Archive for October, 2011
On any given day, you’ll see them, the men on the benches outside stores at the mall. Patiently, they wait, as the women browse every store. Admirable or pathetic, they wait ,wondering how much longer she’ll be.
There are not as many men who go to the mall with their wives or girlfriends, as those who stay home, doing whatever it is men do while women shop, because most men don’t understand the way women shop.As a woman goes from store-to-store looking, the men wonder why it takes them so long to find what they’re looking for. For most men shopping is a challenge–like a hunt. To come home empty-handed is to fail. Bagging something–anything makes the hunt a success. It would seem that when it comes to shopping, men and women are wired differently. The woman lets the quest continue as she shops for the perfect [insert noun of choice here].
Though a man may not understand why a woman looking for the perfect pair of shoes or the perfect dress, can try on dozens of seemingly similar items and still be looking for something else, when it comes to choosing women, some men shop more like women, than they realize. You know the ones, those guys who are always looking for someone or something they can’t seem to find.
There was a time when men may not have known exactly what they wanted in a wife or girlfriend, yet they managed to find one. That was back when relationships were thought of as a launching point for forever after–instead of a stop-gap, ’til something better came along. Unfortunately, with sex-before-marriage now more the rule than the exception, and marriages are often short-lived, some men are no longer looking for a women to grow old with, instead they are looking for a women who will never grow old to them.
With sex readily available, men are more wary of monogamy and it’s implications and with so many choices, they may be reluctant to settle on one. Relationships have become a gamble, as iffy as buying something at a store with a no-refund policy. Maybe he sees something he likes, but only after he’s laid out a hefty chunk of money, will he discover the package was misleading, it wasn’t what he’d hoped, or that it isn’t going to last.
When it comes to women, some guys are are exactly like women shopping for the perfect pair of shoes.
There are so many to choose from, many styles, colors and sizes. It’s up to him how many he tries on, and he is free to discard them if they don’t suit him, OR if he believes he might find something better. So while the women around him wonder why he won’t settle down or what it is he’s looking for, he’s narrowing his choices. Women may not understand it, but they should–at least with a little decoding.
SHOPPING FOR THE PERFECT SHOES vs. SHOPPING FOR THE PERFECT WOMAN
- She says: These are too wide. He says: She’s too wide.
- She says: This shoe is too narrow. He says: She’s narrow-minded, she doesn’t think the way I do.
- She says: I like these, but they pinch. He says: She cramps my style.
- She says: I like these, but I they cost too much. He says: I’d rather not spend my money on her.
- She says: I’d buy these, but I don’t want shoes I’d have to polish. He says: Too high maintenance!
- She says: I want to try on a few more. He says: So many women, why settle on one.
- She says: This one is comfortable, but it isn’t attractive enough. He says: I like hanging with her, but I was sorta hoping for a super-model.
- She says: Maybe I could do better. He says: Maybe I could do better.
Like cute shoes in the window beckoning and hoping you’ll pick them, or nice dresses left on the rack at the end of the season, we are left to shake our heads and wonder what it is he’s hoping to find.
Less than a century ago, Halloween was little more than a night of youthful pranks and mischief. Ever-changing, and ever challenging our sensibilities, it seems Halloween is forever being redefined. No other celebration poses more of a dichotomy, as the most morbid themes are mingled with whimsical innocence. Fairies, princesses, ghouls, super heroes, and characters from TV or movies provide alternate identities, and a brief escape from reality.
Halloween is one of our calendar’s most-controversial celebrations. From it’s earliest origins, it has been a holiday to love or hate. The holiday we now know as Halloween, was first instituted by Catholics, as the intended replacement for its pagan forerunner, Samhain. In keeping with the Night of the Living Dead theme, it was a day to honor the memory of saints and martyrs. Martin Luther’s Protestant reformation, hoped to eradicate the Catholic celebration of All Saint’s Day and All Hallow’s Eve, because his religious ideas did not embrace the Catholic view of saints. The New England Puritans banned the holiday in the New World, because of its Catholic origins, but it wasn’t long before large numbers of Irish-Catholic immigrants succeeded in reestablishing the popularity of Halloween traditions.
