This blog is the transcript of Episode #58 of “Under 10: A Mini Podcast on Intimacy”. Listen along here.
Last episode I shared secrets about how to have the best two-minute make out ever. Go back and listen if you haven’t. This week I want to address a phenomenon that can happen early in a relationship but is also possible throughout the trajectory of relating. The one that begins with fervor and bliss and sounds something like, “Let’s move in and get married!” within weeks of dating. That can flip, quickly, to disgust and despair with phrases like, “Ugh, this will never work”. If you’ve ever been there, then this episode is for you.
Like all good intimacy lessons, this one begins with a story.
I have been blessed with many good friends as an adult. One such friend, let’s call her Dina, is truly dear to my heart. She is an exquisite teacher of teachers, activist and all-around deep feeling, cool lady. I admire her greatly. So when she called me recently to tell me she had found a fantastic new lover, I was thrilled. I told her, “I kvell for you!” the Yiddish word for joying in her joy. As we discussed her new guy and their month-long whirlwind of a love affair, the picture began to take shape. She raved about how strong their chemistry is, how she’s always known that touch could be this exhilarating and how they can’t seem to get enough of one another. But then she paused. Her effusive voice became somber. And she said, “But there’s a catch. It’s his humor. We don’t have a sense of humor in common. His jokes are just so…low brow. It’s never going to work”. I couldn’t help but chuckle at the quick shift in her tone and her certainty at her newfound relationship’s hopelessness. As you can guess, I couldn’t quite agree with her conclusion.
Does any of this sound familiar? That rush of infatuation followed by its polar opposite, aversion and defensiveness. Early on in relating, it can be easy to feel like you are on a swing caught by the wind, flying forward and backwards both towards and away from your new relationship. If you are there now, or have ever been, take heart. You’re not the only one, and you’re not crazy, at least not permanently.
If that’s the case, like my dear friend Dina, a few things may be going on.
First off, new love is profoundly vulnerable. The exposure of early relating can be dizzying. Two shows ago in Episode #56, I focused on healing your relationship to your desire so that you can ask for what you want, another essential listen. But watch out for what comes next. Because when you actually get what you want, it can feel as if you are hooked up to a high voltage socket, channeling electricity through your toenails and eyeballs at once. Love, my friends, especially at the groundless beginning, will ask you to uplevel and quickly.
I remember when I first started dating my husband. When I would go shopping at the grocery co-operative where he works, I would begin to shake as soon as I entered the store. I would rarely get much shopping done while I wandered the aisles. I was mostly focusing on breathing and grounding myself so that I didn’t throw up, laugh uncontrollably or wet myself before I entered his checkout line. He and I giggle about it now that the initial heat wave between us has grounded. But it was nearly debilitating at the time.
The low voltage life of not getting what we want is way more familiar for most people than actually getting what you want. We can get habituated to deprivation and run the risk of being unprepared when relational nourishment sits at the table in front of you and offers you a serving. Last episode I shared with you a technique for celebrating what you do have, even when it doesn’t perfectly match your ideal, in order to grow more of the good in your life. From there, the next step is learning how to make room in your body, mind and life for receiving that good. That delicious lover who has waltzed into your world who titillates your mind, worships your body and steadies your nervous system. That one. He’s going to push every button you have installed in your control center related to your worthiness to receive and give you the chance to melt some of those defenses to love you may erected so long ago.
Because that’s what the roller coaster may be boiling down to. Your moments of tightening up in the face of an otherwise healthy new relationship just may be shining a light on where it’s hard for you to let love at this voltage in and to trust it with your tender heart when stepping towards its radiance is causing your eyelashes to melt. Cycles of expansion and contraction in this phase are important to pay attention to. Someone in my last intimacy salon compared the practice of building trust in intimacy to being like a snail oozing hesitatingly out of its shell, with its delicate, defenseless skin, unfurling its tentacles to sniff the world, and then in a flash rearing back, disappearing into the hard cover of safety at the first sign of challenge. Especially if at the beginning your connection seemed to flow without effort, any bump in relating that might trigger your protections is likely going to be easy to hide behind. That’s the, “Aha, I knew it wasn’t going to work!” voice. The last thing I would want you to do is throw away such a beautiful connection before you’ve had a chance to really get to know the person. But it’s also really hard to have such soft, oozy skin in the face of so much intensity.
If you notice yourself creating what seems like big obstacles out of small moments in your relationship, especially a new one, it’s possible that you may need to ground and pace yourself as you are learning to receive love of this magnitude, so you don’t have to disappear just to catch your breath. Grounding is simple but it’s definitely not always easy. There are many grounding practices you can implement both on your own and with a partner.
Early on in our relationship, my husband and I developed this grounding tool that we still use almost daily. If you are in a relationship, for homework, try this. From standing, embrace one another so that your chest is in contact with the other person’s chest. Try a minute of naturally breathing while tuning into the sensations in both your bodies and letting your muscles relax and melt into the contact. Without working at it, your breath cycles will attune on their own, but if not, synchronize your breath on purpose. This practice involves breathing in together and then opening your mouth and making an audible sigh on the exhale, while remaining chest to chest. Let your chest buzz as your own and your partner’s breath leaves the lungs. Do this for at least ten cycles. Breathing in gently in sync, through the nose if that’s available, and then on the out breath releasing with sound, ahhh. The vibration that will start where you are connected heart to heart may expand throughout both your bodies. Complete the practice and let yourself marinate in the calm that follows.
If you are not in a relationship, try breathing in and audibly exhaling on your own for a count of ten. It’s an awesome way to bring the energy back into a range that keeps you more conscious and less likely to need to check out through one defense or another.
What you’re aiming for is to gently and steadily expand over time so that you can look at the bright rays of beauty in your life in any form and not have to put dark shades on. But that will take patience. Be careful that you don’t expect yourself to stare straight into the sun so soon lest you burn something delicate and need to go back to the cold, dark moon. Slow, steady expansion is the key.
As strange as it sounds, new love – and for that matter, genuine joy at any stage of a relationship – can be foreign, overwhelming and destabilizing. But don’t confuse this discomfort with getting what you want with something being amiss. You’re just more used to dissatisfaction than you are to being truly met in relationship. Learning to be happy and welcoming joy in its unmuted form is in fact a practice. With practice, you can cultivate your capacity to make more space for the force of pleasure without getting in your own way. And then, because you have paced yourself and honored your needs to ground, you can lean in and ask love for a second helping.