For many years, I have been living that motto.
Love is NOT a feeling, it is a decision. A choice. Something you wake up every day electing to do… or not to do (and paradoxically, there are many memes that say the opposite…).
More often then not when I allow myself to be driven by (selfish) feelings, I elect to not love.
My marriage has been noticeably better when I chose to love and not leave it to feelings.
So much so that I’ve trained myself to numb my feelings. Is this a good thing?
Over the past week, out of the clear blue sky, SJ has been paying me more attention. Touching. Random caresses and grabs. Giving compliments. More kisses and hugs. Romantic stuff I always wanted, but learned not to expect from him.
I am so unaccustomed to romance, and random loving acts of physical touch and closeness from him, that I find myself strangely discomforted by this. Even a tad annoyed. I don’t know how to respond. It’s as if I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop, the punch line, the “aha, I fooled you!”
My childhood was absent affection and cuddles from Dad. So when men came into my life, I was craving that warm, caring touch. Hand holding. Cuddling. Arm around you when you are sitting together. Naughty pinches and caresses. Connection. One guy actually had a term for it, “Warm Fuzzies” (and we both were very tuned into this expression of love and affection). I craved “the connection” so much it was almost like a drug. Most men would deliver this drug—for a price. Just like most drugs, I was willing to go to extreme measures to have that oxytocin high—and it led me to deeper intimacy in far too many cases.
Then came my husband. He fulfilled a huge long list of things I thought crucial to building a life together with a person: faith, integrity, trustworthiness, financial prudence, fairness, kindness, social-political views; a genuine smile, easy laugh, and a healthy body. Not that important to me were great hair, big muscles, or snappy dresser. Character was. He was a gentleman, and to that point I’d had precious few of these. He didn’t press his advantage. We had a long-distance dating relationship and engagement, so the weekends we spent together were usually friendly and involved chaste hand holding and cuddles. He sent nice cards and notes. He respected my initial wishes to forestall intimacy (this had caused me nothing but trouble in the past and obviously had clouded common sense). When intimacy did enter the picture once we were engaged, it was surprisingly not filling the sexual connection check box on my “list.” He was not a passionate man, perhaps shy, nor was he seemingly interested or knowledgeable about how women experience pleasure. This all led to misunderstandings and some dire years in our marriage—I sort of expected him to know all of this. I was married to the good, kind gentleman, and we were not doing very well in the bedroom.
Thank God five years ago this all changed for the better and we narrowly missed pushing the divorce button. We began to communicate and understand each others’ needs and love languages better. We learned to compromise, A LOT. Forgiveness. Trying new ways to show love. Many things have improved for us.
But over a 25 year period, I apparently had learned to tamp down my expectations—after all, they invariably led to sadness and disappointment. I focused on being appreciative for all the great things he was, and tried not to dwell on what he wasn’t… or couldn’t be. I tried to focus on how I could make him happy, and not get so wrapped up in my “needs.” Although at times I could give him a script and orchestrate romantic moves, I knew deep in my heart I was just working puppet strings, and that he was essentially faking it until he could make it, in his own attempt to improve the marriage.
You see, I know he loves me. And, I love him. For better or for worse.
This morning as he uncharacteristically came to kiss me goodbye for the day, I mused on all of this baggage. I needed to say something, acknowledge his effort this past week, praise it. Reciprocate. Why was this so hard? I was near tears in the shower thinking about how uncomfortable his attempts at closeness made me, this thing I’d always longed for.
I realized: I’ve numbed myself. I’ve built a protective wall of no expectations around me, so as to not feel vulnerable or potentially disappointed. And in the process my romantic heart has withered. Or, at least the responsiveness of that heart has atrophied. And, there’s a scared little girl in me who doesn’t want to trust that this isn’t just a flash in the pan. I don’t want to get my hopes up. So I just employ the Teflon—not as messy.
I never stopped loving the subtle game of pursuit: caresses in passing; fingertips brushing my neck (other non-sexual parts), playing with my hair, weaving fingers in it, even a small tug; breathing in my hair or my neck; pull me spontaneously into a hard hug; cradle my head against his shoulder; hold and caress my face as part of the kiss; the kiss that builds slowly; caresses and nibbles with his lips; push me to a wall for a firm kiss; being kissed like he meant it with full body contact; weaving his fingers in mine and holding them over my head; hands that trace your curves as if they want to memorize them, assiduously avoiding the obvious but with a promise of going there in no hurry; the slow, slow dance of seduction like a tango (Argentine street tango–oh my, nothing sexier) with so many promises of things to come. All without losing a single article of clothing. The actual disrobing (yes, I love HIM to do this), throw down, and sexual foreplay that might follow all of this introduction is but a small percentage of the romance I respond to.
Alas, this isn’t JUST the stuff of movies and romance novels. I’ve experienced it before marriage. And I have to think that savvy men take their cues from reading novels and watching movies ladies like.
How do I ask him, “Why are you acting the way I’ve always wanted you to act, NOW? And, how can I trust that you won’t pull the rug out from under me? Yell “Psyche!” Sure, I want to be romanced and cuddled and kissed… but I’ve worked so terribly hard at healing the wounds on my heart, and I don’t want any new wounds.
‘Tis indeed a sticky wicket.