Intimacy in gay and lesbian relationships is a balancing act that involves the human desire for both autonomy and connection throughout life. Our dual needs to be separate, yet together, create a fully human experience. We understand that loving another person transcends the experience we can have on our own. Yet in the process of creating a pair, we must find ways to develop authentic individuality.
In the beginning, we emphasize our sameness in order to connect. That's normal. This honeymoon period of symbiosis is exciting and addicting. Suddenly, the anxiety that comes from feeling alone in the world is gone. All is well. We have found our soulmate and experience what seems like intimacy without much effort. We can talk about anything and constantly marvel at how much we are alike.
Just being in the physical proximity of the other is a natural painkiller that wards off depression and replaces it with joy and excitement. It doesn't seem to matter much what activity we are sharing. Dr. Pat Love, a noted relationship educator, says that going to Wal-Mart together is an existential experience during this stage.
Many couples try to hold on to this stage and resist the natural and developmental progression to more mature and ultimately more rewarding stages. The early experience of exhilaration slips away, and when it does the differences between us invariably emerge. But, differences make us uncomfortable, so we try to manage our anxiety in one of several counterproductive ways.
Some of us react by trying to control and change our partner into the person we think they ought to be. Isn't it obvious they are the wrongdoer? Can't they see how unhealthy they are? Life would be much easier if we could just recreate him or her in our own image.
Others sacrifice their own identity by going along with their partner's wishes just to sidestep conflict and preserve the illusion of intimacy. Who among us likes to fight with the person we love the most? Isn't it easier to say "yes" even if we really mean "no"? Why can't we get back to the way it used to be in our relationship when it didn't take so much darn work?
Psychologists Ellyn Bader and Peter Pearson list six common faulty beliefs that are pervasive among many couples (In Quest Of The Mythical Mate):
- If you really loved me, you would know what I want without me having to tell you.
- If you really loved me, you would have the same needs for intimacy as I do.
- If you really loved me, you would change your personality to please me.
- If you really loved me, you would give me what I want in an ongoing way and it would be easy, effortless, and enjoyable for you.
- If you really loved me, you would give me what I hope for, long for, and expect. And will you please do it on my time schedule?
- By the way, please do not expect me to seriously inconvenience myself in responding to you.
Getting past these faulty beliefs and the Hallmark notion of love means accepting that we cannot mature if we are psychologically fused with another. While some people feel close in enmeshed relationships, most of us feel suffocated by the unrealistic expectations that result from overdependence.
Healthy relating comes from two secure people who choose to be together, not from two anxious people who believe they have to be. It involves the courage to let go of "rescue me" fantasies and love the actual person in our bed, rather than the idealized image in our head.
The only way you can learn to love another person, flaws and all, is by learning to accept your own imperfections. Intimacy involves working on and changing yourself, rather than focusing on the changes you think your partner needs to make. It includes the active process of defining and expressing your own thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. It means learning to establish and maintain your own emotional boundaries, rather than getting pulled into your partner's feelings all the time. It also means creating your own life goals, developing separate friendships, and being comfortable with separate activities, hobbies, and interests.
Creating an intimate relationship with yourself involves stopping throughout the day to remember what's really important, and what's not. It's about looking into the faces of people you care about and seeking a life of kindness so the world can be transformed. It's about reflecting, meditating, and turning inward. It means finding the time for brisk walks, singing songs, lighting candles, making love, taking naps, hugging children, and dancing whether you have rhythm or not.
The truth is that people who take care of themselves are irresistibly attractive, if not downright sexy. They believe they deserve to be loved and other people are eager to be around them. Love is not just about finding the right person; it's also about being the right person.
(img used with permission)