Love is the greatest mystery. It comes when you're least expecting it and disappears when you think it is here to stay. The heat that ignites it at the beginning is doused by the intimacy it creates. Love's a portal, a mirror, a cross to bear, a joy, a heartbreak, and an axe. It cuts through your hard parts, the gristly parts, and lays your beating heart bare. Then, one way or the other, it kicks your ass.
The last time I had my ass kicked by love, I swore never again. I would never again rush into something just cause it smelled good and liked me. I wouldn't again not read the labels, notice the red flags and tell the whole truth. No more folies a deux for me, marooned on a raft of disappointment with someone I could no longer stand. Never again, I swore. The next time love came knocking for me, I would answer the door with a sword and a shield -- the sword of discrimination, the shield of protection -- like Athena on the battlefield with the owl of wisdom on my shoulder.
It wasn't looking for a fight. I just wanted to stay on my toes. I'd made every stupid mistake in love and run the gauntlet of ludicrous choices. I'd thrown myself on the sword of romance over people I barely liked or respected. I'd been codependent, a cuckold, a cheat, sacrificed boundaries, discarded decorum, perfected the art of magical thinking; I'd done backbends to distort myself in order to fit the unfittable lover.
I felt like a refugee of love, an addict who'd binged for a very long time. I was lovesick. Sick of how it never worked, sick of how it made me feel, sick of the detours and cul-de-sacs, and the crash of broken hearts at the end. I questioned the substance of love itself. What was it really made of? Really. Lots of relationships were mere arrangements. In the wake of initial erotic collision, feasting on each other's skin and sharing the novelty of their minds, lovers almost always seemed to lose interest, settle into the status quo of telly and a peck on the forehead at night. Don't get me wrong, companionship is a beautiful thing -- so are friendship and respect -- but I wasn't quite ready for fractioning down the intensity of my own desires.
I dreamed of a love that would not lose its passion. Was that really too much to ask? Could like-minded people figure it out? Meet, fall in love and continue to deepen -- separately and together -- in the practice of loving over time? Regardless of how many times I'd failed, I still believed that this could happen. Though I'd never met a couple with the ratios I was looking for, quite -- of serious to idiotic, tame to wild, responsible to devil-may-care -- I did believe it was possible. I wasn't going to look for it, though.
I wasn't going to fish for love. Not with a history of barracuda. I had always cast my rod too quickly, become ensconced at the drop of a hat. I was too susceptible to love, too willing to overlook obvious problems. When my last relationship took a dive, I promised myself, and my begging friends, that I would stay single a very long time. I wanted to see lots of different people, get to know how it felt to be alone and figure out what I really wanted. I taped this quote from Rainer Maria Rilke over my desk:
Togetherness between two people is an impossibility and where it seems, nevertheless, to exist, it is a narrowing, a reciprocal agreement, which robs either one part or both of his fullest freedom and development. Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue to exist, a wonderful living side by side can grow up, if they succeed in loving the distance between them, which makes it possible for each to see the other whole and against a wide sky.
That was it. I wanted to accept the distance. The distance had always been my downfall. My inability to tolerate separation had Super Glued me to some bad situations. There was always an unhealthy merging; I always lost major parts of myself. Never was it completely healthy, unforced, peaceful, happy, supportive. Love was almost never easy. They looked pretty good on the surface, my relationships, but underneath they were always hard work. I was never completely happy.
I was happy now, however -- being single was the bomb. I never felt lonely for five minutes. I saw friends a lot more, read more books and had enough hot dates not to feel I was out to pasture. After the dates, I could come home alone, lock my door and revel in my solitude. For the first time since I'd bought it, I was alone in my own apartment. Its neutrality and emptiness gave me joy; I liked taking up the entire bed. I was happier, after six months of conjugal liberation, than I had ever been and never wanted to couple again. Of course, that's when I met the love of my life.
If you want the love of your life to appear, just tell the universe you're not ready. "Don't send me love!" you should scream -- if you want it. It's the opposite of that book The Secret. "Please, God, don't send me a keeper!" That's when Cupid goes through his Rolodex. "Man thinks, God laughs," my grandma used to say in Yiddish. Falling head over heels for this new lover against my better judgment, celestial titters were heard overhead. I vowed that I would go slowly even as I stepped on the gas. I promised to preserve Rilke's poetic distance even as we spent every night together. I deeply wanted to be realistic but couldn't stop dreaming of being together. It was so easy. I didn't want to merge this time, to analyze every innuendo; I wanted, instead, to enjoy our differences. Not push to bridge the unbridgeable gap. I wanted to remember this time that the contrasts in love are what keep the beloved from fading. To do that, you had to act like a grown-up.
I really believed it was possible. It seems to be working, it shocks me to realize, almost four years later. Love is the greatest mystery. It happens when you look away.
This blog first appeared in Purple Clover.