For the longest time, I believed what I'd been told: that drunk drivers, whose bodies are fluid and loose with alcohol, are more likely to remain uninjured in a crash than those who are sober and brace themselves against the impact. I’ve since learned that this isn’t true, but it's always provided a powerful metaphor for the different ways we experience love: we are either accept love in flow, or we brace ourselves against an anticipated impact.
I'll be coasting along, my life in beautiful alignment; fully grounded in each moment, present with the one I'm with, navigating with my heart. Then, out of nowhere, I find myself holding my breath, overthinking rather than feeling, and braced instead of relaxed. That's when I know fear has taken hold, and cut off the air supply to my hope, and my reason.
I realize that when I'm in relationships, I spend a lot of time in my head. My love default — how I naturally experience intimacy — is to over-analyze, hesitate, and perfect. I always feel like if I just think it through enough, then I can make it work out the way I want.
Unconsciously, the intellectualizing of relationships is really fear disguised as “being smart about it.” (Note: I am NOT talking about that inner voice — that instinct — that tells you that something is wrong. I am not encouraging you to ignore warning signs.) I’ve convinced myself that if I brace myself against falling too fast or getting too connected, then I’ll avoid heartache should the relationship not work out.
Here's what I've learned about this approach. Instead of protecting ourselves from heartache, we're pushing love away. Picture someone bracing themselves: They're stiff-armed and lock-jointed. When we do this, we're limiting our ability to fully experience the beautiful process of developing and settling into relationship.
In fact, it's more likely that, by doing this, we are unconsciously drawing heartache to ourselves by being disconnected from our authentic selves. We are disconnected from how it feels to be with our partner.
Falling in love in flow doesn’t feel like this. It isn’t cramped and sharp-edged. It’s fluid and full of trust. Flow comes from being so grounded in and connected to ourselves that we don’t fear the impact of a broken relationship. Instead, we rest in love rather than bracing ourselves against the imagined end.
Here are some qualities of the two approaches to love. Of course, there will be times when you’ll find yourself back in fear, but the goal is to make flow your default.
What it looks like to be in a braced relationship:
You question your every move.
In this type of love paradigm, you might find yourself relying more on dating rules or games than on your own instinct. You might replay conversations over in your head to make sure you “got it right” and didn’t say anything to drive your partner away.
You're afraid to be authentic.
If you're bracing yourself in your relationship, you're fighting against your authentic self. You might hide your strong opinions, pretend to like something you don’t, or neglect to honor your boundaries. In essence, you are wearing a mask instead of being yourself.
You scrutinize your partner.
Do you ever find yourself silently picking apart your partner, wondering if you could ever fully love someone who is/does _________? When we are unconsciously afraid to fall in love, sometimes we fixate on one quality our partner has that we don’t like. (I’m not talking about the big things, like the strength of someone’s character. If we’re bracing ourselves against love, we usually fixate on something fairly petty.) We use this as an excuse to hold our partner at arm’s length.
What it looks like to love in flow:
You show up.
This doesn't just mean making the date on time. When you love in flow, you're fully present and fully yourself with your partner. Even if it feels scary to share something about yourself, you say it anyway. You let your quirks shine, knowing that they make you beautiful. You embrace the vulnerability of partnership because you know it’s the only way.
You stay grounded.
When you’re in flow, you are anchored in yourself. Because you realize that you are the source of your own happiness and security, you don’t put pressure on the other person to make you feel a certain way. There is no clinginess in this type of relationship. You recognize the joy this person adds to your life without being the source of it.
You spend more time feeling than thinking.
In this modern, thought-driven society, we've lost touch with our feelings. We distract ourselves from them or chide ourselves for having them. In truth, our feelings are guideposts to be honored. When you love in flow, you allow yourself to ride the waves of emotions, without overreacting to them or overthinking them. Rather, you allow yourself to experience them fully. Even the beautiful ones, which we are sometimes scared to experience, for fear that they'll disappear.
If you feel like you’re more braced in your relationship than relaxed into it, there’s no need to fix yourself. Through awareness, catch yourself and choose to drop your guard. Relax into the moment. Open up to the flow.
For more on letting go of your insecurities, start here: