My First Date Rules (guest post by A. Rascal)

As many of you know, I started dating again several months ago. Time and again, however, I found myself having the same conversations with women, over and over.

After a while, I decided to just print up a set of rules to hand out before or during the date. Believe me, it’s really helped clear the air so we can move on to other things like enjoying the movie, art gallery, concert, or even getting to know one another.

I’ll update the list as needed. But for now:

Rule 1. No kissing on the first date.
Absolutely not. I wish I had a nickel for each time a woman either closed her eyes and puckered up, as if expecting me to plant one, or tried to surreptitiously graze her lips on mine while coming out of a hug. No.

Rule 2. No incidental touching.
Women are wily creatures. On dates, I’ve noticed they begin by lightly touching your arm with a finger, ostensibly while trying to make a point. However, their nefarious purpose becomes clear as soon as they then place a hand, as if to see how far they can go. Before you know it, they’re rubbing your back and (this is embarrassing to say) sometimes even more.

No. I am not middle-aged male candy.

Rule 3. No Staring.
Ladies, my eyes are up here. I’m sad I even have to say that. Just no, plus ew. Gross.

Rule 4. No Whispering In Ears.
It took me several dates to catch on to this, but I finally got wise around the twelfth time. Especially in crowded bars, women motion to you to come closer, as if they have a secret to share. You take the bait, and bend your head towards theirs. Then, while whispering in your ear, they plant a kiss. Sometimes tongue. Again, ew and gross.

Rule 5. No Sharing Park Benches.
It begins innocently enough, with a request to go for a walk that almost invariably ends close to a secluded park bench. “I’m tired, do you want to sit down,” they ask, and, wanting to be a gentleman, I always say yes.

That’s when the trouble starts. Sometimes I’ve been quick enough to notice the fingers walking along my back to alight on my shoulders. Sometimes I don’t even see it coming, as when women yawn, stretch out their arms, and suddenly one of them lands on my back. No.

Rule 6. No Dancing.
This is a hard one for me, as I love to dance. However, time and again, I have found myself surrounded by women, forming a circle, clapping, whistling, and saying disgusting things like, “woah hoah, Rascal! Shake it! Shake what your momma gave you!”

Honestly, I have no idea what my poor mother has to do with any of this. Except to say, of course, that she would be appalled to see how poorly I get treated on the dance floor sometimes. Shame on you ladies and no. Anyway, this brings me to:

Rule 7. No Stuffing Dollar Bills In My Pants.
Again, it pains me to have to even say that. I don’t care that they’re neatly folded. I don’t care that you lightly perfumed them. I don’t care if you wrote your phone number on them in red lipstick.

And I don’t care that I need the money. No, just no, full stop.

And yes, that goes double for all your friends.

Rule 8. Hot Sex.
Hot monkey sex on a first date is fine, just ask first.

Angel is a Xenophobe

Does she walk? Does she talk?
Does she come complete?
My online Twitter angel
Always pulled me from my seat

She was pretty centrist
A very agile brain
The memory of my angel
Could never cause me pain

Some weeks go by I’m lookin’ through a right-wing magazine
And there’s my Twitter angel on the pages in between

CHORUS:
My blood runs cold
My memory has just been sold
My angel is a xenophobe
Angel is a xenophobe
(Repeat)

Some nice DMs, a text burlesque
While I was thinking about her dress
I was shy I turned away
Before she caught my eye

I was shakin’ in my shoes
Whenever she would retweet Fox News
Something had a hold on me
When angel got online

Her wit, charm, and language
So magical and such
To see her win at Words With Friends
Was really just too much

CHORUS:
My blood runs cold
My memory has just been sold
My angel is a xenophobe
Angel is a xenophobe
(Repeat)

Na na na na na na na na na (x4)

(Now listen)
It’s okay I understand
This ain’t no never-never land
I hope that when this Cheeto’s gone
We’ll Skype again real soon / anon

They took your mind, yes they did
Took your mind, deprived it
I’ll take it to a motel room
And there I shall revive it 🙂

A part of me just gets ripped
With every Breitbart line that’s quipped
Oh no, I can’t deny it
Oh yeah, I guess I gotta buy it!

