Closer to Love

Mat Kearney: Closer to Love

Oh it’s your light,
Oh it’s your way,
Pull me out of the dark
Just to show me the way
Cryin’ out now
From so far away…
You pull me closer to love
Closer to love

In the last 24 hours I’ve had two very thought-provoking things happen. The first was when a dear friend asked if I “missed being in a relationship,” after I mentioned the commitment I made to ride this year out single so I could focus on self-reflection and getting to know MYSELF through a variety of people and experiences. The second was when I ran across an incredibly dynamic and attractive individual – one of those people you just instantly connect with, that get you thinking intensely about what you want in life, somehow. You know those people – the game-changers. The “hail marys” of your life that skyrocket you into self-reflection and sometimes, powerful life changes.

Between those two incidents, I’ve been thinking deeply on how my approach to love has changed in the last decade. Thinking about the assumptions I now make about self and world, about how I’ve lost the romance along the way amidst the pain, and about the bigger picture of human relationships and connection.

I’ve been reading an amazing book lately called “Waking Up: a Guide to Spirituality without Religion” (available on amazon – highly recommend it!). In the beginning of the book, the author mentions that people tend to love one of two ways: first, for what you give them or how you make them feel, and second, for who you are. He calls the first “transactional love” and makes a firm point that this type of love exists in a vacuum – it cannot survive if practiced by one or either individual – in any type of relationship. Ironically, I’ve said this in my own way upon reflecting on my past this last few years. I say often that “it is possible to be loved selfishly, while loving selflessly.” 

My own experience of platonic and familial love has been powerful and life-changing. I have an incredibly, unconditionally loving family. Parents who love each other and their daughters with reckless, selfless abandon. I have friends who will be there for me at the drop of the hat – who truly love who I am, regardless of what I can do for them, or how I’ve changed. I’ve magnetized more and more of these people this last few years, and I am deeply grateful for them.

What has been painful for me is the romantic aspect of love. I have a deep, vested interest in the success and wellbeing of every stranger I meet. Truly, I care instantly for people, and want their best. If I only touch their lives briefly, I want to touch them powerfully, positively, and inspirationally. I want to help everyone. I’ve always been that way, and I passionately love this about myself.

This is, however, crippling for me in romantic relationships. In a culture where what we have – what we own – seems to determine our self-value, people seem to be just another commodity to acquire. Something entertaining, fulfilling, satisfying – to discard when the amusement has passed or the newer model becomes available. We’ve marginalized human relationships in our quenchless thirst for the next-best-thing.

I’ve never loved this way. I can honestly say that even in two long, emotional, deeply powerful, monogamous relationships, I’ve felt every day that I wanted the best of my partner first and foremost – even if their best was not me, or not what I wanted. I was more invested in their future, their health, their self-fulfillment, than in my selfishness on any level.

There is a fine line to walk here. I fully recognize that while selflessness is admirable, a martyr mentality is not a healthy approach to romantic love. What I’ve come to recognize the last few years is that love is at times, selfish. Love begins with self-love, and self-love INCLUDES a certain level of selfishness – the courage to say “I want this.” The commitment to speak up when we are hurt. The ability to ASK. 

Somewhere along the way, in the darkest places of my broken marriage, in the corners of my living room – as small as possible, hiding from the world and from my shattering reality – I learned that if I expected nothing, asked for nothing, dreamed of nothing – if I turned fear into open-handed coexistence, if I took away the romance… I was less brutally torn apart by rejection and sharp words and raised fists and a relentless verbal destruction of the things I had always found most beautiful about myself.

I learned not to ask, not to hope, because there is nothing more painful than loving selflessly, and being loved transactionally in return. There is nothing more painful than realizing that you love more deeply and powerfully than your significant other is capable of loving you. There is nothing worse than being loved intermittently, haphazardly, while loving someone with love like the ocean – vast, expansive, endless, deep, constantly moving and changing but always there. There is nothing sharper and more destructive than the careless wounds of someone you love wholly and completely for everything they are, and can be. 

I’ve swung to the opposite extreme these days – not to selfish love, but to the absence of romantic love. I expect nothing, hope for very little, and keep my hands open. I reassure people over and over that I’ll never ask anything of them – that I expect nothing of them – I don’t dream or read into things or romanticize anything, because it is much easier for me to accept the transience of human relationships than it is to hope that something powerful, purposeful, and earth-shattering could come into my life, and remain. 

This year of committing to be single is so very intentional. These are the revelations I need to make – the observations about my extremes that I need to master, to conquer – to find that middle ground. To find the balance between love and martyrdom. To practice discernment in avoiding transactional lovers, but investing fully where I find the possibility of something lasting.

Somewhere amidst the ashes of my former life, there are burning coals of romance and hope and passion and a curious desire to be loved the very same way I love everyone else in my life.

But if there is one, simple way to explain the evolution I am undergoing, it is this:

The more I love myself, the closer I feel to love. 

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