Once upon a time, in a life miles and years away from now, I was actively involved in a dance community. I was an instructor and a performer, and at monthly get-togethers would be very much in demand to help teach people moves, techniques, and occasionally do a demonstration. Sometimes I’d dance with individuals to help demonstrate steps and how to follow a lead, but I tried to make sure that I took the time occassionally to just dance for the joy of it, no goal other than enjoying the music, the moves, and the various partners who accompanied me to the floor.
One night I had completed a rather strenuous but quite fun dance with a young woman. It had started out pretty typical, some basic moves and assorted variations, but at a certain point we got kind of silly, throwing in various private and public jokes through the dance moves and even at one point carrying on a strange sort of Punch-and-Judy routine out loud as we danced.
It was hilarious fun, and we collapsed laughing against a wall when the dance ended. I got us some water to refresh our sweaty bodies, and slowly we managed to stop giggling every time we looked at each other.
Then she got a serious expression on her face, and looked at me. “Why do you dance with me?” I guess my expression must have shown some confusion, because she clarified, waving her hand around the many people in the club. “I mean, you could dance with just about anyone here. When you dance with me – what do you get out of it?”
The Nourishing Instinct
I thought about it. She had a point. We had danced with each other a few times before, but as I thought back I realized that yes, I tended to dance with her every single evening that she was there – sometimes more than once. It wasn’t for the obvious reason one might think – while she was lovely, I did not consider her dating material*.
So why did I ask her to dance, time and time again? I let the question sink into my psyche, and the answer came bubbling back almost immediately.
“Simple,” I said. “You give back.”
It was true. When I was teaching, or performing I was putting out energy, trying to communicate a movement concept or evoke an emotion through my movement. It’s a constant expenditure of energy. I would go to this young woman, I realized, because when I danced with her, at the end even if I was sweating and gasping out of breath, I felt like I had more energy than when I started.
Even when doing a dance one on one, there are times when the leading motions are taken in by the follower precisely, completely, but with no feedback. That can be draining in a lot of ways – some of my more psychically-oriented friends would call them “energy vampires” – but regardless of what you call them, they exist.
You probably can think of a few in your life. The child who seems to just wear you out just from being in the house. The person at work who seems friendly enough over lunch but leaves you feeling exhausted when they leave. The friend who you love dearly but who puts this weary, “not-again” look in your eye when they come over to tell you about their latest adventure.
It’s not that these are bad people. They are often amazingly beautiful people, exciting and thrilling and popular. But they are also exhausting. When you start to recognize them, and realize where they are in your life, you have three options:
- You can try to avoid them. Yes, you will have more energy, but you may miss out on other benefits (like the really good stories your friend tells).
- You can resign yourself to being drained. It’s not a bad thing, per se. Think of it as a marathon; you don’t expect to have any energy left at the end, but the pleasure of the journey makes you do it anyway, and you’ll recover the energy eventually, right? Works great, until you run into several marathons in a row…that can be a shock.
- You can balance with people who give back.There are people like my dance partner above who simply re-energize you when you’re with them. Notice who these people are, and balance the “energy vampires” with the ones who leave you recharged.But remember: if they’re charging you, that means you may be draining them. Unless you…
Get It Out
You can figure out how to give them what they need to get out of their time with you as well. Find someone who does recharge you, and try asking the question: “When you spend time with me: what do you get out of it?” It could be any number of things, and often it will be surprising. Your smile. Your chocolate-chip cookie recipe. The way you tell a story. The fact that you actually like Keanu Reeves.
Whatever it is, remember that. And when you see them, get it out. Make sure they get what they need. Odds are that’s not too difficult, because you were probably doing it unconsciously already. That’s what drew the two of you together in the first place.
And if the answer to “What do you get out of it?” is “I don’t know,” well, then I guess you have something different to think about, eh?