After Fernando had actually married Zak, he became increasingly aware of how much intimacy scared him — even with his husband. He put it this way:

“I’d actually gone through with it: I married Zak and we’d decided to adopt, and were going through the screening process with the adoption agency. Well, when they started interviewing us, I could feel it: my head was up to my old games. I was faithful to Zak, but in a funny way I was still keeping myself in reserve: ducking opportunities to spend quiet, alone time with him or to meet him out for lunch when I’m at work. The adoption thing just added juice to it.” 

“In thriving relationships, when we fall down, we can only get back up together. We are inherently social beings, and the brain is fundamentally a social organ.”Grant

Many of us think of love as delicate, fragile and liable to fall apart at any moment; or, perhaps more often, that love is destined to fade away as the honeymoon winds down. But in his final book, Can Love Last?: The Fate of Romance Over Time, psychoanalyst Stephen Mitchell argues that  the challenge posed by long-term relationships isn’t the fading of the early stages of romance. Instead, the challenge is to commit to continuing to build openness and intimacy. And for many of us, that’s the really scary part, one of the greatest challenges and delights of life, and tragically where we fall down.

According to Mitchell, love’s so-called transience often indicates that we’re deliberately doing risk management. But despite the anxiety that comes with risk, genuine love can survive and grow if we become aware that we’re unconsciously protecting ourselves from that risk. This bridges over to the idea of irrelationship: the purpose of irrelationship is to provide cover from the increasing risks connected to intimacy.

“Before I even met Zak, I took time off from hooking up with one guy after another. I knew that was what I was doing, all right — even bragged about my trophy collection to my friends. But at the same time, I was always complaining that I wanted a real boyfriend. I’d never stopped to consider the impact my behavior might have on that idea. I paid lip service to it while I was really running from it at full speed. 

“Getting too close can ruin everything—if you really want it to.”Daniel

“I can see now that I sabotaged getting involved with somebody in two different ways.  If a guy let me know he was interested in more than sex, I’d tell him my job was too demanding, or my blog took up too much of my free time for anything like that. I even told one dude that I didn’t have time for dating because of my volleyball league! The other way I undercut romance was by pulling out that old line, ‘can we just be friends?’

“I always thought I was just being ‘honest’ so I didn’t ‘disappoint’ the other guy. I definitely wasn’t asking myself if anything was wrong with me. 

“But Zak totally caught me off guard. I still don’t know how it happened. He never asked if I wanted to become steady boyfriends or anything. Later I found out that he was as nervous as I was. Anyway, for whatever reason, I couldn’t bring myself to push Zak out the door; and, apparently, by not pushing him away or running away myself, somehow we ended up married. And you know, I think I’m the one who first said the b-word, for ‘baby’ — before we got married!

“Funny thing is, after Liza was born, that voice kept asking me, ‘Is this really the guy you wanna get in that deep with—with a baby?’ And Zak knew it because he’d seen my disappearing act in action all along: not returning phone calls, working late, all the usual BS. But he let it play out without freaking out about it.”

“It’s mind-blowing how intimacy, and relationship sanity, can sneak up on us right in the very process of living our mundane lives—together!”Mark

According to Mitchell, romantic love doesn’t have to smothered by fear of vulnerability; although, as he says, connecting erotically with somebody you actually know may deepen the sense of danger. But when the temptation to flee comes up, as long as the situation isn’t damaging or abusive, instead of doing what you’ve always done, you stick around to see what happens next.

“Sharing chores, bills, the boring everyday stuff, wasn’t what I was thinking when I met Zak. It was, ‘he’s so hot, and I’m gonna have him every night! ’ And — full disclosure — I kept my eye on the emergency exit for a long time. But instead of giving in to fear, we actually got good at talking about it. Talk about not doing what I’d always done! And the funny thing is that keeping that openness with each other makes sharing the bed even more wonderful, even if we’re too tired to even talk by the time Liza gets to sleep.

“I never knew that the same ol’ same ol’ can be a huge part of what we love about being together. No matter what else is going on, our commitment to Liza keeps increasing our commitment to each other. This was not what I thought I was signing on for!”

References

Mitchell, S. A. (2003). Can Love Last? The Fate of Romance Over Time. New York: Norton.

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Tim

I don’t understand fear of intimacy. Since the beginning of my sexually active life I have always had a steady girlfriend or wife. I never get bored as long as my partner keeps me involved in her life and allows me to get inside her ( in more ways than one). Some of these relationships have lasted for years. Even sharing on a mundane level fascinates me. But when I hit a barrier I can be almost a nuisance trying to get through to a deeper level of what makes her tick and what motivates her. For example, if we… Read more »