“When you love someone, you do not love them all the time, in exactly the same way, from moment to moment. It is an impossibility. It is even a lie to pretend to. And yet this is exactly what most of us demand. We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships. We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb. We are afraid it will never return. We insist on permanency, on duration, on continuity; when the only continuity possible, in life as in love, is in growth, in fluidity – in freedom, in the sense that the dancers are free, barely touching as they pass, but partners in the same pattern.
The only real security is not in owning or possessing, not in demanding or expecting, not in hoping, even. Security in a relationship lies neither in looking back to what was in nostalgia, nor forward to what it might be in dread or anticipation, but living in the present relationship and accepting it as it is now. Relationships must be like islands, one must accept them for what they are here and now, within their limits – islands, surrounded and interrupted by the sea, and continually visited and abandoned by the tides.”
Gift from the Sea, Anne Morrow Lindbergh
I am not sure exactly why this quote has so captured me. Especially in the hindsight that Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s husband, Charles Lindbergh, had three other families (wives and kids) in Europe. It’s unclear if she knew this or not. I would find it a little hard to imagine such a smart woman being completely ignorant of who her husband was, and what he was capable of, even if she didn’t know the specifics. So, maybe she did know that he had affairs, and maybe she understood that love is complicated and messy sometimes. That often we are hurt, not by another’s actions, but rather by the idea that we have of who they are and how they should act, instead of loving them in spite of the fact that we feel failed by them, for not being what we want them to be.
There are boundaries that may be healthy for us, for me affairs cross a boundary in a marriage. Would I love my husband less if he had an affair? No, don’t think so, the love can remain. I’m not sure if I would stay in the relationship, certainly if I stayed it wouldn’t be in the same way. I don’t know what the relationship would look like, but it would change as I changed my thoughts about myself, my husband and the new “now” of our marriage. Love can bind us to people and places, it can give us purpose to learn and to move through the fear of vulnerability and stay true to love that is just for love.
Change through time is true in all relationships, family, friends, and lovers, even without traumas and dramas. We are constantly shifting how we feel about other people. How we think about them, changes how we feel about them. We do this all the time. Think about the myriad of ways that we get angry or annoyed with people, even people we love, for much less concerning issues; the kids leave lights on everywhere they go, you ask nicely, you ask sharply, you ask and ask and ask, and still, no matter where in the house you walk, the lights are on. You scream, you rant, you threaten, and in these moments you don’t love in a loving way. Because your love has stories and expectations woven into the core of it. If you loved me, you would turn off the lights because you know and care what that means to me… Or, you would turn off the lights because it’s the responsible thing to do, or it saves money, whatever. Unspoken stories, I love you when you… do what I want? The weft and weave as I sit in my justified nagging and yelling place, not showing love, because you didn’t meet my expectations. Is this conceivably true? Can I possibly be so self centered and demanding? Having unrealistic expectations of others and then wondering why the relationship feels distant or hurtful. This is the way of severing and ending relationships, this is not loving.
Just where is my responsibility for my needs, my feelings, and my expectations? Why don’t I turn off lights as I come to them instead of being unloving? Tell myself new stories that don’t connect my love for you, or your love for me, to my expectations? This simple shift is probably the hardest thing to do. The fine line between a healthy boundary and an unrealistic expectation. This shift takes courage, because like life, it’s fragile and filled with the longing of wanting to be loved in return, and we cannot control that. It takes the strength and flexibility of a dancer walking on a tightrope with no safety net and also dancing with a partner navigating the same dangerous ground.
Not many of us do this balance well. We may have areas where we sit in Buddha like calm over a topic while the world around us loses it’s collective mind. Yet, there are always chinks in our perceptions, places where we lose our own minds, often to issues or ideas that someone else has no problem with. It keeps us humble, we aren’t so perfect ourselves. We are all creatures of light, but also of shadow. When we recognize our imperfection, do we then withhold love from ourselves? Often the answer is “yes.” If this is true, how can you truly love another, with all their messy imperfections, if we can’t love our own self, with all of our messy imperfections? We hide and hate our shortcomings, we drown them and pretend they don’t exist, instead focusing on the shortcomings of others. Isn’t the idea “to love others as we love ourself” at the core of all world religions? I think “yes.” My very purpose in this life is to recognize the places in myself that need to be challenged, tweaked and tuned, to learn to love myself through the process, and learn to love others in spite of my (mis)perceptions and (mis)expectations of them. Allowing for the ebb and flow, the here and now. Being present to the tide as it dances by my shore.