Photo by zelle duda on Unsplash
Recently, while chatting with my girlfriends about dating and relationships, one of them mentioned how her relationships seem to burn hot and fast and the other chimed in, saying hers have each run a course similar to something being doused with gasoline and quickly going up in flames.
We laughed. Hard.
It was funny because it?s ridiculously familiar. Many of us have had similar experiences followed by the painful aftermath as we healed from something that began with a sudden intensity and then abruptly ended. Fortunately, there?s an alternative to fast and furious love that?s less earth shattering, but just as hot.
It?s called the sexy slow burn.
It?s an approach that can be applied to new relationships, which is what I?ll focus on here, or existing relationships. Even if you?ve been with your partner for decades ? I was with my ex-husband for nearly two ? there is something to be learned from the sexy slow burn.
Don?t Rush InRushing into love is highly romanticized in our culture. A sudden and intense attraction followed by becoming completely obsessed with your beloved is seen as an ideal. It?s so normalized and desired that many of us not only expect it as the embodiment of true love, but we come to crave it. We seek a love bombing fix and then when the heat dies down, we find ourselves faced with a relationship reality for which we?re either unprepared or disinterested.
We may find that the person we were so crazy about at the beginning isn?t who we thought they were because we were hyper-focused on their strengths while overlooking their weaknesses. Our partner may begin to see who we really are and not the rose-colored projection they fell for. The qualities that we glossed over in the beginning then become problematic as we?re faced with conflicts that need resolution in order to maintain both the relationship and our sanity.
When we rush in, we?re also rushing past.
In the same way we miss important details when rushing through other areas of life, we miss them when rushing into a relationship. The details may be small and beautiful, like our date?s quiet confidence, or obvious and troubling, like the way he ogles the waitress. Either way, we lose an opportunity to be present, to appreciate, and to learn.
When we rush in, we let other areas of our lives fade to the back as we prioritize our new love.
Friends, family, self-care, hobbies, and other activities and interests can become side notes as we pour everything into our relationship. Essentially, we lose ourselves and in place of the whole person we once were we become half to another. If our life was missing something to begin with, then it?s even easier to fill that gap with a relationship.
The alternative to rushing in is obviously to take it slow.
Instead of going from first date to exclusive partners who are involved in every area of each other?s lives, take it one step at a time and enjoy the tension, anticipation, and desire that come with wanting and adoring someone but not having them at your immediate beck and call.
Maybe you want to spend every available minute together. This is an amazing feeling and it can feel good to indulge it. What can feel even better is to allow that energy to influence other areas of your life. Perhaps you channel this intensity into your next workout, or use it to help you power through an important project at work, or draw from it as you spend an evening comforting a dear friend.
Ram Dass is credited with saying that when we feel love for another it?s not because that love resides with them. They don?t own that love, nor do they give it to us. We don?t find that love when we find them, nor do we fall into it. We can fall into a pool, a puddle, or a godforsaken abandoned well, but we can?t fall into love because we already are love.
We don?t need another to feel love because they are simply activating love that we already have within us. Being with our beloved reminds us that we are love, and that we have abundant love to share.
So, why not let it flow out into the world? Pouring it all into the relationship can heat things up, which could be fun. Or, it could go up in flames, as my girlfriends have experienced. Knowing the power of love to transform our lives, it seems wise that we use it judiciously both in and out of the relationship.
*A side note here about pronouns: your beloved could be a her or a they. I?m going to use the male pronoun for simplicity, but please substitute whichever pronoun is appropriate for your relationship.*
Hold Him in Your Thoughts Before You Hold Him in Your ArmsWhen you meet someone with whom you have immediate chemistry, it can be tempting to rush into a physical relationship. Before you do, spend some time holding this person in your thoughts. Draw him into your awareness. Consider his wonderful qualities, but also notice the characteristics that concern you or are less than ideal. Take is the fullness of who he is as a person. Notice how you feel. Knowing what you do about him, such as that he?s messy but also incredibly sexy, or that he?s a fabulous cook but terrible at all other domestic chores. Maybe he has a successful career but has neglected his health to achieve it. We?re all great at some things and not as great at others. Our lives can be, and often are, contradictions. Take in the full contradiction of your beloved.
Choosing to see someone for who they really are instead of who we want them to be is an act of love.
With the wholeness of your beloved in mind, check in with your desire for him. Has it lessened or increased? If there?s been a change, get curious about why. For me, knowing a man in his wholeness ? vulnerabilities and all ? makes him more alluring. Seeing his imperfections and struggles adds depth and meaning to his character and personality. However, if I notice qualities that are deterrent, then I ask myself why and look for potential red flags.
Mindfully Indulge in FantasyIf your desire has remained steady or increased after reflecting on your beloved?s wholeness, hold the desire in your awareness as well. Allow your imagination to run wild. Fantasizing about your beloved will increase the romantic and sexual tension.
Be careful, though, we don?t want to become hooked on our fantasies or allow them to detract from the present moment.
Allow the fantasy but be mindful of it. One way to do this is to make a clear choice about taking a few moments to fantasize in the same way you?d choose to sit for meditation. There?s a beginning and an end here, so when your time is up, you move on to other things. This is preferable to having fantasies hijack your thinking as you go about your day.
As you spend time thinking and fantasizing about your beloved, there are going to be things you don?t know. Questions will come to mind. Even after we?ve known someone for many years, there are still new things to learn.
Savor The MysteryWhen we?re dating someone new, there are lots of unknowns and the mystery created by what we don?t know is part of what drives the initial attraction. Typically, over time, the mystery fades but it doesn?t have to. We can actively work to preserve it.
In today?s world of dating and relationships, it?s common to Google and social media stalk or follow partners and potential partners. We want to know what he?s up to, who he?s friends with, what his resume looks like, and more. We think this will help us get to know him or save us from being duped by a player. Sometimes, online digging can unearth red flags; it can also create a superficial sense of knowing someone.
