Intimacy Abundance and Label-Free Relationships

November 17th, 2009 by Steve Pavlina

In this article I’m going to share some recent personal lessons about creating intimacy abundance. So this is more of a sharing piece than an advice piece. Even so, I expect you’ll be able to gain some helpful insights that you can apply to your own relationships.

Society conditions us to attach certain labels to our relationships and then to assign meanings to those labels. For example, being single has a different meaning than being someone’s boyfriend or girlfriend or husband or wife.

At some point in the course of your relationships, you may be tempted to change the labels. Are we boyfriend and girlfriend now or just dating? Let’s be exclusive with each other. Let’s get engaged.

A label is an association, and labels come with their own attached associations. For example, what does the label wife mean to you? What can and can’t a wife do? For some people this can be a very restricting label with all sorts of rules about that particular role. For someone else it may not be nearly as restrictive.

Once you label a relationship (any kind of relationship between two or more entities — not just a human-to-human relationship), you give it form and structure by way of associating it with other labels and meanings.

Social conditioning

Social conditioning affects us in two ways. First, we may have a tendency to pre-judge others based on their associated labels. If you know someone is single vs. married, does that change how you relate to the person? I’ve definitely had that bias. For example, I’d probably be a lot less flirtatious with a woman who was married… unless she also had an associated label like polyamorous, open marriage, or separated.

The second way social conditioning affects us is through the labels others associate to us. For example, if I’m flirting with a woman that I just met at a party, and we’re having a great rapport going, and then I casually mention being married (such as while telling her a story), her energy will often shift noticeably, and the nature of our interaction changes. Why is that so? Why is it even necessary? Why give our power away to labels?

On the other hand, when I’m conversing with people that are very conscious and aware, I notice that labels have less impact on them. The more conscious and aware someone is, the more social conditioning they’ve shed, and the more power of choice they retain. So when a label is used, it doesn’t matter as much. A conscious person knows that in any moment we’re free to make new choices and that labels have no power over us. So they don’t give their power away to labels.

Highly conscious people have more relationship options. They take full responsibility for their choices, and they expect others to do the same. As a result they have much more flexibility in how they relate to people. They largely ignore labels and focus on their freedom to connect.

The more social conditioning you can release, particularly by letting go of labels, the more relationship opportunities you’ll have, and the more intimacy abundance you’ll be able to experience.

Living without labels

Labels can be useful tools at times, such as for the purposes of communication, but they can easily be abused. If a label unduly restricts your freedom of choice, you’re giving too much power away, and you’re crossing the border from conscious living to unconscious living.

This was a tough lesson for me to learn. When I announced at the beginning of this year that I was polyamorous, there was a backlash of all sorts of judgments from people I’ve never even met. Some of it was positive praise (which seemed undeserved), and some was harsh criticism (which seemed equally undeserved). After all, I hadn’t actually done anything yet. I merely switched the labels I used to define my relationship path. Other than blogging about it, no real action had been taken. So it was interesting to see how much power people gave to those particular labels.

And again when Erin and I separated last month, we dropped the label of marriage from our relationship path. And some people freaked out about it… people that never even met us. Now that we’re about a month into our separation, Erin and I can clearly see that this was the right choice for both of us. By shedding the marriage label, we’ve both restored our freedom to make conscious choices without being boxed in. And each of us is happily taking actions that most people would consider inappropriate for a married couple, yet they bring us much joy.

I’m not ready to publicly share the specifics of what I’ve been up to lately, but suffice it to say that I’m experiencing the opposite of loneliness. I’m  enjoying experiences that lie outside the scope of the old marriage box, and I’m happy about it.

In retrospect I think the decision to explore polyamory was part of the process of breaking out of the marriage box. But then there was a risk of moving into a new box called polyamory, so I found it best to dump that label as well. I find that I’m a lot happier and enjoy much richer experiences when I do my best to shun labels altogether. So I can’t really say whether I’m monogamous or polyamorous right now. Neither label seems to make sense at this point.

Perhaps the way to describe what’s going on in my relationship life at this point is to say that I’m riding a roller coaster in the dark. I can’t see where the track is going, but it’s quite a fun ride. :)

Stepping outside your comfort zone

Living without labels can feel very uncomfortable at first. Don’t expect it to be predictable and secure.

