My 19th wedding anniversary is coming up next month. HOLY CRAP. I never in a million years imagined that I would be with one person for this long. Our marriage has been more than I could have hoped for but nothing I would ever have expected.
Like most of us, when I was young, I dreamed of finding the right relationship. The definition of “right” changed over the years, but the longing to love and be loved did not. Still, when it came to romance, all I could imagine was Part One (falling in love). I assumed that Part Two (the lasting forever part) would naturally arise by some form of magic stemming from Part One. I expected that falling in love was all I needed to do and the rest would take care of itself. Why would I think otherwise? In our culture, it has been proclaimed that all love affairs should become relationships and all relationships should be love affairs. (The truth is, this is extremely rare.)
My focus was on passion, desire, intensity, magic. Right? Part One! Part One rules. Who dreams about Part Two? Who lies awake at night, fantasizing about an intimacy that is both sustaining and awkward, a connection that evokes great healing and commensurate irritation, and the mystery of abiding, unspeakably precious friendship? When thinking about love, most of us are not imagining a giant crucible in which to heat all our brilliance and all our stupidity. However, that is what we get.
When my husband and I started talking about getting married (a conversation I attempted to defer into infinity), I panicked. It doesn’t really seem to work out all that well for most people, does it? I was determined to examine the pitfalls in detail. I didn’t want to end up getting shredded and I certainly did not want to hurt him. I loved him.
I turned to my normal sources for insight: experts, friends, and books. Experts, check. I found an amazing therapist with a deep understanding of relationships. Friends, check. I talked over my concerns with some really smart and soulful people, many of whom were grappling with similar issues.
Books — normally my best pals for ongoing guidance and important insights — really let me down. They were surprisingly mute on the topics I wanted to hear about most:
What forces govern the tides of closeness and distance, warmth and coldness, connection and alienation between two people? What is the algorithm for sweetness? Will this thing ever f*cking stabilize? No, you say? OK, now what?
Are problems that recur (over and over and over) fixable? If so, tell me how and, if not, explain how I’m supposed to live with them.
Why is it that as my love deepens, so does my loneliness?
What evidence is there that just because you love someone, you will be able to create a life you both love? (Spoiler alert: none. They are utterly disconnected.)
I found nothing to address my concerns. Instead, I found a gazillion books about one thing: how to be loved. How to attract love, keep love, get love back when it goes away, and, most especially, how to remove the obstacles that prevent love from coming to you. Some books were pop-y and cute while others were academic and research-rich. (None of them were about how to give love. Which is simply weird. There were some exceptions, but they tended to be associated with a religion.)
I wanted something that felt real and practical and deep at the same time. I hoped someone would give me insights and tactics. But…nada. Instead, there was a lot of info on fixing myself in order to have a good relationship, but I wasn’t interested in solving my psychological problems because that would take forever. There were also a lot of theoretical books that dissected why relationships don’t work. Something about the prefrontal cortex. But I am not all that interested in theories and studies, both of which I find largely useless once boots are on the ground. (That’s me. You may feel otherwise.)
I wanted to understand how hearts work.
As a long-time Buddhist practitioner, I finally realized that I had the resource I needed: 2500+ years of Buddhist wisdom.
The Buddhadharma has much to teach on the topic of relationships, even though it may not appear that way on the surface. I mean, most of the core teachings were transmitted by monastics or forest yogis, neither of whom focused on home life particularly. Still, when I attempted to apply these teachings within the context of love, it worked. In the next post (on Friday), I will share how.
I am so excited about this topic that I am writing a whole book about it, “The Four Noble Truths of Love.” It is turning out to be the most powerful and intense thing I’ve ever written. If you want to keep up with the book’s progress and generally stay in touch, please sign up for my free newsletter, The Open Heart Project.