Monday, January 23, 2012

how secrecy can kill intimacy

A million years ago I worked with a very smart therapist on some problems I was having with my boyfriend. She caught on quickly to the fact that instead of telling him how I felt, I was just smothering my anger until it was way too late to deal with the problem at hand. I was hoarding small infractions and stockpiling insults. By the time I started working with her, I didn't want to look at my boyfriend, let alone make out with him. And on top of that, I felt guilty about not wanting to smooch him anymore!

She told me something that I've hung onto all these millennia: nothing kills intimacy faster than secrecy. And the things you're keeping secret don't have to be big, guilt-inducing, gut-wrenching secrets. They can simply be things like not telling someone your feelings were hurt by the way he assumed you would do the dishes, or that you were furious at how he left his shoes in the middle of the floor even though you asked him not to a billion times because you trip on them on the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

The more of these unvoiced issues I sat on, the further and further away my boyfriend drifted. But it was hard to feel like my concerns were valid in the moment. Did he mean to leave his shoes there? And did I really have a right to be angry about him being forgetful? It took a lot of courage for me to start to see that what I wanted mattered as much as what he wanted, and that if I mentioned my concerns at the moment they happened I was only annoyed, not angry. Luckily, he was receptive to my efforts to get things off my chest before they festered, and things improved.

In the long run, the relationship didn't last, but I was reminded of this lesson earlier this month when I went to visit a friend across the country. My friend is in her first trimester (read: barfy) and a mom to a toddler (read: exhausted) and trying to buy a home (read: overwhelmed). When I booked my ticket she wasn't pregnant yet, so we thought it would be a fun-filled, sunshiney visit. But as my departure date approached, she was sounding more and more worn out, and I was beginning to worry that instead of being a fun addition to her house for the weekend, I would be yet another thing she would have to take care of.

But I sat on that. She wanted to see me, right? She was the one who was exhausted and overwhelmed, why should I worry that she didn't want to see me when everything she said made it sound like she did? I wouldn't be more exhausting, would I? I vowed to myself that I would not be a hassle... and then worried silently that I would.

The day before my flight I had worked myself into such a tizzy of non-communication that I finally had to call her and get it off my chest. "I'm worried that I'll be a burden, that you won't have any fun with me, and that you'll barf on me!"

"Well, I'm worried that you won't have any fun with me, I won't feel well enough to play with you, and that I'll barf on you!"

As soon as the words were out of our mouths, we were laughing again, saying that we would be fine. Prior to connecting, though, there was tension. We were both fearful that we would be the cause of pain to the other. And the more we over-thought it without reaching out to one another, the more secrecy we had, and the less close we felt.

Did she barf on me? No. Did she feel well enough to play with me the whole time? No. But I was prepared for that, and connected to her, so it all worked out just fine. It's amazing what obstacles intimacy can overcome.

Monday, January 2, 2012

on newness and seeing clearly

Six years ago I bought a rug off Craigslist. It was a perfect fit for my new apartment, square, wool, from IKEA, and only $150 -- and not hellaciously ugly or cheap-looking. I hopped on the bus, picked up the carpet, hopped back on the bus (garnering strange looks from the bus driver) and then plopped it down in my living room. I was never in love with the rug, but it fit perfectly and, like most furniture, would be harder to get rid of than to just keep forever.

So I kept it forever.

Last year I bought a couch from IKEA and they didn't have the grey slipcovers to match the rug and the room, so I bought the pink slipcovers that were on sale (only $9!), figuring I would come back to IKEA when the grey ones were back in stock.

So, yeah, my couch is still pink.

Long story short, over time I've come to see that I like the pink couch better than the black-and-white rug, so just last week I got a cute new carpet that matches better and is much more me. In the process, I've gotten rid of some furniture, moved some other pieces around, and more or less come to see my living room again for the first time. I see the floor differently. I see the sofa differently. I see so many things that I wasn't seeing because I had gotten so used to the room.

I know it's just stuff, but tweaking your stuff can have a profound impact on the way you see the world. I've been really conscious lately of trying to make my external space a reflection of who I am at my best (not at my laziest).

Another example:
The highlight of my living room is not, in fact, the pink sofa, but instead is a mirror that you can see from every room in my house. I love the mirror and consult it regularly to see if my outfit matches or if my eyebrows are too bushy. In the process of moving in my new carpet, I realized just how dirty my mirrors were, so I cleaned them. All of the mirrors in my house. And I was SHOCKED to see how different I looked after simply cleaning the mirrors. Angles were sharpened. Details appeared finer, more crisp. I saw more of everything, good and bad.

While this is a true story, it's also a metaphor. (And you don't have to pay extra for that, folks!) Fiona Apple says it well in her excellent song, Window:
"... the fact being that
Whatever's in front of me
Is covering my view
So I can't see what I'm seeing in fact
I only see what I'm looking through"
So I ask you, what are you taking for granted (like I took my living room)? What are you allowing to blur your vision (like the dust on my mirrors)? What do you need to do to shake things up just enough to be able to see your filters and realign them?