I’m gradually getting used to this, but it currently remains outside my comfort zone. Fortunately I’ve been getting a lot of help from some very conscious friends.

A while back I was talking to a very close female friend, and I was confused about where our connection was headed. The ways in which we connected were so deep, open-ended, and flowing that I had no way of predicting the path ahead, and I found that very unsettling. We had multiple conversations where I was trying to assess where we were (often by trying to assign labels) and where we expected to go next (more labels). Those conversations gave me some relief initially, but the assigned labels tended to stunt our interactions, and a week later I’d be forced to drop those labels anyway, only to reconsider them once again at a later date. Our connection seemed to take on a life of its own, and any attempts to define it appear foolish in retrospect.

Since this approach clearly wasn’t working, I eventually dropped it. That wasn’t remotely easy and felt like jumping out of an airplane. I had to learn to let go and trust instead of trying to control and direct.

What helped me was seeing how I already applied this pattern in my past. That’s how I created a situation of financial abundance. I used to be really tight with my finances, but a control strategy never gave me a sense of abundance. In most cases it only perpetuated more scarcity. When I switched to holding abundant intentions, shifting my vibration to a place of abundance, and welcoming what showed up (as explained in this video), that worked beautifully. It was very uncomfortable to step into that space at first, but now it feels so natural that I can’t imagine going back to a tight control strategy with respect to my finances. I just assume there will always be an abundant flow of money through my life, and there always is; however, I can’t predict specifically where it will come from or when and how it will arrive.

When I recognized that intimacy abundance must follow the same principles, I was able to use my finances as a reference experience that made it easier to let go and trust. There’s more to it than that of course (creating value for others is another key element, whether you’re dealing with relationships or finances), but it was a huge breakthrough for me to see that letting go and trusting were necessary in order to attract and enjoy intimacy abundance.

As I learned to let go of labels, I noticed that many of my relationships improved dramatically, practically overnight.

At first it was just like riding a roller coaster in the dark. I couldn’t see the track, so I had no idea where the coaster was heading. The twists, turns, loops, and plunges all surprised me. But I gradually got used to it and decided to simply enjoy the ride. Instead of seeing the surprises as a bad thing (unpredictability that could lead to a crash), I started seeing them as fun and exhilarating. This took a lot of getting used to, especially since I was emerging from a very stable, predictable marriage pattern.

A few of my relationships took unexpected turns. But I did my best to follow the flow of these connections instead of feeling like I should direct them to some particular aim or assign them clean labels and compartmentalize them.

Living in the flow

This is a messier way to live. In some ways I have less control over my life, but I can’t deny that I’m also much, much happier for it. My relationships give my life so much richness; they provide an endless supply of fun, joyful experiences and a sense of deep, soulful connectedness. Each day is an unfolding mystery where anything is possible. Labels only get in the way, so I do my best to avoid them when possible. Instead, I just let each relationship flow as it will.

These realizations have completely shifted how I live my life. For example, I’ve been using the Internet a lot less and spending much more time on the phone and hanging out with people face-to-face. That’s partly why I haven’t posted a new blog entry in more than a week — I’ve been too busy focusing on my social life. In the past month, I used up an entire year’s worth of accumulated rollover minutes on my cell phone. I also finally bought a Bluetooth headset so I can be hands-free during the hours I spend on the phone each day.

If I could lock down each relationship in my life with a tidy label, this volume of communication wouldn’t be necessary. The boxes would be well defined, and I could simply take them for granted (i.e. this person is a friend, this person is an intimate partner, this person is a playmate, etc). But now I see relationships as being all about flow. I’m doing my best to listen more, to sit back and enjoy the ride, and to relax into this new space of being.

Freedom

Freedom is an essential ingredient in a healthy relationship. When freedom is sacrificed, choices become more limited, and when choices are too restricted, unconscious behavior patterns replace conscious living, and true happiness becomes a distant fantasy.

I spent much of the past 15 years giving a lot of my power to labels, such as marriage, husband, wife, committed, monogamous, etc. Now I can see what a huge mistake that was and how it created far more scarcity than abundance.

I’m reminded of this quote from Helen Keller, one of my all-time favorites:

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.

The daring adventure is the path of freedom. The more you curtail your freedom, the more you shun the daring adventure and end up with nothing.

