Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Jeff Experience

Well, Valentine's Day is coming up. My husband, Jeff, and I have been together for ten years.

Years ago, the Grandmothers who appear in my night dreams said, “Intimacy heals.” Intimacy is about being open-heartedly present with another- husband, wife, partner, lover, or friend. Being in intimate relationship is not always easy. But then, healing is not always easy. When I’ve been alone I start thinking I’m actually making “progress” at being the person I want to be. But this kind of gratifying delusion is short-lived when I’m in relationship with another who does not see the necessity of making plans or cleaning out the area under the kitchen sink so it does not smell like garbage. Alone has its own challenges, but when I’m alone I don’t stretch or learn or heal the way I can in relationship with another, partly because- I don’t have to.

It takes great care to be with another. Jeff and I have attended a couple of IMAGO workshops- weekends that teach a method for creating safety to communicate deeply on things that matter to us. After the basic technique is shared (a mirroring dialogue) the facilitator invites couples to practise in front of the group. People generally pick minor issues for the dialogue but even these often touch past wounds and miscommunication. Every time I have been witness to one of these dialogues the same thing happens: I start out internally taking a side based on my own past experience or grievances and then, as the dialogue goes deeper, I see the vulnerable and courageous heart of the one who is daring to speak. And, every time I am deeply touched and surprised to rediscover what tender, vulnerable creatures we all are. Being in an intimate relationship puts the other’s tender bits in our hands, means we must be willing to allow our own vulnerability to be held by another imperfect human being.

I was recently asked in a radio interview what I thought were the important elements in a long-term intimate relationship. One of the things I mentioned was a shared sense of humour- the ability to make each other laugh. Because if you cannot laugh together at your own or the other’s human foibles, well it’s going to be a truly excruciating journey.

Jeff and I laugh together. Years ago I wrote a brief response to an email from a reader. The reader wrote back saying something like, “Wow, it’s like getting a note from Buddha or Ghandi!” So, when I’m complaining in a particularly unenlightened and loud manner about something like getting cut off by someone in traffic, Jeff will sometimes quietly say with feigned wonder, “It’s like driving with Buddha or Ghandi.” And we both laugh (after I give him a half-hearted narrow-eyed scowl.)

Similarly, I once heard from a reader looking for a mate, who complained that she was not going to settle for less than “The Jeff Experience” (having read in The Dance of how Jeff and I got together.) When I recently introduced him to people at an event where I was speaking, one woman said, “Oh, you’re THE Jeff.” So, of course, when Jeff has left a mess I feel I must clean up, or demonstrated once again his inability to find anything in the refrigerator, or is using the sniff test to determine if a piece of clothing is clean enough to wear, I mutter, “I think women out there should know that this is part of The Jeff Experience.” And we laugh together.

Laughing together is about accepting our own and the other’s humanness. Of course, intimacy is not just about acceptance. It’s also about active appreciation. Jeff often tells me is how much he loves my smile (and my cooking.) He says it spontaneously, when I am smiling, in a way that makes me believe him. He tells me that he loved my smile (along with my yellow shorts and long legs) when we first met forty years ago on a canoe trip. And I am always surprised that my smile means so much to him, that he still thinks I’m beautiful forty years later, particularly when I’m smiling. And this- this intimacy, this appreciation, this love- heals something in me I was only half aware was broken. And I am grateful for The Jeff Experience.


  1. This is beautiful - a perfect description and celebration of your Experience.

    My husband and I are approaching 10 years together as well. Although it is a lesson we are still both learning, how true it is that the lightness of humor can lift even the deepest of moods.

    Thank you.

  2. Oh this is lovely Oriah - makes me look at ways to appreciate my own 20 year relationship when sometimes I feel it becoming habitual more than intimate. But you are 100% right about laughing together - this is the one thing that kept us together for all these tumultuous years - and it is in the small unique things where it is most noticed - like your smile.

    Your Gandi story reminded me of a similar laugh my partner and I had recently. When I never got any sypmtoms with my first chemo treatment, I said to my partner - "Don't you think I am just amazing" - her answer after a slight pause was "Yeah, your name should be Grace!" :-)

    Wish you a lots of light and laughter over the Valentines Day weekend

  3. Lovely piece, and best wishes to the both of you.

    Diana and I were talking recently about how "the young people" don't get relationships. I remember all the high school students for whom the focus was finding their soul mate, because once they found their soul mate all the work was done. But what you so wisely and clearly say above is that the work starts when you find the other.

    Perhaps the problem is fairy tales which end, "Then they got married and lived happily ever after." That's a lie, and the interesting part of the story is about the times when they didn't live happily, and how they did (or didn't?) work through those times.

    Only part I don't get is that you cite the smell test as though there were something wrong with it. Weird....


  4. Awww, how sweet he is...

    I remember reading the Jeff story in your book, and wanting it for myself, the look on your son's eyes when you got all excited about the ring, and you saying something like "it's a girl thing", totally allowed myself to give me permission to want one too... it is a girl thing. Back then I was still looking for myself, my truth, not an easy road. I am not sure I found myself completely or if I ever will, but I have found my own Jeff, his name is James, and I love him. I am so happy to feel your happiness and I hope everyone gets to experience the intimacy you speak of, with all its perks and not so perks perks.

  5. Lovely. Today I was supply teaching and was left a lesson to teach to an English class about the importance of having an "honest voice" in good having the courage to be open and honest about your experience and sense of the world. I came home for lunch, read your blog, and thought to myself, "what a perfect example."

