The last couple of weekends have provided a couple of opportunities to think about love and romance, particularly in context of my growing-in-being-comfortable-with-being-a-loner-ism. The good folks over at the Loner Wolf talk about loners being a class of super-introverts. They note that there are two types: those that are loners out of choice (secure loners) and those are loners not by choice (insecure loners). Looking at my life, I have been slowly transitioning from fairly social in high school and the beginning of graduate studies to an insecure loner through much of graduate school and my first few years in the mid-Atlantic, to co-dependent-madly-in-love when with my ex-wife, to abysmally depressed following the dissolution of our marriage, and ever since a growing sense of emotional maturity and independence based on spending more time within and being more and more comfortable in my own skin.
I was hanging out with my dad last weekend, and we went through a bunch of pictures of my parents’ life up to just a few years after I was born. I hadn’t seen many of the pictures before, and it shed a new light and understanding of their lives. I am also very happy because it gives me an opportunity to replace the last images I had of my mom (while aging bizarrely quickly under the influence of Alzheimer’s disease) with some images of her looking radiantly happy in her youth. Seeing images of the life that my parents made together made me somewhat sad. When I was younger, all I wanted was to share life with someone else and perhaps have a family of my own. I was never really particularly interested in a career, in traveling, in much of anything really. I just bounced around trying different things out, hoping and dreaming to meet “the one”. In a lot of ways, I’ve achieved and done tons of things that I never would have imagined or dared dream about. However, in some ways, the one thing that hasn’t happened is the main thing that I had always wanted. As I’m now approaching 40 and am not particularly interested in dating at the moment, and will like be very cautious when I do (I’m trying to stay cautiously optimistic about the whole idea), it seems unlikely that I would have any children. I’m not sure what I think about the prospects of ever being married again (I guess I’ll try to stay cautiously optimistic). Combined with my growing awareness of the inner world and my growing comfort being alone, perhaps that will be the way that it is. And frankly, most of the time is it absolutely fine with me. Every once in a while, however, I do miss the close companionship and thrill that only a romantic relationship can bring. At least I know I’m not completely emotionally dead. But I also think that the dream I had for most of life is…to a large extent…drifting away. But that is mostly okay; it gives me room to follow and pursue other sorts of dreams. And I’m pretty okay with that and growing more comfortable, but occasionally something happens to jar you back.
That was something was a message during some drunken texting with my ex that she is recently engaged to be married. This to someone that she’s probably known six months or so. I didn’t realize it until this happened, but I was taking some comfort in the fact that she had vowed never to marry again. In some small way I figured that even it didn’t work out between us, perhaps we would always have I common that we were the only ones to have been married to each other. But, having that little bit of comfort shattered, I did what any reasonable would do under the circumstances…I got good and drunk. I spent yesterday with a nice hangover, which was fine because it forced me to take a break from work. And I thought about this post.
Last night I watched a strange movie, which had an interesting quote. The main female character had become depressed after having several miscarriages and a stillborn baby. Her husband ended up leaving her because of the depression. Her one son, who had been born before all of this happened, noted something like, “It wasn’t the loss of my father that affected her so; it was the loss of love itself”. This really hit home with me. It wasn’t just the loss of my wife or the marriage that had broken me so; it was the loss of a life-long dream, a loss of belief in the only thing that I had ever truly believed in. Love, like god and many other things, had become something that everyone else seems to believe in but I could not any longer. The last little thread of hope that remained in me at the time had been cut.
I was both free and starting over. I mean really starting over, completely from scratch, about what I thought about life. It has been an interesting couple of years. I have learned more about myself in the last two years than what I had learned up to that point, simply because I was always scared by what I saw inside; it didn’t match up with what I thought I should be. But now, I am in the process of merging what is with what can be. Perhaps somewhere down the road, romance will again be a part of that. We’ll see. I’m no longer looking. I figure if it happens, it happens.
When I first moved to Athens, I tried out some casual dating but it just really wasn’t for me. I felt like I was just spending a bunch of money taking people out mostly to get laid when I just really wasn’t into it. I would really rather would just be friends with them (or maybe just ignore them). After a while, I decided that it made more sense to wait for a more meaningful relationship. So, waiting is what I have been doing.
