5.03.2017

Holding Tightly, Holding Lightly: Thoughts on Love & Relationships


Romantic love is seductive. Like any good drug, it enraptures. It takes you up and carries you away. Your heart beats faster; your veins course with joy itself; you're giddy and smiley and all is right with the world.

Except when she doesn't return your call for a surprising amount of time. Or when he's acting a bit distant. Or when she not so subtly hides her phone after the telltale ding. Then, like most drugs, the trip takes a turn. You're distraught, anxious, distracted. Your veins course with toxins and nothing is right with the world.

Ah, such is love, we say. The ups and downs. So it goes with passion. It's in our movies and novels, in our songs, in our paintings and poems. It's the price we pay for the beautiful, magical thing we call love.

Only I'm not sure any of that is love. It's something, for sure. And it's something seductive and powerful. But is it love?

Love, it seems to me, is infinitely generous. Love doesn't forgive because it never judges in the first place. Love never says, "I love him but I just wish he liked to travel more." That's not love. That's an all-too-human romantic relationship  — which is rarely premised on love. It's premised on fear — "I'm not lovable" — which is premised on ego which, out of fear, seeks attachment.

Unfortunately, our romantic relationships are built on ego, fear, and attachment. This is what we're taught; this is our discourse on love. "He's mine." "She's my girl." And the problem with attachment is that everything of this world gives way. That's just the way it is. Wishing it any other way is, at best, neurotic; at worst, pathological. So the whole thing is doomed from the get go.

Now, we try to temper this fickle fade of flesh with both the formal and informal institutional prowess of the promise. "I will stay yours forever, even when my attentions turn; I will stay yours even in death." We call this marriage and it's not a bad way to go.

I was married for 14 years. What I loved about it is that all the mundane bullshit is inflected through the infinite. How can something as minor as a fight about a comment persist when seen in the light of the eternal? What are we going to do — fight over it forever?? Of course not. And so, just like that, all the little crap vanishes in the sublimity of the infinite.


I've also been divorced for seven years. But, for me, this is not a failure of love. Divorce is not a failure at all! It's what happens to things of this world — they give way. In fact, the thing I am most proud of in my life is my divorce. I still love my ex-wife. Of course I do. That's what love is! It's infinite! It doesn't stop and start. Lust stops and starts; romantic love stops and starts. But love? Nope. Love persists.

I realize that this kind of divorce is an anomaly. I hear horror stories of how once married couples treat each other. This is truly confusing to me. Because either you don't love each other — in which case, just be indifferent and enjoy your lives. Or you do love each other — in which case, be good to each other. This other option — fighting, undermining — can only come from one thing: ego, fear, and attachment. Someone feels scorned. Someone feels unloved. Someone feels unlovable. Someone feels abandoned. All of that crap is ego and is ridiculous and has nothing whatsoever to do with love.

Love is not attachment. On the contrary, love holds the things of this world ever so lightly so as to let them become as they are. Grab on tightly and everyone gets hurt. Like Lennie, you end up crushing the mouse.

But, damn, romantic love is seductive. I, for one, want to be enraptured. I want that delectable joy to pump through my veins. I want all those deep seated fears to go away just by the way she looks at me. What is sweeter than an embrace that erases that persistent thought that I'm not lovable? That makes me feel safe and desired? Man oh man! It's perfectly delicious. The only problem is that I, like most people, get hooked on the embrace — an embrace that will inevitably end.

Attachment is not love. It's fear. And fear comes from ego. But love is not ego bound. In fact, love erases ego. Love doesn't seek to own or control; love lets things be. Love lets the world happen as it happens. Love is not just acceptance of his not wanting to travel or her complaints about work. Love is a radical affirmation of all things. Including yourself! And the incredible thing which happens is that this love erases the fear of being unlovable which erases self- and other- judgement which erases the need for attachment. Voilà! 

Still, romantic love is delicious. And I'm not sure I'm quite willing to give it up entirely. Not yet. Perhaps never. After all, I am all-too-human. I have fears and doubts. I love to be loved. And so the trick, it seems to me, is to hold tightly and lightly at the same time. To gather her up in my arms and squeeze and squeeze and, in the same breath, to open my arms so she can do as she does, be as she is, go as she goes. Which, alas, may be with or without me.

3 comments:

Sara@CatchEnglish said...

Yay! Someone sent me this and I had no idea (or simply forgot) who she said had written it. Et voila! C'est toi (my friend Dan S from Hastings High). Très bien. Very well put. Fuck attachment :)

Mr. Ziebarth said...

Daniel, I've been meaning to comment on this post for some time now. It is, I believe, one of your most important posts ever. It really boils down a lot of your thinkerings into a move that we should all make: shed ego and let people be. Love!

Daniel Coffeen said...

Sara: Funny and excellent to see you here. I can probably guess which someone sent this to you, making it less of a coincidence. Still: thank you.

Sean: Always a pleasure! And I agree — this is one of the most important posts. For me, surely. It's an ongoing reckoning. Thank you, as always.