This is what intimacy is all about, in my opinion: it’s about having some real depth to oneself, continuing to develop your own depths, yet finding another who is also similarly and compatibly deep, and sharing your depth and exploring their depth, and vice versa, and hopefully finding an incredible amount of resonance and “What? You too? I thought I was the only one!” type moments and conversations.
If we are not able to be truly intimate with ourselves—deeply transparent and honest—then we won’t be capable of being intimate with another.
Intimacy is about real and deep self-revelation; it’s about being deeply known by ourselves; it’s about being deeply known by another and deeply knowing another. And—and—it’s about letting another person become as real to us and as important and essential to us as we are to ourselves.
Part of the practice of mindfulness when we’re single and looking for a good relationship, is recognizing the likelihood that who we become as a person and who we want to become as a person is inexorably tied up with who we decide to love and be loved by—the specifics of the other person, how much he or she will challenge us, try to understand us, care for us, stick with us, and vice versa–how much we will love the other person, care for him or her, treat him with the same respect and advantage with which we treat ourselves. As Sarah Ruhl wrote in her play “Eurydice,” “There is no choice of any more importance in life than the choosing of a beloved.”
And this is not something that we really want to think about or consider. It’s too big, it’s too overwhelming, too dizzying and disorienting to think about. It brings up too many questions, too much doubt. It’s easier just not to think about it. It’s easier to just naïvely believe that we will become who we are supposed to become largely irrespective of who we love or whether we check out of relationships altogether and go it alone. It’s easier to believe that all paths lead to the same place, to the same finished product in terms of who we become as persons.
And this is highly unlikely. It’s very highly unlikely that we will become the same person no matter who we choose to love.
As John Ruskin wrote: “The highest reward for a person’s toil is not what he gets by it, but what he becomes by it.”
So too it seems very likely that this is equally true of our choice of a beloved.
As Carl Dennis puts it in his poem “The God Who Loves You“—
It must be troubling for the god who loves you
To ponder how much happier you’d be today
Had you been able to glimpse your many futures.
It must be painful for him to watch you on Friday evenings
Driving home from the office, content with your week–
Three fine houses sold to deserving families–
Knowing as he does exactly what would have happened
Had you gone to your second choice for college,
Knowing the roommate you’d have been allotted
Whose ardent opinions on painting and music
Would have kindled in you a lifelong passion.
A life thirty points above the life you’re living
On any scale of satisfaction. And every point
A thorn in the side of the god who loves you.
You don’t want that, a large-souled man like you
Who tries to withhold from your wife the day’s disappointments
So she can save her empathy for the children.
And would you want this god to compare your wife
With the woman you were destined to meet on the other campus?
It hurts you to think of him ranking the conversation
You’d have enjoyed over there higher in insight
Than the conversation you’re used to.
And think how this loving god would feel
Knowing that the man next in line for your wife
Would have pleased her more than you ever will
Even on your best days, when you really try.
Can you sleep at night believing a god like that
Is pacing his cloudy bedroom, harassed by alternatives
You’re spared by ignorance? The difference between what is
And what could have been will remain alive for him
Even after you cease existing, after you catch a chill
Running out in the snow for the morning paper,
Losing eleven years that the god who loves you
Will feel compelled to imagine scene by scene
Unless you come to the rescue by imagining him
No wiser than you are, no god at all, only a friend
No closer than the actual friend you made at college,
The one you haven’t written in months. Sit down tonight
And write him about the life you can talk about
With a claim to authority, the life you’ve witnessed,
Which for all you know is the life you’ve chosen.
These are things that we ought to consider when we’re single and making the choice of a beloved—who will I become because of this person? Who will this person become because of me? Very difficult answers to foresee, impossible really, but questions that are essential to ask and consider and respect nonetheless. How essential is this person to who I think I’m supposed to become, to whom God or the gods intend? How essential is this person for me in my becoming my best? Is this the person who will inspire and challenge me to be a better me?
Of course becoming our best—wanting to become a better man or better woman—is ultimately something we must want and desire for ourselves; it must come from within.
And so that is why even if we have chosen a beloved hastily, prematurely, too early in life, and not as well as we might have liked now that we’re older, all is most definitely not lost. There is still the matter of how we choose to love, how loving of a person we are, whether we push ourselves to become more and more the right person for the relationship—the most loving and understanding and decent person we can be. If we are to become the best version of ourselves possible, we owe our beloved this level of love and effort. For this too is part of our inner work and essential in our becoming who we are supposed to be.
Again, real intimacy takes a lot. It takes a lot of self-development and inner depth to truly be able to “see” another and understand him or her. It takes a lot of self-development and real depth and inner worth to be able to put another person and his or her happiness and well-being on the same level as our own, to consider that other person’s happiness (for lack of a better word) and personal growth and development to be equally and identically as important as our own, and to live this truth. Yet this is love.
And it’s not easy. Real love is not easy. In fact oftentimes it’s incredibly difficult. One of the most difficult things in life to do. As Rilke wrote, “There is scarcely anything more difficult than to love one another. That it is work, day labor, day labor, God knows there is no other word for it. . . . 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.”
There are a lot of blogs and lot of books and writers and even therapists out there with a lot of really poor ideas regarding what love is and how to help coach people on how to better love and have more satisfying relationships. They want to make love into something easy, into a matter of techniques and gimmicks and superficial and shallow fixes; they want to dummy it down for the masses instead of instead of trying to raise people’s standards for themselves and for their own behavior and how they treat another, regard another, orient themselves toward another—their “beloved.”
I am not interested in dummying down Love. It does a great disservice to us, and to what we can become. We don’t become who and what we’re supposed to be by always having things made easier for us; rather it’s by placing some real demands on ourselves, by taking on some worthwhile difficulties, such as learning what Love really is, that what is latent and underdeveloped and essential in us comes to life.