CHORUS:
My blood runs cold
My memory has just been sold
My angel is a xenophobe
Angel is a xenophobe
(Repeat)

Na na na na na na na na na

(Alright, alright)
(One two three four)

Na na na na na na na na na (x4)

CHORUS:
My blood runs cold
My memory has just been sold
My angel is a xenophobe
Angel is a xenophobe
(Repeat)

(Na na na na na na na na na…)

Gaslighting

Two hypothetical employees, Amy and Barbara, are working together on a project that requires a great deal of coordination. Each enjoys their job, and they share a close working relationship, in addition to a social one.

One day, Amy discovers Barbara doing something odd. After Barbara leaves, Amy turns on the work computer and finds, much to her shock and horror, evidence suggesting Barbara has been secretly undoing her part of the project for quite some time.

Amy finds herself beset with feelings of intense anger, hurt, and betrayal. Why would Barbara do this? The only reason she can imagine is for Barbara to make herself look better than Amy to management. But how could Barbara do this to her?

Amy prints out the evidence, goes home, and thinks about it. A lot. After several sleepless nights wondering what to do, she decides to have a meeting with Barbara.

When they meet, Amy tells Barbara what she saw, and then shows her the printout.

Imagine Barbara responding in one of four different ways.

Response 1
Barbara immediately bursts into tears. Crying almost uncontrollably, she demands to know how Amy could think such a thing. She goes on to say she is nothing if not loyal and honest, and that she had cared for and respected Amy so much until that very moment.

Barbara adds that she’s devastated, having never felt so hurt or betrayed in her life. She tells Amy she can’t stand to hear another word, is too upset to work, and is going home. She then storms out the door.

Amy feels incredibly guilty. As she leaves the meeting room, she wonders how she could have misconstrued the situation so terribly. She also worries that she’s done permanent damage to what had been a wonderful working as well as social relationship.

She feels this is all her fault.

Response 2
Barbara responds with outrage, demanding to know how dare Amy accuse her of such things, especially after all that Barbara has done for her. For what’s probably only a minute, but feels like an eternity, Barbara shouts and yells at Amy, calling her all sorts of names she’s never been called before.

She ends by telling Amy she’d better prepare for dire consequences if she ever makes an accusation like that again.

Amy leaves the meeting so terrified of Barbara that she not only forgets how she felt beforehand, but actually destroys the evidence, fearing it could provoke Barbara again.

Days later, in therapy, Amy discovers that she is more afraid of angering Barbara than losing her job.

Response 3
Barbara responds by saying Amy’s got it totally wrong: that Amy only thought she saw what she did, and that what she really saw was something else. Barbara adds that, based on that misperception, Amy went on to completely misconstrue the “so-called evidence.”

Barbara then painstakingly goes over what Amy saw, as well as the printout. Step by step, she shows Amy how and where she kept leaping to conclusions, always on the flimsiest of evidence.

Amy leaves the meeting completely convinced by Barbara’s narrative. She feels embarrassed, yet deeply relieved to know she was wrong. She tosses the printout into a wastebasket without a thought, and begins to wonder what in the world is wrong with her.

Response 4
Barbara replies by saying she’s shocked, but not surprised by the accusation, as she’s long suspected Amy of the very same thing. Barbara goes on to share observations of her own that Amy has been undermining her for some time.

Barbara adds that she’s spoken to other co-workers about Amy, all of whom agree that Amy is not only rivalrous and petty, but childish and immature to boot.

Amy leaves the meeting feeling devastated, confused, and utterly demoralized. Could Barbara and everyone else really think that about her? Even worse, could they be right?

For the first time, Amy thinks about leaving her job.

Response 5
Barbara replies by admitting to the behavior in question, but then tells Amy she deserved it, given the fact that Amy had been undermining Barbara in subtle ways for quite some time. Barbara goes on to cite numerous examples of times when Amy has one-upped her in front of bosses and co-workers, all of which comes as a shock to Amy.

Amy had never thought of herself as anything but kind to Barbara, remembering many times when she went out of her way to help her. And while Amy recalls the incidents Barbara mentioned, she had never seen them as one-upping anyone.

Until now.

Suddenly Amy finds herself feeling very sorry, and apologizes to Barbara. Barbara replies that while she accept’s Amy’s apology, Amy is going to have to work diligently to regain the trust she lost with her one-upping behavior. And that, until then, she can expect Barbara to continue undermining her behind the scenes.

Amy finds herself feeling angry and bewildered.

What’s going on here? And how do we help Amy?

