Monday, June 27, 2016

Zen as Fuck

My friend sent me a snapshot of a well-dressed woman on a bus, wearing a gold bracelet with the words: “Zen as Fuck” stamped on it. I immediately added this to my list of Future Life Goals: “Someday, somebody will take a look at me and say. ‘That is one together lady. And she is Zen. Zen. As. Fuck.’”
Because I have not always been “Zen as Fuck,” that is. I’m in my mid-forties, but emotionally there’s a part of me that acts 15 years old. In fact, I find myself doing a lot of stupid things now that I didn’t do at 15 years old. I guess that's the ideal time to make those mistakes. I was wise beyond my years as a child, and now that I'm middle-aged, I've acted naive beyond my years. And I get upset because of things people say. My therapist and my close friends tell me that my problem is that I spend too much time caring what other people think and that I wait for other people to validate me. And I wonder if I do this because I’m not really sure who I am or whether that person is worthy of love. When my therapist asks me what I am looking for in my relationships and in my writing, I respond: “To connect with other people.” 

Right now, two of those people, to whom I connected, are causing me immense pain. Each word he says is a cat-o-nine tails with a steel barb that cuts through my defenses and exposes the pulp of my weakened emotional state. "How could you be so stupid? What in the Hell were you thinking?" he says. "Why did you do it? Why didn't you tell me?"


I had been thinking along the lines of James Bay's song "Hold Back the River." I hoped that if I looked into somebody's eyes it would remind me of something that I lost, but I did not find what I was looking for. The River came and engulfed whatever that was. I answer: "I had to see for myself. I regret it. It was a disaster."
"So and So (his friend from the coffee shop) thinks you are crazy and that you have anger management issues."

"Does he really? Now remind me what your friend has a Ph.D. in? Oh, wait, it isn't Psychology. How many times has he met me? Four total?" "That was enough for him to make the diagnosis."
"So and So knows fuck all about me. In fact, I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess he knows very little about women, in general. He's projecting!"

I try to push these words out of my brain and focus on being a positive person in my interactions with others, like this other day, when I was driving back from yoga. This guy jaywalks in front of my car at a leisurely pace that could only be described as the “asshole stroll.” Normally, I wouldn’t say anything out loud, but I’d mutter under my breath and be resentful for a few minutes. I’d think about what a hurry I was in and how inconsiderate this person was for slowing me down. However, that day I happened to be in a good place. I slowed my car to an almost stop, smiled, and raised my hand to acknowledge his presence and let him pass in front of me. He smiled back. He probably didn’t even mean to do the “asshole stroll” thing. He was probably just in his own world and not paying attention. In the brief moment we smiled at each other, “Asshole Stroll” guy and I connected.

So I focus on minor victories in the self-improvement department. Like most people, there’s a struggle between my Good Angel and Bad Angel. The latter is very snarky indeed and takes other people’s sanctimonious cant as an affront to my own shortcomings. Bad Angel very cynically assumes that whenever a person is in constant need of reminding themselves (or me) of their qualities, this might reflect some inner doubt on their part. Meanwhile, I am rather familiar with my own shortcomings, so much so, that I am loath to give them up. However, I don’t appreciate other people pointing them out.

But back to my relationship with others. I send out these neuronal dendrite feelers trying to connect with different people. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t and those connections get brutally cauterized. Then, after my painful experiences, I look for meaning, because I think that if I can understand something, I can control it. Only the meanings can be elusive, and this control thing isn’t working out really well for me. In fact, it’s failing pretty badly. The only person I have control over is me, and that hasn't worked out so well lately, either.

People who struggle with anxiety and depression don’t always have a street fighter side to their nature, but I do. There was a time when I was a child, when I was weak, powerless, and my autonomy was compromised. I lost my voice and could not cry out. I swore that I would never let this happen to me again; so that, as an adult, if I feel manipulated, threatened, or hurt, I strike back. However, sometimes, when the anger and desire to control come from a source too close to me, this overwhelms me and I crumble.

