Bri is my first Portland friend I’ve made since moving. Fresh out of Tri-Cities, she didn’t know anyone around here either, and we’ve taken to meeting up at the drop of a hat. She is magic, an absolute delight to be around. Passionate, fun, and incredibly (and genuinely) sweet, she has been editing a short film she’s been working on about a whirlwind romance she’s experienced that had ended as quickly as it began when her boyfriend was killed in a car crash.
The effect of the tragedy on her and how she processed it through her incredible art is nothing short of inspiring, and every time we get together, the kinds of conversations that fuel your best creative work are inevitable. Yesterday over cocktails, we talked about our respective weekends and the details that made them so delicious. With both of us in fresh relationships, there’s plenty to share.
I mentioned that even though my weekend with Daniel did not go quite as planned, it still turned out pretty well. (After an inordinate amount of time stuck in traffic and then spending an hour trying to figure out accommodations, you might say we were lucky to discover we could handle each other in a less than optimal scenario.) But the beach was lovely in that overcast Oregon way, the pauses were as rich as the conversations, and everything ended up working out in a delightful if unexpected way. Aware that I’m still in a place with this relationship where things are new and passion-fueled, I said so. I don’t want things to appear perfect when they aren’t, and I want to keep myself honest about the whole thing.
Bri smiled, sighed, and said she didn’t want to lose that feeling of passion. As soon as she did, I stopped for a moment. Recollections of the books I’ve been reading and the women who wrote them started popping up. Because the reality is as much as you might want to you can’t hold on to that freshly passionate feeling forever.
The thing is, I understand what she means. There is nothing like those first passionate moments with someone – or that perfect first kiss. God, the first time Daniel and I kissed was unforgettable. After a few weeks of very intentional not touching while we were hanging out – oh, bless his self control, for I have none – he was getting ready to leave my apartment, and I gave him a hug goodbye. (This is normal behavior for me. I hug the people I care about, just in case.)
But, I couldn’t help but linger a moment. As I slowly pulled back, my face brushed against his, and our lips met. I could feel his kiss shoot through me down into my toes, my fingertips tracing his shoulders. I hesitated a moment to give him space, to make sure this is actually what he wanted, too.
And when he leaned in and kissed me back, I wished he’d never stop. He grasped at my waist, and my breath quickened. It was electric, overpowering.
But we forced ourselves to separate, wordlessly acknowledging the night was over. I didn’t want to ruin this by rushing into things, and he was smart enough to pull away before things were past the point of no return.
But oh god. Laying down in my bed that night, thoughts of him and the moment just passed filled my head, and I couldn’t help but think about how that was the best kiss I’d ever had.
(Sidenote/actual question: WHY DID NO ONE EVER TELL ME HOW AWESOME WELL-KEPT FACIAL HAIR IS?!)
That moment of passion is something I’ll carry with me. And I’m sure there will come a point where I will long for that again. It wasn’t so long ago I was craving that kind of fiery connection. But even as wonderful as that moment and that kiss was, the only reason it happened that way was because of the intense emotional nature of mine and Daniel’s relationship prior to ever getting anywhere near each other.
And really, that kind of intensity isn’t sustainable. I know that. Besides, the state of infatuation renders you unable to think clearly about anything. It literally changes your brain chemistry. The early stages of love transform an otherwise healthy brain into something that closely resembles that of an addict, because as it turns out, that rush of chemicals your body releases are addictive. And as much as I enjoy it, and hope everyone gets to enjoy some of the high that comes from those initial pangs of infatuation, I also deeply appreciated this past weekend of a completely different variety.
After spending another weekend with Daniel, I’ve noticed there’s a comfortable rhythm being established, one that you only get with some measure of familiarity. Not too comfortable – this relationship is bringing up some serious, deep-seated personal issues I need to address, continually making me question how I’ve come to be who I am and choosing who I will become in the future.
But, there is a certain level of wonderful being able to show easy tenderness, to trust that whatever comes up will get handled.
