Art, Coffee Shop Folks, Harriet, Paintings, People, Portraits, Visual Arts

“Harriet II”

Harriet II
Harriet II. Acrylic on canvas (2019)

This is one of my most recent full-frontal mechanized assaults on the noble and esteemed science of aesthetics. The portrait is of Harriet, who I met when she was 15 (and I was 40), and who I watched grow up into a self-confident and remarkable person.

At the time I met her, Harriet went by the nickname “Grey”, which had been given to her because — as she would say — she was “half Polish and half West African”. That is, half-white and half-black, hence grey — and hence one reason for the greys in the painting.

Belief, Ethics, Goals, Harriet, Human Nature, Late Night Thoughts, Life, Love, Lovers, Morality, Morals, Mysticism, New Love, People, Purpose, Romantic Love, Self, Self-determination, Spirituality, Truth

Late Night Thoughts: Harriet in Love, Good and Bad/Evil, Spiritual Goals, and More (August 24, 2018)

(About a 3 minute read)

I once had an extraordinary young friend, Harriet, whom I have written about here. She was clearly a genius, as well as a rather decent enough person in general, but when she was in her late teens or early twenties, she harbored a rather peculiar notion about love.

Harriet saw but one love — or kind of love — between sex partners as true.  That is, she believed giggly romantic love was the only true love for such couples.

Continue reading “Late Night Thoughts: Harriet in Love, Good and Bad/Evil, Spiritual Goals, and More (August 24, 2018)”

Brett, Coffee Shop Folks, Coffee Shop Stories, Community, Doug, Free Spirit, Harriet, Life

Nathan and the Americans

(About a 9 minute read)

“American’s are impossible to understand.”

Everyone of us at our table turned to look at him where he sat at a table next to ours.  He was a young man, in his twenties, with short, almost crew cut hair, a wide smile, and a white T-shirt, and jeans.

“Why do you say that?” I asked after a few moments during which we sized him up, and he sized us up in return.

Continue reading “Nathan and the Americans”

Adolescent Sexuality, Coffee Shop Stories, Culture, Emotions, Happiness, Harriet, Josh, Love, Relationships, Romantic Love, Sexuality, Values

In Love with Our Feelings

The other day, I happened to be in an internet chat room when the topic of romantic love came up.  About a half-dozen or so people started discussing their experiences of romantic love.

As the discussion went on, I began to notice how everyone seemed focused on the feelings associated with romantic love.   For instance, they were talking about experiencing weak knees and butterflies in their stomachs when in the presence of their lovers.  There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but I became curious why other aspects of romantic love weren’t being discussed.  The discussion was completely focused on feelings.

Of course, feelings are like mountains and movie stars.  Mountains are pretty much the first thing you notice when looking at a terrain.  Movie stars are pretty much the thing you focus on when looking at a crowd.  And feelings not only get noticed first (like mountains), but noticed most (like movie stars).  So it’s not really surprising people would tend to limit their discussion of romantic love to the feelings they experience when in love.

The discussion in the chat room somehow took me back to a conversation I had with Harriet when she was about 18 or 19 years old.   We were sitting at a table outside of the Coffee Shop one Fall day in the slanting afternoon sun when I abruptly realized I hadn’t recently performed my avuncular duty of tenderly checking up on her love life to make sure all was going well.   That’s to say, I hadn’t shamelessly snooped into her private business for many months.  There was nothing to do but remedy such a horrendous oversight, so I began by asking if she had any lovers yet who made her want to stretch herself as a person.   “Harriet, which of your lovers has made you want to be the best person you can be?”

“Josh”, she immediately responded, her eyes lighting up.  We then discussed Josh for a bit, and pretty soon we were comparing him with her other lovers.  I thought things started out well, but as our conversation went on, I began feeling a growing unease. It seemed she wasn’t getting as much out of her affairs as I’d hoped for her.

I try not to hope for too much when it comes to the kids I love.  In part because it drives me nuts when I do.  And in part because I’ve learned it’s almost always premature to worry too much about whether a young person will discover the most important things in life.   Often, a young person who seems hopelessly lost one year will find themselves the next.

