Feb. 17, 2021

65. Bringing Compassion and Grace to Your Sex and Dating Life with Gretchen Shanks

65. Bringing Compassion and Grace to Your Sex and Dating Life with Gretchen Shanks

Sex and dating can be hard for young men to navigate. The world tells us we should want a lot of sex, so we buy into it. But we're never really taught to navigate the shame we might have about our experiences or our bodies. We never talk about how we should be attuned to other's needs. Or how we should even get ready for moments like this.

On today's episode I speak with sex and dating coach Gretchen Shanks and we discuss our own vulnerabilities about all of these feelings and how we can navigate them with more compassion and grace.

You can connect with Gretchen on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook and don't forget to check out that free resource she mentioned here.

If you liked the episode, make sure to press subscribe, follow, leave a review and message me on Instagram @theimperfectpod or email me at Luke@theimperfectpod.com and join my Facebook group. I always always want to hear from my listeners and continue the conversation!


Luke: [00:00:00] Hello, imperfect listeners. I'm really excited for today's episode with Gretchen shanks. We're going to talk everything about sexual intimacy, dating intimacy, getting beyond the first date. It's gonna be a really vulnerable episode. I'm feeling it already.

[00:00:14] I'm going to talk about some of my struggles in the dating world and just have honest, vulnerable conversations, but I haven't really opened up too much about some of the things we're going to get into. So Gretchen, thank you for being here.

[00:00:25] Gretchen: [00:00:25] Thank you for inviting me. I'm really excited for the conversation.

[00:00:29] Luke: [00:00:29] me too. And you know, the first question I always ask my guests is who is one person dead or alive. They'd like to have over for dinner. And what would you cook for them?

[00:00:40] Gretchen: [00:00:40] What would I like to? I think so the person who jumps into my mind is Betty Dodson. She just sadly just passed after a long bout with cancer. And she is a pioneer in the sex education field. And particularly in, when it comes to empowering women. And I just, I never got a chance to work with her or meet her or have a direct conversation.

[00:01:05] And so she's been on my mind lately and I would love to have the opportunity to have her over for dinner. And what would I cook? Well, I am not a very good cook. I've been learning in the last like year, how to cook for myself. So probably I would order out from one of my favorite restaurants here in Seattle, how to cook a Wolf because I'd want to treat Betty.

[00:01:25] Like perfectly as, or as well as I could. And so I'd order out for her,

[00:01:30] Luke: [00:01:30] fair. That's that's a, that's a typical response is ordering out. And I think that. That's probably what I do too. I mean, I'm not really a master in anything, so I'd rather not embarrass myself. What'd you talk to her about sexual education? I'm curious about what you talked to her about.

[00:01:46] Gretchen: [00:01:46] I mean, honestly, I have a feeling, she'd be the person that I would just like ask a question and she would just sort of regale. I would just love to hear any stories from her early days. Like what got her into, she hosts became famous for hosting events, where she brought women together and inviting them into look at their genitals.

[00:02:11] And really like, look at them, learn to pleasure them, learn to embrace them. Women walk around with so much shame about our bodies and our genitals are not don't, don't get out of that. Like we carry a lot of shame. There's a lot of mistakes. Like miscommunication misinformation out there about women's bodies and women aren't exempt from that misinformation.

[00:02:35]And so she really was the pioneer in making a safe space for women to come together and look at and embrace our genitals. And learn to pleasure them. And it's just, I hear they're phenomenal sessions. And I just, I, you know, one of those, I'd never got to the, the time to travel to New York and experience that.

[00:02:59] So I just want to hear how she got into that and wherever her brain took her in the conversation, I think would be phenomenal.

[00:03:08] Luke: [00:03:08] Yeah. And you're in experiential sex and dating coach, if I'm correct. How did, like, how do you even get into that? Like, what is that? How do you get into it?

[00:03:16] Gretchen: [00:03:16] right. Yeah. I think there's a lot of different pathways into it. My pathway I struggled for most of my life for three decades with I struggled with body image. I was convinced I was unattractive and undesirable.  Until my early forties, I'd gone on a handful of dates only. I'd had sex a few times, but like really bad sex.

[00:03:42]Never dated anyone in long-term and I was deeply embarrassed and ashamed of all of that. And I really felt like I almost didn't have a right to my own sexuality because no one had deemed me good enough to date. Long-term. And I deeply in term of internalize that as there's something wrong with me.

[00:04:05] And then I had some, I was really blessed a number of years ago and had some space in my life where I took a sabbatical from work. I had some resources available to me in a span of time where I wasn't going to work. And I had this experience. I had a one night stand. The first time I had had sex in like eight years.

[00:04:26] And it went the way they usually went. And I was really sad and had a lot of tough feelings around it. And I sat with it and was somehow motivated to do some research into different ways of healing, of sexual healing. I'd been in talk therapy for years for like seven or eight years. Maybe longer ostensibly to, to fix this thing in myself.

[00:04:53] And I never came close. I finally like over years connected to my feelings, learn to say what I wanted for myself and admit it. But I couldn't actually break through that story that I was convinced about myself. Did some research finally that night of that one night stand a number of years ago. And.

[00:05:11] Found myself in this rabbit hole of Googling that taught me about these alternative forms for sexual approaches to sexual healing that there's more out there than just talk therapy. And I realized that for me talk therapy was like trying to solve the problem intellectually. And I'm actually a pretty smart person.

[00:05:29] And I realized if I was going to solve it intellectually, that would have already happened. I would feel differently about myself. And the reality was it was an instinctual body story that I had about myself. And I found someone here in Seattle who was a tantric practitioner, body worker who approached these issues in a really atypical way.

[00:05:53] I, and he did hands-on work. And so I spent about almost five months working intensively with him. Eventually I started seeing him twice a week when I first went to him, it was once a week. And then I was like, Oh, this seems to be working. So I doubled up on it and came out the end of those five or six months, however many, it was just with my entire life, changed around in this aspect of myself.

[00:06:20] Yeah, it just busted things wide open for me. And and then I went on a sort of what Dan Savage, the sex ed columnist calls a cumspringa. I say basically went on a, on a multi-year long adventure of exploring myself, like exploring the world sexually and figuring out what I liked and what I did like having all different kinds of experiences and adventures and And along the way, realize I'd lost my passion for my old field of work and wanted to find a way to make an impact in, in this, in this realm.

