Tag Archives: Connection

Three Men on a Bench

Last weekend I went for a walk in Central Park and had a fascinating encounter with three men on a bench. When I lived on the Upper East Side I used to run in the park almost daily, but never carried a camera (or phone . . . or MetroCard . . . or ID . . . wherever I run . . . at whatever time of day . . .). I often wished that I did, though, because Central Park is just beautiful. I always forget, however, that everything looks different in the winter because you can see through the trees. That means noticing all sorts of things that weren’t visible before, like skyscrapers.

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Perhaps more compelling, however, was another human-made object: The sign in the picture below.

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At first I grinned but walked by, not really sure if I wanted to engage in any sort of discussion with strangers. I’ve been trying really hard to meet people lately, but that still takes effort and I was feeling pretty good on my own. So I walked on by.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about that sign. Anyone? Anything? Really?

I turned around and asked the three gentlemen (yes, I know there are two pictured above) for permission to take a photo of them with their sign. After graciously posing, they asked if I wanted to sit and talk.

When I first moved to New York, my best friend told me that the best advice she could give me was to say yes to things. So I did.

For about 15 minutes, I sat between Sean on the left (or maybe it’s Shawn – apologies for not asking!) and Jared and chatted. Steve did some audio recording during our conversation to conduct a sound test for the web series they’re working on. One thing I do love about New York is that people are always up to something interesting. I always have a lot of questions about what’s happening and why, and was glad for the chance to ask some of them.

Jared asked what was on my mind and I mentioned politics because I’d been listening to a Sam Harris podcast on my way through the park. We chatted about that for a while and then our conversation switched to the experiences they’d been having when trying to engage people in discussion. We talked about how reluctant many people are to having a face-to-face conversation. People are very vocal about anything and everything on social media but talking in person is much more difficult. There’s a real vulnerability in sharing yourself with others. Despite how important authenticity is to me, which is one of the reasons I try to be pretty open on this blog, I probably would have walked away after taking my photo had these guys not said, “Want to have a seat and talk to us?”. Connecting with people requires a deeper level of engagement and commitment than a Facebook post, blog post, or tweet. It requires looking into someone’s eyes and saying what’s on your mind. That can be hard.

After my chat with Sean/Shawn, Jared, and Steve, I continued my Central Park walk with a feeling of buoyancy and euphoria. I had just sat on a park bench between two men I had never met and we’d had a perfectly lovely conversation about politics, the news, and the importance of being able to talk. I was glad to find openness and receptivity, which seem like scarce commodities in the often isolating world of New York City. The more I open up to people, however, the more I find that they do the same in return. So maybe that isolation is a shield, or a defense, for many of us. Maybe there’s a real desire for connection that isn’t being met because vulnerability is scary. Maybe the aloofness of many New Yorkers is just a mask.

I told Sean/Shawn, Jared, and Steve that I keep a blog and asked if they wanted me to share any contact information for them. So here it is! They mentioned that they were hoping someone would have a seat on the bench and just spill their heart out. So, gentle readers, if any of you want to talk to someone willing to listen, I can recommend three men on a bench in Central Park. I’m glad they asked me to stop and chat and I’m glad I said yes.

Gentlemen, thanks for making my day.

 

Let’s Talk About Sex: Part Two

I recently spotted this month’s issue of Glamour in the waiting room of my doctor’s office:

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There are a number of really invigorating, inspiring aspects to Glamour, including the Woman of the Year Award and a feature about college women around the US who are extraordinary in their community service, academics, and career achievements. Glamour supports and cultivates strong women, which is empowering to girls and women of all ages and walks of life.

However, I had a real problem with one of the headlines from this particular issue. Any guesses? Bottom right corner. This one:

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My problem with this headline is not that it uses the phrase “woman card” (what does that even mean?) but that good sex is labeled a “right” at all.

Yes, everyone should have good sex all the time. Yes, women (and men) should feel cherished, loved, adored, cared for, protected, and desired by their partners.

But that’s not a right. As I’ve come to understand it, any form of real intimacy is a product of open, honest human connection. In my experience, good sex doesn’t just happen. It develops through trust, reciprocity, mutual admiration, and the desire to make a partner feel everything you want to feel. Intimacy, then, is about acknowledging and accepting your own humanity.

When I first mentioned my frustration with the headline to my mum, she pointed out that Glamour writes for a wide range of women, and many older women have grown up with very different attitudes towards sex. When sex is viewed as a marital duty and obligation to which women submit because that’s what men want, it’s a very different conversation.

Thinking about girls and women today, however, makes me wonder whether that narrative has changed. Do we still think of intimacy as male-dominated and male-oriented? Are women viewed as a second thought? We tell girls and women to be careful how they dress so they don’t attract too much attention; do we tell boys and men to treat girls and women with the respect that they, as human beings, unequivocally deserve? There’s a lot in the media and even in the news that indicates that sex, as told by pop culture, is very much the domain of men.

That’s a problem. And that’s why I propose changing the conversation. Here are some questions that I’m considering. I’d love any and all thoughts and feedback!

  • How can we talk about sex as a product of human connection?
  • Does the nature of intimacy change if we see it as the natural result of deep feelings of care, respect, openness, reciprocity, and mutuality?
  • Can we have a conversation about intimacy that centers on the feelings and actions that lead up to it?
  • If anyone has a “woman card” at all, it’s a product of being human. How should we make human-ness, rather than divided roles as men and women, part of a better conversation?
  • What messages should we be sending young people about intimacy that are not currently transmitted?

If intimacy provides opportunities for us to be our most vulnerable around one another, we need dialogue about what makes us human and how we seek connection with those around us. That’s what I see as missing from that headline.

PS You can take a look at my first post about sex here.