Jeff Lutes

Why Real Intimacy Starts From Within

Filed By Jeff Lutes | June 07, 2011 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: gay and lesbian relationships, intimacy, Jeff Lutes, same-sex couples

corzefa005741-42-17852188.jpgIntimacy 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):

  1. If you really loved me, you would know what I want without me having to tell you.
  2. If you really loved me, you would have the same needs for intimacy as I do.
  3. If you really loved me, you would change your personality to please me.
  4. 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.
  5. 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?
  6. 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)

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Great synopsis, Jeff. I'll be using this...

Ted Hayes Ted Hayes | June 7, 2011 12:16 PM

Jeff, I would like to share a little of my own story. My late partner and I met through the personals -- while The Advocate was still running them -- and we "courted" for nearly six months: by mail and telephone. During this time we discussed almost every conceivable topic and we probably knew each other better than most couples do before deciding to try building a better and more healthy relationship while living together.

We knew what each considered assets and liabilities (warts and all?) and when there was lack of understanding and/or disagreement, we carried on the conversation until each of us knew where the other stood on most topics from politics to religion, being out or being still slightly locked in that prison know as the closet. We communicated before we lived together and the communication continued after we became a couple.

As a result, we knew that we loved each other before we ever met face to face. We lived apart for about six months after I moved to New York state and I visited him on weekends. Then we decided on living together and had a glorious 26 years before cancer took him away from us. We still had issues to face as we continued to grow both as a couple and as individuals. But we never went to bed angry and each of us told the other, "I love you," the first thing in the morning and the last thing at night.

I would encourage courtship between members of a gay couple before deciding too quickly to put all your egs in one basket. I am not a prude but I do believe that too many couples make decisions for deciding to live together based solely on how hot tha partner is in bed and not considering the myriad of other issues one confronts in any kind of relationship. There's plenty of time for sex. Just make sure you talk things over all the time and make certain you understand where the other is coming from so that the partner will still be there when your needs, including sexual, emotional and psychological, are at their greatest. I think you'll be glad you did.

Just my 2 cents worth.

While my other half and I didn't take as long as Ted and his sweetie did to move in together, we did talk a lot and about everything. We still do and so far we've had four wonderful years. Yes, we still have to "hash things out" on occasion, but we don't do it in anger and we come from I space to say how we feel and think about something. I could not have found a better love, than I have with this sweet woman and while we no longer hang out in the on-line site where we met; we are very happy that we took the chance when we did meet there.

Thanks for sharing Stormy, Ted, & D Gregory. I love hearing the relationship success stories!

My story is a bit messy.

I met my dearest man in an AOL chat room a few years ago. We chatted on and off, exchanged emails, met briefly one time and didn't begin, let alone consummate a relationship. We did, however, continue communicating, mostly online and in emails until I came to the realization that I needed to get off my dead ass and give us a chance to truly get to know each other and let that knowing take us wherever we'd go.

Finally, almost 2 years ago, we met for coffee; where we sat and shared a delightful conversation, ending with his invitation for me to come by soon. It was evident from our brief "date" that we had lots in common and that there was a definite attraction.

In meeting him at his home for the first time, I made it a point to greet him with a kiss at the door. I wanted to shine a favorable light on what I hoped would be the beginning of a great friendship, at the least.

We've been seeing each other regularly ever since, and the intimacy that Jeff so vividly describes as necessary to a relationship is evident in our time together. We sit, chat, hold hands, caress each other, kiss, speak about things normal, abnormal, interesting, name it. There's not a topic we can't cover, not a moment that I don't cherish. The mere act of holding hands and learning more and more about each other, the absolute pleasure that inhabits our conversations...these are bringing us closer together continuously.

Yes, we have phenomenal times in bed as well, but it's the intimacy of the chat, the catching up on things that have been happening, the loving embraces and simply getting to know each other in a regular, man-to-man context that will carry us far into our future.

Very moving George. Thank you for writing about how your relationship developed.