In coaching thousands over the years with their relationships, I’ve discovered a pattern in our love journey. A story actually, with act breaks, turning points, plot twists, and most of the time predictable endings. Although everyone’s story is different, the overarching journey of love is pretty much the same.
The Sticky aka Young Love.
In high school, our attraction is based on two things.
Yes, on the surface you may think his handsome face and the way his cute ass jiggles when he scrambles to throw a hail mary touchdown “super hot.” But how much of you wanting him has to do with others wanting him and if you got him, you’d believe you were worth more? Would your friends think you were cooler if the prom queen was actually your girlfriend and not just spank material in the shower? And of course, it’s not the ’50s and jocks and prom queens aren’t the only people we are attracted to. We also love the guy in the band, especially if he has his own band, the cool nerd, the skater, and so on. My point is these are not people. They are identities. In high school, we are like forming puddy. We have no inner shape. We define and find our worth in others because our self-esteem is like Jello forming in the fridge and it’s only been like two hours. Our lack of self-esteem and sense of worth is where we truly pull from. Not just our hormones.
There are a few who can give two sh*ts about identity and social status and only date people for their hearts and character. They care less about what someone looks like and more about how they will be treated. But is that the truth or have they been memorizing answers from their mom’s self-help books? Have they truly developed high self-esteem and a sense of worth that can’t be swayed by popularity and a sense of self in someone else or do they believe those kids are out of their league? Basically not tangible. Which means their self-esteem is a lot lower so they try to make up for it by making “adult” decisions.
2. What smells familiar.
Usually, it’s chaos. Impulsiveness. Unpredictability. Reactiveness. Controlling. Neediness. Codependency. Enmeshment. Basically whatever relationship dynamic we grew up in at home. We believe this is what love looks like because it’s all we know. We have not gone through our love hero’s journey to know any different. Healthy is foreign to us. And most likely, boring.
Finding our value in someone else + what smells familiar is what creates the sticky (unhealthy dysfunctional love that feels f*cking amazing!)
If we believe we are lacking so we find our value and identity in someone else, the power goes to the other person and / or the relationship. If we only chase what smells familiar, because no one’s family is perfect and no child enters adulthood unscarred, we are recreating trauma.
Warped definitions of love, a bumpy road of chaos and reacting. Unhealthy conflict. Internalization. Losing yourself in someone else. You are now doing things you probably wouldn’t do. You are sacrificing voice, compromising self, and puncturing self-esteem instead of growing it. And it feels amazing! Because drama, jealousy, control, and chasing is intense and you mistake intensity for love.
Again, because that’s all you know and have experienced.
Young love is instinctual.
Our 20’s. Losing Yourself in Someone Else.
If we try to find ourselves in someone else in our younger years, we lose ourselves in someone else in our 20’s.
Most of our 20’s is about splattering paint, blindfolded, and hoping there will be a beautiful painting when we’re done. But usually it’s really abstract and of course, beauty is subjective, i.e. childbirth. We try to make a straight beeline toward a secure future with a clean frame.
But that’s impossible. We don’t know what we want yet. And haven’t come out the other end of the tunnel so we don’t have the tools to build that frame. Like majors in college, what we want will change a thousand times. Life is undeclared. But we don’t know that. We believe we’re on our path.
There is no path in our twenties. There is only a wide field of thorns and boobie traps. But also lakes and waterfalls, to do backflips off of. Most of us have not turned the corner — become curious about ourselves and why we do what we do. We are still walking reactions from our past and how we grew up. We just wear adult clothes and go out to fancy dinners we can’t afford.
Since we’re still finding ourselves, we go by what we feel. Not what we believe is healthy for us. Our choices lead to a lot of pain.
Enter. Empty sex. One night stands. Experimentation and things you probably wouldn’t do five years from now. Lots of people-pleasing, especially in the bedroom. Sketchy situations where you should not have come out alive. Zero self-care. A life diet based on validation and approval. Afraid and not used to expressing yourself, speaking up, and asking for what you want. Staying in relationships for way too long. Or not long enough. Both are running away from self.
Ordering in. Binge-watching. Losing friends as you lose yourself in your person. Two people. One bathtub. And eventually, emotional claustrophobia as you naturally grow and want to become your own person. Enter jealousy and control and rage from the confusion of the other person who is not ready and doesn’t understand why you don’t “love” him anymore.
