I want to show you my room
My partner Anna and I have developed a lot of shortcuts, as partners often do, for letting each other know when a particular something is happening. One of my favorite shortcuts I learned about from a workshop instructor about fifteen years ago - I haven’t actually used this one, but I just love it.
He ran three businesses as well as these workshops that kept him travelling all over the world and while he placed great emphasis on spending quality time with his kids, he came to realize (as the point was fairly well beaten into him) that he was neglecting his wife.
So he came up with the “Intimacy Meter.”
The Intimacy Meter was a paper dial cut out with a magnetic indicator needle that lived on their fridge. One side of the dial was increasingly green and led to “Intimacy is GREAT!” at the far end. The other side was increasingly red and led to, yes... “Intimacy is NOT GREAT!” with a little lightning bolt for emphasis.
The deal was that either one of them could just adjust the dial whenever they were walking by, if they felt like it. He might turn it more to green if they had a nice morning - but mostly the purpose it served was to ALERT him. And when he walked by the fridge and saw that needle slammed into the red by the lightening bolt, he’d know it was time to PLAN A WONDERFUL EVENING - and buy flowers. It never hurts to buy flowers.
The brilliance of this is it allowed them to communicate easily something that is not at all easy to communicate - “I need more from you.” It made it fun, she didn’t have to say word or feel like a bitter nag, and he didn’t have to feel hounded or like he had to read her mind.
Anna and I don’t use that one, but we’ve got a fair number of these that we’ve developed that work incredibly well, and I want to tell you about two of them.
The first comes from owning a cat.
Mostly what you get from owning a cat is fur. Everywhere. Cats are small biological machines for turning cat food into cat fur and they are incredibly efficient at it. They are also adorable.
Many of you who have lived with cats may have experienced the somewhat questionable compliment that a cat will sometimes bestow, in the form of a dead rodent on your pillow.
For any predator to willingly give hard-won prey to another animal, there must be a bond of caring and love that achieves the level of blood relation. That mouse or vole or rat or bird is your cat’s way of saying “I treasure you, I care for you, you are family.”
...and yes, it’s a dead thing in your bed.
So Anna and I, if we have something tender to share, something we might be embarrassed about, or something that’s hard to say, something we wouldn’t show or say to anyone other than those who matter most, we’ll start by saying... “I want to give you a vole.”
The idea here is that sometimes the gifts of intimacy don’t really look like gifts on the receiving end. Sometimes they look like dead rodents. Maybe I want to tell her something that I’m embarrassed about, or she wants to confess something that she’d rather she hadn’t done. Without a way to know that these are difficult and tender, the listener might... not react in accordance with the true nature of what is happening.
When we choose to be intimate with one another, and share things we might not otherwise share, that, in itself is a gift. The gift of trust, of being seen, of showing something real beyond the plans of how we wish to appear.
So we give this little heads-up - “I want to give you a vole” - or, ‘in a minute I’m going to say something that’s hard for me to say, and I want you to appreciate that I’m trusting you with this, and I’m sharing this to be closer to you. Please be nice to me right now.’
And let’s face it... that’s a mouthful.
It works like a charm by the way, and we simply do not have the upsets and discord that comes from misinterpreting these messages. And more than that, we have a safe, easy way to share them, so we do that more and more with each other. Through this we have become a safe haven for each other’s shyest moments.
The second is related to this but a little more particular. Have you ever, as an adult, encountered a little kid who took a shine to you and, before grasping your hand and tugging you down the hall, said “I want to show you my room”?
It’s incredibly sweet. There is something so innocent and inviting, an opening of the heart, an invitation to become close, to be friends, to share their delights and fascinations and prides. It is, to that little soul, total exposure and the desire to connect, to be seen, to be liked for who they are.
So we use this too, and when we want to share something particularly meaningful - and it could be a book or a TV show, a piece of music or cloth, a picture or a movie or a favorite kind of food - we’ll say “I want to show you my room.”
After years of this we’ll often just say “We’re in my room now!” if the thing has jumped out unexpectedly from behind a rock - the way it did last week when we started watching the T.V. show Kung Fu (Anna NEVER saw Kung Fu growing up! Can you believe it?!).
...Kung Fu is definitely in my room, so be nice to me about it.
What this does is it lets your partner know that a very young part of you is in play right now, and that part wants to take their hand.
You would never, if an eight-year-old tugged you into their room with this invitation, stand there, cross your arms and say “What a dump!” You just wouldn’t do it. You would get the gesture. You would understand what is at stake. You’d say something nice.
The stakes don’t really change for us as we get older - we just have better ways of hiding. But we still have the same needs, we still have the same essential fears. There is still the eight-year-old in each of us wanting to share, wanting to connect, wanting to be liked.
What would it be like if that were totally safe to do? What would you want to show someone close to you? What little delight is meaningful to you that you’d like to share?
Finding these things to share has become an active part of our relationship, and it is a fantastic way to get to know one another better, to understand one another more deeply and to continue to learn the story of how we each became ourselves. We’re going to be making mix tapes of our childhoods to share next. I love seeing her room. And I love showing her mine.
Give this a try - find something from your past that is particularly meaningful, and share it with someone you love with that intent. Let them know, ‘here’s something that’s really meaningful to me’ and tell them the story of it. Invite them to do the same.
You can still show someone your room if you want to.
...for the record, in my room you’d find:
*Mr. Rogers Neighborhood
*The book How to Eat Fried Worms
*Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass’s album Going Places
*Seiji Ozawa conducting the Boston Symphony in Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony (my
awakening to classical music)
*Gone with the Wind (assigned over Christmas break my sophomore year of high
school (totally WRONG to do that!!). Totally Girly. I hated that I loved that book)
*And Arrowsmith’s Toys in the Attic (first album I ever bought - and it had a song that
was almost dirty)
What’s in yours?