How do we create distance to fuel desire while satisfying our need for intimacy?
A satisfying relationship is built on the dynamics of intimacy and distance. Love longs for intimacy, desire thrives on distance. Mastering the art of dating is finding the delicate balance between the two.
Kahlil Gibran, Lebanese-American poet and author of The Prophet, writes:
“Let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together, yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”
I thought a lot about this quote, in particular “Let there be spaces in your togetherness.” It pushed me to dig deeper and seek practical tips on how we can achieve this delicate balance between space and togetherness in our relationships.
When we first begin dating, we don’t need to cultivate distance and space –– it’s already there. We are still two distinct entities. Our goal is to overcome this distance through intimacy and closeness. But as we become closer, we lose the mystery and excitement that is an essential piece of dating. But what if we don’t have to? How can we maintain mystery and still draw closer to one another?
My good friends, Laura and Robert, are a great example.
Robert would call at the beginning of the week to ask her out that weekend, which allowed excitement to build during the week. Then, he limited the amount of messages exchanged during the week so they would have lots to talk about on their date. Following the date, he would always send a message saying he had a great time and he hoped to see her soon. This made Laura feel secure that the date went well, and hopeful for the next date. Plus, by not setting up the next date right away, it created mystery of when he would call again, which again built more excitement. He would always wait 3-4 days before calling and asking her out. It seemed to have worked well, as they are happily married 10 years and counting.
Of course, it’s much easier for mystery to occur in the beginning of our relationships. But what happens when we've been dating for months, or years? Too often, we settle into the comfort of love and forget that desire must be cultivated. It takes effort, invention, and creative thinking.
The first step toward understanding how to create –– or recreate ––desire, is understanding what fuels it.
Desire thrives on mystery, novelty, and the unexpected. In a relationship, it could mean creating a situation that feels risky or spontaneous: A new activity undertaken together, a trip that pushes the boundaries of comfort, a night where each person has the evening to spend on something he or she loves doing. Maintaining our sense of individuality is just as important a piece of the equation. If you love writing poetry, make time to write poetry. If you love playing tennis, make time to play tennis. A satisfying relationship has air to fan the flame of desire.
Esther Perel, Belgian relationship therapist and author, addresses the need for individuality in our relationships:
“Love rests on two pillars: surrender and autonomy. Our need for togetherness exists alongside our need for separateness. One does not exist without the other. With too much distance, there can be no connection. But too much merging eradicates the separateness of two distinct individuals. Then there is nothing more to transcend, no bridge to walk on, no one to visit on the other side, no other internal world to enter. When people become fused — when two become one — connection can no longer happen. There is no one to connect with. Thus separateness is a precondition for connection: this is the essential paradox of intimacy and sex.”
Mastering the art of dating is finding the space in your togetherness, and the air to fan the flame of desire.