Now comes the hard part, being in love.
This phase is where the rubber meets the road and in this heated friction, too many of us leave the process – either emotionally or physically or both – ’cause ya know, it gets messy. It hurts. We think, “I don’t need this!” Right? Well, more and more I believe that the core purpose of our relationships, in whatever form (i.e., romantic, familial, that of friendship, etc.), is to help us to become better people. We are supposed to be challenged and uncomfortable in the midst of our cozy and ego-boosting feelings. (The important thing to remember in this phase of our relationships is that our experiences with each other ought to be balanced over periods of time – just enough challenge and just enough coziness.) [featured image: “couple struggling by liviu mihai at liviumihai.com]
Romantic relationships are particularly suited for this role. We know that love causes the release of dopamine in our brains mimicking the effect of drugs and alcohol, essentially impairing our senses, lowering our defenses. We can become forgetful, unaware of our surroundings – become completely engrossed in the other person and our mutual connection. Testosterone is present in women and men, raising both sex drives. Norepinephrine may be the cause of those awkward feelings when our lover walks in the room. Oxytocin brings with it a sense of peace and connection with our partners. In this kind of space we’re rather vulnerable – exposed and feeling quite lovely – but also wide open to pain. When fear of pain presents itself, our instinctual response, right, is to protect ourselves as much as possible, even though pain is an inevitable part of life. (Read more: “Love Changes Your Body Chemistry.”)
Right there, right there we begin to impede love’s process. We withdraw from rather than lean into the premise that our lovers are supposed to be able to bypass all the walls and armor and go straight to the heart of the matter within us to touch what needs to be (re)born, healed, matured and yes, “killed.” We spend too much time and energy avoiding true intimacy in romance because we’re avoiding vulnerability. We’re then sabotaging the very holistic progress in life most of us desire.
In our previous post, “falling in love …,” I shared my personal breakthrough via Harville Hendrix’s work, Getting the Love You Want. There is a worthy practicality to being in love. We should only BE in love with someone with whom it’s healthy to be so. See, after all the ish is exposed, we have to deal with it. Hendrix writes that our romantic partners, first, must be curious about themselves, wonder how they can become better people. Then they must be willing to support us in our fragile places. Of course, this is a mutual endeavor. So, I append to Hendrix’s list that our lovers, in addition to their willingness, must have the capacity to support us in our fragile places.
more of candi’s personal breakthrough
Then today, each day in fact, is a fresh opportunity to BE in love, to allow myself to be vulnerable with my beloved, to allow what is sometimes his mere presence to stir up meaningful discomfort within me. Alongside the discomfort he stirs up within me is the better me I can become because there’s something unique about him and our chemistry that invites me to a better place, a stronger place. While the journey to that place isn’t always pleasant, arrival is and always worth any struggle ;-)! (NOTE: Arrival is only temporary; for, as soon as we do, we realize that we’ve already embarked upon another path.)
My beloved is also my friend. As such, he brings a level of care, compassion and particular patience into my space that I need to accompany the energy that we generate together. And that’s really good stuff for which I’m incredibly grateful. 😉
Particularly challenging for me is loving him in my spaces of insecurity. I’m discovering that being love with and for him requires constant living in vulnerability. That’s very, very difficult for me because of my history of looking for romantic relationships to validate me, for my love interest (whoever that may be at the time) to create security for me. Anything external from me can never create inward security for me; even my beloved cannot do so in the dynamic and beauty of our romantic love. Only I can do that.
revelation & change
Talk about a paradigm shift! In romantic love, my elders tended to teach and condition us younger ones to make sure that love doesn’t hurt, that no one ever takes advantage of us. This really is an effort in futility and actually sabotages all our efforts to experience a loving and satisfying intimate relationship. The reality is that all humans are fallible. We make mistakes. We execute poor judgment. We screw up! And when we do, those closest to us get hurt too. That’s just the way it is. We can never have true relationship with another without intimacy, without being close to her/him, without risking the infliction of pain upon one another.
So, if I’m in an intimate relationship (romantic, familial or one of friendship) and I’m doing so without being …
vulnerable – exposed – available to be hurt …
then I’m not exhibiting love. Rather I’m exhibiting …
self-protection – hiding – avoidance.
In these contexts, not only do we prevent intimacy, such an exhibition does not progress us in the production of growth or the unfolding/evolution of our truest selves – which is the ultimate goal of these kinds of relationships, no? When we self-protect and seek external validation, etc., our goal is actually something else. Our goal is … selfish, a kind of gluttony, a hoarding of life’s goodness that only serves to oppose the love we say we want. It’s also like actually planting weeds where we say we want flowers to grow and bloom.
When the goal does not match tactics for achieving it, we will always fail. Always.
moving toward fulfillment
Perceiving and understanding BEing in love this way helps us grasp the age-old advice about loving being a selfless endeavor. Today I think of BEing in love in terms of living wholeheartedly and finding a way to do so successfully.
I am determined to be wholehearted. Brené Brown describes wholeheartedness as “the capacity to engage in our lives with authenticity, cultivate courage and compassion, and fully embrace … the imperfections of who we really are.” (~Maria Popova, “Brené Brown on Wholeheartedness” ) Living wholeheartedly means that everything – beautiful and unpleasant- is out front and center all the time. When I show up in life’s arena, my frailties and my strengths show up as well. “We” all stand poised for battle and whether we win or lose, we all show up again the next time. Living wholeheartedly means that it’s all okay and it’s perfectly acceptable for the world to see all of me. It means also, and probably most importantly, that I give thanks in each and every situation. Thanksgiving always supersedes fear, disappointment, guilt, shame … all that which tempts us to cover ourselves and/or not show up in the arena in the first place.
I am determined to find a way to experience the fullness of love that I seek. For a time I am adopting Diana Nyad’s
mantra as my own, “Find a way.” It doesn’t matter the obstacle; there’s a way to overcome it. Find it. If there’s any role model for persevering through varied and multiple difficulties to experience triumph, it is Ms. Nyad. Her eyes display both an ability to see beyond what most others can perceive as possible and the knowledge that it’s entirely achievable to accomplish what she sees. As I write this, I recall another role model-hero who found a way, many times over – Harriet Tubman. She insisted, “If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If there’s shouting after you, keep going. Don’t ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.”
These warrior-women and I understand that wholeheartedness, finding a way and living in just “a taste of freedom” necessitate vulnerability. They necessitate risk in the face of very real danger on every side. Simply, we cannot fear or avoid pain, suffering or anything unpleasant. Stand naked in the arena. Find a way to that which we seek.
NOTE: Vulnerability does not mean allowance for or acceptance of misuse or abuse. Never does it mean that. My advocacy of vulnerability in any intimate relationship presupposes a basic, secure foundation of personal safety for everyone involved. Such a foundation includes respect for the personhood of each individual, intentions only to do good and never harm, exhibitions of integrity that include consistent honesty, full presence, genuine care, etc.
living & loving well
Possibly BEing in love in its fullest sense allows us to fall in love over and over as lovers unfold and evolve together. When this happens we get to participate with awareness that the person I was yesterday is not quite the person I am today. When we live in this space we’re less likely to take each other for granted and we allow the awe and wonder of life to engage within and between our beings.
I look forward to experiencing this beautiful process one day with my beloved, when all that is needed for this to happen for both of us converges, and I get to live in a mutual space of BEing in love for a complete season, when the hard part won’t seem so hard at all. That’s gonna be just the best!
(c) 2013 candi dugas, llc