Episode 16: Friendship: The "J" and Nicole Halpern Show

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What is the true nature of friendship? Is friendship restricted to someone who likes you and whom you like? Is a friend someone who supports and accepts you? What about a friend who constantly pushes your buttons? Can a friend be someone who is also an enemy? On this episode we tell the story of "J" and Nicole who have experienced the best - and the worst - of each other. They dated the same men, worked together and lived together at OneTaste. Their relationship of love and hate reflects a new paradigm for friendship. It’s one where it’s not comfort that matters, but a willingness to see and acknowledge all parts of yourself and someone else. Tune in and Turn on.


Friendship: The “J” and Nicole Halpern Show

Announcer: This program is intended for mature audiences only.

Around OneTaste, we say that the people around you, especially those who are most difficult to tolerate, are your practice. Like any regular practice, such as yoga or meditation, or jogging for that matter, in a relationship practice, you’re constantly pushing to go beyond your limits. These people with whom you will find yourself in uncomfortable situations. And through that, they are the people who will help you grow the most.

Nicole Halpern is my practice.

From OneTaste Urban Retreat Center in San Francisco, we bring you A Taste of Sex, a reality audio show about life in an orgasm-based community. On this week’s episode, friendship. What is it? And can a best enemy be a best friend? I’m “J” and you’ll be listening to my story this week. Tune in and turn on.

Nicole and I have gone in and out of being friends, or at least the kind of friends that most people recognize, for three years.

I have called her my best friend. She’s also been my best enemy. Other people have described us as sisters, bookends, life partners and compared us to an old married couple who love one another, but just cannot get along. It’s also been said that she’s four years old, while I’m two, following her everywhere while she looks back disdainfully, but expectantly. And that she is the front of the house – the person who interacts with the public – while I am the back of the house – the support person behind the scenes. I would say that all are accurate, but none quite describe the relationship. She and I are bound together by something that is beyond us. We gravitate toward the same projects and the same people. When we’re in alignment, we can generate a force like no other. And when we’re not, we drive each other and the people around us crazy.

In her book, “Stay Where You Are,” Pema Chodrin writes about Gurdjieff, a 20th century teacher and philosopher, who purposefully hired a bad-tempered gardener. All of the students who would come to his Paris manor hated this gardener. One day, the gardener got mad, blew up and ran away. Everyone celebrated, but Gurdjieff went after him in his car. Why, someone asked? I pay him to stay here, Gurdjieff said. The idea being, that if you want to grow and awaken, in the enlightenment sense of the word, you need someone who will push your buttons.

Nicole Halpern definitely pushes my buttons.

We are opposites. She is blond, cute (note: she was a cheerleader in high school), friendly at the outset of a relationship and more withdrawn as you go deeper in. I am a brunette, cute, but in a serious way and I am often not so friendly when you first meet me, but if you persist, I’ll really love you. She likes to move fast, and doesn’t really care about details. I am slower, wanting to check things out before trying them.

You know that person you just can’t get off your mind? You watch everything they do, and no matter what they do, whether it’s the way they hold their fork, or laugh, or talk at business meetings, or who they hang out with, or who they ignore, it drives you nuts. In this moment, that’s Nicole Halpern for me.

Don’t get me wrong. While I try to keep them to myself lest she use them as ammunition, there are things that I appreciate about her. The other morning she sang, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine,” to wake up the 40 or so of us who live together. It was very cute. She has a work ethic that would compete with the best workaholics. And yet she’s also a socialite, brilliant at instigating spontaneous group fun.

These days I dread telling her anything, knowing that whatever I say, her response will upset me. I feel like I’m dodging sharp pellets while talking to her. Often times, it’s not the words that drive me crazy, but the meaning underneath. It’s like I’ll hear the translation which says, “I’m more important than you,” or “I’ve got it handled, stay out of it,” or “I know better than you,” or “Your ideas are stupid.”