[00:06:58] Luke: [00:06:58] Yeah. And th there's, there's quite a few things to dissect there. And the first one I want to talk about is that feeling of undesired and unattractive. Was that more from, I know that society puts a lot of pressure on women to. Be attractive and, and beauty standards. Was that more of a pressure that you felt was from society or where do you think that pressure was coming from?

[00:07:22] Gretchen: [00:07:22] Well, I mean, you certainly, you know, was not, am not immune to societal standards and pressures related to beauty for women. But it, the origins of it are familial are from my family of origin. I was raised by a really strong woman who loved me fiercely and sometimes in her fierceness it's kind of overshot the mark.

[00:07:50] Basically.  I had an experience at a family wedding once where I had just gone through puberty. I was like maybe 11 and I kind of went from like my nickname as a child was bones. I was so stick thin. And I kind of almost overnight went from that to having curved the curves of a woman. I got breasts.

[00:08:10] Like I skipped the train, brought the training bra phase and I got hips and I went to this family wedding and I was in this really cute dress that was flowy, but that fitted me well. And a male cousin who was maybe 17 or 18. Hadn't seen who hadn't seen me in awhile, walked up to the table, saw me and his eyes kind of lit up.

[00:08:32] And he was like, Oh, Gretchen you've wow. You've really grown up kind of. And I immediately flushed with excitement. I was like kind of a glow with it. I felt it as a compliment. And I think that's all it was. Like there was never any issue with this cousin neither before and never since, but my mom who I think in her past had unsafe experiences with older male attention immediately like kind of reared up as like a mama, mama lion or something and shot him down.

[00:09:02] I can't remember what she said at all. I have no recollection, but I remember the tone of her voice and the look on her face. And those said back the fuck off. To him, but what I internalized as this 11 year old, who had no idea what was happening, what I internalized is that I was wrong. That how I looked and how he reacted to me was wrong and was somehow my fault.

[00:09:29] Luke: [00:09:29] and that happens a lot, even in the school systems.

[00:09:31] Gretchen: [00:09:31] Yeah, absolutely. I don't blame her at all. Like she reacted, she reacted with love for me based on something that happened in her childhood and her past. Right. I'm very protective and. And then compound, like that was layered on with I got lots of positive reinforcement attention for how I performed in school, how smart I was, how athletically inclined I was.

[00:10:01]And over the years that just, it kind of, all of my positive attention seemed to come for how I performed scholastically and then professionally. And I had no role model, no one taught me how to date. No one taught. We didn't talk about sex or dating in my family. I grew up Catholic in Kentucky, like this just wasn't what you talked about.

[00:10:24]And so all of that, I turned that into a belief. Right. And then I, and then I. Did what humans do, which is had confirmation bias all over the place where I saw all this evidence to support the fact that I was unattractive and undesirable and anything that may be contradicted that I thought of as an outlier data point.

[00:10:46] Well, that's just that, that doesn't count because it's so uncommon. It just doesn't count.

[00:10:51] Luke: [00:10:51] Yeah. I. I you know, I haven't, I haven't opened up about this on my podcast. I don't think, but it's like, I come from the same place when I think of myself, you know, I'm, I'm overweight. I don't really fit the typical standard beauty norms of. Even the, you know, I've, I've had women say to me, it's like, Oh, you're white.

[00:11:10] Like, it should be pretty easy to find a woman or, you know, you're six foot two. It should be pretty easy to find a woman I'm like, I mean, those are desirable factors for sure. And I don't want to act like, you know, a victim here because I, in the last year or so I've been on 20 or so first dates you know, I've had a lot of success there through.

[00:11:31] Most of them through dating apps, because it's really hard to meet anyone anywhere else right now. Or, you know, in general you know, I always struggled with Tinder and Bumble because those ones are very much, you know, the physical aspect matters a lot more. Because they're looking at images, they rarely read your bio.

[00:11:45] They're not really looking at that. And like, I'm like, you know, I think I'm pretty attractive in the photos I post, but the data shows that now not, not many people think I'm attractive. And I internalize that. So I'm at a point now where I don't have those apps because they're not good for my mental health.

[00:12:00] I know that.

[00:12:00]There's this other one that's called hinge. And it's a bit better because it's more about the personality and not, you could reach out to everyone. I had, like, I was really, really confident using that, but you know, I've, I've talked to girls for weeks, and then it kind of just ends it, it kind of kerfuffles or, or flows out too much.

[00:12:21] And it's always the same thing. Like, Oh, you're a really nice guy or you're a really nice man, like really sweet. I just can't commit to anything right now. And I'm like, and I never. You know, I I'm like, okay, they're saying really nice things. They're saying all the right things, but like, what is it about me that is undesirable?

[00:12:37] What about me is unattractive? What about me makes you not willing to commit? And I think. You know, as I reflect, I, I think I am intimidating cause I know what I want. I am like I'm a busy guy. I have a lot of goals in life. I'm really passionate about a lot of things. And I was having this conversation with another person I lean in a lot and leaning in can be unattractive or intense.

[00:12:59] Right. I'm like, I'm an intense person. I interviewed people for a living is basically, and I am passionate and interested in every single person I talked to. I don't see why I have to be, have a different personality in dating. I'm I'm interested in getting to know that person I lean in. And. I always have to have this conversation with some of my girlfriends.

[00:13:15] It's like, not that I'm undesirable, it's just, you know, maybe it's not, maybe they're not ready. Maybe I am intimidating because I am upfront. I am not what they're used to when it comes to talking to a guy. And then I try to, I try to have that other bravado, that other one where it's like, yeah, I'm not interested in your mind and I'm just interested in your body.

[00:13:34] And that one gets me a lot more like physical sexual I guess success, but then I always come out of it feeling like, you know, this isn't me, I feel dirty and gross. And that's like the battle that I have when I'm in that dating world. So I resonate with the undesired on attractive. And I don't know if it has anything to do with societal standards.

[00:13:53] Like there are societal standards for men.

[00:13:55] Gretchen: [00:13:55] yeah.

[00:13:56] Luke: [00:13:56] I don't know. I honestly don't know where it comes from. I think it's more like body image issues than anything else.

