Every couple of weeks or so, I seriously consider whether or not I know anything about relationships or human beings. Conceptually, sure I probably know some things. But every so often I am reminded of some flaw in my logic that plays itself out in my real day-to-day. It’s one thing to sit in my office theorizing and pondering. Part of me believes that if I think hard enough, I will crack the code and find the one-size-fits-all formula that will allow me, and by extension you, to relate to other humans perfectly. And then I go out and relate to actual humans, whose behavior does not lend itself to formulas. Rude.
Just such an existential crisis occurred this week. Monday, in fact, in therapy. Yes, I am aware that it is only Wednesday. Every week, Dr. Therapist lets me into his office, I fix the pillows on the couch because whoever is before me always leaves behind a disheveled atrocity, and I sit as Dr. Therapist asks me how I am. Existential crises are a bit of a hobby of mine, which is fitting as a twenty-something writer who spends way too much time in her own head.
The past couple of weeks, however, have been jam packed with socializing. I’m recording the third season of my podcast (nine interviews down, two to go), I went on a bachelorette weekend, and my calendar of activities doth overflow. ‘Twas a lot for this 93% introvert, even though I loved everything to which I said yes.
By the time I arrived at Dr. Therapist’s on Monday, my derp brain had internally yelled obscenities at each and every human whomst crossed my path. And, as I live in Manhattan, ‘twas a lot of internal screaming. It didn’t matter what they were doing; it was all wrong and deeply offensive.
So when Dr. Therapist asked how I was doing, down the rabbit hole we went. One of the main issues that had me imploding was a fun character trait that has made its way to the forefront of my awareness. Over the course of some of my interviews, I found myself returning to this idea of achievement-based relationships. This theory posits that there is a right way to do relate to other humans, and that if I work hard enough, I’ll be able to do it, thereby winning at relationships. In hearing myself explore the idea over and over, I realized I was operating off of faulty logic. That can’t be how relationships work.
Over the past 7 posts, we’ve looked at several defining characteristics of love. Trust, revelation, kindness, humility, sacrifice, forgiveness, and endurance. In all of them, I endeavored to turn the idea on its head. Sometimes we need that slightly altered perspective to see ourselves clearly.
And that’s what happened on Monday. Dr. Therapist listened to my thoughts and stories from the week as he always does. Then he said our actions are motivated by one of two things: to gain reward, or to avoid pain. In making a conscious or subconscious decision, it’s more natural for me to think of all the things that could go wrong and completely disregard what will happen if it all works out.
And that brings us to this week’s theme. I’ve spent the past eight weeks talking about some of the ways we derp up this love thing, even when we have the best intentions. There is merit in examining our motivations, to be sure. But shifting the focus to the benefits of love knowing the potential cost takes audacity. Even though, as they say, “Love is like oxygen; love is a many splendored thing, love lifts us up where we belong” (yes, that’s from Moulin Rouge. No ragrets).
Giving and receiving love in its many forms is the lifeblood of what it is to be human. There is always a risk. And to some people, including your girl more often than I’d like to admit, the risk doesn’t feel worth it. And, of course, with an achievement-based filter, why would it be?
Perhaps you have read this quote before. It’s from C.S. Lewis’ book The Four Loves. “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket - safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”
Mayhaps the point of love isn’t to never be hurt and to never hurt, though of course we should endeavor to not hurt each other. Mayhaps the point of love has nothing to do with winning and losing and achieving. Mayhaps the point of love is that we simply cannot live without it. We can’t have the joy without the hurt, and mostly we get them both at once. And mysteriously that is a good and beautiful thing.
In all the lack and plenty of this life, love in its forms is an experience to be lived, not a problem to be solved. In a commentary on the quintessential passage from the Bible on love, which I referenced last week, the author opened with this quote from G. Campbell Morgan, “examining this chapter is like dissecting a flower to understand it. If you tear it apart too much, you lose the beauty.” We learn how to love by loving. For this high-achieving perfectionist, that is not the most appealing prospect.
The word “audacity” implies a brazen boldness, one that knows the risk but presses on regardless. In my fretful overthinking, I forget that love’s mystery is part of what makes it beautiful. That doesn’t mean we experience and express the same kind of love and commitment to everyone we meet. But no matter how much we ponder and consider, we won’t get all the variables up front. And even if we did, we would never be caught off-guard or surprised by love. Perhaps for those of us who are motivated by avoiding pain, the most audacious thing we can do is say yes to the people who have been brought into our lives. Perhaps the biggest risk is believing that our focus can shift from all the potential hurt to all the inevitable joy. And maybe grace will cover the rest.