Rhythm of Closeness—Part II

“If two rhythms are nearly the same, and the sources are in close proximity, they will always entrain.”
—Mickey Hart (drummer for The Grateful Dead)

As boys, many of us couldn’t be close to our mothers without losing ourselves in their needs, or without our energy sucked out of us to sustain them. Or if our mothers were not there at all, then as adults our bodily hunger for closeness or distance may drive us and our partners crazy. Until we address our wounds in some way that brings us in touch with either our fear of being engulfed or our excessive need for physical contact, we will continue relating to other adults as scared little boys rather than as adults.

For each man to step in the Mystery, he must discover his own rhythm of closeness. How much time can he spend with a lover, wife, or partner before he feels his soul slipping out to sea, before he heads for the nearest monastery, or mountaintop, or new machine to buy? How much time does he need alone, before he comes back to himself feeling whole again—a month? A week? A day?

For a long time, I tried to discover my rhythm by watching and observing other couples. I would look at my friends and think, “They can be together all the time. If I were as healthy as they are, I could spend a lot more time with my partner.” But I came to realize that I can’t use somebody else’s rhythms. I had to come to know and accept the rhythms that are my own.

I must say, I still haven’t completely come to terms with my own pace yet. I’ve realized, though, that I need to be mobile in a relationship, moving in closer or away as I need to.

Sam Keen wrote in his book Fire in the Belly that he slept alone one night a week. I thought, “Now, here’s a man who knows his rhythms.” But suddenly I realized to my horror and disappointment that, more often than I cared to admit, I needed a week of nights alone. I felt there was something wrong with me.

I was still at war with myself about this when Grace, my partner at the time, and I bought the farm in North Carolina. We were living in Austin, where I’d been for ten years or so. I love Austin, but it’s very hot there during the summer, which despite what the calendar says sometimes lasts for six months. Each summer in Austin I swore would be my last. Finally I decided to buy a getaway place where I could beat the heat and write.

For several years I had been renting a little cabin up in the mountains of northeast Alabama, in a beautiful place called Mentone. Mysteriously cool, it was a hideaway virtually unknown even to the people of Alabama. It was my parents’ and grandparents’ country; it was my country. It was home. The cabin overlooked the valley where my ancestors plowed and where they were buried. I told the owners of the cabin that, should they ever want to sell it, to be sure and let me know first. They smiled and said, “You’re not the first to ask, or the first to hear us say we’ll never sell.”

Since the Alabama cabin wasn’t an option, Grace and I, having both been raised in the Southeast, decided to look there. Often during the last several years I had given lectures and workshops in Asheville, North Carolina, a little-known paradise high in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Each time I went I fell more in love with the land there. I felt a peace in my soul that only southern mountains could provide. Grace and I went to Asheville looking for a house in the woods to buy, without any luck. On the last day of our weeklong hunt, we were ready to give up when our realtor showed us a photo of Eden with barns. It was a large home that would need to be a year-round residence, but would we just like to look at it, just for fun?

We drove past the barn, up the drive, and through the gates. By the time we got to the pond, before we ever even saw the house and guest cabin high atop a hill completely hidden from the road, we were in love with the place. We, and I emphasize WE—Grace and I—decided to buy it, leave Austin, and move to Asheville. It was the dream we shared of what a place in the country should be. Here we could be happy together and raise, if not children, then horses and sheep and our spirits.

The very day we found the farm and made our plans, I got a call from the owner of the cabin in Mentone. She had tracked me down and called our hotel to tell us that the cabin I loved was for sale if I wanted it. I was forced to confront a deep truth: I loved the cabin in Mentone; Grace did not. But together WE loved the farm in Asheville. I opened myself to this new rhythm of closeness.

It’s hard to make a short story out of a long-distance move. But the story concludes with us living on a farm that became a cauldron of closeness. In this setting, all of our individual and relationship problems emerged to be intensified by the heat and lulled into a false sense of security by the cool mountain breezes. And in the bargain I’d lost my ideal getaway place in the mountains of my kinfolk. I made the move because I thought I should be able to live with Grace in one house, in one place, all the time, because I loved her and I’d done so much recovery and therapy work. What I now wish I had done was accept that I needed a place of my own to go, to recharge, recover, re-discover, reconnect, and then return. In buying the farm I was trying to make someone else’s rhythms my own. It didn’t work. I need a getaway place. I need to sleep alone for a week every couple of months and wander through the woods and write about what I find. Instead of knowing my needs I tried to second guess Grace’s, and when I did she and I lost more than we had bargained for. I was doing what I thought I “should” do, not what I needed to do.

John Lee

View posts by John Lee
John Lee has been a leader and author in men’s health issues for over a decade. Lee began his career as a professor at Austin Community College, the University of Alabama, and the University of Texas. He has written 18 self-help, psychology, recovery, creativity, or relationship non-fiction books that explore men’s health issues, like alcoholism and co-dependency. In addition to literature, Lee has advocated for the maintenance and improvement of men’s health in magazines, like Newsweek and on shows such as Oprah and 20/20. In 1986, Lee co-founded Primary, Emotional, Energy, Recovery (P.E.E.R.), a training program for counselors, social workers, and psychotherapists. Two years later, he founded and directed Austin’s Men’s Center, a counseling center that specializes in men’s issues. In the late 1980’s, he opened his own private practice in Austin, Texas specializing in men’s issues, relationships, adult children of alcoholics, and co-dependency. His latest two books, The Anger Solution and When the Buddha Met Bubba, are on sale now on Amazon.com. More information about John Lee can be found on his web site http://www.johnleebooks.com and on his daily blog at http://openingtheheartnow.blogspot.com.
Scroll to top