It hasn’t always been this way. When we first met, I had this sense that I could say anything to her, even the scary stuff I had never told anyone, like how I wanted to have sex, but felt hopeless in my relationships with men. She was bubbly, friendly, easy to talk to. I drove her home one night and we sat in the car while she told me about her OneTaste escapades. I had been going to an evening event called IN Groups for months, but hadn’t yet taken the Opening course, the workshop that introduces the practice of Orgasmic Meditation. She told me I should take the course and I did. It seemed less scary knowing that she had already done it.

One day, soon after she had moved into OneTaste, and I was still sharing an apartment with my roommate in the East Bay, we spent the whole day together. We started out at the Farmer’s market, purchasing food for the café, then hung out at my apartment for the rest of the afternoon. We talked and talked, about our histories, about OneTaste, about sex, who we had crushes on and I fell in love with her.

A few months later, I also moved in. At an IN Group one night, I told her that she filled a familiar role for me – that of trusty girlfriend -- but it was different. There was this intense energetic connection that I had never experienced. I felt shy and timid saying this. I thought she might respond, but she didn’t. I wondered if she had taken in the weight of what I said.

I was pretty shy back then. People would tease me at IN Groups to loosen up and uncross my arms and legs. I had a big ego, but lacked self-esteem, especially around men. Though I had had boyfriends, I sincerely doubted that anyone would love me for long. The whole love/sex thing felt beyond me, like it was something that happened to other people, but not me. I felt like I wasn’t good enough, that I didn’t deserve what I wanted. I didn’t feel I had the right to even speak my desire. During my first course at OneTaste, a class called Taboo, I was asked, “Would I surrender to my desire?” For the first 12 hours, the answer was no. Finally, at 10 o’clock at night, tired of holding out for me, the teacher said she was done. I changed my answer to yes. What turmoil that caused inside of me. I walked around for weeks, thinking about the question, sometimes crying, heartbroken because I had made a promise I could not keep. How could I surrender to something that I could not have?

I hung out with Nicole and her boyfriend sometimes. I remember seeing them make out at a party before they officially became a couple. She stood against a pole while he kissed her, their lips opening and closing like fish. He moved into the community a few months later and they began sharing a room. At first, I didn’t think he was cute. But when he started coming onto me, I liked it. He made me feel wanted and Nicole didn’t seem to care. As time went on, he and I became close. One night they had an argument. He stormed out. I followed. I drove him home and calmed him down.

That became my role. Sort of a moderator between he and Nicole. He would get upset and I would talk him down. Then they broke up. OneTaste style. Her boyfriend came to share a room with me. She started going out with someone else, someone I liked a lot. And we all lived in the same community house.

So it got complicated. I remember feeling Nicole grow more and more distant from me to the point where we could not speak, though we lived in the same house. I was jealous and on top of that insecure because her ex-boyfriend was still hung up on her. He would sometimes cry himself to sleep at night. My role became that of consoler. I tried not to speak badly about Nicole, but it became hard not to. I resented the way she still kept her ex-boyfriend on a string, though she clearly didn’t want him. I was also intensely jealous of her current relationship. I felt insecure in the face of these two men’s desire for her.

When my relationship with her ex-boyfriend ended, Nicole and I became close again. I felt such relief. Every morning that summer, we did withholds together, a communication exercise where you essentially say all of your resentments about people out loud. The idea is that you empty out the thoughts so that you can relate in a cleaner way. That we did withholds together meant we felt safe and happy with each other.

Nicole broke up with her partner, the guy that I really liked and had been jealous of. I found myself moving closer to him. He and I had this one amazing sleepover where we made out in this almost violent way. He kept pinning me down. Using his teeth as clamps, he took my tongue deep into his mouth. I felt captive and at his mercy. I loved it. My obsession with him, which was already big, grew larger. I watched him carefully, monitoring his make outs with other women, carefully evaluating, deciding how much he liked this or that one and was he as turned on by her as me?

He started having sleepovers with Nicole. I could hardly stand it. I chastised him. What are you doing with her? Nicole confided in me. She didn’t understand. She had thought the relationship was over. But she felt him pulling on her again.