Existential Christianity

“Oh hi! Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas.”
“You don’t sound particularly enthusiastic.”
“I’m not. As you know, I lost what little faith I had this year.”
“Yes, I know. I’m sorry.”
“Thanks.”
“How come you never had that much faith?”
“Well, because I’m a scientist. We don’t care much for supernatural explanations of anything.”
“Of course.”
“In your world, you kind of have to.”
“Ha! Yes, it is kind of a job requirement. But you know, sometimes you say things that make me think you actually want a little faith.”
“Oh you have no idea how much, especially now.”
“But let me guess: you’d be violating your oath as a scientist if you allowed yourself to believe in God.”
“Right.”
“It would be like a betrayal.”
“Well that’s putting it a bit strongly, but yes, that’s right.”
“Yet at the same time you see people of faith using that faith to help them cope with losses like yours.”
“Yes.”
“And some part of you wishes you could believe like they do.”
“Well I did. As a child.”
“As a child.”
“Why are you making that face? Did I say something wrong?”
“No, you said something wonderful. Do you have a minute?”
“Sure.”
“Let’s talk. But not here.”

“Why’d you bring me here?”
“Well, I’m always visiting you at your office, so I wanted you to come visit mine. Is it making you uncomfortable?”
“No, no, I spent a lot of time in church as a kid. Remember, my parents were both Catholic.”
“I remember you told me that. So this is home to you.”
“Well it was.”
“Yes, I remember that too. I’m so sorry.”
“Hey, what can you do.”
“Anyway, I have an idea to run by you.”
“Yes.”
“It’s an existential challenge.”
“What? I thought existentialists were atheists.”
“Sartre was. But Kierkegaard, Marcel, and Buber were most definitely not. I think.”
“Ha! Yes.”
“Anyway, the challenge goes like this. Do you enjoy movies?”
“Of course.”
“Now in order to do that, you have to take en existential risk.”
“How so?”
“Well, we don’t often talk about it like this, but suspending disbelief is an existential risk. To leave the world you know and not just enter into another one, but to let yourself believe it enough for it to move you. Perhaps even change you.”
“Ok.”
“So: are you the kind of person that can suspend disbelief enough to enjoy a movie? Or are you the kind that sits outside the theater with arms crossed, refusing to go in, saying, ‘this is all bullshit, those are just images on a silver screen.’”
“Ha! Of course not. Who does?”
“Oh I don’t know. Some scientists I know.”
“Very funny. But I still don’t see where you’re going with this.”
“What’s your favorite one?”
“Star Wars, probably. Saw it when I was 10.”
“Me too. Amazing movie, changed my life.”
“Really? Me too. Well, we’re about the same age. Love that story.”
“I bet you do. Now could the movie had any effect on you at all, if you weren’t capable of not just believing in, but fully inhabiting, for two short hours, a world in many ways the reciprocal of your scientific one? A world where there was an Empire chasing a Rebellion, with Jedi and Sith?”
“No.”
“Here’s my challenge. You ready?”
“Ok.”

“Can you let yourself believe in — let’s call it a Force — powerful enough to take on human form?”
“And die for my sins? No thanks.”
“Hey you’re getting way ahead of me.”
“Ha ha. Ok.”
“First, a kid has to be born. A very, very special kid.”
“With all sorts of Force powers.”
“Yes.”
“But not enough to save him. He gets betrayed and then killed in the worst possible way.”
“By some of those closest to him.”
“So the Force turns out to be a big fat joke.”
“But is that really how the story ends?”
“No.”
“Right. What happens to the Cosmic Kid after he gets killed — or allows himself to be killed — by his own protégé?”
“He goes on to fight in another dimension.”
“Let’s just say he beats the Sith at their own game. They tried to defeat death, you see.”
“Yes, through the power of hate.”
“And he does it, this kid—“
“This Cosmic Kid.”
“Does the same thing, but through the power of love.”
“Pretty amazing story, huh?”
“I only wish it were even remotely possible.”

“But is it plausible?”
“Of course.”
“Then can you take a chance? Put your scientific world view on the table for a moment, and let yourself get into the story, as you were just now? Just for two hours? Maybe just enough to let it change you a little, like the original Star Wars did?”
“Oh, I don’t know.”
“Think about it. What would it be like to live in a world where such things were possible?”
“It would be the end of my scientific career.”
“Or maybe just the beginning. Think of the very special birth of a very special child as a new beginning.”
“Ha. Ok. I’ll think about it.”
“Great. That’s all I ask.”
“Thank you. This has been interesting.”
“My pleasure.”
“Merry Christmas, Reverend.”
“Cathie.”
“Merry Christmas, Cathie.”
“Merry Christmas, Frank.”

