Synopsis: Passion is an internal process, despite the normal usage, and the press it gets.
Of late, I’ve been talking with a series of friends about passion, and it’s interesting how easy it is to get off track. As in, the person speaks of their passion, then makes its “intensity” dependent on externals.
- One person was wondering about “keeping passion alive in a relationship,” for example.
- Another had been in a relationship that was not as much fun anymore, in terms of “the quality of sex decreased over time.”
- And yet another spoke of no longer being passionate about his job.
Implicit in all of this are several fallacies, and a couple of missing pieces.
When we talk of passion, our normal language implies “passion about.”
- “He turns me on,”
- “I’m passionate about reading,”
- “It was a night of passion.”
It’s pretty clear, however, that at some base level, we feel what we feel, and then we make it about the thing–the object.
Even when we know better.
Even to say, “The passion has gone out of our relationship” is to suggest that something has happened to me–that an external has let me down.
A long time ago, I worked with an 18-year-old who was 6 months or so into a new relationship. She spoke the above line about passion having gone bye-bye.
I asked her what she was doing about it.
“I tell him, ‘All the passion has gone out of our relationship, and you need to fix it,’ but it doesn’t work!!”
I suggested we play a game. I’d repeat her line, and she’d tell me what she’d do to fix things.
Me: All the passion has gone out of our relationship, and you need to fix it.
Her: I’ll meet you at the door dressed in a negligee.
Me: Nice negligee, but all the passion has gone out of our relationship, and you need to fix it.
Her: I’ll blindfold you and take you to bed, and make wild, passionate love to you!
Me: Love the blindfold, and you’re good in the sack, but all the passion has gone out of our relationship, and you need to fix it.
Her: (after a few more attempts, and with no little anger) Well, what the hell do you want me to do?
Me: Maybe your boyfriend is wondering the same thing.
Writ large, her issue was that her level of passion had dropped, and she assumed that “it” (an external–in this case, her boyfriend) was not “working right.” Which may or may not have also been true, but clearly, it was her “it” that wasn’t being scratched.
So, she needed to figure out what she was doing to shut herself down.
Which is the key. Passion, like everything else, is 100% self-generated. We turn ourselves on, we turn ourselves off, we really get into something, or not, and the “it” we’re into is irrelevant.
Passion is as we do
This entire series had been about self actualization, if you will. Maslow used that term to describe the ultimate category in human development, and he meant that the ultimate realization is that we are… SELF actualized. Not that, at the pinnacle, we become self actualized, but that we realize that we already are.
My buddies Ben Wong and Jock McKeen used to talk and write about this topic, and would say that “charge” (the heated experience we often confuse with passion) faded with time. They were clear that it wasn’t time per se that caused this, but rather that, as we got to know someone intimately, the novelty wore off. This let to a drop in charge, which requires objectification of an other.
With greater depth of intimacy came the warmth (not heat) of knowing and being known. But for many, that just couldn’t compare with the flaming fires of passion.
Life presents us with this choice, endlessly. Will I throw myself into new things just for the charge, or will I go for depth, which requires patience and time? Will I evaluate my level of enjoyment, and then blame others, or will I have a breath, ask for what I need, and re-invigorate myself?
The problem with charge (which, again, many people confuse with passion) is that it’s chargy. It’s blindingly hot. It’s addictive.
A few of my friends have been dabbling with polyamory, and where they stick is precisely on this issue. It’s not the sex, or even the sex with multiple partners… it’s the charge seeking.
What I mean is, my friends are searching for depth and intimacy, and they find that their principal partner is not so keen. Their partners want charge, and risk, and drama. Because, I suspect, it’s distracting.
Distracting from what, you ask? From the hard work of self exploration, depth and self actualization.
I’m not saying that polyamorous people can’t find depth. I’m saying that, in these two cases, depth is too intimate, too revealing. So, each of the two partners settle for a huge jolt of charge. And wake up the next day needing another fix.
As usual with our discussion, I’m not making charge wrong and intimacy or depth right. I’m just saying that often, with concept pairs like this, it’s like a coin. At any one point you can have heads, or you can have tails. Not both. They are mutually exclusive in each moment.
Of course, you can multi-task your relationships–doing the polyamory bit for the charge, and then spending the requisite time engaging with a principal partner on relational depth. But ultimately, because of the rule of intimacy (charge decreases as intimacy grows) you’ll end up with chargy relationships with others, and depth “at home.” Which may come as an unwelcome shock.
Still one side of the coin, just different sides with different people.
I actually think there is something to be said for some external experimentation like this, but that’s for another article.
What is important is you, and what you seek to accomplish in this lifetime. If you are looking for depth, self knowledge, and self actualization, the path is different than if you choose the “charge path.”
And if you choose the inward path, then let’s say 95% of your time and energy needs to be focussed there. It’s like dieting. You can have a “cheat meal” once a week and make progress. If you cheat 95% of the time, you will gain weight. So, despite how good the charge feels, you have to come back to your path.
Like with my client, described above. Her level of charge was lowering over time, and her initial gambit was to blame her partner, and to expect him to fix it. The actual solution was simple.
She accepted that, over time, her level of charge would diminish. She committed to owning that, and accepting reality as… reality. She committed to self exploration, and to asking her partner for what she needed, each time. She recognized that she turned herself on, and needed to take responsibility for herself.
And this applies to the whole enchilada, in and out of the sack.
The path we promote is not made up of one series of charges after another. As I described a couple of weeks ago, it’s really like learning to meditate. You just commit to doing what you need to do. Depth (and meditation!!) lacks excitement, but it sure has passion, focus, and knowing going for it.
And, of course, have your cheat days, and your chargy moments, set up by you, for you, because hey, why not??
There’s a Zen story of three monks who spent decades travelling together. One day, one of them died.
They went to the Zen Temple, the remaining two preparing the dead monk’s body for cremation’s flames. They sobbed as they worked, and some observers wondered about their grief, being Zen monks and all.
The monks did what they did, with full intensity and commitment.
Finally, the fire was lit, and the dead monk’s body was consigned to the flames. Suddenly, skyrockets erupted from the pyre, and the sky was illuminated with fireworks.
The monks, who had hidden skyrockets in the dead monk’s robes, laughed and laughed.
In depth, there is also light. And skyrockets in flight. And perhaps… afternoon delight!!