Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: S. Leigh
Last June, my partner and I celebrated being together for one year, officially. We celebrated on the day exactly 4 years after we kissed for the first time. This goes to show that our road hasn’t been a very straight-forward one. We both came from long marriages. We both had (and have) a lot of emotional baggage to unwrap. We both needed time to grow into the people who could actually be in this relationship. It wasn’t until the 3rd time we actually rekindled things, that we were able to do what we’d always said we would do: take it slow.
Taking it slow in a relationship is a great way to grow together, to attach, with respect for our own boundaries and the boundaries of the other person. We usually start out doing it this way as teenagers, unconsciously. We see someone we like and may smile at them a little more, occasionally touch a hand, find the seat next to them in assembly. We spend time with them in group, at first, and might even venture a kiss on the cheek.
In the second phase you might go out to the movies, for a walk in the park, to the beach. Your lips touch for the first time.
Next comes making out, slowly discovering each other’s bodies through the clothes.
Most of these phases take a few months, at least. With each step we can feel, wonder, ask ourselves: “Do I want to go to the next step? Do I want to discover more with/in this person or is this the limit for me? Do I feel comfortable becoming more intimate?” In this way, we ensure that we bring our minds and hearts along for the ride, and not just our bodies.
The older we get, the more we forget these subtle ways of relating. Part of my pattern was to jump into bed really quickly, and then figure out that I hadn’t even thought about what my emotional connection to this person might be. Or I felt like I needed to become intimate really fast so the other person wouldn’t think I was cold or aloof and run away. This meant I broke my own boundaries, often, and those of my partners as well.
With my current partner, I twice made this mistake of rushing into things. Even when he insisted that we could take things really slow, knowing I had issues related to intimacy, I still insisted on doing what I felt my body enjoyed, since I was convinced that I needed to give him what he wanted (and all men really want sex, right?).
And then, a year ago, we decided to really do it differently. We decided that all physical intimacy was off the table until we were really, really sure the time was right for it. We took a few months being around each other, discovering each other again, slowly. We slept in separate beds, even when traveling together. We built up to the first kiss, and the second, and the third. We took some steps forward, and then waited again. And we committed to each other without the promise of intimacy. We committed emotionally, which was incredibly healing for me. I learned to feel valued for who I was and not just for the body I inhabited or the things I was willing to do.
Last month, I bought a book (for those of you who know Dutch, you can find it here) in which these stages of intimacy are described (There’s a free e-book but also a more elaborate and very interesting hard-copy!). They actually come from a long line of different spiritual traditions and were collected by Reinoud Eleveld and Isabel Timmers. They describe how you can go through these stages to build more intimacy, whether you start out in a new relationship or want to rekindle the flame in your long-term relationship.
I briefly described the first stages above, but for good measure I want to repeat them below and add the last few. Here are all seven stages of unveiling the relationship:
- First meeting and kiss on the cheek.
You get to know eachother and feel that mutual attraction. You use your senses to really discover what this person is like.
- A kiss on the lips
You spend time out on dates, still in a social setting and move closer, emotionally and physically, fully clothed, that is.
- Making out
You start to spend time just the two of you, indoors. You make out, it gets exciting. Both your head and your heart are now fully in the game.
- Exploring underneath the clothes
You start exploring eachother’s bodies, slowly, deliberately. Even though the heat may build, you also learn to control your urges so that you can always go back to feeling where your mind and heart are at in the relationship.
- Show yourself fully
In this stage, the clothes come off and you make love, except, you don’t go all the way. You discover all the other delights of pleasuring eachother, but you also learn to tame that sexual energy so that you can still listen to your head and heart letting you know whether or not to continue.
- Passionate love-making
You make love with all the fixings, but also in complete safety with eachother. From time to time, it’s great to go back to stage 5 or even 4. Challenge yourself to keep finding new ways to enjoy eachother. This can be very vulnerable, which, also helps you become even more intimate.
- Becoming one
You decide that this relationship is the one you’re going to stick with. You fully commit to eachother and decide to build your life together.
Reinoud and Isabel recommend taking about a month for each of these stages, but to always make sure you move at your own pace if you need more time. For me, the big take-away is that in our current climate, it seems as if we jump into bed together in a wink, forgetting that our emotions don’t always know how to deal with this sudden physical intimacy, long before we know how we really feel about the other person. Taking these steps is a great way to protect yourself and the other person from painful realisation that could easily be prevented.
I’m very happy we gave it a third try, and that we discovered our relationship slowly and consciously. Perhaps we might even decide to rewind again some day, and go through each magical step once more, meeting each other as we are in every magical moment.