It was just after the first of the year and my then-boyfriend and I rode the subway into Brooklyn from Manhattan. We were headed to Dumbo so I could find a Brooklyn sweatshirt to celebrate my one-year anniversary in NYC. We also planned to walk around and get lunch.
I met him outside his office in Flatiron and we took the R train across the water. While we held onto the pole and tried to maintain balance amidst the weekend subway crowd, he paused and asked me, “So, what are you up to this week?”
He was my first serious boyfriend since my last awful breakup, so I vowed with him that I would do my best to take the opposite actions from what I had in the past. I’d be more communicative, open, honest, and actually let him in. I really and truly wanted a different experience in my relationships with men this time.
Historically, I’ve been awful at receiving attention from anyone – men, women, friends, even my own therapist. Sometimes we sit in a lot of silence. Holding the sensation in my body of someone paying exquisite attention to me is a lot. Sometimes, I even go a little unconscious, it can feel so vulnerable.
It’s a dance I have with myself—deeply wanting to be seen and loved for who I am while also being terrified someone might actually see me and pay me close attention.
Anyway, old me would have answered my new boyfriend’s question like, “I don’t know, not much. What are you up to?” and completely deflect the question and try to put all the attention back on him. Which ultimately, was always a test.
Will this person take the bait and use the opportunity to talk about themselves?
Did they actually mean it when they asked? Do they really care about my answer?
Or will they notice what I just did and say, “Hey! You didn’t answer the question. I want to know, what are you up to this week?”
If they did correct me, I felt chosen, seen, and loved. If they took the bait, they were selfish and now I could add another resentment to my list against them.
That was how a lot of my relationships played out in a nutshell. I expected men to come and get me and prove they loved me.
It was exhausting and awful. Ultimately, they were just dating all my insecurities.
This time, post-awful heartbreak and on the other side of a huge, deep process of self-excavation, I decided to do something radically different and simply answer my new boyfriend’s question directly and open myself for the attention he wanted to give me.
I answered him and said, “Thanks for asking. I have lots of exciting things going on this week, actually. I have a workshop tomorrow night, I’m waiting to hear back if one of my articles got accepted into a big publication, and I have my first call with a new coach and a prospective client call.”
“Wow,” he said, “Lots of exciting things.” I started to tell him about everything more in-depth and actually let him into these vulnerable parts of my life. We ended up having a really connected afternoon together.
A few days later, he made sure to check in to see how my event went and if I booked the new client. He asked what I learned from my new coach. It was lovely to have this dialogue and be able to share these parts of my life with him.
Reflecting back, it was all so simple.
Why had I never just done this before?
Start To Notice
Pay more attention – when someone asks you a question, do you pause and open your heart and body to let the communication in before responding? Or do you tighten and throw all the sensation back on the other person? We can do this by either changing the subject and asking about them (deflecting) or by giving a quick remark like “Oh, this coat? It was only $20!” and skip over the actual vulnerability of being seen and noticed altogether.
When someone asks how your day is going, do you have a default response? Or do you have the ability to really check in with yourself and say, “You know, it’s been a week; this is how I’m really feeling…”?
Receiving can feel really vulnerable, especially if we’re not used to it. Maybe we’re always the giver and doing for others. That’s not where intimacy lies, though – there’s an exchange that needs to happen.
Start to bring more awareness into your life. It will be helpful if you struggle to connect more deeply with others.
Resist Asking All The Questions
I was on a Zoom call with a man yesterday, someone I’d been emailing with but never met. Jumping on the video call was a bit awkward; there was a lot of sensation connecting for the first time, getting to know each other, and the work we’re both doing in the world. It felt so tempting to throw all the attention on him – to interview him about his life and work because of how much sensation and electricity we were sitting in.
I slowed down. I took a deep breath and allowed myself to notice and actually feel all the intimacy being exchanged between us so I could fully take it all in. There were buzzing sensations pulsing up and down my arms and my chest felt fluttery. I continued to breathe through it and whenever I finished talking, I’d pause to add more space into the dialogue to prevent any constriction from happening in my body.
Normally, I’d just ask all the questions and talk on top of the intimacy that was wanting to be felt. I’d take myself out of the experience and turn a conversation into an interview instead of letting someone else give me attention. Whenever I did this, I robbed them of the experience of getting to actually know and feel me and genuinely hear about my truth or desires. I wasn’t actually making myself available for connection; it was all very one-sided.
Resist asking all the questions. Resist doing all the talking. See if you can put attention into your body and feel into what the other person may be feeling as well. At what cadence and pace does the conversation want to be moving? Are you just spewing lots of words or are you actually dropping into what’s true and wants to be expressed? See if you can feel for the deeper thread.
Believe That Others Want To Be Connected To You
We really and truly just want to feel each other. I recently caught a clip of Gary Vaynerchuk explaining his thoughts on social media addiction. He said something along the lines of “We’re not hooked on social media; we’re hooked on being connected to each other.”
When I started writing more seriously and sharing my story, I was shocked to learn that people liked to read my writing. They liked my stories; they liked hearing my lessons and wisdom. The biggest feedback I got was “More!” It blew my mind – I never considered myself interesting or wise. One of my coaches said to me in a session once, “We all have incredible stories; most people just never tell them.” I think about that all the time.
That new relationship, being asked what I was up to that week and being so well-received with curiosity and interest was a big learning experience for me. People really do want to be connected. They want to feel us and experience our humanity so perhaps they can feel seen in theirs, too.
Trust that. Share your story, work on whatever impediments you may have in the way of your free expression, and answer people directly and openly when they ask about your life. Chances are, they are genuinely curious and want to get to know you.