It is not good to be childish and naive, but the flip side is to be childlike. With this quality, comes a sense of wonder, amazement and joy, sensitivity, and sensuality -- the ability to appreciate beauty and deeper meaning in life and see things with fresh eyes. I would still prefer my range of highs and lows to the alternative of emotional flatline and disconnect from others, even if the price I sometimes pay for this is pain and betrayal. I love and trust recklessly. Some connections fail, but others grow and link me to people and things outside myself. Ultimately, I am not alone. I am part of a whole, and, as such, am made whole and holy, in a web of meaning that does not begin or end with myself. 


I like to read stories and write them because stories help me find meaning, to know that I am not alone in my experiences and emotions. When I tell a story, it is my story. I have a voice. In this space, I am in control. I am not being acted upon; I am the Narrator. My stories have the meaning I choose to give them. In them, I have imagination and the power to regenerate and re-program cauterized neural pathways and bridge synaptic gaps. I can plunge to the inky depths where the submerged Self lies languid and exanimate and breathe life into her, the rhythm of my breath vibrating with the notes of Ariel's song from The Tempest:

Full fathom five thy father lies;
             Of his bones are coral made;
   Those are pearls that were his eyes:
             Nothing of him that doth fade,
   But doth suffer a sea-change
   Into something rich and strange.
   Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
                             Ding-dong.
   Hark! now I hear them—Ding-dong, bell.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Graphs for the Swinger Lifestyle Survey

This post shows the graphs of our findings from our swinger lifestyle survey. Click on any graph for a larger size image.

























Results of Swinger Lifestyle Survey

Thank you to the 82 respondents who answered our survey blog post, that we posted on SDC, and local swinger forums. Now the time has come to find out where you stand compared to the rest of the LS community (who participated in the survey) and for us to share our findings about this community.

Most of the answers will probably not come as a surprise to the people who actively participate in the LS. However, to non-swingers, the message of these survey results is that swingers tend to be relatively thoughtful and deliberate about their choices and interactions in this community, as opposed to the “sex-fiend underworld” stereotype outsiders may hold of about this subculture. If you were talking about single, vanilla people going out to bars and clubs to hook up, the answers might not be drastically different. The challenge swingers face is how to effectively navigate this, as a couple.

How long have you been in the Lifestyle: 84% have been doing this more than 2 years. We feel that the survey may have self-selected people with a longer-term vested interest in the Lifestyle, due to their active participation in swinger dating sites or forums.

Frequency with which people go to swinger parties or events: The answers were fairly evenly distributed here, with majority falling into one of the following four categories: ranging from 21% who went out once a week, 25% who went out twice a month, 24% who went out once a month, and 28% who went out less frequently.


Among the type of LS events people attended, swinger club was the most popular, followed by house parties, although 20% did get together in vanilla venues as well.

In response to how often did you play when you went out to LS events in the past 6 months, close to a third answered “half the time,” followed closely on the heels by another 30% who answered “occasionally.” We were surprised by the relatively high number of respondents (20%) who answered that they played every time they went to an LS outing in the past six months.

No big surprise that the majority answer to: “This is your first time at a swinger event/club where you don’t know many people,” was to “go up and introduce yourself to other people.” To be active as a long-term swinger, it helps not to be a wall-flower.

40% of the respondents answered that they were more likely to play the first time they met new people, while 36% answered that they were more likely to play the second time they met people.

Almost 50% of the LS respondents answered that they only swapped as a couple; as compared to 28% who declared themselves to be “full-open.”

The overwhelming answer to “Who takes the lead in picking play partners,” was both members of the couple at 64%. The rest was evenly split between the male or female, as the one doing the choosing - 16% for male and 18% for female, and a tiny percent, where each half of the couple took turns being the chooser.

Another overwhelming response was “full swap with another couple,” in answer to what kind of sexual play the couple was looking for.

In answer to who you most often play with, 35% answered “people that they had played with before,” and 28% answered “new people.”

Among the most important attributes in choosing play partners, personality came in first with 49% and looks came in second at 22%.

For those of you who have wondered about the role of alcohol, or where you stand therein for the LS crowd, 43% answered 3-4 drinks and 30% answered 1-2 drinks. Given the duration of a swinger event, which is usually four to five hours minimum, this did not seem any higher than a comparable vanilla crowd, going out for the same time period.

