Post-Mother's Day Musings

A woman’s touch, her smile or the light in her eyes can make an Alan-Alda type feel like Arnold Schwarzenegger; or, make the Bruce Willis types realize there are better things in life than brawling and bragging.

The phenomenon is summarized with the humorous definition of "woman" — "a creature who is either making a fool out of a man, or making a man out of a fool." We’ve all seen it happen: that process that turns a testosterone-driven "boy" into a civilized, mature "man."

Once the attraction trajectory begins, the couple has a chance to succeed in the difficult task of forging a happy marriage. Women have been praised through the ages as mothers, and rightly so. But before a wife becomes a mother, she needs to be secure in her husband’s love and he in hers. Together, then, the father and mother can succeed in the long, arduous process of nurturing offspring — transforming them from little savages into productive citizens.

This, of course, all hinges on love and sexual desire. We sometimes think of these in terms of the actions they spur, but before they reach that level, they start out as mere feelings. Like the air we breathe, these feelings can be both insubstantial and powerful, but they are always vital.

When the air is still we are hardly aware of it, even as we fill our lungs with it. But let a storm stir the air into gale-force winds and it moves nearly anything that stands in its way. So it is with passionate feelings. Our rational side tries to understand and cope with our feelings. Yet wisdom teaches that without our feelings, we would no longer be human, but merely machines. Countless movies have explored this intriguing machine-man concept.

Love and sexual desire are, in some ways, like colors. We become aware of feelings, just like with colors, through experience. It is hard to explain to a child what colors are. We usually don’t try to explain them to a child but merely point to various examples. Eventually the child learns to associate "blue" with the color of the sky and other objects. Still we try to understand feelings, to somehow grasp their significance, to figure out what to tell ourselves about these "things" that we perceive. So we develop language to describe them.

This never-ending quest for understanding and meaning is part of what makes us human. It comes down to the nature of the messages we tell ourselves (and others), the messages by which we interpret our experiences.

We must learn to use our thought processes to channel and direct our feelings, just as the sailor learns to use the sail to make the power of the wind move his craft. The power of our feelings to determine our actions depends, to a large degree, upon what we tell ourselves about them, their meaning and significance.

We determine much of the quality of our lives by the messages we tell ourselves. But we don’t come by those messages completely on our own. The world declares that love and sex are "no big deal." Since the larger part of our "doing" is determined by some combination of our thoughts and feelings, we must settle in our own minds our attitude toward love and sex.

Some say love is the most important, powerful thing in life and that it lasts forever. Some say it is foolish and futile, that it burns hot but soon grows cold. To the optimist, it seems priceless. To the cynic it is pointless or, worse, a meaningless fraud. To some, sex is the ultimate expression of love. To others, sex is the object of derision or guilt. The more good-humored among us see sex as Nature’s great joke on mankind, the ultimate contradiction to our high-and-mighty pretensions of rationality. They are answered by the serious-minded who remind us that this drive — which we share with the animal kingdom — is the means by which we participate in the creation of life, the most significant action of all.

Out of these confusing messages, we must choose what we will tell ourselves. Context becomes significant in this process. Following the exhilaration of sexual intimacy, a period of physical and emotional letdown frequently follows. Sooner or later the shining moment of oneness will be followed by negative emotions. Feelings of connectedness get displaced by feelings of isolation or, in some cases, depression. Extreme highs drain us and breed extreme lows. Irritability follows ecstasy. Movies or sex manuals seldom explore these realities.

These transient reactions wouldn’t be significant except that the rational, cynical critic in the back of our brains goes into high gear. It starts interpreting intimacy as fleeting and ephemeral. Intimacy sometimes leaves us feeling exposed, as indeed we are. We feel vulnerable, out of control. The feelings of insecurity — which most of us seem to be born with — come rushing to the surface. If we give in to our defensive reactions, we will be tempted to lash out and say hurtful things as we struggle to restore our sense of independence and control.

Here is where context becomes such a big factor. The man and woman who have not entered into marriage are least likely to get through the inevitable rough spots. The lack of a public commitment plays into the negative messages that boil up out of our insecurities. The notion that a man and a woman who love each other don’t need a marriage license is bogus. The married couple’s commitment to each other is designed to be like the sailor’s anchor. Storms are inevitable, and they call for a safe harbor. Cohabitation doesn’t provide that. Nor will marriage if it regards divorce as an easy option.

The treasure of motherhood deserves the most secure environment possible. Pregnancy and caring for an infant make huge physical and emotional demands. These events rearrange a new mother’s whole world. Nature provides many of the feelings needed to strengthen us and assist us to have positive hopes and expectations surrounding the birth of our child. But still there are trying moments; sometimes, full-blown crises. In these times of stress, there is no substitute for a husband who in the little acts of love and devotion makes you feel adored — even when you are harried — and who has vowed to stand beside you through the daily grind of life. Such cherishing actions demonstrate real love and commitment.

Being cared for and protected puts the right messages in your mind when you are struggling to meet the challenges of motherhood.

Hey Terminator, meet Cinderella Man.