A weekly series examining the human experience in passengers’ stories as delivered from a therapist moon-lighting as a rideshare driver.
Jake and Ben were two good looking guys in their early 30’s, just in town for SXSW, buzzing with excitement. I knew this would be an interesting ride when, immediately— before I even pulled out of the parking lot—they wanted me to tell them “where the hoes are at.”
That is not a typical request. Most people want to know where the best drinking spot is, or the best music venue.
Not wanting to be known as the driver who endorses the prostitution scene, I side-stepped the question, but they came more forcefully: “Seriously, dude, stop holding out on us! We need to know where the hoes are at.”
A tad confused, I pointed to the unofficial “red light district.” warning them of the potential dangers of interacting with prostitutes in the area. That’s when I realized we were in two different conversations.
Jake said, “Wait, you’re talking about working girls??? Oh hellzzz no! We don’t want hookers! We’re looking for REAL girls, dude! We need to know where they’re gonna be at!” They laughed at me like I was a foreigner who didn’t understand the language. They were right.
Back in my day, “hoes” meant prostitutes. Worse, it implied a woman who gave her body away for nothing. So, imagine my surprise to learn that what used to be considered a derogatory term for prostitutes is now used to describe women in general. That these two men are hoping to meet.
They are confident those women will be happy to get with them.
My mind drifted back to 1995. I was 33, sitting in front of a group of elders who’d sat me down and lovingly put me on blast: “The language you use when talking about women is disrespectful. It’s offensive,” they said. “You need to look at your language and what you’re creating with it. What does it say about you?”
I wish I could say I was receptive to their intervention. But there’s a saying about not throwing pearls before swine, and I was going through a rather lengthy swine phase.
Instead, I laughed. These were old guys. They had no sense of humor, and were making a big deal out of nothing. Never mind that they were husbands, fathers, and men I admired. The space inside me where wisdom tried to seep in was clogged with youthful pride. It took me a long time to notice the walls I’d erected for myself through my language. It was as if my words were bricks, and with every word I built my world.
There came a time I found myself in a hard, cold cell as a result of my own language. It’s a red-letter day when you wake up and realize, dang, this is my own life and I created it. Every word I ever spoke is staring me in the face, and it’s the difference between a fulfilling, joyful life and a lonely, bitter one.
Now here I was, with two young-not-so-young guys asking me to tell them where the “hoes” are at.
“That’s an interesting term for women,” I said. They laughed more.
Understand, for guys stuck in boyhood, laughter is a particular dialect. It dilutes the power of any word. “LOL” is a 4-letter word reduced to 3 when written after a serious statement. Boys do that because boyhood and depth mix like oil and water.
Too much depth will ruin a boy forever, leaving a man standing in his place.
I decided to go right for the jugular. After all, the jugular connects the head with the heart, no?
“I guess the words we use to talk about women say something about what we really want, don’t they?”
The laughter lowered itself into a chuckle like a flag dropping half-mast.
“What do you mean?” Ben asked.
“Come on”, I said, “When you call her a ‘hoe’ what are you really saying?”
Jake said, “I’m saying I want her to be able to turn it on in the bedroom, bro!”
“You want a woman who’s sexually alive, don’t you? You want a woman who’s in touch with her sexuality, has everything else AND is still able to access her animal nature. It’s a legitimate competency we look for in a woman, isn’t it?”
Jake really liked this concept. “Exactly! Sexual aliveness! A legitimate competency.” He became animated. “I mean, why can’t I meet a girl who’s cool enough to hang out with the bros at the game, ladylike enough to come to dinner with my parents, and in the bedroom….” The Boyhood Dialect erupted again.
I replied, “It’s important to you to have a woman who’s sexually vibrant, and that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that. But notice how you set everybody up to fail.”
“How do you mean?” Ben asks.
I talked about the best woman I’d ever known. She was graceful, refined, kind, intelligent, and had a beautiful, soft heart. Yet I threw that relationship away because I wasn’t up for the challenge of developing myself in order to align with her. I held her at a higher standard than I held for myself, and gave up on the process. Rather than acknowledge my failings, I blamed her for her imperfections. The casualty was intimacy, because intimacy chokes to death in the weeds of pretense.
“Vulnerability is the prerequisite for intimacy,” I told them. “If you can’t get real about who you are, including your doubts & insecurities, you’ll never experience intimacy.”
The vibe in the car dropped to its knees. The best place to be if you want to learn. Jake opened up about his frustrations with his current lover. He riffed about her inability to match his sexual appetites. “I really like her, I do, but…the sex thing…gets in the way”, he confessed. Then he poured the BIG question: “How do I find the one who has the perfect combination of everything together?”
I told him I knew the answer but he wasn’t gonna like it.
They insisted on hearing it, so I grabbed the jugular with both hands and stitched them together: “You have to become that which you’re seeking.”
Jake tried deflecting, “You mean I have to become a hoe?”
“Not a hoe,” I told him. “WHOLE. You have to become a whole man.”
Ben asked, “What’s that?”
“Listen to yourselves. You complain that you can’t find a woman who is sexually alive as well as competent in the world. Well, what do you think women complain about?”
They ventured a clueless guess: “Money?”
“No, they complain it’s difficult to find men who are emotionally available as well as competent in the world. While we want them to be sexually vibrant, they are seeking our emotional vibrancy. If you want a woman who’s sexually alive, you have to become emotionally alive. That’s how it works. “
The car got so quiet I heard their jugulars pumping. Connections flowed between their heads and their hearts. That’s the Man Dialect waking up.
“So,” Jake said, “I have to become more aware of my feelings?”
“Not just aware. You have to cultivate a language for describing your feelings. Your language gives life to your inner world. It creates the bridge between you and what you want.”
Jake and Ben did better than me when I was their age. They’re listening.
Before leaving, the conversation came full circle. “So, where did you say the prostitutes are located?” More laughter. But then, a firm handshake, eyeball to eyeball, and the words, “Thank you. This is the best ride we’ve ever had.”
*Acknowledgment of gratitude for the elders in my life: Don Jones, , Gabe Heilig, Noe Gold, Jeff Altman, David Wind, Alex Von Bidder, Frederick Whitmeyer.
** Names and some details have been changed to protect identities.
Photo credit: Getty Images