[00:14:01] Gretchen: [00:14:01] right. Well, I mean, I think men absolutely do struggle or can struggle with body image issues. I think there are societal, there are messages out there as well. There may be not as pervasive as insistent for men as they are for women, but absolutely men struggle with that as well. So, I'm glad that you brought this one.

[00:14:23] I just applaud the vulnerability in talking about this. I think that's phenomenal. And

[00:14:29] Luke: [00:14:29] done it my whole life.

[00:14:31] Gretchen: [00:14:31] I love it. I had to learn to be able to be that vulnerable. So I just, I know it's it. Even if you've been that way, your whole life, it's not, it's a position of strength that you're coming to a conversation from when you can be that vulnerable.

[00:14:43] Luke: [00:14:43] thank you. Yeah. Anytime

[00:14:45] Gretchen: [00:14:45] Yeah. So like, yeah, I think it's an important message that, to acknowledge that men also have struggles in this area. And you know, I can't, I can't look into the past and, and. Say why women have responded the way they have, what a, what I do with, with folks that come to me for, for support with dating is try and unpack sort of how they really want to show up.

[00:15:14] Right. So I think that you had more physical success when you got more aggressive around the physical attraction side of things, but it, it left you feeling. What if you used some interesting words, like, like gross and icky, right? Like that's, that's, that's a huge signal to me that that's not the path forward for you in this.

[00:15:40]Would I, so it's, I totally a hundred percent believe in each of us showing up in a way that feels authentic. And is true to who we are. And there are some skills when it comes to dating. Right? There's so one of the things that I do a lot of my work, but also will talk to clients about, is this concept of attunement.

[00:16:06] It's a fancy big letter at meant multiple lettered word for essentially paying attention to the person across from you. And. Attuning to giving space to what their needs are in the moment. Right? So yes, your instinct and desire is to lean in, right? Cause you're super eager to talk to them. You love chatting up new people and right.

[00:16:30] That's what you do for a living. This is what you're drawn to. So in your eagerness, you, you lean forward and that's right. And if, if the person across the table from you leans in with you. That's beautiful. Right? That's synchronous. And if the person across the table from you stays neutral. All right. So that's, that's all right.

[00:16:54] But if they then leave or if they instead lean back, right. Atunement's not about not being who you are. It's about noticing and responding to what the other's needs might be. So in the leaning back, the person signaling, Oh, that that's a little too intense for me in this moment, or that's a little too close for whatever the reason might be.

[00:17:15] It might be intensity. It might be that they, it could be that they love intensity, but they need to get to know someone better before they welcome in that intensity. Right. And for a lot of women, right. I think. One of the challenges that we have in dating is navigating it the way that feels safe.

[00:17:37]As a woman we're attuned, we're S we're socialized to always be looking for dangerous signals,

[00:17:44] right? And for some, especially if you're a taller, larger body person that can feel a little intimidating in that moment. Right. And it's an instinctual response. So she leans back, honestly, in that moment, if you just sit back a little bit to give just that little bit of space in, in response to that, even if she's not consciously tracking it, there's a very good chance.

[00:18:09] She's going to relax just a little bit in that moment, right? Because you feel when someone's responding to you. And giving you kind of what you might be needing in that moment, so that isn't not being true to yourself. That saying, I am seeing what you need in this moment, and I want to give it to you.

[00:18:33] Does that make sense?

[00:18:34] Luke: [00:18:34] Yeah, no, it really does. And that was the same kind of conversation that I had with another gentleman I had on the podcast and you know, it is really interesting. So, so one of the challenges that I find on dates for myself, I'm just gonna speak from my own personal experience here. When it comes to reading that body language, that is where it can be really hard to get that attunement and understand what that attunement says.

[00:19:00] And I'm not talking like in the sexual encounter, I'm talking like really much more in the moments of moment, eating dinner, kind of, kind of instinct. So like how do you have any tips, tangible skills or ways of explaining why, how to read that attunement or how to read that body language?

[00:19:18]Gretchen: [00:19:18] So. I mean, I think this one that we've been talking about is one of the big ones. I can remember some dates I've been on where I've just been really poorly attuned to in that way. The leaning forward, the leaning back sort of thing. So I'm not great at saying here's certain actions that someone does means this or that.

[00:19:39]But what I usually end up doing instead is working with someone and this is what I do for myself when I date, which is walk into it and, and be focused during the date on making sure I'm, I'm grounded and connected to a bit of an, a liveliness of energy and erotic energy within myself. Not that I'm going to like.

[00:20:00] Transmit that a ton, but if I can feel my own body in this moment, I'm more likely to be able to track what they're doing. So I spend time in sessions with people on this, right. So we'll do dates together. We'll do mock dates together, or we'll, we'll go on a date together and I can help guide them into doing that. But I'm not, I've never been one who's personally good at tracking. All right. So if they, if I flip my hair, it means this, or if he has his feet pointing towards me, it means that right. Instead I focus on. All right, can I calm my nerves a bit? Right cause nerves get in the way of all forms of communication.

[00:20:50] So can I call my nerves a bit? And I do some work with folks around how to sort of serve their nervous system and moments of heightened anxiety and breathing life sort of connect to my own sense of, I don't know if I'm yet going to be sexually attracted to this person, but am I excited for this date? Right. Can I sort of connect to that excitement and energy and bring that, and then I'm able to flow. This is pretty, it's hard to describe without doing the work with someone. But that's, that's what I do is more helping someone connect it to their own excitement and energy and be grounded in it and then feel what the other person, how they're responding. So it's not formulaic. It's more of a flow.

[00:21:37] Luke: [00:21:37] And you brought up a good point about women feeling safe and that's something I've come to learn more and more over the course of dating and reading books like Chanel Miller's no, my name Brock Turner victim with so like there's lots of women out there that have faced either, you know, familial stuff or sexual assault, sexual harassment, catcalling, you know, the list goes on about the things that they experience. Guys are typically pretty ignorant or naive to that kind of thing. Like we don't really experience it. So do you, do you ever see that come into play in terms of the people that you've coached or, or in terms of like the dating experience? Can it really come down to you as a guy might've been great, but you didn't give her space to feel safe?

[00:22:23]Gretchen: [00:22:23] So when I work with male clients, If one of the things I do try and do is educate them about the, woman's assuming they're dating women, right? Like what the woman's typical experience is like . And how issues of personal safety can come into play and how issues of past experiences with harassment or other traumas can factor into what's going on.

