Cultivating Authentic Connection

Posted on in On Our Radar by Kissiah Young


To feel connected is a natural desire. As early as infancy, sentient beings have sought closeness in some form of authentic connection with someone outside of themselves. We have gone from a single desire to have physical touch to a more evolved, complex desire to share in deep intimacy—something beyond the physical. The question often asked is how. How can I have a deeply intimate relationship with my partner? The answer to such a layered question is just as complex as our desire to have authentic connection. There is no quick answer. There is, however, a journey of discovering yourself and your other, and this journey of discovery requires time and attention as well as being present and vulnerable. It also requires friendship as you go from the beginning stage, which I call The Whirlwind, through the middle stage, When the Dust Settles, and finally arriving at the stage where you are Deciding to Move Forward, Together.

The Whirlwind

So you’ve met someone, and your feet no longer touch the floor. You’re on cloud nine, swept up in the warm fuzziness of new love. Isn’t it grand? Sorry to break it to you, but meeting someone and being swept off your feet—for a month or three—isn’t the same as true intimacy. It feels wonderful, yes, but it isn’t long lasting. It’s the whirlwind where you’re caught in the spin of excitement and newness, where the butterflies in your stomach make you feel like no other time before. Enjoy this delicious breeze, but caution against thinking it is the alpha and omega. It isn’t. It’s simply the tantalizing start of a journey through layered intimacy.

This is why it’s important to go within and really take a look at what you desire. For starters, what voice are you hearing that desires a connection? What is it saying? Are you seeking to fill a void? Are you lonely? What is behind the desire other than desire itself? When you look within and search for the answers, you come a step closer to understanding who you are and where you are in your readiness for authentic connection. Take things a step further. Do you want something casual, something for now, or something meaningful that you hope is long lasting? If it’s the latter then it’s important to see the whirlwind stage for what it is: an opening. Enjoy the opening, but do not base longterm viability on the initial butterflies and heated passion. If you want something real, you have to go deeper. You also have to pay attention to the other person. What are they saying? What do their actions reveal? How are you spending your time? What are your disagreements and challenges about? In order to get to the root, you’ll have to be honest with yourself even if it reveals a less than desirable outcome. Use everything that you encounter along the way as part of the journey.

happy faces

When the Dust Settles

Let’s fast-forward a few months to when things are beginning to change. The rose-colored glasses through which you viewed each other have come off. Now you find yourself irritated, annoyed, or disenchanted. His cockiness turns you off when just a month ago it turned you on. Her free-spirited nature that initially excited you has turned bothersome. Out of nowhere you’re beginning to question everything. What happened? What went wrong? Nothing happened and nothing went wrong. You’re moving through the natural experience of human relationships. You’re seeing each other as real people instead of the fantasies your minds created. What now? Do you run away? Do you end it? What about that deep connection you wanted?

Pause. Breathe. Relax.

Try not to make any decisions. Be still. Often when we don’t know what to do, it’s best to do nothing. You’ll know when it’s time to move forward; it’s the moment when clarity replaces confusion. And in order to be clear you need to inquire within. What are my intentions with this person? Do we have shared values? Am I able to be myself? Am I compromising my truth? Is this the person with whom I am willing to grow, stretch, and expand when the going gets tough? Whatever the case, be brave!

Deciding to Move Forward, Together

The decision to move forward must be mutual. Don’t try to manipulate, defend, blame, or attempt to guilt someone into something. At this stage you have consciously chosen to build a relationship. Prior to this point you were more or less establishing rapport and indulging your senses together. Now it’s time to start developing a friendship, which is what you will need when the going gets tough and you feel at your wits’ end.

True friendship takes time. It comes after you’ve ridden a few waves and seen each other in various states of being, not just at your best selves. It also requires that each person be willing to show and share vulnerability. Without vulnerability you will be unable to access the depth inside of connection. You’ll remain on the surface wondering what’s missing. A part of you will feel empty of substance. When you befriend each other—listening and hearing, hearing and listening with acceptance, and opening your heart to receive the other’s truth, you’ll notice that navigating the rises and falls make you feel closer. And when you feel close you communicate more openly, more authentically, which leads to a deeper level of intimacy, which in turn makes you really feel “in love.”

It may not be easy, but when you’ve encountered someone with whom you’d like to embark upon the journey of authentic connection, and who wants to journey with you, go for it.

Kissiah Young, MSW, is a social worker in hospice care, where she holds the space for those transitioning and the loved ones left to heal. She writes on mindfulness and compassion, and the journey that is life.

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