The height of the addict / Alanon pull.
But for many, there will be a few more laps around that crazy track.
Our 20’s is a car crash.
Our 30’s & 40’s. The Search For Self Begins. Where Our Dragons Live.
If our 20’s is a car crash, our 30’s and 40’s is a car wash.
We’re done with the old. Codependency. Enmeshment. Eggshells. Faking orgasms. Telemundo fights. Non-communication. Taking care of people. We are thirsty for something new.
We are finally interested in ourselves. Who we are. Where we want to go. How we want to be treated.
Our 30’s is when all the anger and resentment we’ve had buried for so long raises its ugly head.
And everyone feels it. Your partner. Your friends. Your family. Your boss. Employees. Things that were important to you don’t matter as much as the old you collapse like the puppet master let go of the marionette strings. And new things matter. Things that hang on you and your happiness.
Lines are now drawn. Boundaries are formed. Some friends fade. Some stay. It’s when people find yoga.
If you’ve been in a relationship since your early 20’s, this is when that “seven-year itch” appears. Or when people start to “outgrow” each other. When one or both parties want different. When comfort is no longer enough. It doesn’t mean it’s over. Some make it through the turbulence if they’re emotionally in the same place and jump out of the plane together before it goes down. But to be honest, most don’t.
For two reasons.
ONE, the relationship was over years ago. They just stayed in it because of fear. Or children. Or because they didn’t want to be alone. Or because they didn’t want to hurt the other person. Or because they don’t know what they want, partly because they have never experienced anything else, so they didn’t do anything about it. Whatever reason, the relationship has expired. It’s not repairable. People have drifted too far.
TWO, you’ve only been with one person for most of your life. You’re going to be curious. There’s nothing wrong with you and maybe there’s nothing wrong with the relationship either. It just means you’re human. It’s normal to be curious and attracted to other people, especially if you haven’t experienced other people. And it’s not just about sex. You’re curious about a different dynamic. You’ve had the same meal for a decade. This doesn’t mean you should break up or cheat. It just means it’s a real thing and should be explored instead of buried. Whatever we push down will always come back up.
Life and growth are about new experiences. It’s a circle that can never stop or growth and your evolution stops. Love is no exception. The good news is you can have these new experiences with the same person. But only if both people put effort into growing, changing, and evolving together. But most don’t or only one person does and that’s why so many who have been together for so long end up drifting and eventually breaking up.
So we get on this journey of searching for ourselves. Our thirties and forties are all about “growing up” and that means having healthy relationships.
But we’re not used to healthy. Most of us don’t know what healthy looks like. I mean we’ve read about it but never actually experienced it. So now we’re in something we believe is good for us but it’s also new for us. There’s resistance and confusion. Can we be sexually attracted to someone who provides a safe space? Can our best friend also fulfill our wildest fantasies? Can we be intimate on a whole new level, the kind we’ve only read about? Lots of our own shit comes up.
Here’s where the road forks and we have a life-changing decision to make.
Take ownership of your sh*t. Process what’s coming up, where it’s coming from, and take responsibility of what’s yours. No more blaming. This is what we call “inner work” or “doing the work.”
Shake your love and intimacy Etch-a-sketch. Erase all your ideals of what love and relationships should look like. Forget your type or what you believe you are or are not attracted to. Forgot how people should be. Take in the experience of your new relationship without judgment or labels and see if you can discover something different about them, you, the relationship while you paint a new portrait of intimacy. It’s not about starting over. It’s about starting open.
This new outlook will give you a new love experience and that’s what will shift your perspective, beliefs, definitions, and keep connecting you to yourself, as you build something that’s different and of value. Because by now you know intimacy is not found. It’s built.
Don’t look inward. Don’t take ownership of your own sh*t. Don’t process whatever is coming up with whoever you’re with. Instead, jump ship. Or keep looking over the fence. Then decide to go down the familiar again, because it’s comfortable and feels good. This is where relapse lives and false beliefs are cemented. Again.
Go down this road and love slowly fades into an ideal, you once had.
This post was originally published here and is republished with permission from the author.
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