By the early 1900′s, Halloween celebrations had become part of the American tradition, but the holiday was, and still is, one of our most controversial. Just as the Catholic church once did, many churches and religious communities, have invented their own substitutes for Halloween. Even the so-called “separation of church and state” hasn’t been able to keep schools from taking a stance. Many schools have banned costumes or other Halloween celebrations out of respect to those with religious concerns–and one school district in Pulyallup, Washington, was compelled to enact bans, lest local witches (Wiccans) be offended.
People either love it or hate it. I understand many dislike the way Halloween blurs the line between good and evil, but to me it’s not so different from the rest of life as we all seek to balance bad things and things that scare us, with the good and sweet things which make life worth the struggles. In fact, I adore seeing children in costumes eager to receive a ration of candy, but for some even innocent trick-or-treaters pose a nuisance.
If only being grown-up, were as simple as being a kid. As adults, we adopt a seriousness about ourselves and the things around us. Fortunately or unfortunately, it is clear that Halloween is no longer just for kids, and it is one of few opportunities for us to shed the inhibitions and constraints of our own identities, to embrace another. In the same way princesses, ghouls, super heroes, and cartoon characters give children a chance to make-believe, costumes offer grown-ups an invitation to play.
I like it when adults let down their guard a little. Costumes seem to make it easier, but if costumes are a license to have fun, they can also be an excuse to behave (or misbehave) in a way one wouldn’t normally. An article from Psychology Today suggests costume choices may reveal hidden parts of our personalities. Whether it is repressed feelings, unspoken desires or innocent fantasies, Halloween provides an outlet.
This brings me to the subject of provocative female costumes. Once witches were ugly crones with green skin and twisted noses, but the newest generation of witch costumes usually feature a spell-casting amount of skin–which is rarely, if ever green.) Every perennially popular costume is now available in various degrees of slutty. Not so long ago, the pregnant bride costume provided risque laughs, but now most of us would err on the safe side, by offering a pregnant bride our congratulations. Beacons of virtue like Snow White and Red Riding Hood have lost their innocence, along with the school teachers, nurses and costumed nuns who have joined the naughtiness. It seems the little girls who once collected candy, have become a mixed bag of sweet tarts.
Though most women enjoy the attention that comes with being attractive, those who swap their uniqueness to become just another girl in a skimpy costume are reduced to little more than eye candy. Has our quest for equality made us like men hoping for a conquest, with no thoughts of the morning after? As we advertise our tricks and display the treats, have we forgotten how to cultivate desire, without the use of T & A? Could it be that we no longer know how to engage and delight men, so they, like children on Halloween, can hardly concentrate for the distraction of thoughts of finally being allowed to unwrap the candy?
The downside is that just as kids may revel in the excess of the evening, big boys are apt to do the same. When Halloween is over, they will have to wait for next year’s candy extravaganza, and some women may realize they have become just another piece the morning after, the sexy costumes have no more appeal than leftover candy corn.
Thankfully, it’s only one night a year.
A duckling, newly emerged from the shell, immediately looks for something with which it will bond. In the absence of the mother duck, the hatchling forms an attachment to the closest moving thing, whether human, animal or even an inanimate object like a ball; in a process called imprinting. Our sexual response is often the result of our own imprinting. We may not even know why certain things turn us on and others don’t, but they are often the result of earlier experiences and the feelings we associate with them.
We are complicated creatures, but we are also amazingly simple. As researchers study human sexual response, there are new findings on why we like what we like, but some of it just seems obvious. For instance, a recent study showed a tendency for us to gravitate toward partners who bear certain similarities to our opposite sex parent. Freud would say it’s Oedipal, but it’s not that complex. We adapt to what is familiar. Americans eat fries with ketchup, but Europeans prefer them with mayonnaise. I don’t even like ketchup much, but because it’s what I’m used to, I like it better than mayo on my pomme frittes.