Pillow Talk

“Hey. You awake?”

“I am now. What’s up, Mister?”

“I have a weird question.”

“Ooh, I don’t know. Is it kinky?”

“No.”

“No? Well that’s a damn shame! Just kidding, my dear. What’s your question? Fire away.”

“Ok. It’s a bit embarrassing. It’s about them.”

“Uh oh. What’s up?”

“Yeah. Well. Hadn’t thought of them in a while, you see.”

“Right.”

“Well let me back up, and begin by saying that, despite everything that happened the last 20 years, despite all the crap, there were plenty of good times too.”

“Ok so you miss her. Wait. Oh God, I don’t even know which one. Oh my God, both of them?”

“Yes. Holy shit, how do you do that?”

“Wait, I’m not done yet. And now you’re about to ask me if I miss him. He Who Shall Not Be Named.”

“Ok, either I’m really transparent or you’re really good.”

“Well I learn from the best.”

“Thanks. Look, I want to know—”

“Of course, darling.”

“Most of all because I want to know all about you.”

“Aw. Thanks, sweetheart.”

“You’re welcome. But part of me also wants to know what might be in store for me down the road.”

“Of course love. Ok, so let me tell you. I’ll preface this by saying your mileage may vary. But I don’t think it will, and if it does at least not too much.”

“How so?”

“I’ll explain later.”

“Oh!”

“Anyway. The answer to your question is yes, but very rarely.”

“Aha. Why?”

“Well, if I have to talk to him for some reason, I feel pangs, because we did spend ten years together. That’s a lot of time, plus a lot of common language and shared references. But here’s the thing, love: that man is dead and gone.”

“When? You never told me he—”

“Relax. He’s still alive, of course, but the man I married is dead and gone. And to be perfectly honest, so is the woman I was. As a result, the pangs are pretty brief.”

“I see.”

“He broke my heart. That’ll kill a lot of things in a person.”

“I’m sorry, honey.”

“Thank you. Ok. Now. Are you ready for the punch line?”

“There’s a punch line? God, I love you.”

“There’s always a punch line. Come on, sit up with me for this.”

“Ok.”

“Now give me your hands.”

“They’re yours. All right. What’s the punch line?”

“That man made me who I am today. What I’m saying is, if my marriage hadn’t fallen apart as horribly as it did, if I hadn’t spent years walking around this house, looking for all the tiny little pieces of my heart to glue back together into something stronger, I wouldn’t be this current version of myself. Which, to be frank, is really the first version of myself I’ve ever truly liked.”

“Really.”

“Oh yeah. Ok, love. Now it’s your turn.”

“Aha. Well. Ok. Before them, I suppose I was at best a partial person in relationships.”

“Yes, I agree. But explain.”

“Well that I spent so much of my time trying to figure out what they wanted, and trying to give them that, that I lost sight of who I was and what I wanted.”

“Right. And what happened when you did finally speak up for who you are, for what you wanted or needed?”

“Can we skip that part?”

“Sorry. But ok, right; now would you be who you are now, had it not been for them?”

“Absolutely not.”

“Exactly. You know who you are and what you want, and you’re a lot less afraid to say so than you were before, from the looks of it.”

“Yes.”

“Plus you have me, so life is perfect!”

“Ha! Yes.”

“Ok. Now it’s my turn to ask a really awkward and embarrassing question.”

“Sure, go for it.”

“Can we go to sleep?”

“Of course. Love you. Night night.”

“Love you. Good night.”

Oh Really?

This is my retelling of an old Zen story. I tell it from time to time, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.

There was an old Zen monk in hermitage who was revered and widely praised for living a pure, holy, and good life. 

One day, a young lady from a neighboring village discovered she was pregnant. She was terrified. She did her best to disguise the pregnancy, but soon, the baby began to show. Her parents were furious.

They demanded she name the father. At first she refused. But the more she did, the angrier they got, and the more pressure they applied to her. Eventually she cracked, and named the old monk.

The parents grabbed their daughter by the hand and took her to him. “Old man!” They didn’t bother to refer to him by his honorific. “Get out here right now!”

The old monk came out, smiling. He asked what was the matter.

The father pointed to his daughter and said, “that! That is the matter!” 

“Oh really.” 

”Yes, really! You did this! She told us everything!” 

