I take an enormous amount of pride in my ability to put vague and enigmatic inner experiences into writing.
I believe nailing down elusive feelings (and mental processes) with clear and specific language is one of my superpowers. It’s how I help my readers normalize, validate, accept, and embrace parts of themselves they may previously have thought were weird, bad, isolated, or shameful.
To that end, I’d like to share a slice of my experience being in romantic relationships with cis-men. Maybe you’ll relate.
First of all, I have a habit of searching endlessly to figure out exactly what I want and need to thrive, and then going and getting it.
That habit makes me absolutely crush life as a single person, but is sometimes very frustrating and difficult inside of a relationship. What I perceive as me just asking for I want is often received as criticism by a male partner, which means that I often can’t just “go get” the love and intimate attention I crave.
In fact, simply by asking for more of it, I have often pushed a male partner away.
I want to be very clear that I have dated some amazing men. The good guys. The ones who “get it” and are down for an emotionally open, communication-driven relationship.
And yet, in nearly every relationship I have ever had, I have ended up asking for “too much” and eventually discovered that my partner wasn’t up for it. This too-muchness has come in many forms, but the through-line is pretty similar:
I ask for too much connection, too much attention, too much love, too much expression, too much intimacy, too much sex, and/or too much emotional labor.
I have (strangely perhaps) rarely blamed myself for being too much. Instead, I’ve simply acknowledged my partner’s limitations, determined that we weren’t the right match, and moved on.
Something I’ve recently discovered is that one reason I require so much loving attention to thrive is that I am constantly in a state of mental and emotional processing around whether or not the relationship is “working.”
My experience is that the state of the relationship vacillates dramatically from day to day or week to week, based on input and output.
Whenever I’ve tried to explain these thoughts to a male partner, it always became clear that he did not share this dramatically changing view of “how we’re doing.” More likely, he never really thought about “how we’re doing” at all, but instead viewed the relationship as stable, fixed, and fine.
I find this fascinating… and also very annoying.
A male partner’s view of the relationship as being “fixed” rather than “constantly in flux” is most likely the reason he doesn’t feel the need to continuously reinforce or tend to the relationship’s safety.
It’s likely why he can go long stretches of time without craving intense intimacy, romance, words of affirmation, compliments, or gestures of love.
It’s how, while I am constantly re-evaluating, worrying, and wondering if we’re ok, every male partner has always been, simply, fine.
It’s why I’ve so often heard that I’m “overthinking things,” and that “if I didn’t care about you, I wouldn’t be with you,” as if a male partner’s continued physical presence in my life is evidence that all of my needs are being met.
It’s what makes him think that, since there has been no evidence to the contrary, I should just go ahead and assume that I am loved. As if, since he told me he loves me a while ago, I should just walk around FEELING LOVED until further notice.
Except… that’s not how I work. (Or most women, I don’t think.)
I need continuous, consistent, and frequent gestures of love, connectivity, and engagement.
I need words of adoration and appreciation, warm physical body language, passionate and playful sex, signs of reinforced commitment, deeply nourishing conversations, insight into how my partner feels, and signs that my partner is thinking about me (and us).
Because there is a Relationship Barameter in my head which is constantly rising and falling.
When my partner does things that make me feel loved, trusted, accepted, admired, and cared for, the relationship barameter in my head reads “the relationship is good and safe!!” and I experience a sense of fulfillment and thriving.
When he is not doing those things, or hasn’t in a while, the relationship barometer reads “you are in relationship danger!!” and no matter how good other areas in my life are, it’s a thorn in my side that keeps me from fully relaxing or thriving.
I might check in on this barometer every few hours or every few weeks, depending on what’s going on between us. Every time, I scan my brain to find the last time I had my connection/intimacy/engagement needs fully met by my partner.
The recentness and intensity of the last time I felt fully nourished by my partner will affect how I interpret the current moment.
An intensely connected and nourishing intimate experience will buoy me for longer, extending the amount of time I can go without needing more intimate input. Small gestures have a shorter life span, but they are very good for intimacy “maintenance” when done daily. If neither have happened in a while, or if the intensity has been too low for too long, my alarm bells start ringing.
When my alarm bells ring, I start to demand that my partner and I reconnect, have a discussion about the relationship, or change this behavior or that.
I might start wondering why my partner doesn’t seem to notice or care that we are disconnected, start questioning whether intimacy is important enough to him for this relationship to work, wondering if he loves me enough to put in the work required, and re-assessing if we are the right partners for each other.
All of this happens while, in his mind, things are totally normal and fine.
I have often wondered if cis-men are both wired and socialized differently, and I should just “get used to” never having my needs for connectivity and intimacy met, and pondered why I seem to require so much more connectivity than them to thrive. I’ve wondered if we both want the same thing, but I’ve just been socialized to do the emotional labor required to recognize and create it.
But more importantly, I wonder if maybe putting words to this mental process (and sharing it with you!) might begin to help us all open up a dialogue about the amount, and kind, of loving behaviors and intimate connectivity we each require, in order to thrive inside our romantic relationships– and what role our gender wiring and socialization play in this!
I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences– just hit reply to share.
So much love,
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