When Lovers Are Friends
by Merle Shain
The trouble is that the pain in love is mixed with the joy and good, and there is no way to separate them out. You take them both or you get nothing.
Love is short, forgetting’s long, and understanding takes longer.
Vulnerability is not a weekness. It’s a strength. Very few of us are tough enough to be soft.
We judge each other by how well we hide our emotions.
Once we loved people and used things, today it is the reverse.
There are really only two ways to approach life – as a victim or as a gallant fighter – and you must decide if you want to act or react, deal your own cards or play with a stacked deck. And if you don’t decide which way to play with life, it will always play with you.
I only suspect that it all starts with the first deep wound, and after that, like a person who limps or cradles their withered arm close to their side, we favor the place where the knife went in.
I will acknowledge a kind of impatience with myself, a wish to stop all this self-obsessing and get on with life. But I know no one goes forward who hasn’t finished with the past…
As long as you blame someone it makes the problem not yours but theirs, and allows you to keep it without taking responsibility for anything but pointing the finger. Which means you give them responsibility for your life and paralyze yourself forever in a place you don’t want to be. And there you sit–waiting for justice, waiting for someone to save you, waiting for your mother to kiss it and make it all better, waiting for Godot. And you continue to feel powerless, and helpless, and frightened and angry, and things remain just as they were.
I sometimes think we fall in love with the fantasy of ourselves as a doomed creature and like our fantasy more than we like ourselves.
But this I can tell you true–until you divest yourself of the notion that you are a collection of needs, an empty vessel that someone else must fill up, there will be no safe place to harbor yourself, no safe shore to reach. As long as you think mostly of getting, you will have nothing real to give.
To live without hope is to settle for grays, to say, “not me, not again, count me out.” It is like being neutered, an existence, not a life, and one in which one neither soars nor swoops. In fact, to banish hope is a form of suicide, a kind of living death, yet many people choose it, believing that they protect themselves from risk.
There are those who settle for second best, and the ones who love someone but tell them not, and those who hate someone because they failed to love someone else, and the ones who bring their relationship to convulsion when it looks like it has a chance because starting to hope again frightens them too much.
“Something we were withholding made us weak until we found it was ourselves,” Robert Frost wrote.
So those who are the most in need usually deny their needs the most, and they run from those who offer love and from those who need them, because it is less painful to remain in the narrow room of self than it would be to open themselves up to hope.
When you say, “This is what I need,” you are halfway there to making your wish a reality. And as long as you say, “I don’t really care,” you never get what you care about. You get what you expect, which is to say to go on being disappointed.
“Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it,” Goethe wrote…
…the answer always lies in hoping in the direction of your needs, and hoping in an active rather than a passive sense, which is to say not expecting the gods to read your mind but giving them a gentle assist. And if that means running the risk of disappointment, so be it. All of life is a risk, and if you choose life, you choose risk. “Not a victory is gained, not a deed of faithfulness or courage done,” said William James, “except upon a maybe. And it is only by risking our persons from one hour to another that we live at all.”
We can’t will love, but we can will ourselves to be open to chance.
And it is important to understand that not to say yes is to say no and that the road not taken sometimes affects our lives more than the path we choose…
…beauty is the soul shining from the eyes.
There is no perfect person who can make you whole. You have to do that yourself, and if you wait for someone to fill you up you always wait in vain, because no one is ever equal to the task. Waiting for another to give to you always make you feel vulnerable and insecure. The only way you ever feel strong and sure is when you are giving to others instead of wishing that they would give to you.
It is very hard to learn that lesson and to stop hoping to get from others what you must provide yourself. And it is even harder still to stop waiting for someone to give to you, and to start looking instead for what you might have that you can give to someone else. But giving is the key.
Perhaps the biggest source of unhappiness in the world today stems from the idea that there is someone out there who will meet all our needs, because it turns us into needful children, waiting to be fed, instead of healthy adults asking if there is anyone who might need us. We are not vessels in need of filling up, we are persons in our own right with resources of our own.
Loneliness is something you do to yourself.
There seem to be three main streams to life–the emotional, the sensual, and the rational–and all of us are made up of these three, although in differing amounts.
There are friends that who feed the spirit, and those who feed the senses, and some with whom the attachment is emotional and warm. And you can be different with each of them, so it makes sense to choose one’s friends for the different sides of yourself that you want to express. It is in the choice of friends that we decide what we shall feed and what we are willing to let starve.
Our society isn’t very big on friendship, really. We think of friends as people to spend time with when there isn’t anyone else around who really matters.
Too many people put a premium on sexual relationships, thereby discounting friends, and they speak of relationships which don’t involve bed as “platonic” and rush to point out that someone is “only a friend.” But sex is just a temporary anesthetic against loneliness, and when it is over you still need people with whom you can talk.
I wish that men understood better the value of friendship as women are coming to know it now, because too often they still see other people as things to be conquered or held off. Men have allies and they have enemies, but only a few of them really have friends, and marriages would be much stronger if that were not the case.
We are an achievement-oriented society, so a lot of men put their energy into getting ahead and being a success, postponing closeness with other human beings as if it were a luxury they couldn’t afford just yet, and they complain a lot about all the work there is to do as if the priorities were set by someone else. And many of them think of fulfillment as something to be found in money, wealth, success, and applause and don’t learn until it’s too late that the only wealth that really counts is having loving friends.
It’s odd that the highly perishable commodity, passionate love, with its limited shelf life, is thought a suitable foundation on which to hang the whole exhaustive structure of family and property and tradition but we rarely question it, although we often pay the price for not having done so.
Conflict is for me a sign of caring, as certain as if you are saying, you are worth it for me to be who I am, so I am not withholding myself. No one can be real if they keep themselves to them selves, so the greatest risk is not to risk.
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