Before the election, I was writing a response to a question about the ifs, whens, and hows of “casual sex.” A woman planning an Olivia cruise wondered if she could enjoy a shipboard sexual encounter, without dire emotional consequences. It’s a valid question, worth being thoughtful about.
But then we had this election, and that brought up a whole set of awful issues with the potential for very dire consequences. Shock, fear, anger, profound disappointment– what do we do with these feelings? And how do they compare to the very personal fears about shipboard romances?
A few days after the election my favorite local band, Roxie Watson, did their rendition of “Try A Little Kindness,” and I think that’s the answer. Trying a little kindness on the political level means acknowledging that some of us receive many more advantages in life, and doing our best to make it right for others less privileged. Right now there are many different groups of people who are under tremendous attack, and it may be hard to figure out where to begin to confront all this bad energy. But we begin with being kind to those next to us. We keep trying to treat others the way we want to be treated. Then we follow up with collective actions on behalf of all of us.
In shipboard sexual decisions, it’s kind to place a potential partner’s emotional well-being ahead of other feelings, like lust and pride and urges for immediate gratification. You can’t think for another person, but you can be realistic about how you’re likely to feel, and how she’s likely to feel, the morning or week after. And for your best guess about that, just check how you felt the last time you had a time-limited sexual encounter. If you’re glad you did it, had a little sadness when it ended, but no regrets, then maybe you should go for it. But first, you should ask her about that. She may have had other experiences that are different from yours. A sexy few nights with a stranger in the middle of the ocean sounds great…but you don’t want to wind up feeling like you hurt someone by being thoughtless. You don’t want to be unkind.
Off the ship and back in real life, dating relationships provide infinite opportunities to be kind, or unkind. Dating involves rejections, and most of us have been on both sides of that dynamic. Neither side is fun…but at least we can remember to treat others as we’d like to be treated, which provides an excellent guideline for all complicated dynamics. For example, most of us would rather hear “I don’t feel a good fit between us” instead of “you’re just not good enough.”
Just to be fair, I need to point out that the person being rejected also has an opportunity to be kind about it. Pleading for more time, demanding explanations, or attacking her isn’t kind. Neither is trying to coerce her into comforting you for the pain she’s causing you. Accepting what she tells you, acknowledging your feelings without blame, wishing both of you well on your separate paths–that’s being kind. Dating is hard enough without being unkind about the inevitable stops and starts between two people looking for “my person.”
And when you do find your person, marital researcher John Gottman says the secret of successful marriages comes down to one quality: kindness. Kindness means thinking about how she feels, showing her you cherish her, giving her what she needs. It means setting your own needs aside at times to attend to hers, listening to understand her point of view, respecting her desires and dreams, and doing your best to do right by her.
In a recent interview, Betty White was asked her secret for success in all kinds of relationships, personal as well as professional. “Kindness,” she said, and added “You don’t have to say everything you’re thinking.” No kidding! What you’re thinking isn’t nearly as important as how you’re acting. Hopefully, you’re acting in kindness.