Friday, September 30, 2011

Keep It Simple, Stupid

We all know our assorted drama queens, addicts, and energy suckers. These are the types who used to push all of my buttons and pull every single trigger I had, and off I'd go to the blender to make myself a strong, frozen Jimmy Buffett concoction. I always felt that if I wasn't always there for them, to listen, to help, to lend money, to be a shoulder to cry on, that I was a bad friend.

Needless to say, I got burned numerous times. Users are good at spotting soft-hearted people they can manipulate. It was pretty easy to guilt trip me.

One of the many benefits of getting sober is being clear-headed and hence better at spotting people who are only your friends when they want something from you. I'm learning to just gently cut them loose.

Look, a friendship is a relationship every bit as much as your spouse is in a relationship with you; it's just a relationship that doesn't involve sexuality and romance (well, most of the time, anyway). All relationships have their ups and downs and need nurturing. A good friendship will have equal amounts of give and take; at any given time, one person may need more than the other, but over time it all seems to balance out somehow on its own. It's not like you keep tally. But when the give and take gets permanently lopsided so that you're repeatedly doing all the giving, all the time, that's a recipe for exhaustion and resentment. Then I start paying closer attention to what my friend actually does as opposed to what they tell me they do.

And I check in with my own feelings. If drama, crises, hurt feelings, feelings of betrayal, suspicions of being misled, and feelings of being used start to outweigh any joy or pleasure the friendship brings me, that's when I know it's time to go.

There are way, way too many other wonderful people in the world worth getting to know instead. I want to be around the people who, when I leave their presence, have left me feeling stimulated, invigorated, refreshed, and feeling good--and they feel the same way after leaving me. I do not want not to be around the people who make me feel drained, upset, stupid, guilty, or lacking in some way.

It's really that simple.

Thursday, September 29, 2011


Today I think I'm just emotionally exhausted. So, maybe I'll be like this cat and check out. Grade some papers, find a good movie, and just go blank for a while.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Letting Go of the "What Ifs"

Disregarding sociopaths and other immoral types, many good people tell tons of lies--or at least they withhold truths and keep secrets. They usually do so feeling uncomfortable about it because they perceive themselves as generally truthful, but at some visceral level, they often feel they have no choice but to lie. Some are vaguely aware their lie is linked to avoiding a possible consequence that brings them anxiety, but that's when their brain shuts down. Fear freezes them. They don't examine it any further. So they keep things hidden or exaggerate or deny because--let me just bottom line it--it seems much easier to do nothing and pretend you're not actually making a choice every time you let whatever deception continue.

When you do nothing, it's much easier to say you didn't make a mistake and that, well, things just kinda happened to you.

Now, some would leap on this judgmentally and call these people "moral cowards," but I don't see it that way. I feel empathy because I've been there and practically drank myself to death over it. I know what it feels like to feel trapped by fears, insecurities, and extreme anxiety of the type that causes sleeplessness. Truth is, some of these people are incredibly strong, and the last thing I'd call them is a coward. I've seen these people try to stuff things they feel because they can't face the consequences of owning up to their feelings, and they "stiff upper lip" their way through life, experiencing, sometimes, great sacrifice to themselves.

Take the closeted gay person. I wouldn't say that person is a coward. It takes great strength of will to hide yourself, pretend to be someone you're not, ask your partner to not kiss you in public or hold your hand, or not invite them to a job function to which spouses are invited. It sucks to be in the closet. I feel sorry for these people. The only time I start getting judgmental or angry about them is when they're public servants or politicians who, because they're in the closet, will vote against legislation that would actually benefit the gay community for the mere reason they are afraid of someone pointing a finger at them.

They suffer profoundly. What hell it must be, to fear losing your job because someone might not like it that you're gay. What hell it must be, to think your parents may reject you because you're gay. (And what does that say about your parents, about them not actually loving their own child unconditionally?) What hell it must be, to fear losing a friend because you know they have a problem with gay people. (And why are they even your friend?) But notice all of this is based on a series of "what ifs." How horrible it is to let a big chunk of your own life remain a secret--a lie of omission--because of the power you've given to those "what ifs."

