Noel Coward OR: Choose–Boring Love or Insane Love


The lover who pushes every button and totally gets you or the lover with whom you have calm but no chemistry so you’re always lonely.

Who wants these choices?

I say it’s on a continuum since I’ve had the absolute extreme of the lover who pushes every button (ages 19-22–off and on, of course), and I’ve had the sweet lover who I just didn’t dig into.  Or let her dig into me.

The extreme button-pusher I have a name for.  I call her my ex-girlfriend the train wreck.  If you’ve read my last blog, you’ll know that name indicates I am definitely still, after almost 30 years, living in my reptilian brain where she is concerned.  For the first 6 months we were together it was mind-blowing bliss, passion, melding, Juliet and Juliet, Cathy and Heathcliff.  There was a lot of sex.  A LOT.  Then the honeymoon ended.

We call these things addictive relationships.

As a cure for The Train Wreck, I took up with the Sweetheart, who I did love, but with whom I couldn’t seem to fall in love, probably because we weren’t really close and I didn’t want drama again, so I was a little guarded.  (Me, a little guarded.  HA!  Understatement.)

Therapists tell you to pick the Sweethearts over the Train Wrecks, and they are, no doubt, right.  But really, Sweethearts are just as much trouble, though they won’t tear your life apart.

In Private Lives, arguably Noel Coward’s most produced play, two Train Wrecks (at least with each other) meet up accidentally after they’ve both just married two Sweethearts.  They are, of course, miserable and bored with their Sweethearts, so they run off together for some hot bliss before quickly reverting to Train Wrecks again.  (I can testify that this is pretty much how it goes.)  The turning point of the play, though, is when the two Sweethearts find that they are insanely attracted to each other and turn into Train Wrecks themselves–with each other.

If you can follow all that, you will understand that Mr. Coward’s comedy actually uncovers some pretty violent and reptilian behavior–which is why we laugh.

My partner and I have been each other’s Train Wrecks (though never as bad as my first!), but we have been something else, too.  Not Sweethearts.  We have been each other’s Sun-in-the-Solar-Plexus.  Not fighting, not freakishly passionate, but that warmth at the center of things when you feel loved and accepted and it comes like a gift, being on the same side.

Then, of course, after a couple years, we go back to a milder version of Train Wrecks.  I don’t quite know why.  Some couples’ theories would say that we return to what needs to be healed.  It arises, through the contentment, to force us to grow, because human beings either grow together or destroy each other (dramatically, as Train Wrecks, or through atrophy, as Sweethearts).  It’s a nice theory if you’ve got the time to keep growing.

I have had students–not acting students, for some reason, but writing students–who have left their Train Wrecks (or who have stopped being reptile food) and have gone on to another kind of marriage, which they describe as Sun-in-the-Solar-Plexus.  I hardly ever meet people whose first marriage is a Sun-in-the-Solar-Plexus.  Anyway, I keep wondering if they ever slip toward Train Wrecks or not.  I mean, is that possible?  Have my partner and I missed the boat somewhere?

But what I really think is this…so many more people read my blogs about couples therapy than any other subject.  People my partner works with read it and some even confess they’re trying to figure out their own relationships and identifying with us.  OMG, please do not take me for a role model.  I am insane!  I know so little about anything!  (Except when I’m fighting with my partner.  Then my omniscience is astounding.)

I digress.  I think we’re all trying so hard to figure this out.  Because love is so powerful.  Because we need it so badly.  And how do we get it?  Beyond all the platitudes with their half-truths, how do we tolerate being close to each other when our reptilian brains keep flashing the danger sign?

I don’t know the answer to this.  I have learned only a very few things about intimacy:

  1. Go slow in getting to know people so you don’t freak out.
  2. Once you’re in, be honest as much as you can be.  Meaning, be honest, but don’t tell so much you want to kill.
  3. Make fun of everything (especially yourself and your relationship) and laugh a lot, since that makes you less homicidal and reminds both of you that you’re reptiles because you’re human and for no other reason.
  4. Know that vulnerability doesn’t really ever get easy, but it’s a necessary evil.
  5. When you know your reptilian brain has completely taken over, go lock yourself in your room.
  6. Let the adult gorgeous in you take the lead whenever possible.
  7. Don’t loan money.  Give it away or say no.
  8. Don’t expect your partner to make up for all the ways your parents hurt you.
  9. Have a spiritual center of your own.  Cultivate it daily.  Like, meditate!
  10. Stand up for yourself and hold onto you.  It’s the best way to hold onto her.

Wow!  That’s more than I thought!

But if you want to add to the list, please do so.  We’re all trying to figure this out.  Metta for us as we try and fail, try and get gorgeous, try and try.

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