[00:22:51]Because the more that you can be educated about that men can understand what that is. Honestly, the more compassion they have for those moments, when maybe she doesn't get super excited by the close lean in, and instead she just instinctually responds back. So it's like the more that you're aware of those... realities the more compassion you have for it and the easier it becomes to understand what's happening in that moment. Right? Because in that moment, without that information, it's easy to internalize it as, Oh my gosh, it's me. She doesn't like me, or I've done something wrong or I'm wrong when that's not, it.

[00:23:36] Luke: [00:23:36] Yeah. That's how I feel sometimes. And it's, it's just like, when I explained that to some of my girlfriends, they literally say to me, like, you know, you might be like the perfect guy for her, just not right now. And, and in my whole, it's funny. Cause my whole strategy to life is I haven't been ready for anything that has come into my life.

[00:23:54] So this idea of being ready for things is kind of weird to me. You know, I like to say that I'm, I'm always prepared, but I'm never ready. So in the sense that, you know, I, I do things every day to prepare myself for whatever comes. But you know, if, if so, you know, I've done. I guess 60 interviews now for my podcast.

[00:24:14] And you know, about 40 across all the other ones I do too. So I've done a hundred, but and if, if Justin Bieber came to me yesterday or tomorrow and was like, Hey, I want to do an interview with you. I would be prepared, but I wouldn't be ready. But I'd still do it, right? Like that's how I consider those two things.

[00:24:31] And it's the language that always is used with me is, you know, I'm not ready to date or, you know, I'm not in the space. I have to work on myself. And I always find that really interesting because it's like, you can, you can work on your own. You should be able to work on yourself in a relationship out on individual level and on like a relationship level.

[00:24:47] And it seems like that language is almost not really used nowadays. It's always, I have to do this on my own. I have to. I dunno if they're not giving space in the relationship, which is really important. But that's what really hurts. And I was talking to my guy, friends the other day and, and some of my girlfriends it's like, I just want to be the person that, that they choose to be ready with.

[00:25:10] You know, like I might not be, or might be prepared, but I'm not ready, but I choose to go beyond that because you're worth it. Like that is where I struggle is I just want to feel worth it sometimes.

[00:25:21] Gretchen: [00:25:21] Oh, 

[00:25:23] Luke: [00:25:23] you're, you're feeling more for me than I'm feeling for myself. I think.

[00:25:25] Gretchen: [00:25:25] Yeah. No. Well, because that worth wound, right? That, that like you are worth it. That's, that's the key. And so many of us have this wound that says we're not, or we're worth it. If fill in the Blake, like for some people who say I'm not ready yet, or I need to work on myself. For some that might be the easy let down, right?

[00:25:55] Because women are socialized to be indirect and to be really careful of other's feelings. And there can be a perceived safety issue in that. Not about you, but about men in general. Right. And I know for a lot of us too, though, we've received this message that Like, if I, if I just lose this weight, then I'll be ready for love, then will be ready for that person in my life.

[00:26:25] If I can figure out how to be less messed up about how I run my life. Right? I feel like I can hardly keep up with all the things and I need to figure out how to get it all under control and then I'll be ready. And we've kind of been taught that. It's our job to fix all of those things in ourselves before opening up to a relationship.

[00:26:52] Luke: [00:26:52] yeah. And I'm like, you'll never gonna be perfect in a relationship. You're never going to be perfect in one. You're never going to be perfect before one. You're never going to be perfect. So like the idea that you have to be perfect for it to start one, is weird to me.

[00:27:03] Gretchen: [00:27:03] Yeah, it's really sad. I mean, it's, I love that you have not taken on that socialization. I love that because it's one of the, I will often disappoint new clients when I say to them clearly "your shit, like we can help you get more resilient around it, but your shit's never going away." Or that shit might go away.

[00:27:28] Then there, you're going to dig into other layers and find new shit, but you'll get more resilient around it and you'll learn how to work through it. And they're like, like I've had some really, and I've had a couple of clients in the end, I think not returned because they weren't ready to do that kind of work.

[00:27:43] Luke: [00:27:43] it's just weird to me. I mean, this is it's called the imperfect pod

[00:27:47] Gretchen: [00:27:47] I love that.

[00:27:48] Luke: [00:27:48] that is one, but I like, you know, to me, self-growth is a, is a lifelong journey. If you're, well, the minute you stop growing, as the minute you stop learning and the minute you stop learning, it's like, what's the point of living and a lot of ways it's, it's.

[00:28:04] You know, I look at my parents' relationship. They've been married 33 34. Four years stayed this skate together. Like they've, they've shown me the entire time. Our relationship has worked. You fall in and out of love. You have to work on it. It's a process. It's not perfect. I have my shit, they have their shit.

[00:28:21]Their family has shit. They're like, you know, I've, I've talked to my dad about how his family has characteristics and then how my mom's family has characteristics. And you have to find which ones that work for you. Sometimes they mold back into their old characteristics. Sometimes they take on the new ones.

[00:28:36] Sometimes people just change 180 degrees. And you're like, where are these people coming from? And I don't know where people are hearing this message that they have to be perfect to go into a relationship or, you know, there's this whole independence movement, which is great. And I think no one wants to rely on someone else, but you don't have to.

[00:28:54] But in a relationship that's also, you're like rock like that is a foundational part of your, your life. And you should be willing to share every single piece of your life with them and you should be able to grow together.

[00:29:07] Gretchen: [00:29:07] Well, I mean, so I'm not sure I agree with this statement that you should be able to share every single piece of your life with someone like I do believe people are allowed privacy and allow are allowed in her life that they don't have to reveal to anyone if they don't want to. Or that they reveal to certain people that kind of feel kismet with around that right area, their inner life.

[00:29:27]And I think that the American kind of rugged individualism culture and ethos or Meetha myth is damaging. I. Was a self-described independent. And I still like I'm in a highly capable woman. But for decades of my life, I over identified as strong and independent. And those are traits that I received tons of approbation for tons of, of, of positive feeling and comments, but deep down, what it really meant was that I was too afraid to admit vulnerability.