We tell lies when we can't bear the anxiety we feel if a certain "what if" were to happen. We will do whatever we can to control that "what if" situation.  Here's a hypothetical. Two days, say, into a new relationship, some people will already start making promises they can't really keep ("Sure, I'll be faithful to you") just to control somebody else ("Because I don't want you to be unfaithful to me.") Oops. Mistake. You've just let a fear run your decision-making. In four months, there you are, realizing you leaped into exclusivity way too soon--but now you can't take it back, because it will look like a backslide and they may break up with you. Since you don't want that, you start seeing others on the sly because there's no point in wrecking the current relationship when you're not really sure you want to end it. And so now you're doing the very thing you feared from the other person and you're also lying about it.

These are the kinds of messes and hypocritical actions fear-based thinking gets us into.

So many of us walk on this earth afraid to death that if somebody actually knew the REAL ME, they wouldn't like us.

At some point, if you're going to live sanely, you have to get off this train that will lead you nowhere. You have to face your fears. You have to learn to live with anxiety. You have to take risks with the full knowledge that you may get hurt. You have to just be yourself--which means KNOWING YOURSELF--and love yourself just the way you are. There is nothing wrong with you. You may just be a little different from some other people. So what? It doesn't make them right and you wrong. It merely makes you your own glorious, unique self. Some people will love you and some people won't. The ones who won't--well, that's their crap, not yours.

It is so freeing to let go of the "what ifs" and just be yourself. Don't tell lies. Say what you think. State what you need. When you don't know, don't tell others what you think they want to hear: tell them "I don't know." Anything less than forthright confines you to a world of deception, game playing, and power struggles.

The general rule of thumb is that people who lie a lot are full of fear, are insecure, and will never be happy--never truly serene and content--until they start loving themselves and telling the truth.

Monday, September 26, 2011


Nopie is fully healed and ready to be found a "forever" home. Those of you who have been following this blog for some time know his story. He sure is looking mighty handsome nowadays.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

This Is Not My America

I'm just going to say it: This "class warfare" nonsense is just that. If anybody has declared war, it's the powers that be on Wall Street and their political minions (many of whom are in the GOP, most of whom are in the Tea Party, and some of whom are in the Democratic Party) wanting to further increase their own power and wealth. To protest against that agenda isn't class warfare. It's merely saying, "I've had enough of this. Enough of my government enacting policies that benefit only the wealthy while hamstringing everybody else."

The middle class is diminishing. The "poor class" (ie, those in poverty) is increasing. The poor, the homeless, are starting to look more and more like you and me. What are our safety nets to keep us out of poverty? Unemployment, social security, Medicare/Medicaid, and welfare. What empowers us at all? Things like a minimum wage (which is hardly enough for anyone to live on anymore) and unions, which can at least fight back on behalf of workers. What does the GOP and Tea Party want to get rid of? All of the above. We've watched attacks on all of the above, all of the things that protect us. Our government has been happily chipping away at all of these safety nets since Reagan was President. It's not a coincidence that middle class salaries have remained flat for the past thirty years while the nation's wealthy continue to get richer, continue to get tax breaks despite the debt, and pay more and more into political coffers--and now, because of Citizens United v. FEC, are paying outright for politicians' campaign ads. The wealthy pay less tax now than they have in decades (loopholes, capital gains), yet they're complaining even more loudly that they pay too much. And for me to point this out is somehow my engaging in "class warfare."

Hardly. I just want the system to not be gamed so much in favor of those who don't even need a safety net.

But because we far outnumber (meaning we have more voting power) than the obscenely wealthy, they've got to do something to get us to vote against our own interests. So, you have propaganda networks like Fox News and pundits like Rush Limbaugh (who call people like Elizabeth Warren a "parasite") force-feeding bullshit down our throats. Their agenda is to convince us that they (the ones holding the wealth and power) know what's best for us and that anybody who disagrees is some pinko commie who wants to freeload on your tax dollars. Indeed, their latest tactic is to persuade us that the poor in this country aren't even poor. They have refrigerators! They have microwaves! They have a car. (And how true that is. Next to the poor in Bangladesh, our poor are nowhere near as poor.) Heaven forbid they have a way to chill their food or cook it or drive an old beater car with a dragging muffler so they can get to their minimum wage job at Wal-Mart.