So, I always try to keep in mind how unreasonable it is to hope for too much.  But, since I’m an idiot, I always hope for too much anyway.   Like an impatient child, I want the best for them, and I want it now.  That has been especially true with Harriet.  I’ve always wanted more for her than is reasonable to expect at any given time.

So I was discomforted that day to learn Harriet seemed to be getting little more out of love and sex than pleasure.  Even with Josh, it turned out she had misunderstood my question and was only referring to how he made her want to be a better lover — rather than a better person as a whole.

Of course, pleasure is not everything, but there’s nothing wrong with it.  And, given how unfairly short-changed many young American women are when it comes to both sexual pleasure and the pleasures of romantic love, I probably should have contented myself with considering it a minor miracle that Harriet was getting any real pleasure out of sex and love at all.  But I was discontented.

I was especially discontented after she explained why she’d broken up with her most recent boyfriend.  There had been nothing wrong with him as a person, she said, but her feelings for him had died. “What kind of feelings?”, I asked.

“It’s simple, Paul.  I fell out of love with him.  The high was no longer there.  He quit making me giddy and dizzy and excited, and I would go home and not even look forward to seeing him.”

“Harriet”, I said in measured words, “Those kinds of feelings inevitably pass within six months to a couple years at most.   You simply cannot expect them to last forever.”

“No!”, she spoke in abrupt denial, “No! That can’t be true!  There would be no point to love!”  And she was just as emphatic and emotional in her denial as any fundamentalist told her god did not exist.

It was then I realized Harriet was much more in love with her feelings than with her lovers.

I don’t want to give the impression I simply blamed her for that.  It’s true enough I was annoyed with her at first.  But on reflection I discovered that was only because I had such high expectations for her.  Actually, I wasn’t really annoyed with her — I was upset because of the setback to my hopes for her.  Once I got that bit of emotional confusion out of the way I discovered myself feeling compassion for her.

It seemed obvious to me then the real problem was Harriet hadn’t yet met too many people she could profoundly connect to.  To put things in cold perspective, Harriet is brilliant, gifted, and creative.  Frankly, there are not many people in her category, so to speak.  Most of us are fortunate to be more mediocre than her in our intelligence, gifts, and creativity.  Consequently, we are much more likely than Harriet to encounter people with whom we can experience a deep and rich connection.  Harriet’s truly Great Loves, on the other hand, are almost certain to be few and far between — at best.

It seems always easy to fall in love with our pleasurable feelings.  But I think that tendency is heightened tremendously if we have not yet found an authentic mate for us.  In the absence of that deep and rich — sometimes mystical — connection with another person, our own feelings can become “the best game in town”.   That, I suspect, is what happened with Harriet.

I was reminded of Harriet the other day as I watched the discussion of romantic love in the internet chat room.  For whatever reasons, a profound connection with another person can — and very often does — inspire us to become the best we can be.  It can motivate us to, as fully as possible, turn our talents into skills, to be true to ourselves, to become more honest, and to become more gentle, open, and caring — among many other things.

If those things are allowed to take root in us, they can lead to our flourishing, to our greater well-being, and to our greater happiness.   I knew as I watched the discussion — or at least I suspected as I watched it — that the participants had experienced that flourishing from their loves.  So, I wondered: Why do we focus so much on the mere pleasures of sex and love?

Is it just because the pleasures of sex and love are so obvious — like mountains and movie stars?

Perhaps.  Yet, the thought also occurred to me our culture might play a role in fixing what we look at.  Despite all the importance sex and love are given in literature, art, film, song, and so forth, it seems the pleasures of those things are put forward much more than any other aspects of them.  Maybe, then, when we focus on those pleasures we are — to some extent — merely following along with what our culture has trained us to focus on.   And, if that is so, then is it possible to take a fresh look at these matters?  Is it possible to see them without preconceptions, with instead the brand new eyes of a child?

If one could do that, what wonders would one see then?

Adolescence, Adolescent Sexuality, Family, Fatherless Children, Fatherless Girls, Harriet, Relationships, Sexuality

How Do Fatherless Girls Gain Confidence?

This morning, I noticed someone found this blog by googling, “How do fatherless girls gain confidence”. It wasn’t hard to imagine the mother of a fatherless girl googling that, or even the girl herself.