[00:30:12] I was too afraid to, I say, I had a need for help. And I was actually really, it was really sad looking back on it, like, I'm very proud of all of my accomplishments, but the degree to which I over identified as independent was more reflection of how deeply wounded I was,

[00:30:33] Luke: [00:30:33] that's interesting. Cause it's like, that's what a lot of men, I would say go through too, is they want to look strong and they want to look independent. That's why they don't open up. And we preach this. Like I, my mom's strong and independent. And that's the kind of thing I desire in a woman too, but I also want that vulnerability.

[00:30:47] Like I don't, you know, I think I'm strong and independent, but I also want to be vulnerable with someone. I want to create that life with someone. Right. I like that those are things that I, that I want. And I think those are the things that are desirable, but that's really interesting. That you brought it up.

[00:31:00] And ironically that, you know, I see a lot of men in the space that discuss masculinity and, and they like harp on feminism because it's like, you know, strong and independent is fine, but like, what does that really getting you to act like more like a man it's getting you the same pain that a man feels or, or a man kind of expresses.

[00:31:21] I'm like, that's an interesting thought. I, I think those, those spaces can overlap. Like you can still be a feminist and be open and vulnerable. Right. So that was really interesting that you brought it up.

[00:31:30] Gretchen: [00:31:30] Yeah. I mean, I, I am a feminist. I'm a very proud feminist. When I was a self-described fully strong, independent woman, I was a feminist. I am still strong. I'm still independent. And I've learned how to be vulnerable. I've learned it's still hard sometimes. But I have learned I've learned how to, to admit I have needs.

[00:31:54] To ask for help. I don't always ask for it as quickly as I wish I would. Like sometimes it takes a while for me to connect. Cause my old instincts, my old habits, my old patterns come back. But you know, I'm still strong. I'm still independent. And I now identify strength in my vulnerability before identified it as weak and I hid it now.

[00:32:17] I see the true strength in it. And I'm most definitely a feminist. Like all of those to me go together.

[00:32:24] Luke: [00:32:24] And they all can, like, that's what I, that's what I don't understand when people say that

[00:32:27] you can't be a feminist and do these things, but, you know, I find it fascinating, but it's neither here nor there.

[00:32:34] Gretchen: [00:32:34] Yeah, it is. It's, it's a fun rabbit hole to

[00:32:37] Luke: [00:32:37] Yeah. Cause I like I would say I was strong and independent, but also very emotionally available. And there was one thing that I mentioned that I really like, a lot of me feels like I might open up too easily because I don't know if I'm trying to jump into it, but you know, I'm really open with literally everyone.

[00:32:54]And I don't know if there's parts of me that are to me. I want to be able to share. Every part of my life with the person I'm with, like, that is a goal for me, things that I've never shared. I don't really think there's pieces of me that I've never really shared with like anyone. I think I'm pretty, pretty much an open book when it comes to, if you asked everyone in my life, they'd be able to put all the pieces together.

[00:33:17] There wouldn't be a piece missing. But you know, it comes to relationships. I feel like I've seen SEACT. Is that a word sought, you know, that's, 

[00:33:26] Gretchen: [00:33:26] so 

[00:33:27] Luke: [00:33:27] sought from seek? 

[00:33:28] Gretchen: [00:33:28] I know,

[00:33:28] Yeah. 

[00:33:29] Luke: [00:33:29] but I saw it for those kinds of one night stands cause I was. I, I come at it from a, well, I always try to judge myself.

[00:33:38] Am I coming at this from a feeling of loneliness or a feeling of I'm ready or not even I'm ready. I'm like prepared. Like I have to dissect where that's coming from. If it's loneliness, it's typically I'm going to make very dangerous choices for myself choices that I know, you know, like ethically for me or not what I want.

[00:33:58]That's kinda. How I, how I define that. And I guess my question would be, how do you work at that, to come at it from the right place or, or make sure that your, your foundation or footing is in the right spot before seeking or before not seeking those, those, I guess, things that go against your own morals or, or dating values

[00:34:24] Gretchen: [00:34:24] So I th I mean, the first thing I would do is bring a ton of compassion to the lonely sides of I try and bring them to my lonely sides of myself, to, to you, to anyone sitting across from me. And, and really acknowledge that loneliness that we all experience that. At times and that the choices you make from a lonely place don't necessarily have to be bad choices or wrong choices for you.

[00:35:02] And I would really want to unpack what some of those choices are and see if we can't.  them a bit. I spent a lot of my, of time with clients beating back shame, wherever I see it. And we're a society with a fuck ton of shame. We think shame actually helped is corrective and adaptive. And it's really not.

[00:35:28] It drives us further underground it, right. 

[00:35:32] Luke: [00:35:32] I have a lot of things to say about shame and especially how I, I think the church uses it as a weapon. And I think, you know, I went, I went to church, I grew up in the church for context there. And I like, you know, was kind of taught one person for life. And I don't really, so if I, if I come at that though, I don't really think that that is where I STEM from being wrong.

[00:35:57] Like I'm. I know I'm going to have sex before marriage, you know, in, in a relationship. My process of, of shame is much more in the sense of, I did it out of loneliness, which was not like a healing. It didn't heal me. It wasn't like a long-term solution. It was very short-sighted. It was, you know, I was 22 years of my life, went without sex and I'm like, you know what, I'm going to try it.

[00:36:21] I'm going to do it 

[00:36:22] tonight. And then within that sexual experience, there was. I guess, like I could feel it the entire time there was shame, but like this lack of enjoyment almost. I wasn't really my head wasn't there. My heart wasn't there. It was just like my, my body, you know, and like both of the, both my heart and my head were outside of my body being like, Luke, what the hell are you doing?

[00:36:46] So that's kinda how I would de-pack that.

[00:36:48] Gretchen: [00:36:48] I mean, I think I would want with someone I'd want to unpack, click and see if we can't untangle where what those values are or the quote, unquote bad behavior or the unhealthy behavior and see if we can find out. Which of those are social messaging that doesn't actually reflect your true desires versus things that are truly anti antithetical to you.

[00:37:18] So when it comes to sexuality and sex we can have like, there's so much messaging about what's good sex and bad Sachs. What's allowed sex and normative and what's perverted. And I come from a school of thought that says it's all fricking beautiful. What so long as what's happening is between adults that can, that are actively consenting and can actively consent.

