Late Night Thoughts (Thursday, April 7, 2011)

I have been remembering Hannah tonight.

Hannah, who was 17 when she moved in next door to me,  soon got a boyfriend.  And,  after a few months getting comfortable with him,  she decided to become sexually active.

Now, this is an old house with poor insulation, that has been divided into three apartments.  So, if you are standing in certain rooms, it is impossible not to hear what is going on in some of the other rooms.  Hannah wasn’t unusually noisy when she made love —  it’s just that this is an old house.

Yet, the upstairs neighbors called up our landlord and described Hannah as being more noisy and obnoxious than if a freight train were being driven through our back yard on an otherwise quiet Sunday afternoon.  The landlord arrived the next day to tell Hannah she couldn’t be making love in her own apartment.

Afterwards, Hannah came to me totally upset because she thought, in the way of many young people, that she had committed a wrong likely to haunt her for the rest of her life.

I listened for a while, and then asked her, “When was the last time you heard the upstairs couple yelling and screaming at each other?”

“Last night, Paul.”

“And how often have you heard them yelling and screaming at each other since you moved into your apartment?”

“Just about every night.”

“For how long do they each night yell and scream at each other?”

“For about 45 minutes or an hour each night.”

“So, Hannah, has it occurred to you yet that it’s possible the upstairs couple might be more upset with how your love-making reminds them of their own misery than they are genuinely upset with the noise you make?”

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A friend recently told me of her husband’s sexual behavior upon returning home from a week long trip.  He invested 20 minutes in foreplay, and spent an additional five minutes in intercourse.  Then, satisfied, he graciously told her he would give her the privacy to finish herself off — and himself went downstairs to watch TV.

Now, it seems to me that many of us are, at one time or another during our lives, and for one reason or another, callous lovers.  It further seems to me the problem is far more widespread, and causes far more unhappiness, than does, say, genuine promiscuity.  Yet, the promiscuous man or woman living over on the next block gets most or all of our attention, while sexual callousness goes comparatively unmentioned.

I will wager, though, that if we were to solve the problem of callousness in our own lives we would be far happier people than if we somehow managed to convert to strict monogamy even a full dozen promiscuous neighbors.

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A few days ago, I got an email from a friend in California that included a passage about a woman from the Middle East who she has met online, “She is sexually repressed by American standards”, she wrote, “But then, almost all Americans are sexually repressed by American standards.”

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I know very little about raising kids, but I sometimes believe I’ve noticed — especially in teens and in young adults — a consequence or two of how folks often do raise them.  For instance, it seems to me that some kids have a marked tendency to invest more time and effort into compensating for their weaknesses than they invest into building on their strengths.  And I have wondered where that tendency might come from?

Is it based on the kid’s personality?  Is it something he learned from his parents?  Something he learned from his teachers?

I can imagine a kid coming home with a report card that contains an “A” in music and a “D” in science.   What might happen if that kid were told the “A” was nice, but that he should focus on bringing up the “D”?  And then the lesson was repeated through out his school years?  Wouldn’t he end up learning to spend more time and effort compensating for his weaknesses than he spends in developing his strengths?

You see them now and then, you know.  Teens and young adults who more or less waste their time making a huge effort to marginally improve their performance in something they will never excel at, while neglecting something they could be outstanding in.  In some cases, they even pick careers they will never do more than struggle at.

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5 thoughts on “Late Night Thoughts (Thursday, April 7, 2011)

  1. The walls are very thin in my cramped slum apartment.

    Once I had a young lady as a neighbor who seemed to have a lot of different lovers. Some came through the front door. But later, someone started coming in the back window which was adjacent to where I slept.

    I marveled at his athletic agility, both through the high window — and, apparently, in bed. And I thought, My God! If there were an entrance through the roof, how many lovers would be entering that way?

    Unfortunately, she had a jealous lover who came in through the front door, so that was why the other lover came in through the back window and some sort of a major confrontation resulted.

    Then, sadly, I heard abusive noises and threats and I had to call the cops on her and later I discovered she was in an abusive relationship with a lesbian.

    The cooing sounds of love I do no mind, but abuse I will never tolerate.

    She was, at this point, too much for the landlord, and she was obligated to relocate.

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  2. People should try not to have absolute rules about monogamy. We are better off if we can learn to take every infidelity in its particular context. Our love relationships are the most important of our lives, and this may be what leads people to aspire to and expect perfection in those relationships. Fidelity often becomes the stand-in for all other desired perfections. Maybe this is because it is a fairly bright-line, definable thing. Or perhaps it is the Biblical injunctions against adultery that fuel the fire we breath over this particular indignity, rather than over other hurts inflicted or received. And so, the unfaithful lover is condemned faster than the callous lover.

    I think it was Susan Squires who wrote about the differences between American and the French when it comes to marital infidelity. A Frenchman disabused her of the notion that the French simply nod and wink at infidelity, long-term mistresses, etc. out of nonchalance. Instead, he explained, they feel as sad as Americans do when they discover that their spouses are cheating. However, they are more likely to see the wisdom of waiting the thing out, even if it takes years; of maintaining the marriage for what they like in it, even if the “other” is to be a permanent fixture in their lives. To make this possible, French husbands and wives are less likely to be confrontational about a suspected affair and also less likely to decide to end a marriage to be with the “other”. Of course, if one knows one’s marriage is not necessarily a failure simply because one is having an affair, one feels less pressed to justify the affair by ending one’s marriage to be with one’s paramour. But what of those “others”? In a society where the norm does not lean so far toward ending marriages because of affairs, does this lesser hope and uncertainty mean less emotional tumult for them? One certainly hopes so.

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