03/08/2006 - 4:55 p.m.
I believe in committed and caring relationships. More than that, I believe in good relationships---the kind that help you to be a better you. They cannot complete you but they can challenge you. They do not promise total safety, because growth cannot occur in total safety, but they provide enough of shelter to explore, to risk, and, occasionally, to gamble. With luck and a bit of skill, they reinforce the true and the good. And, if you pick wisely, with your heart, your head, and your soul, sometimes they grant an ordinary life a touch of magic.
The heart matters in such relationships. Love is an active verb. Give me the man who performs loving acts of substance over glib words and a bouquet of flowers. I appreciate the folded laundry, unromantic as the world considers it, and the lent ear. But more important is that he reflect my own loving acts back so I feel loving and warm and ready, the next day, to give again. You would think that giving would make me empty and taking would fill me but, in the strange paradox called life, the opposite is true. Still, both giving and taking are necessary and, if he only gives, I am diminished. If he only takes, I am a fool.
It may begin with gazing at each other but if we only gaze at each other, we will have missed out on living. The loving acts have to spread outward. The best moments of loving often consist of fixing our little corner of the world together, as a team. Closeness ultimately becomes looking outward together.
The head also matters. Love rarely conquers all. Love with no place to be ceases to grow and begins to itch. Love has a place and a time. What seems exotic and exciting at the beginning can be more than a body can bear as the costs of differences add up. I married a man with a very different background than mine and, yes, it has worked better than I ever would have dreamed 25 years ago but making it work required giving up more "shoulds" and "supposed tos" than I ever would have thought. Each of us has a point beyond which we cannot bend. Disaster lies in following our hearts alone to places where our breaking points lie. Building a long-term relationship requires being brutally honest with ourselves about how far we can bend before we are not ourselves any more.
The soul matters too. No, I do not believe in soulmates. Relationships should not be constant hard work but they should not be too easy either. Too easy is boring and boredom can kill a relationship. I am talking about values. Shared core values are crucial. Without them, a relationship pulls different directions and ultimately apart. There are many ways to leave without walking out. You might be able to stay married but you will not be able to stay connected without those relationships.
Are relationships scary? For me, they are the scariest thing in the world. They require abandoning the illusion of control. They require recognizing, deep down and all the time, that others affect us and we affect others. Our words and our deeds are not ours alone. Their impact is immediate and substantial. We can hold others up or dash them down. They require responsibility and, if not total trust (for none of us humans are totally trustworthy), then a willingness to believe that expectations are powerful forces.
No, I do not believe in Romeo and Juliet or the fantasies of Madame Bovary. I do not believe in Prince Charming or Beauty's effect on the Beast. But I do believe in committed and caring relationships---if you choose sensitively, wisely, and with values in mind, work like hell, and don't move too fast.
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