonic than sensual touch. Sexually, it doesn’t have to go anywhere to be potent, and, in fact, making a quick transition to “hot sex” (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) can be a quick energy bleed. The idea is to build energy, not deplete it. If a man gets a you-know from cuddling, great, let him enjoy it. He may need to learn about the joys of amping up his sexual energy by not leaking it every time he stiffs out.

I firmly believe that one of the huge reasons why we’re so grumpy is that the average person has so few opportunities to be touched in any meaningful way. We’re out of touch. Being touched does absolute wonders for my mood. Those I touch frequently repeat the sentiment as true for them.

Having been involved in many collisions between monogamy and polyamory, I am well aware of the pitfalls of a group like this. But I am also aware of the potential joys.

The next step is sure to be more controversial, yet for me sounds very appealing in a create-the-world-you want-to-live-in way. I would like to see a Staying in Touch Network where people felt comfortable visiting one another for hugs and cuddles and conversation. That is, people from within the group could meet independently outside of the group.

Just imagine coming home from a hard day’s work to an empty house. You’d really like some time well spent with a trusted, intimate friend. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a few different people you could contact for some spontaneous intimacy? Some cuddling and conversation?

Most people raised in our crazy society will immediately think something like, “Oh, he wants to create a network where it’s easy to get laid. He wants to realize his porn visions of having a no-strings-attached harem.”

In our society many people equate touching and sensuality with seduction. Some people don’t touch unless they want sexual release. Their intentions are clear—they want orgasms. When people don’t like to hug or stroke, it’s usually because they fear being invaded, losing control, or being vulnerable to someone whose mind is on seduction, not intimate connection. In my experience and in my bubble world of idealism, I’m thinking of this networking in terms of refreshing and energizing each other through touch and consciousness. The people involved in this network would be drawn to it primarily for its emphasis on wholistic intimacy.

How does this concept differ from “booty calls” or swinging? It’s all in the mindset of the participants. When people are motivated to give gifts of love, to make someone happy, to heal with energy hugs, and so on, they’re coming from a fundamentally different place than someone who is looking primarily for sexual adventure without emotional involvement. (This is not to be read as a blanket criticism of swinging or booty calls. Many people in the sexually liberal lifestyles pursue their adventures with generous and loving hearts. However, intent is still the name of the game.)

My vision is that these support groups or networking opportunities give participants a sense of connection with people that society isn’t providing. Almost always what makes life worthwhile is love. In my view, society has an uncanny knack for squelching love, and any effort made to counter that ghastly trend is a positive step.


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