“Oh really,” was all the monk said.

The family went home and told everyone about the monk. At first, people had trouble believing them. But very quickly, word spread that the monk was not who he seemed to be, and that he was a very, very wicked man indeed.

Some months later, the child was born. The parents took the infant to the monk, who was no longer welcome in the village. They demanded that he raise the child, since it was his. 

“Oh really,” said the monk, as he accepted the child.

A few more months passed. Then, almost a year to the day they first came to the monk, the family returned. The daughter was ashen. 

“Master, we are so very sorry.” 

“Oh really.” 

“Yes. Our daughter finally confessed and told us the truth. You are not the father. It is a young man from a neighboring village.” 

“Oh really.” 

“May we have the child back and raise him with us, his true family?” 

“Oh really,” said the monk as he handed the child back without hesitation. They were both smiling.

Till Death Do Us Part

I think everyone who goes through a divorce remembers and struggles with one of the most familiar parts of the marriage ceremony. It echoes in our heads throughout and sometimes even long after our marriages, right alongside such goodies as for richer or poorer or in sickness and in health.

For us it’s the infamous Till death do us part.

Weren’t we supposed to stay together until one of us dies? You can imagine how those words can make divorcing people feel, even if they don’t believe in God.

We said all that in front of our friends and family. Did we not mean it? Did we just not understand?

I think these interpretations take death too literally. That is to say, of course bodies can die during a marriage. But a whole lot else can as well.

Love, for example, can die. Sometimes to be born again with the same person. Sometimes with another.

Sometimes love takes a vacation, then comes home. Other times, it leaves and never comes back.

But when love dies (especially erotic love), a basic warmth and affection can still remain. I think we all know couples like this who stay married forever.

Bodies are important, but they alone don’t constitute a marriage. And while love is important in marriage — perhaps even essential — the heart of a marriage is not love.

It’s respect. Respect is the retaining wall that holds back the worst of ourselves from one another. It’s what lets us be furiously angry at another without that anger in any way threatening our deepest love. And it’s what keeps us from inflicting the deadliest part of our pain upon those we’re closest to.

Sadly, it’s all too often the case that we don’t realize the role that respect plays in a marriage until it starts to fail.

When we feel disrespected, in or outside of marriage, we might say, “hey, you’re not treating me with respect.”

Sometimes such words come just in time for respect to be restored. “Oh my God, you’re right; that was wrong of me, and I’m so sorry I hurt you like that.”

Sometimes they come too late. “Respect isn’t given, it’s earned! If you want respect, start acting like you deserve it!”

When we have trouble treating one another respectfully, it might be because we were never treated respectfully, as children, or when we were most broken. Treating someone close to us disrespectfully can also be a way of restoring a sense of power and control, precisely during those moments when we feel most frail and vulnerable.

When respect falters, when we see it struggling, we might try to give it medicine. In the worst cases, we might even give it CPR. I think this is what marriage counselors and couples therapists do.

In an ideal world, respect comes roaring back to life. Spouses start once again expressing themselves fully while treating each other fairly, and without injuring one another. This is critical when spouses disagree fiercely about something important.

Disappoint, irritate, frustrate, even hurt one another, yes.  But never injure. Hurt heals when there’s respect. Injury only gets worse.

Sometimes, though, respect expires. Here’s where death gets the final word: the barriers to anger dissolve. Intimacies and secrets, which once bonded, now become weaponized. Spouses begin using one another as scratching posts or punching bags.

Things get said that can’t be taken back, and permanent damage is done to persons and relationships. Apologies cease to be made, and when they are, it’s more or less sincerely, more or less genuinely. When they come, they’re too late, and can’t even begin to heal the pain.

Time takes over that role, the role that was once fulfilled by the person hurting us.

The soul of a marriage dies when respect is lost. And that’s when marriage changes from a partnership into a prison.

Once a certain basic respect for someone is gone, there’s no bringing it back. And when you stay in a relationship where respect has died, your soul dies too, right alongside that of the relationship.

Sometimes that happens slowly and imperceptibly. Sometimes it happens rather suddenly.

Here’s the crucial point: the death that parts us is not our physical death. And love can long outlast the physical bodies that prompted it.

It’s not the death of love that parts us. Many marriages survive the death of love. Some even depend on it.

No, the death that parts us is the death of respect. It does so by announcing, more or less clearly, that we have to leave the relationship: for the sake of our soul, for the sake of our survival.