In the context of relationships, there’s a downside to working hard at being self-aware and conscious about decisions, actions, and repercussions: eventually, you get really tired of hearing lazy people get away with saying, “I didn’t mean to fall in love, it just kinda happened.”
Yes, I’m opening a huge can of worms called, “Falling in Love”.
There are many people who like the romantic notion of being swept off one’s feet — and I freely admit I’m one of them. And these folks can put up a huge hue and cry whenever anything comes remotely close to suggesting that the emotional state of falling in love is something that one can arbitrarily control. I’m not contending that it can be controlled; my hormonal responses go wherever my hormonal responses want to go, and if my hormones are pining for a beautiful head of long dark hair, well, so be it.
But. There’s a huge difference between acknowledging those feelings and letting them take control and cause harm to existing arrangements and expectations.
This is what annoys me most about people who claim they “didn’t mean to fall in love” with someone. It’s not that they didn’t mean to have the emotional responses that come on the heels of a hormonal influx of NRE. The problem is that they weren’t necessarily paying attention to the actions and decisions they made that put them firmly down one particular path, to the potential detriment of other relationships.
I’ve been that willfully clueless individual on more occasions I can count, and so I’m particularly sensitive now to this issue — both to the danger i represent to myself, and to the chaos i see engendered when other people make the same clueless choices. This is a particularly nasty issue for me in the context of creating non-primary relationships, because I set out to create relationships with my lovers that are fast and loose on the friendship level, as well as intimate on the physical level. So while I may define a new sexual relationship to my primary as something casual, the fact that I’m building a deliberate relationship at a time when I’m also wallowing in the shallow trough of NRE means that suddenly I’m making and acting on a lot of decisions that are, in his eyes, inconsistent with the label I’ve just applied.
What do I do about this? I’ve had to learn to be very careful in keeping him in the loop of my train of thoughts, because it’s so very easy for that train to derail when I respond in an intense emotional fashion to something that’s been labeled as casual.
Unfortunately, in my experience, not everybody works this way.
People get caught up in the NRE and forget to frequently think through the inner workings of their decision-making process and communicate that explicitly with their partners. Ergo, everyone wakes up one morning with a sudden impression or realization that this “thing” labeled “casual” isn’t really any more, that it’s now something carrying a tremendous emotional value and significance. Because there hasn’t been enough deliberation and communication, no-one’s really sure how they got to that point. The only recourse is to throw up one’s hands in despair and say, “I didn’t mean to fall in love”.
When this is a huge unexpected shift in other people’s expectations (like, say, your one primary partner suddenly discovering that you’re in over your head with a corollary relationship when that had never been the agreed-upon plan), then there’s nothing for it but to ride out the renegotiation of expectations in this new paradigm, or try to force things back to the original expectations… I’ve been through both of these processes, and in their own way, they both suck. The renegotiation process cansucceed, but everyone has to be onboard with the new heading and willing to accept the sudden changes, or it just doesn’t work.
No-one I know is good at controlling emotions (yes, including me; sometimes especially so). People that I know are even less capable of controlling the hormones generally associated with NRE, short of serious doses of prescription drugs. Therefore, I don’t expect anyone to be good at suppressing the feelings we call “falling in love”. This does not mean that people need to make a train wreck of their existing relationships by allowing actions to change in a way that confuses understandings. It comes back to a principle I call “together choices” versus “apart choices” – will you choose to act in accordance with your current relationship’s intents and boundaries, or will you permit your NRE-hormonal responses to direct you towards the new bright shiny and potentially away from your stated intents? It all comes down to conscious choices, in a situation where, unfortunately, being conscious is a factor that doesn’t often come into play.
I could likely explain all of this easily with a Visio decision-process flow chart, but I lack the tools, so you get the words.
In general, here’s how it *can* work:
The Setup Process:
‘Nora gets attracted to a NewBrightShiny.
‘Nora identifies the distraction to her primary Matthew, so he knows that she is distracted, and by what.
Matthew asks ‘Nora what her intentions are.
‘Nora explicitly identifies those intentions, and boundaries of engagement are defined.
if things are clear to go, ‘Nora puts the make on NewBrightShiny.
‘Nora explains the available options to NewBrightShiny.
