“Having the life you want is an inside job”
Let me repeat that one more time for the people in the back.
“Having the life you want is an inside job”
That’s the slogan affixed to the top of Molly Godfrey’s website. Not only is she an NYC-based desire and intimacy coach, she’s also an integrated mental health coach, and works with women 1:1 to help them move from frustrated to free in their love lives, whether single, in a relationship, or the multitudes of grey areas in between. I met Molly in January at a women’s networking event, after I had just gotten out of a relationship myself, and felt an instant click and kinship with her worldview, innate empathy and compassion, and beautiful spirit.
She also has a gift with words, and as a published writer herself, there’s no lip service that I can do besides share her incredibly moving words, as she wrote them in our conversation below.
I was speaking to Molly last month, over Zoom, mulling over ideas and topics that we may want to discuss in this interview as we caught up. It’s a unique time to be single (I can attest to that), and also a unique time to be in a relationship at this point in history. With all that is happening in our world, the illusion of certainty that we’ve been laboring under has been removed. Of course, we never really had control over our outer world, but we sure liked to believe that we did, and that veil has been quite unceremoniously pulled back for us all.
I feel as though we are in a constant state of threading the needle between letting ourselves feel deeply in the present moment, and also being able to keep perspective. The perceived sense of safety is, largely, a thing of the past. We are renegotiating what it means to feel safe in each moment. That can be exhausting, but also, a blessing. As we discuss in our conversation, true safety has nothing to do with external factors, but inherently something that we must turn inwards for. “Feeling safe with ourselves” is how Molly aptly describes it. What a powerful calling that is, and what a time to be choosing to do that work. What a time to be alive, indeed.
Whether that cultivation of inner safety and freedom is something that you are working towards by and for yourself, or within the confines of an existing relationship, there is truly a plethora of nuggets of wisdom from Molly in our interview below. As I always like to think, and as Molly reiterates, everything begins from within, and stems from our relationships with ourselves.
So whether you’re here to read up on exactly what a desire and intimacy coach is, how to better your relationship, how to better be on your own (holler), how to cultivate a truer sense of personal safety during this pandemic, or you’re just along for the ride, thanks for being here. This interview is quite personal and dear to me, and I’m really grateful to have a platform with which to share it.
- When it comes to relationships, there’s a sizable difference between giving your friends advice over brunch and being able to professionally counsel other humans in this space. What drew you to this work, and what started you on this path?
Ah yes, I’ve written on this exact sentiment many times before. We ought to be mindful of our well-intentioned friends who by nature have their own biases, life experiences, and frames of references that they see the world through. If a change is really what you seek, working with a professional is what will make the ultimate difference. But let’s take a step back.
My journey into the field of dating, relationships, emotional intelligence, and human behavior was definitely not linear. There have been many twists and turns that ultimately lead to the creation of my coaching practice and writing platform. But I truly think the interest and calling started at a very young age.
I watched my parents contentiously divorce when I was just 5 years old. I was raised by my mother and my older half-sister, two strong, powerful women, but my life lacked any healthy “relationship role modeling”. My mother was a successful female entrepreneur and worked in the male-dominated financial services industry in the 90s. She would come home and tell me about the men she was surrounded by – the “toxic masculinity”, being a woman, and navigating herself inside of the traditional gender conditioning. I watched my friend’s families and their parent’s marriages too – no one seemed happy, or actually connected. There were a lot of facades.
I, too, then joined the corporate finance world and experienced these gender dynamics for myself. Infidelity, lust, consumption. Watching what I watched, seeing what I saw, and the pain of my own string of dysfunctional, unfulfilling, almost but not quite, loves, heartbreaks and relationships led me deeper into the study of what it takes, “the hows” to having happy, fulfilling, pleasurable, intimate connections. Ultimately, I wanted to get free and deeply understand myself so I could help other women do the same.
- Can you give us a window into what it is, exactly, that you do? How do you work with people, and what is your end goal in doing this work together?
