I had an insightful conversation with my fabulous neighbor the other day. She’s in her 70s, beautiful and fascinating. She did not meet her husband (also an incredible and good human) until she was in her 30s. Prior to that she said she spent a lot of time playing it cool with the men she dated. She didn’t want to appear too into them or too dependent. She made an effort to keep things ‘casual’. She lived and dated during the 60s, 70s and 80s. Those decades celebrated sexual and career freedom. We still do. Staying strong and independent feels like the way to go.
Saying I want or need you
I’ve noticed today most humans have a hard time letting it be known we are into someone. Not just admitting we like someone, admitting another person has become very important to us — we may even need them to make our world feel good, happy and safe. We still find it difficult to express outward enthusiasm about a relationship or a special person. We don’t want to risk being teased or looking dependent. We make efforts to appear self-contained and bravely autonomous.
I know many women who act sassy and flirty, rather than admitting interest. I know men who purposely don’t call a woman for a few days after a date. They don’t want to appear too eager to connect. Both men and women settle for purely sexual relationships because they are too scared to ask for more or will take the sexual contact over no contact at all.
Distancing protects us
We do a fair amount of distancing to protect our images and hearts.
We spend so much time playing it cool and keeping things casual, we miss out on connecting. Sure, there is the fear of rejection. That is understandable. No one wants their heart stomped on. Exposing the heart leaves us open to incredible pain. But opening our arms and exposing the heart also creates a wide open space for a loved one to crawl in and feel embraced.
Distance feels like loss
I’ve had two female clients tell me they are moving a substantial distance from their boyfriends. The men have been supportive and positive about the moves. One even hinted about visiting and moving to the same city himself. But neither boyfriend said, ” I am having a hard time dealing with you moving away” or “How does this affect us?” It might not have even risen to their consciousness or they might not have had the language to express such feelings.
Instead, the boyfriends withdrew or experienced anxiety. The gentleman who withdrew would take his girlfriend out on a lovely date and then not call or text for a few days. Withdrawing is a protective action. It is supposed to keep us from feeling more rejection or emotions by limiting our exposure to the source of suffering. Unfortunately, withdrawing usually increases the distress in relationships.
The other man kept to himself but then called his girlfriend when he felt overwhelmed by anxiety. There are many reasons for anxiety but it is possible a portion of this stress was a physiological reaction to what felt like a loss of a nurturing person. Our nervous systems and brains are wired to find relief in relationships.
Vulnerability moves us closer
Both men kept their distance when their vulnerability could have enhanced intimacy. Not that their admissions would have necessarily changed their partner’s move plans, but their admissions could have prompted their girlfriends to provide more reassurance about the long-term prospects of their relationships. Their admissions could have given the women a deeper understanding and empathy regarding their partner’s feelings, thus increasing intimacy.
What the men in these situations don’t know is both women want a secure and consistent relationship with them. They want their man around but don’t want to ask for their companionship or help or attention. They themselves then risk rejection or the possibility that their partner can’t be there for them. They don’t want to burden their partner or scare the man away or make themselves (the women) look needy. God forbid!
If we act cool, we are safe?
Sometimes we assume men are tough and can handle our absence. We make such assumptions because that is the message we are often fed. Men need freedom and don’t want a woman around all the time. The truth, according to Laurie Helgoe and her husband Barron, in their book, “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Raising Boys“, is that from an early age, boys learn a posture of indifference protects them from ridicule and embarrassment. If they remain low-key and don’t stand out, (i.e. act cool, casual), they won’t become an easy target for picking on.
How do we get past cool and into warmth?
So what helps us get past this cool removed posturing and into warm close intimacy? Trust and security.
We have to reach out and not be rejected enough times to allow that cool exterior to melt. We have to know our partner is a kind, considerate person who will do their best to comfort us. They may make mistakes, but the majority of the time they are dependable. They have our best interest at heart. They reassure us instead of worrying us. We do the same for them.
We have to offer praise and appreciation for inherent traits and behaviors of our partner. If we let them know we value them for who they are and what they bring to the relationship, they feel more secure in their worthiness and more able to move closer to connect.
As in my fabulous neighbor and her husband’s case, it helps to have experience and maturity behind you too. The more experience and perspective we have, the easier it is to see the big picture. The more likely we have been exposed to other secure people who have no trouble expressing their feelings or desires. They expect to be treated well and intend to treat others with the same consideration.
My neighbor often mentions the things she loves and values about her husband. She is not afraid to show her dependence on their relationship. Yet, she is uniquely her own person. They have different personalities and different gifts. It seems they are cool in their own ways but also warm in their affection for each other. There’s a loving interdependence I admire and find very cool.
How cool are you in your relationships? Do you keep it casual to protect yourself? Would you like more warmth?
If you’d like help increasing the intimacy in your relationship, please contact me for relationship coaching.