And then it happened. She and I began fighting. It started with a disagreement about teaching. Oh, these things sound so petty now. I wanted to be the lead teacher for a course. I said so. Other people didn’t agree. They thought someone else was better. It got pretty heated. What hurt the most was Nicole Halpern’s reaction. I don’t remember what she said, but I remember this feeling of betrayal, like she had turned against me.

And then there was the guy, the one who had broken up with her, and now liked us both. The more he liked the two of us, the less Nicole and I liked each other.

You’ve been listening to A Taste of Sex. We’ll be back shortly after this short break.

You’re listening to A Taste of Sex, reality audio about life at OneTaste Urban Retreat Center in San Francisco.

We were up at Lake Tahoe, at the house of a friend, maybe 12 of us for a weekend getaway. Before the trip, he told me he wanted to make out. I said something like, so long as you don’t decide to make out with Nicole Halpern. We arrived and I found out he wanted to sleep with me. We had sex that night and it was really good. As he slid in, I could feel him filling the empty cavity inside of me. I remember looking up, seeing the muscles of his arm as they propped him up, and him saying, “No story,” meaning stay in this moment, don’t worry about what comes next, and turning me over to take me from behind.

My bliss didn’t last long. He started dating both of us. It was hardly an ideal situation – for anyone. But I remember feeling like if this was how I was going to have him then this was what I wanted. I just wanted him. And the truth is I also wanted Nicole. I wanted her in a position where she couldn’t ignore me.

The next few months were pretty crazy. For most of it, Nicole and I hated each other. Every time we talked, we argued.

We competed for him, using any means at our disposal. I remember one morning deciding that I was going to have more orgasmic meditation sessions than usual with him, just to annoy her. Every day, I considered whether to back down from the relationship and just let her have him. So why didn’t I? I wanted to see what was on the other side. And paradoxically, I wanted my friendship with Nicole. I wanted us to move through something that is usually impossible.

I had also never experienced a woman in such an intimate way. Through being so close to him, and he to her, I got see all of her, her sexy side, her conniving side, her funny side, her desperate side. And in that, I got to know myself. I saw how I let her get the best of me, time after time. And how I wanted to run – bolt, whenever things stopped going my way.

One day, in the middle of it, Nicole and I had a breakthrough. One of my best skills is asking questions. I was a journalist before I quit my job to work full time at OneTaste. Sometimes I can pull information from people they don’t even know they have. Nicole is our course enroller. She’s really a genius at it, which is saying a lot because while a lot of people are curious about sensuality, it’s not an easy job to have them realize that it’s o.k. to actually go into it. Nicole can navigate almost anyone’s resistance and if she can’t, well then, they weren’t meant to take a course. In this particular conversation, I started interviewing her about what goes on in her mind as she’s enrolling. We started to map out a process that other people could follow. We were laughing and getting along, appreciating each other and how we have such different, but complementary skills. The euphoria didn’t last long. Maybe a day. But it was a marker for what was possible.

After a few months, her relationship with him fell apart. So it was just he and I for a time, until our relationship also dissolved. At the time, I was also looking for a new job within OneTaste. I decided help Nicole with enrollment.

I would call this Grace Period #3. We became friends again. We would plot, at all times of day and night, calling each other constantly, talking in the bathroom, on her bed, whenever we saw each other in passing. I felt us working as a team. You know, almost as one, but in this case two were better than one. We started to have some degree of success. There was momentum and it was fun for a few months. The guy we had both dated left San Francisco to start OneTaste New York. I cried and cried that day. At dinner, I was still crying when I saw Nicole. I told her, “I don’t know why, but I’m just upset.” In what may have been our tenderest moment, she gave me a long hug and said, “It’s o.k. I’m here.”

Sometime later it started to fall apart. I never quite figured out why. I just know that it did. I felt her backing away from me, being less receptive to my ideas, and more secretive about hers. Whereas before, it felt like us against the world, now it felt like her against me. I went a little crazy. I knew something was off, but I couldn’t say exactly what. I only knew I felt it. Around here, we call it cognitive dissonance, where signals don’t match up. I would get angry at her for seemingly very petty reasons. I walked out of meetings. I threatened to quit. And then finally, about five weeks ago, I did quit.

