OH NO! I’M LOSING INTEREST IN MY PARTNER
I am in a relationship and I can’t tell if it is struggling or if I am self-sabotaging. There are two major factors: multiple stressful life events and my own lack of emotional depth and/or emotional self-awareness.
I am not very self-aware in relationships and I see the good in anyone. I am someone who likes having roommates since I like most people and can accommodate others while also communicating my own needs. Relationships work similarly. But I lose interest quickly. When I came out and started dating women, I felt like I was feeling love for the first time. I was vulnerable and open. Now that I have been in my relationship for over a year, I am feeling less and less attracted to my partner. I am a little bit worried that this means that the disintegration of feeling is a part of every relationship, regardless of whether it is with men or women, and that I am not actually a lesbian. I feel less and less emotionally involved in my relationship. All the feelings that felt vibrant and sharp and clear before are now faded and blurred and muted. I can’t figure out why. I am disappointed to feel my attraction to someone who I felt deeply attracted to at the start of my relationship just evaporate. Somehow I just feel like I am just bored despite my best efforts. Attraction, love, and intimacy are slowly fading from my life.
Am I just too emotionally disconnected to have an adult relationship? I don’t want to break up with someone this amazing because I am stuck doing a slow emotional ghosting out of my own relationship. Or maybe adult relationships are just about love and devotion and not about lust and I am just confusing all of those things for each other? Maybe this is happening because I don’t like the idea of emotional intimacy after the honeymoon phase and I am slowly and painfully turning into my lonely, yet womanizing, emotionally distant father?
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Dear Brave Correspondent,
Let’s not sound the “I am turning into my father,” alarm just yet, okay? I certainly have that button on my dashboard too, and sometimes it seems to be blinking at me, but I have some things going for me—and you do, too—that have helped keep that from happening, including the fact of being able to explain your uncertainty and ask for help (unlike many straight men in the world).
Just to pause for a moment to talk about whether you’re a lesbian or not: I can’t say. You could be. You could also be bisexual, or queer, or pansexual or heteroflexible or, as my dear beloved friend Tina Horn terms it, an all-terrain vehicle. Sexual orientation is actually three things: identity, behavior, and desire. So check in with yourself. What do I like? What do I feel good doing? Your sexual orientation might just be complex, evolving, or based on things that are not genitals. Do you like femmes with clever clothes who are good with power tools? They exist in many sexes. I like nerdy dreamers who are good makers of things and have many opinions.
You are free to like who you like, is what I’m saying.
But let’s talk. Because the thing you have described, and are evidently feeling is a unique way in which you are broken, is actually such a common and predictable part of relationships—I think of it as the Becoming Real phase.
Becoming Real is what happens when the super-high, hot, endorphin-and-oxytocin fuelled part of a relationship starts to cool off a little. It can happen at any point, but somewhere between nine months and a year is a fairly common stage—you’ve done the initial couple of months, you’re very into each other, no one has any really terrible deal-breaking qualities, love feelings start to bubble up and perhaps get expressed. You are both/all still coming up with clever date ideas and making sure to wear your cute underwear and so on. But as the initial high starts to fade, a new question presents itself: Without the crush-energy and the getting-to-know-you storytelling and everyone’s very best hairdos and everyone’s bad moods miraculously evaporated by a hot makeout session, is this still somewhere you want to be?
Some people are never able to progress beyond that first phase. They’re so rewarded by the falling-in-love feeling that when it fades, so does their interest. Is that you? Some people just don’t have enough experience in relationships to know that the Becoming Real part also has deep pleasures. Maybe that’s you? For some the process of Becoming Real, with all its peculiar intimacies and messy authenticity, feels (quite legitimately) risky.
I’d ask if that’s you but, honestly, Brave Correspondent, I think that’s everyone.
Getting real with someone is emotionally unstable and exhausting territory, because when we like a person we want them to like us back. So we often try to present our best face for as long as possible. We minimize hard or bad things and pump up the nice stuff and when our hard or bad stuff gets too big to ignore we disengage for a day or two until we can stuff it all back in the box. That’s all totally regular, valid, beginning-of-relationship behavior (unless you’re me and you email your inamorato an itemized list of your faults, which worked out fine but that may just be because I lucked out). Eventually, though, the day comes when you have to fart in front of the person, when you get busted throwing away a used Ziploc bag instead of responsibly washing it out and re-using it, when your real accent or your real hair color or your real feelings about mid-century modern furniture come out. Or maybe it’s the day when you cannot hold your temper any longer, when something hard goes down and you can’t maintain and you don’t wash your hair or put on pants for three days, when you can’t handle the world news so much that you spend all the grocery budget on shrimp cocktail and prosecco which means you’re eating one meal a day but you’re eating it in someone’s nicer life.
That’s when things get real. When everyone comes face to (slightly greasy) face with the unvarnished parts of their person. The good news is that the unvarnished parts are softer, they have character and grace, they will wear long and weather well and beautifully. The unvarnished parts are where the intimacy happens, the long trust, the daily habits that add up to in-jokes and finishing one anothers’ sentences and everyone bursting into peals of laughter when someone says Gwen Stefani, for reasons that are comprehensible only to the people who were there for the original conversation about the orangutans.
(That sound you heard was my husband, cracking up.)
It’s also complicated. That’s when you have to talk about expectations. That’s when unspoken agreements get examined and things that have been hanging in the air need to get cleaned up. Often, about now, is the first fight. It’s not usually awful but it’s in the air now, the tone and volume and duration of the fighting added to all the murmurs and sweet nothings and hilarious stories about that time, at the place with the thing. You push apart and you draw together. You begin to be able to see clearly what you might be to each other, for real, in the long haul.
Sometimes the news on that is not so great, and you might decide to move on (before you’ve moved in, one hopes). But sometimes the news is fine, and sometimes it’s quite encouraging. You, Brave Correspondent, might not have found a great match for you yet. Or—OR—you might be imagining that the die-without-benefit-of-your-touch phase is supposed to last a lifetime. I am sorry to report that it does not. But other things, delightful things, take its place. Deep intimacy starts to form. Learning what you enjoy or are amused by or admire in a person happens. A lot of the Really Good Stuff.
But there’s… sometimes a little blip in the middle, where you have to let go of the shiny, pretty thing in order to grasp the real, imperfect but sustainable thing. For a moment, you’re not holding on very well. It’s a leap of faith, really. And like many leaps of faith, you have to keep your faith as you fall in order to fly again.
I don’t think you’re broken at all, Brave Correspondent. I think you’re a little new at this and a little scared, and you haven’t had a great example to follow. Try reassuring yourself that this new situation is a gateway, and see what it turns into. Draw closer and not further away. See, by experimenting, what things make you feel the most like those first days and do that sometimes—read each other poetry on a hilltop at sunset, walk in the rain, whatever. While you do, also keep an eye out for new feelings: a deep rush of warmth. A bolt of pure joy. Ease. Sweetness. Feeling encouraged or buoyed. Feeling safe somewhere. Letting go of the high-gloss finish leaves room for a lot.
If you feel those things, hold on. You are on the right track. If not, perhaps disentangle yourself and look elsewhere. You don’t have to soldier on forever in a relationship that doesn’t move you. But if the first part is great, great, great, let yourself get real with someone before you decide. Don’t worry about being your dad, Brave Correspondent, or not being him either. Be you. You’re just swell.
Love and courage,