I’ve struggled with the word “coach” because while yes, that is “technically” what I do, there’s also so much more. Women find me at various stages and places in their own personal growth and path – usually, because they’ve hit some point of realization within themselves. Something hasn’t been working, they’re on autopilot or engaged in the same behaviors, same patterns and they’re done. Tired. Frustrated. They’re disconnected from something but often don’t have the words for it. I serve as the face of their desire for something more. To touch something more inside of themselves, to allow themselves to feel that hunger. I simply give permission and hold space for this part of themselves that desperately wants to be given attention. Most often, it manifests in the realm of wanting a relationship, wanting to feel more confident dating, wanting to feel more self-expressed with men, or seeking a deeper and more intimate connection to their current partner. I brand myself as a “relationship coach” because for the everyday person that’s easiest to understand conceptually, but it’s a lot more than “How to Date 101”.
Anything we do is based in and rooted in desire. So together we’ll map out a 3-month plan, “targets” to work together on specific to the woman, anything from increasing self-esteem, personal power, self-worth, internal and external boundaries, nervous system regulation, and ending with the relationship to the masculine i.e. dating and the intricacies of building intimacy with someone. Leaving the past in the past – exes, old behaviors no longer in service to what’s now desired. Finding love in the present moment, mindfulness, reconnecting to self, and then living – how to integrate the deep work into new habits, behaviors, forming new and strengthening existing connections.
The ultimate goal in working together is the becoming of an integrated self. Being able to accept all aspects of one’s self naturally improves the quality of one’s relationships.
- What does a healthy relationship feel like to you? We all know that there is no guidebook, nor a one-size-fits-all explanation for what happiness and balance look like in a relationship. But on a macro level, what are some consistencies that you see when you observe healthy relationships?
You are definitely correct, everyone has a different experience of what they would consider a “healthy” relationship. Sometimes we mistake “comfort” for healthy connection, but ultimately I think a healthy relationship is when two people are on the same page in terms of what their commitments are to one another. They want each other to grow and change and are in support of each other’s goals, to be better people. There is mutual trust and respect. There is healthy communication, boundaries can be set, and each partner is trusted to have their own experience and freely express their desires and needs. Each person has their own identity, and a strong sense of self. The willingness to lean in when there are challenges and moments of vulnerability. Both partners continue to show up and choose each other, carve out quality time. I coach a lot around the cultivation of “attention building” practices. When we can learn how to have exquisite attention, really be present and hold sensation with and on our partner, stay curious, lead from a desire to know who our partner really is, learn to see them, and know them I think this ultimately leads to deeper connection and intimacy.
- During these past few months, much in all of our lives has been thrown into sharp relief. For us single ladies who have been alone during a pandemic, and are seeking to find a partner (like myself), I’ve found myself evaluating more closely than ever who I am spending my emotional energy on, and spending more time and love than ever on nurturing myself and filling up my own cup. How would you counsel women who are alone during this time, in order to take care of themselves while also being open to what they are seeking? #datingduringcovid
Yes… such an important question. I consider so much of 2020 as being in “a great pause”. For a lot of women, dating right now feels odd. A lot of us are displaced, not living in our normal city or home, or planning a move, or just experiencing a lot of uncertainty around when we’ll all be settled back into “normal” life as we knew it. Connecting with someone on an app and then meeting in person has a lot of new precautions to consider. I’m not sure we will go back to what we previously considered “normal”.
Regardless, connection has not been cancelled, love has not been cancelled, and all the massive change shouldn’t mean putting dating on hold. With that said, I think it’s an absolutely wonderful time, although not a super sexy answer, for reflection. Journaling, writing, finding any sort of creative practice to plug into. Dancing, body based practices of any kind. Time in nature if possible.
Here are some questions I think are a great starting point:
Who is the woman you really want to be?
What does she value?
What does she want to create?
What does she offer?
Who is most important to her?
What does she want her connections to feel like?
What does she want to be seen for, known for?
Where has she held herself back in the past?
Where is she keeping herself stuck?
What parts of her need attention?
What does her heart want, what does she really feel?
