The Crush Letter No 121

. 17 min read

I'm Dish and I write a weekly newsletter about life, love, and culture for those 50+. Because midlife and beyond is so much hotter than they said it would be.  Hell yes, sign me up for the Dish.


Hello Crush,

It was my birthday this week. I am, if you'll recall from last week's Letter, living in a state of near solitude in my little island summer cottage.

A very good, close friend sent me this text last Sunday:

Her: Hey, it's your birthday this week. What are you doing?

Me: Olive {my dog} and I are having a party for two. Of course, that describes every day with Olive.

Her: [About ten minutes later.] Right, well my flight arrives Tuesday at 5. I made dinner reservations for your birthday at 8. (With apologies to Olive.) Flying out Thursday bc I have to go to DC.

Me: ILY! I'll pick you up.

Thank god for very good, close friends.

My family of origin ("f.o.o.") takes a "relaxed approach" to birthdays, which is to say that we have sometimes forgotten each other's birthdays. This has always bothered me some, but not enough to do anything about until about five years ago when, for a couple of years in a row, they forgot mine. I have forgotten their birthdays too – it is how we operate, and I'm part of the system so I'm not pointing any fingers.

The first year it occurred I called my Mother around 9pm to give her the opportunity {wink, wink} to fete me before the close of the day. "Oh honey!" she said, "Happy Birthday!" (I respected that she didn't even pretend that she remembered.)

The next birthday passed much like the previous. By year three – and this is not that many years ago - it finally sunk in that I needed to ask for what I needed, so I started sending a text a day before my birthday to my family's group text (everyone has one, right?): "Hey, just a reminder that tomorrow is my birthday. I would love to hear from you!" I'm still learning to ask for what I need, so this was a good opportunity for me to try that out and importantly, it worked!

I think I have a wonderful family, but birthdays aren't their thing. The truth is, though, that no one person (or unit, in the case of my family) is going to give you everything you need. Nobody can be your everything. Is even supposed to be your everything. Different people love in different ways without necessarily loving you any less.

Which is why we have friends and romantic partners. A couple of my close friends know about my family's approach to birthdays. (Obviously that's just a version of telling them my needs.) And there one was at the airport Tuesday. Another sent a box.

I felt loved.

And I feel like I've learned (way too fucking late) a valuable lesson about how those who love you want to take care of you, but sometimes you have to ask for it or tell them how you feel.

I'm 59 now, and I can't believe how many ways I'm still learning to be better at life, as well as to be a better friend, lover, family member. When can I stop working at this?

Probably never, huh?

+++

So we are celebrating friendship in today's Letter.

And to gear up for an upcoming PrimeCrush Toy Tester Letter, we are rerunning our story about five long-married couples from the midwest who went on a week end retreat with a renowned sex therapist. Spoiler alert: one of the things that came out of that week end was the infusion of fun and adventure that trying new sex toys can bring to a relationship. That story was the beginning of our effort to review and share toys that work for "us."


If you're new here (welcome!), I'm Dish, the Master of Ceremonies. For more about me and why we're here go here.


In This Letter.    +Eric Barker's Six Tips on Keeping Friends Close. By Dish Stanley Nothing makes as much of a difference in living longer as having an close, intimate circle.    +Who I'm Grateful For. By Bob Guccione Jr  I have not woken up every day in a bed of roses.   +Precursor to upcoming PrimeCrush Sex Toy Report - Field Trip: What Five Married Couples Learn on One Powerful Weekend Away With A Renowned Sex Therapist. By Dish Stanley "I would say that the common driver among the couples is that we are all committed to personal growth.  And to our marriages."   +Social Media I Loved This Week By Dish Stanley    +Our Song of the Week  You better believe she's living for the moment / But her moment is the whole damn thing

Eric Barker's Six Tips on Keeping Friends Close. By Dish Stanley

We all know that friends are important. But did we know that they were this important? Eric Barker argues that only two things make a huge difference in living longer: frequency of quality social interactions and how integrated you are in your community.

Eric Barker writes Barking Up The Wrong Tree, a weekly newsletter that shares science-based insights on “how to be awesome at life.” Along with over 315,000 other subscribers (Hello! Subscriber goals!), my life is better because of him. I try to make a point of doing the things he recommends, like writing the five emails every week that make me happier, taking the eight steps that make me more resilient and practicing the four active listening techniques that will (soon, I hope) make me more captivating. (What Barker lacks in poetry he more than makes up for in digestible numerics.)

