What does love look like when the newness wears off?
In weight loss they call it “hitting a plateau.” That difficult stage of dieting where you’ve lost lots of weight and then suddenly, you hit a wall and can’t seem to lose even half a pound. I’m not sure what they call it in recovery language, but I’ve definitely hit a point where I can’t seem to gain any ground. The future appears dreadfully unfamiliar, uncharted and new, and not in the bad, ugly ways you would think. Heck no. Bad and ugly are my business. It’s “peace” and “normalcy” that I don’t recognize.
I’ve been dating the lovely D now for seven months, and it’s been the nicest, dreamiest, most passionate and loving seven months of my entire life. Sure there have been a few bumps (one to be exact and it wasn’t even a bump, but more of an awkward issue about painting my hallway that blew over with great communication and some laughs). But over all, my relationship has been a deeply loving, sensual, sexual, fun and caring one. But here’s the trouble: what happens NEXT? I simply do not know as I’ve never been there. Things have changed on his end. I think they’ve changed in a healthy, normal direction, but I’m not sure. I do not recognize it and therefore have trouble accepting it.
D has settled into the rhythm of the relationship and has become comfortable, and I have not yet. I still want it to be new and fresh and unpredictable and wild and loving and intense because that is all that I know (of the good side of love). I think D, who still loves me deeply and still shows it, is at the point with me where he feels it’s Ok to fall asleep without having sex first, and it’s OK to not send me emails all day long like he used to, and it’s OK to get back to prioritizing his own, personal issues like work and leisure and the things he enjoyed before I came along. I still feel loved by him. I cannot say either of us seems bored or apathetic. But I don’t understand the lack of intensity on his part anymore.
I, on my part, recognize that love and lust and passion and intensity are hard to keep up for too long. They are not indicative of a “normal,” peaceful state of existence. I recognize too that most people need to seek out that balance and re-center themselves after many months in a state of high intensity with a new love. Healthy people need the peace of being themselves again. But I also recognize that I seem to be lacking that need to “re-center.” I seem to be lacking that place where normal, healthy people return after the intensity of a new relationship dies down. I lack it because it was never a part of my life. My life has been a string of highs and lows, extreme ups and downs; all of which have centered around a man, or lack thereof. To be balanced and peaceful and calm is not something I know AT ALL.
Let me put it this way:
- I know and understand the intensity of love, lust and infatuation that comes with a NEW relationship. I’ve experienced it MANY times. Too many, if you ask me.
- I know and understand the highs and lows of that same state.
- I know and understand the trouble, pain and suffering that come too, from being in a bad relationship AFTER the love and intensity wears off.
- I know about avoiding problems and staying in a bad relationship and overlooking ugly stuff because I’m too scared to leave and move on.
- And I know about leaving someone or being left because things are bad and aren’t working out.
But, I know NOTHING about the comfort, peace and security that comes with a HEALTHY relationship, after the beginning months of intensity have subsided. I have never in my life experienced a healthy relationship. EVER (I’m 41-years-old, by the way). And so, this new phase that is now upon me is, quite frankly, a little intimidating. I have no point of reference to know what is right and what is wrong. For example, how often should I expect D to write me emails or call me or come over? More or less? Should I be upset if he is sometimes too tired to make love? How often should I expect him to send me flowers, or write me love songs? And so on. I never know if I am asking for too much or not enough. I have doubts. And I have insecurities (something I thought I’d gotten rid of). What’s worse is that as D finds his center and begins the transition back into himself and his level of comfort within our relationship, I feel like I have no where to go. LAs don’t have a center. They don’t have a place of peace. They have only The Relationship. If there’s no intensity and obsessing over the newness and if there’s no trouble, pain or suffering due to the addiction, then what’s left? What do I do? Where do I seek peace? Where do I seek balance?
My whole life is not necessarily all about D. Many of you know that as part of my recovery, I have challenged myself to put more effort into a career. I start grad school in the fall AND I will be teaching Basic English to freshman college students then also. I work on my writing, I spend time with my children, I still work as a graphic designer 30 hours per week; I even go out with friends and family, keep up the yard work, clean and maintain my house and deal with my finances and everything else. And yet, I still feel needy and pulled into the drama (or lack thereof) of The Relationship. i still obsess over it. I still jump when the phone rings. I still wait like a child for D to pick me up when we’re going some where. I so wish I was apathetic. I so wish I was calmer inside about all this. Because now, he is calmer, and I am still obsessed and in love.
I read a brilliant article on Slate today entitled “Seeking, How the brain hard-wires us to love Google, Twitter, and texting. And why that’s dangerous.” Aside from exposing our addiction to search engines, it shines a light on addictive behavior in general and how we are “all” programmed to “desire” more than “be pleased.” It has to do with evolution, mostly. But here is an excerpt:
Seeking needs to be turned off, if even for a little while, so that the system does not run in an endless loop. When we get the object of our desire (be it a Twinkie or a sexual partner), we engage in consummatory acts that Panksepp says reduce arousal in the brain and temporarily, at least, inhibit our urge to seek.
But our brains are designed to more easily be stimulated than satisfied. “The brain seems to be more stingy with mechanisms for pleasure than for desire,” Berridge has said. This makes evolutionary sense. Creatures that lack motivation, that find it easy to slip into oblivious rapture, are likely to lead short (if happy) lives. So nature imbued us with an unquenchable drive to discover, to explore. Stanford University neuroscientist Brian Knutson has been putting people in MRI scanners and looking inside their brains as they play an investing game. He has consistently found that the pictures inside our skulls show that the possibility of a payoff is much more stimulating than actually getting one.
So, according to this, I probably need to re-focus on me, pull back a little and stop feeding into my natural, addictive behavior. I need to remember that D is not going any where and that it’s OK to think and be myself for awhile (or, in my case, find myself). The more I do this, the more secure I will grow in my relationship and the more natural it will begin to feel. Right now, I am probably confused and flustered and uncomfortable because it’s new and I have not attempted to soothe myself like this before. I have never had the opportunity to FIND myself in other relationships. I cannot forget to do that. I must remember at all times, I am SEPARATE from this union. I am a part of it, but a WHOLE part. Not a dependent part. I still think that the answer lies in the relationship, and I can’t think like that. It doesn’t. I know better than to think that way. The answer lies within me and so does my newfound sense of trust and security that, even though the newness has worn off, there is still love. Even though he may not flatter me as much as he did in the beginning, there is still adoration. And even though there is not as much intensity, there is still intimacy. Lastly, I must learn to create a healthier perspective. I must find that balance within me, and apply it to the relationship. I must decide what is acceptable within this relationship and what is not, and I must do it according to healthy standards, not sick ones. For the very first time in my life, I finally have the freedom to do that…