Swingers would appear to be relatively easy going about their play expectations. When asked what their primary expectation was at swinger outings, 38% responded “Go with the flow” and 34% answered “to have fun socializing,” compared with 27% who responded “to play with or meet future potential play partners.”

The answers to “How frequently have you and your partner got into an argument before, during, or after a swinger interaction, related to the LS?,” were fairly evenly split between 32%, who answered “a few times,” and 30%, who answered “never.” Significantly, another 10% answered that they had gone through an LS-related arguing phase in the past.

The most common responses given to politely reject play inquiries when the couple was not interested were the very honest “Sorry, not feeling a connection this evening” at 36%” and “Just feeling like socializing” at 31%.

55% of the respondents answered that they had taken a break from the LS in the past, compared to 43% who had never done so. Only 3% of the respondents answered that they were considering taking a break at the current time.



An overwhelming 58% of respondents answered that the LS had improved their relationship with their partner. The second biggest demographic was the 31% who responded “All of the above at different times,” with the options being “improved,” “neutral,” and “challenging.”

A very overwhelming 67% of respondents declared that the LS had positively affected their self esteem, compared to only 1%, who felt the LS had had a negative impact. 10% declared the LS impact on their self-esteem to have been neutral and 22% answered “All of the above at various times.”

47% of full-swap LS respondents answered that they would be willing to participate in soft-swap and 30% answered that “It depends on the level of the attraction.”

When asked “How often have you ‘taken one for the team’?” a majority of 57% answered “once or twice” compared to 23% who answered “never.”

The most popular response to “Top reasons for not hooking up with a couple for an additional time,” was “limited chemistry with one or both members of the couple” for 48% of respondents.

For our respondents, the biggest turn-on during play was “general chemistry, sexual compatibility” at 54%, followed by “enthusiasm of your play partners” for 30%.

The top 3 “biggest turn-offs before or during play” were “bad hygeine” at 28%, “pushiness” at 20%, and “feeling like play partner is not into you or into the play” for 17%.

When asked “What are your thoughts on orgies/group sex (five or more people playing together)?” 39% answered that it was a good experience; 34% answered that it depends on the circumstances/people; and 15% had never participated in an orgy.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Notes from Atlanta Poly Weekend 2016

Having experienced and written about the communication challenges couples can face, Claire and I decided to attend a conference for the polyamorous community -- Atlanta Poly Weekend 2016, in early June. We figured that we could learn a lot, as poly people have to navigate similar challenges to swingers, but with multiple ongoing relationships. The poly community also tends to be more organized around sharing resources for its participants, as opposed to simply offering opportunities to socialize or hook-up.

We were impressed with the conference, the speakers, and many of the people we met there. While we could not attend every seminar, due to scheduling conflicts, those that we did attend gave us a lot to think about.

Nonviolent Communication
Our favorite class was on nonviolent communication, given by Gregory and Melissa Avery-Weir. For anybody who has witnessed or experienced a total breakdown of the communication process, this class was a real eye-opener. Nonviolent communication (NVC), also called compassionate communication, refers primarily to emotional, as opposed to physical violence. This theory was developed by Marshall Rosenberg in the 1960s.

According to the Center for Nonviolent Communication, this approach “emphasizes compassion as the motivation for action rather than fear, guilt, shame, blame, coercion, threat or justification for punishment. In other words, it is about getting what you want for reasons you will not regret later. NVC is NOT about getting people to do what we want. It is about creating a quality of connection that gets everyone’s needs met through compassionate giving...The process of NVC encourages us to focus on what we and others are observing and to separate this from our interpretations and judgments; to connect our thoughts and feelings to underlying human needs/values (e.g. protection, support, love); and to be clear about what we would like to help meet those needs.”  https://www.cnvc.org/Training/NVC-Concepts


The authors like to think of themselves as thoughtful, educated individuals. However, we both recognized that we had made many of the mistakes that this process seeks to avoid. Somewhere along the line, we learned to talk about our feelings, as part of the process of negotiating conflicts with other people. However, we both noticed that this approach did not always produce the desired reaction, and did not understand why. The course on NVC brought to light specific pitfalls that interfere with effective communication.

