The Ruse of Intensity

Everywhere, pop culture tells us that love is this hungry fire– engulfing everything in its path. And even if you become the scorched earth in its wake, it is worth it because you’ve been loved. Relationships are an all-consuming force, and if it isn’t, you’re doing it wrong. Pop fails us. It prescribes a narrative of instability, disguising it at affection. These two things can co-exist. Love wraps itself around all manner of sins. The cocktail of will-they-won’t they storylines, poor coping skills, and millennial dystopianism have us mistaking intensity for affection.

Intensity isn’t bad. It’s an indicator of chemistry, a physical inclination to one another. But chemistry is not compatibility. The two are conflated often. I get it. Hot breath and this unquenchable craving for the person before you is unshakable. It is a practically lethal to be so strung out on the very presence of another body. Chemistry flows. It disappears and reappears, and in short, it is an unsafe bet. Intensity is not intimacy. Intensity is the cocktail of oxytocin and dopamine, pheromones in melodic sensation. Indulging in this is fun, so drunk on another person you can’t see straight. But that’s the issue– we get in so deep we can’t see at all. We lose sight of our standards, how we should be treated, that there was a “me” before “us”, and that there are galaxies outside of this world of two people.

These words don’t come from experience. This is the second-hand sight of what happens when words become gunpowder. I’ve been the audience to a lot of great people who sour in each other’s arms, and somewhere along the way, love and abuse get confused. Both are there, but when you’re inside of it, you think they’re the same thing. They aren’t. Affection exists without conditions and bruises. There’s love out there that doesn’t leave you second-guessing and insecure. It’s possible that this, too, was a really good and ripe thing. but it isn’t anymore.

As young people still establishing ourselves, it’s easy to misinterpret love interests for life savers. We’re adrift in student debt, political uncertainty, professional climbing, and many relationships are evolving in response to our grow autonomy. Nothing feels solid. Nothing feels ok. In meeting someone we’re drawn to, we believe this is the reward for our suffering. We see someone to hold onto. A lot of times, this is mutual. But two people adrift do not need each other. They need a search party. There are some entanglements that are more avoidance of personal work than anything else. That is to say that I see some situations where one or both people in the relationship don’t know how to help themselves. They think if they heal the relationship, it will heal them. But solid binds don’t hail from attaching two broken parts. The healing starts with you.

There’s no substitute for time. We, myself included, want to believe that we have a person out there– our other half. Things will be easy with them. Chemistry is the jump-cable that races us ahead of all others who predated “the one”. We don’t have a match, someone shaped perfectly to compliment us because even if we did, people change. Partnership is based upon love and respect and trust. It takes time to build those things. There’s a biological purpose to chemistry and connection. I don’t discount that. But we build our lives together on lazy Sunday afternoons accumulated, and unforeseen flat tires, assembling IKEA furniture, and realizing that we fit together like parts 5 and 6. When 5 and 6 fall apart, there’s grief. It’s tremendous– a whole series of Sundays in a meaningless wake, the go-to number in your phone is blocked, and you just want to be the glimmer in another person’s eye again. You don’t want to hurt anymore. I get it. I do. And then, this other person enters. This person becomes more answer than body, more light than flesh. But it’s an undue burden for another person to fill a bunch of past Sundays. They cannot color away the grayness of your grief. It isn’t the job of your rebound to heal you. Healing is an inside job. Even after the scar tissue settles, some names might taste sour on your tongue. Your next lover’s job isn’t to sweeten them.

I know little about relationships or how to succeed in life. I’m an anti-influencer (an un-fluencer, if you will), more internet spectator than coach. But I know that your last relationship isn’t a yardstick for all the ones to follow it. “You can’t make homes out of human beings,” Warsan Shire said. Another person’s heart isn’t a doorway you get to walk through a million times before deciding to stay. The only way to avoid inflicting this kind of hurt is to acquire better-coping skills. Nobody teaches us how to self-soothe, to align with the ways that work best for us. There aren’t hard and fast rules on self-care, but it generally consists of moving your body, nourishing it, and curating a life that feeds you more than it drains you.

What makes a thrilling plot line on screen doesn’t translate to a stable life. Stability is kinda boring and unsexy. A film exists for two hours, a tv episode unravels in an hour, a love song is over in three minutes. We have an entire lifetime, and where ups and downs punctuate fiction so well, they don’t serve us in the long game. Intensity is a ruse. It tricks us into believing its everything when it is not. Intensity isn’t the spell that renders trust, time, respect, and commitment obsolete. Intensity will not protect you. It is just one hell of a drug. We all need to get strung out on it from time to time, but that trip shouldn’t be the foundation. Intensity shouldn’t be the deciding factor because intensity commands no allegiance to you. And you deserve all the feelings that serve you and feed you and calm your racing nerves. You deserve love: self-love, romantic love, stable love– sensations that aren’t a ravenous fire, but a comfy blanket to keep you warm.

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