I love the song A Kiss is Not a Contract by Flight of the Conchords. In fact, I love most songs by them. This one in particular came to mind when I started forming the idea for this post, so I’ll open with it for your enjoyment, and to set the tone:
A kiss is not a contract, but it’s very nice It’s very, very nice
These guys are silly, but they make a point worth considering with this song; a kiss is a kiss, nothing more. Putting everything into that – or putting the responsibility for your happiness or needs on one person – is unrealistic, unfair, and unfun. Yet we do it to each other all the time, especially when our feelings enter the mix.
The subject of relationships is one I am revisiting after taking time to recover from a difficult and disappointing experience earlier in the year. Entering in to that experience, I was still operating under a lot of narrow assumptions about what relationships look like, what I want from a relationship, what expectations (if any) we can have of any partner or potential partner, what constitutes intimacy, or even if intimacy automatically implies or leads to partnership. Consequently, I conducted myself in such a way that made it inevitable for things to not only end, but end in such a way that was very painful for me.
One very good thing that came of that experience was that it helped me realize something about what I want and need at this time in my life. Before this experience, I had no idea that I could just enjoy a connection for what it was without expectation of it developing into anything else. It was hard for me to see the possibilities outside of my narrow experience, especially since I was grieving and fearing loss. To take a risk and be vulnerable to another person without any guarantee of something beyond the immediate experience was almost outside of my comprehension.
Until things ended between myself and this man, I had operated under the definitions that most everyone accepts regarding what to expect and want from another person when it comes to intimacy. I always assumed that you could have all kinds of friendship connections, but that intimacy had to look and behave a certain way. After getting distance from the disappointment of the situation I mentioned above, I was able to see, accept, and appreciate for the first time that there are so many more possibilities for intimate connection which are fun and edifying in and of themselves, allowing each person involved to continue to feel free to be who they are and enjoy life as they desire without necessarily leading to a committed partnership. When I finally really got that, it blew my mind - it felt incredible to me, like I had just experienced Christmas in July.
Social convention tells us to be afraid of something like that, labeling it as irresponsible, or unrealistic, blah, blah, blah, basically framing it from a fearful perspective. I definitely bought into that way of seeing things as the only way when I was younger – I felt that any act of intimacy immediately made someone my partner, or at least was a promise and then they needed to reassure me that they were committed to just me. In other words, any intimacy I engaged in was shrouded by my need to control all the conditions around that intimacy. I thought that every romantic interlude was automatically supposed to lead to the “ultimate” goal: the marriage, the kids, the mortgage, the car, the career, just like everyone else did and had. I also believed (as I had observed happening with so many around me) that all of that obligation would eventually stomp out any passion and connection between me and my partner, and I was supposed to just accept that depressing reality like everyone else does. Having lived outside of that kind of experience all of my adult life, I finally thought to myself, “Wait a minute. My experience has not included that. Why would I adopt that way of being in relationships just because other people do?” I’m kind of thrilled that I have had this epiphany now, rather than at the end of my life.
I love deconstructing assumptions and questioning them to see if they serve me, because pretty much without exception, they don’t. I’ve been talking with my sister about this a lot since she’s been in town for a visit. We’ve been discussing how technology has afforded many more unconventional opportunities for people to find intimacy, and as a result there are many people who are popping up in order to make use of those opportunities. We all just wanna connect. Technology and desire are changing the way we relate and make contact – I for one am open to exploring new ways of experiencing intimacy, and am very glad to hear that I’m not the only one with the same desire.
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
― George Bernard Shaw
The only constant which I have found to be essential is clear, regular communication. And it doesn’t need to be the dreaded, overly serious “we need to talk” crap that sends partners running away with their hands in the air. It’s just more fun for me when I know what the parameters are. My most recent intimate connection was very unconventional, fun, and creative, but it failed because we didn’t talk so we could understand what it was that was happening between us. I *think* this man assumed I wanted more than he could offer because of how our exchange progressed, but if it’s what I *think* he thought, it wasn’t actually what I wanted…and because of what I *think* he thought and wanted, even I assumed I wanted something that I didn’t want because I *thought* in order to maintain what we were doing that I was supposed to want something else or be something else as a result…and because of all of that, the fun way we had been communicating became tinged with ambivalence, worry, and misrepresentation. Lordy! You can see how and why that just got convoluted and frustrating and basically not fun. All of that confusion could have been avoided if he had been willing to talk, but he wasn’t. And I will never know why…because we didn’t talk. I could speculate – and believe me, I did – but that got really old, and how am I going to continue to participate in something that is guided by speculation, right? And so, it ended. And it’s quite possible that it was completely unnecessary for it to end, but I can’t be sure, because…well, we didn’t talk.
However, even though it fell apart between us, I won’t throw the baby out with the bathwater; I loved that fun way of connecting that we had, and really hope to experience something like that again. This time, however, it will be clear from the beginning what both people want out of it, so it can remain a light, fun, playful thing that we understand and enjoy. So while I am sad that it didn’t work out with him, I am excited to realize because of our connection that there is a way for me to be intimate that doesn’t involve expectation and obligation. Or even close proximity; If I could have a romantic exchange with a man who lives in an entirely different state, the possibilities for connection and intimacy are much greater and varied than I initially allowed myself to ackwnowledge. I’m not just talking about online dating, either – there’s a spectrum to intimacy that just doesn’t get talked about, probably because people impose limitations on what they think they want or can handle. But I believe that when two people with a common desire make a connection, anything is possible.
I realize it’s hard for a lot of people to see relationships and intimacy this way; it’s only more recently that I’ve been able to do so myself. By doing so, though, I’ve realized it’s a lot more freeing to just cross bridges if and when I get to them, rather than heaping so much expectation onto another person right from the beginning. I feel like a kid in a candy shop with this new realization, and I intend to milk it for all it’s worth.