One of the tenets of NVC is that it is more effective to communicate using “I” statements instead of “you” statements. Also, they instruct people to avoid the phrase “you made me feel.” Using “I” statements and avoiding “made me feel” statements encourages people to own their feelings and experiences instead of blaming others for them. Similarly, NVC instructs against “faux feelings,” which are interpretations masquerading as feelings. Some common faux feelings are “abandoned,” “betrayed,” “bullied,” “intimidated,” “manipulated,” “misunderstood,” “rejected,” “unappreciated,” and “used.” To illustrate this concept, instead of saying “I felt rejected,” you could say: “I felt anxious, hurt, and/or lonely.” Instead of saying “I felt betrayed,” you could say, “I felt confused, puzzled, frustrated, and/or upset.”

NVC then moves from a discussion of feelings and needs, to how to get both parties’ needs met. One of the most interesting distinctions the process makes is the difference between a request and a demand. Requests and demands can be distinguished by observing how willing the speaker is to accept “no” as an answer. When you make a request, you are asking for a specific behavior in a non-manipulative or coercive manner. A request is really a demand if it is prefaced with “If you were a good person, you would…” or ends with “If you don’t fulfill my request, I will impose a negative consequence.”

The Four Horsemen of Relationships
The Four Horsemen of Relationships is a concept from relationship experts John and Julie Gottman. It was explained in a class by Sarah Meng and Em Elliott called, “What is a Healthy Relationship, Anyway?” According to the Gottmans, the four leading behaviors that indicate an unhealthy relationship are contempt, criticism, defensiveness, and stonewalling.

Contempt refers to coming at your partner from a position of superiority. This also manifests as hostility, sneering, name-calling, condemnation, and eye-rolling. Criticism is a character attack, instead of focusing on the behavior. For example, “I can’t believe how selfish you were to not clean the car.” The preferred approach would be, “I felt stressed when you said you would clean the car and did not.” The Horseman of Criticism often leads to the Horseman of Defensiveness, which is a form of self-protection where you shift the responsibility for the action to another person or to external circumstances. Stonewalling is withdrawing from the interaction altogether, often as a protective mechanism. People do this when they get overwhelmed. When this happens, the Gottmans recommend that the overwhelmed person engage in self-soothing and then return to the conflict at an agreed-upon later time.


Other Tools
A class called “The Practical Poly Toolkit” by Bettie Bullet and her partner was centered on various strategies for better relationships. When a person is having a breakdown, the speakers suggested that their partner ask them whether they are looking for tactics to deal with the issue or emotional support. A person whose Myers-Briggs personality profile favors “Thinking” might be focused on tactical solutions to the problem, whereas a person on the “Feeling” axis may prioritize empathy and compassion.

The speakers also distinguished between “Fault” and “Fit” issues when there is a communication lapse. If it is a “Fit” issue, the partners may have different perceptions of what was meant. A “Fault” issue is a more intentional violation of an agreement. Many people falsely classify “Fits” as “Faults.” For example, if you asked a partner to text you back quickly when you message them, then you have a “Fit” issue if you define “quickly” as within 20 minutes and your partner defines it as within the hour.

In “Noel’s Rules of Relationships,” Ms. Noel focused on typical unhealthy communication patterns in relationships. One such pattern is assuming that what you said, or assumed (but did not verbalize), is what the other person heard, understood and/or agreed upon. Other common maladaptive strategies are defending by attacking; blaming other people for eliciting emotions, instead of recognizing that your emotions are about you and it is your responsibility to manage your emotions; and fighting as opposed to discussing how to work together to fix problems. When you fight, you fight with an enemy. For you to win, the other person has to lose, and what they will lose is probably something that is important to them.

