Earlier this week I was dining at a favorite restaurant when, from its speakers, I heard the unmistakable voice of Frank Sinatra singing Nice 'n Easy. Though I’ve long been drawn to many a Sinatra song, somehow this tune had previously escaped my notice – or maybe if I had heard it earlier, I wasn’t ready to quite get the message. The message, of course, is that there is something lovely about taking one’s time while falling in love – or, as the song says, to “make all the stops along the way.”
I used to feel a certain excitement in rushing love and romance. I liked the passion and the pace. I thought once two people find each other and they both feel the “click”, why not just go with that? Why wait?
And then I met a man who took his time. I had already been working as a sex researcher, educator and columnist and was well aware of the research that suggests that taking time matters - that couples who rush quickly into marriage, for example, are more likely to end up in unsatisfying marriages. Granted, any couple could end up unhappily married or divorced, but some people are more at risk than others such as the rushed ones.
But even when people don't rush into marriage, they often rush into love. In my own case, as the guy I was dating at the time and I were falling in love, I happened to get a question one day from a reader who impatiently wanted his or her beloved to say those three much-anticipated words. They had been dating for some time and the reader thought it was about time.
How I Learned To Love Waiting
Coincidentally, I was in the same boat with the man I’d been dating. He and I had been dating for some time and I wanted him to come out and say that he loved me. I decided that I wasn’t going to be the one to say it first. But then, I noticed something: he already loved me. I could see it in everything he did, in the way he smiled when I came over, the way he drew me nearer and this unmistakable look in his eyes that only someone who is very much loved and wanted and desired ever gets to see.
When I noticed that, I suddenly felt that he could take forever to tell me that he loved me. The experience of falling in love with each other, of going down that path of romance and love, was so exquisite and seductive that I didn’t mind the wait. In fact, I started to enjoy waiting and making all those stops along the way (such as the way every glance was heavy with longing and unspoken words). It was delicious - sort of like watching two lovers in a movie move close for a kiss, but in slow motion as they flirt and bat their eye lashes and smile as their faces draw closer. The moment before the kiss, as many of us know, is sometimes even sweeter than the kiss itself.
As it turns out, though, I didn’t have to wait much longer. A week or two later, he said out loud what I’d already known. It didn’t kill the magic to finally have those three words out there but I’m happy that he took the time that he did. I’m happy that we danced around a bit. In the end, he and I didn’t quite work out as a couple and I had the chance to play the love game again – with another lovely waiting game – but he was the first one with whom I appreciated what it meant to wait, to want and to want some more. After all, he was the first one to ever make me wait.
Spaces In Your Togetherness
I don’t know why it took me that long to realize the pleasures of love and sex that come from waiting. More than a decade before that particular man and I fell in and out of love, I had come across the words of Kahlil Gibran, in On Marriage:
“But let there be spaces in your togetherness, and let the winds of the heavens dance between you.”
I knew these words by heart before I ever applied them to the spaces we can create in love and in sex. When I first read them, I took them to mean that two people should not spend all of their time together – that they should cultivate their own interests. While I still see that as a fine interpretation, I now see the words’ relationship to what I frequently tell people who ask for my help in healing their heartbreaks related to love and sex.
I tell them to be gentle with themselves, to be patient. To give themselves room – spaces, if you will - to grow and to work out their demons and to be honest with their partner about what they are having difficulty struggling with or against. Love isn’t always easy. Neither is sex, as much as we may want it to be. But if we take our time along the way, as Sinatra reminds us, it can be a little bit easier – it can even feel magical. And it can certainly be less of a struggle if you remind yourselves that if you are in it for the long haul, then you have time to work out your differences - or that you have time to fall, and to work on staying, in love.
Love has ebbs and flows. It has waiting games that are lovely and seductive and it also has waiting games that test your spirit, that dull your desire and that make you wonder whether it will ever get better. (It often does get better.)
So these days, I’m still keen on waiting, even when it tests my patience. I see waiting as one of the many spaces in people’s togetherness, the value of taking our time to fall in love the first time or to fall in love again with the partner we've been with for ages.
Spaces In Your Sex Life
I also see the value in putting spaces into our sex lives - waiting for the first kiss, yes, but also reassuring ourselves that frequent sex isn't the only way to have sex. Sometimes the spaces between sex make us want it more - craving it to the point where our body aches to be touched. It can be helpful for women, particularly for those who have difficulty with vaginal pain or lubrication, to put some spaces into their sex life - to begin kissing and touching and all that foreplay entails and then to wait to have penetration until they can literally feel their vagina throb with anticipation or wetness. This is also a good strategy for women who can orgasm from sex but who would like to learn to have multiple orgasms (as anticipation builds arousal, the extra arousal can ease the first and subsequent orgasms).
So this week, consider what it might mean for you to put some spaces in your togetherness: will you spend a little time apart, on a girls' or guys' night out, so that you look forward to seeing your partner more after an evening away from each other? Will you make your partner work a little harder to kiss you? Might you take longer to kiss before you have sex or spend longer in foreplay before moving on to intercourse? Whether in love or in sex, consider what it might mean for you to enjoy all those Sinatra-esque "stops along the way."
Debby Herbenick, PhD, MPH is a Research Scientist at Indiana University, a sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, and the author of Because It Feels Good: A Woman's Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction. Her personal blog can be found at MySexProfessor.com. Follow her on Twitter @mysexprofessor