And if they get sick, they don't have health insurance, so... "let them die."

It is so disheartening to me to see American citizens buy into this bullshit and feel this way about a fellow human being. THIS IS NOT MY AMERICA.

We used to pride ourselves on the fact that the promise of this great country was that if you finished school, were willing to work hard, and were a productive member of society, you would do okay. You could afford a house, a car, and live comfortably at the very least. You'd be able to afford a college education for your children and the next generation would be even better off. This has been flipped upside down on its head, and our vast unemployed "next generation" is saddled with six-figure college loan debt and they can't find a job.

Here's another thing to ponder: lately, I hear people joking that hey, maybe I should just commit a crime and go to jail. There, I at least get a roof over my head, clothing, food, and medical care.

When will we wake up? Perhaps it will be the day some corporation says to us: in exchange for $3 an hour, I will house you in an employee barracks and feed you three squares, too. We'll provide the medical care if you get sick. Your clothing and incidentals can be purchased in the company store with the money you make.

Sound good?

Then slavery sounds pretty good to you.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Elizabeth Warren 2012: She Needs to Be Our Next President

Right on, sister.

Two Rules for Living Fully

(1) If I am afraid of it, what's holding me back? If it's merely fear, I'd do well to do it. I'm stifling myself and keeping myself small, and, perhaps, letting others direct my life too much.

(2) If I'm tempted to keep it a secret, then it's likely to be something I'd better not do. There's no other reason to keep it a secret. So, do it and embrace it and tell the world, or don't do it.

If I want to do it but don't want to own up to it (fear of what?), we're back to #Number One.

This simple formula keeps me growing and acting in ways I can be proud of.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Never-Ending Self-Inventory

So, what is it with us recovering alcoholics and all our "inventory taking" and fits and starts and returning to 4th Step work and hashing and rehashing our experiences over and over again, ad infinitum, ad nauseum?

We do it so we can stay sober.

Every time we do it, we learn a little more about ourselves, we evolve a little more. Learning what we learn, that old knee-jerk reaction of automatically reaching for a drink whenever we feel anger, frustration, pain, jealousy, or resentment gets less and less intense. My knee doesn't twitch anymore when I get angry. I just let the feeling wash over me--"Man, am I pissed off!" and I start taking steps to calm myself before I open my big mouth and spew things I don't really mean, things that are just likely to exacerbate the situation, putting the other person on the defensive, and then it turning it into a shouting match. Later on, when the fight has simmered down, I always wound up feeling really stupid and small anyway.

One of the first things I came to realize is that, being human, I am going to experience a wide range of emotions, and that's just the way it is. None of them are innately "good" or "bad." Anger, for example, can be perfectly justifiable. Love, if directed towards the wrong person, can be completely inappropriate. Feelings are neutral. They're nothing but feelings. It's what we do with them that makes them "good" or "bad."

Anger is always a challenge, though, because it's a powerful feeling that can be used as an agent of destruction, and when it's not handled well, it can turn into an alcoholic's worst enemy: resentment. Resentment can be as dangerous and debilitating as fear in that regard: it's a total mind-fuck.

Check it out: resentment is every bit as toxic to your mind as chugging booze. When I'm resentful, oh man. I obsess for days, weeks, months on end, about what made me angry. I go over and over in my head the circumstances which led to my anger, I fantasize about making speeches or taking revenge. I think about how unfairly I have been treated. I turn myself into a victim. And, the other person is evil incarnate, when they're the one who was the asshole and now they're walking around pretending like I'm the one who was all wrong! I stew and stew.

So, we process, we take inventory, so we can get this poison out of us. When you write it all down in an honest self-inventory--what did I do and why; what did they do and why; I'm able to see MY PART in what happened and own that. My anger gets neutralized. I may not be able to control the other person, but I sure as heck can control myself. So, what can I take away from this? What wisdom have I gained? Okay. I won't do that anymore.

