This is one of those blogs I write, and pause heavily before pressing that "Publish" button to send out to the world wide web. But, I can't help feeling by exposing my own flaws and fears I give a voice to others to do the same. So here goes...
"Nicole you are confusing!" exclaimed my friend Mike as we chatted over a glass of wine. He couldn't understand why I would lose interest in a man who Googled me and would prefer to be with someone who didn't. True to form, my lawyer friend argued that anyone truly interested in me would want to find out all they could about me, and Google me.
But, if you are someone who struggles with intimacy this makes perfect sense.
What do intimacy issues look like?
Meeting guys and dating has never been really a challenge for me. But, it is the development of a relationship where I've wavered. And I speak in past tense as this has been something I've been working on, and continue to improve on. But, like an alcoholic or a smoker I think it is something I will have to be mindful of for the rest of my life. My addiction is my struggle to allow someone to get incredibly close to me. There are few things that scare me more than being completely vulnerable. Being in a room full of tarantulas feels more inviting than letting my guard down and exposing my vulnerability.
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If your partner has stopped doing his or her share between the sheets, first try a subtle approach. Playfully lament how much you miss his or her trademark move in bed, whether it's a turn, twist, or tweak. A friendly reminder that it takes two to tango may be all that's required. If that doesn't work, go for a more straightforward approach. Gently tell your partner that you've noticed he or she doesn't show the same initiative and ask why. If no explanation is forthcoming (and if you're certain there are no medical issues), be honest about how his or her lack of enthusiasm in bed is taking the fun out of sex for you, too. If your partner is invested in your relationship, he or she will step up to the passion plate. Meanwhile, it may be a good time to review your own rambunctiousness. A lazy partner isn't worth the effort, in or out of bed.
Can you set your watch to when he'll turn you over? Do you see her kiss coming a mile away? Long-term sex with the same person can eventually become predictable. And while there's something comforting about sexual familiarity, it can breed contempt if it's the only dish on the menu. To break out of bedroom boredom, experiment with different positions, focus on improving your sexual skills, or surprise your partner by telling him or her an erotic fantasy or dirty dream to kick-start your sexual imaginations. Change the way you behave in bed. If you're usually quiet, wake up the neighbors. If you're usually vocal, tone it down. If you're typically slow and steady, pick up the pace. For added buzz, hide a sex toy under your partner's pillow, whether it's a high-tech vibrator, a feather tickler or a warming/cooling lubricant.
The way a couple treats each other outside of the bedroom has a direct effect on the quality of their love life. Nasty, nagging and negative partners rarely enjoy five-star sex. Strengthen your relationship by improving communication, prioritizing couple time, making your partner feel appreciated, and approaching conflict with humility, an open-mind and a team-player mentality. Replace the criticism or contempt in your voice with a respectful, affectionate tone. Do the "little things" that you know will help your partner have a happier day. It's your best bet for a hotter night.
Laptops, tablets, iProducts and smartphones have a way of sneaking into the bedroom and e-undermining a couple's private downtime. When you reply to a text or update your Facebook status instead of snuggling your sweetheart, you inadvertently send the message that your partner is not as interesting or important as the person on the other end of whatever gadget is in your hand. Make your bedroom a technology-free zone. Charge your cell phone on the kitchen counter and leave your laptop in the living room. Reclaim your bedroom for the two of you.
Body changes are inevitable in long-term relationships. We get pregnant and give birth. We age. We gain weight and lose our hair. Health problems and everyday stress also take their toll on the body. Our fitness levels go up and down. These changes can make couples self-conscious about their bodies, prompting them to cover up more and have sex less. To improve body image, couples should share a healthy lifestyle. As importantly, they should continue to compliment each other's appearance and desirability. Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder.
If you're the one with a naturally higher sex drive, don't pester your partner, whine when you don't get it, criticize their lower drive or threaten to get sex elsewhere. Act like a grown-up. If your drive is exceptionally high, some "alone time" can take the pressure off your partner. If you're the one with the lower drive, recognize that there is a connection between physical and emotional intimacy, and that your partner's reasonable and respectful requests for sex are important to your bond as a loving, long-term couple. There is no magic number. The key is balance.
Most intimacy guides stress the importance of better techniques, new positions and sex toys, all things that make sex feel better. That's fantastic, but it's only half the equation. Couples should also focus on stimulating the largest sex organ -- the brain. Sex is at its best when partners are both mentally and physically turned on. In my latest book, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/50-Ways-Play-People-ebook/dp/B008DR7226" target="_hplink">50 Ways to Play: BDSM for Nice People</a>, I combine the mental eroticism of the <em>50 Shades of Grey </em>variety with kinky "how to" sex tips that can help mainstream couples turn their fantasies into real bedroom play.
