A couple we met with reported that they had been fighting for months. She was sleeping downstairs on the couch and he was sleeping upstairs alone in their king sized bed. They both felt angry and hurt, yet truth be told, they missed each other terribly. They wanted to get back to feeling connected and in love again, but each was too afraid to make the first move back to each other.
A single woman wanted to begin dating again, but she was so afraid of being judged for not being beautiful and young enough that she was reticent to put herself out there. She was sure she wouldn’t be able to handle rejection from potential suitors. While she wanted to be in a relationship, she opted for the safe sanctity of solitude over the discomfort of meeting new people.
Why do we sometimes choose loneliness over connection?
Because relationships are risky.
Every time we reach out to connect, vulnerably share our feelings, make a request for support, initiate a date or an intimate conversation or a night of lovemaking, ask forgiveness for a mistake we made, we enter into unknown territory.
Will we be loved? Received? Met? Accepted?
Or will we be judged? Shunned? Rejected? Pushed away?
The possibility of rejection and pain sends most of us slinking back to our comfort zones. We would rather stay safe in our known but lonely worlds than risk feeling hurt by the people we love. Unfortunately, this means we don’t have the connection, passion and intimacy we long for in our relationships. The safer we play in our relationships, the more disconnected and dull we feel, and the more dissatisfied we are.
Creating great relationships – growing, learning and developing skills in love, intimacy and sex – all require that we courageously and repeatedly risk fully stepping forward, going for what we want and vulnerably expressing ourselves.
Passion arises from breaking patterns, taking risks, stepping out into unknown territory and embarking on new adventures. Intimacy arises from uncensored honesty in both words and action. In order to create intimacy and passion, we need to make peace with discomfort, because risking like this in love is uncomfortable sometimes.
We need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
When I dare to share my fears, a wild sexual desire, some lofty goal, or a weird wayward thought in the middle of thinking it, I expose myself. When I express my doubts and insecurities, reveal my judgments, get triggered by something you said or did, I reveal the unacceptable parts. I am splayed out, open for you to see it all – the good, the bad, the crazy, the wild, the ugly, the beautiful, the profound, the innocent, the wicked, the brave, the fearful …
The more I reveal, the more vulnerable I am. Sure, the more you know of me, the more you have to love of me. But the more you have to judge of me as well. That is a scary prospect when I love you and want you to love me forever. So many of us resort to sharing less and less of ourselves to ensure our partner will love us forever.
But this creates another problem, summarized in this saying, “Every over-determined effort produces its opposite result.”
The more I try to protect myself from rejection and judgment by staying safe, the less alive, in love and connected in relationship I feel. I quit initiating conversations, because you never share anyway. I don’t ask for sex, because you said no the last 20 times. I don’t ask for a fun date night out at a hotel, because you will judge me for wasting money. Before we realize it, we have both quit initiating any kind of connection, and have devolved to living like roommates tending to logistics barely noticing each other. The retreat to safety, while intending to keep love alive, actually kills off the very love and passion we are trying to protect.
Many couples who call it quits are often surprised at the depth of intimacy and hot sex they experience amidst their divorce conversations. Declaring their marriage over eliminates any need for playing it safe – the worst imaginable fear has already happened. They are now free to unleash pent-up feelings, share their deepest desires and regrets, to openly and authentically reveal themselves. This has them feel closer to each other, intimately connected, compassionate and even appreciative. Their newfound intimacy, combined with their now unknown future, fuels their sexual passion, and they find themselves making love with a fervor that has been missing for years.
But we don’t have to wait until love has soured and we are sleeping in separate beds and contemplating divorce, before we risk in love. And we don’t have to wait until we are crying ourselves to sleep alone every night. We can take risks now.
Ask yourself, “Where do I hold back? What am I not saying? What would I do if I weren’t afraid of rejection? What risk would I take if I knew it would turn out? What do I really want to do that scares me to even think about?”
These types of questions will point you to areas you might want to change and take risks around.
One way to make it feel safer for yourself to risk is to be upfront and vulnerable about the risk you are taking or are about to take. “I have never gone up to someone I didn’t know and asked them to go on a date with me before, so I am feeling pretty vulnerable right now.” Or “I am definitely stepping outside my comfort zone on this one, but I just want to say that I would really love to have sex with you tonight.” Or “I notice I am scared to tell you that I miss being close to you and I just want you to hold me in your arms right now so bad.”
Or you can just go for it. Jump. Be brave. Take that action. Get off the couch and march upstairs and climb into bed with your husband. Ask your partner to chase you around the house or jump your bones. Give that person you are attracted to at work your phone number or ask him or her out for coffee. Lean in and plant a passionate kiss on your partner’s lips. Share something about yourself to your partner that he or she doesn’t know. Plan a weekend getaway to a place you have never been before. You just might be surprised by how refreshingly welcome your risk-taking advances are!
Now, we are aware that not all risks are lovingly received. So, what if the worst thing happens, and you get a rejection, a judgment, or a No?
Stay in there. Lean in. Don’t be so quick to give up and back off. Stay in there and take the next risk!
Share your feelings. Be transparent about your experience without blame or make wrong. Share what matters and why something is important to you. If you can’t do it with one person, do it with the next one.
And hear them out. Give them a chance to come forward, to meet you. Elicit any concerns or conflicting desires they might have. Ask them, “What would it take for you to be a Yes? Let them know you care about them and their needs too. “Is there anything you need to be able to give me what I need?” Keep exploring options when they back away or decline. “What would you be willing to do?”
In other words, keep risking! Over and over again! And if someone takes a risk with you, reaches out to you, asks for your time, connection, or phone number, receive the risk kindly (even if you say no). That way, you’re rewarding someone taking a risk, just like you’d like to be rewarded when you reach out.
All relationships start with someone making a first risky move that ignites a spark. So whether you’re wanting to start a new relationship, or re-start an existing one, risk reaching out to connect.
PS. Literally in the middle of writing this, Christian came over to my chair, got down on his knees, looked in my eyes and said, “I love that I can still say after all these years that you are my best love story.” And then he kissed me passionately. I kissed him back. I rewarded his risk.