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?”
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.
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.”
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.