Tag Archives: relationship lessons

Missing the Love Right In Front of Us

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Occasionally we miss the forest for the trees. We let the details and challenges of our busy lives overrun the joy. We see our own distress and desires as the most important part of our universe. This is where the prayerful pause comes in.

Stop. Breathe. Let go of all your distractions. Breathe. Be at peace for 1 minute. Smile. Enjoy.

Here’s an example of how my hyper-type-a focus can keep me lasered in on my goals while overlooking the love of my life.

Tennis has been a life-long passion of mine. Since I was a kid I’ve hustled on the tennis court not because I had to, but because I wanted to. I’ve wanted to compete at the highest levels. And more recently I’ve learned to simply enjoy the game. In fact, the height of my joy in the last ten years has been playing casually with my kids, on the court to “just hit balls.” The time on court with my daughter has been filled with what I call peak moments. Moments in life where you stop and breathe it all in.

“This is a perfect moment.”

I say it as a sort of mantra, affirming my life, my joy, and my gratefulness at being alive. It’s a prayer of thanksgiving.

In my marriage I couldn’t quite get my then-wife to join me on the courts. She tried in the early months of our courtship, before we were married. Taking a few lessons with her girlfriend, they joked about how they were really in it for the skirts. And yes, I suppose, the image of a woman in a tennis skirt causes my inner-enthusiast to jump up and down. But the skirt was to become more of a symbol of what we missed, rather than what we enjoyed and developed together as a couple.

But I never forgot about the skirt. And in my rebuilding process over the last five years I have rediscovered how important tennis, and joyful exercise, is to my health and recovery. One of my happy places is being on the court. Even alone, hitting against a backboard, I can find an inner smile. And it’s not all that goal-driven, these days. Mostly, I really enjoy the feel of the ball “pinging” off my strings and the zip of the well-stroked topspin forehand. I have been focused in the last 18 months on using tennis as a way to improve my fitness and remain social even in times when I would rather stay at home and sulk.

Enter my new relationship. She was reading my posts about tennis and joy and relationships. And when she began chatting with me on Facebook about 8 months ago, one of the first keywords she dropped was “tennis.” We’ve had several discussions about her intention and her prior research into my blogs, but the main thing is… She laid down the offer to play tennis as a first volley in our relationship.

And it wasn’t long before we were actually hitting tennis balls together. And she WAS wearing a pristine white tennis skirt. (As our relationship developed over the next months, this same skirt became a talisman for me when she was traveling.) We made tennis part of our thing. It was an easy request for either of us, “Wanna go hit some tennis balls?” The answer was usually, “Let’s go.”

As my energy and enthusiasm for life continued to build in the presence of such an energetic and positive person, I also began ramping up my tennis game. A month ago I entered a tennis ladder to play competitive singles again. And while my tennis was ON my fitness was not up for the 1 – 2 hours in the Texas Summer heat. I played well, but I was beaten in my first two matches, more because my body could not keep up with the extended match play.

After one of these matches, she said, “We can go hit more balls.”

And here’s where my intention and passion missed the bigger picture.

I responded in a different way. “That’s not really what I need.”

I could see her expression change.

“I mean, I love hitting with you and everything, but it’s not really going to improve my competitive fitness.”

In the moment, I was confused about what to say next. I had caused a fracture between us, but I didn’t yet know how to repair the damage.

Stop. Breathe. Let go of all your distractions. Breathe. Be at peace for 1 minute. Smile. Enjoy.

I did my best over the course of the next few weeks, as I was beaten two more times on the court, to chat about how playing with her was not “competitive” but “fun” and that was always good. But I wasn’t showing her. I was not asking her to play tennis. I was thinking about how to WIN at my singles matches. Oops. I really needed to stop, breathe, and join with her. But I stayed in my pseudo-buddhist revery knowing something was amiss, but unable to see through my own fog to identify it clearly. And if you don’t know what’s wrong, it is very hard join together again with a repair.

Yesterday, I said, “Let’s go hit some balls.” We’ve just moved into a new house with a court down the street.

