Have you ever been an audience member during a speaking presentation or concert where the audience is asked to do something to participate—like share something to the group, or clap, or sing? You remember that feeling?
Yeah, you do.
I’ve always hated that shit. It triggers whatever big red Discomfort Button that lives in the invisible parts of me, and every time it gets pushed, the loudspeaker in my brain yells, “Everyone is looking at you and judging you and thinking that you’re a stupid asshole!”
It’s irrational. I know it’s silly and unnecessary to think and feel that way. I’m intellectually aware that it’s unhealthy, that hardly anyone is paying attention to me, ever, and if they are, they give zero effs what I’m doing, because they’re too busy worrying about themselves if they’re neurotic like me, or not having a care in the world if they’ve achieved a higher level of mental and emotional maturity than I have.
At 40, I get this in ways I did not in my teens and twenties. But lifelong habits are hard to break, so this is still the default mental and emotional experience whenever I’m in those situations.
Public displays of affection (unless I quiet that internal loudspeaker with the requisite amount of alcohol) trigger those same thoughts and feelings.
My ex-wife used to playfully make fun of me for it, but I think it also made her feel bad. If she grabbed my hand while we were walking together, I’d tense up a little, hold it for just a bit, give it a quick double-squeeze which was SUPPOSED to communicate: “I really do love you! I swear!” but which I’m pretty sure communicated: “It’s sweet that you want to hold my hand, but I care more about what OTHER people think of me/us than I care about you feeling connected and cared for in our relationship! So piss off with the hand-holding, babe!”
Can you imagine? Caring more about what strangers you’ve never met, and probably never will, might think about you for holding your wife’s hand or kissing her?
It’s some next-level dickbag stuff. Life tip: Care more about the emotional wellbeing of the people you love than you do about the neurotic stories you conjure up in your own brain regarding what strangers might think.
Simply, one of those things matters and has genuine relevance to your life, and the other does not.
Romantic Spontaneity vs. ‘Boring’ Routines
If you’re guessing that because I operated that way about hand-holding and any other form of public affection, that I also resisted forced romantic and/or intimate encounters because they didn’t seem ‘authentic’ due to their inherent lack of spontaneity, you’re a fabulous guesser.
Reminder: My wife totally divorced me six years ago, and in my estimation, made an appropriate choice to preserve what was left of her mental/emotional health.
This irrational thing I was doing inside my own head inevitably led to countless situations in which repeated attempts by my wife to connect with me were rejected. Several times per year for more than a dozen years.
Romance and sexual desire doesn’t always manifest in the daily hum-drum routines of the average married couple who spent a long day at work and are maybe caring for kids and pets throughout the mornings and evenings the way it does between two super-attractive Hollywood actors who just survived a dramatic near-death experience in the movies.
I guess I thought that’s what was supposed to happen.
Leveraging the Power of Habit to Increase Emotional Connection with our Partners
I was reminded of how egregiously I failed my wife while watching a recent Mindvalley video featuring Jon and Missy Butcher, called 9 Daily Habits That Will Help You Lead An Extraordinary Life.
Here’s a couple married 25 years, and instead of them complaining about one another to anyone who will listen like most of the 25-year couples I’ve encountered, these two take a walk together every single day, as a daily check-in.
While most of us are busy holding in our frustrations so they can spew out in an undisciplined way at what usually ends up being the most inopportune times, Jon and Missy plan a time each day to unload all of that crap to one another. A daily appointment with one another to listen to each other about the things they experienced earlier in the day, good and bad. This is what it looks like to intentionally move toward one another instead of allowing the natural drift-apart to occur by being too busy with everything else.
And then, once per week, the couple has an overnight date night. Maybe at home. Maybe somewhere else. But every single week, Friday night overnight, no matter where they are, belongs to them, and arrangements are made for everything else in their lives (children, pets, work) to be cared for.
This is their Connection Ritual.
This is what it means to water your own lawn so that your own grass ALWAYS looks greener and better than whatever is on the other side of the fence.
Having a good marriage or a quality, connected romantic relationship of any kind, I think, is a lot like getting in good physical shape. A select few don’t have to work very hard to look and feel great. But most of us do.
And despite the efforts of many magic diet and supplement salespeople, there are no shortcuts to being our best selves physically.
You just do the work. It’s really hard at the beginning. Inertia is always the greatest obstacle. Something new is always more difficult to accomplish than something routine. Our first week of work is always more challenging and intimidating than our 18th month on the job. We move every day. We are mindful about what we consume. The more healthy choices we make, the more our health and wellness benefits from those choices.
And so it is with our relationships. They are what the participants mindfully choose for them to be. When two people wake up every day making the choice to choose one another, and prioritizing one another over everything else, our connections grow. Our love flourishes. Our relationships thrive.
And when you derpy-derp around like I did with your fingers crossed that everything will work out without having to give anything or do anything uncomfortable to achieve it?
I think it’s telling that I don’t even have to say it.