    To add to your thoughts about humour, I've found that a good sense of humour adds a cushion of comfort and acceptance in any relationship...intimate, casual, or professional. (Especially if you have a tendency to be "overly" sensitive I do.) I know I became a better teacher when I worked on developing a better sense of humour :). Perhaps a better mother, wife and lover too.

  6. There's something to be said for synchronicity, as last night I too just finished reading that chapter in The Dance about the reconnection of you and Jeff. It'll be 5 years in July since my husband passed, and although at times I am overwhelmed with sadness at being without a mate, I feel like I am learning how to be friends with me. And then I read the things you've written, and I cry... like last night... I had a good cry... because I realize once again how much I miss being in intimate relationship... and because after reading you, it occurs to me that whatever is meant to happen will happen... in its own good time, not mine... and I will be happy with it if I keep an open mind.


  7. Lovely..after a terrible relationship I met my husband 6 years ago...he was not like all my other boyfriends cute and good to look at..wat connected us was friendship..I could laugh With him not on his expence as I had done before...

    may there come many more years for Jeff en you.


  8. lovely! :)

    My parents' balm for everything is their sense of humor. It took me a long time to realize that 'fights'/disagreements etc. are natural, healthy and part of the package. Sometimes what matters more is HOW to people fight,than how they make up.

    I share one of my favorite passages from one of my favorite books:

    "To love is a beautiful, mysterious event; do not miss it. Be neither too cautious nor too absorbed. Too many of us reason with our hearts and experience with our heads. It can not be so.
    The heart knows no logic beyond need and desire; the head has no senses except the common and the pragmatic. Neither, frankly, is particularly useful in love, anyway. Rely on your sixth sense, that little voice within. There is no preparation or protection from the joy and pain of relationships. They are inseparable twins. One follows another. And make no mistake: love is not gay abandon; it is to be courageous, to take risks, and to be disciplined." ~ from Letter to Zenzele by J. Nozipo Maraire.

    I wrote about my parents' love/relationship (which I have long battled to decide what to pick, not pick, be or not be like!) in comparison to my eternal love for beloved NYC, if anyone is interested:

    Wising you and Jeff many more Jeff-Oriah experiences....

  9. Hi Oriah,
    Just as a friend shared on my blog..."A Few Jewels...for Relationships"...relationships can require a lot of effort and elbow grease work but are well worth it before we ever get to the "Happily Ever After" stage. The Jeff Experience should be every person's once in a lifetime challenge to "take the plunge" intentionally to find their hearts desire, "to love and be loved". My partner reminded me of the origin of Valentines day and it was a little confusing , however it was one of those stories that I decided to re-design for myself. I try to re-mind myself throughout the year "why" I love the one I'm with and that causes me to re-member our "specialness" to one another on this journey.
    Happy Love Day to all those sharing themselves with another...celebrate your greatest gift...the giving of yourelf:-)

  10. Cheers Oriah and Jeff,
    I have a huge sense of gratitude to know now at this stage in my life to recognise love,to allow myself experience the wonder of it's longivity with it's wrinkles and chuckles,and through loves authenticity I become my true selve in all my rawness.
    from Alive

  11. research for a story i am working on, would really appreciate feedback.

    can one 'control' falling in love? in terms of with whom and timing in life?

    why is it always regarded as un-authentic when 25 year old marries a 45 year old, for example? i mean, there used to be 'red-tape' around 'not falling in love' with someone of a different skin color, too, at one point, no?

    to what extent do we choose 'falling in love'? the happy, healthy-in-love couples i know who have been married functionally for 10+ years say 'they can't imagine being with anyone other than the one they are with.'. i am not questioning THAT.

    sorry for posting this here--felt safe to do so.

    i am about to officially give up on this story because it is at a stale-mate due to those questions.

    i am beginning to take answers from close family members personally, and that neither helps me with my writing, nor where i am in my personal journey.

    my sister says that feelings are feelings, but one has a choice as to what to do with them. example: a 50 year old man, 'falling in love' with a 17 year old is not functional or appropriate, even if real. so, his not acting on it, due to the impracticality of it is a choice. but the feelings, remain.

    thanks in advance and apologies for posting this here instead of some writer's forum (i don't even belong to any! they are so overwhelming!)

  12. ...i promise not to ask follow-up questions to anything anyone has to say! : ) sigh. thanks for posting this nonetheless, oriah. i appreciate it.

  13. Oriah,

    I have recently been reading your lovely blog after being introduced to your poem, "The Invitation," by a friend.

    I especially like what you wrote here about appreciation. I believe that everyone wants to be understood, appreciated and loved throughout their lifetime. Actually, it's not so much a want as it is a need. I think we all need these things (everyday).


    You asked if anyone can control falling in love, and it sounded like you would appreciate some input. From my personal experiences and the experiences of those closest to me, my answer is no. We can not help who we fall in love with. But I think it helps to know which kind of love is present. Many times, we discuss love as if it were the same for everyone. There are so many different kinds of love... agape, philia, eros. My opinion at this point in my life, age is but a number. In my life, it is not being close in age that matters most, but being close in maturity and life outlook.

    We also need to remember that love is not so much a noun as it is a verb. It is more important for us TO love (verb) instead of to FIND love (noun). We can not find the latter without doing the former.

    Hope that helps a.q.s., and thank you Oriah for sharing pieces of yourself with the world. I APPRECIATE you taking the time to let us learn more about our lives through your personal journey.