“When?” she asked.

“Right now.”

“I could go running first,” she replied. “If you have other things to want to do.”

“No. I want to do this now.”

“Awesome. Let’s go.”

And walking over to the court I was struck by a simple fact. THIS WAS MY HEAVEN. My dream in all those years of aloneness, in all the workout-cardio tennis classes, was to get myself in good enough shape to attract a woman and get her on the tennis court. BOOM. In that moment, even before we’d struck a single ball, I GOT IT. This is what I was missing. This act, this moment, just being in connection with this woman, AND getting to hit tennis balls! Wow. I’m pretty sure that’s what nirvana is: becoming aware that this very moment is heaven.

Within 5 minutes of starting two guys came up to the court. Being new to the area, I didn’t know if there was some system for using the court. “No, it’s just first come first serve,” the guy said, envying not only our possession of the court but my sharp fiancé in her white skirt.

Had we waited even five more minutes, the court would’ve been taken.

Breathe and say yes, right now. Do it.

And then it was time for my awareness to be made mutual. I was ready for the repair.

“Honey, I want to tell you something.” She stopped and we sat down. I’m known for these kind of hold-on-a-minute moments.

“I want you to know that playing tennis with you was a 100% high. That is my definition of heaven. And it’s about you and tennis and nothing more.”

“Okay.” She smiled, but she was aware that something else was coming.

“I wanted to let you know that I missed your offers a few weeks ago. I know you were asking to go hit tennis balls as a way of supporting my fitness and my competitive nature.”

She nodded.

“But I was missing the point. I got all wrapped up in getting fit and ready for the competition that I lost sight of the real goal… Fun with you. Tennis with you. Anything with you, but really, tennis with you. That’s my dream come true. And here you are, saying ‘Let’s go.’ and I’m forgetting to ask. I’m focused on some other goal, winning, maybe. But that’s not my goal.

“My goal is to be right here with you. To experience life and love with you in as many moments as I have left on the Earth.”

The smile broke across her face. This was a lovey dovey talk.

“And tennis with you IS THE MOMENT I have been praying for and working for all my life.”

I know that sounds corny or woowoo, but it’s essential for me to explain this. I play tennis. It is my passion. Given options, there are few things I would choose over tennis. Getting to play tennis with my partner, that was a dream I was beginning to give up on. Fighting to remember and get myself back into shape so it *could* happen, but at our age… Now, I see, tennis is the dream. Playing tennis is living the dream. Playing tennis with my sweetheart is heaven on Earth. Nirvana is now.

Never give up on the dream. I dreamed of white skirts and a smiling woman on the opposite site of a tennis net.

I have arrived.

Breathe. Let it all go.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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Oh, and we have a pool in our neighborhood.

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Planning For the Future In Your Relationship

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We’ve all got stress. We’ve all got moments, Friday afternoons are a great example, when the breaking point is reached, and if we’re lucky, the weekend is ready to open up before us. Ah, the WEEKEND. A time to cut loose, rest, rebuild ourselves and our love lives, and … And then we still find time and need to be distracted. Taken off point. Unplugged from our goals, plans, work, whatever.

I pull my headphones on, engage the noise-canceling function and boom, I’m in a moment of zen, right in my living room. Turns out, sometimes, I’m just looking to be distracted. Even the good things (okay, the great things) are often stressful.

She has a different type of creativity. Her’s is for dreaming up what’s next and then making the dream a reality.

And recently there have been too many good things to even list. But I can tell you the biggest impact has been the woman of my dreams showing up. And even in that blissful honeymoon-ish state, I still need time to disconnect. I guess we call it “alone time,” but sometimes it is just isolation time for me.

Isolation is a funny thing. I can be Facebooking like made, reading 5 articles on 5 tabs in my browser, and taking notes for new post, and I feel like I’m really connected, alive, multitasking. But, if I’m honest, I can see how my social media passion is also an escape from the present.

I was having a similar discussion with my new significant other about the concepts of backwards and forwards time, I first encountered in Time and the Art of Living. Here’s my basic paraphrase.