Self-inventory NEVER ends. It goes on until the end of your days, because no one, and I mean no one, is a perfect angel who is never at fault in any way all the time. And sometimes I need to learn the same lesson over several times before I truly "grok it."

Without this healthier outlet, sobriety is precarious.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Rihanna: "S&M"

This is just a naughty song. I post it for one of my naughty friends. You know who you are!

Ps: Um, yeah, like I would EVER let anyone walk me around on a leash. Not even Rihanna. Not even Hillary Clinton, though I bet you she'd dig it.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Light Dawning

You know, it's funny how, every now and then, things happen at just the right time to remind me that everything is okay, I'm okay, and the Universe (or God, or Divine Love, or however you label it) will always take care of me. Always has, always will, as long as I remain open to possibilities.

It has been a tumultuous time lately. School has started, so there's the daily crunch of papers and lesson plans and trying to figure out how to make sense to classrooms full of different types of learners, many of whom aren't prepared for college level work. Relationships in my life are also changing, as they tend to do over time, or presenting new challenges. One friend recently had a biopsy on a lump that turned out to be benign--thank goodness. I never really know how much things like that stress me out until I feel the profound flood of relief afterwards. I have another friend who has broken up with a long-term partner and is consequently doing what most people do in a situation like that: rebounding, bouncing around and shifting, trying to find where she fits now in the world, and, empath that I am, I think I feel every jump and shift she makes. I get floods of sorrow, fits of anger, glimmers of hope, then blocked frustration. She speaks of feeling exhausted, and I get it. Chelle and I are also grappling with an issue that has taken us into couples' counseling (no worries, it's not a "deal breaker" kind of situation--it's just something we both need help in understanding about the other. Thank goodness neither of us is totally hard-headed and we are coming at the problem from a place of love.)

But in the tumult, I feel lost sometimes. I haven't mastered the art of separating myself from other people's stuff. I find myself mentally pushing back and needing space, and then feeling like a bad friend or a selfish partner. At some deep level, I think I'm worried or I fear that maybe I really am not all that. Maybe I still am the confused, fucked up person I was when I was drinking; maybe the only difference is the way in which I'm fucked up.

So yesterday I decided it was time to be still.

And the words from others started coming in. The love started coming in. I didn't ask; I was just finally still so I could listen. A person shared a quote. A new friend called me "awesome" several times. Another person remarked about how my gratefulness about my recovery makes her happy. I came across a paper in the stack with a appreciative note attached from a student. Chelle stopped me in the kitchen and put her arms around me and gave me a long hug, resting her chin on my shoulder.

It occurs to me that this kind of love is always here for me. I just forget sometimes to notice it.

Friday, September 16, 2011

An Off Day

For me, life has its own rhythms, its own pulses. Sometimes I'm not even aware that something is wrong until it dawns on me I'm not following the beat.

Self-evolution happens in fits and starts.

I don't move in a straight direction; progress happens in a spiral.

I read this today: "Life swings like a pendulum from one thing to another, one emotion to another, one belief to another. If you force the pendulum, it becomes a wrecking ball damaging everything in your path."

My ego sends me into existential crises.

I must be still and breathe; be still and breathe; until I pick up the rhythm again.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Cyndi Lauper: "Time After Time" (Live)

It's an arrangement with her on the dulcimer, an instrument I love almost as much as the mandolin.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

On Facing Fears

Today I'm pondering fear-based thinking, the kind of thing that always used to drive me to the bottle. I couldn't bear the committee in my head continually chastising me, warning me, throwing up red flags.

Yet, "fear" should operate only as a little dashboard warning light blinking in your car. Check your oil. Check your tires. Add coolant. In short, pay attention.

Fear shouldn't mean: Freeze. Stop right there. Do not proceed any further.

Far too often, I allowed fear to shut me down.

I once read an article written by a hospice nurse who had helped countless numbers of patients reach the end of their lives with dignity. One of the things, she wrote, that came up over and over again was how many of them regretted how they had let fear operate in their lives. They hadn't said what they'd really thought. They'd let society tell them what they should do, instead of what they'd wanted to do. They'd been afraid to tell people about feelings they'd had. They'd been afraid to chase after their dreams.

