"Once you get over the fear, then it’s a cinch,” she said. And then she leaped into a mountainous and unexplored region of her heart."
Simple confession time: though it’s fun, it’s rarely easy writing about and exploring pleasure, love and sexuality. A lot of tabooing goes on. We see this polarization in our culture, from the hyper sexed images of women and their bodies in our media and to the undersexed truth of our attitudes about physical pleasure. Consider all the assumptions about whom you can do, when you can do, and what you can do in the bedroom between consenting adults. It’s no wonder many feel shame or confusion about their natural, erotic selves.
Why do I explore the things I do in my work as a writer and intimacy coach? I imagine and yearn for another way for lovers to be together. It all started when my own relationship fell apart, and my understanding about fear, sex and love took unexpected turns.
The Worm in the Horseradish
Psychologists identify a behavior they call the fear of success. It describes how people hold themselves back from actualizing their dreams. The theory suggests that it's scary to face an unknowable future. You don’t need a PhD to understand a related Yiddish observation: To the worm in the horseradish, even the horseradish tastes sweet. In other words, fear of the unknown holds us back. Better the pain/disappointment/circumstances we know, then the one’s we don’t, right?
Somehow, I got the message that fear was a bad thing, a state of mind to avoid. Except, that didn’t work. Avoiding fear only worsened my pain. My marriage continued to fall apart, the very thing I was afraid of, until one day, I pulled an Anaïs Nin moment: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
The pain became stronger than the fear of the unknown, and I finally just said, enough.
The time after my divorce was transcendental. I felt this deep emancipation from my bones to my heart to my pussy. Worries disappeared. My choices about relationships reflected a truth higher than I’d ever known before. My fears about being able to create meaningful intimacy and all the stories I had collected about loneliness, heartache and pain in the past seemed so archaic, pedestrian even.
I found myself in the arms of someone I love shouting a big, fat YES to the possibilities with my inner pilot light fully turned on. I basked in my sexual power and vitality. There wasn’t attachment to the outcome or conditional acceptance about what might be. I worried less about sex vs. love vs. the size of my thighs or the stretch marks on my breasts and just leaned into the moment with my beloved.
My inner wisdom shouted loud and proud and I was listening! Fear and anxiety were frenemies to love, it said. It also knew that life is cyclical, and choices would be made, eventually, out of alignment with my upROARrious inner diva. I didn’t set myself up for failure so much as simply acknowledged that patterns are innate and powerful, and we will re-create structures and struggles.
A Fearsome Threesome
Call me crazy, but I believe there’s a role for fear and I’m not sure I’d give it up entirely, even if I could, in the name of love. The lessons I learn from it are invaluable.
First, fear’s greatest weakness is confrontation. Stare it straight on, and it diminishes. It motivates. It teaches.
Love wasn’t telling me to stay or go, acquiesce or suffer in silence when my marriage and sex life were a big fat disappointment. Anxiety heaved my lungs and bucked my knees until I realized I had the chutzpah and means to move on because I wasn’t leaving anything valuable behind. My greatest asset – me – was coming along for the next ride.
Second, what frightened me most taught me more. Taking the time to look, really look helped me understand that trepidation about being alone and unloved and unlovable was a load of hooey.
My divorce showed me that I had been searching for love with someone who didn’t really suit me, and our decision to stay together past our relationship’s expiration date was really because we were too chicken shit to let go. That wasn’t love. That was avoidance.
Third, emotions were the language of the soul. They all serve a purpose, shape our behavior and don’t follow logic or ‘rules.’
Emotions – especially the ones we are least comfortable with, hold energy – especially when we repress them. Set them free, and you allow for emotional breakthroughs that reflect your truest, authentic self. Our feelings are telling us things and for good reason. They are the inner barometer for what is working and what needs tweaking.
Learning to be with fear, paying attention to pain, expanding my capacity and tolerance for both, was an exquisite life experience for me. I discovered I had a high tolerance for discomfort, and a deeper capacity for joy.
All this from taking the time to dig into the nitty gritty of love, sex and relationships.