[00:37:50] It's beautiful and whatever your desires are, even if they're things that you can't ethically act on or logistically act on. Doesn't make them wrong or bad. All desires are welcome. You come by them naturally. You don't choose your desires. You don't choose the things that turn you on and that you want to do.

[00:38:10] So why shame them? Why say some are good and some are bad, right? And so I'd want to work to untangle. Well, what are those values? What are those unhealthy behaviors? And let's see, is that. And let's explore, what do you really want for yourself? Right. And then we can embrace what those are and figure out how to navigate them.

[00:38:36] And then look at the way that loneliness will come in and influence your behaviors. Like what are the behaviors that is driving? I personally I, I mean, I'm a school of thought that you're lonely and like humans are hard, wired for touch. Hard wired for it. 

[00:38:54] Luke: [00:38:54] Yeah, that's fine. I had this conversation with one guy. I forget what episode it was, but we talk about, you know, physical intimacy guys yearn for it too. And sometimes we just want to be cuddled. Sometimes we want to be the little spoon sometimes 

[00:39:06] we want to. And I, like I was mentioning before we, before I hit record, you know, my love language is our physical touch and quality time based on the test based off what I know about myself.

[00:39:17] And those are the two things in COVID that I'm like, I'm not getting either. And, and it that's like both. From like my, my guy, friends and girlfriends and all, but also like a girl girlfriend. Right? Like those things are just not there. Quality time is hard to come by in a lot of ways. And that was hard at the beginning of COVID now I've  worked through it, processed it a little bit more, so I'm okay with it.

[00:39:42]But that's, that's a hard thing, right. To go through.

[00:39:46] Gretchen: [00:39:46] absolutely. Absolutely. And again, like whatever choices you might be making or have made in the past, in the face of loneliness, I just, I just want to bring tons of compassion. 

[00:39:59] Luke: [00:39:59] I tried to bring compassion to myself too. 

[00:40:01] Gretchen: [00:40:01] It's hard. It's hard though. Sometimes. Right? Cause we're, you know, especially folks that are growth minded and thoughtful about these things.

[00:40:09] We can have some high standards for ourselves.

[00:40:12] Luke: [00:40:12] It's a constant battle. Gretchen, I'm always, it's a, it's a fine line between I always want to be working and I need time to myself to like just settle down and not work. And between, you know, always trying to nitpick a choice I made in the past and grow from it. Why not just accept it, or I put shame on myself and then I get angry about it.

[00:40:30] And then I just have more shame. And then I make another bad decision at a loneliness. And that's, it's like a very negative cycle and that's always been a, that's been a hypothesis of mine before even starting the podcast. Was that combination relationship between shame and anger.

[00:40:44] Gretchen: [00:40:44] Yeah. Yeah. I think that's.  I just, like I said, bring as much compassion as I can to that. And, I know when I'm in a shame spiral it can be really hard. Like I have practices where I try and like mindfully bring compassion to something I'm struggling with and grace, and I know when I'm in the midst of that spiral, whatever it is, it's triggering me off.

[00:41:08] Like I don't, I don't have that capacity to bring it to myself fully. Right. Which is where I've learned to go to certain people. I can't get what I need from everyone, because I don't know how to be that vulnerable with everyone. But I've been fortunate to, to identify a few people that I can go to, to, to, I can say I'm in the midst of freaking out about this thing that I always freak out about. I need you to say the words, but that suits me in this moment.

[00:41:38] Luke: [00:41:38] Yeah. One of the questions I wanted to ask you, or did you actually want to run me through some of my, my feelings and thoughts? Or, or was that just you saying what you do with your clients?

[00:41:48]Gretchen: [00:41:48] I mean, I would be happy to, to do that with you here. Yeah. Yeah, but it's getting into specifics about what some of those behaviors are or 

[00:41:57] Luke: [00:41:57] okay. 

[00:41:59] Gretchen: [00:41:59] um, right. So that's sort of what I assumed, right? Like that's, that can be hard enough to do with someone just one-on-one one, much less for the world to listen at odd.

[00:42:09] Luke: [00:42:09] honestly, I am someone who wants to lead by example, and these are conversations that I want to have on the podcast, in the future. And as determining when I'm ready and when I'm not ready 

[00:42:20] Gretchen: [00:42:20] Absolutely. 

[00:42:20] Luke: [00:42:20] yeah, that's what I know. I will. It's just when

[00:42:23] Gretchen: [00:42:23] Perfect. I think that's beautiful. Yeah. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Most likely whatever you would describe, I'm going to find a way to say that it's beautiful and lovely, even if it's not right for you going forward. Right. Because it really, yeah. And if it's not, I'm still gonna like, just love everything about you in that moment.

[00:42:44] Luke: [00:42:44] Okay,  that's helpful. I guess I have a question off of that then, which is Do you like, I would look at the world and I see a lot of like brokenness in the way that we date right now. I would say that there's a lot of pain. Whether it's, you know, daddy issues, trauma the way guys interact with women on a day-to-day basis, kind of leverage those daddy issues against them.

[00:43:09]I would say there's a lot of pain in a lot of the sex, sexual experiences that are happening right now. And I think it'd be I think a lot of people deny it because they don't want to confront that in themselves. Like, and that's a, that's a huge pain point. I've read this book. American hookup, the I'm looking at it right now.

[00:43:24] The new culture of sex on campus by Lisa Wade. This is really great book and it, and it dissects Sex on campus and how this, this idea of hookup culture in the world puts a lot of pressure on people. My age to have sex, or everyone thinks that they're having sex. When in reality, like the average is two people per year or something like that, it's really 

[00:43:42] Gretchen: [00:43:42] But actually I think the numbers have gone down, right.

[00:43:46] The research shows that. Yeah. Yeah.

[00:43:49] Luke: [00:43:49] no, my parents. Right. And I thought that was really fascinating because society is so sexualized. We think everyone's having sex. So then we think we should be having sex. And then most of the encounters in that book and she gets everyone in her class to document their sexual experiences throughout the entire year.

[00:44:05]Most of them talk about it from like a really shameful perspective of. I didn't want to do it. I thought in order to stay over at this guy's house, after a party, I owed him sex. It's like very transactional and it seems to be not as much emotional intimacy as is maybe intended or people think they're not, or there could be emotional intimacy but it was just a one night stand.

