My spin instructor sat on her bike at the front of the spin room. “My boyfriend said he’s intimidated by me. Can you believe that?” she said, cranking the flywheel resistance up to inhuman levels and encouraging us to join her. “I’m going to bring him to spin class next weekend,” she continued.
I thought about that, and other things, as spin class continued for the next hour. As someone who created a program about respect for teen girls and young women, and in my other role as the mother of a daughter in her early twenties, I often think about the challenges of finding and staying in the right relationship. It’s a challenge for people of all ages, not just teens and young adults.
So here are some of my thoughts, brought up by my spin instructor’s musings:
- When your partner says “You intimidate me,” pay attention. Maybe he or she is not your best partner. In life, the easiest long term partnerships are between people of (approximate) equality in strength, strength of personality, focus, and intensity. If you’re different, you should both admire and respect each other’s intensity or laid-back attitude and make space to tolerate and celebrate those differences.
- You don’t have to be the exact same intensity or have all the exact same skills as your partner. In fact, it’s a nice balance when the lead goes back and forth and you learn from and support one another. However, when your partner says “You intimidate me,” that is a symptom of his or her discomfort and should be heeded. Here are two ideas for what that could mean:
- Maybe your partner is significantly weaker/gentler than you, possibly too weak or gentle to be a good match as a long term partner. Maybe this is a temporary imbalance (not a problem), but maybe it’s a permanent imbalance (could be a big problem).
- Maybe it’s me. Time to take a good look at what I’m putting into the relationship. Am I allowing space for my partner to grow, including being generous and forgiving when some mistakes get made? Or am I “sucking all the oxygen out of the room”?
- Thank the person who told you they’re feeling intimidated. Be grateful when someone has the honesty and guts to share their feelings open and honestly, even the difficult ones. What you DON’T want is a partner (romantic, friend, or work) who communicates their discomfort in crazy-making passive-aggressive behavior.
- You don’t have to head for the door immediately if someone says “You intimidate me,” but it’s an attention-getter. If the relationship’s worth working on, give it some time – and some effort – to resolve it. Don’t ignore it. It won’t go away.
- If you do break up, be kind to each other – and yourselves – during the heartache of a breakup. Despite the temptation to be mean, treat one another with respect. People can’t always walk the full path of life with us, and sometimes it’s time for roads to diverge. Be grateful for the positive time you spent together.
Big picture, don’t be in a long term relationship where you have to always walk on eggshells, not being able to inhale and exhale fully. Choose partners who love you for what you are, love your strengths and accept your weaknesses and mistakes. Be similarly generous with your partners.