Conclusion
Our discussion of Atlanta Poly Weekend touches on some of the highlights of the conference and the concepts we learned. In the future, we hope to speak more in-depth about these ideas at seminars or classes for the swinger community. We believe that sharing these resources within the LS will enhance healthy relationship dynamics and communication, and inspire new conversations about ethical non-monogamy.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Swinger Personality: Results from Myers-Briggs Survey

Claire and I conducted an informal Myers-Briggs survey of our local swinger Lifestyle community, in a major metropolitan hub of the Southeastern US. The Myers-Briggs personality test breaks down personalities based on four categories of distinction. In list order, those are extraversion vs. introversion, sensing vs. intuitive, thinking vs. feeling, and judging vs. perceiving. If you have not taken the Myers Briggs personality test and are interested in doing so, you can find a link here.


The objective of this survey is to look for patterns in personalities within the local swinger community, based on the frequency of different personality types and characteristics.  The first part of this blog entry recaps the raw data we collected. The second half summarizes our observations, based on this data.



Raw Data on Myers-Briggs Survey of Local Swinger LS

92 respondents overall
48 female
44 male

Color Code for the four Myers-Briggs sub-groups

Analysts (NT’s) are purple: 31 total
Diplomats (NF’s) are green: 31 total
Sentinels (SJ’s) are aqua blue: 24 total
Explorers (SP’s) are yellow: 6 total

To see one descriptive analysis of these personality subgroups, consult this link:

Most common personalities: (9 -13 respondents in overall): ENFJ (9F, 4M); INTJ (4F, 6M); ESFJ (9F, 1M); ENTJ (0F, 9M).
Three extroversion and one introversion type. Three intuitive vs. one sensing type. Two feelers; two thinkers. All are judging. Two analyst types (NT’s intuitive, thinkers).
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Mid-Range personality frequency: (8-5 respondents in overall): INFJ (6F, 2M); INTP (1F, 6M); ENFP (4F, 3M); ESTJ (2F, 5M); ENTP (1F, 4M); ISFJ (5F, 0M). Three introverts and three extroverts; four intuitives and two sensing; three feelers and three thinkers; three judgers and three perceivers.
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Least common personalities (1-4 respondents overall): ESFP (3F, 1M); INFP (2F, 1M), ISTJ (0F, 2M); ISFP (2F, 0M). One extrovert and three introverts; three sensors and one intuitive; three feelers and one thinker; three perceivers and one judger.

Explorers (sensing, perceiving) were extremely rare. Two of the Myers-Briggs Explorer types were in the least common group and two were not found at all in our survey.
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Not found at all in LS: ESTP and ISTP
No LS Women: ENTJ or ISTJ
No LS Men: ISFJ or ISFP





Our Interpretations of the Data

According to the Myers Briggs web site, in order of occurrence in the general population, the most common personality type is ESTJ (13%), ESFJ (12%), ESFP (11%) and ESTP (10%). The four most rare personality types in the general population are INFJ (1%), INTJ (1.5%), INFP (2%) and INTP (2.5%).
Note that that among the most common personality types in the general population, the only one that is correspondingly represented in the LS is the ESFJ.

The four most common personality types ESTJ, ESFJ, ESFP, and ESTP totalled 21 respondents out 92. They only comprised 22.8% of the LS. 92 respondents fit into one of the bottom four personality types in the general population (INFJ, INTJ, INFP, and INTP), but comprised 30.4% of the LS population.

We were also very interested to learn which personality types were far more common in LS than in general population. The following five personality types represented the biggest discrepancy between the LS and general population in terms of frequency (ranging from 10% to 5%): ENFJ (10%), INTJ (9%), INFJ (8%), ENTJ (6%) and INTP (5%). Note that these five personality types are among the least common the general population (under 5%).

Click on Chart to Enlarge It

Intuition

Our survey showed a high frequency of intuitives in the LS, as opposed to sensors.