And when I think about it, what are my biggest regrets? They seldom have anything to do with things I've actually done. That's because anything I did--even if it didn't turn out as I'd hoped--was still a valuable experience, something I learned from.

The things I regret are the things I didn't do, the things I wanted to do yet were afraid to do.

It is a fact that no amount of planning, no number of fail safes, no number of anguished nights trying to anticipate all the possible "what ifs" and preparing for them, will ever make you safe. The fact is, we just don't control outcomes. There are too many unknown variables, and the Universe has its own agenda. Besides, I've found that the more I try to control an outcome, the more likely I am to totally fuck it up. Letting go of fear--which is what drives the need to control--hasn't thrown my life into chaos; it has opened up a whole new world of possibilities to me.

Life must be lived facing constant fear. It means facing the anxiety head-on and forging through it anyway. That is what courage is. There is no courage without fear.

"You must do the thing you think you cannot do." --Eleanor Roosevelt

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Global Communication: "8:07"

Stumbled upon this recently and love it.

We Remember You

IN MEMORY OF ALL WE LOST, THE 10TH ANNIVERSARY OF 9/11- STATISTICS: Times of impact: 8:46 a.m. and 9:02 a.m. Eastern. Time the burning towers stood: 56 minutes and 102 minutes. Time they took to fall: 12 seconds. 2819 dead from 115 different nations. 343 firefighters/paramedics, 23 NYPD, 37 Port Authority officers.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

It's True.

Sometimes I'm at a loss for what to say. So, I just tell people that I love them.

That Nasty Trapped Feeling

I marvel at how many people seem to think that "marriage" or "commitment" or even "we're dating" is somehow equivalent to a license granting them permission to control their partner. Relationships should be the opposite. In a thriving relationship, both people will bloom. In a relationship loaded with bad energy, both people will wither.

If you feel trapped in a relationship, you need you ask yourself why. And how long will you be able to tolerate such a feeling? Because it's not going to go away by itself; on the contrary, unchallenged, control will get worse over time because you've already relinquished your independence and set your partner up to expect that you will always accept their need to control you. That "trapped" feeling means: it's time to change the dynamics of this relationship NOW, before they get set in concrete.

I know New Age-y things like The Secret seem too pat or even too smug sometimes, with claims such as "you attract to you what you're putting out there." Yet the longer I examine my own behaviors and observe the actions of others, there's still a lot of truth in the statement. I'll risk an example that may offend someone, but here goes. Bullies or abusers typically stay away from self-confident people who would fight them back, right? Instead, they pick on or are drawn to the people they know will not challenge them. This is not to put BLAME on those they abuse. A person may lack confidence for a good reason that isn't their fault (a hypercritical parent, say) or they could be a pacifist, worthy of our total admiration. The point is, something about them really did draw the attention and energy of the bully. In the case of the pacifist, that person will attract a lot of other peaceful people and kindred spirits, but the occasional bully is to be expected as part of the deal in putting it out there that you're a pacifist. Hence, the solutions are: either stop putting it out there OR learn to deal effectively with the negative energies you may attract.

So back to our controlling partner. What are YOU putting out there that is telling them that it's okay with you to direct your behavior?

Possibilities: they know that you are easily controlled. If that's not it, consider that YOU actually may be the controlling one and they are mimicking your behavior (we are also mirrors of each other). If each of you is stubborn and bull-headed, that could even be part of the reason for the mutual attraction, which can be okay, but unless you both learn to temper this, you're going to choke the life out of each other, and a frustrated, rocky relationship is ahead of you. If you're just not sure, you could always try asking them (politely of course): "Why is it you seem to feel it's okay with me that you tell me what I can and cannot do?" It's possible they're clueless about what they've been doing.

A thriving relationship is a two-way street. Sure, in getting along with each other, each person will occasionally have to relinquish something they may like or do something they don't care for, but that's part of negotiation. This is just normal give-and-take. But it leaks over into "controlling" when one person does all the giving and the other does all the taking.