NewBrightShiny appears to buy into the offering, and away they go.
The Decision Tree:
NewBrightShiny is available more than ‘Nora originally planned for, and invites her out lots more.
‘Nora, being all up in the NRE, thinks this sounds like a grand idea. — BUT —
‘Nora must consciously decide: increased interaction isn’t what I told Matthew to expect. ergo, do i choose to renegotiate date frequency with Matthew to accommodate NewBrightShiny’s increased availability, or do I choose to continue with my current level of availability? Will increased date frequency upset any of my standing plans with Matthew? Will it take away my energy from Matthew in a long-term sense? How much of the rest of my schedule am I prepared to/willing to sacrifice for NewBrightShiny?
do i choose the path that keeps things where my primary relationship expects them to be (1), where my primary relationship is willing to accept them being (2), or where my primary relationship has no insight into where things are going (3)?
(1) if ‘Nora chooses to keep things where Matthew expects them, then she must own that choice and communicate to NewBrightShiny that she’s no more available than she has been.
(2) if ‘Nora chooses to renegotiate things with Matthew to pursue increased availability to NewBrightShiny, then new intents and boundaries have to be defined and bought into by all parties involved. ‘Nora needs to start paying attention to how frequently these renegotiations seem to happen, and/or how far the renegotiations are trying to push established boundaries. too far and/or too fast, and she or Matthew should be red-flagging her engagement/investment levels.
(3) if ‘Nora succumbs to the heat of the moment NRE and chooses to act on NewBrightShiny’s increased availability without telling Matthew about the change (and trust me, it is a choice, albeit rarely one that anyone in the moment admits to makingconsciously), then she has in fact overstepped a boundary, possibly several, arbitrarily. At that point, everyone goes into Damage Control Mode, because suddenly nothing is like anyone agreed to explicitly, and expectations are damaged all over the place.
It’s point (2) that becomes the dangerous sliding scale of engagement once a relationship starts to move. There is the constant balance of “what I said this was” versus “what my hormones are telling me they want this to be”. NRE is the state that begs for more!, more!, more!, with utter disregard for balance and calm. It’s easy to get swept up in the delirium of new sexual energy and forget to tell your primary that you met NewBrightShiny for a lunchtime quickie, and that all of those little interactions you also forget to mention are adding up to an increasing focus away from your primary and onto NewBrightShiny. and suddenly that increased focus becomes something more all-encompassing in your head, so that you realize abruptly at four p.m on some idle tuesday that you’re in love with NewBrightShiny, not at all sure how that happened, and tremendously afraid to go to your primary and ‘fess up to the surprising news that what was supposed to be a casual relationship is now an emotionally-invested thing that you’re likely to be unwilling to diminish or dismiss.
This dangerous sliding scale of engagement can happen to any party in the relationship, BTW — you or NewBrightShiny. The non-primary lover is just as susceptible to getting caught up in the moment on an emotional level as any of us might be, and you may find yourself on the receiving end of someone’s avowals of love while you’re still in the “hey, this is fun, we should do this again sometime” frame of mind.
Emotional engagement slides when…
* We’re not paying conscious attention to the intents and boundaries
* We’re not consciously and frequently checking our actions against those stated intents
* We’re not choosing deliberately to adhere to them.
It’s all good to let the bountiful hormonal joy flow freely over your head, to acknowledge it feels good and we’re enjoying the sensation… so long as you don’t lose your head in the heat of the moment and let the passing hormonal NRE state take control of your decision-making faculties (“Hello, my name is ‘Nora, and i’m a heat-of-the-moment junkie…”).
The hardest part for me is trying to stay present in the moment, to just *be* — to maintain awareness of my agreements with Matthew without letting them overshadow the joy of the moment, or vice versa. to choose not to act on NRE, not to cling to it, not to pursue the elusive high it brings. It’s hard work to maintain a sense of grounding in what’s known and familiar, versus the NewBrightShiny. It’s why people have affairs. They choose to disregard the difference between “feeling the heat” and “acting on the heat”. They choose to act towards the NewBrightShiny in potentially destabilizing manners, rather than making “together decisions” that protect, nurture, support the primary relationship.
Last updated: November 28, 2011