In place of intimate conversations while nestled close to one another, we have social media stories and text messages. We can look through someone?s feed and see snapshots of their life from the last 10 years and think we know them, when we don?t.
Even the most profuse online sharing can?t replace the kind of knowing that comes from sharing space and presence with another. There?s no substitute for looking into each other?s eyes, holding hands, the scent of warm skin, body language, and the many nuances that we come to adore about a partner, like the strut in his walk or the cadence of his voice and how it changes with his emotions. None of these characteristics can be fully captured by images and words on a device.
Getting to know someone in this way can only be experienced in the flesh, but it can be thwarted by seeking to know them through their online presence. Sometimes, we can learn things about people online that make us more interested, but we could learn those same things in person, should that be who they really are. If we indulge ourselves in endless searching and following then when we finally do have the opportunity to be with our beloved, we?ve essentially let the air out of our desire and attraction.
The mystery is gone before we even got to capitalize on it, and this is a tragedy of the worst kind because mystery is incredibly hot.
Mystery is fuel to the chemical fire that exists between you and the one you adore. Allow things to be unknown and relish the process of slowly getting to know each other one tender layer at a time.
I need to say here, too, that there?s a difference between mystery and secrecy. Secrets are when important information is intentionally withheld, and secrets are not okay. Mystery is when we know the important facts but the many nuances and details that compose the complexity of another and that take time to understand are unknown to us.
Mystery is powerful. It motivates us to seek and to know. When this motivation is gone from a relationship, especially very early on, we have the opposite of a gasoline fire. The relationship goes cold.
To preserve the mystery, we can first look at what makes someone mysterious. Then, we can mindfully protect those qualities. Mystery is primarily derived from the unknown. To preserve this, allow space for there to be things you don?t know about your partner. Again, no secrets, but do allow them their privacy. Create space for each person to have lives separate from the relationship. This can include friendships, hobbies, and interests that aren?t mutual. You can have separate bank accounts and take separate vacations. Draw some boundaries around your personal lives that are respectful of both parties.
Hold The Relationship LightlyWhen we meet someone we really like, many of us will want to latch on to that person, make him ours, and essentially build castles in the sky with our daydreaming about the future. While fantasizing has its place, as I explained earlier, we need to be careful not to grasp to the ideal we?re creating in our minds or to the person and the relationship.
To hold the relationship lightly means we value and appreciate it, we love and adore our partner, we are committed and invested, but we?re not attached to it as a measure, reflection, or symbol of us as a person, or as an extension or expression of our self-worth.
We lay no claim to our beloved because we know they can only belong to themselves. We invite the unknown and can be with the fact that there are no guarantees except that when we love we are vulnerable and at some point, no matter how wonderful the relationship, there?s going to be emotional pain. It may be that we live a long and happy life together and the only notable pain is that at the end there is death and one partner is left to grieve the other.
My intention here isn?t to be nihilistic, but to be realistic. These are the uncomfortable yet unavoidable facts about love. Knowing all of this, though, and still choosing to open our hearts is nothing short of heroic.
For more on detached love, check out my essay Pure Love is Detached Love and This is How it Works.
Focus on The Present More Than The FutureAlong with our cultural obsession with partnership is an obsession with longevity and the outcome of relationships. Not only are we supposed to be insanely, head-over-heals, irrationally in love but that love is supposed to yield something very specific and if it doesn?t, we?ve failed. This is a lot of pressure on anyone and any relationship, and it?s no surprise that ? more often than not ? it fails.
Instead of focusing on the outcome and the future, come into the present. Savor this moment, this stage, and this season with your beloved. It?s all you really have anyway.
If we?re committed to the long haul but not living in the present reality of our life and our relationship, then we?re not really living. When a relationship ends, part of what we grieve is what we imagined we?d have with that partner. We grieve the future that never happened, and the more attached we are to that future, the deeper the pain and grief. We may not be able to inoculate ourselves against this kind of pain, but we can lessen it by being present with our relationship in this moment.
If the present moment or circumstances with our beloved aren?t good, then we may avoid being in the present in an effort to escape the hard truth. This behavior is avoidance, and it has an expiration date. Eventually, we must face what?s before us. It?s not going anywhere, and it?s better to face it now in the moment it happens, or one very soon after, then to delay. Delay creates opportunity for whatever is toxic or dysfunctional to multiply and mutate. It will only grow more difficult with time.
Turn towards the present moment. Turn towards right now with your beloved. Is what you have together right now what you want? Is it healthy and flourishing? Is it sustainable? Is it supportive? Is it growing?
If not, then what steps do you need to take?
Don?t put the burden of the future on your partner, as in I?m staying in this because I want to have a family and I don?t want to start over, or I?m staying in this because I need someone to take care of me as I grow older, or I?m staying in this because I?m afraid to be alone. None of those choices are loving. They are, in fact, disrespectful to both of you.
When we focus on the present more than the future, we don?t neglect the future. It?s certainly important to be clear about future plans and goals as partners and how each of you see your life developing together.
Map the future but stay in the present. The present is always your starting point. You can?t get to where you want to go from any other place.
The sexy slow burn may not, at first blush, sound like a fireworks show but the tension, intimacy, and closeness that?s created begets intensity. The rushed, hyper, obsessive love so popular in romantic movies and emulated in our own lives compared to the sexy slow burn is like a sugar rush compared to the sustained energy that comes from a full, balanced, and nutritious meal.
You may be accustomed to the sugar rush. Addicted to it, even. However, the sustained energy from a love that actually feeds you and the one you adore will power you through steamier, longer, and more luscious nights. Nights that may turn into years, or even a lifetime.
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