I think when we can really be with ourselves in these spots, feel these edges, navigate our internal worlds with intention, care, and love, our outside worlds start to arrange and work in alignment to serve this next version and these deep desires. We’re working on finding the lessons of the past, feeling gratitude in the growth and in the becoming.
I think this is also a great time to do an audit of who is in your life, and work to surround yourself with women you admire, women who “have something you want” – be it confidence, grace, generosity, courage, play, or joy. Women who will tell you the truth, and back your desires. We really are the sum of our connections, and I think intimate connections with other women are vitally important to the health of our romantic connections. Jealousy and competition can be our biggest hindrances to our growth, so using this time to really lean in and decide to learn from women who “have what you want” can only benefit you.
- For those of us who are in a relationship during this time, there is a whole ‘nother set of unique challenges. I was having a conversation about love languages with a close, married friend a few weeks ago, and proposed that during the pandemic, a 6th love language has emerged… space. How can we hold space and give our partners space in a healthy and secure way during this collective crisis?
Yes! I read that too and loved it. Space. It’s so important, and this is something I’ve had to learn to skillfully navigate in my own relationship with varying degrees of success (hah).
I would argue that energetic space is a real thing that we need. It’s naturally, normally built into our lives…we usually aren’t inside 24/7 in one space with our partners but alas, quarantine. When we’re in close quarters in combination with so much going on externally, it can be hard to hear our own voice, our own internal knowing, and when we’re in the experience of that it can be destabilizing.
Also, when we’re in a relationship with someone, we share what’s called a limbic connection. Meaning, we can, quite literally, feel each other. We become attached and we’re in response to one another… all the time. If they’re hurting, likely you’re hurting. If they’re anxious, likely you’ll feel anxious too. If your heart is open, you’ll probably feel more connected, loving, and compassionate if your heart is closed, feel communication breakdowns or irritations or disconnection more likely. It’s just the side effect of having a deep bond with someone; we affect each other. But it can also be amazing too… I love it when I’m thinking of my partner and he pops up on my phone. Or I’m stressed and he feels it even from far away and calls me. We’re connected, I think it’s crazy cool… the biology of it all. And even inside of that, we all need space.
I think especially now, we can all use a little extra patience and compassion, especially in our communication and trying not to make anything mean anything about us, i.e. taking things personally. A tool I like to prescribe is called a “safeport.” Essentially, it’s telling our partner what we want and need and what the boundaries are. It can sound something like “Hey babe, I’m going to be crazy busy the next week and need some space to work on things, so you probably won’t hear from me too much. I’ll make my own food and be keeping to myself, I won’t be as available to chat and hear about your day but I love you, and I’m not going anywhere. How about on Thursday after work we reconvene and connect?” Communicating clearly lowers everyone’s vigilant center. So your partner can take the space that they need and the other partner knows what’s going on and is trusted to have their own experience and respect the boundary.
I think understanding that we all do need space at different points in the relationship, being compassionate about that fact, being aware when you yourself need it, and communicating about it clearly will help it go more smoothly. And sometimes it won’t, but that’s the dance of being connected to someone and building intimacy in the trenches.
- When you and I were connecting on Zoom the other day, we had a really poignant conversation about the idea of redefining ourselves continually, not just at this moment in time that feels rife with uncertainty, but throughout life. We spoke about how our only constant sometimes seems to be that we are always growing and changing, if we are open to that, and so much of our work in relationships is how we do that in conjunction with one another and support each other through that. Can you speak to this a bit more deeply?
Yes… that is one of the biggest constants in life – change. It’s a tough one because as humans we do crave certainty, we do create expectations in our minds, and it’s completely normal to want to project into the future, plan, map things out and I think what 2020 has really revealed to us is that we just can’t rely on any sort of certainty as much as we’d wish we could. The illusion has been shattered.
