How much distance is a good thing?



In The Break-Up Journal this week (July 19) I talk a bit about distance between couples…

I started reading “A Fine Romance” the other day, by Judith Sills. Despite it being a little hard to understand in the beginning, it has some major good points. For one, it describes this woman who considers closeness to equal love, and distance to equal rejection. And any time her partner would become distant, it would trigger her fears of neglect. But the writer says that part of the courtship dance is, in fact, about distance. That just as we move close, we naturally move apart too, for breathing room, to regain our sense of self, to reconsider, to adjust, to think, and to simply revisit who we were prior to being a “couple.” But her biggest message was…don’t take it personally. It’s not about you. It’s about the nature of dating. Wow! I was blown away and very happy to know that I could view my situation with P in this light. I really needed to read this. –The Break Up Journal

The way we interpret situations and behavior in early dating has a lot to do with the success of our relationship. If we, like this woman in the book, consider closeness to equal love then we might think that distance coming from our date is the absence of love. And if that is how we feel, we may be inclined to respond as if we were being rejected. We may increase our attempts to make contact, withdrawal inward,feel hopeless that another date has lost interest in us, even get angry and attack. When we don’t recognize that a certain amount of distance is necessary and naturally built into the courtship process, we run the risk of responding in unhealthy ways.

So…the object of the game in early dating is this: recognize that distance is part of dating. It’s not personal. And, just as two people have the desire to come close, we also naturally have the desire to hold on to our individuality (distance).

But a word of caution: don’t confuse the natural phase of distancing with avoidance. The difference is subtle and lies in an individual’s personal degree of closeness and distance. Is it extreme? Is it constant? Do you increasingly feel the need to push the relationship forward? Are there other signs of avoidance present?  When you sense the normal “retreat” phase, it’s time to be aware, not push. It’s time to have patience and let the other person have his or her space. And while you may instinctually press for reassurance that he or she is not going anywhere, it’s time to accept that you cannot have that reassurance. Just yet. It will come either way. You will either know that he/she wants to be closer and move forward, or that he/she doesn’t. And so too must you listen to that voice within yourself. You have your own degree of intimacy, closeness and distance that you need to be aware of and know where it’s coming from.

In The Break Up Journal, I am clearly trying to determine at this point in the relationship if P’s inward retreat is a normal healthy part of our courtship, or if I am dealing with the first glimpses of an avoidant personality. In reality, I know deep down that it’s avoidance. And yet, I don’t exactly want to accept that just yet. I am still holding on to hope that his behavior changes, and this is just a phase. Ho hum. You definitely can’t fault me for hanging in there. But I am reminded of the Rudyard Kipling poem, Gunga Din. Gunga Din is a scrappy Indian soldier, with great spirit, who continues to help the other soldiers recover and drink water, even after he’s been shot. And while that’s pretty valiant of good ‘ol Gunga Din, I don’t want to be that kind of person. So…don’t keep pursuing and pushing and having high expectations of someone if you sense distancing OR avoidance. Allow the relationship to happen or not happen. You don’t ever have to “fight” for what is essentially yours. And besides, letting people distance themselves and come closer (within moderation) is how you love YOURSELF.

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