I consider myself fortunate to have had been in love several times and have had several serious relationships. They all started the same way, some chance encounter with a friend of a friend, or with someone at school or work. Several ended to changes in circumstances, such as one person moving. In a couple, we drifted apart. I think I now look at romantic love through the eyes of Buddhist philosophy – everything that comes into existence in this world must end. There is no truly lasting romantic love (although a very few people like my parents do seem to actually make it last until death do them part). However, I think that there can be romantic feelings on top of “true love”. True love is, as I read somewhere recently, more of a choice than a feeling, more an intention than a result. I learned a lot about the differences between mature and immature relationships the last few years. A good friend of mine summed it up nicely recently in an email conversation we were having with respect to the age-old follow your heart or head question. I had told her a couple of years ago that while it feels good to follow your heart, your head is usually right. I recently asked her if she thought that was right, and she responded with a brilliant insight, which I paraphrase: “There are two kinds of decisions, those made out of fear and those made out of love. Sometimes your heart can differentiate between the two, but mostly it is the brain’s reasoning that provides clarity”. Now, we’re both brainiacs, so what works for us probably doesn’t work for everyone, but of course one of the keys to life is it doesn’t matter what works for others, only what works for you.
When talking about fear vs. love, I think that she’s talking about the broader sort of love, what Buddhists refer to as “loving-kindness”. It can be wrapped up with romantic love, but can exist between friends, family, pets, lovers, or even strangers. My grandfather says that there are three kinds of love: love if, love because, and love anyway. I have seen Buddhists write about self-centered love (where it is mostly about getting what you want, within which romantic love often falls), a give-and-take love (where both sides are giving and expecting something in return, which might often be family or a marriage), and pure loving-kindness (a love based on compassion that does not at all depend on anything in return). I guess in both lists, the highest form is unconditional love, what we often call “true” love. And so should it be.
The best thing about my marriage, and something that I only realized in its dissolution, is that I had the capacity for loving-kindness. I realized that, even though my romantic feelings had mostly vanished, there was something else underlying the romance that was more powerful. I realized that I truly wished Kate to be well and happy, even if that happiness didn’t have anything to do with me. And I still feel that way today. Although I’m a little shocked by her recent engagement, I wish her the best of luck. I hope that she will find a companionship that fills her needs.
And I wish the same for myself, someday. And I wish that someday I will be in a position to have a mature relationship based on understanding and loving-kindness, with a bit of romance as well. I will not expect it to last forever, and I will not force anything. Just enjoy it in the moment for what it is and not cling to it. Maybe I’ll run into another loner one of these days, one like me who doesn’t mind being very close to one or two people. Maybe she will be in to hiking, camping, skiing, doggies, and philosophy. Wish me well on my (non) search!
Well, here are a couple of songs that somewhat capture the feelings around romantic love won and lost. The happy first, then the sad. After all, the beginning and the end are one. To truly live life to the fullest, we have to experience both.
The last one is especially relevant, as I used to listen to it everyday on the way to work. I knew that Kate and I were slipping away, but didn’t know how to save it. I still think that it is one of the most beautiful (and yet haunting) songs that I’ve ever heard. I include the lyrics for that one, because they are something else… In a lot of ways, I’ve always felt that we should embrace both happiness and sadness, as they are two sides of the same coin. The difference, at least to me so far, is that happiness seems to have a ceiling while there is a depth to sadness that knows no bounds, but it can be beautiful in its own way. This song captures a glimpse into that abyss…
Update: I decided to add two more songs, both a little more upbeat. Always better to end on a good note!
But not to end on a downer, I offer the following wish: may indiscriminate loving-kindness emanate from us all and may we all find that next special someone, if only for a while!
“Brothers On A Hotel Bed”You may tire of me as our December sun is setting because I’m not who I used to be
No longer easy on the eyes but these wrinkles masterfully disguise
The youthful boy below who turned your way and saw
Something he was not looking for: both a beginning and an end
But now he lives inside someone he does not recognize
When he catches his reflection on accident
On the back of a motor bike
With your arms outstretched trying to take flight
Leaving everything behind
But even at our swiftest speed we couldn’t break from the concrete
In the city where we still reside.
And I have learned that even landlocked lovers yearn for the sea like navy men
Cause now we say goodnight from our own separate sides
Like brothers on a hotel bed
Like brothers on a hotel bed
Like brothers on a hotel bed
Like brothers on a hotel bed
You may tire of me
As our December sun is setting
Because I’m not who I used to be