One of Barker's recent issues, “This Is How To Make Emotionally Intelligent Friendships: 6 Secrets,” is barking up our tree. The friendship tree. Barker starts with some shocking stats on the importance of friendship. He cites the work of epidemiologist Julianne Holt-Lunstad, who reviewed studies of 300,000 patients to determine some correlations around who died, and why. They considered the usual lifestyle and environmental factors: drug and alcohol intake, smoking, sleep, etc, etc. Barker reports that only two things made a huge difference: frequency of social support and how integrated they were in their community. He digs into the recent book by psychologist Robin Dunbar Friends: Understanding the Power of our Most Important Relationships (Little Brown and Company, 2021) who says:

“It will no doubt get me into trouble with the medical profession, but it is not too much of an exaggeration to say that you can eat as much as you like, drink as much alcohol as you want, slob about as much as you fancy, fail to do your exercises and live in as polluted an atmosphere as you can find, and you will barely notice the difference. But having no friends or not being involved in community activities will dramatically affect how long you live.”

Barker has the prescription. He calls them the six “secrets” of friendship, but it's less that they are secrets and more that we don’t honor them as a practice in daily life. You’ll want to read the whole thing, but here is my spin on Barker's six:

  1. Be deliberate about staying in touch. “In touch” means seeing them IRL, not liking their twitter post. Show up. For dinner (even if you’re tired), funerals (even if you don’t like funerals), their weddings (even if you already attended the first three). Consider your friends as concentric circles of closeness around you. Six months of separation and a friend drops from a closer circle to a further one. Another six months, another circle. Turns out friendships are more fragile than we realized. (Conversely, you now know how to lose a friend who deserves a table in the outhouse.)
  2. Say thanks often. We take our close friends for granted, while reaping gratitude on those who support us less (eg, strangers). Underappreciation erodes friendships.
  3. Keep it deep. Be vulnerable, emotional, humble. Share what you’re really going through. Superficiality is not sticky.
  4. Be discerning about how you distribute your “friendship budget.” Evidently we have one, whether we are introverts, extroverts or ambiverts. We can only give so much to so many, so prioritize who is important.
  5. Party better. We’re happiest when we gather with friends if: more close friends show up, there is a lot of laughter, we reminisce about the past and we consume alcohol.
  6. Choose your very best friends wisely. They have an outsized influence on your habits, and your happiness.

As to the various lifestyle factors (drugs, alcohol, sleep) that Barker seems to dismiss in his piece, perhaps the research explains the longevity of someone like Keith Richards, despite his well-chronicled rocker lifestyle. Reading his memoir Life (Little, Brown and Company, 2010), I was struck by the constancy of a close circle of friends in Richards’s life. There is a memorable story about Richards, Mick Jagger and Brian Jones sharing a flat in London in their early 20’s. Only two of them could go outside at a time during the winter because they only had two coats, which were shared among the three of them. And despite their famous falling out over drugs, women and jealousy, Richards' and Jagger’s productive partnership reads more like a long, intense and complicated friendship than anything else. Nobody ever said that friendship isn’t complicated. “True friends. Hardest thing to find ... you just grow into each other,” says Richards.

Who I'm Grateful For. By Bob Guccione Jr

"We laughed a lot, and, really, some of the things we laughed at I can never tell you because mobs with lit torches would hunt me down."

I’m grateful for the sun shining, and the shade to sit in to keep out of it. I’m grateful for the sun rising in the first place (or, more accurately, that I’m here each new day to see it, if not rising exactly then hovering, somewhere near the noon mark). I’m grateful for every person that shows even the slightest kindness and warmth toward me. And I’m grateful for my health which, to no one’s surprise more than mine, is good.

I’m just one of those people that is abundantly grateful, abundantly aware of the blessings of life, starting with life. I’m a happy guy. I’m often a lucky guy but not always. I’ve been down and badly so. I have not woken up every day in a bed of roses.

So, you almost have to factor me out in any mean average of human gratitude, because my default position is to be grateful, mindful of how lucky and loved I can be from moment to moment, and how periods of great darkness can nonetheless be relieved with piercing shards of blessings.

