It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything due to concentrating on starting my own business. This time we have a guest post by Eva Hanson and here is the link to a German translation of the post. Kudos to her and this wonderful post that also informed me about Highly Sensitive People – A term I was previously not familiar with. Over to Eva…
I wrote this text when I had just learned about the idea of „HSP“. I was delighted to have a word I could google, a community I could interact with, books i could read, eye-opening insights about my partner and even more reasons to love and appreciate him. My enthusiasm made me forget for a little while that binaries (such as male/female, homo/hetero, neurotypical/atypical and so on) don´t make much sense to me. I believe in a spectrum where everyone finds themselves somewhere. Plus, by putting a label on characteristics like sensitivity (or little sexual drive, or restlessness) we mark it out as „non normative“. What is considered „normal“ is not arbitrary, but relative. Hence I don´t feel comfortable using labels, even though they sometimes make communication easier.
However, this text still makes sense because my partner is definitely on the HSP side of the spectrum. He identifies as HSP, because that makes it easier to make himself comprehensible for others. Using the label helps me here to get my message across and hopefully raise some awareness for differences in characteristics and abilities that are often expected to be the about the same in everyone. Plus, there´s so many people out there who love labels.
According to Elaine N. Aron, HSP, psychotherapist and author of „The Highly Sensitive Person“ and „The Highly Sensitive Person in Love“, HSPs are „that 15 to 20 percent of the human population born with a nervous system genetically designed to be more sensitive to subtleties, more prone to deep reflection on inner experience, and therefore inevitably more easily overwhelmed by outer events.“ (The Highly Sensitive Person in Love, p.3)
Nowadays, most people are aware of and sensitized about socially relevant variables such as gender, sexual orientation, relationship style, AD(H)D, Asperger´s Syndrome, culture, race and many others. Knowledge about HSP still doesn´t seem to be very widespread, though. You can learn more about it and test yourself here: http://hsperson.com/ and here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jwRGzfFqEYA
Due to the great depth of their cognitive processing and their high emotional reactivity, relationship building is a very conscious process for many HSPs. Henry, the man I am currently living with, put a lot of thought into the issue until he decided what kind of relationship he wants to create and what needs and moral values he bases his decision on. We met when he was just about done with that and we quickly realized that we want pretty much the same thing.
Our relationship was rather out of the ordinary from the very beginning. We definitely wanted to be non-monogamous (https://www.morethantwo.com/). I was just starting to work as a tantra-masseuse (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tantra_massage), which some people consider to be some sort of sex-work. The exploration of BDSM (https://www.xeromag.com/fvbdsm.html) played a big role in our sexuality. One thing that was especially important for us was not to jump on the „relationship escalator“(http://offescalator.com/what-escalator/). We wanted to base the structure and the path of our relationship on conscious choice and not just walk down the „default path“ from dates to cohabitation to marriage to children. We didn´t want to be each others „primary partner“ or have any kind of relationship hierarchy.
This was all going pretty well, until after one year … we moved in together and got married. Wait, what? Well, both happened mostly out of coincidence (Henry got accepted for a master program in my city) and practical reasons (he´s American) and we thought that, because we were both so reflected and conscious, it wouldn´t change anything, we could still follow our deliberately chosen path based on needs and not on defaults or „social norms“. Easier said than done.
Slowly and almost unnoticed, our relationship got sort of reframed within my mind, according to the prevailing romantic narrative. Henry´s committment to love and care for me felt much more „real“ and trustworthy to me, and suddenly so romantic. On top of that, Henry fell in love with another woman. And all of a sudden I felt a million needs that hadn´t been there before. I wanted to sleep together every night (we lived in a shared apartment with four other people and each had our own room), I wanted to be primary, I wanted shared hobbies, I wanted constant proof and affirmation of his feelings. I thought I needed all that to feel safe and secure, and if he wouldn´t give me what I wanted, he was in big trouble. I had a very hard time finding out which of those needs were truly mine and where the rest came from. It didn´t help much that most of my close friends, even the polyamorous ones, lived a pretty classic relationship model with hierarchy, escalator and everything. Talking to them, I even felt validated in my demands.
But Henry refused to jump on that escalator with me. Not because he didn´t understand my needs or because he didn´t want to fulfill them. He was simply not willing or able to base his relationship on fear and insecurities and he wanted to stay true to our decision to find our own path, based on our own true needs, values and beliefs.
Luckily, I got into this mess with an HSP. Being with an HSP, especially in an unconventional relationship, is awesome. Here are some reasons that were especially important to me in this process.
First of all, HSPs feel very deep and intense love and they are very loyal. I never seriously doubted that Henry loves me deeply and will work through this with me. They also take care of their relationships very conscientously. HSPs crave deep relationships, so they are more than willing to extensively analyze, reflect and process feelings together. Their powerful intuition and their ability to read thoughts and feelings helps a lot, of course. The information they get about their partners is processed thoroughly and they will probably remember pretty much everything. The feeling of being seen, heard, understood, and respected creates an incredible feeling of security for me. This feeling of security is independent from outer form. It doesn´t matter how much time we spend together or how he expresses his love or what commitments we have for the future. Henry as an HSP is, on the other hand, not the easiest to bond with. He needs a lot of time and space for himself. He wouldn´t „just do“ things I want from him without thinking through what my true needs might be, what his motivation would be, what implications it has, what consequences could follow. On top of that, our needs relationshipwise are often quite different. So I get to learn that intimacy, commitment and connection can take many forms. I get to learn to respect my partner´s need for autonomy as what it is, without feeling rejected. I get to learn what my true needs are in a deep, and yes, somehow romantic relationship and to be flexible in how they are to be fulfilled. I get to experience deep, fulfilling love. Not as something that happens when the person is right and doing the right things (and fades when that´s no longer the case). I get to learn and experience love as an ability to see, respect, trust and care for each other, no matter what. To name just a few examples.
Henry and I are still married, still living together, and we currently spend a lot of time together. It happens out of a conscious choice though, not by default or out of fear or loneliness (at least we believe so … it is quite challenging to reflect the scripts ingraved in our systems). We do happen to have some kind of „core relationship“ at the moment. After the long time we´ve been close and committed, we´re „home“ for each other. We are trying to stay aware of couple privilege (https://polysingleish.com/tag/relationship-escalator/) though and to avoid hierarchy. Sometimes it feels weird to conform to the standard narrative and we might never really find out if that´s coincidence or truly our choice or if there´s no such thing at all. However, we are very happy, and do our best to stay open to change.