The Threat Of Loss Is The Only Thing That Makes Love Worthwhile

whiskey drinking couple
Love, Self

"Try this," I said, passing her a glass filled to the brim.

"What is it?" Debbie asked.

"Maybe the best bourbon you'll ever taste in your life." Sometimes I fancy myself the Willy Wonka of booze.

Her nose wrinkled as she raised a hand to stop me, "No thanks, I'm okay."

"You don't like whiskey?"

"I don't like The Burn!" she laughed.

Whatever benefits this rare malt had to offer, my date was not alone in being unable to look past the smart of the first sip – "The Burn" is what keeps the uninitiated from whiskey. But, connoisseurs know that no matter how "intoxicating" the bouquet or rich the flavor, whiskey's not worth drinking without The Burn.

Are whiskey drinkers just enthusiastic masochists? To some extent, as all people are. Consider love: a fundamental force of nature that tricks us into fulfilling our procreative destinies. Love draws us together and gives us meaning, but not without a harrowing price: the likelihood of loss. Drunk Women More Likely For STDs

Yet we thrive on the drama. All the anxiety and stress we experience—from the chase, the arguments, the uncertainty of it all—is not only worth it for the payoff, it's part of what keeps us coming back for more. This addictive paradox invigorates us by reaffirming our mortality just as the bitter sting of alcohol does. The key is moderation – balancing the painful elements with the finer, more delicate parts of a meaningful relationship. No one wants pure burn, or we'd drink gasoline martinis. Easier said than done, sometimes we all swig too deeply…

Two months after the whiskey offering, my excitement about Debbie had grown exponentially. I began to fantasize about our future together like a rom-com serial bridesmaid who's finally met her groom (I'm played by Jennifer Aniston in this film). We spoke more and more frequently, and I pushed for more and more dates. My not-yet-girlfriend enthusiastically complied, and soon we could both read the print on the signs above each fork of the road ahead: "Exclusivetown" and "Dumpsville."

Historically, I had always categorized women into "lifelong partners" or "doomed incompatibles." Inevitably, every sweetheart—even those running a strong race for six months or even a year—would eventually land in the latter grouping. I felt safe and secure in doomed relationships because I could envision their finite boundaries and escape at any time. It's impossible to know for sure if this pattern perpetually resurfaced because I valued freedom above love, or because I simply hadn't met anyone worth dating for a lifetime. Nevertheless, this was my M.O.

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And so, as we approached our impending crossroad, and I began to sense, from her sudden reticence, that Debbie was starting to get nervous–I remembered to get nervous. Staring down the barrel of what could quickly and easily become my most serious relationship to date, I became petrified by the prospect of supreme commitment, no matter how far away such a fate might have actually been. Our relationship had great potential, and it was scaring the crap out of both of us. Sorry, Grandma, but "nice Jewish girls" are as susceptible to anxiety as we nice Jewish boys are. Why Falling In Love Is Just Like Investing In Real Estate

The unspoken tensions came to a head when, after sitting silently through an entire movie at her apartment, I asked her what she was thinking about. Following a long, awkward pause, she explained that she needed space. Overwhelmed, she felt we would benefit from spending less time together. I told her I agreed, but was secretly panicking inside.

The next morning, I saw my therapist. (I may not be equipped to fix my own intimacy issues, but at least I had the sense to not push the eject button before consulting a professional.) I told him about the girl I had come to like so much, and about how invested we had become in one another. I told him about her pulling away, unnerved and frightened, and how it had triggered my own apprehensions. I told him about how uncomfortable it felt to have no roadmap while paradoxically dreading long-term commitment at the same time. And, I told him about my plan for swiftly ending the relationship, defusing the ticking timebomb before it could blow up in my face.

"Did you ask her if she wants to break up?" asked the good doctor.

"Yes," I responded.

He sat back in his chaise lounge and placed his hands behind his head, weaving his fingers through wild, white, Einsteinesque locks. "And what did she say?"

"No."

He stared at me and smiled knowingly. "Then listen to what she wants. Don't be afraid of a little discomfort in the process."

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Of course, he was talking about The Burn. Why fear The Burn? Because opening yourself up to it, being vulnerable, is downright frightening. What if it scorches my throat? What if I can't get the bitter taste out of my mouth? What if I drown? 5 Ways Your Abandonment Issues Are RUINING Your Relationship

What I had failed to remember in the midst of panic is that love is only made better by the growing pains. Intimacy without fear of loss is just sex. That little taste of potential loss makes us feel alive and keeps love vibrant and new. Instead of fighting it, I needed to relinquish control over the outcome of this adventure and accept the possibility of a beautiful failure. Don't run from The Burn, I intoned to myself, live in it. 

Debbie and I didn't speak at all that day. We didn't speak the next day either. I gave her the space she needed, realizing she was a step ahead of me this whole time. While I had become too available, too accessible in the delicate opening moments of the romance, she needed to long for me. She was never scared of The Burn – she was yearning for it.

After two days of radio silence, Debbie texted me asking what I was up to. Excited to hear from her, but resolved to embrace the ambiguity of our situation, I reported back positively and self-assuredly, without any subtext. Slowly, over the course of a week, we began communicating naturally again. By embracing the uncertainty, I had somehow embodied a mysterious confidence making me more attractive than ever before. Soon we were spending more time together than we had previously, and were at ease expressing our mutual desire to do so. Do You Have Masculine Energy?

While our anticipation continued to melt into a productive fuel that nourished the relationship, we found that there are additional bittersweet checkpoints beyond the three-month mark. When I finally mustered the courage to express greater feelings for her (gulp: love), it was just as turbulent. Throughout the two weeks it took her to gather the nerve to reciprocate, I felt as if I were skydiving without a parachute, uncertain if my fall would be broken by a fluffy, comfy cloud or a dumpster at the broken needle factory.

By the time we celebrated our first anniversary—an unspoken point of reflection to consider dating for another year or more—we were both better prepared to take a bit more enjoyment from the terrifying act of freefalling together. Our most recent plunge was the decision to move in together, which brought with it a whole new array of anxieties to keep us up at night (e.g., "What if we get sick of each other?" "Are we compatible roommates?" "Whose blender do we keep???") The difference now, however, from previous incarnations of The Burn, is that we are able to talk openly about wanting to continue cultivating the relationship. Knowing your partner isn't interested in leaving makes it easier to take joy from the ache of adjusting to each new phase.

We're not immune to daily conflict. While accustomed drinkers will find that The Burn can become more familiar and easier to tolerate as a whiskey matures, good love maintains a healthy burn volume: an energizing disagreement over weekend plans, an insensitive joke or even control of the TV remote can fire things up and cleanse the buildup of rising tensions.

Nearly a year after turning down her first prospective dive into single barrel whiskey, my girlfriend finally accepted a second offer of the Wild Turkey "Kentucky Spirit" I had once presented to her before. Debbie drinks bourbon now – loves the stuff, in fact. For the sake of full disclosure, she often takes her whiskey in a Manhattan. But, I have nothing but love and respect for that noble cocktail – beneath the sweet vermouth and dashes of aromatic bitters, one can always still detect that sharp, delicious burn.

Check out more from Ethan at EthanFixell.com