In the same way, our ideas of physical attractiveness are mostly the result of cultural conditioning. Across the globe, beauty ideals vary greatly. We may prefer smooth skin, beautiful teeth, or hard bodies, but there are places where scars, gold teeth and soft bodies define desirability. Our preferences may seem personal, but they are largely influenced by what we’ve become accustomed to.
Consider the colors you like. It is likely you have a favorite. Maybe you’ve assumed color trends are launched by hipsters or designers, or that your response to them is a matter or personal taste, but the reality is that they are largely shaped by teams of professionals in the color industry, who work to change your preferences, in an attempt to influence what you will buy. They begin by choosing palettes (also called color forecasts). These palettes are then used to to create the things you are likely to see in stores. What we may think of as color “trends” are actually an orchestrated effort to make you like what they’re selling. Their effort relies on exposing you to colors repeatedly, until you first become accustomed to them, then fonder of them as they become more familiar. (They are also counting on you to tire of those colors, in time for their next round of picks.)
Our brains are very malleable, quickly responding to things around us. Neurons and synapses are constantly readjusting according to exterior stimuli. Often called our largest sexual organ, it should come as no surprise that the chemical and electrical activity of the brain not only reacts to, but also alters our sexual response. The brain continually records and categorizes experiences, creating a mental database of positive and negative perceptions. Eventually, those associations trigger reactions ranging from arousal to repulsion. It is still not completely understood why some develop odd triggers or fetishes, but just as the deformed and putrid flesh of bound feet were once considered the height of erotica in China, our sexual response is largely the result of conditioning.
Because of the way our brains recall previous experiences, things we have found pleasant or arousing before, can become sexual triggers, but unpleasant experiences can also rework our sexual response. This is particularly true in cases of coerced sex, violent sex, or shame-inducing sex. An individual who has been raped or molested, may have trouble getting past the fear or anxiety associated with predatory sex. In fact, those who have suffered sex in a traumatic context may develop a negative reaction to what might be considered normal sex. (I’m not about to attempt to define “normal”, but for this example, let’s define “normal” as he kind of sex we can imagine Claire and Cliff Huxtable having.) A gay man I know, recounts being encouraged as a child, to have sex with a female cousin for the pleasure of voyeuristic adults. After which, the residual shame made it impossible to even think about sex with a female.
In theory, the chemicals (like oxytocin, vasopressin, and dopamine) released when we have physical contact with another, are supposed to help us bond to and enjoy a long relationship with a single person. However, in a culture where casual sex has become increasingly common, those same chemicals can fuel a kind of anti-monogamy addiction. Those who bounce from bed to bed, may not even realize they are reprogramming the brain to reject monogamy, as they become conditioned to the rush of new encounters, making longer relationships, less attractive and less sustainable.
Because healthy relationships require both an emotional and physical bond, relationships based primarily on sex tend to be short-lived. Casual sex may be satisfying in the short-term, but without the emotional validations we crave, sex isn’t enough to sustain a long-lasting relationship. It is an example of how what we want, may not be what we need. Even in arrangements like “friends with benefits”, the ongoing effort for both parties to balance the differences between their sexual and emotional needs, usually makes the arrangement temporary, at best. Unfortunately, without a significant emotional connection, sex for the sake of sex, becomes little more than a series of thrill rides. Even Cosmopolitan magazine, which has long advocated free sexual expression, recently cautioned men that excessive masturbation can diminish their ability to respond to sex with a partner.
What we want, isn’t always what we need. Sometimes getting what we want, prevents us from getting what we need. The reasons may be complicated, or simple, but like Pavlov’s dogs salivating for a bell, rats conditioned to endure electrical shocks in exchange for a few grains of food, or a baby duck waiting for a dog to teach him to swim or fly; we are all subject to imprinting.