I recently received an email from someone who had a few questions about my recent blog posts. I thought her questions were insightful, and wanted to post our correspondence here. In her email to me she asked:
I personally enjoy change and I have lost friends along the way because of that and even truthfully some family members to which I am okay with. But I wonder, if you are always evolving how does someone find true love and partnership?
Does there come a point in a persons life that they eventually know who they are and what they want? Have you reached that knowing? Or can a person never have a complete identity and they are just left grabbing a hold of ideas of others and trying them on? If the latter is true, then is it safe for anyone to love you?
This is my response:
You have asked an incredibly insightful question, and to answer it I would have to give you a little bit of background on my personal philosophy. I believe that we are given this life for two main reasons: To love and to learn. I cannot say I believe in reincarnation (although I cannot say I don’t believe in it, either) but in Buddhist philosophy, there is a belief that we are continually brought back to this earth to evolve further and further until, in our last incarnation, we reach “enlightenment.” I am not a Buddhist (although many of my beliefs and practices line up with Buddhism), but something in me deeply resonates with the idea that we are here to get as close to “enlightenment” as possible. I believe Jesus was speaking of something akin to enlightenment in many of His teachings. So that’s where the “learn” part comes in. The “love” part is a little more tricky, because most people’s idea of love involves finding that one special person who is going to fulfill all our needs and spending the rest of our lives with that person. I think this is beautiful and I honestly hope to find it, someday, but the hope of finding a “forever” love with one particular partner takes a back seat in my world to learning and growing. Not that love itself takes a back seat to growth (I view them equally), only that I believe finding one romantic partner isn’t the only way to love. So when given a choice between staying stagnant in order to hold on to one particular love vs. having the freedom to continually grow, I will choose freedom and growth. I am not saying this is the “right” choice or the “only” choice, just that it is my choice.
You ask “Does there come a point in a person’s life that they eventually know who they are and what they want?” I think the answer is: Yes, to a point. But I have always believed that if I am the same person today as I was ten years ago–if I have the same beliefs and opinions and ways of being in the world that I had a decade ago–something is wrong. So while I do believe you reach a point where you are solid in who you are, I also believe that there will always be parts of “who you are” that are ever-changing as you learn new things, explore new ideas, and discover new wisdom, and finding a partner who is able to roll with that may not be an easy thing. So to answer your question “if you are always evolving how does someone find true love and partnership?” the answer might possibly be: you don’t. I am well aware that it will take an incredibly special and strong person to be able to handle my ever-changingness, and I accept that I may never find that in this life. But… do I have to? In American culture, we are inundated with the idea that finding one “forever love” is the epitome of happiness. But is it? What if finding one person–as wonderful and beautiful as that is–is not the only wonderful and beautiful thing? I wrote this years ago and still believe it to be true: “Maybe love is not something that happens once in a lifetime. Maybe love is something we ought to give over and over, without condition, without reservation, without expectation.” I, personally, would absolutely love to find my forever person. That one person in the world who could accept my ever-evolvingness and possibly evolve with me and support me in all the ways I want to navigate the world. But if I can’t? If, instead, I find one who can love me and support me in this season, and then another who loves me and supports me in another season? Who says that isn’t just as beautiful? Who says that isn’t even more beautiful?
There are two things I’d like to share with you about this, each deal with this aspect of “forever love” vs “seasonal love.” They are both, in my opinion, absolutely beautiful and worth pursuing and I would be happy to experience either one. The first speaks of the more temporary love, the one that is seasonal, the one that says “this is who I am, but I reserve the right to be someone else, and if that someone else doesn’t work for you, we will gently and lovingly part ways,” and the second speaks of the “forever love” which, in my opinion, is much more difficult:
“The most awe-inspiring person I ever had the privilege of loving planted his feet firmly in front of me and said “This is what I want.” There was courage, transparency. There was declaration. There was no insecurity, there was no need to compare myself to others or compete. The most awe-inspiring person I ever had the privilege of loving chose me every single day, and I chose him. When that wasn’t the case, we parted ways. We didn’t drag it out, we didn’t try to convince the other. We didn’t feel the need to grip, and chase something that did not fulfill us or inspire us. It was natural, and organic, and it allowed for me to feel deeply and confidently. That is the kind of love you want.”
“Relationships never stabilize. When you solve one problem, another arises. There is actually no way to finally get comfortable. I actually find this kind of heartening. Instead of constantly working to get comfortable in my relationship and feeling that something is wrong because I can’t ever quite get there, I can relate with the instability as a strange invitation to remain awake in love. There is something magical—yes, magical—about the discomfort. You are right there, never quite in your comfort zone. There is no possibility of falling asleep. You are always a tiny bit on the edge, as if you are trying something new for the very first time. When it comes to love, this is not such a bad approach. Brilliance and inspiration and everything fresh are discovered on this edge, including how to open your heart beyond what you ever thought possible.”
I think both of these loves have their place. And sometimes, even a relationship that was on track to be “forever” can–and should–turn into a temporary relationship if one person takes a path of growth that will keep the other from their path of growth. In that case, the couple, in my personal opinion, ought to part ways. But, again, this is because I hold the belief that romantic love takes a back seat to growth. But here’s the really beautiful thing: if this parting can be done with kindness and understanding and true support and encouragement, then it IS an expression of love. And, in some special circumstances, that love doesn’t have to end, it just changes form. And I think that’s a beautiful thing.
One last thing. You ask “is it safe for anyone to love you?” Let me answer by quoting yet another of my favorite authors (is it obvious yet, how authors make up a significant portion of my “generalized other?” 😆)
“There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries: avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
So… no… it is not safe for anyone to love me, just as it is not safe for me to love anyone. Love (and life, for that matter) requires being open to the possibility of pain. I would go so far as to say it requires being willing to accept certain amounts of pain. So there again, we’re speaking about life philosophies. Pain avoidance is nowhere near as high on my list of priorities as learning and loving. I expect to go through this life feeling pain. As Andrea Gibson once wrote:
“I don’t want to get out without a broken heart. I intend to leave this life so shattered there better be a thousand separate heavens for all of my separate parts.”