April 9, 2013 by aggiesez
When people discuss whether a given relationship, or type of relationship, “works” or how much it “matters,” typically they start talking about time: whether it might endure for years or even a lifetime. Or about how “committed” it is, usually in terms of how much you merge your lives or identities. But when it comes to intimate relationships, I think longevity and enmeshment are vastly overrated. In the long run, I think vitality matters more.
I’ve found that intimate connections (my own, and those of many people I know well) tend to ebb and flow like tides; or to build, break, and recede like waves. Trying too hard to force an intimate connection into static form and hold it there tends to drain its vitality. You can’t capture the experience of a beach in a bucket of wet sand.
Vitality is buoyancy, and it comes in many delicious flavors. It isn’t just the butterflies and thrills that accompany a passionate romance or hot sexy fling. It can also be a sense of discovery, recognition, belonging, welcoming, trust, growth, or unburdening. It can be the joy of play, or of shared experience or creation. It can be the strength of offering support, nurturing, forgiveness, healing, or comfort.
Even the painful, scary parts when intimate connections leave you adrift, scraping on the rocks, freezing, gasping for breath, or high and dry can eventually yield their own vitality once you get through them. Like good times, bad times always pass. It doesn’t make sense to try to hold on to either.
Of course, the catch is that we’re all human. We hate feeling hurt or vulnerable. That often drives people to want to control and channel their intimate relationships: if those connections don’t change, if we know how they’re “supposed” to be, then they won’t end — and we’ll all keep feeling good, right?
That’s the point when people in relationships often stop being mostly good to, or for, each other.
OK, to be honest, most people (even me) desire at least some stability in life. Also, we’d probably all prefer to have unending (or at least on-demand access to) connection and affection. But over time, I’ve learned that accepting and appreciating myself, and staying actively emotionally connected to my network of close friends and family (as well as being open to connect with lovers), works far better to keep me stable and happy. Today I’m more able to roll with the ebb and flow of intimate connections — whether over the course of a single relationship, or from one to the next.
To me, that’s the essence of being solo by choice, being my own main anchor in life — as opposed to being single (as in “between relationships”). I know, through experience, that I can remain afloat and content whether or not I have any lovers.
This is why, in my relationships, I prefer not to lash myself to anyone to create a merged “couple” identity — despite strong social conditioning and pressure to do so.
True, I did spend much of my life conflating the value of relationships with couplehood — both as a primary partner and otherwise. But I always eventually started feeling an anxious urge to steer my partner once we inevitably started to wane or drift. I’d lose focus on the vitality of our connection, and on vitality in general. I’d stop seeing abundance and start fearing scarcity. And my old self-doubt would creep in, whispering that on my own I would be too small and vulnerable to ever feel happy or secure.
Until I ended up one awful day with no lovers or partners at all. It was not my choice.
Still: I just kept living! Actually, life got even better.
These days I don’t wonder whether my intimate relationships might last “forever.” I certainly do treasure my experience of relationships — but what I desire is connecting with the hearts, minds, and bodies of others in ways that help make everyone involved feel glad to be alive. I want relationships that influence me to explore, grow and evolve; and where I am accepted and appreciated as I am. I like being good to, and for, my lovers. Ultimately it doesn’t matter whether the sex or romance lasts for any length of time or reaches any particular level. Those aren’t my benchmarks.
Zen master I am not!
Despite all this philosophy, I definitely do not possess complete equanimity when a lover’s interest, attraction, or availability wanes.
I realized this when one lover played an April Fool’s Day prank on me. Just before midnight, when I felt proud that I’d made it through the day without anyone fooling me, he looked at me and with all seriousness told me that he wanted to stop seeing me in order to focus on someone else.
Ugh. I immediately felt that “No! Not yet! Dammit!” sinking feeling in my gut. Getting to know this man was making me very happy, and our connection was still pretty new. I was not ready for this to be over, especially not in the midst of all the new shiny good stuff. Bad surprises suck — not as much as mystery disappearances, but still.
However, in that same moment I also noticed that I felt no urge at all to try to cling to him, to bargain my way out of this loss. Even though I’d miss him as my lover, and felt sad about that.
This reaction surprised and intrigued me. It was very different from the Aggie of a decade ago, when I was learning to navigate polyamorous relationships.
Back then I would not have pleaded for him to stay with me. That hasn’t ever been my style. But I probably would have panicked inside while acting all casual and said, “Hey, I’m poly, I’m happy to share, you certainly can see someone else in addition to me.” Sure, that sounds really generous — but in fact it would have been a tactic to downplay and undermine his stated intention to conclude our relationship, to change his decision. Or if he insisted on going, I might act as if that would have no effect on me, to spare my pride.
Yeah, like any of that would have kept me from feeling abandoned or insecure. Right.
After a minute where I acknowledged his decision and my sadness, he let me off the hook. Turns out, he wasn’t done with me either, not yet. I thumped him on the chest (not too hard) and called him an asshole. But I was laughing too, and so was he, because he did indeed fool me well and fairly. The prankster in me can appreciate this; I wouldn’t dish it out if I couldn’t take it.
It certainly wasn’t the first time I’d been fooled. As recently as last year I was fooling myself in a more insidious way. I’d unconsciously applied the sunk cost fallacy to my relationships. If I’d invested considerable time or emotional energy into a relationship, I’d want to keep trying to “fix it” — even if the other person was clearly telling or showing me that he was done.
That worked about as well as you might expect. Unfortunately, unless you’re a Time Lord, past investments of any kind are always gone — and they never guarantee anything for the future. Also, one person is never enough to keep any kind of relationship going.
Learning that particular lesson about relationships sucked royally, but since then it’s helped me feel even more freedom and vitality as I connect with new lovers.
Right now I am experiencing some wonderful intimate connections with a few wonderful men. This is good. When these relationships eventually shift or end, that will also be ultimately be good, even though transitions and endings can sometimes be jarring. Because I sincerely care for all of these guys; none of them are disposable props.
Best of all, as long as they don’t decide to treat me disrespectfully or inconsiderately, I think it’s especially likely I’d remain friends with these particular men if our intimacies were to end. That’s largely because I feel no need to cling to them. I’m more able to take them for who they are, rather than what they might do for me.
I’d much rather we all stay afloat. Drowning each other in the name of trying to avoid pain or feel more secure just doesn’t seem to work.