Celebrating the Grey Area in Relationships

Posted by on September 23, 2014  |  No Comments

 

“Think about this for a moment: Why would you ever choose to be with someone who is not excited to be with you?

 

So starts a popular blog post here giving relationship advice.  Why would you want to be with someone who isn’t enraptured by you?  And why would you choose to be with someone you don’t think is the best person ever?  If someone is good enough for you, you should feel a “Fuck YES!” feeling.  And they should feel likewise about you.

Such posts are very popular on the web because they are simple, easily understood, and can be a temporary boost to the esteem for both those not in a relationship because they are holding out for Mr. Right and those with low esteem in a relationship that is going nowhere, perhaps prompting them to end it.

I’m all for a boost in esteem, but one thing I am absolutely not for is all-or-nothing thinking.  You know the Bush-like thinking – you’re either for me or against me.  You’re either perfect or you’re out of here.  There’s no discernment, nor is there the introspection of what makes someone feel like a good match.

How often are your emotions completely and wholeheartedly unanimous before really getting to know someone?   It doesn’t happen, unless you’re extremely unusually healthy and in complete inner harmony – or you’re in denial.   Denial is far more common than completely healthy childhoods.  We don’t want to wait any longer, so we decide this person is THE ONE and shove any contrary thought to the pit of our stomach.  Where it says until the first big disappointment.

Getting to know someone, whether as close friends or lovers, is a gradual process of building trust, testing the waters with ever increasing vulnerability and emotional risk, then seeing the result.  Is this personal worth your trust and investment?   There are many areas of trust to build:  Keeping one’s word.  Sensitivity.  Listening skills.  Adaptability.  Empathy.  Humor.  Sex.  Reactivity.  Can they give space?   Is there ever a price to pay for doing something you need?   Do they need you to be a certain person for them or do they really want to find out who you are?

Too often, relationships start because both parties feel “good”, which we translate to meaning love.  We don’t understand the reasons why – and for good reason.  It’s not a rational, logical process.  One wonderful Jungian book “The Eden Project” calls it a search for The Magical Other.  We think we’ve found someone who completes us, while trying to not see that we may feel good for non-healthy reasons, such as familiar family dynamics or someone who helps us avoid uncomfortable parts of ourselves.  Part of the journey is to realize that the Magical Other, which might later turn into the Enemy Other, is actually just representing a part of ourself we haven’t welcomed yet.  But I digress.  There is another option to wanting to find the perfect person and place them on a pedestal until they fall off.

Intimacy is not a blind commitment.   Bonding to another human being is not a Romeo and Juliet moment, realizing at first glance you want to spend the rest of your life together or die.

For most of us in this overstressed, f*cked up society, we have plenty of childhood issues, among them:   Lack of reliable connection.  Attachment issues.  Difficulty trusting.   Barriers to intimacy.  Anxieties.  Hurts.   Limited ways of expressing emotions, and feeling we can’t be connected to others through some emotions.

Most of have parts of ourselves that we think “why would anyone want to connect to THIS?”   And so we launch ourselves into relationships where the other doesn’t immediately see those parts – at least until the honeymoon period is over

All those are negative emotions which would mean you wouldn’t feel “Fuck yes!”.   You’d feel at best hesitation, a feeling of “what am I getting into here?”.   But that is what vulnerability involves.    And you can’t have long term bonding without vulnerability.

My Own Story

Let’s take myself as an example.  I came from an extremely distant family with no reliable connection and support available.  My father and brother have Asperger’s syndrome, while my mother had Borderline Personality.  I’m the “normal” one.  No one in my family really knew how to have friends or even to give empathy.  As a result, you could say I had attachment issues, among others.  (I have C-PTSD from my childhood)   This doesn’t mean I didn’t want deep and intimate connections – it simply meant there were a lot of emotions to go through before real bonding occurred.

I have never, ever in my life felt a true “Fuck Yes!”.  The people I’ve previously gotten involved with were often people that I felt something strong, and thought “hey, this is intense – it must be love”.  I wanted love and longed for deeper connections, so I would fool myself.   I would then think I needed to commit and dive into the relationship to get some sort of secure commitment back.  In other words, I would act like I felt “Fuck Yes”, partly because I wished I would feel that, partly out of fear of abandonment or being rejected, but also because that was what was expected. The people I got involved with were usually those that could withdraw from connection suddenly if something felt bad, which I was highly attuned to.  When they didn’t feel “Fuck Yes!”, they were out of there, at least for the evening, so I felt after time I was walking on eggshells trying to have a reliable connection.  I took in a message from them: I will not connect with you unless act like the Mr Perfect I want.

Ever been here? It’s torture!

