I think our deepest need is to love and be loved.
And yet so many relationships end, and not well, or people disappoint us. We want to be loved, but we don’t know what that’s supposed to look like. Or we want to love someone else, but they don’t receive it or know how we feel. And then a relationship ends in one way or another, and we’re left bereft, confused, broken-hearted, not sure whether to jump into the waters again.
I know that I have always wanted love in my life, a deep, abiding love, where someone sees me and knows who I am on an intuitive level. But my marriage of 11 years fell apart because love went away—evaporated into air after many months of struggle and effort. And in another instance, I loved a man dearly, but couldn’t get the emotional support, attention, and intimacy from him I needed to sustain a lasting relationship.
Love is all around us, weaved into our vocabulary, and yet many of us don’t even know what it means. It’s a mix of attachment, attention, desire, affection. Sometimes it veers into ownership or possession, which can be stifling or hot. It involves commitment, ceremony, laughter, sex. It often comes in the form of support, sometimes financial, sometimes emotional, sometimes physical or spiritual.
It’s a lot like what Wislawa Szymborska says about poetry:
But what sort of thing is poetry?
Many a shaky answer
has been given to this question.
But I do not know and do not know and hold onto it,
as to a saving bannister.
What I’m coming to realize is that love is a lot like a spirit, the spirit that moves through all things. Sometimes it lights a spark in us, and that spark can grow if we nurture it or give it attention. And sometimes the fire can die, because we are too busy with our minds, too wrapped up in other emotions, too focused on love coming from a different direction, or unwilling, for one reason or another, to let it live. Love is so natural, and so immediate in our lives from the time we’re young (for those of us fortunate to have at least one loving parent), and yet it often eludes us throughout the rest of our lives, coming and going like a wave.
Love is not the same thing as partnership, though the two commingle. Anyone can have a short-term love, but making a thriving, lasting partnership takes a different kind of work. Both people have to be committed not only to the other person via paper or financial means, but to their own growth as well as the growth of their beloved’s. Even if that means having to let someone go. Because true love is non-grasping, non-possessive. And the people in a lasting, thriving partnership must be committed to their own form of becoming as much as they are committed to the inner growing of their partner. If someone in a relationship is holding onto old wounds, and shuts down, they shut out the other. And that means there will always be a gap between the two, a lack of unity or oneness. That’s not the kind of environment where a strong love can live in fullness.
We are in a new era, very different from any that came before. Marriage means something different than it used to, because divorce is common, and people live longer, have other goals and values. Women can have jobs and make the same amount of money, if not more, than the men they love, and so finances don’t bind people to the extent they used to. We are more open-minded about the many paths a life can take. We learn that attractiveness fades, moods come and go, money passes away. A lasting partnership requires an ability to stay strong despite all of these things, an ability to nurture the other person not just on a physical or financial level, but on a soul level.
That’s a tall order.
It is hard to find a lasting partnership. To be honest, I don’t see many who have made it work, two people who seem whole and happy together. But there are enough of them out there. They do exist. And even though I am not certain one of them is destined for me, I know I won’t settle for less than the fullness a good partnership can bring.
I want to be seen. I want to be heard. I want to love and be loved in a way that shows me the fullness of who I am, and the fullness and beauty of someone else. I want a person who inspires me and surprises me. With whom every day feels new and fresh.
Those of us who grew up in the 80’s remember Lloyd Dobler, the hero from the movie Say Anything, who fell in love with Diane Court, valedictorian of their graduating high school class. Diane was, on the exterior, out of his league. She was the smartest person in the class, while he rarely cracked a book. She was removed and separate from the seemingly trivial high school concerns of love and sex and drugs, but he was surrounded by a group of messy yet loyal friends. He saw in her something beautiful, majestic, and he didn’t shy away from pursuing her, even though everyone told him their relationship didn’t make sense. Even though her father looked at him with a wary and sharp gaze.
At one point in the movie, Lloyd is at the dinner table with Diane’s father and a few of her father’s friends, and the question of career comes up. Lloyd is not sure how to answer.
I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don’t want to do that….
I don’t know, sir, I can’t figure it all out tonight, so I’m just gonna hang with your daughter.
Lloyd is an emblem of a new kind of man, a sort of yogi, a devotee. He lives in the present and acts from the heart in all things. It’s not clear, by the end of the movie, whether the relationship is going to last until the end of their lives. But regardless of whether it does, Lloyd’s is a moving kind of love. He sees something he wants and is brave enough to go after it. He becomes a strong emotional support for a strong emotional woman.
Maybe some women don’t see this as a treasure, but I do. This kind of love, the openness to see another person, the freshness of youth (no matter how old you get), and a sturdy, available emotional presence…. When it comes to romantic love, I don’t think there’s anything that means more to me in the world.