1. Present Moment. What we’re all striving to stay focused on. Meditation. Awareness. Conscious sex. Honest conversations. Listening. Hitting flow. Whatever you want to call it.

2. Thoughts about the future.

3. Memories of the past.

While I do think that keeping our attention on the present moment is a very powerful tool, there are times when these two other modes of time can be helpful and illuminating as well.

As I was chatting with my woman about the house we are buying next month, and she was working on a lot of details. She was measuring the rooms and comparing them with our current house. “Do you know we’ll have half a foot more width and length in our new house?” she asked, excitedly. At first I was thinking she was over thinking it, and then I remembered this concept of future time.

When we project ourselves into the future, it can be a wonderful exercise. We can begin to set goals and ideas for what we want, what we are looking forward to in the new experience. Setting up a framework for the future plans. And sometimes the projections in themselves can be lovely moments. As I leaned into the dream with my future wife, I enjoyed hearing about her fantasies regarding the new house.

“We can have romantic evenings in front of the fireplace.” And of course, we will. But in this very moment, projecting our ideas,  we could go there together. And everything, absolutely everything could be perfect in our minds. And this positive projecting can have bonding and energizing effects on us. We can find motivation and inspiration for what needs to be done to create the perfect moment we visualized.

And certainly we will live in this new house together. And certainly we will enjoy a glass of wine in front of the fire place. And it’s not as if the longing for that future moment causes us to miss out on some experience of the present moment. Actually, in projecting ourselves into this future-perfect moment we are creating an image of reality that we can actively create. (Did I get too woowoo on you there?) Let me give you a quote from the book.

Fast drivers can see no further than slow drivers, but they must look further down the road to time their reactions safely. Similarly, people with great projects afoot habitually look further and more clearly into the future than people who are mired in day-to-day concerns. These former control the future because by necessity they must project themselves into it; and the upshot is, that like ambitions settlers, they stake out larger plots and homesteads of time than the rest of us. The do not easily grow sad or old; they are seldom intimidated by the alarms and confusions of the present because they have something greater of their own, some sense of their large and coherent motion in time, to compare the present with. – Robert Grudin.

So it is this projection of a great project (in this case the house – and perhaps the house of our relationship) that I am willing to indulge in with my sweet woman. And together we can map out some ideas about what we want to create, not just physically, but emotionally as well.

A relationship is a lot like this. You state ideas and dreams to see if the other person resonates and lights up. Like a trial balloon.

“Wow, this cold night feels like New York City,” I said, some months ago.

“Do you want to go to New York City together?” she asked, clutching my arm against the wind and splinters of mist.

“Yes, that would be awesome. To walk the streets together. Like this.”

We’ve been taking wild flights of fancy into our imaginary future relationship as we give voice to various whimsical and fantastical ideas.

And with that she took several steps over the next week to book a trip together. This was still pretty early on in our relationship. WOW. I remember thinking, “What the heck? New York, so soon?” And what I learned was, she likes to set plans in motion, she likes to have events or travels to look forward to. Almost like my big ideas that pull me along. She has a different type of creativity. Her’s is for dreaming up what’s next and then making the dream a reality.

And here we are. Leaning forward into the next chapter together.

We have both been floating ideas and catching them as the other person tries out a together-dream. The two of us have found very little resistance, and thus the connection and commitment, which might freak some people out, has seemed right and natural. We still ask each other, as we ask ourselves internally, “Are we moving too fast?” The resounding answer is always the same.

“No. And I love you.”

That’s been the path. Present moment work staying focused on our jobs, our projects, my kids (for me), and we’ve allowed the future to unfold before us. Yet, at the same time we’ve been taking wild flights of fancy into our imaginary future relationship as we give voice to various whimsical and fantastical ideas.

Stay focused in the present moment, but do allow yourself to dream and project into the future with your partner. Opening those doors of dreaming together has been a gateway of power for us. So far… We’re batting 100%! Let’s keep heading in that direction.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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A few references for your time as art process.

image: lovers in new york, cc 2015, John McElhenney, creative commons usage