[00:44:29] Like they knew that going in and then now they don't have to share their feelings. So, you know, I look at it and I see a very broken society in terms of sex. But you're kind of saying accept it all, love it, all show compassion to it all. So

[00:44:40] I'm interested in that.

[00:44:41] Gretchen: [00:44:41] Accept from the like if we can normalize the pain points, right. I mean, accpet it from the, that pain point, whatever it is, the one night stand that in the end felt really transactional. The, you felt like you owed him sex and you didn't know how to navigate your way through that.

[00:45:02] And out of that, I mean, accept it from the. Holy fuck. I know exactly what you've gone through with that. I don't know a woman who hasn't chosen to have sex at a time when she really didn't feel like it for various reasons, right? It is so fucking common. Like that is a super challenging situation to navigate.

[00:45:26] And we don't teach our young people how to do that. We don't teach young girls, young women and young girls that they are deserving of pleasure. And that sexual interactions with partners should also be for their pleasure, not just their partners.

[00:45:42] Right. So of course you don't know how to get through that right now. I mean, accept it from that lens. Now let's talk about what you do have a right to. Let's build your skills on how to have those conversations. That's right. Let's teach young men how to have their feelings. Let, let, let's let young men have their feelings.

[00:46:05] Let's stop socializing boys from a young age to not have feelings and ultimately teach them that the only way they're allowed to actually connect intimately with someone is through sex. Which is our current culture.

[00:46:19] Luke: [00:46:19] Yeah. Cause I would say this just how you know that there isn't a girl that hasn't had sex that isn't, wasn't transactional. I would say there isn't a guy I haven't, I've met that had a one night stand with a girl that didn't want to actually date that girl and like actually have her for longer.

[00:46:35] But he thought the only way to get to know her was through sex. And then he can't open up himself enough to say, I didn't even actually want sex with you. Like I did, but I really wanted to date you.

[00:46:45] Gretchen: [00:46:45] Yeah, but not necessarily that night. Right? Or, you know, cause we, you know, we there's many limiting crappy messages that, that boys and men receive that girls and women do. They're just different, right? Like men aren't allowed to not want sex. Like I've sat across from female clients who are struggling with the fact that the men in their life aren't always ready to have sex with them when they want to have sex.

[00:47:13] And what that means . So, yeah. I have tons of compassion for where the men are at in this. So in terms of sexual desires, that's all beautiful. Like we can find a way to make those work or to deal with.

[00:47:28] Luke: [00:47:28] It's. Yeah, it's interesting. Cause when I think of a. You know, this is this is like the measuring stick I have, which is really sad. I find and you're probably going to have compassion for me here, but  if I see a girl or match a girl on whatever dating app and I don't even, like, I literally, if I like her a lot, I can't even think about sex with her.

[00:47:50] Like, I, I don't even imagine it. I don't even want it. It's the last thing on my mind. I literally just want to get to know the brain in that body. Like I don't, I don't really see anything else. And then. If it's a girl that I'm kind of losing interest in from a brain perspective or from a personality perspective, I start to see her more and more as like a sexual being and less as a individual person, which is really sad thing to see. And I think that's what a lot of men are conditioned to see women as.

[00:48:19] Gretchen: [00:48:19] It's it's the Madonna whore complex. I think some are more steeped in this or struggle with it to different degrees or levels, but for some they've learned and, and over time come to associate. All right. If it's someone that I might marry or that's going to be the mother of my children.

[00:48:40] Then I can't think of that person of her in a sexual way. Right. But if I know that she doesn't fit that category, then I'm free to see her as a sexual person. And that split is such right. There's so much sex, negative negativity steeped in that, not to say that that's what you're struggling with, but I think that like, that's the extreme case.

[00:49:04]And, and it's this it's. Yeah. I I'd wanna unpack sort of where that might be coming in. And and also, so sometimes there are people that you meet that you don't want to date for a long time, but maybe you're like, but they're super attractive and we vibe well, so it'd be fun to have sex. 

[00:49:28] Luke: [00:49:28] Yeah. Yeah. And how do you work with people? So in that realm, I guess, because I know that you help people with intimate relationships and with casual experiences. I know there was a mention, I think of non-monogamy on, on your website too. And so I guess, like, how do you work with people to, because I would say that the, the sexual experience, if done.

[00:49:56] Well, and intimately is a very emotional connecting experience. Like I don't, because I really didn't enjoy mine. I don't know if there were like emotional connection, but if it's good, then it'd be a little bit more soul emotional connecting. I think there's some research behind it too, but I don't know.

[00:50:12] Gretchen: [00:50:12] Well, I would say people are different. Right. So for some they really need that emotional connection for the erotic energy to, to come in strong and to feel safe and seen and,

[00:50:26] and embrace. That's beautiful. That's perfectly beautiful. And there are others. I'm one of them for whom I can have a really hot sexual experience and not be emotionally involved.

[00:50:41] I can have a lot of emotion in the sex, or I could not. Those two don't go together for me. That's also really beautiful and perfect for me, so it's about me then figuring out how to navigate within that, embracing that. And so for you, I'd want you to just love the shit out of that part of yourself, right?

[00:51:04] Own that part of yourself. And learn to like communicate in ways. So you can share that side of you with people you're dating at the right time. Right. You're not maybe going to, unless it's that kind of date, but like most first dates, you're not going to go that deep immediately. Right, but over time. And it's about like having conversations and practicing with me around how to, like, if she's ready to jump into bed on the second date and you know, you're not there yet.  Well, you can have that conversation that stays connected, communicates how attractive you find her and how excited you are to see her again.

[00:51:51] And I just, I'm not great. I don't feel comfortable sleeping with someone when I'm not yet emotionally, fully connected and we're not there. Like, I feel like we might be on the path. Like there's a possibility, there's some right. There's some possibility for that, but we're not there yet.

[00:52:09] Luke: [00:52:09] Yeah. And, and it's funny cause I would say I'm the exact that way and I believe I've prepared enough and made myself life my life about having honest conversations with people I do go really deep on my first day. It's like typically a good first date is three or four hour dinner. And like that's how long it is.

[00:52:27] It's very much conversational. It's basically a four hour podcast. and you know, it's about talking about life goals. Cause I don't want to waste time. Like that's my thought process too, is I don't want to see that we're not valued aligned on the first date too, in some ways.

