This column is part of a series that addresses issues frequently affecting gay and lesbian ( as well as many opposite-sex ) relationships. Written by a professional counselor with vignettes based on real people and situations, the series is meant to help support couples through developmental stages and common difficulties.
Space: The Final Frontier
Veronica and Wendy, like many new couples, spent the first several weeks of their relationship stuck like glue to each other's side. Each of them had been in love before, but never like this. They could talk together seriously about their lives, and then make each other laugh. They made love all night long, punctuated with tears and smiles and feelings on both sides that this was the real thing.
As Veronica began to emerge from the heady beginnings of this new chapter in her life, she started needing a little "space." She felt it was time to go back to thinking a bit more about herself and her work and her friends—all of which she had been neglecting during the "LIP" or "lesbian insanity period" of her new relationship. ( Actually, many couples of all varieties experience a phenomenon akin to "LIP." It's just that lesbians tend to do it with the most gusto. )
The hitch was that Wendy was not quite ready for "space" away from Veronica. Sure, she knew they'd eventually have to find a way to incorporate their relationship into the rest of their lives, but not yet. Wendy wanted to hold onto the magical romantic feeling as long as possible. And, despite knowing in her head that both of them had other important things to do, Wendy experienced Veronica's movement away from her simply as rejection. And rejection was simply unbearable for Wendy.
Veronica spent two nights in a row alone in her own apartment. Wendy pleaded and wept. Veronica went out to dinner with her best friend on a Thursday, and then, in an attempt to catch up on her work, toiled late into the evening on a Friday. Wendy sulked.
But Veronica was more determined than ever to continue taking time for herself and away from her new love, who was starting to seem just a tad too demanding. Truth be told, Veronica was in a panic—she loved Wendy, but she was beginning to feel like a trapped animal gnawing away at her own leg.
And so, the dance begins. Often, in a couple, there is one who seems to need the connection more than the other one does. ( Emphasis on "seems"; the truth is rarely so clear-cut. ) The dance can manifest in lots of different ways: for example, one wants sex more often than the other, one wants more romance, one wants more time together, one thinks they should buy a house together, one wants more of the household tasks to be done together, etc.
On the other side of the dance is the partner who ends up holding the line, or perhaps running away, muttering such phrases as "I need more time to myself," "I'd like to do the laundry alone this week," "I'd like to sleep by myself in my own bed tonight," all the way to "If I don't get away from you, I will surely die."
These feelings may seem overly dramatic, but they are not uncommon. Both sides of the dance can be terribly painful, however. In this case, Wendy—who grew up with a distracted and inattentive mom —feels the need to be the center of Veronica's focus. Veronica, on the other hand, was an only child with an intrusive mother who constantly required Veronica's love and reassurance. As a result, Veronica needs as much space as she can get in intimate relationships; otherwise, she comes unglued.
It makes sense that these two ended up together. If they figure out how to balance the push-pull between them, they may be able to resolve their own inner struggles left over from childhood. Veronica may need to learn that she can be close to someone without being sucked dry. Wendy may need to learn that no person can magically heal her childhood aloneness, but maybe someone can truly love her as an adult and fill her needs for a genuine partner.
These lessons are not easy. Depending on the degree of dysfunction in the so-called "family of origin," therapy might be a good idea. After all, it's one thing to say to yourself, "I need to stop trying to fix my childhood pain with my current relationships." It's another thing to actually stop. Most of us do it unconsciously, in every relationship, especially the really intimate ones.
Veronica wants a lover who will give her unlimited space, or else she gets twitchy. Wendy wants unlimited attention and constant love, or else she feels rejected and abandoned. Unfortunately, there are always limits. So, the pain of early hurts always gets triggered. The trick is finding ways to recognize the triggers and to slow down your response, so you can truly separate the current situation from the past pain.
As for Veronica and Wendy, they can work this stuff out if they're willing to face their own demons for the sake of love. It will certainly mean that Wendy gets less attention than she wants and Veronica gets less space, but that's just part of adjusting the dance steps to fit the dancers.
E-mail questions or ideas to Paula at firstname.lastname@example.org . Paula Walowitz, M.A., LPC, is a counselor in private practice who works with couples and individuals. She can be reached at 773-293-3688