How to Inject Some “Good, Sexy Juices” Into Your Quarantine-Fatigued Relationship
Dating coach Eduardo Bettencourt gives advice on how to find peace with your partner — and yourself
The last 10 weeks have pushed many of our relationships to the breaking point, whether with our partners, with the family members regurgitating conspiracy theories online, or with ourselves. We can’t do much about that middle scenario, but we did seek out some tools for the other two.
Maybe you’re struggling with maintaining a high degree of attraction to a partner you’re now not just living with, but coexisting alongside 24-7. Maybe you’re lonely and not sure how to use this extra time at home with purpose. To dig into those questions, we called Marin’s own Eduardo Bettencourt, an expert in building healthy relationships from the ground up. (To work with Eduardo directly, see here.)
InsideHook: I feel like a lot of people don’t know how to sort through their feelings right now.
Eduardo Bettencourt: You have to get your head around two key things. You need to be extremely, extremely gentle with yourself. And then you want to be careful not to have any expectations. If you’re gentle with yourself and you’re not having any expectations, you’re creating a really fertile ground to be able to look at this as an opportunity to explore: Who am I?
We all know that we’re going to be able to go to a movie or a gym or a restaurant — we just don’t know when. So the question to ask yourself is, “How can I use this present, right now, to support the me that’s in this situation?”
So where would you start with that, if you feel really mired down — by stress, anxiety, depression?
Practical, physical things you can do to shake you up and out of the doldrums. Be gentle. Don’t have expectations. Just move, breathe, make some noise for 10 minutes at a time, at least three times a day. Get out and play.
Even when our busy lives come back, we can spend 30 minutes a day working on ourselves, doing things that involve breath, movement, and sound. If you’re feeling frustrated, maybe you just need to let out some noise.
Google “movement practice.” Google “sound practice.” We all have access to a tremendous amount of information online. You can find what you need to make this time as productive or destructive as you want.
I know some people who are generally single and ready to mingle, but have been caught off guard by feeling lonely.
I have a friend in her mid-50s, divorced with two children, and she was down in the dumps for a long time. I kept pressing her to get online — finally she did and within a week, she met this guy who lives in Alaska. Now they live together, they travel around the country in one of those Dodge Sprinters — boom, just like that. I have a really good friend’s brother who never even had a girlfriend in his 30s — he met this woman online and now they’re married and have two kids now!
So get online. There’s just so much available to you on the Internet. We don’t have to waste time now being stuck in traffic or taking public transportation or waiting for an Uber … all that waiting and travel time is out of the equation for now. You can just sit at home and pour all that time into learning a new skill. Learning how to communicate. Learning how to express yourself intimately better. And practicing those skills online with others — even if they don’t become intimate partners but friends. I have even more of those stories.
What if you still want to meet people IRL, when all this is over?
I have a lot of friends who are always like, “How do you just date so easily?” I’ve had three long-term relationships in the 10 years I’ve been in the Bay Area. And I just say, “Dance!” I dance all the time. My friends are unwilling to put themselves in that position because they’re stuck on just doing it one way. But when something’s not working, you’d think you’d want to try everything that’s available to you.
So where are you dancing?
I go to the typical free movement/ecstatic dance/Sweat your Prayers/Open Floor. There’s also Biodanza. There are a lot of these places where you’re encouraged to dance by yourself so there’s no awkwardness. Most are drug- and alcohol-free environments, so there’s no beer goggling, if that’s still a term.
And what do you get out of it?
Aside from whether or not you meet anyone — just going and expressing yourself freely and without shame, plus the good sweat and workout. It’s at the top of the list of the things that I suggest people do.
What do you say to someone who can’t let go, or express himself freely without shame, because he just feels too awkward?
If you’re authentically awkward, that’s perfect. “Awkward” can have a negative connotation, but I’d rather think about it as the genuine and the real. If you’re really awkward and really genuine and the person across from you sees that and still likes you, it’s a better filter. It’s useful to know if people think your awkwardness is negative or weird, so you don’t have to waste time with them.
