Mile Markers: Earned Pleasure

This was eventually going to happen at some point: My therapist used a running metaphor to school me.

Many therapists don’t disclose much about their personal lives, preferring to maintain professional distance. So I didn’t even know she was a runner, though I’ve mentioned my own running dozens of times. I should have guessed. It was obvious from her fit physique, constant hydration with a large water bottle, the healthy snacks on her desk, and the several weeks she recently spent in a stress fracture boot. No wonder I like and respect her so much.

We were talking about relationships (what else?) and I was complaining about how hard it is to transition from “new” to “not new.” If you remember back to your dating days (or maybe you’re dating as well) then you know the murky middle between the excitement of a new connection and the real work of transitioning into something that will potentially last. When things are new, everyone presents their best self, all shiny and perfect. Over time, hopefully, you start to see and be seen as the authentic, real, messy you. That can be scary, but unless you plan to spend your whole life going from new to new, eventually you have to learn how to go deeper. And both are beautiful in different ways.

My therapist was explaining this to me, telling me how with time and effort the real relationship can be more exciting and amazing than any new fling. It’s not the same hot, endorphin-flooded buzz, but it can be even better.

That sounds incredible, I thought. Somehow even impossible. She must have seen the doubt on my face because she played her trump card—a running analogy.

“Okay, so you’re a runner, right?” she asked.

“Yes, you know this,” I replied.

“So, you know when you first started running, how everything was awkward, heavy, and hard? Your breathing was labored. Your legs ached. Your face was red. Sometimes you just wanted to quit. Remember that?”

“Oh, God yeah. I remember,” I said. “Like after having a baby. Ugh. It was so hard to feel good again.”

“But remember what happened when you kept at it? How surprised and happy and accomplished you felt when you could make it around the loop without stopping? Or when you could go further than before? Or the shift that happens when you start looking forward to running rather than dreading it? It’s a beautiful thing when running becomes easier, a pleasure, a gift.”

I smiled, agreeing wholeheartedly.

“Relationships are like this. It can be hard work up front, to commit. But when you break through that, you enjoy the rare experience of making a hard thing become easier. You find your stride and your pace and you move gracefully and joyfully. Your strength and endurance build, and you don’t notice the effort as much as how good it feels. Pleasure of this caliber is earned.”

By now I was all choked up, nodding and sniffling into my tissue. She was speaking my love language—our love language. My sweet peeps, we get this on a core level. This is love, translated from one form to another, but at the heart it’s the same. It’s passion, commitment, discipline, courage, and camaraderie. It’s being all in, and it’s worth it.

Earned pleasure is the very best kind.

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