So Are We Meant to Lean In or Not?

I’m confused because I feel like we’re constantly getting mixed messages. On the one hand we’re told that when something is easy it must mean it’s “right”, but we’re also told that in order to have anything worthwhile, we must get out of our comfort zone. So which is it?

In the case of relationships the fairy story goes “And then they lived happily ever after.” Not, “And then they had a massive row over whose turn it was to put the bins out, broke up, got back together, then felt they couldn’t juggle work, kids AND a relationship so they broke up again in a lengthy snot filled goodbye, then both went out with someone else, then flirted over FB messenger for a bit, then they got back together again, then they carried on bickering, arguing, having great sex, compromising, loving and living through all of life’s challenges, and then one day they woke up and realised that they had indeed lived happily ever after because 40 years had passed and they still loved each other despite all the shit.”

Nope, finding a relationship that feels “easy” is touted to be some cosmic sign that that relationship is meant to be. I’ve often been told “You’ll know that they’re the right one because it just feels easy.” And I believed this in my heart to be true.

Until I had it myself. And now, well, I’m not so sure that things are that clear cut. I had a relationship that just seemed to click and make sense, no analysing, no stressing, no overthinking anything, it just felt right, natural. Everything was so easy. No arguments, no bickering, we had incredible communication, we just seemed to get each other. It felt like we’d always been together, and felt like we always would be, I never asked myself whether or not he was “the one”. I just instantly felt in my heart he was my OTP and never questioned it. But then one day, it just… ended. And it ended in exactly the same way that it existed, easily. Not with a bang or an explosion or a row or any big fanfare, just a few amicable texts and a mutual agreement that it just wasn’t meant to be. No drama. No tears. Easy. And now we’re just friends, and guess what? That feels easy too.

Conversely, I’ve also had a relationship that felt like attempting to wade through treacle dragging a parachute. Highly emotive in every single way, with really high highs and what felt like apocalyptic lows, it was messy right from the start. Together or apart, this relationship just seemed hard and like it needed our constant attention. It felt raw and painful but also addictively joyous and passionate at the same time. Like magnets with the capability to push each other away with force, but also with a cosmic draw unlike any other. But somehow it always felt worth the hassle because the good things were really good, and it felt like it had the potential to be true fairy tale, power couple stuff. Is THIS what I’m supposed to lean in to?

A business book I read recently stated that when our emotions are running high, when we’re nervous or uncomfortable, when we’re scared about doing something, these are the things we SHOULD be doing. These are the things we should run towards because those feelings are our body’s way of showing us that we’re alive, that we’re on the right track. This is just like Sheryl Sandberg stated in her now largely debunked 2013 classic “Lean In”.

And I agree that those things, the hard messy, scary things are always the things that are most worthwhile, we get the most satisfaction from them. When we push ourselves, really push, we can get to new heights and really and truly reach our full potential. But then again, I reckon I’d get those same feelings if I found myself swimming with a shark or stuck on a railway line with a train heading for me, in those situations the message to run (or swim) is obvious.

So does that mean that those messy uncomfortable relationships are the ones that are right or the ones that are wrong? 

While the initial intended message of Sandburg’s landmark text doesn’t necessarily ring true for a 2020, mid-covid and post #metoo movement, the concept, that we should live outside our comfort zone (ie. leaning in to make ourselves heard), remains just as rampant as the belief that what is easy is meant to be. And as a lifelong anxiety fighter, I do tend to live over on the “push yourself to do the hard stuff” side, but I can’t help but notice that the antithesis of the two messages is completely fucked up when it comes to certain areas of life.

At a time when I’m torn between my dedication to my solo personal growth journey and my need for cuddles and companionship (and let’s be honest, as un-PC as it is to admit, the fairy tale), I feel like I live in a constant state of internal contradiction.

Let me make this clear. I believe that being in a relationship or single is a personal choice that we all get to make. I’ve been happy both single and in a relationship. And I’ve been miserable in both too. I’ve always believed deep in my soul that I don’t need anyone in order to be happy. And this remains true even as I write this.

But I ain’t gonna lie, I’m getting to the point now where I do want a cuddle (and no that’s not a euphemism, sex is easy to get, cuddles with someone who genuinely gives a shit and not just pretending to offer cuddles as a precursor to sex, are not – but that’s another post). Especially with all the shit that’s going on right now. But that’s how all my post-kids-dad relationships have drawn me out of my happy single bubble and changed the trajectory of working on the goals that I bang on about so much. With an innocent “Oh I know, I’ll just grab myself a quick NSA or FWB from the dating sites, that’ll sort me out, then I can get back to being single and working on my goals.” And then BOOM, along comes someone great and with him, all the feels and the pressures of a relationship. Urgh, why is it so HARD?

Hey guys, remember when we were in our teens and we got to do relationships before kids, mortgages, jobs, dating sites, the internet, mobile phones, texting, co-parenting, Covid and the realisation of our own mortality had set in? Yeah, back then we had it made.

I just want to get it right. Am I meant power through the next year or so laser focused on my goals but ignoring my primal human need for companionship and closeness?

Or should I just give in to the allure of having cuddles and a hairy chest on tap again, potentially opening up a can of relationship worms which will likely steal some of my time and energy away from my goals but could lead to something even bigger?

They both come with their own discomfort zone, so which discomfort am I meant to lean in to?

Answers on a postcard please.

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