I remember when I first got married in March 1998. It was a very comfortable place to be. As a husband with a wife, my relationship life was now well defined — by myself, by my wife, by our friends and families, and by the rest of society. We had a clear sense of our roles. We had very few disagreements about where the boundaries were.

For a while I embraced life in that box. It was like sinking into a soft recliner chair. I had secured an amazing woman, and she had secured me. We were both deeply in love with each other. There was no doubt about that whatsoever. I could finally relax. My relationship life was now complete. It was a safe and snuggly place to be — and yet it was a total self-delusion.

For whatever reason, this untamable character called personal growth was living in that marriage box too. At first he was quite happy. The box was large and interesting and fun to explore. There were lots of rooms to visit, such as having children. But over time, this guy grew discontent with life inside the box, and he started feeling restless. He began to push against the walls. Eventually he realized that the box was entirely of his own creation, and he decided to step outside of it and reclaim his freedom.

I think that if you’re on a path of conscious growth, and you try to label any of your relationships, you’ll eventually outgrow those labels. So consider that it may be wisest not to bother with labels in the first place. Either the labels will betray you, or you’ll end up betraying the labels. You are too free and untamable to be labeled.

Instead of relating to people on the basis of labels, try relating to them on the basis of freedom and choice. We’re free to connect with each other however we see fit. Our decisions have consequences, some of which may be unpredictable to us. But if we surrender ourselves to all possible outcomes, then we can avoid giving our power away to our labels.

Broken hearts

What is a broken heart? A broken heart is a label failure. It is a crushed box. I thought we were X to each other, and now you’re telling me we’re Y?

A broken heart is the result of violated expectations. But in the area of human relationships, your expectations are vain attempts to predict and control the path of your heart. The heart has its own agenda, and it won’t always respect your logical choices. So in order to align yourself with truth in this area, you must accept and surrender to this unpredictability.

Enjoy your relationships in the present moment, but do your best not to get overly attached to their being a particular way. Otherwise you’re setting yourself up for a badly broken heart.

To avoid a broken heart, don’t close your heart to others. Instead, open your heart more than ever. Open your heart to all possible connections, and don’t get hung up on labels. If a connection feels good to you, invite it in and explore it. Allow it to flow wherever it wants to go, and enjoy the exhilaration of the ride.

You will still encounter some sorrow — sometimes the roller coaster takes an unexpected plunge — but if you keep your heart open, that sorrow will soon pass, and joy will reside in your heart once again. A traumatic roller coaster ride needn’t ruin your entire year. Simply switch to a different ride, and you’ll soon be having fun once again. A closed heart heals very slowly, but an open heart heals quickly.

Intimacy abundance

Intimacy abundance is about your connection to all that is. This abundance may manifest through a deep relationship with one other person, but most likely it will manifest as a path with many twists and turns involving relationships with different people. Since we are all one, it doesn’t really matter where these connections come from.

Don’t focus so much on trying to be deeply intimate with any one particular person. You run the risk of substituting attachment and addiction for unconditional love and connection. Instead, focus on being intimate with yourself and with life itself. Realize that you’re already intimately connected with everyone. There is no ice to be broken. We’re all part of the same whole.

If you maintain a deep, intimate connection with yourself and with all life, your human relationships will reflect that. You’ll attract new intimate partners with little or no effort because you won’t be resisting or labeling them. You will simply allow them. And it’s hard for people not to want to relate to those who fully and completely accept them as they are.

From this place of awareness, you may manifest an incredibly deep relationship with one particular person, or you may manifest multiple relationships. It could take the form of monogamy, serial monogamy, polyamory, or any mixture of these. It may even take the form of celibacy (not for me though!).

Locking yourself into fixed relationship patterns — i.e. Ahh… I have a girlfriend now — may seem like a good idea, but for highly conscious people, it becomes too much of a trap. Even a beautiful looking box is still a box. Conscious people don’t need boxes to define themselves and their relationships. Instead they bring fresh choices to each relationship in the present moment.

Avoid succumbing to the “grass is greener on the other side” pattern. Which label is better? Single or married? Monogamous or polyamorous? Friends or lovers? You can’t drink the wine in front of you, and you can’t drink the wine in front of someone else. Both glasses are poisoned. The only sensible choice is to drink straight from the bottle. The bottle is abundance.


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