If you feel trapped and feel like you're shriveling instead of flowering, look inside yourself and take action.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Steely Dan: "Dirty Work"

Now, I'm a Steely Dan fan from way back (when I was in high school, I think I wore groves into the the vinyl of Aja). Here is a fresh and interesting arrangement of "Dirty Work"-- as blues/gospel.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Steampunk Jesus

Now, I love me some Jesus just as much as the next guy or gal, but this is just funny. If Jesus has the sense of humor I'd like to think he has, he'd see the humor, too.

Now in my own belief system (which no one else has to embrace), Jesus was not a God who became a man, but he was a man who (in comparison to us regular folk) became a God. In my own Space Age New Age-y way of thinking, which is kind of like a cross between scientific rationality and spiritual knowing, Jesus was a Grand Master, using inner knowledge, personal enlightenment, and his relationship to the Divine (whatever that is) to evolve beyond what humankind normally is: but he showed us the path, said "Follow Me," to strive to be like him, and yeah, that we'd either get there intact, or we'd all kill each other off. In short, the true judgment is by our works--our actions (Not our faith, but by what we do.) Evolve together or kill each other. You choose.

Anyway, this will be blasphemy to some, but it's freeing to me. I like the idea of humankind being a continually evolving work-in-progress. Some days I don't really feel very much like we're on the improve, and when I look at the current crop of GOP potential Presidential nominees, I wonder if another Dark Ages isn't impending. America as plutocratic theocracy. Shudders.

Actually, I think maybe even Jesus would shudder. Certainly Steampunk Jesus would. Everyone needs access to the basic necessities, or none of us thrive.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Happy Labor Day!

If you get this day off paid, thank a union.

"If they want to hang me, let them. And on the Scaffold I will shout, 'Freedom for the working class!'" -- Mother Jones

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Angry Dragon: Not Exactly a Dirt Sprinter

Well, today's race was disheartening. The pace was a little on the fast side, though legitimate for a sprint: 22, 45, 58. She tried to rate behind the speed in 3rd and 4th but wore out pretty quickly and didn't even hit the board. So, I suppose the lesson learned is that she does better on turf when the pace is slower, or, perhaps more likely, what she really needs to do is get more endurance and try routing instead of sprinting.

When life gives me lemons, I make lemonade! Enjoy this video of Angry Dragon stubbornly refusing to into the gate today.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Thought for the Day

Personality is how you act when people are watching, but character is how you behave when nobody is around.

Angry Dragon's Second Race

Heads up! Our filly Angry Dragon will run her second race tomorrow at Monmouth Park. She's in the 6th race, a 6 furlong sprint on the dirt, and has drawn the 2 post position. Her morning line odds are 12-1.

I haven't handicapped the race yet, but we're expecting her to do better now that she has a little experience. Last time she appeared to stumble at the break and was way on the outside, so she used a lot of energy recovering and getting to the front and then leading the pack most of the way. Despite tiring in the lane, she hung on for fifth place. I don't know yet if there's any other early speed in the race. If there isn't, she might just bolt to the front and make them come and catch her. But if there is, her trainer might just see if she can rate and save some horse for the last furlong.

Her last race was also on turf, and she may prefer dirt (as her sire Smarty Jones certainly did).

You can stream the race live online if you want to see it:

The 6th race should be at @3:20 Eastern Time.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Jerry, the Amazing Trapeze Cat!

For those who missed it, here are some Jerry shenanigans. Whenever Chelle takes a bubble bath (she likes to soak when her back is aching after work), Jerry jumps from the window ledge onto the top of the shower. There he teeters and walks back and forth until he musters the courage to leap back to the window ledge. He hasn't missed and fallen into the tub. Yet.

Maroon 5: "Never Gonna Leave This Bed"

Wake you up
In the middle of the night to say
I will never walk away again
I'm never gonna leave this bed, oh

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Thoughts on Seven Years Together

I learned yesterday about a concept called The Five Languages of Love (there's a book, and it's actually a Christian marriage counseling kind of book, so you know... I won't be reading the book for the obvious reason, but like with AA, this is one of those "take what you need and leave the rest" dealies). The five ways to express love include Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch.