The person I’m most grateful for, daily, is the great love of my life. But let’s disqualify her, on all the obvious grounds. The person I’m most grateful for outside of that intimacy is my extremely special friend Paul. I won’t use his second name because he’s genuinely humble (most people aren’t genuinely humble) and not a little shy. This is a guy who, having been given an award by a Catholic Church Order at a dinner years ago, gave the shortest acceptance speech in history — he was on his way back to our table before I had finished folding my napkin.

Paul and I met more than twenty years ago when he ran a boutique, white-shoe Wall Street investment firm. We came from opposite sides of the business spectrum and experience and I was certainly not their usual client and I didn’t try to pretend to be. We shared a deep faith in God and a shaken and sometimes skeptical but nonetheless intact fidelity to Catholicism. We also liked girls and, both being single then, were allowed to.

Business was a very secondary and eventually non-existent aspect of our relationship as our friendship grew. We supported each other emotionally through tough relationships and life’s spray of disappointments. We laughed a lot, and, really, some of the things we laughed at I can never tell you because mobs with lit torches would hunt me down.

When I fell on some hard times several years ago, which I went through for years, with the occasional break here and there, Paul always picked me up. He didn’t have to do that always. He never failed. He offered me help more times than I accepted it. But he was unfailingly in my corner. That constant support gave me strength. That was invaluable, as in, seriously, its value can never be measured. I am so, so grateful for that solid friendship, that dear love.

Field Trip: What Five Married Couples Learn on One Powerful Weekend Away With A Renowned Sex Therapist. By Dish Stanley

For their 20th wedding anniversary, one couple organized a retreat with a leading marital and sex therapist.  In this candid q&a with the woman who organized it, we learn why they went and what they brought back.

Tell Us About Yourself

I am an ICU doctor in the Midwest. My husband is also a doctor (we met in medical school), and we have two children, one in college (MIT, we’re so proud) and one still in high school.  I was raised in Mexico and my husband is from Vietnam.  On top of the joys and difficulties every other long-term married couple experiences, we’ve also combined cultures. We’ve been together for 26 festive years.

Why’d Your Organize This Trip?

I am a medical doctor by training and practice and I see wellness in a holistic way, including emotional, relational, and sexual wellness.  To be healthy encompasses all those areas.  It was our 20th wedding anniversary and my husband and I wanted to honor and celebrate that — but also to connect in new ways.  I am not saying “reconnect” because that’s not the right description; we wanted (and want) to continue to connect, to grow in new ways.  A sort of commitment to relational wellness and continual learning, really.

Tell Us About the Couples Who Went

First off, both my husband and I were raised in what I would describe as fairly conservative cultures.  All five of the couples on the journey live in the Midwest.  All are hetero-normative, monogamous, long-term couples — in the scheme of things we are a fairly traditional group.  This wasn’t organized for couples in distress.  It was a wellness trip.  It was about discovery and growth.  I would say that the common driver — or descriptor — is that we are all committed to personal growth.  And to our marriages.

And How’d You Pick the Sex Therapist?

I did quite a lot of research before reaching out to Dr. Jess, a sex and relationship expert based in Toronto.  I saw that she had experience leading couples’ workshops on sexual wellness, and had done a lot with people in midlife and longer-term relationships and she had terrific reviews.  She was absolutely excellent.

Walk Us Through the Broad Itinerary

Day 1:  We were all in one room together.  First off, Dr. Jess established the ground rules around privacy and sharing that made everyone feel that it was a “safe place,” which was critical.  She did a sort of overview of why people are attracted to each other - this sort of initial “primal attraction” that draws us to someone, and what happens to that over time.  She made a lot of suggestions about daily thoughtfulness and also about how to introduce excitement.

Day 2:  Dr. Jess spoke to the women and men in separate groups.  She asked us to share freely about “the things that bother you” about your spouse and boy, did we!  For each group, though, she also presented us with general thoughts about what our partners are often (or likely) thinking and feeling — which were eye-opening but felt fair — and suggested ways we could help our partners to feel more loved and supported.

Day 3: During the 2nd day we discussed the role sex plays in a romantic bond, the significance of showing love through touch and passion, of giving and receiving.  The need for long-term relationships to change things up, keep things exciting.  Dr. Jess is a big proponent of sex toys and products, and she really “normalized” this as something fun to do.