Whoever it was most likely landed on a post I’d written last year in which I attempted to summarize a few differences I’ve encountered between girls raised with and without fathers. In that post, I tried to make clear I was speaking only of my own limited observations and not recounting science. The post ended on these dark notes:

In general, the difference [between women with and without fathers] was this: The fatherless women were less self-confident around men than the women with fathers.

For instance: The fatherless women were less likely to assert themselves. They were less likely to let men know what their boundaries were. They were less likely to be strong individuals around men.

On the other hand, the fatherless women were more likely to be relatively obsessed with their boyfriends. They were more likely to be emotionally dependent on them. And they were more likely to cling to relationships in which they were being abused.

So that’s where I left it last year — without at all dealing with the question raised this morning, “How do fatherless girls gain confidence?”

Unfortunately, that’s an important question these days. More and more girls are being raised without fathers, and some studies suggest it can aversely impact the girls’ lives. For instance: An international study released in 2003 found a strong link between the absence of a father and adolescent pregnancy. Girls whose fathers left before they were six years old were about five times more likely in the United States — and three times more likely in New Zealand — to get pregnant during adolescence than were girls whose fathers stayed with them. Yet, finding “statistics” on fatherless girls is one thing, finding good statistics from reputable sources is another. From what I’ve seen, there appears to be a ton of questionable stats out there and not much gold. But it gets even worse when you go hunting for information on how a fatherless girl can gain confidence.

I could find almost nothing on the net that actually addressed that question. I think that’s a pity because, as I recall, many of the fatherless girls I’ve known were less self-confident around boys than girls raised with fathers. Which in a way was quite odd because several of my fatherless friends were extremely competent in other life skills. Harriet, for instance, had planned meals, made grocery lists, and cooked suppers for her family since the fifth grade and, by the time she was in high school, she probably knew more about nutrition than some dietitians.

So I’m going to risk discussing how a fatherless girl can gain confidence around boys — but with this strong caveat: I’m not an expert and don’t know for certain what I’m talking about. My own father died when I was two years old, but I faced the problems of a fatherless boy, rather than those of a girl. I’ve been friends with a handful of fatherless girls as they went through adolescence, but that is certainly not the same as being a qualified therapist. And I’ve heard countless adolescent confessions, but I was usually empathetic at the time rather than taking notes. So, the only real qualification I have here is no one else seems to be offering fatherless girls any advice on how to become confident. And that’s sad.

Having said all that, here’s “Paul’s Brazen Advice” to fatherless girls on how to gain confidence with boys:

Confidence comes with success. That’s true regardless of what you are talking about. It could be gaining confidence with boys or it could be gaining confidence driving. Each step you succeed at builds up your confidence. Each step you fail at tears down your confidence. So take small, manageable steps — especially at first.

I’ve known fatherless girls (and even girls with fathers) who rushed into sex in order to please boys. That’s a mistake on several levels. For one thing, it’s not taking things in small, manageable steps. Make the boy court you.

Courtship is basically the process of making friends with someone you might want to have sex with. Don’t rush it. In my 51 years, the best relationships I’ve seen all began as friendships and involved courtships — sometimes long courtships. As one person (who has an outstanding sex life) recently told me, “My husband and I have always been friends first and foremost. The fact we’re also lovers is icing on the cake.”

You have a right to resist any pressure to rush things — and it is a test of genuine friendship that your real friends will respect that right of yours, while your false friends probably won’t. So, if you loose a few “friends” because you’re marching to your own drummer, keep your chin up and march on. They weren’t real friends.

So my advice on how to gain confidence with the boys is to take things in easy, manageable steps. I realize that it might be easy advice to give and yet difficult advice to put into practice. More importantly, it is by no means comprehensive advice. There are so many other things I might say, but for which I don’t have room here.

If I had just one piece of advice to offer a fatherless girl, that’s the advice I’d offer her. If any fatherless girls are reading this, please let me know — either in the comments or by email — whether any of that makes sense. Also, please tell me a bit about yourself. And for everyone: What advice would you yourself give a fatherless girl on how to gain confidence with the boys?

Please see also:

Jackie in the Year of the Comet