If you’ve never picked up a copy of Mama Gena’s Owner’s and Operator’s Guide to Men, go to your best friend and ask her to lend it to you (chances are, she owns a copy). It’s one of those books that’s been passed from woman to woman for nearly 10 years, often accompanied by notes like, “Just read this, then call me.” Whether you think she’s the modern woman’s salvation or the ruin of feminism, Mama Gena, AKA Regena Thomashauer, founder of the School of Womanly Arts, has created a unique and powerful world of female-ness, where women (called “Sister Goddesses”) are the masters of their own destinies, and the men around them exist to serve their whims. Sound preposterous? According to Mama Gena, we already have everything we need to make it happen. She spoke to us about dating, sexuality, and the secret to ending all fights with your significant other.
MELISSA WALL: You’ve been coaching women on dating and relationships for decades now. What do you think of online dating? Has it changed things for the better? Worse?
MAMA GENA: I think that online dating is a fantastic addition to the options for meeting people. And living in the culture we live in, which encourages us to seek our identity based on what we do for a living, we don’t have as many points of interaction with people as our parents or grandparents did. We don’t all grow up in the same town and see each other everywhere, etc. So online dating is a great tool that expedites the [meeting] process.
But it requires a great internal discipline and awareness, and a kind of a reframing of what it means to interact socially. Instead of using all of your senses when you meet someone—looks, smell, voice, eye contact, all the nonverbal cues that evoke responses in your body—you get an online photo and a few paragraphs. Online, you have to press everything into that picture and description, and you have to create a different structure for discernment, which is different for everybody.
For me, I’m very sensitive to the way people use words and language. I’m single now, I’m divorced and dating, and when I see someone who looks appealing online, when I meet him he may not feel right to me. You learn how to be discerning and make the best use of your time, and keep yourself grounded in a fun happy orbit so you’re not spending more time than you wish on the process.
Ultimately, online dating requires maintaining a really healthy, happy core. It’s kind of like needing your core training before you run a marathon – mentally, emotionally, and spiritually you want to be in good condition before you venture out there in the world of online dating so you have a happy place to return to.
MW: How do you keep that happy core? What’s the single most important part of maintaining it?
MG: I’d answer that differently for women than men, though they’re similar. Women have been taught for centuries to have their focus and attention be on taking care of their families, their kids, their boss, their boyfriend. We were taught to prioritize others’ goals and needs above our own. That is a recipe for doom when you’re dating, especially when you’re dating online. You’re always thinking about how to appear attractive to another person, but you’re not focusing on who you are yourself, so you’re blown around like a tumbleweed in a windstorm.
So for women, learn about what it is that connects you to your life force, your joy, your sense of privilege to be a woman. You have to open the door called pleasure and explore what it is that lights you up and connects you and leaves you feeling beautiful juicy and sexy all on your own.
Pleasure – and I’m not just talking about sex here — is worthy of exploration on a daily basis. We can’t think about it enough. We think it’s a reward that we get later we work really hard, but as we all know there is no pleasure fairy waiting for us at the end of the workday. This is something we all knew when we were kids – kids are great at moving from one pleasurable activity to another. Learning through pleasure is a much more integrated way of learning, as opposed to learning through fear or rigidity. It’s the difference between memorizing Shakespeare versus going to an incredible production of a Shakespeare play, where you’re transported by all of your senses.
For a guy, the best way to navigate dating is to stay in touch with your intuition – your instinct, your gut response. Don’t try too hard to be a hero, or to get something from someone. I teach a course for men as part of my mastery program – the seminars are for women, and there’s one night when they bring their husbands. The chief complaint men have is, “no matter what I do, I can’t make her happy. I don’t know what she wants.”
What I teach guys is that, when you encounter a woman who is natively unhappy, it’s not your responsibility to change her. What you CAN do is choose a woman who is already happy, and then add to her happiness. So when a guy really pays attention to his inner truth, and says, “I’m on a date with this woman who complains a lot and says she’s unhappy with her life, how does that make me feel?” instead of immediately trying to fix things for her…then he may cut that date pretty short and move on. So men, trust your gut.
MW: But when you’re dealing with married couples, they’ve already chosen each other. It’s easy to fall into a rut, no? How do you keep inertia from creeping in?
MG: I’m a huge fan of transparency. Everyone is scared they will hurt their partner’s feelings. But if you speak your truth in a friendly manner, it always leads somewhere fun.
