One of the most pervasive unrealistic messages propagated by our culture about love is that it should be easy. Brainwashed by Hollywood and Disney, we expect to fall into the arms of our beloved upon first sight and remain there, blissfully happy, for all the days of our lives. We expect to fit into each other’s back pockets, to read each other’s minds, to function like two peas in a pod. While some couples may enjoy a honeymoon stage where love does feel easy and effortless, inevitably this stage ends and the real work of learning how to love begins.
Even though we may consciously know this, we don’t metabolize it into the deeper layers of cells – of our unconscious body-knowing layer – because of how inundated we are by the visual and unspoken expectation that love should be easy. With this expectation at the forefront, when we encounter the jagged boulders that jut up along the path of partnership, we can only assume that something is wrong. We start to tell ourselves the stories that often lead to anxiety or to the end of a loving relationship
What if, instead of expecting love to be easy, we expected it to be difficult? What a paradigm shift that would be, and how it would change everything! What if, instead of falling into the rabbit hole of doubt when fear erects its barrier in all of its manifestations – through irritation, tension, judgement, nit-picking, criticism, intrusive thoughts, doubt, anxiety, lack of attraction – we learned to embrace the fear, to name it for what it is, and to, in fact, expect it.
This is what Rainer Maria Rilke meant when he wrote in Letters to a Young Poet:
It is also good to love: because love is difficult. For one human being to love another human being: that is perhaps the most difficult task that has been entrusted to us, the ultimate task, the final test and proof, the work for which all other work is merely preparation. That is why young people, who are beginners in everything, are not yet capable of love: it is something they must learn. With their whole being, with all their forces, gathered around their solitary, anxious, upward-beating heart, they must learn to love. But learning-time is always a long, secluded time, and therefore loving, for a long time ahead and far on into life, is: solitude, a heightened and deepened kind of aloneness for the person who loves.
Of course, this is true for all people, not just young people. By “young people” I think he means those who are just learning the skills of intimate relationship, and that transcends age. He means young at love, inexperienced at how to truly love another in action. Many people say it takes about ten years of marriage to get to know your partner. I wholeheartedly agree.
If we expect love relationships to include an element of awkwardness, when ease arrives on the wings of grace or hard work, we would embrace it as a blessing. We wouldn’t expect ease, though. We would expect, instead, to allow many years to learn the language of loving another and allowing ourselves to be loved. We would be taught this from the onset. We would enter a new relationship or a marriage with the expectation of awkwardness, or irritation, or however separateness manifests for you.
And later Rilke wrote:
Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue, a wonderful living side by side can grow, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole against the sky.
This distance, I believe, is our humanness. We can and must call it fear, at times. At other times we call it our stories of early pain that protect the vulnerability of the heart from being hurt again. And, at still other times, we name it as simply the human experience. Our separateness is, in fact, what defines being human. No matter how close we come to another, we will never share a body. We will never know what it’s like to live truly in another’s skin. So when we awkwardly hug or kiss or sit across the table at one another and the “infinite distance” makes itself known, we can come to expect and even appreciate it.
Then, instead of expecting ease, we recognize that every moment of ease is a blessing. We move toward appreciating the ease as the byproduct of hard work and a, perhaps, a dose of grace. In accepting the awkwardness, we invite the ease.
From there, we can take loving actions toward closing the gap. It begins with acceptance, yes, and an understanding that when we commit to a lifetime with someone we’re committing to learning about how to shrink the space between us. But how? It’s through understanding the Love Laws and Loving Actions that define intimate relationships that we can move close to one another – to harness the fear and learn to soften into vulnerability. When we understand the roadmap, we understand the tasks. Then it’s a matter of gentle and committed practice, every day, to learn about what it means to love and be loved.
If you would like to learn these Love Laws and Loving Actions, please join me for my next round of Open Your Heart: A 30-day program to feel more love and attraction for your partner. The program will begin on Saturday, October 24th , 2015.
And if you’d like to learn more about the difference between my new e-course, Break Free From Relationship Anxiety, which will be released next week, and Open Your Heart, please click here.