Good old-fashioned fatigue is a leading bedroom complaint of today's busy couples. To combat it, approach your bedtime routine as a team. Ask what you can do to help your partner power down without powering out. You can finish the supper dishes, put the kids to bed or give your partner some space to finish his or her work files. If your schedules are similar, you should be going to bed at the same time. Not only does it increase your chances of being intimate, it shows your partner that you're in it together.
Intimacy doesn't refer to sexuality... rather, "an intimate relationship is one in which neither party silences, sacrifices, or betrays the self and each party expresses strength and vulnerability, weakness and competence in a balanced way." (Lerner, H., The Dance of Intimacy, p.3)
Being vulnerable demands the virtue of trust. Oh,TRUST!!! We all know how big that word is. Is there even a value you can attach to it? My fear of being vulnerable is akin to falling backwards and hoping someone is there to catch you, when in all likeliness there is no one, and you'd have a better chance hoping for the tooth fairy to magically appear to catch you! It's a paralyzing fear, which has ironically equipped me with a vast array of dating experiences, and the ability to whip up my non-expert relationship blogs as I offer lessons learned from past mistakes made.
If you have a fear of intimacy like me, you make it difficult for someone to get incredibly close to you, and develop a skill for attracting the wrong kind of guys. My weaknesses have typically been the emotionally unavailable man or someone who is less interested in me. In a reversal of roles, some intimacy-challenged women enjoy pursuing an unavailable guy. You'll make consorted efforts that are not matched/reciprocated, walk the line of approval seeking, make compromises, and possibly have a scent of desperation lingering -- all the while, the man of your interest may enjoy the attention but he is not really interested in you. I think, I've subconsciously reasoned, if I could somehow convert that uninterested guy into really liking me, than I could allow myself to be vulnerable with him. "This makes complete sense, doesn't it?" says the illogical thinker. This is a doomed relationship, with a shelf life shorter than non-refrigerated yogurt.
Ironically, the individuals who are truly interested in me, and who I should probably gravitate towards, are more threatening to me then food poisoning. They significantly heighten my fear of intimacy to an uncomfortable level, and make me want to run in the opposite direction. Women like me, may try to unconsciously sabotage such relationships early on, and be initially reluctant to reciprocate the same feelings, always looking for flaws. Discussion of intimacy (i.e. relationship expectations and feelings) can be as comfortable as sitting through a session of nails on a chalkboard. Honestly, I'd rather run a marathon and complete a triathlon in the same day, than have "the talk."
What is the fear really about?
At the heart of it, at least for me, is the loss and pain I may feel if I was to be completely vulnerable with someone and the relationship failed. We are surrounded by examples of failed relationships, never mind our own experiences. Furthermore, I struggle with the concept of unconditional love in a relationship. I know I can give unconditional love, but can I really count on someone else to do the same?
Funny enough, when I'm first dating someone, I like to reveal the worst side of me, as opposed to putting my best foot forward. I recently had one guy, complain that I dared to change into sweats and a hoodie in the midst of a date. I was trying to get comfortable, and at the same time probably create a distance. Guilty as charged! I guess I figure if you see me in an unfavourable light and still stick around, you'll be more than pleasantly surprised when you see how I am normally.
The problem with a relationship is it requires two people to be fully committed and devoted. I am incredibly rooted in my principles and values that loyalty is embedded in my very being. I only know how to be fully committed and dedicated in anything I do. (A function of being an elite athlete, I guess.) But, even if I'm fully committed I cannot control what someone else is going to do. And therein lies the problem.
I think in the back of my mind, that the chance of being let down by someone is high, and I'd sooner invest less of me, than to risk losing all of me.
Now, I did say I've been working on this handicap, and boy let me tell you, I have come a long way, baby! Though, I might find myself wondering down familiar patterns, I'll recognize and intercept them, while forcing myself to become comfortable being uncomfortable. So, I'm better at recognizing and dismissing someone who is emotionally unavailable or demonstrating less interest in me, as I am in them. Likewise, I'm learning to not push someone away who is genuinely interested in me. Admittedly, this is probably the hardest growth area.
Being enthralled by an intimacy challenged woman like me can be a challenge, or as my friend Mike so aptly put, "frustrating." But, if you can weather the storm of an intimacy challenged woman, there is definitely a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
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