I keep saying I want to share some thoughts on love but I’ve been struggling to know where to begin. Do I begin with the quotes that have struck me? Do I begin with antidotes and reflections on the couples I’ve been hanging out with lately? Or do I tell you the truth? That I’ve had love on my mind because I fell in love and it has taught me what that really means? I’ve decided to go with the latter.
So there it is. It has been nothing like I’d expected.
As I’m sure my friends and family will affirm, I’ve always been like Romeo at the beginning of Shakespeare’s great tragic comedy: a lover painfully in search of someone to love. Like when you first meet him, when he’s longing for Rosalyn (a woman who will never return his love). He’s convinced what he feels for her is so real, so true, so pure. He believes that love is an ache. That is reveals itself in pining. And so he pines. You have a sense that he does this often: tortures himself with unrequited love. You sense that what he really loves is the idea of being in love. For years, that was me.
The more distance I’ve had from all of the pseudo-romances of my past, the more I’ve realized that none of that was love. Last year, when I first read Martin Buber’s section on love in I & Thou, I wrote into the margins, “I have failed as a lover by this definition.” For he says,
My “love” in the past had not been responsible. It had been much more about me than about any of those guys. I could be so petty and so mean to those objects of my affection. But this man…I’ve described him to my sister as my Kryptonite because he is my weakness. It’s hard to be angry with him or mean to him. To pain him, pains me.
I have been surprised by the subtly of love.
My dad often complains about how people talk about “falling in love.” He’s said, “It’s not like you’re falling off a cliff and you can’t help it. Love is a choice. Your spouse isn’t always the person you want to be with, they are the person you choose to be with.” Even though my parents’ love story could be classified as “love at first sight,” both of them always point out that all they had at first was a strong attraction. That love came much later. For some of the couples I know, even their attraction to each other has somewhat been the result of choice.
Still, it’s been hard not to have more idealistic ideas in my head about what it will mean to find romantic love. I think we all believe that we’ll immediately know. Like we’ll feel the prick of Cupids arrow or the first time we touch them we’ll be buzzing with electricity. Or he/she will be the person that we’re wildly attracted to, who we can’t take our eyes off. This seems to be very rarely true. Talking with all of my married friends, I’m always amazed by the vast differences in their love stories.
It’s actually easy to be oblivious to love sometimes because it is so much more than a feeling. Because so often the person we realize we want to be with isn’t the person we were immediately attracted to. Usually they don’t fit the description we’ve been carrying around of the person that we want to be with. And we discover that, in some ways, love is much more mundane (as in earthy, not dull) than we realized. Or so it has been with me.
It took three dreams and a conversation with a good friend for me to clue into the occurance of my own love. Even then I still needed to confer with all the rest of my close friends: “Um…things seem to be changing in this relationship. And he’s being utterly…wonderful and confusing and it’s freaking me out and exciting me and making me want to run in the opposite direction at full speed and not look back…Okay. Let me tell you about it.” And for the first time, all of them, instead of telling me to run in the opposite direction or that I was being crazy, were saying, “Lindsey, don’t you know this is what romance looks like? Don’t you see that what you’re describing is love? This is what a man in love looks like. And this is what a woman in love sounds like. Don’t you know this is what it looks like to be in a relationship?”
Oh. That’s what this is!
Even before I could put a name to what was occurring, I already felt the immoderate demand upon myself to mature, to become something beautiful and whole in myself, to become a wonderful world in myself for another’s sake as Rilke advices Kappos in his letters. The only way I felt that I could describe how I was coming to feel about our conversations was that we were speaking the sacred word I-You:
When I confront a human being as my You and speak the basic word I-You to him, then he is no thing among things nor does he consist of things.
He is no longer limited by other Hes and Shes, a dot in the world grid of space and time, nor a condition that can be experienced and described, a loose bundle of named qualities. Neighborless and seamless, he is You and fills the firmament. Not as if there were nothing but he; but everything else lives in his light.
Even as a melody is not composed of tones, nor a verse of words, nor a statue of lines–one must pull and tear to turn a unity into a multiplicity–so it is with the human being to whom I say You. I can abstract from him the color of his hair or the color of his speech or the color of his graciousness; I have to do this again and again; but immediately he is no longer You.
And even as prayer is not in time but time in prayer, the sacrifice not in space but space in the sacrifice–and whoever reverses the relation annuls the reality–I do not find the human being to whom I say You in any Sometime and Somewhere. I can place him there but immediately he becomes a He or a She, an It, and no longer remains my You.
As long as the firmament of the You is spread over me, the tempests of causality cower at my heels and the whirl of doom congeals.
The human being to whom I say You I do not experience. But I stand in relation to him, in the sacred basic word (I-You).
So we stood in relation.
Now, I don’t know if I’ll get a happily ever after. My life always seems to be unnecessarily complicated and at every turn God tends to subvert my expectations. But what I do know is that I understand much more about what it means to love than I did a year ago.