In the evening Dr. Jess also talked to us about how to talk about sex with our kids.  Everyone loved that as well.  It is shocking how much porn our kids are exposed to, and she suggested ways that we could help our children to separate that from sex IRL — the unhealthiness of confusing fantasy with how we actually make love.

On the last day, Dr. Jess asked us to each write a specific kind of love letter to our partners.  I cried when I read mine — I think everyone did.  It is so beautiful and so specific, only my husband could have written it and only for me.  I keep it by my bed.  I’ve re-read it many times.  If there were a fire in my house and I could save only one item it would be this love letter from my husband.  Can you imagine, after 26 years together, getting a love letter that powerful?  And it wasn’t just me, we all felt like that.

What Were the Most Important Things You Learned?

There was so much, really, but I’d say the things that really stayed with me (and us), are:

  • Initiating sex.  This is probably the most important thing.  We learned that it is super important that both partners initiate sex.  Partners fall into patterns where just one initiates and we learned how unfair that is to the one initiating because if you think about it they are repeatedly making themselves vulnerable and risking rejection.  Everyone needs to feel wanted by their partner.
  • Using sex toys!  And just generally changing things up (even things as simple as doing it in a different place).
  • Doing something thoughtful for your partner every single day.  And just as important - recognizing and expressing gratitude for the thoughtful things your partner does for you.  So often we don’t notice and appreciate the daily acts of love and that can result in feeling invisible, neglected, bitter.
  • Upgrading our techniques. For me personally, some specific blow job techniques.  My husband picked up some techniques too :-).

Have You Seen A Difference Since the Retreat?

We’ve seen such a difference in our closeness and happiness since the retreat, oh my god.  And we were happy before.  But not just us.  Every single couple thanked me for organizing it and said that it was the most powerful experience for them as a couple.  We are in touch and really, unanimously, all of the couples who attended this sex & love retreat with Dr. Jess believe our marriages are so much more joyful and intimate after the weekend.  It took place in February of 2021, it goes without saying that the timing could not have been better in terms of teeing us up for a healthier (all the way around) COVID winter.

Also - You Mentioned A Sex Toy Kerfuffle?

We were going on a trip and traveling initially with our kids (before some separate time alone).  So I packed our newly purchased sex toys up in my bag and checked it.  We were sitting at the gate as a family when my name came over the speakers in a commanding voice - “Go to the Gate desk to check-in” it said (to me).  I looked at my husband. Frozen.  Mortified.  I knew.  He knew.  They’d found our sex toys in my luggage and they were going to - I don’t know - kick us off the plane after a grand public inquiry in front of everyone (including our kids).  We were sure.  I nervously offered myself up for the inevitable shaming and, of course, the gate attendant only wanted to confirm my passport.  In retrospect, it was obviously really a look at the inside of the brain of two people who had been raised fairly traditionally in conservative cultures, and we’ve gotten a lot more comfortable.  In its own way, though, the “sex toy scandal that wasn’t” created an intimacy from the excitement and secret joke.  We’ve laughed over it repeatedly.  So in an unexpected way, it was a fun thrill that reinforced our closeness.

Social Media I Loved This Week

@annavschilcher

@costarastrology

@newyorkercartoons

@1bitchmode

@thesinglewoman

Song Of The Week

75 and Sunny by Ryan Montbleau

A friend sent me this song on my birthday with the note that it is "perfect for these persistent birthdays." Montbleau is a touring musician from New England who travels the United States performing at small venues. Mostly folk and blues, he plays with a lot of soul.

Here are a few lines from the song:

And I’ve got a best friend …

She’d rather be 75 and sunny

Than 29 with a chance of showers all the time

You better believe she’s living for the moment

But her moment is the whole damn thing

I think the song is about how counting the years isn't the point. Living every moment as if it matters at whatever age you are is the point. The thing is, it can take getting a certain amount of living under our belts before we realize that every moment is the whole damn thing.

Thanks kt!

Live Performance at Paradise Rock Club in Boston. Listen Here

Have a sunny week end!

Dish Stanley XO,
Dish

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The Crush Letter is a weekly newsletter from Dish Stanley curating articles & intelligence on everything love & connection - friendship, romance, self-love, sex. If you’d like to take a look at some of our best stories go to Read Us. Want the Dish?


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