A box of tissues and a capacious wastebasket - these are essential tools of my trade, second only to my cell phone and laptop. Handing out tissues is part of my job. People cry. I encourage them. Today, however, I’d misplaced the wastebasket. So tear-soaked tissues were strewn about my office like petals dropped from the magnolia trees that are blooming just now.
People come to me in agony, feeling broken, diseased, dismissed, discarded and bereft. They remember their younger years - often with pain and embarrassment, seldom with uncomplicated pleasure - and they ache for a deep memory of something they may not have ever had. I know that ache - I’ve had it myself - and I also know that our birthright of pleasure can be reclaimed.
On the radio, I recently heard Coleman Barks reading Rumi’s poem, “What Was Said to the Rose.” The first line of the poem reminded me of so many of my clients:
“What was said to the rose that made it open was said to me here in my chest.”
In my practice, you see, I want to offer the kinds of words, the kinds of reassurance, that will enable my clients to open - in their bodies, to their sensuality, like a rose.
My clients have been expectant parents, successful professionals, accomplished seducers, baffled young lovers, timid novices, or those in possession of a long life stuffed with wonderful sex - but recently something’s gone wrong. My clients have been sexually conservative or kinky or poly or monogamous or tantric or all of the above, depending on who they’re with. Some like their bodies. Some don’t. Some love sex. Others would rather hold hands. Everyone wants to know if they’re normal, if they’re feeling good enough, if they feel what other people feel, or if they’re addicted to feeling so good. They want to know why their partner is different than they are. Sometimes they want to know why the sex doesn’t feel good at all.
There are basic sexual dysfunction issues, to be sure, but for those to who come me with relationship distress, I’m beginning to realize that liking is far more important than love - at least when it comes to sex. Lots of people “know” they are loved - but they don’t feel liked. They know “deep down” that their parents loved them and their partner loves them too, but they still feel rotten and less than desirable and this causes a terrible corrosive shame which eats away at the heart and soul. And this shame eats away at the body too, and I think you can guess the rest. The complications of love are often painful, convoluted, and too often lacking in simple liking.
Love is great, of course, but I really think we’re all in dire need of “unconditional like.” As a verb, “like” conveys fondness. Fondness implies acceptance, appreciation. Some of the best sex you’ll ever have can be as simple and fond as, “I like you. Let’s play.”