“Intuition refers to how people process data. Intuitive people focus on the future and the possibilities. They process information through patterns and impressions. They read between the lines, they are abstract thinkers.”
http://www.mypersonality.info/personality-types/sensing-intuition/

Intuitive personality types focus on abstract thinking and possibilities. This allows them to question social norms, deconstruct and decide for themselves whether the social norm is valid. In the case of the LS, the social norm that is being questioned is monogamy. In contrast, sensing types are more practical and grounded. They tend to focus on the real world and the facts they can derive from it. Sensors are more grounded in the details of the external world and are more likely to be “conservative,” in the sense of not challenging prevailing social norms. Meanwhile, intuitive types tend to focus more on the overall pattern, rather than the details of the data. They also are more likely to have a bias towards imagination, innovation, and change.  This type of person might be more comfortable challenging the prevailing path or deviating from it.

Judging

Every single one of the most four most common personality types found in our survey of the LS is a judger. However, once you drop down to the middle range of the LS distribution, perceivers comprised three out of six personality types, and were solidly represented.

Judging does not mean ‘judgmental’. Judging people like order, organization and think sequentially. They like to have things planned and settled. Judging people seek closure.”
http://www.mypersonality.info/personality-types/sensing-intuition/

A judging personality type tends to have a more structured, deliberate and decisive thought process, with a desire for control and resolution. In contrast, a perceiver has a preference for more flexible and open-ended processes, with less focus on resolution. The authors are guessing that the absence of perceivers in the most common segment of the LS may be due to the fact that if a perceiver desired sex with a new person, outside of an established relationship, they would be less likely to do this through the LS. Instead they might explore non-monogamy in a more “organic” fashion, perhaps seeking it in their pre-existing and non-premeditated social interactions. This is in opposition to the LS approach, which requires the person to research and venture out to a completely unconventional sub-culture, which follows very specific rules of engagement. Preferring a more fluid fluid approach, the idea of engaging in a highly structured system, such as the LS, with concrete rules might feel “forced” to perceivers.

Absence of SP Types

“SPs are observant, experiential and primarily driven by sensation. They are flexible, aesthetically-aware, ‘here and now’ people that, with hardly a moment's notice, will go where their senses lead. SPs naturally make an effort (with a realistic approach) not to miss an opportunity that may prove to be thrilling, pleasing or otherwise valuable. SPs are are laid back, open-minded and love to feel alive. They have a tendency toward athletics and anything that involves creating or crafting.” http://www.mypersonality.info/personality-types/sp-temperament/

At first glance, the sensation driven spontaneity of the SP’s seems to make them a natural fit for the LS. While outsiders may view the LS as a pagan free-for-all, the reality is that it is a highly structured system, whose goal, consensual non-monogamy, deviates from social norms. Contrary to the hedonistic stereotype, it takes a lot of thought and planning to engage in this environment successfully on a regular basis. In reality, the LS is nowhere near as organic and spontaneous as outsiders imagine, or an SP (sensing perceiving type) might desire. While it’s rules may be different from those of conventional society, the LS definitely has them, and its long-term participants expect you to follow them.
For example, if you came to an LS party and were not aware of the culture’s norms, you might expect a spontaneous physical connection with another person that you could pursue at will, aka the “porn” scenario. In reality, the majority of the couples play together (the partner in each couple switches with the partner in the other couple). To set up this four-way play usually takes some “get to know you time” and some negotiating. While some couples hook up the first time they meet new people, many of the more successful “players” in the LS pursue a one-two punch approach, where the sexual connection happens after first flirting online, or after having seen one another more than once after a swinger event. You would NOT be welcomed if you just walked in and came on strong to somebody’s wife/GF or husband/BF. The trailing spouse would be very offended and feel that you were disrespecting their feelings and boundaries.

Conclusion

We detected a higher frequency of Myers-Briggs’ intuitive and judging types in the LS and concluded that the reason for this would be the tendency of intuitives to question and challenge prevailing social norms, matched with the preference of judging types to pursue their objectives through a systematic, rules-based approach.

Further study of LS personality types would extend beyond the local community we surveyed. Also, since we were conducting an informal study, we did not control for certain factors. For example, we solicited responses from our local community using a Facebook group. Those who participate in the online, non-anonymous (where real names and faces are shown) LS community have a greater investment in swinging than those who casually visit a LS club or attend events on an irregular basis. In the future, we will publish the results and conclusions of another survey we conducted, which gives more specific background information on our respondent’s level of engagement in the community.