[00:52:46]Gretchen: [00:52:46] I mean here's where... so it's interesting because oftentimes women will move to consolidate too quickly. And think of it almost as I have to figure out on that first date, or at least by the second date, if they fit into my picture of what I want for my longterm committed relationship and they'll start future casting from the first date and what I.

[00:53:21] Encourage people to do is to slow down, be curious, have the conversations. But it can feel depending on how hard you go at sharing all of your values to get their values, to see if they align. Right. It can start to feel like an interview,

[00:53:40] That 

[00:53:41] Luke: [00:53:41] That is a problem. I have. 

[00:53:42] Gretchen: [00:53:42] Right. And dates should be fun. I love the curiosity. You bring your natural curiosity that you get through all your interviewing, and that clearly shows that you have through what you do.

[00:53:55]But like I work with so many people to slow down and be present in the moment and learn to resist the urge to future cast too soon. Cause the job of the first state is simply to figure out if you might be interested in a second.

[00:54:17] Luke: [00:54:17] Yeah. Well, that's what I, well, yeah, going back to what you just said. One is I always kind of struggle with, do I do a dinner first date where we talk and get to know each other? Or do I do an activity first date where it's like, we get to know each other a bit, but it's more fun. That's like one that's really hard.

[00:54:33] And then. Two is when do you ask for that second date? Because sometimes if I ask on the first date, it's like, Oh, this guy's too eager to do a second day. Or like, you didn't have time to really sit with it. And to me, it's just like, I know I enjoyed the night or I didn't enjoy the night. It doesn't really take a lot of thought for me to do that one way or the other.

[00:54:55]And I'm that attuned to myself that I know that. And I guess that is where the struggle comes into is knowing when to ask. Cause I don't like the games. I don't like the waiting games. I don't play the games because 

[00:55:10] Gretchen: [00:55:10] absolutely. And for others, the need to wait may not be a game. It may be a, I literally can't make. That kind of determination when I'm across, like everyone's wiring is different. Everyone's rhythms are different from each others. Right. And so partly that's also like you know, if you're on a date that's going really well.

[00:55:31] Do you ever sort of read that moment when it feels just right to lean in for a first kiss? 

[00:55:38] Luke: [00:55:38] No, I've never had that. Well, I've had a couple of times. Yeah. But I've had a lot of girls say to me, like, so I'm usually attracted to the same type of girl. Who's like, I don't kiss on the first date. 

[00:55:49] Gretchen: [00:55:49] Hmm. Okay. Yeah, that's fair. It, but it's the same sort of like reading of a moment. And, and if it's hard to read whether or not she'd be receptive to the ask for the second date immediately and it just, or it wouldn't feel authentic to wait. I would, you know, suggest playing around with "I had so much fun. I know I'd love to see you again and. I will do, like, are you open to me reaching out in a, in a few days to see if that would feel good to you?"

[00:56:30] Luke: [00:56:30] You announce intentions and say, I'm going to give you some space.

[00:56:33]Gretchen: [00:56:33] I don't want you to cut off your enthusiasm. I don't want you to write. And some women, particularly, if they... struggle with feeling safe or struggle with feelings of obligation, need space and freedom to move at their rhythms too. That doesn't mean they're their mismatch. It just means how you date and how you process interest and desire and attraction may be a little different.

[00:57:04] Luke: [00:57:04] Beautiful Gretchen, is there anything else you'd like to, to share with my audience? 

[00:57:12] Gretchen: [00:57:12] I, you know, I think the themes we've touched on because compassion bringing compassion to yourself, looking for where you might be inadvertently shaming yourself and giving yourself some grace. And yeah, and I love the, the don't don't feel the need to go it alone. Like there are lots of resources out there.

[00:57:33] Lots of great people that do that, that support this.

[00:57:36] Luke: [00:57:36] Yeah. And there's lots. I have lots of good friends. I have a good support system that I can open up to. So both guys and girls, so I know who to go to for, for advice and, and some kind words. But audience, you can find Gretchen on Instagram at Gretchen dot shanks and on Twitter. Gretchen underscore shanks and at her website, Gretchen shanks.com. But Gretchen, is there anything that you'd like to promote, share with the audience? Before I let you go, I'm going to give you a couple of minutes here to say 

[00:58:05] Gretchen: [00:58:05] Okay. I don't think so. Two things I would say that I'm really well. One is I, if you're curious about what I mentioned in my intro about alternatives to talk therapy and what that means and looks like I, so I'm a research geek. So when I went down the Google rabbit hole on this, I did a, Oh God.

[00:58:26] 50 60, 70 hours of research. I have no idea. Not everyone gets excited about doing that kind of thing. And if you're curious about what's out there in terms of sexual healing that goes beyond talk therapy. I have a a doc, a free freely available sort of short article that kind of distills it down to the top five modalities.

[00:58:46]That I found that I thought were really. Fascinating and had a lot of potential. So that's on my website. It's at my website, Gretchen shanks.com backslash sexual healing options. And it's a great little, four or five page summary of the different modalities that could be a good starting point if this is something that you're interested in because there's a lot of, a lot out there. The other thing is I am in the process of designing a group program that I have been eager to launch and we'll be launching in the new year.

[00:59:19] So stay tuned. I will be making lots of posts about it on the social medias and on my website when I'm ready to launch it. So I should start. You know, the not too distant future on that, but I'm really excited to have spaces for women to come together and and work on some of this shame and fine and normalizing of, of the ways that we all struggle in sex and dating.

[00:59:46] Luke: [00:59:46] Beautiful. And Gretchen, thank you so much for being a kind ear talking about some of these problems and issues that I face in my life. And I'm sure a lot of other guys face too, you know, I always want to be the first one that opens up if I can. And other guys have reached out to me with the same issue.

[01:00:01] Gretchen: [01:00:01] Yeah, I really appreciate the space you've created here and I've really enjoyed chatting with you and getting to know you

[01:00:08]Luke: [01:00:08] Likewise. And have fun in Seattle. Enjoy the nicer weather than Canada or I guess Toronto, cause you're on the West coast. So you always get a little bit of that nicer, warmer weather than me. So I'm always a bit jealous.

[01:00:22] Gretchen: [01:00:22] All right. Thank you so much.