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On Love, Relationships, Fearlessness and People

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Maybe I'm more tuned in to the topic because I'm working on the chapter of my book dealing with fearlessness in love and relationships, but passing my neighborhood newsstand today I was struck by the overwhelmingly downbeat message our pop culture is sending about modern love and relationships.

The romantic woes of Nick & Jessica, Britney & Kevin, Heather & Richie, Brad & Angelina, Sheryl & Lance, Hilary & Chad are enough to make a vow of celibacy downright tempting. Even the supposedly happy stories -- TomKat, anyone? -- are more than a little creepy.

And it's not just the celebrity mags and tabs. New York Magazine recently featured the big-buck break up of Ron Perelman and Ellen Barkin on its cover.

Cue Tina Turner: What's Love Got to Do With It?

For my far less sensational (and far less depressing) take on relationships, here are a few excerpts from On Becoming Fearless. Please send me your stories of fear and fearlessness or of your journey from one to the other. And please let me know if I can use them in the book.

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The rewards of emotional fearlessness are many. The deepest of these is the gift of a profound intimacy that has been captured best for me by Tom Stoppard in his play The Real Thing. "It's to do with knowing and being known. I remember how it stopped seeming odd that in biblical Greek knowing was used for making love. Whosit knew so-and-so. Carnal knowledge. It's what lovers trust each other with, knowledge of each other, not of the flesh but through the flesh, knowledge of self, the real him, the real her, in extremis, the mask slipped from the face. Every other version of oneself is on offer to the public.... But in pairs we insist that we give ourselves to each other. What selves? What's left? What else is there that hasn't been dealt out like playing cards? A sort of knowledge. Personal, final, uncompromised. Knowing, being known. I revere that."

Knowing and letting oneself be known requires overcoming many ancient fears -- but it's worth every risk.

* * *

The key to being a fearless woman in an intimate relationship is not constantly looking over your shoulder for approval. But not pleasing the other is one of our biggest fears.

For a long time it was definitely my biggest fear. Starting with my first really important relationship. I was 21 when I first met Bernard Levin on a Face the Music television panel in London. He was 42. I was there as a curiosity -- a woman with a foreign accent, elected president of the Cambridge Union. He was there as a celebrated columnist for the London Times, an intellectual with an encyclopedic knowledge of music. He knew nothing about me. I had had a major intellectual crush on him ever since I discovered his writings while at Cambridge. I had devoured his book The Pendulum Years, and would meticulously cut his columns, underline them, and save them in a file (no, I did not put pressed flowers in the file, but might as well have). So when I found out that he was on the panel, I was reduced to a bundle of fears and inarticulateness. I'm still amazed that in my fog, I actually managed to recognize Schumann's Fourth Symphony.

At the end of the taping, he asked me out to dinner the following week. All I remember is that I spent the week in a state of high anxiety, prepping, getting myself up to date on Northern Ireland, the latest developments in the Soviet Union, and the latest Wagner recordings. I had so many fear butterflies during dinner, I basically just rearranged the food on my plate. I must have bored him to death, because for the second date, he took me to Covent Garden to see Wagner's The Mastersingers. As you probably have guessed by now, I spent the time between the dinner and the opera date reading about The Mastersingers, and considering more has been written about Wagner than anyone else except Jesus Christ, there was a lot to read.

* * *

How often do we as women move heaven and earth and structure our entire lives around getting the validation of one man -- to love us, to accept us, to honor us, to like us -- all so we can feel okay about ourselves? Intelligent, smart, talented, hard-working women allow themselves to be lost in the quest for one man's approval. They put up with his affairs, with his whims, with his indifference, with his distance, with his disregard. "Alas, our frailty is the cause, not we, For such as we are made of, such we be," says Viola in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.

When did we become frail, give up our strength, our spirit, our wisdom, to submit and compromise who we are out of fear of being alone or out of fear of not being with the mythical "one?" What are we afraid of? What is the eventuality we fear might befall us if we stop trying to please a man?

* * *

Bottom line, you can't be looking over your shoulder and be in a fearless, fulfilling relationship at the same time. You've got to choose. If what's most important to you is being regularly patted on the back for good behavior, or avoiding some punishment for bad behavior (for such infractions as too much independence) you'll never be able to bring your passion to your most intimate of all relationships.