In an upcoming workshop on relationship communication I am going to talk about writing our own “user manual”. There are several reasons why I think this is a) an important exercise and b) an important communication tool. In this post I am just talking about the why and give you some tips on the how and in a post down the line, I will be posting my own user manual.
One of my teachers told a story about one of his workshops. One of the participants was frustrated with her relationship and asked him to understand her partner. She just wanted to figure her partner out. What does it mean if he does X, what does he want when he says Y? My teacher thought for a moment and then invited her to go behind the building. He said she will find a fleet of moving trucks there that contain the user manual for men. *queue for chuckle*
His point was of course that we can never fully understand another person, their motives and their actions. All of us carry around the baggage of our childhood experiences, previous relationships and our successes and failures. We made up our own story about ourselves and we run whatever societal programming we received. When the story or the programming gets triggered we might act in a way that is incongruent with who we are otherwise. And that leads to confusion.
The Most Important Thing About Writing Your Manual Is To Be Truthful.
Writing your own user manual has 2 sides. The first and most obvious is that the person you are dating can read it. This will allow them to understand your choices, actions and reactions and behavior a little better. They might even be able to anticipate some of the things you do or say. They can understand the programming and the routines a little better. They can anticipate what triggers you. And most importantly, they have an idea on how to handle you in these spaces.
The other and less obvious side is that writing your own user manual is a great exercise in self-examination. How aware are you of your needs, wants and desires? Do you know what behaviors stem from your childhood and family history? Do you know what thoughts get triggered when you see your current partner act in a way that a previous partner did? What are the predominant emotions you are feeling in those moments?
And then you can go deeper and look at how you want to be handled in moments of high intensity. Do you need space and alone time or do you need your partner to hold you? When you are feeling “jealous” (this is in quotes because I have so much to say about that, but it will be another article), do you need to talk to your partner? Should they explain whatever they did? Share their feelings with you? Or should they just sit there and allow you to blow up and wait for the heat to go down again?
As you can see, there is a lot of thought that goes into your user manual. The most important thing about writing it is to be truthful. To yourself when you are writing and to the partner you are sharing it with. Expect that partner to have questions. Be ready to answer them. Be vulnerable and share.
In Case Of Any Problems Not Covered In This Manual, Please Contact Customer Support.
Okay, you have waited long enough. Let’s look at the How. I suggest that your user manual has 6 sections:
1. My background and history.
This is an awesome section to explain some of your quirks and incongruencies. For example: “I grew up the youngest of 4 brothers. I always had to fight for anything I achieved. If I feel I can’t get something I will try harder and harder.” It also allows you to dig into some not so nice areas: “My mom used to be hypercritical of anything I did during my school time. I react angry and hurt when my partner questions what I consider successful outcomes.”
2.My emotional information and requests.
In this section you can talk about your feelings. I know this is a hard section for us guys (well, some of us guys) and it is a really important one. Talk about how you want to feel and what makes you feel that way. You can request certain things from the person reading it. Just be sure to take responsibility. “I have a hard time being vulnerable. That means I am rarely initiating conversations on that level. When I do, I might not be able to share immediately. Put your attention on me and wait for when I am ready.” or “I rarely cry but when I do, I am in a really shitty place. When I cry in front of you please hold my hand or put your hand on my knee. I don’t want hugs but I do want to feel physical closeness. Don’t try to reason with me or fix me or tell me everything is going to be alright. Just be there with me.”
3. Flirting with me
Well, this is where you talk about how you flirt and how you like to be flirted with. Not as difficult but really cool for your partner to understand. “These are places I love to go for dates: Neighborhood bars, coffee shops (with good mochas), ice cream shops, strip clubs, tapas restaurants” and “I love to cook. Talk to me about cooking and you will see me get excited and bubbly. Other topics that I geek out about are sex, relationships, dating, the countries I lived in and norse mythology.” And of course you can make requests here too: “I love when someone cooks and shares the food with I feel all tingly especially when I can compliment them on the food.”
4. My thoughts about sex
Okay, let’s address the elephant in the room. We all want it, we all do it, nobody talks about it. We all are sexual beings, even if the primary label is asexual. This is the section to talk about your take on anything sexual. “I believe that there is no such thing as “just sex”. To me any sex is a connective experience and while it might not last past climax, I will love my partners in the moment I have sex with.” or “I don’t believe in one night stands. Anything worth experiencing once is worth experiencing more than once. If you are only looking for a one time hookup, I am not interested. That doesn’t mean I am not interested in hookups. Just don’t limit them to be a one time thing.” or “I believe sex should only ever happen in marriage. While dating I will kiss and hug but I will not go any further until there is a commitment. You can also talk about what sex means to you and what interactions you consider sexual (ie: kissing, hugging, petting, touching through clothes, touching under clothes, being naked in each others presence, kissing naked, cuddling with or without clothes, etc.).
5. My Sexual turnons
Pretty self explanatory I think. Talk about the things you know will be a turnon for you no matter what. There are certain things that get you hot. And yes, they usually differ a bit between men and women, that’s why this is a really cool section to share with partners (especially if they are of the opposite sex). For example: “I get very turned on when you lean over and whisper into my ear what you would like to do with me sexually. It doesn’t even matter if I am into what you are suggesting. That fact that you verbalize it in that way is enough to have me hot and bothered.” You can write about what you like to do during sex: “I love when I feel your fingernails leaving scratch marks on my back during sex. It brings out my animalistic side.” And finally this is also a section to talk about your kinks or fetishes: “I love blowjobs that are very sloppy. I love when a woman spreads her pussy and ass and gives me a show. I am dominant and I love when a woman begs me to cum on her. I am an exhibitionist and voyeur. “
6. My turnoffs
And finally the last section. Again, anything goes here, not just sex stuff. Some of the things you might have covered above but anything else you can let out here. Your taboos, general and sexual boundaries, your no-gos and turnoffs go here: “I dislike when my partner talks bad about or insults previous partners. I don’t care if they were “crazy”, “pricks” or “cunts”. This is an instant turnoff for me.” It can be sexual: “I am turned off when I feel that my partner is doing something for me that they don’t actually want to do. I am all for exploration but when it becomes something they aren’t into, I will not enjoy it either.” And they can be boundaries: “My absolute boundary is my skin. Anything I decide to put into my body is my choice and not yours to criticize. I am happy to hear your suggestions and opinions but I will make the decision. Trying to change me to be vegetarian, smoke weed, not drink beer, not drink protein shakes, run half-marathons with you or anything else that falls into this category are turnoffs for me.”
Wow, that’s a lot of stuff. And I know that if you try to cover every eventuality in your user manual, you will write for the rest of your life, get nowhere and find nobody to read “The Tome Of You”. As with any user manual, it is about giving your partner/s a better idea about your standard operating procedure in a plug in, turn on, change batteries, 3 troubleshooting steps kind of way. Even the user manual of your TV or radio can’t cover everything. That’s why there is a final piece to it: “In case of any problems not covered in this manual, please contact customer support.” Well, that’s what you and your partner will do too. Talk to each other, the manufacturer (ie: family) or find customer support (ie: counselors, coaches, therapists, etc.).