She misunderstood something I had said and told someone to hold off on a job I had asked for. I got angry. Hearing that she had overridden me hit something very deep. There was a sense of feeling misunderstood and unappreciated, also powerless and betrayed. I remember the moment I heard. First came the feelings that seemed beyond what I was capable of handling and then the five-alarm fire went off in my head. How could she not trust me? How could she undercut me in such a mean way? How could she not understand that my motivations are always good? It was like all the fire trucks were out, blasting water at full force. I killed the messenger, the guy who gotten counter orders from Nicole. I screamed at him. How could he listen to her? Well, she’s the enrollment manager, he said. I stormed out and began walking toward the Bay, thinking should I quit? Should I quit? All thoughts of deliberate action went away as soon as I came back and saw Nicole. I started yelling at her, saying as many hurtful things that resembled the truth as I could think of, anything that might penetrate. I was not rational. I did have enough awareness to know that the wire to consciousness had been cut in my head. I could tell that I was being ridiculous and mean, but that was as far as I got.

After that fight, I realized I had to let go of her. For almost two years, since we left Grace Period #1, I had held onto this idea of what our friendship should look like. In it, we were girlfriends who confided in one another. I liked her. She liked me and we relied on each other for support and advice. But that phase of the friendship had ended a long time ago. I knew I had to accept our friendship for what it was, not what it had been two years ago. For a few days, I mourned the relationship’s loss. I could feel it dying and in that, a part of me also went away -- a delusion about who she is, who I am, and who the two of us are to each other.

We did have a brief revival. One night I sat down next to her on the couch and she said, “You know I had a moment of feeling like I loved you today.” I told her it was because I had broken up with her. We laughed. I went back to enrollment the next week and it seemed that we had made it out of this karmic knot that binds us together.

The honey moon lasted about a week.

A few days ago: My attention is drawn to her at the other table. She’s sitting across from Rachael and Jessica and I can tell that she’s defending herself. She has that look on her face. It’s slightly scrunched up. The words come out hard and fast. You can tell that it’s meant to be personal, even if the subject is not. I hate that voice. I hate that look. I don’t know how Rachael does it, calmly countering her arguments. When Nicole does it to me, I crumble. I don’t know how to sustain the force. It knocks me over. All I can think about is getting up, and trying to get in a punch. I’ll be swinging blindly, mostly missing, but occasionally making contact. My goal eventually is to take the blows, and stay standing. And then to say what I have to say calmly, with the force of truth so that she can’t help but listen. Like Ghandi. He took the hits and still stuck to his message.

Apparently Nicole broke a rule and brought up something that I did to defend herself. Later Rachael says to me, how is that everything always comes back to the “J” and Halpern show? No matter what’s happening, it always ends up being a fight about your relationship, she said.

Rachael left yesterday for OneTaste New York. In the worst of times, she has been the link between us. “It’s true. I love you both,” she said the day before she departed and left Nicole and me to deal with ourselves. At Rachael’s going away party, I watched Nicole connect with this Asian woman I had had not met. Nicole was softer and more intimate than I had ever seen. I felt jealous. Over what, I’m not sure. Perhaps it was a longing for acceptance.

Someone once said to me that we choose people we trust to work out our most difficult stuff. If I believe that – and I actually do – then Nicole and I are using each other well. It’s true she’s not my friend in the traditional sense. But through her I have had to confront the most uncomfortable parts of myself: jealousy, anger, possessiveness, neediness, powerlessness and love. In that sense, I have probably gotten more from her than any other friend. And I have had the privilege of seeing her from all sides, as if picking up a rock and turning it round, and having the luxury to see it from every angle. It may or may not be friendship, but I don’t know that there’s any greater intimacy.

Thank you for listening to A Taste of Sex. For transcripts of this show, you can find us on the web at personallifemedia.com. For more information about OneTaste, check us out at onetaste.us. And don’t forget, you can get a free audio of books by Pema Chodrin for more stories like that of the testy gardener at www.audiblepodcast.com/taste.

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