Some love is easy, and some love is not. Yeah, any fool who’s observed romance can figure this out, but we’re caught by surprise so often, I doubt if we really take this in.
I know many couples who seem to be divinely matched, agreeing on most things, quarreling about few, living smoothly and supporting one another through trials. I know a number of other couples who struggle with the simplest things and cannot imagine a future together… and yet they get there because they can’t imagine a future that is different from the one they have, or else they fall apart along the way. I know several couples who are both together and apart, ebbing and flowing as their lives change. For them, it is rarely easy and they never know how long they have this time, but the love stays, even if they opt not to be together always.
I think all these people are divinely matched, not just the first type. God gives us the struggle and the peace to teach us what we need to learn. We are given the relationship we need to make us grow and change. Maybe our lessons don’t require us to experience an intimate enemy, but sometimes only one we love deeply can teach us… and those lessons may require pain and sorrow to take hold.
(By the way, I am not advocating abuse. No one deserves that. But there’s a line between abuse and struggle within a relationship, and it is a challenge to discern. Each relationship is different, as is each person… and whether a behavior is abusive is something that has to be determined individually. This is not easy, but also not the subject of this post.)
Two of my dearest friends — a long-time couple — are in the process of reinventing not only themselves, but their marriage. It’s been both inspiring and frightening to see.
Inspiring is obvious. One has already transitioned from a corporate life to her own small business. The other is imagining and working toward her retirement business, taking the steps that will insure that she has something to move into when she leaves her lengthy career. Both have demonstrated serious growth in their transitions, learning where they excel and where they fall; what their strengths are, and what they should hire out to someone else to do. Both are powerful, educated, extremely intelligent people who are equally matched in many ways.
However, it can be frightening because they regularly blow up at one another — and I am talking real explosions. You can feel the energy igniting around them when they argue. There are emotional flames, blasts of sheer fury that signal a battle to the death… at least, in any other couple it would. It’s a bloody miracle they’re still together. But I know that they will probably never leave the other except through death. They are serious about their vows.
Because even when they’re calling out issues, even when the tone of voice signals that blood will flow soon, each still has the ability to stop and listen… although it doesn’t always happen. They have learned through trial, error, and dogged hard work that unless they truly hear what the other is saying, there will be no change, no improvement, and they will continue to battle about the same old thing forever. And nobody really wants that.
There’s a lot about this relationship that’s problematic, like every other human connection. Each of them brings a basketload of history, habits, and their own demons, just like anyone else. There is little that is easy, and they’ve lived through difficult situations — more than one — that would destroy lesser unions. It seems as though they’ve spent the last decade with problems lined up like dominoes — one goes down, and the next one is standing behind it. It’s enough to make anyone crazy.
There is no solid ground for them these days — it constantly shifts beneath their feet. Plus both are in the process of transforming themselves into different people, and both struggle with who the other is showing herself to be. It is really hard to relate to another when you remember vividly who they were and you’re not sure who they are becoming. You’re dealing with not just two, but a number of competing realities that have to be acknowledged. “Yes, this is who I was, and this is who I think I am today. It may not be who I am tomorrow, and you just have to deal with that. And oh, by the way, I might backslide into behavior from ten years ago that I outgrew. I just can’t find the energy to think about what I’m doing, because who I’m becoming takes so much of it.”
But through all this struggle runs a river of love that binds not just them, but many others who have been blessed to be part of their gang. They have numerous friends who love them both, family members who regularly cross the in-law divide, and the circle expands to include neighbors, friends of friends, and work buddies who “get” them in various ways.
I think this is the true nature of love. Our expectation is “love at first sight, then happily ever after”, but the reality is that it is the issues and demons we face down and conquer, or surrender to, that create the bonds that mark the truest love. Love is not a single awe-struck moment, but a lifetime of them acquired through seeing one’s love through fresh eyes, that may be opened by tears and pain.
It is that instant of tearing apart that creates the opening for love to shine. So we are saved from the crucifixion by the struggle. Saved from the sacrifice by the compromise. Saved from the punishment by a thoughtful response. Saved from the lie by the truth, no matter how difficult it is. Saved from our fantasies by reality, no matter how unreal it seems to be. Love shines brightest not when life is easy, but when it is difficult.
I lived through a decade of what many would call fantasy love. To tell the truth, I’m not altogether sure that’s wrong. From shortly after I met this man (for at least the third time in our lives), he took up residence and parked his damn presence right on my soul. I could not get rid of his face, his voice, or my thoughts about what I imagined would be a life together. It infected me… I kind of hate to call it that, but it describes how involuntary it was.
But the man flat-out refused to be present to me… no calls, no e-mails, no chat, complete avoidance wherever possible, especially if anything close to emotional came up. He was gone. And I tried, oh, how I tried, to accept that reality and let him go. I worried, avoided, distracted, ruminated, prayed, redirected my behavior and my attention, all to no real avail. No matter what I did, somehow, somewhere, he would sneak into my every day, if not every damn hour. It was relentless. I could not self-discipline him out of my heart. There was no pushing this away from me. It was a soul-level reality, whether I wanted it or not.
But I also couldn’t get away from its unreality on an everyday level, and there was nothing I could do to make it real. The churning inside my head was a morass of feelings, hopes, and dreams, none of which were coming true. (I think this is why I don’t actually believe in the so-called “Law of Attraction” — sounds good, but nope. If all it took was intense thought and vibration, that man would be with me now and I wouldn’t be writing this.)
What I do know, what was absolutely real, was that this conflict I held in my bare hands — the love I couldn’t discard and the man who refused to be with me — forced emotional growth that was as ground-breaking as a volcano. I had to deal with my own issues around relationships through one that didn’t exist in reality. Try wrapping your head around something like that to twist it. Ouch.
But what I found was every time I worked through something else — another rejection, another misconception, another serendipitous sign that I was supposed to stay (and there were many) — it was both the reality of my emotions and the everyday reality I couldn’t change that pushed me to what I never knew existed. The reading and the writing I pursued for answers I couldn’t see in front of me gave me pleasure, relief, and the challenge to deepen the relationship I already had — with the Divine.
When I finally realized that my path to serenity was through my own spirit, and no matter what I felt or sensed from this man he had the right to be where he wanted without me, I was able to let go, give thanks for the lessons, and move on. I was not where I started, and much further along than I ever knew I could be. I was broken open and transformed by the struggle, like a plant emerging from its seed or the fruit from the flower.
It is the conflicts we cannot resolve, the absolute contradictions between our emotions and our reality, that break us open and make us grow. This is what opens our minds. This is what opens our hearts. This is what opens our souls to the love that is greater than we are.
I do not understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.
— Anne Lamott
Grace, the spontaneous love we are shown by the Divine, transports us from where we are to where we need to be. And the love of another does the same thing. We are never the same after we have truly loved someone. We can never go back to who we used to be… our emotional landscape is irrevocably changed. We are bigger, better for having loved. No matter how a heart has been broken, that heart is never the same. It is up to the person with the broken heart to decide how they will move forward, but they have already moved ahead and the old life won’t fit again. Trying to put it back on is part of the discomfort we feel.
We redeem ourselves through love — this is the true meaning of saving ourselves. This is how we grow, this is how we change. As we move toward making love the center of our lives, no matter what form it’s in, we open ourselves to its miracle — we can create a reality that nurtures, fulfills, and grows, even if conflict and struggle are the blooms, for our souls are the fruit. And how sweet that is.