I’ll fall for you soon enough; I resolve to love
— San Fermin, “Sonsick”
As Mai and Glen were finishing a round of madly passionate lovemaking, sweat-drenched, exhausted, and totally blissed-out, Mai asked Glen, “Why? Why are you so intense?”
He smiled and said, “What? Me? Intense? Look at yourself!”
“Well,” she said, “l can’t help it — you hit that special spot in me every time.”
“I guess it’s what they call ‘instincts run riot,’” Glen answered as he collapsed.
This just might be one of the best parts about exploring irrelationships: what they cover up!
An irrelationship is designed to defend against exactly this kind of shared, thrilling experience of and with another person — including what we share in the throes of passion!
In their brief dialogue described above, Mai and Glen tried to articulate to one another the depth and meaning of the apparently illimitable empathic connection that they share.
That kind of intimacy, however, doesn’t show itself only in erotic connection. The permeable connection with another person which shows itself in sexual connection, is seen also in a broad repertory of love-language developed between partners*. This language of love is both cause and result of overcoming the barriers we put between ourselves and others.
Learning to pull apart those barriers to caring for another is vital to becoming able to allow and to experience such unimaginable connection.
Glen and Mai had to work for it — and work hard.
Before he met Mai, Glen had lived for years in the role of Performer in a loveless, passion-free marriage to Vicky. Vicky had survived significant neglect throughout her childhood. The survival technique she developed while she was growing up was to manage her environment by making — or allowing — her parents to believe that they were good parents, that the parenting they provided for her met her needs. This, however, was far from the truth. However, mastering that role as a child made Vicky the perfect Audience for Glen’s performance of his dysfunctional song-and-dance routines.
Though Mai grew up in Japan, her childhood experience was not profoundly dissimilar to Vicky’s. She was the daughter of an alcoholic father and of a mother who was all too aware that she was in over her head in the role of raising children. In this disturbed and disturbing environment, Mai, too, learned to play the role of Audience. She created complicated routines designed to convince her parents, that she was “all right” and didn’t really need much from them. The bottom line of this ruse for Mai was that it left her feeling and believing that she was unloveable. When she turned 18, Mai left home without letting her parents know where she was going. Once outside the stifling environment of her parents’ home, she went to Tokyo, where became involved in self-destructive behaviors that left her feeling hopeless. At an emotional bottom, she reached out to her parents. So relieved were they to reconnect with her that they agreed to help her continue her education. And so, Mai moved to the United States, where she hoped to recalibrate her life to remove the threat of her self-destructive tendencies. Believing that by becoming a caretaker of others she might find peace, Mai became a psychiatric social worker. While this choice did lessen some of the immediacy of her threat to herself, Mai was forced to realize that “no matter where I go, there I am.”
Cutting to the chase, when Glen and Mai met, both felt that it was a match made in heaven — until the old “Performer-Audience” routine turned it into a reasonable facsimile of hell for both of them.
Their story took a dramatic turn at this point. Both Glen and Mai had done enough work in therapy on their relationship histories to see that each of them individually, and together as a couple, were repeating their familiar patterns. The new piece that emerged as they worked in therapy together, however, was that they became able to see that their Performer and Audience roles actually prevented connection between them, leaving both of them feeling isolated and lonely. After a year of battling it out and hitting an almost blood-curdling bottom, they were surprised to find that they actually missed each other!
This was the window of opportunity that allowed Glen and Mai to reach out to each other and begin to take responsibility for their part in what their relationship had become: a refuge from emotional connection, from intimacy. Having taken this huge step, they created a space in which they became aware that they still wanted to go forward together into a real relationship.
The erotic connection that continues to astound Glen and Mai is, in a sense, the gravy. Having worked through the straitjacket of irrelationship, they’ve learned that the care and connection (and, yes, hot sex) gained from learning to love each other is (as Mai puts it) “beyond amazing.”
Both of them will tell you that, after nine years, it just keeps getting better and better.
*Dr. Lisa Firestone, in a blog entry titled, “The Fantasy That Puts All Relationships At Risk” presents the following relevant research: A neurological study from Stony Brook University revealed that couples who experience “romantic love” long-term keep their brains firing in similar ways to couples who have just fallen in love. The research team, led by Bianca P. Acevedo and Arthur Aron, found that the “dopamine-rich brain regions associated with reward, motivation and ‘wanting’” were activated in similar ways in couples newly in love and those who experienced “romantic love” over the course of many years. They defined “romantic love” as characterized by “intensity, engagement and sexual interest.” This type of love was associated with marital satisfaction, well-being, high self-esteem, and relationship longevity.