This blog is the transcript of Episode #57 of “Under 10: A Mini Podcast on Intimacy”. Listen along here.
Last episode, I invited you to think of desire like an animal. I shared practices with you to help stir this creature awake so that you can ask for what you want. This week I want to share a related principle that I’m calling, “How to have the best 2-minute make out ever”. This practice is totally about making out, but about so much more, too. It’s about allowing yourself to be in full pleasure with what is, rather than finding what’s missing and focusing on what isn’t. Be warned, this is an advanced practice. And the more vulnerable you feel, the harder it will be. It can also multiple the happiness quotient in your relationship by one hundred-fold. I’m excited to show you how.
First, let’s talk about why it’s so easy to focus on what’s missing in your life. You are probably already aware that the brain is designed to look for what’s wrong, not for what’s right, in our environment. It’s called the “negativity bias” and is an incredibly adaptive mechanism. For example, if you have young children, you simply must be able to see the risks in any given physical space and act quickly to neutralize them: a cup of steaming water at the edge of the counter, the precipitous edge of a flight of stairs, a short curb that leads to a busy city street. Your vigilance will keep your offspring safe and ensure their survival and the continuation of your genes. Your brain is a powerful ally in this process.
The negativity bias helps all of us in countless scenarios. To optimize our work performance, to push ourselves in our physical activities, to thoroughly clean our homes when it’s time to find those musty corners where dust has collected. In essence, it’s like a radar that sweeps the landscape and zooms in on inconsistences in order to analyze the problem and work towards a solution. Without the negativity bias to protect us, our prehistoric ancestors would have been gobbled by natural predators long ago. We truly owe our lives to this adaptation.
Unfortunately, what helps us adapt just about everywhere else in our lives undermines us in love. Essentially, the survival mode of the negativity bias just doesn’t work when it comes to sustaining our relationships. When it is time to relate to the people our hearts are most enthralled with, we have the chance to figure out how to disarm the sweeping radar and begin to reverse its programming. To train that vigilance to look for what actually is working, rather than hone in on what’s not.
Psychologist Dr. Rick Hanson puts this beautifully. He says that the negativity bias is like having Velcro for the bad and Teflon for the good. In essence, we glom onto what we don’t want in our lives. And let what we do want, slide right off. For example, when complements come in, you shrug them away. When it was a lovely evening, you go to bed without giving gratitude for the sweetness. You see only two shades: bad and not bad. You miss the beauty, the textures and colors and aromas of the good. What we want is to teach ourselves to practice the reverse. To make the good stick, and help the bad slide down the drain.
Here’s some hopeful news about all of this: your ability to calm yourself even in stressful times will be the “off” switch for the negativity bias. If you can find some sense of relaxation, even when things around you are crumbling, you can grow your ability to find and even delight in the good.
Think of it like this. When we are stressed out, the negativity bias sharpens. When you are under slept or under high pressure or deeply worried, you get more vigilant, and focus more on the down side of things. But, when you can catch your stress, get yourself to breathe deeply for a minute or two, soften your tight belly, and uncurl your toes, your vision will also relax. And you will be able to notice that where you’re sitting is soft. And the sun has just broken through the clouds. And the buds on the winter branches are gently blooming.
So now you have the mechanism responsible for creating pleasure. It’s your ability to slow down, soothe yourself and come more present into your body. Now let’s get back to that make out.
You have been flirting with one another all day. Frolicking playfully on the long hike where you encountered that beautiful, moss covered hollow log. Lightly kissing as you passed the thermos of hot cocoa between you. Laughing easily. Sharing hints of your desire and feeling the heat in your body build. The sun begins to set and you decide it’s time to head home. During the car ride, you sing along together to your favorite song that plays on the radio as your heart swells. You walk in the door, you each drop your bags, you glance at one another, and it’s on. Grabbing at each other’s clothes and shedding them in a trail across the floor, you careen towards the bed. It’s the moment you have been waiting for. The chance to join your bodies and fulfill the desire that has been building all day. And when the time comes to fully connect skin to skin…the energy drops. Something shifts. They said something you didn’t understand. You said something they didn’t like. Your body didn’t perform. Their body closed off. There was a cramp. A headache. A drop off where you expected a peak. And you are left wondering, how did the orchestral crescendo that was soaring in your ears so suddenly end in a record scratch?
Here’s where the story ends. I offer it to you to complete. What would you do? First ask yourself, what would your default reaction be. I imagine there would be frustration. A “wait-what-happened, come-back!” kind of gripping. Maybe even blame, if you perceive that the other person let you down. And of course, as you can guess, this type of reaction – while completely understandable – would take you even further from the effortless space of connection you had been soaking in moments before.
So now imagine how you might respond from your practice of delighting in the good. Imagine turning to your person, who at this point is looking pale faced and kind of shrinking in front of your eyes, and saying in your most genuine voice, “That was the best two-minute make out ever!” while grinning ear to ear. And imagine the flood of relief that would wash over both of you as you crack up laughing at the inevitable awkwardness of even the best laid plans for make outs. Imagine both your shoulders relaxing and again melting into one another as you discuss the beauty of your day and what to make for dinner.
Do you see what’s possible when you find the good and celebrate it? Even if it is just a tiny, glowing ember of what you wanted, blow your breath on that ember and help it glow. As a yoga teacher of mine often said, what you give your attention to, grows. When we learn through daily practices of self-care and self-regulation to bring ourselves back to calm when we most need it, we can shift our radar from obsessing about what’s not working to playfully celebrating what is. The tiny things. The smile of the cashier through their eyes, above their mask. The clear breath you can take, even on a grey day. The meal your partner cooked, even if half of if it was burned. Blow on these embers with the gust of a full-blown pleasure party and see what happens.
And if you are wanting to practice in a group, be sure to check out my next Intimacy Salon. It’s a once a month, online playground for people who care about intimacy, want to learn tips and tools and know that practicing together is just more fun. The next event is March 16th. Go to my website or just check out the link in the show notes to get your ticket!
For this week’s homework, find a tiny ember and blow on it. If you’re partnered, maybe it’s some effort your partner is making that you can acknowledge. Make sure to really let yourself light up when you express your gratitude. Get turned on about it. Let them know how your gratitude feels in your body. And watch them engorge with delight at your appreciation. If you are single, appreciate something in a friendship that you can gush and rave about. Or celebrate your relationship with nature by bringing gifts to a favorite tree and singing its praises. When you are looking for evidence of the good, you can find it, even in troubled times. And then it can find you, more and more and more.