I think it’s important to practice non-attachment and surrender when it comes to relationships and our connections. When we are so fixed on connections or relationships being in a certain “form” i.e. boyfriend/girlfriend, spouse, a friend, we get into trouble and we can lose the lesson. Some people in our lives will be stepping stones, some will come into our lives to teach us certain lessons and leave so something new can come in, and some people we are meant to grow alongside through all of these spots together. All relationships have a thread of connection, and sometimes the thread is thicker at different points than at others. I see this a lot with breakups. Sometimes we will change and evolve past the point that a relationship makes sense for both people. So much of the letting go process is allowing the form to change. A former partner now becomes a friend or a looser acquaintance, but that thread of connection will still remain. There were lessons and important points of growth that should be acknowledged. Denying that fact causes suffering.
I can’t speak for everyone and say “if you just try hard enough you can make anything work.” I’m not sure that’s the truth for everyone. One of my favorite writers, Kirstie Taylor, has a great quote, “At the low points, in the time of doubt, will we keep choosing love? And are we willing to do so even if the person may not choose us one day?”
Here’s what I’ll say. I think relationships are so much about timing and they are a ride. That’s what makes life vibrant, and exciting. That is the experience of life. Surrendering to this whole “love” thing, letting another person deeply into our world. If you’re wanting a committed relationship there will be risk; it will literally be a ride. If you want to join and play, just know that’s what you’re in for. I meet so many men who so genuinely just want to be on a powerful woman’s ride, to be in her life and of service to her desire because they know that’s what brings meaning and purpose to their lives. And they sign up for whatever it ends up looking like. They want to be taken out of control. Relationships do take us out of control.
So I think it’s in the showing up, in the surrender, in the letting go, and the knowledge that whatever will be revealed will be… the trust to let it run its course and do the best you can inside of it. So much of it, though, is just showing up, immersing, and committing fully if you really want the full experience of what the opening and connection can offer. Timing is everything, though some windows don’t stay open forever. You’re best to take the window on the first round. You will be a different person than the person you were when you first felt the spark of connection, to the degree to which you surrender fully inside of the connection.
- Another part of our conversation that I loved so much was around the idea of safety, and how we can cultivate that both with and for ourselves, and also within a secure partnership. Can you elaborate on that a bit more?
Yes… safety! It’s a biggie when it comes to relationships. I think now even more so with the topic of fragility around race and our privileges and the systems we’ve for so long existed inside, it couldn’t be a better conversation to have.
I think real freedom is the ability to cultivate and find safety and security within ourselves. If my “safety” or “validation” hinges on my employer, my work, how I’m perceived by others, my privilege, my partner – that’s not freedom. All of those things are conditional and can be taken away in an instant. In sex, this comes up a lot too… If I am relying on another person to show up to create an experience for me, my pleasure and satisfaction will be dependent on them. But if I have an internal knowing of my own power, that sexual expression inherently exists inside of me, then I can bring that anywhere, to any connection.
If everything that you knew and what you perceived your identity to be went away… what are you left with?
For most of my life I thought having a partner would make me feel “ok, valid, safe” and so I would hand over all my power to boyfriends, and make them a “God” in some way; they would be on some pedestal. And I had men do that to me, too. I was their source of self-esteem, of worthiness. And that’s really not a fair position to put anyone in. It’s very fragile. When my most serious relationship collapsed, it really broke my spirit in so many ways and it was an intense journey of really and truly learning to be with myself, turning to face all of the parts of myself I wanted to avoid, would prefer to hide from. In that pursuit, it was all so I could get free and really and truly feel free and safe with all of myself. Like I mentioned earlier, the goal of coaching is to become a fully integrated self.
When that happened, all of my relationships really changed. How I related to others changed, who I was inside of my connections changed.
Safety isn’t something anyone can give you except yourself and a higher power, if you believe in one. The real deep work is acknowledging that and learning and knowing who you are and who you’d be if you got stripped of everything.
It’s massively confronting and not a journey a lot of people take, but I think it’s where real liberation is. Then people can just be people, they can be their most true selves in your presence. They don’t have anything to prove, they don’t have to impress or stroke your ego, or perform. And I think when that happens, we finally, actually, meet each other.