Depending on your personality, and depending on your partner's personality, you will primarily express love to each other in different ways--and it's key to know what your partner's preferences/needs are so that you can give them enough of the kind of love they require. We all need ALL FIVE of these, but each one of us seems to distinctly need one or two more than the other three.

I, personally, am an attention-whore. I crave physical touch. I need to be hugged, I need to be kissed, I need to be stroked and patted and have my hand held, I need those long, lingering looks and I need to be made love to. Because I like all these things, I like giving them back. Consequently, when my partner doesn't give them or let me give them back, I feel rejected.

I also need continual affirmation. I need to know I'm doing okay, that I'm pleasing my partner, that she thinks I'm still lovable and wonderful and that there's nobody else turning her head and that she thinks we're just right the way we are: there's no danger of some deal breaker smashing us to bits or of a Beautiful Ms Thang coming along who'd make her be tempted to trade up.

If this sounds like I'm a big bundle of insecurity, well, that wouldn't really be a lie. There's a reason I need these two things in a relationship more so than the others. I was very affectionate as a child and my mother and father were as well. I remember napping with my mom with my arm thrown around her; I remember my daddy bouncing me on his foot as I grabbed onto his leg, playing giddyup horsie; I remember my daddy used to sometimes scratch my back or take my hand and gently rub my fingers when we were sitting next to each other on the couch watching Sailor Bob. Then, as sudden and intense as a lightning strike, this all went away when I was six. My mama killed herself and Dad remarried a cold woman, and affection vanished from my life. I spent the rest of my childhood trying to win the affection of a perfectionist who wouldn't be pleased (you know the type: you bring home all As and one B and get punished for the B), so I learned that love is this thing that comes with conditions, and at any time a person may withdraw it. Not once, after my mother died, did my father or my stepmother hug me or tell me they loved me.

So it is natural that I crave affection as an adult, put a high priority on it, and also need to feel safe. It's just the way I am.

I'd probably drive some people crazy because they'd see me as being too insecure and needy. But really I'm not. I know perfectly well I can stand on my own two feet and can be in this world all by myself if I need to. I have done so. It's just that now, I don't choose that kind of independence. I choose relationship.

Now, my wife's upbringing was quite different from mine. There was certainly affection in her family, but it wasn't a high priority item; in her family, love was shown mainly by doing for others (service) and by doing fun things together (quality time). She got a lot of positive reinforcement in these two areas, so this is what she's come to need most from relationships: doing things for each other as a display of affection (like me making her dinner or doing one of her usual chores if I know she's really busy) and hanging out together doing the things we enjoy (horse racing, baseball games, watching Survivor).

She's also a big giver of gifts--but so am I--and she collects things she likes, so you'll find our home has been transformed into a horse racing museum. I know these things are important to her, so I don't mind that she keeps eBay sellers in business by buying horse halters, horse mugs, horse prints, horse shoes... although it's probably fortunate that I like horses.

How do the twain meet, when we place different priorities on different ways of showing our love? It's by doing all of these things and making a concerted effort to be sure each one of us is getting enough of the things we crave. I have to get past the "house slave" stereotype and make her dinner sometimes, because I love her and she sees that as an expression of my love. She has to get past the "oh god, you want sex again?!" stereotype of me as Super-Nympho (tm) and just agree to spend an hour with me enjoying each other. And we find a middle ground, of what's enough and what's too much or too exhausting so neither of us feels drained.

This is all just common sense, but it does take a fair amount of communication and a willingness to be vulnerable as hell. We've definitely had some fights and disagreements. But relationships, I'm finding out, only work when there's a genuine understanding of each other and both people get it that one way is no better than another way--both ways are legit. People are just different, for different reasons, and differences need to be respected. No amount of nagging, bitching, complaining, or crying is going to make another person change a basic aspect of themselves. So you have to learn to honor each other's differences and work with each other so that both persons get their needs met. It's when there's an imbalance and one or both people are feeling they're not getting what they need that you've got a problem on your hands.

Then there needs to be willingness to work it out.

It is certainly more easily said than done. I like to think of our marriage as a continually evolving work-in-progress. It'll probably be like this until the day we die.