It’s that time of year again where images of romance, candle-lit dinners, roses, and sexy lingerie herald expectations of great sex.
However, over the years, the weight of domestic burdens combined with over-familiarity can make rapturous sex a distant memory. After years of being together, you may feel like the novelty is washed up as well. Perhaps you’ve been finishing each other’s sentences from the start, but now you hunger for mystery.
Popular wisdom is to have regular date nights to keep the spark alive. This can be good advice but not if it’s forced or goal driven. Valentine’s Day can feel like date night on steroids, with many expectations to live up to. We assume we must do something to force the romance up a notch or two – perhaps even ten. This might work for one evening, but you might wake up feeling pushed and prodded rather than cared for and connected.
If your sex life has become as automatic as the setting on your spin-dryer, then Valentine’s Day begins to look like “Lackluster Love Life Awareness Day” rather than an invitation to hot sex.
So how can you honor a day of romance in an authentic way again? How can you experience Valentine’s Day in a more mindful way?
One way to define romance is as a feeling of excitement and mystery associated with love. What researchers have learned is that the fading of intense desire is a normal and natural part of the journey of a long-term couple, and that as with anything in life, it needs tending. We are raised to think sex and love should last forever in their original form. The paradox, however, is that we keep our love, erotic connection, and romance alive by seeing the freshness in every fleeting moment.
So, mindfulness can be at the very heart of Valentine’s Day. Incorporating mindfulness is a powerful way to deepen your intimacy and erotic aliveness without the push to bulk up your sexual and romantic muscle.
Mindfulness has many facets, but I thought I would share five mindful ways to help you experience your day together and re-envision your romance.
#1. Leave Domesticity in the Dust (At Least For One Night)
If you decide to go out on a “romantic night,” leave behind the domestic burdens of your household. I’ve written elsewhere that some states are Eros-inhibiting and others are Eros-enhancing. If we bring the same roles to date night that we don as co-parents, household managers, and caregivers to aging parents, we are not likely to show up like lovers.
Valentine’s Day is an invitation to live from the romantic, sexy and sensual parts of ourselves that get put on the back burner in our over-full and responsibility-rich lives. While you are out of the house, you can choose to slow down to the speed of sensuality. Remember how it was when you first met. Imagine that you are falling in love again, for the first time. Imagine that you have never made love before.
#2. Seeing Fresh and Re-Envisioning Your Romance
The rapture you felt at the beginning of your relationship was induced by being completely present to each other. You listened attentively, looked into each other’s eyes and were eager to discover things about this ravishing (or dashing) and curious stranger. That focus was a form of mindfulness.
Wayne Dyer wrote: “If you change the way you look at things; the things you look at change.” That is the art of “Seeing Fresh,” a practice that involves remembering that you and your partner are changing all the time. True presence involves discovering something new in every moment.
If you are straying back to old hurts or future fears, become mindful of the fact that we are all on “borrowed time.” All we have together as a couple can only be experienced and enjoyed in the present.
You might want to try this simple but powerful exercise. While you are out of the house, take two minutes to gaze into your partner’s eyes. Try it and see!
#3. Mindful Gifts as Conscious Valentine’s Choices
One facet of mindfulness is being awake to your feelings, thoughts, and habitual patterns. A lot of us assume we should head out to a nice restaurant or buy two dozen red roses and chocolates, almost on autopilot.
One way to free ourselves of automaticity is to ask your partner to think about what they would truly want from this day. You could also ask yourself what gifts you would enjoy from your beloved.
There are endless possibilities for Mindful Gifts. Mindful Gifts might be things, experiences, or ways of being with one another that nurture yourselves as an Erotic Team. As Gina Ogden reminds us in The Return of Desire, some women (who still on average do way more than half of the housework) fantasize about wanting their partner to vacuum or clean the house. With a little imagination, it’s not hard to see this being a sexy scenario.
Or it could be that your Gift is to explore expanding your sensory awareness. There are so many ways to play with this, but favorites are using essential oils and compiling your own special sound track to get you both in the mood. Or it could be that you don’t change a thing, but you are present to every second of your evening, and practice truly savoring the chocolates and the roses. Savoring is a sweet way to practice mindfulness.
Perhaps the ultimate Gift is just being present. If you choose to go out for a delicious dinner, when your partner speaks, really listen rather than drifting off or planning what you will say next. Your sheer presence is a Mindful Gift in itself.
#4. Learn to Recognize Romantic Bypassing
Romantic Bypassing describes the way so many of us expect that when we become a couple it should be hearts and roses all the way. Even if we would not want to admit this to others, or even ourselves, we’ve been primed by cultural expectations — at some level at least — to expect a continuous state of rapture with our partner of many years. And of course, real life love and sex is not like that.
The conventional message of Valentine’s Day is that, like sex and love, it should be “hot” or at the very least fuzzy and warm. But, as John Welwood puts it, “There’s not much recognition of the outrageous journey of transformation that love calls on us to undertake.”
With mindfulness, we can move away from unconscious thinking towards cultivating appreciation for the “outrageous journey” we are on. It’s far from boring or stale, even if you are convinced it is that way. And the most outrageous part about the outrageous journey is that it’s not a place you have to strive to get to — it’s a way of experiencing that can unfold through tending and allowing.
So, even if your relationship is filled with strife or in other ways you are not feeling particularly warm and fuzzy, you can still embrace the idea of transformation. To quote Welwood again, “…if we think that love should only provide comfort and security, we will regard any turbulence as a problem, and wind up feeling bad about ourselves, our partner, or the relationship.” We set ourselves up for a long, hard fall.
Avoidance of the outrageous journey — the cold and hard, the wild parts — is what I’ve called “romantic by-passing” to honor the term “spiritual bypassing” coined by Welwood. And when we take this wisdom of wholeness into our relationship, we can use Valentine’s Day to initiate clearings and repairs rather than what can feel like a cover up of red, pink, and perfume.
“When the sunlight of love pierces the clouds of self-defense, heat meets cold, the moisture in the clouds condenses, and storms ensue. That is what makes real clearings possible. Think of the freshness in the air after a big storm passes over.” This is how Welwood describes thinking about conscious relationships. To have this awareness is how we begin to melt the walls of armor by consciously cultivating compassion.
#5. Desire as Appreciation rather than Destination
Most of us in long-term relationships think we need to summon desire on Valentine’s Day. Instead, we can choose to experience desire as something that unfolds when we connect through pleasure and open our awareness to it. As Mark Epstein puts it in Open to Desire, “It is possible to be in a state in which desire is valued, not as a prelude to possession, control, or merger, but as a mode to appreciation itself.”
Freeing Desire from the tyranny of “destination” is the art and practice of Mindful Sex. As my retreat participants can tell you, when we notice the now with our full presence, we access the unlimited creativity that is the essence of Pure Erotic Potential.
So, how can you go further in re-envisioning your romance, avoid romantic bypassing, and learn to truly tap into and appreciate desire? For more ways to have a revitalized and exciting long-term relationship, check out our videos, webinars and coupl