The Talk

Letters to my son about love, sex, and getting your bearings. Hopefully useful to others as well.

Letters to my son… continued from How to people, part 1

Constructing a teenage self

  • Masculine energy is what you are shooting for but masculine doesn’t mean aggressive. When guys are fighting, the calm friendly guy with the relaxed body language who steps in to stop them is the most masculine. It’s mostly about maintaining an even keel and being ready for things. Quiet competence. Monitor your crabbiness levels and try to get them down.  Yes, cockiness can enter into this, but cockiness without the calm and ready part is a well-recognized form of idiot. Never add more than a teaspoon of cockiness to the recipe.
  • That masculine energy thing isn’t a personality substitute, it’s a background characteristic. It should be something they can see in you, not all they see in you.
    • All girls respond well to positive male energy, and negatively to its absence. We are animals, you need it to succeed.
    • But don’t go with girls who only want that masculine personality substitute or some other male stereotype. They have Daddy issues and will never value your true soul.
  • You will need a personality though, and it will work best if modeled loosely on your actual personality. {joke} Most teenagers aren’t comfortable or happy with who they are. In fact many will identify with wrong and demented ideas of who they are based on all sorts of random crap they imagine makes them more acceptable. It can take years to see a lie you tell yourself.
  • Your high school peers will attempt to crush your genuine, spontaneous personality and this can leave you acting like a flat, nothing person whose only remaining tool is irony. This is proactively avoiding disapproval by trimming your wick to please the least wonderful people nearby. They aren’t monsters, high school is just an automatic personality black hole of shame and fear because nobody knows and everyone is pretending to know. If you know that, you at least have a small step up.
    • You are halfway between caterpillar and butterfly and that is inherently stressful and weird. Confidently ride it out, it’s temporary.
    • Some of your high school peers are comfortable with themselves, they’ve learned how empty and sad it is to hide themselves from the world. Follow their lead.
    • Define yourself or others will. It’s like letting strangers estimate the value of your life and affix a price tag.
  • Notice when you are happy, and figure out why you were happy. Do the same when you feel motivated. These will help with a sense of direction, and you need one.
    • If you don’t know what you want, you don’t need to spin the wheel, you need to feel your feelings more.
    • Solitary walks pull your parts back together and align them properly.
  • Lots of personality stuff is “Fake it till you make it”. The things you fake should be aspects of a person you’d rightfully hope to become someday. It’s all theater for a while, then one day it’s part of you. You can choose to be noble, loving and true.
  • People are about 30% rational.
    • When you talk, your listeners feel your energy, look at your face and body, listen to the music of your voice and lastly, hear what you are saying.
    • When texting/emailing they IMAGINE all these things about you and bend your text to fit the mood they imagined. They don’t know they are doing this.
  • Learn about body language, and what displays mean what to the people around them. Notice your own body, how you hold yourself and move.
    • Don’t make your body be nothing but a transport vehicle for your head. Occupy it.
    • Think of cartoon characters and how they walk: Evil guy, Complete boob, Romantic lover, Hero, etc. Try the walks when you have privacy, you can actually feel the personality arrive with the walk. Then decide how you want to walk.
    • Something like yoga would do you good too. A big part of being attractive is being comfortable in your own skin.
  • Habits are really hard to break.

Continue reading


Dear son,

You will be 16 only two more months. You need space from me as never before. I’ve never felt serious hostility from you, but there are times when I feel the eyes of teenage judgement lasering through me, searching for anything false or failed. You can usually find something. At times I’ll be talking to you from your bedroom door and see you actually morphing into a werewolf, nearly growling at me to leave while I can. I take it in stride because we’re just playing out the eternal roles of controlling, restricting dad and desperate to get the fuck out of here kid. And it isn’t like knowing that offers us an opt-out policy from the drama, it’s compulsory, appropriate and as structured into your cells as learning to talk or walk. You are supposed to want to get the fuck out of here and if you see me as standing in your way, it’s because you are supposed to stop letting me do things for you and give up the comforts you feel when hanging around me. Those comforts could make you wander less, seeking your new life. You need to start looking for it now. I loved taking care of you when you were little, but taking care of you now, beyond what’s absolutely needed from me is a self indulgent bad habit I need to give up in your best interests. I actually don’t find it easy but life has times for ending things so new things can come along and this is one of those.

In fairness, you are almost always very nice to me and your affection shows through many times, but we never talk anymore. I miss talking to you without the sense that you are  counting the seconds being stolen from you. If I bring up an important subject that has emotions or personal stuff involved, you react like a cat suddenly recognizing the vet’s office. Embarrassed and appalled, you head for the nearest exit. I think I could still use the DAD voice and the whole “Get back here this minute” thing but that’s not how I imagined our talk. If I forced the issue you’d sit there like a coyote stuck on a barbed wire fence. You really don’t want to hear what I want to tell you. So I don’t tell you.

