“I need space.”
The three magical words all women crave to hear, right?
What did he mean he needs space?!
We lived hundreds of miles away from each other, how much space could he possibly need?
My (childish) response oscillated between giving him permanent space (that’ll teach him, right?) and grabbing him by the ankles to make him stay put.
I’m not sure about many things in life, but what I do know is that I will always attempt to understand things. And this need of his was confusing to me, and confusion feels a lot like living in purgatory.
So I began a stubborn quest to investigate and understand this dynamic that I see damage otherwise great relationships so often.
He needed space.
Why was it so hard for me to recognize that this other person had a valid, human need? Why was my gut reaction to feel rejected by it? I’ve replayed that one sentence in my head over and over again.
What thought could I have had so that my initial reaction wasn’t one of defensive anger and humiliation? How could I have perceived this so that I could honor the courage it took for him to ask me for something he didn’t need my permission for?
And most importantly, future me wanted to know how could I prevent a romantic interest from even having to ask for room to breathe?
After months of failed attempts at dissecting what went wrong, I had a cliché a-ha moment while traveling. On a recent adventure to Iceland, I found myself fascinated with how magnetized I became to the land.
The land there is simultaneously rugged and graceful. Peaceful and chaotic. Filled with both fire and with ice. It is full of contradictions. It screams duality, and that is exactly what made it so special.
And then it hit me.
I realized we have all been falsely conditioned to believe that we have to choose a side. Light or dark. Good or bad. Cold or hot. Birth or death. Masculine or feminine.
I have dedicated my professional adult life to learning about, and improving, relationships, and yet I had never seen clearly how the polarization in relationships—intimacy versus space—is as natural as other poles that exist in the world. That one is a vital and necessary complement for the other. Not only is it necessary, but it’s exactly what makes things beautiful!
Polarity is attractive. It is exciting. It gives us range and variety. One simply can’t survive without the other. And just like all other forms of duality, I would find peace within a relationship, and ultimately with myself, if I embraced their coexistence.
I began to further reflect on what had I been creating with my romantic interest at that time. I had been fixated on creating familiarity— to be known by him—which killed any form of novelty. And don’t we all love things that are new? I became predictable at the expense of my own mystery. I provided him with comfort, and did away with the edginess I so love about myself. I gave him an anchor, when he also deserves to fly. I created tons of safety, but minimum thrill.
It all became clear: I gave closeness without any space. And while the things I gave him were beautiful in their own manner, they were half of the puzzle. I had chosen a side. And choosing only one side doesn’t allow for life to flow in a natural, authentic way.
I don’t want to spend the rest of my life taking only cold showers. I don’t want to only be a “good” girl. And I don’t want it to be daylight outside all the time. The relationships I have beg for, and deserve, the same spectrum of possibility—of feeling intimate and close while having (guilt-free) times of separation and distance.
It’s now obvious to me that we need to desperately reprogram the false conditioning that romance needs passion…and passion equals constant intimacy. Too many hearts are being hurt over a rhythm that is so misunderstood and natural. So here’s my new belief—a belief I hope will help us all flow through life more effortlessly, more peacefully:
If I inhale deeply, my exhale will follow suit. If my in-breath is shallow, my out-breath will be as well. They will always balance each other. Intimacy and space is the same. Closeness will always create a natural desire for aloneness—and that is good. That means we have shared ourselves with each other (how beautiful) and it is now time to nourish yourself individually again (equally beautiful).
And when we have journeyed inward, away from the world to become full again, we will have a natural desire for the closeness and comfort of another being to share our fullness again with.
Intimacy and space.
Both are necessary. Both are beautiful. We never have to choose just one.
Author: Karishma Chawla
Images: Author’s Own
Editor: Travis May