You know the worst thing about February? It’s not the sleet and the snow or the reality that everything is gray and gloomy. It’s Valentine’s Day, which takes over our lives with a flurry of well-meaning reminders that we should find someone, anyone to share the 14th with (at the very least a hookup).
While Valentine’s Day is unarguably great for the greeting card and the restaurant industries, it’s also a reminder of just how many of us struggle with intimacy. Which is why consultants like Valerie Baber are never short on clients. Baber guides people through thorny relationship quandaries, helping them come out happier, more reflective, and truly ready to engage with others. But she’s clear about one thing up front: It requires effort.
If you’ve never heard of an intimacy coach before, you may have some misconceptions about what one does, so here’s the deal: As an intimacy coach, Baber helps men and women struggling with the issues of love and romance get the love they want. She offers private counseling sessions, speaks to clients all around the world via Skype, and even offers a “wingwoman” service which involves her going out with clients and acting as “social lubricant” (her words) to ease some of the anxieties of modern dating. She’ll give you feedback on your approach and interaction style, and she even offers multi-hour coaching sessions that give clients deep insight into their own patterns of behavior.
Baber’s job, as she sees it, is to correct and challenge people’s incorrect assumptions about sex and relationships and to get them to think more deeply about sex, love, and relationships — things most people don’t think too deeply about, because they’re uncomfortable.
“We’re under the perception that if we love someone, it should just work out. And that is a horribly unhealthy perception to have,” Baber said during a recent phone conversation. “It takes work — and not just physical work, but mental work. We need to be more analytical. We need to be more scientific with love, or we’re going to encounter the same problems that we’ve been encountering.”
So how do you “do the work?” Baber was happy to give all of us some real talk about the biggest mistakes we make in relationships and how to fix them.
Enjoy the work
Every once in a while, one of your Facebook friends (probably that co-worker you hate) will post some meme about “true love beating all odds” or how “if your relationship is work, then you’re in the wrong relationship,” and every time it happens, you probably have the instinct to wonder whether you’ve just never been in a great relationship before because, dude, some guy you hate from the office seems to be having the best time.
“That is a wonderful, romantic point of view,” Baber says. “I can’t help but think that those people are twenty one and clearly not experienced. Some relationships will take less work, but there’s no such thing as a fantasy romance where if you just love each other enough, then everything magically falls into place. Life is work, and relationships and love and sex are all a part of life. Anyone who says love and relationships are all a walk in the park hasn’t been around on this earth for very long.”
That’s somewhat comforting — and a good reminder to mute anyone who posts things like that — but it does make relationships sound a little more dull. Hollywood sells us grand romance and fairy tale fantasies that end with the most beautiful kisses, but Baber says that doing the work in a relationship can be an exciting process and not something you should shy away from.