Both Jeannie and Justina continue push me to ponder and challenge everything. They are both being so incredibly honest and vulnerable, and
asking requiring that I do the same. I want this, and I like this, and I like the results. However, it’s a terribly uncomfortable place – honesty. Only over the last year or so has Jeannie been this honest and direct with me. Jeannie and I have always been honest, that’s not in question. But like most couples, we didn’t take the initiative to address some topics early on, instead waiting until there was discomfort. Together we’ve been exercising a new muscle, but there are several decades of habits to “unlearn” so this isn’t an easy process.
Meanwhile, I meet Justina, and, to some extent, this is her natural state. (That’s oversimplifying it, but accurate for the purposes of this post.) She feeds on honest, open feedback and provides the same without shame. I welcome this, but it’s the first new relationship I’ve ever had where I can share so openly!
After an amazing dance event together on Saturday night, Justina and I both spent Sunday on our respective couches watching TV and recovering from the previous night’s festivities. The event was fantastic and we had a great time, but I also felt some awkwardness that I hadn’t experienced previously with Justina. Dancing is a very personal thing, and two people dancing together at the kind of events we attend can be tricky. (We’re not talking ballroom dance here, we’re talking raves.) Even though we met through this dance community, we’d never actually spent any time together on the dance floor!
I was craving physical contact.
Awkwardness began as I tried to balance how we could dance our independent styles while still having some physical contact. I’m not into “grinding” or other overtly sexual contact on the dance floor. I simply crave physical contact in general and with the energy of the dance floor, and Justina being this beautiful woman I want to touch endlessly, well, it’s hard to keep my hands to myself! So with Justina’s consent, I touched her and held her at various times throughout the night.
Most of the time it felt too forced, and I was unsatisfied. Further, I was getting vibe that, even though she was telling me to touch her freely, she wasn’t enjoying it in the moment. During downtempo moments where there’s less dancing and more “swaying” I tried to hold her close get those feels in the moment. A couple of these times she reached over and pet my head and in those moments I felt the connection that I craved. But most of our contact felt like me reaching out and intruding on her dance space.
The Story My Mind Is Telling Me…
We truly had a great time that night, but the “contact awkwardness” weighed on me as I sat on the couch Sunday and pondered my actions and feelings. Something familiar began to happen in my mind… I began to make up stories based on incomplete information. And “the story my mind was telling me” wasn’t a good story. My mind filled in every blank with a negative instead of a positive. And, soon, the story looked like this:
Justina is an independent dancer and my encroaching on her space was bothering her. She enjoyed contact, but in those moments, it wasn’t right. So now she’s thinking, “if dancing is so important to me, how can I be with Viktor if we can’t enjoyably share the dance floor?” So, of course, our relationship is doomed!
Whoa! Suddenly my entire relationship with Justina was in doubt. And, frankly, all because I was making up a story in my mind instead of asking her what she was truly thinking. I was expanding the story way beyond the dance floor and suddenly seeing so many little things “wrong” between us. Yet, in reality, none of these negative assumptions proved to be accurate.
Monday night Justina and I talked on the phone and I explained all of this, but not at all as I’ve written it here. “The story my mind is telling me is…” only became part of my vernacular by the end of that call. Justina taught me this as a tool to convey honest, if difficult feelings to a partner. Had I told her the story like this, she’d likely have chuckled and then soothed me while mildly cajoling me about how silly I was to conclude something so negative when we have something so positive.
Over the course of the call we worked through this and a few other disconnects I was having with reality. (Or, at least, the reality of our relationship.) I came away from this experience with not only some new communication tools, but an increased appreciation for honest and vulnerable conversation with a truly strong and caring partner. Jeannie and I are experiencing this as well, but as I said, there’s the unlearning of old behaviors. With Justina, there’s a fresh reminder that directness and honestly can come from the start and be the basis of all conversations.
There’s no great way to say this so I’m just going to say it.
Justina also said at least two things she thought would be hard for me to hear; harsh realities about her own communication and relationship style. In both cases she said, “There’s no great way to say this so I’m just going to say it. I hope you don’t take it the wrong way.” In both cases, not only didn’t I “take it the wrong way” but these basic behavioral facts helped me understand actions that were confusing me or causing me doubt. I told Justina how much I appreciated hearing these things because now I could understand her actions instead of letting my mind create a narrative that doesn’t exist. And likely a narrative of doubt.
Ironically, “The Story My Mind Is Telling Me…” tool is pretty much the same as a tool Jeannie recently learned and shared with me called “locating.” It’s basically saying to someone, “I feel as though you are [saying/doing/etc] – is this accurate?” The partner can then validate your assumptions or correct them; either way landing both on common ground more quickly. I’m going to use these tools a lot going forward and so greatly appreciate all I’m learning from both Jeannie and Justina right now.
Need versus Want
Justina highlighted one other communication tool about separating needs and wants. She told me to always tell her if there is something I need and also the things I want. This way she can focus on needs and set expectations on wants. This is also important in case I need something she simply cannot provide – then we can address that head on.
One thing I learned about needs and wants this weekend… I need physical contact. I want sexual contact. So to satisfy that need, we’re booking an evening to just cuddle as we did on our second and third dates. And the want? Well, we’re not assuming that cuddles lead to sex, but we’re not banishing that idea either. 😜