 

This is obviously not love, but with an oversimplified, all-or-nothing thought process this was what I created.  So I changed how I approached relationships.

Building a Healthy Relationship

With Kirsten, my wonderful partner now, I tried to bring everything I felt.  I brought my doubts and fears and allowed them to be visible.  I let myself be tentative instead of pushing fears aside and diving in.  I brought that I liked her and distrusted her at the same time – because in my family, there was always an agenda for being warm.  For months, I would ask her “what do you want?” with suspicion at her warmness.   We wouldn’t actually fall asleep together and I would never sleep over at her place.  She would learn later that this was because I get panic attacks in someone else’s bed, but of course initially she took it a little personally.  She distanced a little and learned to let go of expectations regarding me.   I was seeing another person at the same time, so that added to the feeling of instability given where we were at.   In some ways, she was ready for the relationship to end at any moment, but was also willing to see where it led.

Despite the negative emotions I had, there were of course also other signals that I liked her a lot and was letting her in; she wasn’t sticking with me because of any lack of self esteem.  I would communicate as best as I could what was going on with me, what PTSD was, and what I thought I needed.  I add “I thought” in there because like most people, I don’t think I really knew what was needed, because I’d never received it.

Yet the relationship grew.  Kirsten once said that every time she really let go of an expectation regarding me, I responded positively and we grew closer.  I didn’t fit the norm of relationships, but really wanted to be in a close, connected relationship.  So when there was room for more of me to be welcomed, I stepped forward.  I wasn’t trying to be her Mr. Right, but I was being more me when close to her, and she found she could be more herself as well.  We weren’t trying to be anything for each other.

I know most people don’t have PTSD, but I haven’t met anyone who has had an idyllic childhood.  Given the lack of family connectedness, stress levels, overwork, and confusion of discipline with love, some form of attachment or anxiety issue is the norm rather than an exception.  So while my experience may be more extreme than most, I think it serves an example.  Rather than saying “I will hold out for someone perfect”, we started out by being imperfect and finding in a gradual, struggling pace a way to connect through that.

We all know what the honeymoon period is.  It’s the months that you are able to stay in the zone of not being able to show your imperfections.  Inevitably that collapses – and it’s rare to find two people in a relationship that are coming down from that high truly want to see the others (and their own) imperfections.  We didn’t have a honeymoon period.  The first 5 months were a real struggle, constantly wondering if it would end.  Would the other person truly want to be with me as I am?  The transition happened when I had an emotional meltdown, bawling for close to an hour straight, where for the first time she saw me in a raw state how I had never received unconditional support in my life, and so saw more the visceral source of my suspicions and distrust.  Is this really unusual for men in this world, where you’re always supposed to have it together and you’re rewarded for achievement and success?

We’ve been together 18 months now and this is by far the best relationship I’ve been in.  I love her more than I thought possible – and my idea of what love is has changed along the way.  It’s not a feeling, but a dynamic deep seated curiosity about the other.  We want each other to be themselves, so are automatically giving space and asking questions, doing weird and quirky things to bring it out.  No matter what she’s feeling, even if it were rage at me, I would unflinchingly want to hear it.  Part of that is the trust we’ve built, because we know there’s nothing in each other that wants to hurt the other.

We also are committed to not taking emotional responsibility for each other.  It’s not either of our jobs to make another feel better.  We will be connected to each other no matter what either of us is feeling, and bad days are not failure, so they are no big deal.  We both want to learn to be more ourselves – and there’s nothing better than seeing the Self reflected in another’s clear eyes to seeing this.

I am so, so, SO grateful for her for sticking with me when I struggled with showing more of myself.  We would never have developed the bond we did if I refrained from showing my hesitation about getting close – or my hurt emotions during the times when she was showing warmth without a hidden agenda.

So the idea of a “Fuck Yes!” rule to me is internet trash at best.  No psychologist would ever buy into something so oversimplified.   True intimacy is scary – you have to risk a lot to get there.  You have to gradually bare yourself, including all the self-protections we have, and learn to embrace our own contradictions, our own desires and fears at the same time.  We’re taught to distance ourselves when things feel bad.  We avoid pain.  But my story is an example of what happens when two people decide against the love illusion, against the waiting for Mr or Mrs Perfect and just say let’s connect as we are.  And the result?  This is the first time in my life that I’ve felt I want to grow old with someone.  The relationship feels built on foundations where we can grow and change and by doing that, get closer instead of further apart.

 

 

PS.  Before I posted this, I showed it to her and her response was “well, actually I was feeling a Fuck Yes about you throughout all those first few months”.  Go figure.  Maybe she should see someone about that.

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