Literal heartache 3


heartA book landed on my desk at Mother Jones recently, called What You Really Really Want: The Smart Girl’s Shame-Free Guide to Sex and Safety by Jaclyn Friedman. It’s an advanced copy, so hopefully I’m not violating anything in mentioning a snippet here. The book comes out in November, but you can pre-order it at the link. In it, she discusses the Buddhist notion of “wise speech” when deciding whether to withhold truthful information from people. The criteria is simple: In most cases, we should omit truths if telling the person would be both unkind and unhelpful. For instance. You’re dating someone with lots of freckles. You happen to hate freckles. Do you tell them how much you hate their freckles? No, because it’s unkind, and they can’t do anything about that, short of expensive cosmetic surgery.

This seemed like an excellent strategy at first, until I thought about applying it to some of my own questionable behaviors. Then every potential truth-telling seemed “unhelpful” when it came to confessing. Is it unhelpful to tell someone you’ve faked an orgasm? It’s not a matter of improving someone’s technique (usually), since every girl likes different things, and really, it often stems from my own insecurities/trust issues. If it’s unhelpful only to me, then what? On the other hand, if talking about it openly would prevent more fakery from happening again, maybe that would be helpful after all. But what if I don’t see it as a problem, or at least not one that requires penance or change? And when is a withheld truth ever kind? If it were, then we would have no qualms about telling it in the first place. A kind, but unhelpful truth is just a lie in a prettier package.

I was on the radio Wednesday, talking about this AlterNet post I wrote: 10 Kinkiest Cities in America. If you want to hear me tell a story about getting a lap dance from a grandmother, you can. I come on at the 19:30 mark.

I was writing love letters to a gal that’s getting married in a few weeks to someone who is not me. That was unkind and unhelpful to both of us, so I stopped, even though I think about writing her love letters still. In one letter, I wrote:

“You know how we say things like, I can’t be without you? Partly it’s hyperbole. Of course we could. Our lives would continue. But really, what I think it means is more simple. More life affirming. You give me life.”

Some people you meet are like that, they inspire you, they fill you with life. When we lose that, it’s like losing our dreams to consciousness—maddening, confusing, inevitable.

In my first Chicago RedEye column, I wrote about mismatched sexual desires, which is so common, and so sad. Sometimes I think sexual satisfaction is a myth, a kind, unhelpful truth we’ve been told over and over is something not only within our grasp, but owed to us. Something we should always strive for. At SF Weekly, I wrote about how cybsersex has changed in the last decade. At Mother Jones, I wrote about nostalgia.

I’ve said before that I place too much faith in metaphor, which is an exaggerated truth, but one that has also withstood my usual scrutiny. I have a heart murmur, which Wikipedia poetically describes as “turbulent blood flow,” but basically means the valves that help pump blood through my heart don’t quite work like they’re supposed to. I hardly know it’s there. In fact, doctors can only hear it when I’m really sick or stressed. But lately, in the past year or so, I can feel it during times of metaphorical heartache. My heart has gone literal. It swells and beats erratically. It pushes into my ribs like some stuck butterfly trying to escape.

What I’m trying to say is maybe the truths we don’t quite believe manifest in other ways. Maybe kindness itself is an untruth, but the best we can all hope for.


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3 thoughts on “Literal heartache

  • Theresa Geary

    Very interesting article on literal heartache. What many people forget that all parts of humans combine to make the whole and you can’t really separate them. The body, spirit, emotions are all one in the same. That is how humans are made. So when you say poetically a “turbulant blood flow”, it is actually literal too. I saw my murmer once on a computer screen and was shocked to see that it looked exactly how I felt when I was stressed in any way. You can experience “physical” stress, like from running or being sick, “emotional” disappointment from a lost friend or relationship or “spiritually” from doing something that you know is wrong. It is a signal from your body that you are out of balance in some way. Take good care of your whole self. Buddha was a very wise man, by the way.

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  • Patrick Bader

    Once during a breakup a girlfriend said something to the affect of “Nothing’s ever really about the other person, it’s always about yourself.” A slightly harsher version of Seinfeld’s favorite “It’s not you, it’s me.” But I took heart to what she was saying at that particular time. All of our actions are selfish, not in a bad way, but in a the only thing we have marginal control over is ourselves way. In some cases we spare others harm because of the feelings we have for them in that time, in other cases we choose to say things that hurt because we have to get them out, but in any case it is about us.

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