“For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.”
-Ranier Maria Rilke
When I read this quote from the tattered pages of a tiny little book my mom gave me long ago, it struck a chord. What is it about love, the simple act of love, that makes it so complicated and yet so simple all at the same time? You find someone to connect with, you “fall in love”, and then life happens: having children, buying a home, making ends meet, working, evolving your career, your education, all those things. But somewhere along the way you realize that this evolution, or the seeking, is really because something is missing. And maybe you knew it all along, but suddenly it’s staring you straight in the face because nothing, nothing, seems to be working. It all feels so tense, you’re constantly walking on egg shells and questioning your self worth.
Where is the love? You ask yourself. You look around and there is this person in the room with you right over there, sharing this life with you, sharing a bed with you. But There are no sweet little gestures. No shared glances. No soft embrace. So what is this union? Why are you even together? These are the hard questions we ask ourselves over and over again yet never utter aloud to the other person.
And then, because you’ve tried so hard to avoid saying these words for so long, one day it pops out out of nowhere like a jack-in-the-box. And hits like a grenade falling from the sky hurled with all of the intense energy and will of someone defying the simple truth.
On this day, you didn’t set out to harm another, not even this person you’re sharing a questionable life with. But the deep pain and longing for something more, and the defiance and unwillingness to accept a life without deeper meaning, trumps the will to hold it back yet another day, yet another minute. All of what you have explodes before your eyes. And the force of the words uttered is so powerful that it threatens to take down all of what you’ve built. Everything is stripped down and raw; your life exposed for what it is. And you realize that all of this could be gone. Poof.
So, as terrible as this life may feel today, sticking with it and trying to find a way to make it feel more meaningful to you on the daily basis may be the only way to go. Because giving up all of this would also mean creating a new life where you’re still bound to this other person and yet truly going it alone without any of the perks of a partnership.
Do you hate this person? Or do you not know them at all, and wish that you did? There’s a big difference. Discerning where you are in your relationship is as hard as anything in life. Because only you know where you are, what you have, what you don’t have, what you want, and what you’re unable to get because you are unwilling to risk the reaction, explosion, or flat out rejection of your needs. Learning to withdraw to protect yourself or finding other ways to fill that void seems like the smartest way to go, or the least risky. But you’re never addressing the real problem. Which brings me to my next quote.
“There is always something left to love. And if you ain’t learned that, you ain’t learned nothing.”
-Lorraine Hansberry (1930–1965) American playwright