HOW TO LOVE BETTER
By Dr. Brandy Engler, author of “The Men on My Couch: True Stories of Sex, Love, and Psychotherapy.”
I listen to men for a living. They sit on my couch and tell me what they want from women.
I noticed early on that sex is rarely just sex.
A husband with a ‘high sex drive’ might really be seeking reassurance that he’s still desired. A man visiting a prostitute may be trying to overcome a sense of inferiority. A man patronizing a massage parlor could be looking to be taken care of because he longs deeply for a feminine nurturing that he doesn’t even understand.
When analyzing the psychology of their sex drive, I was surprised to learn that the underlying motivation was often a search for some aspect love rather than getting off.
One of the first men in my book, that suave womanizer who confidently charms the ladies and never calls back, the guy women love to hate, walked into my office and after trying to flirt with me, surprised me by earnestly asking the question, “Am I capable of love?”
This question stumped me.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t equipped to answer it. I was in the midst of a fraught love affair, and I wasn’t sure if I knew what love actually was. I knew that love is an awesome feeling and that we all want to feel it. But when that awesome feeling was done, so was I. Thus the answer to “What does it mean to be capable of love?” became a central theme of my book.
As I explored the emotional reasons for men’s sexual behavior, I noticed a pattern. Everyone seemed to complain they weren’t getting enough of something. Attention, appreciation, affection. Why this pervasive sense of impoverishment? I wondered. They seemed mired in their own need. They desperately wanted women to find them desirable. Their attempts to acquire this confirmation resulted in sexual behavior that focused on conquest, performance, validation or domination. Even though they seemed to long for a passionate, meaningful union, they usually ended up alienated from women.
Men and women often confuse an emotional need with love. When the need is met, however temporarily, they think they have love. When it’s not, they’re outraged. I noticed that profound disappointment in the opposite sex shifts our perceptions and deepens the divide. Men are dogs or women are bitches. Then, they blame love. Love dies. Love sucks.
Here’s my message:
It’s not love’s fault.
What they had was likely not love at all. It’s narcissism. This is the major obstacle for both men and women getting the love and sex they want.
Unmasked, this is what people are actually communicating:
I want you to do what I want when I want it. I want you to be what I want, all the time. In fact, you are an extension of me. I want you to give me what I need exactly when I need it. I shouldn’t have to ask for it or tell you how to do it. I want you to give me love unconditionally. Unrelentingly. I want you to be my savior, my mommy, or my daddy. And if you don’t I will be pissed off. I might even leave you or cheat on you, because my needs should be met at all times.
P.S. I don’t want to hear about your needs.
Now imagine introducing yourself with that on a first date.
We all have these unspoken feelings to some degree and it’s pretty much the pestilence of modern relationships. Narcissism is opposite of self-love; it’s being trapped inside oneself, trapped in one’s own wounds and demands. Narcissism involves surviving on the admiration of another, in a way that is non-mutual. It’s parasitic. I tell men that they are not fleas, that they have a great capacity to love, they just don’t realize it because they’re too busy focused on what they’re not getting. And most women are not interested in being a host organism.
Learning how to love better is a skill. It’s a form of social intelligence. I began with the Buddhist practice of cultivating loving kindness. A simple meditation that involves sitting and silently focusing on wishing for love or peace for yourself, the person next to you and even the greater world around you. I have had my clients practice focusing on what they already love: their children, their hobbies and everybody’s favorite, their dog. And alas, most are able to feel the warm swell in their chest. With focus, the powerful feeling of love is conjured. In Buddhism, this is a practice. One can do this each day. The point is to realize that if you want to feel love, it’s right there. It’s possible to be the progenitor of love rather than walking around frustrated that the world isn’t giving it to you. I know this isn’t the same as that euphoric romantic high, but it does provide fulfillment and it changes the way people approach sex.
Many sexual problems are caused by too much focus on the self. Let your appreciation for your partner fill your being so that you enter the bedroom on full instead of empty. Sex not as about taking or giving, but as an exchange of appreciative energy. Instead of using sex to meet the irrational demands of the ego, focus on the present moment, allowing the connection to be at the fore.
Creating the love you want is in the realm of your control. Most of the men who’ve sat on my couch are looking for more passion, deeper connection and more meaningful sexual experiences.
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