I’d be a little anxious to just head into one of these free movement events.
That was me, too, at first — I was also a little frightened. My sort of virginal experience with it was Sunday morning ecstatic dance in Oakland, which is this space curated by a woman, so it’s a little more intentional around creating safety in subtle and nuanced ways. It’s also in the morning, so people don’t have their “game” on.
I was just blown away — there were people dancing blindfolded, there were adults holding babies with big ear muffs on, there were women who felt so free they were taking their tops off and dancing, there were people writhing on the floor, and not even in a sexual way. And that really gives you permission to let your freak flag fly. For those who still think that’s pretty far out, a lot of these happen at night, when people feel a little less inhibited. Or try the blindfold version, which is really liberating.
What about back at home? A lot of people are stuck in small spaces with their partners more than ever before, and it’s weird.
I encourage people to touch each other every day, in both a sensual and non-sensual way — and if the energy builds right, maybe in a sexual way. That feel-good connection is a good starting point.
If that [daily touch] feels good, you can create what I’ve been calling a “cuddle day.” Have a day that’s just about cuddling and getting those feel-good hormones circulating between you, with no expectations around sex. You can break away from the cuddle and come back to it, but don’t have it be a “balance” day, where you’re also working and doing chores. It has to be a predominantly cuddle day. Put yourself together. Get in the cuddle space. You might find yourself digging even deeper into the mysteries that are within yourself. Maybe you’ll find, “I’ve always wanted to” or “Remember that time when I did this.”
One example for me was, before all of this was going on, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, my partner decided to do a sexy dance — she put on sexy music, she created a nice atmosphere with candles, and she started to do a sexy dance. And I was hot for her in a way I hadn’t been since the first few months of our relationship. And there was nothing so unusual there — we’d been in that room 100 times. We’d had candles. It was really me witnessing this different aspect of her — because that’s often what we’re attracted to: the difference in the other person.
What else could someone try?
Maybe you want to try something new, like sexting. Maybe you start by sending a little sext or just a flirty message to your partner. If you have a big enough place, you can say, “We’re going to rendezvous at 4:30 pm in the hallway closet.” And then you go from the morning you send that text — or even the night before, so you can dream about it — until your 4:30 rendezvous in the closet. And you see what happens.
Another thing that’s really good is to play fight. You need to be playing every day, whether there’s a pandemic or not. It doesn’t mean basketball or golf or ping-pong. It’s a way of playing with each other in a way that makes you laugh.
In most relationships, one partner is stronger than the other — it’s not about winning, it’s just about getting aggression out. Get on the bed and wrestle in a way that’s fun and friendly but also moving energy — and that can lead to all kinds of good, fun, sexy behavior, just by getting all that tension out of the body. You’re already in a space of touch, and if you’ve done the groundwork with days or weeks or months of practicing touch, and maybe a cuddle date here or there, then it’s not that hard.
What if you’re tired of being on your own?
Just start talking to people. If you’ve heard everything your friends have to say, explore some different chat groups. Get online and see where people are already interacting. Get rational with yourself and realize you already can go out and be in the presence of another person with a face mask on, at a distance. Read back into history, when people had to court one another for months if not years before they ever got to touch. Read about the power and passion that builds up by having this desire and not having it fulfilled until who knows when — until the parents decided they could have that first kiss.
And in the meantime, work on yourself. Sign up for singing lessons online. In the process of working on yourself, you may find that your singing lesson coach is the first and last love of your life. Get out of your head, reach out to other people. There’s tens of thousands of things you can do online now.
And the one thing I do every day to answer all of the questions you’ve asked me so far is to meditate. There’s thousands of mindfulness apps and classes now — one I recommend to my clients all the time is from Sam Harris, who has an app called Waking Up and a book by the same name.
And know this will pass, like everything else does. You might as well come out of it a better dancer, or singer, or guitar player, or more flexible, or have more peace of mind, or have five or 10 or 15 dates lined up. Just start lining them up for next month — and if next month doesn’t happen, push them back two weeks.