I’ve been reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed, a book she wrote when marrying her lover became unavoidable if they wanted to live together in the United States. It might sound odd to word it like that, but I understand her hesitation with the situation. After a failed marriage or even a serious failed relationship, there are fears and insecurities that get brought up and must be dealt with if there is any hope of growth and not repeating mistakes.
Committed’s relevance for me right now is uncanny. As I’m considering what caused previous relationships to fail, I have the benefit of what feels like a wise, older friend giving me advice with a tale she’s woven from personal experience and relationship research. Since my split with my ex, I’ve wondered at my own ability to commit. Is that something I even had the capacity for?
Looking back in my journal over the past few months, the story line whips along like wind on a coastline and some of the threads I’m still exploring are beginning to come together.
I am so fearful, afraid of committing to anything outside of myself. Except I know that’s not true. I am committed to truth, to my kids, to never settling. I am committed to finding my way and not repeating mistakes. I am committed to being true to myself, even if they don’t understand. 4/1/2015
When Bri talked about maintaining passion, all of this fresh input gave me pause. Because as stunning and potentially life-changing as that passionate feeling is, there is something Gilbert mentions that I’ve heard time and again in these books and stories of decades-long marriages. It’s never quite been defined for me in ways that were more than anecdotal, because I’m not sure you can.
There seems to be this relationship maturity makes up the coals that passion leaps from. And with a little more research, it turns out that is more or less the case.
Love is beginning to become a hot topic among social scientists, and Susan Kraus Whitborne Ph. D., a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts who studies fulfillment, has summarized the differences between passionate love and that slow-burning, longer lasting love – a major part of what brings humans fulfillment. In particular, a study by Oklahoma State psychologist Robert Sternberg (1997) she references introduced me to this concept of “triangular love” where the most vital factors for long-term intimacy are explored.
It appears the phrase I was searching for beyond that idea of infatuation, or more appropriately “romantic love,” was this concept of consummate love. With identifiable variables, this seems a little easier to define or at least to understand.
It’s more than the heated passion that comes with those first sparks. It’s more than the hollow commitment left after the fire has faded. It’s that deep, connected feeling that says “I am in this with you. It’s going to be hard, we’re going to fight – and I’m not going anywhere.”
That sounds right to me. I have never experienced that feeling, and I don’t think most people ever will. But I think that is actually what we want when we fall in love. I think that’s where that longing for another person to share a life with comes from – the desire for partnership that can withstand hardship with enough work. It’s a desire for commitment most of us have a hard time quantifying in a culture that tells us you have to have your own back.
I’ve certainly made that mistake of pulling back from a relationship when things got difficult because the cost of being vulnerable, of admitting that just maybe I needed someone else and their help, simply felt too high. It turns out those are exactly the kinds of relationships that aren’t worth very much.
And yet this longing remains. This search to find someone you’re suitably compatible with, someone you’re willing to commit to doing the work with, someone you can make compromises with, someone who you will be there for and you unequivocally trust that they will be, too. What a terrifying prospect. This longing is wrapped up in so much long-term vulnerability you can plan on it being just as exhausting as it is illuminating, as frustrating as it is wondrous.
In America, we’ve been sold a false bill of goods. The idea that a relationship should fulfill all of these disparate and imperfect parts of ourselves is laughable, that passion can and must be maintained for ultimate happiness, and of course the idiotic, Disney-style delusion that a quality relationship isn’t work.
When I think of the married couples I most admire, I can’t help of my friend, Nina, and her husband, Ian. When Nina and I first met, they were on the verge of divorce after almost ten years together, and Nina was incredibly unhappy. We mutually whinged about our respective relationships and how they were failing us, failing to see our own part in that – an utter lack of willingness to be open with someone who we’ve allegedly joined forced with in the name of love and being a better joint unit.
Of course, that doesn’t work if you’re not vulnerable with your partner.
Nina and Ian ended up making the choice to open up to each other, to answer each other’s bids, and to keep working towards meeting each other’s needs while maintaining their own identities. To date, they have one of the strongest relationships of anyone I’ve ever met, and their dedication to making it work and to one another makes me believe that this idea of consummate love is possible. They aren’t perfect, but they are committed.
I hope I can say the same someday.