There is a certain momentum to relationships, a timeline that pulls us so effortlessly forward that it creates the illusion of communication.
We date. We move in together. We get married. We have kids.
We think we’ve gotten to where we are because we’ve talked about it—because we’ve clearly articulated who we are and what we want—and then we realize that we’re just here. That’s it. We have no idea how we’ve gotten this far without actually knowing ourselves or our partner.
Momentum seems to do the work for us. Nothing goes wrong after an allotted amount of time, so we proceed to the next step, taking the simple and inevitable passage of time as an indication that we’re both on the same page.
But what happens when something does go wrong?
Because something always, always goes wrong.
When we replace communication with momentum, we lose the ability to pause and recalibrate, to relate in a way that is authentic to ourselves and the person on the other side.
Forward is our only option. Forward into the mess of our current situation, or forward into a different relationship with the same trajectory. To actually say what we need—to be heard, and to likewise do some serious hearing—doesn’t feel possible without the backdrop of practiced communication.
There’s nothing wrong with the common trajectory of the modern relationship as an actual trajectory. In many ways, it’s the natural progression of intimacy.
It’s problematic when that ingrained timeline combines with our fear of conflict, rejection or vulnerability and leads us to believing that it is enough. It’s problematic when the ingrained timeline in some way establishes what we want in a relationship (cohabitation, marriage, kiddos—ever-increasing intimacy and commitment) without us needing to do the uncomfortable work and communicate.
Because here’s the thing: dating, sex and love are fantastic and delicious and mind-blowing, but it is rarely, if ever, easy and comfortable to articulate what we want in a relationship. In fact, it’s usually awkward and hard and scary.
No one enjoys feeling vulnerable.
It doesn’t fill us with warm fuzzies.
It makes us feel exposed. (Because we’re exposed.)
In fact, it is much harder to be emotionally naked than it is to jump into bed with someone. At least there’s a solid chance of having an orgasm with the latter. It’s harder, because it has to be personal. Because we’re showing someone we like who we actually are. And because there’s a chance they might say no.
But what happens when we don’t give someone that chance?
What happens when we don’t continually stop the forward momentum of a relationship to ask, “Is this still good with you?” and, “What exactly do you want?”
We don’t know the answers to those questions. And neither does our partner. In the fear of being rejected, we give up the right to know ourselves and our partner.
I am extremely familiar with momentum. Any man I kissed in college I ended up dating for at least a year. Momentum was my thing. I can wrangle long-term monogamy like a boss.
But monogamy and communication are not exclusively bound. One does not imply the other. I was far more confused, far more uncertain about my partner’s feelings in those relationships, even though he was my boyfriend, than I have been with any of the lovers I’ve had later in life who haven’t come with the promise of monogamy.
When we are forced to act out of the construct of traditional monogamy, while also seeking connection and meaning with the partners we encounter (instead of sex with zero strings attached), we have to communicate. We have to ask the questions we can so easily avoid simply by waiting them out in a more traditional set-up.
We have to ask what our partners wants. And not just once. We have to ask again and again and again.
Is this okay with you?
Do you feel supported?
Do you feel safe?
And we have to let them know our own answers to those questions. We have to be clear about everything from exclusivity and condoms to hopes and dreams. I have had by far my most honest relationships when they haven’t been exclusive men. They have been the most honest, because they had to be.
Having sex outside of a monogamous relationship (which can in fact be known as dating), usually comes along with a showy red flag of loose morals and questionable judgement. You’re that woman. The one who may not wait for the allotted three dates to have sex or the one who may have a delicious and meaningful weekend with a man without any intention of dating him.
Well, I’m also the woman who knows what she wants.
I’m also the woman who knows who she is and where she stands.
I’m that woman because I’ve had to ask those uncomfortable questions—because there was no road map. I’m that woman, because I’ve had the opportunity to answer them.
If I’ve learned one thing about being single it’s to fear momentum. Not because that shoe will inevitably drop—it might—but because momentum is the quickest way to lose yourself.
Don’t fear the questions that expose you.
Fear the speed that obstructs everything else from view.
Author: Maddie Berky
Image: Timothy Marsee/Flickr
Apprentice Editor: Pauline Holden; Editor: Toby Israel