Diving in Love

A topic that comes up with some frequency in my practice goes more or less like this: “We wanted to open our relationship and we agreed that we would not fall in love.” You can likely guess what happened. What may come into my office is: “We promised not to fall in love and s/he broke that promise! How can I have trust now?”

While I understand the logic and intention behind these statements, I also think that falling in love is something that is difficult to control since the process seems to be at best irrational and unconscious. I doubt that there is an intention or a conscious breach of trust behind someone falling in love. I think we can choose who we love and I am less sure we can choose when and with whom we fall in love. Or can we?

The idea that comes to mind is the concept of “Diving in Love.” While I think it may be difficult to prevent yourself from falling in love, I also think that an awareness of your emotional state, an awareness of the impact of New Relationship Energy (NRE) and/or limerence, and good boundaries can turn falling in love (a more unconscious process) into diving in love (a more mindful and conscious process).

The beginnings of a new relationship can be fast moving — a contact on a dating site, messages, emails, IM chats, texts — before people meet face to face. You can be primed for connection at that first meeting. I believe being aware of your body can give you valuable information regarding your emotional state. When you feel excitement, pause, check in with yourself, consider your next steps. The desire to move forward quickly can be strong and there may be nothing wrong with that though avoiding, as Sarah McLachlan puts it, “fumbling toward ecstasy” may mean the difference between a positive and negative experience.

If you are not usually aware of your body states, taking the time to learn may be valuable in many situations. Techniques like Jon Kabat-Zinn’s body scan can help you learn to check in with your body. No, I am not saying pause thirty minutes while you body scan before doing something. I am saying that working that “awareness muscle” is important. Learning to body scan is like a sprinter training over longer distances so that they can run the 100 yard dash.

As you open your relationship or as you begin a new relationship if you are single, take time to consider how you react to meeting new people and how you go about connecting. Are you reserved? Are you “all in” from the get go? Be honest with yourself and with your partner about the potential impact and, before it happens, find ways that you can indicate to one another that there is discomfort, for example, a sense that things might be moving too quickly. If you are not in an open relationship, a close friend may be able to help you with this process.

One big challenge is that being in the juicy, hot, exciting, heart-racing state that sometimes accompanies new relationships, our ability to hear what our partner or friend says may be diminished. We may minimize or discount their feelings or observations. It is important to remember that all feelings, as they are experienced, are valid for the person having them. They may seem irrational or over-the-top or unreasonable and they may well be all of these things however if your partner or friend is feeling something, it is vital to acknowledge and hear them first before trying to process those feelings. It may be a lot easier to do that work at the time the feelings come up than later, on your own or in a therapist’s office.

Regarding boundaries, I like to think of them as the places where people meet. (I think I got this idea from Dossie Easton. I will gladly credit anyone who has said this before me.) That way, they are less like walls or armor and more like borders or cell walls. They can be permeable and flexible and they can change over time. I often recommend that people start slow even if the impulse is to move quickly. Again, being honest with yourself, your partner, and your potential partners is important.

Some worries about having good boundaries include feeling limited, a fear that you might disappoint the new person, or that you might overly worry what happens if you move over those boundaries. I’m sure there are more. In talking to a monogamous friend about a flirty interest she had, she ended up telling the person with whom she was flirting that she “had the passport” (the understanding with her partner that flirting was OK) but not “the visa” (the shared permission to go beyond flirting) and this de-escalated the situation such that they could appreciate the passion of the flirting and also maintain integrity. That way, she kept her boundaries and her flirting partner was not left to expect more.

In short, being mindful of your feelings and emotional state, being aware of the impact of NRE, and discussing and maintaining boundaries may help turn falling in love to diving in love.

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