“I can't feel you.” It seemed like a strange thing for a girl to say. I didn't understand what she meant, but I did know she was explaining why we hadn't had sex in the week and a half she'd spent at my apartment. I'd met her on Tinder, she'd slept in my bed, and we'd kissed and cuddled a bit, but it didn't go any farther.
At that point, I was twenty-three, and my longest romantic relationship had lasted six months. Once I chose to be sober, I realized I did not have any real connections. Most of my social circle was people I worked with, waiting tables. After moving out of my parents' house, I'd taken an apartment with a friend from high school, and I soon discovered I didn't know him all that well. He decided to adopt a puppy, which I was not in favor of, and I wasn't able to stand up to him, even though having a dog violated our lease. I swallowed my reactions, while secretly feeling resentful. I wasn't in contact with the complexity of my emotions, and I had no way to verbalize what I was feeling. I wasn't equipped to have a satisfying friendship or a successful romance.
When I discovered OM, I thought it might help me get closer to women. One thing that I liked about the people I met through OM was their ability to ask questions and be genuinely interested. They seemed to feel things a lot. After a few OMs, I had lunch with a woman I'd met through the community, and she told me how the practice had helped feel more comfortable being intimate with men and feeling safe with them. It was one of the first real conversations I had with a woman. I started to understand the female experience in our society and how I have contributed, unconsciously or sometimes consciously, to the sense of domination by men. I would have had a lot of trouble hearing her words if I hadn't already begun to learn from OM how to hold sensation in my body. It would have been easy to react defensively, or else I could have been submissive and apologetic, but instead I was able to listen, hold the sensation, and still feel sturdy.
This ability came from my experience of adjustments. During OMs, the way I'm stroking might be off the spot, so my partner can make requests to change the stroke. At first, I heard requests as harsh or angry. I also learned sometimes women hold in the request and then feel irritable by the time they actually verbalize it. When this would happen, I used to feel ashamed. But I learned how to turn inward to feel that shame and embrace it, and then I can turn to the real intention, which is not to upset me but just to adjust the stroke. And then the momentary emotion moves away. I don't internalize it. I don't take the other person's irritation personally because it's not about me.
One time, I was making an offer during an OM, where I suggest changes in the way I was stroking based on my own impulses about what would feel good to both of us. She answered the first few offers, and then she didn't say anything after that. I went round and round in my head about all the things that I might be doing wrong, wondering what had upset her. Then the bell rang to end the OM, and when I turned around to help her get up, I saw she had fallen asleep. It was a visceral way to learn that what's going on in my head is not always what's actually happening.
Now I have a partner I've been with for a year and a half. We have a lot in common, and she's pretty self-aware, since she's done a lot of therapy, although she doesn't OM. She likes how much she can feel that my attention is on her. She'll ask me if I've seen some object, and I'll say, “It's right here. I brought it to you because I thought you were going to need it.” I'm able to hold space for her, engage with her in difficult conversations without reacting. That's something that I learned through OM by being able to hear the adjustments being given.
There are times where my partner has been mad at me, and she has pulled away and then been surprised that I don't seem upset. I get a bit annoyed, but I tell her I understand that she did it because she's used to not trusting people. She pulls away and then expects them to pull away too. But I know if I stay present with her long enough, she's going to come out of it because it's not what she actually wants.
We have an open relationship. I really value the safety I feel when I express my sexual desire for other people. I have permission to be authentic. Unlike before OM, when I couldn't even tell my roommate he shouldn't have a dog, I'm able to speak up and have my feelings be heard. And it doesn't mean there's anything wrong about my relationship with my partner. I can ask for what I want without shame.