We’ve been taught by our culture that when a problem shows up, what we are supposed to do is pay a lot of attention to the problem and then fix it, and then there’s a lot of blaming — this was your fault, this was your idea, etc. And there’s no way to unwind that knot. My favorite tip for couples: the first person who recognizes that they are getting into this pattern should grab the other’s hand and run in the direction of fun. I promise you, once you’re having fun together, you’ll solve the problem. You cannot solve problems when both of you are plugged in and filled with anger and blaming one another. Once you’re in that clear, sweet space of fun, you can solve everything.
Let’s say in the middle of a fight he says, “you’re always late.” And you say, “But you said 7:30!” And he goes, “No I told you 7!” If you grabbed him in that moment and said, “what you need to do right now is press me up against a wall and kiss me, because I just need that” — opening that door and moving into 30 seconds of fun completely changes the chemistry. You’re able to solve everyhting, laugh at yourselves, and move on from the fiery blame of attack.
MW: That sounds wonderful. But it requires something to do this, no? It’s not easy to let go of wanting to defend yourself, and wanting to prove that you’re right.
MG: It requires practice and it requires both partners choosing pleasure over anger. It requires both of you making an agreement to do it. It’s just a practice. What we don’t recognize is that because of the cultural conditioning or the way our parents or grandparents taught us (when a challenge erupts, we’re supposed to attack the challenger or each other) is not a requirement. Rather, it’s just a product of being inside our culture.
There’s this book called The Continuum Concept — a Western woman lived for 2 years with an indingenous tribe in South America. In this tribe, a group of men were hauling a heavy canoe up the side of a cliff, and sometimes someone would fall, or it would drop. Instead of yelling at each other, they would laugh hysterically at each other. I thought that was such a lovely alternative to pointing the finger, which is what our culture teaches us to do.
Changing our patterns in this area requires reaching for pleasure. That’s what I call my work the “Pleasure Revolution.” It’s a paradigm shift. Like working out. Fifty years ago, no one worked out. There weren’t gyms, you couldnt even buy sneakers for women. Now EVERYONE either works out or knows they should. I want no one to waste their time attacking or blaming each other. It will be much more efficient to conspire to solve the problem through pleasure.
MW: What about in dating? You meet a guy and, in the moment, you’d like to sleep with him. You seek pleasure — so should you do it?
MG: That’s a bit more complicated. Women are all different. Some women have the ability to have sexual encounters and not involve themselves emotionally. And some women, as soon as their body is penetrated by his body, they feel like. now I own him and he owns me. There is a chemical shift where you’ve suddenly bonded with a guy that may not be someone you want to partner with longterm, but chemistry has attached you to him.
So it’s really important to figure out which kind of person you are. If you’re someone who, when you give your body you give your soul, then do it carefully — don’t be careless. On the other hand, if you’re the kind of person that is able to have lots of intimate contact without specific expectations, you should have more free reign. Your body is the address of your soul. If it’s an issue that is going to create a lot of consequences that you’re willing to live with, then take the actions. For some women, they can experience everything but penetration and still walk away unattached. For other women, even with a small amount of intimacy it brings up their urge to bond. So you have to figure yourself out and treat yourself delicately.
MW: There’s no way to navigate a healthy dating life without some heartbreak. But that can be a very painful experience. How can we avoid getting resigned and cynical?
MG: Women have an extraordinary amount of power that they don’t access or understand. We live in a culture that teaches women that they’re victimized by men rather than the masters of their own destiny. At the School of Womanly Arts, I teach women how to use their power and how to feel it and own it, and enjoy the privilege of being a woman. It’s really women that have the upper hand in the gender debate. We have all the power. We are the attractors, we are the source. If we say go, it’s go. It’s not up to him, and most women don’t know that.
Women need to rock and roll with the fun and the pleasure of living in the world. It’s SUCH a drag to be a victim. But to feel a sense of navigational certainty around the world of men is very pleasurable — to know you can always get your way. There’s a word that gets a lot of negative press — the word ‘manipulation’. But I think it’s really fun to manipulate the world so that it serves you. Its also fun to be at the effect of that. Every time a woman’s desires are served, everyone is lifted. It’s fun to learn how to flirt into getting your way.
MW: What if I’m thinking, “I have graduate degrees and shouldn’t have to rely on showing my legs to get what I want?”
MG: I’d say you haven’t experienced the full privilege of being a woman. Women are taught to be like men. We don’t make very good men. But we make phenomenal women, when we take the time and learn. Think about it — who teaches us how to really engage in and enjoy all the benefits of being a woman? We are taught how to work hard and study hard, but we haven’t been taught how to inhabit the eternal and ephemeral landscape of being a woman in every exquisite way that’s available. It’s a worthy investigation.