Shadow Masculinity

Last week, as I sat reading about psychological defense mechanisms, I read the definition of displacement and it got me thinking about what it means to be a man:

Displacement is a defense mechanism that shifts sexual impulses to a more acceptable or less threatening target.  It separates emotion from its real object and redirects the intense emotion toward someone or something that is less threatening, so as to avoid dealing directly with what is frightening or threatening.

As I sometimes bemoan to my friends, this pretty much describes all of conventional American male sexuality.  It’s so rare that a heterosexual man’s romantic/sexual impulses end up being expressed to the woman who inspires them.  The conventional American man sees a multitude of women in his everyday life who attract him — who captivate him walking down the street, waiting in line, or sitting in the cafe — and he engages practically none of them to communicate his interest.

Instead, the conventional American male inserts a distance between himself and any woman who could reject him.  He spends the majority of his everyday sexual life staring at women he’ll never talk to from afar, stealing glances on the street or subway car, or swimming in magazine stands of glossy covers, movie stars, and a thousand-forty other distractions from the absolutely terrifying act of walking up a beautiful stranger and expressing interest.  Unfortunately, the handful of men who are capable of this act are often closed off in other ways, displacing their passion and replacing it with strategy:  the pickup artists, the douchebags, the serial hunters.

As a result, male sexuality in our culture may seem to be ubiquitous, but what you see is rarely real male sexuality.  It’s only the leering powerlessness that’s left in the absence of real masculinity.  Real masculinity is relegated to the shadows, and we are a nation of half-men.

If you are not strong enough to make yourself vulnerable and express your interest directly, you are not strong enough to date the woman you want.

Matt is the ultimate handyman.

His Irksome Aunt

Christina Nehring:

The presence of the inessential weakens the power of the essential.  Love is not about micromanaging your partner’s quotidian concerns:  her noisy co-workers and his irksome aunt; her brassiere sizes and his starched shirts.  “Leave this touching and clawing,” exclaims Emerson.  Forget this petty detail!  Let your love be to you “a spirit.  A message, a thought, a sincerity, a glance…not news, not pottage.  I can get politics and chat and neighbourly conveniences from cheaper companions.”

The Fast and the Slow

So many conversations with Koo about what I will very broadly call “romance” end up talking about time.  We’re in agreement on most things, though we tend to diverge in the short run due to his patience and my intensity, which makes our advice to each other fairly amusing.  For instance, in one personal email, Koo referred to time as “an ineluctable motherfucker”.

While there’s much to be said, perhaps it all boils down to this:

Some things have to feel like they’re happening too fast in order to be felt at all.  Other things must be earned slowly or they’re not real.

Pick Your Poison

Two great 19th century thinkers:

“It seems that it is madder never to abandon one’s self than often to be infatuated; better to be wounded, a captive and a slave, than always to walk in armor”

— Margaret Fuller


Go farther
Go further
Go harder
Is that not
Why we came? and if not,
Then why bother?

— Jay-Z, Mr. Carter

Balls and Marbles

Margaret Fuller:

Men disappoint me so.  I wish that I were a man, and then at least there would be one.  I weary in this playground of boys, proud and happy in their balls and marbles.  Give me heroes, poets, lawgivers….

Three Things

“There are only three things to be done with a woman.  You can love her, suffer for her, or turn her into literature.”

— Lawrence Durrell, British Novelist

I know one man who has mastered all three!

Like a Smoldering Volcano


Outside WTC PATH.  5:12pm.  A nod to the last shot of L’Avventura.

There’s a certain amount of respect you give a person by showing effort, by putting your heart in your throat and talking from there.  When it comes to love, I find openness so seductive, and half-measures to be cowardice.   I relish lovers who have the courage to truly unleash themselves.

Give me the woman who discloses too much about what her heart hides (good or bad), rather than the one who piecemeals and says nothing at all.

How I Really Feel

Every person’s life is  animated by one of two desires.  We either live to avoid discomfort, or we live to have as much intercourse with the world as possible.

By intercourse, I don’t mean merely sexual intercourse.  I mean a “give and take” with life:  taking in all the myriad things the world offers, and as a result having something meaningful and unique to give back with confidence.  This kind of intercourse almost always involves stepping out of your hiding places.  It’s often emotionally raw and you feel awkward doing it at first.  The reward for doing this, though, is that you feel new pleasures and understandings inthings that you didn’t even know you lacked before.  These pleasures and understandings are impossible without walking through that discomfort.

I suspect that everybody’s life, at times, traffics in both realms:  avoiding discomfort and having as much intercourse as possible.  Clearly, everyone is capable of both.  But make no mistake:  when you look at the lives of others, and when you look at the results of your own life, it’s not difficult to tell which of these desires animates your daily existence.

It’s really that simple.  The two are, over any length of time, absolutely, unconditionally, mutually exclusive.

Which desire animates you?  Which one, when you look back at your life so far, has produced your favorite moments — the give & take or the drive to remain comfortable?  Which, ultimately, has produced deeper comfort in your life?

When your sleepy eyes open tomorrow morning and no one else can hear, ask yourself how you really feel.

The Grey or the Orange


So today walking to lunch I was struck by the lines and colors of this bicycle frame.  It’s like a better version of Mondrian.

Look at how bright and sturdy it is, even though everything around it is cold and gray.  Do you have a genuine brightness inside of you?  Even when the world around you looks cold and gray?

Is it in there?  Are you living from that?

The Acoustics of Love

Koo and I, sitting on my couch a few nights ago watching poker, began talking about love.

It started when I asked him whether he felt the women that he had dated had “strong personal boundaries”.  The term, which I’ve taken from Dr. Paul’s usage, implies that the woman is capable of standing up for herself, determining what she wants, generally living on her own terms, and not sacrificing her desires and values and standards to those of the people around her.

You’d think we would favor women with strong personal boundaries.  And, frankly, we do.  But the most interesting part of the conversation came when Koo described women he dated who had strong personal boundaries but whose boundary was so strong that it prevented her from fully experiencing him.   She was missing what Koo called “a certain acoustic”, meaning that she lacked the happy, open space inside of her that could be filled with Koo’s life and enthusiasm.  Or, in his glorious phrasing, where he could “reverberate”.

It’s really rare to find a woman (or any person, for that matter) who has a strong personal boundary — and yet whose boundary is permeable enough that we get the pleasure of seeing our own life and influence reverberate around inside of her.

How strong is your personal boundary?  And to what extent does the life of your partner reverberate inside of you?

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