“But that would take so much time!” she protested in response to my having walked her and her partner through the intentional set-up of healthy relational dialogue.
And in my direct, no bullshit way I respond, “And so? Why is that a problem? Make the time! What more important things do you have to do?” I then got busy doing what I often do – teaching the less than popular truths, such as this one: Relationships are not efficient.
This axiom does not fare so well in a world that values speed. In our culture of fast everything – fast food, high speed internet, speed dating, mobile this and mobile that. In our society where anything can come to you in your pajamas – the latest fashion, a college degree, dinner, a paycheck. In our world where slow and methodical is out with the US postal service and the dial-up land line. In our instant, microwaveable world, taking the time to be relational, well that is just plain counter-cultural.
Take the typical scene with a small child. It is winter out. She needs to wear a coat to school. You look at your watch. You feel your internal stress-o-meter begin to dial up as time is passing and school and work are not waiting. “Here we go,” you think. It is going to be a battle. She wants to pick her coat. Well, that will take ten minutes. Ten long minutes. And then she has this new thing she learned at school – how to lay the coat on the floor and swing it over her shoulders. She wants to show you this newly acquired and exciting skill that allows her to put the coat on all by herself! Yeah! But you are thinking, “Oh shit. Now, we are all really gonna be late. Just put on the freakin’ coat and get in the car!” But relationships are not efficient. Yes, the world runs on a clock. A very fast, accurate one. But your daughter has more important things on her mind. She wants you to slow down, see her and appreciate how she has learned to put on her own coat – the clock be damned! Yes, there is a task to do … we have to get the coat on and meet the day on time … but to squeeze her soul into the tight confines of a human-made counting mechanism, well, that borders on treating her like an object rather than a subject, one of a human being. Relationships are not efficient.
We fast forward to our adult years where two grown-ups are navigating the real world in a supposedly connected relationship. Ironically, I am not sure the scene changes much. “Look, honey! Stop, notice me, see me, connect with me!” And yet, we are too busy with our schedules, our demands, our phones, to really take the time to engage in the deliberate and often sluggish art of emotional intimacy. Relationships are not efficient.
Intimacy really fits that old cliché – the one you have a heard a million times over – that what you put into something is what you get out of it. If you settle for a fast food brand, then it will delight instantly with its taste of fat and sugar grams aplenty, even surprise you with a plastic toy every now and again. But long-term satisfaction and sustainability is highly unlikely – unless you just have really bad taste or for that matter, you have never tried anything more substantial and tasty.
Intimacy with any kind of depth and breadth cannot be bought at a drive-thru window. For starters, it requires time, hard work and patience. I expound:
1. Intimacy is an unpredictable adventure. Being in relationship with another human being means that I forgo control. In other words, I am choosing to share my life and my time with you and in so doing, I may need to do things that I would not need to do if I chose to be alone. I will have to be flexible beyond my comfort zone. For example, I may need to stay up late to resolve a seemingly endless conflict. Or I may need to leave work early to meet you at an emergent doctor’s appointment. Or, I may need to pour through hours of choices for our new kitchen tile when would it would be much faster and easier just to pick one myself and have you “agree” with my preference. As you can see, relationships are not efficient.
2. The unconscious refuses to be hurried. In the ever-deepening process of attaching and connecting deeply with another human being, there really is no such thing as haste. Imagine the brain having its own pacing monitor as a safety valve. Out of sheer protection, it will only allow you to move so quickly emotionally. We engage the developing of a new relationship as a classic stress encounter – is this a friend or foe? Am I safe or in danger? And like a stack of cafeteria trays, you can only go one tray at a time, taking each layer as it pops up. And this never happens before its time. To think I can skip a step or rush the process is my rational brain trying to outthink my reptilian protective brain. Good luck with that one. Ain’t gonna happen. And if I try anyway, I will miss something. And I guarantee, in getting to know my partner, it will be something quite good that I will regret not learning about or not waiting for in the first place. Relationships are just not efficient.
3. Time is love. To be able to sit with our partner and give them all the time they need to say what they need to say without our quickening them or cutting them off or being defensive as a way to short-change their truth … wow. Could there be a greater gift? To just hang out in their world and give them the luxury of wondering through the meadows of their mind, saying whatever comes up next. Wow. Wrap that present up for the holidays. No cut-offs, no making it about me, no comebacks, no retaliation. No dismissive hurrying of another which only gives the message that I don’t have time for you, I have better things to do. In fact, there is a dialogue tool I teach my couples. That when you are visiting your partner’s world and they are speaking their truth, just ask, “Is there more?” and wait. Just pull up a lawn chair and wait. When you do such, you are communicating that I have all the time you need and you are worth my giving it to you. That is love as action. Yes, it takes time. But by now you are realizing, relationships are just not efficient.
4. It takes practice to learn the language of speaking relationally. Sometimes, it would be really nice to just have the freedom to open my mouth and say what I want to say when I want to say it. Forget the filter and fly by the seat of my pants. Just put it all out there exactly when and how I feel like expressing myself. But, unfortunately, such spontaneity does not fare well in relationships. Yes, I can speak my truth, but if acting with respect for my partner and the relationship is important to me, then I need to take the time to speak with conscious and intentional language. After all, relationships are not just about me. They are about my keeping in mind the shared space which involves you as well as me. If I cannot do this, I should take my ball and go home. To be by myself. All alone. Just me. Because to be with you, I must insert the time-consuming thought process of how what I am about to say might impact you. And, certainly by now, you are convinced that relationships are just not efficient.
But like many things that cannot be rushed – fine wine, inspired art, a gourmet meal, athletic accomplishment or professional stature – intimacy is worth its mighty demands. It is an investment in insurmountable joy. So slow down. Carve out the time. Fight for it. You might discover that sweet spot where for a moment, time becomes timeless. And you just might discover that all that high speed rigmarole is not the magic ticket after all.