There’s this thing we do in love.
We spend a lot of energy pretending to want less than we want, pretending our appetite for intimacy, connection and love is not as great as it actually is. What would drive us to do this when in truth we are ravenous for deep love and connection?
It’s shame. We are ashamed of how much we love.
We are trained to be careful about how much love we let ourselves want. In a culture where almost everyone has this shame, we find ourselves in a “race to the bottom,” competing to be the one who can survive on the least love…all because we are afraid to show just how desperately we want one another.
This story goes out to the lovers who long to possess and to be possessed but have never dropped their composure enough to let that power consume them. This is my story of unexpressed desire, of love not fully penetrated, of fear, and of the healing I experienced when I finally admitted how much I wanted and decided I would settle for nothing less.
My boyfriend and I spent our first six months together in an open relationship. When we were first dating I remember wanting intimacy and wanting to know that we could stay connected even if I were completely forthright about my other relationships, so I told him some details about other men I was dating.
It was scary to tell him.
I expected jealousy and maybe anger but, to my surprise, he responded with nonchalance. Part of me was was relieved — it meant a lot to me to be able to be honest with each other about those details. But what I felt more than anything was let down. I wanted him to care — I wanted him to claim me. Even if that meant he got angry. I wanted to feel connected and his nonchalance left me feeling alone in my feelings for him.
If he’d claimed me I would have felt permission to claim him. But sadly, without that permission, I assumed he didn’t want to be claimed, that the possessiveness I felt toward him would not be welcome, that I’d lose him if I admitted it.
This is where so many of us get stuck. We believe that our desire is too much, that it’s unwelcome. It goes unrevealed and, as a result, our relationship never becomes a safe place for all the desire we both have. Unfortunately this is the beginning of the undoing in many relationships. The disconnection begins here and never has the chance to be undone. We go our separate ways without fully understand why. We don’t get to see how it could have been if we’d had the courage to ask for 100% of what we wanted…but I got to see.
A year later he would tell me what really happened for him that day and I would learn how I’d unknowingly lost him then precisely because I’d played it safe. He would tell me that conversation early in our relationship was when he first decided he couldn’t let me all the way into his heart. And from that day on, we were in a competition rather than an alliance. He had thought to himself, “I’m falling in love with this woman but if that’s the game she wants to play, fine. I will win that game.”
Though I’ve always been possessive, I’ve always had shame about it. I hid it, until unexpressed and suppressed, it became obsessive jealousy. In being unwilling to acknowledge that when I loved someone, I wanted all of them, I shut down that part of my desire that just wanted to go deep, deep down with another person. In place of it, I entertained all my worst fantasies of how I’d be abandoned, taken for granted, and inevitably hurt if I were to let someone in deep. I didn’t see that I was covering up a very big desire with a really loud chorus of fears.
Instead, I saw my jealousy as a part of me that was not conscious, a part that was not evolved, a way I infringed on the freedom of my partners. I saw it as a problem I hadn’t solved yet. So I tried to be less jealous…and that generally meant I had to care less.
With my boyfriend, caring less proved challenging. Jealousy was constantly ripping through our relationship but I wanted to make it work so I became determined to be more tolerant and approving of his other relationships. I thought it was the right thing to do and I was doing everything I could to be supportive.
Looking back, I now see this from a different, heartbreaking perspective.
With each woman I tried to approve of, I closed off a part of my love to him. With each time I felt like my jealousy was too big, I let him see less of my desire. I would take my attention off him when it hurt too much and I’d put it on someone else (an approach which hurt him deeply and drove him to disconnect further). I wanted desperately to love him well but I was too hurt and scared to be able to. I tried everything except simply telling him that I wanted him to myself.
Ultimately, the relationship hurt both of us too much and we broke up.
Once we realized that being broken up didn’t work either, we decided to try again, this time as exclusive partners.
When I suggested it, it felt like he’d been waiting for it all along. It was then that we’d both finally reveal that we’d been in the same boat, waiting for the other to give up the game first, hurt when the other wouldn’t, both feeling silly for wanting so much when the other clearly didn’t feel the same way. We had both feigned indifference to mask our hurt.
So we agreed this time around to be courageous, to always honor that part of us that wants to be all-in and to never be ashamed of how much we actually want.
Intimacy is all about letting ourselves be seen. This thing we do where we pretend to feel less than we actually feel, or want less than we actually want, in order to protect ourselves from loving more than we think we’re allowed to — that is not intimacy. Intimacy is risky and often humiliating. It’s not for the faint of heart.
If my readers learn anything from this story, I hope it’s this: All harm in relationships is caused in disconnection, in those places we hide and withhold what we truly feel. And the single most disconnected part of many relationships is where one or both people are unwilling to admit that they are crazy-possessive of each other and that what they really want from one another is a 100%, no-caveats, all-in love.
In a culture that exalts indifference and views all-consuming love as weakness, we are taught that our love is shameful — that we should not hope for so much from each other. Isn’t that heartbreaking?
As a friend once said, “unexpressed love cuts the deepest wounds.”
I know that to be true and I think the only way to heal those wounds is to finally express all that love. 100%, no caveats, all-in.
Author: Summer Engman
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: author’s own