Friday, January 1, 2016

Considerate Fantasizing: The Two Coke Approach to Winning Her Over

As men, we're bound to fantasize. We are innately driven seek out a goal and use our imagination to achieve it. Fantasy is our way of testing out different paths we might take to see which one might lead to the best outcome. We mentally try out scenarios until we arrive at the one we think is going to work best to retrieve the ripest and juiciest of the fruit we crave. And then, having practiced enough of it mentally, we act. Our theory is tested, and if it fails, we go back to drawing board--or back to our internal holodeck--where we do a few more test iterations of the scenario that is challenging us. 

Porn hijacks our capacity to fantasize and takes it in a crude, selfish direction. Research by Susan Fiske and her colleagues at Princeton University found that when men look at pictures of women in bikinis, it activates the same parts of the brain that are involved in considering how to use a tool or take action toward a goal. These findings have been widely interpreted as demonstrating that men have a biological tendency to view women in swimwear and provocative poses as objects.

When our minds engage in a pornographic fantasy, we are mentally trying out a sexual interaction of some kind with a certain person, in a certain way, and considering how much pleasure it would bring us. Masturbating makes that fantasy seem all the more real. As pleasurable as it might be, when the process is over nothing productive has come from it. We haven't done anything real for ourselves or another person. 

While it may come naturally to us as men to fantasize about using women's bodies for our pleasure, we don't have to simply leave the fantasizing brain to take the low road of objectification. We can harness our capacity to fantasize and use it in an entirely different way, in a generous, constructive way. We can use fantasy to get better at delighting others and enjoy the pride that comes from knowing that we did something for another person that really hit the sweet spot for them.

In the Movie Family Man, Jack Campbell, played by Nicolas Cage, is ripped from his life as a single, rich Wall Street power broker and dropped into a parallel universe where, 13 years ago, he decided to stay with his girlfriend Kate, played by Tea Leoni. Now they're married with two kids and living in a nondescript little home in a suburban New Jersey neighborhood. 

As he acclimatizes to his new life he realizes that Evelyn, a sexy friend of the family, has been trying to start an affair with the Jack whose life he has stepped into. He confides in his friend Arnie that he's considering it. 

Amidst the potent pull of this selfish fantasy, Jack is confronted with the opportunity to fantasize in a more generous direction. Kate presents him with an anniversary gift and is devastated that he didn't get anything for her. He didn't know it was their anniversary, he's brand new to this life! But he feels terrible seeing her high hopes dashed and wants to make it up to her. 

He takes the virtual version of Kate that's in his mind and uses his capacity for fantasy to try out different scenarios.

He brainstorms with his young daughter, Annie, who knows he isn't the dad she's used to. (She thinks aliens have replaced the real Jack with a convincing replica.) Jack wonders aloud, "Maybe there’s a jewelry store back at the mall. I could get her a pair of earrings or something."

Annie considers it. "That’s good but... you did forget the anniversary."

"Right.  That’s a major oversight," Jack admits. Then he really sets his fantasizing brain to work. "So if I’m Kate...I can’t really afford the finer things. My husband’s career is a crushing disappointment to me. I’m trapped in suburbia..."

He asks Annie, "Did he ever take her to the City?"

She grins and nods. "You’re really gettin’ the hang of this." 

After dinner in an upscale restaurant, Jack and Kate talk about what their lives could have been and he assures her, "Right now there's nowhere I'd rather be than here with you."

He carries her across the threshold of their classy hotel room. Then as she takes it all in, he hands her a glass of champagne and says "Happy Anniversary Sweetheart."

He pulled it off. Jack got out of the doghouse. "Way out" as Kate put it. And it was constructive fantasizing that enabled him do it. 

Again, he did it by considering various experiences that he could provide for Kate and then mentally ran his imaginary inner version of her through those experiences and then, marshaling his empathy, considered how she would feel about them. He knew this kind of getaway would be a real treat for her. Perhaps he considered staying at the Four Seasons, but that didn't quite seem like Kate's thing. So he landed on this quaint, classy older hotel. And we can tell by the look on her Kate's face as he carries her into the room that he hit the ball out of the park with that choice. 

After being utterly disappointed and completely closed off emotionally to him hours before, Kate's heart has softened and her love for him flows freely. Luxuriating on the king size poster bed she playfully says, "You may even get lucky tonight." 

Jack tells Kate how beautiful she is. And then, looking deep into her eyes, "All this time, I never stopped loving you." 

That was like the high striker puck ringing the bell for Kate. "That's all I wanted to hear." 

The replica of Kate that Jack held in his heart was no longer a crude caricature. It had been fully fleshed out and was close enough to the real Kate that she felt safe loving him with abandon. She freely opens herself to him. 

What a contrast from earlier in the movie when they'd been getting amorous and then had this exchange:

Kate: "Say it, Jack..."

Jack: "What...?"

Kate: "C’mon, you know what I like to hear..."

Jack, breathing heavily: "Yeah, baby, I know what you like to hear..."

Kate, kissing him: "Then say it, just say it to me!"

Jack: "Oh yeah, you’re a bad girl, baby. You make me so hot!"

Jack's inner replica of Kate was way off back then! So many miles that those words clanked in her ears and jarred her heart. The moment was ruined. She pulled away and left him alone on the stairs where they'd been kissing.

Failures like these don't have to be the end of the story--if we don't give up, that is. Jack was willing to dig deeper and do the work to discover what made the real Kate tick.

So, for us real guys to apply this principle, how high is the bar? Does it have to be lavish dinners at five star restaurants and getaways to luxury hotels? Are we going to be on months-long quests trying to ascertain the exact magic words that will unlock the door to her heart?

Actually, not at all! You'll be surprised by how readily she will respond to your efforts. Most women long to see you in the light of the caring guy and readily respond to most good faith efforts.

Emily, one of my clients who had been working to improve a struggling marriage for years came into a session and announced that it was now clear to her that things really were getting better. I asked what had happened that week to convince her. "We were driving to my son's Lacrosse game at another school and we stopped to fill up his truck. He came out of the gas station with two Cokes in his hand."

Emily had stopped talking, but I didn't get it. What had I missed?

Seeing my puzzled look she said, "Two Cokes. He'd bought one for me, too."

"And that let you know..."

"He's taking me into consideration." That, she said, meant the world to her.

Okay, so apparently this doesn't have to be heavy lifting. 

Another example came from Sheri, who has an allergy to shellfish. For their New Years Eve gathering her husband, Lyle, and their daughters love to have shrimp cocktail as one of the appetizers in their big spread. After they were done arranging the shrimp in a bowl of ice he said, "we need to scrub that cutting board now and spray it with this bleach solution." He opened the cupboard below the sink and took out the spray bottle. "We don't want your mom to get sick." As she talked about it later you could tell it had really touched her. In previous years, it has always been Sheri who had to notice what kitchen utensils touched the shrimp, assure that they didn't simply get dumped in the sink among all the other dishes, and scrub them down herself. Just as the two Cokes had for Emily, Lyle's actions that night showed Sheri that he was taking her into consideration. Sheri, not the cardboard cutout generic version but the fleshed-out version of her who had the distinguishing feature of suffering from a dangerous allergy, was on his mind and in his heart and remained relevant to Lyle in the midst of that kitchen chore.

During the time I worked with them Lyle wanted a better sexual relationship and Sheri wanted to feel closer emotionally. Events like Lyle cutting the scrubbing board were little steps that helped them get to the point where both of them were getting more of what they wanted. 

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