Octopus Interrupted

When I met my husband in 2003 I was a college graduate commuting to San Francisco twice a week to attend a credential program. I was a busy grad student, competitive dancer and a dance teacher. I knew who I was; I was educated and ready to take on life. On one hand I was very confident in myself, but on the other hand I also struggled with insecurity and anxiety. After our first date we saw each other every day for two years (until he had an out of town business meeting) and I clung fast to him. At parties, his parents’ house, at dinner, wandering the mall or out at the movies. Wherever we went I felt as if I needed to octopus myself around him physically and emotionally to feel safe and secure and not left alone. We were inseparable. We were intertwined. We were “that couple”, the one everyone ooh’ed and ahh’ed at, “Ooh, that are so cute.”, “Ahh, they are so sweet together.” And while we were just that sweet, I was still insecure.

Looking back I wonder now, were we that cute and sweet and “that couple” because I was insecure? Who would we have been together had I been wholly more confident in my own skin?

Getting married and having kids did not terminate the insecurity, in fact for several years it increased. The more “new” that came into my life; a new marriage, new to being a mom, a new home, new job, new to homeschool, etc. the more insecure I became. In the early years of our marriage Nathaniel was unable to help me with my lack of confidence because he lacked it too in certain areas.

We were there for each other but we weren’t really lifting each other up in the deeply emotional and spiritual ways we do now.

The longer we were married the more comfortable I became in my roles as wife, mother, homeschool teacher, and I am sure Domestic Goddess applied to my job description. I ran our home, in charge of all things home related while Nathaniel was in charge of making the money and paying the bills. We moved into, unpacked and set up home in the 1950’s quite well. As the years began to roll by we became more open and closer with each other and as a side effect I began to gain my own strength. I knew what I was in charge of in our lives and marriage and I did it well.

The stronger and more confident I became, the less I needed to octopus myself around my husband in situations that in the past filled me with anxiety. Through his encouragement I gained confidence out in the world, on dates, at parties, etc.

His encouragement was good, it strengthened me, but it also started to divide us.

Within the last couple years the more comfortable I became in my own skin outside the house, the less I felt the need to be glued to Nathaniel’s side for safety. We still held hands often, left mushy notes on the bathroom mirror, called to say “Hi” during a work day and hit it like rabbits. But what was starting to wane was my hand reaching out for a reassuring touch. I needed to be reassured less and less. I felt safe in the knowledge Nathaniel was not going anywhere. He had proved his warrior-ness to me and I knew I was protected.

Little things, to me, left our realm of intimacy, like kissing for longer than a peck and reaching out to touch his leg or arm just because. These were becoming insignificant to me, they were at times purposeless and not the meat and potatoes of what I deemed intimate.

However, that was quite the opposite of what Nathaniel was feeling.

To him, each of these small meaningless-to-me-moments equated to love and affection, connection, safety and the knowledge that our marriage was peaceful. They equated to foreplay for him, when I just wanted to hit it, get to the good part, and skip all the fluff. The moment he would equate these small, sweet moments of intimacy to foreplay I would boil. I hated talking about sex and foreplay was sex! This was our hamster-wheel argument we ran for years, until 2015 when the door on the wheel opened and I fell through.

Where was Oprah when I needed her? I was having my “Ah ha!” moment.

Often times it takes us dim-witted humans nine or ten times of hearing something to actually get it. Once I “get it”, I still have to hear it at least two more times before I implement it. Our hamster-wheel argument was the epitome of this principle.

For years all I heard Nathaniel say was “Foreplay equaled sex.” But in reality, he was saying “Foreplay equaled intimacy.”

Huge difference!!! Such a difference between sex and intimacy but my thickly clouded skull couldn’t, wouldn’t let that concept penetrate my brain.

I don’t even remember the words he said that finally opened the door, which is not strange of me at all; I have Super Swiss Cheese Memory Syndrome. I don’t remember if it was an email conversation, yes we are that behind the times and still email, (sorry no texting, sexting, Snapchatting, or Instagramming for us. Email and a blog are about as Internet-y as we get) or a face to face conversation. Remember those? But, whatever the form the chat occurred in it finally got through to me, sex is not intimacy. Sex is intimate, but it is not the whole of intimacy. Sex is the icing of having deep, honest, day to day intimacy with my loving spouse.

On the 18th of November, 2015, an article was posted on Newser.com by Arden Dier stating, “Couples who constantly ‘Netflix and Chill’ aren’t necessarily happier. In fact, having sex once a week is just about perfect.” (For those of you who haven’t the foggiest idea what “Netflix and Chill” means, it is sex. So heads up if your teenager uses that phrase this weekend.) Okay, so Dier wrote the commentary about a study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science that surveyed upwards of 30,000 people over the course of 40 years. It was an interesting study connecting frequency of sex per week to overall happiness. What I found to be much more interesting than the takeaway quote was this; Amy Muise, the lead author of the study, explained that [having sex once a week may] “be the frequency that people feel is enough to maintain their intimate connection”. I gravitated toward the word “maintain”. Maintenance is a sort of relationship stasis, not necessarily stillness of movement but stillness in movement forward, stillness in deep growth. Maintenance is to continue going at the same pace you are currently moving. Connect relationship maintenance to weight loss. If I decided to maintain my weight then I am choosing to keep it the same instead of changing it to a more desirable weight.

If I am in a maintenance phase for my relationship it is not changing and I am not doing anything to make it deeper, happier, calmer, more loving, or more intimate.

Sex and intimacy every day, for us, worked to move us beyond our relationship stasis. Does this mean I want or expect you to be just like us? Not really. Be you! “Do you” as a friend of mine says. Find the level of daily intimacy, whatever that looks like, that continually moves you and your spouse toward a deeper connection with each other.

Back to the conversation Nathaniel and I had that unlocked my stonewalled mind. I finally began to understand a commonality between most men. Not only are men visual, hence a huge issue with porn addiction in America, but men are physical. That may seem like a big ‘ole, “Duh!”, but “physical” here equates more to what intimacy really means than the physicality of groping each other 24/7.

One of the five Love Languages ( http://www.5lovelanguages.com/ )is physical touch. This is my husband’s language. This is so not mine.

Just because his Love Language is touch does not mean that he has to have sex as often and whenever he wants or “needs” it.

It does mean that when I hold his hand, rub his back, run my fingers though his hair, reach for a hug or basically show affection in a physical, appropriate way for no other reason than just to show love, I am connecting with him on a level of love that grips him the most.

To those of us who have issues with sex this Love Language feels like it should come with air quotes, a smirk and rolled eyes when said because it screams, “It’s all about sex to him!”. But it’s not.

The Love Languages are about acknowledging another person in a way that they hear the loudest.

I encourage you to read about the Love Languages and not only find yours but find your spouse’s as well.

My Love Languages are Quality Time and Acts of Service. If mine are not met I start to feel just as unloved, alone and invisible as lack of touch makes Nathaniel feel. No Love Language is better or worse than another. It is all perspective. We, women, tend toward being angry with anything sex related because we have, in some way, been hurt by sex and therefore give touch and sex a stigma.

But, if we can step back from our negativity for a moment and look at how we should actually respond to each other in our deepest, most honest and loving way, maybe just maybe, we can finally learn to dive into actually behaving like we are in love with our spouses instead of acting like our lustful, selfish actions are loving for the other person and for our relationship.

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