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Ashley Kelsch Dating Column: Connection in the Cold

Ashley Kelsch is Austin’s top certified, professional dating and relationship coach and former owner of Teddies for Betty’s, the lingerie boutique on 2nd Street that she ran for a decade. She offers one-on-one life-coaching programs to help clients acknowledge and understand limiting beliefs, to set boundaries and to learn how to change mindsets so they can get what they want in their romantic lives and feel empowered. Ashley helps men and women of all ages, single and married. She has a weekly podcast called Modern Renegades, and you can follow her on Instagram @AshleyMKelsch.

As Texans, we have just collectively witnessed and experienced a colossal nightmare that left millions without power, heat and water.

We watched thousands of citizens take matters into their own hands to protect and serve their communities.

We felt the stillness of the black night, the chill that lingered for days only to watch it melt away with in 24 hours. As if it never happened. But it did. And damage remains. The fallout from this disaster has left many displaced, un-homed, still without food and water.

I was one of the lucky ones with friends within walking distance, able to find places for my family to stay and to safely go back and forth to check in and share meals.

In the middle of it all, it occurred to me that I still need to work. Which meant I need to find a way to talk about dating, love and relationships while the lights are out. While people are waiting in hour long lines for food. While pipes are bursting in hallways.

I felt flooded with self-judgment and embarrassment at the idea of talking about love, dating and relationships on top of the pain I was feeling for our community. It seemed so trivial.

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My brain, during moments of survival, has the tendency to eliminate what it deems as unessential. In this moment, the pursuit of love did not seem important. Was sex important to survival during cave days? Absolutely. Would it have been important to my overall wellbeing during this crisis? It’s likely. But it wasn’t to my survival.

However, I also know the brain’s tenacity, ability and commitment to look for confirmation bias. It occurred to me that my experience – my brain’s way of processing, qualifying what is or isn’t important and what I’m interpreting going on around me – isn’t the same for others.

No one is thinking about sex, dating, hooking up or if the guy they just connected with on Bumble has electricity and four-wheel drive … right?

Wrong. Though the suffering and pain has been very real for many, people were 100 percent still swiping right and left. They were still connecting with others and witnessing well-established relationships reignite.

This reminded me about one very particular quality in the human design. We are wired as a tribal species to connect and seek pleasure.

To be alone is like death to our brain. Consider the prison system’s solitary confinement practices. To be cast out of society and left only with self is worse than death for most humans. We are literally designed for the opposite.

Community. Connection. Togetherness. This is what makes our brains, bodies and souls go ‘round.

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Maybe I wasn’t able to comprehend swiping on an app or lounging with my lover while the lights were out, but others might be.

I decided to do some research. I texted people I knew who were in Texas experiencing similar circumstances to get their perspectives on what their week looked like in terms of dating, using apps and connecting with others. At first, crickets. After a surge of self-doubt for even thinking to send the text, slowly but surely the responses came in. By the end of the week, I received a bunch of replies and enjoyed the conversations.

I heard from people who bonded over freezing temperatures and text messages. As soon as the ice melted, a few met up in person with someone new and felt an immediate connection after the harrowing week.

I heard from a dear friend who said after 10 years in a relationship, the storms made her and her partner aware of all the things they’ve survived together and that there isn’t anything they can’t get through. A wedding date is officially – finally – forthcoming.

Another person told me that they had spent the evening with someone who reminded them what it felt like to be alive after years of feeling sexually dormant and deprived.

On the other hand, the frigid weather coincided with the beginning of the end for another acquaintance who once thought there was only one person on earth they’d ever want to be locked down with. But after five days of no touching and awkward silences, this couple realized they are no longer where they were two years ago and that they want something else with other people.

And then there was the teenage love story, which, I must admit, gave me life.

Checking in with my 17-year-old and their boyfriend garnered responses like: “We’re good. We just came in from a walk and we’re going to build a snowman.” They walked miles between our homes, carrying food for our families, reading together and living through an experience that I’m positive this teenage couple will never forget.

All of these stories came from people who were without power, heat, water and in some cases food. But they wanted to talk to me about these connections – sometimes it was all they wanted to talk about. And I understand why.

Now that my brain has unlocked from its frozen state of crisis, I see how important these connections are in relation to our survival, that love and connection are the things that light us up. They’re why survival matters.

Looking for The One, connecting with others, dating, etc., should never be considered trivial – regardless of the circumstances.

Relationships are equally important off the grid as on the grid. Human connection is what keeps us warm.

This is the power of love.

It’s the charge that gives us hope and carries us through the unprecedented times we continue to face. We need it always and more than ever.