I remember the last house I bought in Southern California very clearly. I chose it meticulously. It had a pool, a waterfall, and a casita where I could make my office. I decorated it and redid it just to my liking, throwing myself into the construction. It was absolutely gorgeous. It sat in a beautiful, desolate part of the Southern California desert, and it was where I was going to spend the rest of my life. And about 4 or 5 days after moving in I realized it. I was 64 years old, sitting in my dream house, all by myself.
It was shortly after I’d left my husband. Over the years, I’d become angrier and angrier that he didn’t understand me, that he seemed incapable of understanding me, to the point that it had become a vicious cycle. He felt criticized, I felt unseen. We’d been strangers sharing space for some time, with no knowledge of how to bridge the gap.
One day I came home, and out of nowhere he sighed and asked me, “What’s wrong?” I said that I didn’t know. “Do you want a divorce?” he said. At the time, it had felt like even one more day of this would have been intolerable. It must have been written all over my face. “Yes, I do.” So that’s how I found myself in a house, in the desert, all alone. It felt like the saddest thing of all time.
I’m a clinical psychologist, and it was around then that a client told me about OM. “You need to know about this,” I think she said. I looked into it, and it felt so outside of my experience. “There are men doing this?” I thought.
I carried some nervousness into my first sessions. I felt anxious about taking my pants off and having a man look at me there. I was scared everyone would be in their 20s and 30s and would think I was too old. I was scared no one would want to OM with me. But I went, and fifteen minutes of OM broke a lifelong unconscious belief. Shattered it to bits.
The belief began like this: I don’t think I had ever received a backrub that wasn’t foreplay in the man’s mind. “Can I give you a backrub?” was male-ese for, “Can I sleep with you?” Men were the takers, and the best you could hope for was a quid-pro-quo.
Here I found a completely new paradigm. A man offering that kind of attention to a woman and then just letting her leave without reciprocation? It completely blew my mind. I felt almost trained to feel bad receiving without reciprocating, even though I’d done it the other way so many times before.
As I fell deeper into my practice, I began to rethink men. And it took some serious rethinking! I was bitter. As far as I was concerned, men were selfish, uncaring and uninteresting. But when I started to ask men for OMs, the craziest thing happened. You know what it was? They said yes! It seemed like these men loved women. They cherished them and wanted to be around them. Every single OM I engaged in struck me as a healing process – not just for me, but for the historical trauma between men and women. The collective, accumulated trauma out there in the ether.
When I opened up enough to rethink men, I began to rethink my relationships entirely. I realized I had never learned to be close to anyone. My whole life I’d funneled all my energy towards myself, working on what I looked like, how I appeared to others. Building my empty house. But people don’t want to be impressed with who you are. They want to share themselves with you. They don’t want a brief tour of your beautiful desert home. They want to move in together. OM, its beautiful back and forth, its deep intimacy, revealed this to me.
About a year into my practice, I met a man, and before long I was tossing my suitcase into a car bound for his hometown of Seattle. This man…he sees me in places I’ve never been seen before. If anything is dishonest in me, he knows it immediately and doesn’t let it slide. He challenges me to work to the very end of issues. He delights in an inner playfulness I didn’t even know was there.
The room I live in now is pretty small. But is that little room ever full! I’m surrounded by a community of people who know how to give and receive attention in such human ways. My daughter lives in Seattle too, and I’ve become much closer with her than ever before.
I still worry sometimes that I’m too old for all this. That I don’t deserve this amazing gift of connection. A while back, I voiced these fears to an OM practitioner, and she gave me some good advice. “Kay, the only thing that matters is your heart,” she said. And my heart has never been happier.