Two Things That Changed Every Relationship in My Life Overnight

Last Friday night was a cacophony of music, friendship, sexual tension, ambiguity, and a familiarity I found startling given that I was fostering relationships with several people I had just met that evening and whom I hadn’t planned to meet at all.

One of my dearest friends — Matt — and I had planned a big night out with a mutual friend in town from Georgia. Matt and I are best friends. We know everything about one another and are one another’s ‘safe space’ — which can often mean we bring out the rawest and most outrageous versions of one another simply because we know there is unconditional love between us, a rare privilege. The three of us started the evening with dinner at Last Concert Cafe, left for an avant-garde art/music show in a finished warehouse space in the Near Northside (shout out to Traci Thiebaud for that stunning piece of raw poetry), and followed it up by catching the Fistful of Soul show at the Continental Club. We were greeted with sweat, beer, and vinyls playing 50's soul music upon arrival at Continental Club- the currency of hipsters everywhere. I danced so hard that my black silk dress was clinging to my skin, save for the straps that refused to do anything but slide down my shoulders, capitalizing on the sensuality I was already radiating just by virtue of being surrounded by beautiful sweaty bodies with two gorgeous people that I love. I was feeling On.

Manic energy makes every sound a sensation, every touch an ethereal experience. There is nothing like it.

(Actually, drugs. Cocaine, ecstasy, and mushrooms are exactly like it… I imagine, of course). It seemed everyone around me was a connection waiting to be made, and if I could just get a hold of a lapel for longer than a moment, I could do it.

As Jeff and I stumbled sweaty and giddy onto the bar patio for some water and air, we found Matt making a new friend. A person I was attracted to and wanted to know more about. Enough was mutual between us that ten minutes later when we unexpectedly ran into my childhood best friend, I introduced this new person as my partner in a comedic whim and he rolled with it in a tremendous display of good sportsmanship — down to the gentle gestures a lover makes with a hand on the small of the back and nodding in knowing agreement with me about trivialities. It was magical to have a total stranger be so adept at the trappings of intimacy on such short notice. It made me question for the first time that evening how much of the intimacy I was experiencing was fabricated and how much was a source of genuine connection, a dubious feeling that would linger for days afterwards.

When my friends and I left for the night, we walked outside the bar only to encounter another unexpected pairing of people Matt knew. It was an experience with Marshall, one of these people, that would change the way I operated in every relationship forty-eight hours later as we laid together in a park.

It took me an entire day to come down from the emotional high of Friday night when I had started the evening as a woman out with friends but ended the evening feeling as if I had had five lovers (with only one kiss and exactly zero orgasms) due to the intense combination of attraction, dancing, and angst. The most acute frenzy and torrent of mania had subsided, and I was left with my own solitude in the face of seventy-degree sunshine. While I was supposed to spend time at a local park with both Matt and newfound friend Marshall, only Marshall made it. It was the least expected non-date of the weekend.

I asked if he minded walking deep into the park for the spot I usually set up at, and he agreeably said, “Do you mind if I take some photos as we go? I’ve never been to this park.” As we walked, stopping occasionally so that he could get a desired angle or shot, we carried on a deep conversation about the nature of love and wanting and human connection in general. By the time we had the blanket laid out and music set up, we were old friends. Because it seemed the perfect day and perfect company, we decided to perform an experiment.

We locked eyes for the duration of an entire song, saying nothing to one another and focusing solely on remaining vulnerable in one another’s presence.

It sounds simple enough, but there were tears in each of our eyes within a minute, and it was as if we’d seen every part of one another before the song was over. I’ve rarely felt so exposed. It was inexplicable, and it taught me the two things that have since shaped my approach to human connection:

  1. I will walk only in authenticity and maintain vulnerability; I cannot go back to superficiality. It was completely and totally liberating to be wholly myself in the face of another human being. From that moment on and forever more, I refuse to engage relationships and interactions in which I have to guard myself.
  2. I met him where he was from exactly where I was; we took the journey into raw exposure together. Fear was irrelevant, as was expectation. Because we were mutually invested in the moment without expectation, we were able to see one another’s purest form and to be gracious with one another. From that moment on and forever more, I am committed to investing emotion and resources only in relationships and activities that are grounded in reciprocity and grace.

The contrast between Friday night and Sunday afternoon well represents the contrast between the types of relationships I once had (founded on manic frenzy, the hedonist’s love of sensory pleasure, or both) with the types of relationships I am now building or recognizing I already had the foundation for in authenticity, vulnerability, reciprocity, and grace. In the following days, I began to apply these maxims to every relationship in my life- whether romantic or platonic. The superficial among them have fallen away almost instantly, and the connections that remain have been bolstered — strengthened by a power I didn’t know I possessed. The power to be unabashedly authentic, void of expectation, and rooted in grace.

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