But I see things you need to know, and I know those things. Look, the big reason you want to get out of here is so you can walk around till you find a young lady who wants to have sex with you. That reason may be pretty clear to you already but if you thought it was the fresh air, you were mistaken. I don’t really mean the sex part, although obviously I really do. Yes, we’ll call it falling in love but we’re talking about the demands of your genes, not your beautiful soul, even though your beautiful soul is more important in the long run. I’m not talking about what you should feel, because that’s nothing but a tiny morality flag to salute. Nobody feels what they should feel, that’s why we have to be exhorted and reminded to feel it!  I’m talking about human animals like you and everyone you know.  In reality it’s more like; find some friends to hang with, get better at socializing, eventually meet some girls and practice talking to those girls until one of them likes you so hard that she wants to have sex with you.  But surrounding that superdrive to mate are a million ways to be capable or not and worthy or not. This is where your beautiful soul re-enters the picture.

Life is mostly about being with people and being a person worth knowing. Ignorance of those ways means suffering and wasted chances. You can, at least, suffer less and miss fewer chances.

Continued in How to people, part 2


“First of all, love is a joint experience between two persons — but the fact that it is a joint experience does not mean that it is a similar experience to the two people involved. There are the lover and the beloved, but these two come from different countries. Often the beloved is only a stimulus for all the stored-up love which had lain quiet within the lover for a long time hitherto. And somehow every lover knows this. He feels in his soul that his love is a solitary thing. He comes to know a new, strange loneliness and it is this knowledge which makes him suffer. So there is only one thing for the lover to do. He must house his love within himself as best he can; he must create for himself a whole new inward world — a world intense and strange, complete in himself. Let it be added here that this lover about whom we speak need not necessarily be a young man saving for a wedding ring — this lover can be man, woman, child, or indeed any human creature on this earth.

Now, the beloved can also be of any description. The most outlandish people can be the stimulus for love. A man may be a doddering great-grandfather and still love only a strange girl he saw in the streets of Cheehaw one afternoon two decades past. The preacher may love a fallen woman. The beloved may be treacherous, greasy-headed, and given to evil habits. Yes, and the lover may see this as clearly as anyone else — but that does not affect the evolution of his love one whit. A most mediocre person can be the object of a love which is wild, extravagant, and beautiful as the poison lilies of the swamp. A good man may be the stimulus for a love both violent and debased, or a jabbering madman may bring about in the soul of someone a tender and simple idyll. Therefore, the value and quality of any love is determined solely by the lover himself.

It is for this reason that most of us would rather love than be loved. Almost everyone wants to be the lover. And the curt truth is that, in a deep secret way, the state of being beloved is intolerable to many. The beloved fears and hates the lover, and with the best of reasons. For the lover is forever trying to strip bare his beloved. The lover craves any possible relation with the beloved, even if this experience can cause him only pain.”

Carson McCullers, The Ballad of the Sad Café and Other Stories


Eros: What does he have that I don’t have?

These are the 6 love styles as understood by current psychology.

  • Eros – Classic idealized romantic love.
  • Ludus –  Multiple love interests with an emphasis on controlling behavior. Lying, cheating and deception are common among people who experience love as Ludus.
  • Storge – Love based on Storge takes time, it requires genuine liking and trust of a partner; friendship leading to romance.
  • Agape – The powerful desire to want to take care of a partner—a parental or nurturing type of love.
  • Mania – Unstable, impulsive and needy. They fall in love quickly, but their love tends to consume them and burn out before it can mature.
  • Pragma – Based on common sense, reason and careful consideration. Practical concerns (and safety) underlie this type of love.

The order isn’t important.

When first exposed to these I thought they were awesome, they really help to make sense of behaviors that usually remain undefined. For example as someone who in the past often matched the Storge description, deep feelings arose for me out of solid liking and trust and not until. Being approached by a partner in full Eros mode would thrill me with their interest and passion. That same passion often overwhelmed me with its speed and intensity, making me hesitate in a “deer in the headlights” way that, in turn, made them feel uncertain. The ability to recognize the love style that is approaching makes it possible to anticipate how things are unfolding and respond mindfully.

When people encounter this taxonomy of loving, they often relate to it as a “personality type” tool where they are to pick themselves out of the list. Can you guess what they pick? Most people (according to themselves,) are Eros types. In second place comes Agape with nobody in a close 3rd. The idealized romantic Eros style is what you’d want to be out of this list. It sounds like true love expressed in the healthy, normal, successful way…that mostly occurs in movies. Agape is the popular second choice because so many people feel like they are the more generous, giving one in the relationship and possibly the unfairly unappreciated one. Obviously, most people are wrong about these choices and just trying to feel good about themselves. Ludus, Storge, Mania, and Pragma are the “Not so fantastic four” in this lineup. Storge is the most acceptable of this group because it’s kind of relatable and it doesn’t seem wrong on the face of it, just not very romantic. Pragma next because it’s that, Mania or Ludus. Pragma feels like the opposite of romantic love, practical and transactional. It’s like going into business as a couple. To choose Pragma as your “type” seems like admitting it didn’t go well for you, and here’s how you compromised and settled. Finally, in a popularity showdown between Mania and Ludus, Mania wins because people would rather be messed up than evil. Continue reading


Dear Boy of mine,

Our last “love and sex” letter/talk went great! By which I mean neither of us said a word about it later, and you didn’t tell me to shut up. I like writing to you and there’s so much I want to tell you. People don’t teach kids these incredibly important things that could potentially make SO MUCH DIFFERENCE in how successful their relationships are. Honestly, it’s almost as if parents, like prank victims, would rather watch the next poor suckers get pranked as well, instead of warning them off.

Despite the feeling that love should always last, you will probably find yourself in and out of relationships like most people. But I do know a few couples who have been together since high school and more who met in college. So without trying to set expectations too high, whatever happens during this time is laden with serious possibilities and opportunities that are not for squandering. Full disclosure, I was a distractable relationship idiot who squandered multiple possibilities for the ADHD driven payoff of exciting new experiences. I loved my wild days but every choice kills other choices and if you kill off too many soulful choices there won’t be any left in the package later. Along the way though, I’ve lived intimately and long-term with women loved and been loved, and learned a lot. My credentials have as much to do with failure as success but that adds a bit of tangy lime, for flavor.

There’s not a lot of hard science in this territory because people are weird and complicated and in a sense, science doesn’t even really know exactly what people are yet. Maybe it’s just that as many things as we can know scientifically about neurology and sex the real experience is like being lowered into a soupy atmosphere of adrenaline and magic where everything matters too much. To be filled with desire IS to be out of one’s depth, our toes scraping for solid ground. But there are a number of things to know that can help light your way and help you understand where you are.

People love differently

There isn’t just one motivation that drives all who love and seek love. So when two people approach each other and frame their experience together as common ground they may be wrong. They may be more like actors from two entirely different plays, interacting in a way that only appears to be part of the same story. Each may be thrilled or disappointed by elements of the story their partner is clueless about. Basically, people have different feelings about what it means to “be in love.” And “In love”, couple love, is my context today.

In commonplace psychological wisdom, these are the love styles that have been charted. These are observed behaviors that are consistent enough to be described as a style. They are useful as lenses to help us observe our actual approach to love and to understand those around us. Really, they are just various aspects of the experience of love itself but concentrated in one area by the comfort wavelength of each person. These styles are like the base note of the psychological perfume and most people are a blend of a main style and a couple of sub-styles.  You might also imagine each one having a range of healthy and unhealthy expressions and there’s no better or worse indicated by their order.

1. Agape: Imagine a nearly selfless joy in giving and helping the person you love. Agape nurtures, supports and cares; it is attentive, compassionate and almost parental. When healthy, it’s a self-transcending release from being a needy and lacking thing, to instead becoming a robust and generous thing. This is generous love and it comes with the incredible pleasure of holding nothing in reserve. This love isn’t “Because you’ve earned it “: This love is celebratory and full. “I don’t care if you’ve earned it, I love you!” Agape doesn’t count the change it gets back…it figures things balance out because “After all, I got to love you this much!” Continue reading


I wanted to talk to you about girls.
But I can’t because you would react like I touched a lit match to your skin. If I kept talking, you’d react like I was holding your head under water.
So I thought I’d write to you about it a little. This way we can both pretend I never said a word.

Girls, women. Females.
Our relationship to them as men, as heterosexual men anyway, is so deep that it has no distance from who we are. Our relationship with women is a kind of hub for the rest of our lives. We look at them and we see what we hope for and dream of. Sometimes it’s only lust, a fiery urge: sometimes it’s romance, an irreplaceable heart connection to a one of a kind person. Sometimes it’s kind of about who you want to be in this life. Sometimes it’s clear water insight and sometimes it’s a fever dream.

Sexuality and attraction are like nitrogen in the air, they are basic, and forever. You won’t know life from here on without it. There is a longing in the soul to know and be close and there is a longing in almost all bodies to join their essence with a beautiful otherness to make new life, that is like you, and like her and yet new. Making babies is where our single note joins with another and makes a chord. The desire and the love is that chord. I’m unlikely to run out of metaphors talking about love and sex because it is the inspiration for variation and creation. Sex is voting with love for new life.
I don’t mean sex is only about reproduction. Numerically, sex is rarely about reproduction but at the same time, almost all sex is about the possibility of reproduction. It’s always possible and it’s often a silent discussion like “Us? Maybe? Ever? Soon?” Even though there are times that people are oblivious to those thoughts inside themselves, there is something fundamental and magnetic and deeper than ordinary relationship issues pulling us toward making new people.

But rather than drag on about the universal magic in the air, let me tell you some useful things.  Continue reading